THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - Workforce Act puts US workers first

Feb 11, 2018

In this issue- Febraury 9, 2018:


Workforce Act puts U.S. workers first

Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) agreed with my characterization of the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act as a change in the dynamic of labor policy in the islands, as she wrapped up Tuesday’s hearing on the bill. As I see it, the Act leads to a Marianas economy where local workers are the main workforce. CW workers fill the gaps, when U.S. workers are not able, willing, and qualified for needed jobs. Murkowski and I introduced the U.S. Workforce Act in the Senate and House on January 19 after months of drafting with a bipartisan congressional working group. The bill adds 10 years to the current labor transition period and 8,000 extra CW permits. Once we introduced the bill, Murkowski, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, quickly called a hearing. There was bipartisan support from Committee members and from the Trump administration. I submitted for the record statements from Marianas government officials, businesses, and other constituents in favor of the bill. See video of the hearing at Read my statement to the Senate committee here.

Workforce Act: a closer look

So we all know the details, I began a series in our local media, explaining how the Workforce Act protects local workers and businesses, while providing long-term stability to the CW program. Section 2 of the Act states clearly: The purpose is to increase the percentage of U.S. workers in our workforce, encourage employers to hire local workers, and make sure no U.S. worker is pushed aside by foreign workers. The first line of defense is the bill’s requirement that the U.S. Department of Labor certify no local worker is available before an employer can get a CW permit. In listening sessions last year constituents told me they felt passed over by the CNMI’s JVA process. The Workforce Act also makes the CNMI accountable for training funds employers pay—$12 million as of December 31. How many U.S. workers have jobs as a result of that money? The Workforce Act makes sure we get an answer to that question from now on.

GAO: US worker ratio down

The percentage of U.S. workers in the Marianas is going down, according to new analysis from the Government Accountability Office. After we received last year’s report on immigration, Senators Murkowski and Cantwell and I requested GAO to get data for 2016 to help us draft the U.S. Workforce Act. We particularly looked for the ratio of domestic to foreign workers to continue to improve, as it did from 2012 through 2015. But the new 2016 information GAO presented this week shows a drop in the percentage of domestic workers from 50 percent to 47 percent. Even so, the number of domestic workers added — 1,133 — was the largest increase in the years GAO reported. Altogether, the Marianas added over 3,000 domestic workers since 2012. This shows that U.S. workers will take jobs, as the economy improves and when labor demand and wages go up.

Kagman, CHIP get more funding

The Kagman Community Health Center is assured of two more years of funding as a result of action early this morning on a new budget agreement. Also, in the package is funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program through 2027. Kagman’s Health Center received over $700,000 in FY17. The Health Center was made possible by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. CHIP funding to the Commonwealth was $9,584,000 in FY17. The funds are bundled together with Medicaid to help low-income families in the Marianas get medical care. Additionally, the budget bill expanded eligibility in the Family-to-Family Health Information Center program to the Northern Marianas. I have been working on getting us included in this program, which assists families with special needs kids navigate the healthcare system. This is all good news for the Marianas, but it is the fifth time we have used a Continuing Resolution to avoid a shutdown. And the next deadline is March 23. This is no way to run a government.

Ensuring ethical government

There has been some national attention to a conflict of interest case I am working on with Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren (MA), Patty Murray (WA), and Margaret Hassan (NH) and House colleagues Bobby Scott (VA), Donald Norcross (NJ). Actions taken by National Labor Relations Board Member William Emanuel in favor of his former law firm appear to violate federal regulations and ethics rules. As part of our oversight responsibilities on the House and Senate committees responsible for labor law, we have been trying to get the facts and detailed information from Mr. Emanuel. Open, honest, and transparent government is the right of all citizens and I intend to make sure your rights are protected.

$5M CIP funds to CUC

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation received $5 million in FY 2018 Capital Infrastructure Program grant funding, Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs announced today. To help meet court-stipulated requirements, CUC will use the funds for the planning, design, and installation of new systems, equipment, and practices for the cleanup of nonhazardous solid and liquid waste materials at power plants 1 and 2 on Saipan. This is the final year of OIA funding support to help CUC meet Stipulated Order Number Two required by the U.S. District Court in 2009. The order requires CUC to complete certain projects relating to spill prevention, preparedness, and response. CIP funds, appropriated annually by Congress, are distributed to the insular areas for a variety of infrastructure and emergency needs.

Urging robust funding for COPS

Ensuring law enforcement has the resources necessary to keep our communities safe is the reason I signed on to a bipartisan letter to President Trump urging robust funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in his Fiscal Year 2019 budget. The COPS office and programs have provided technical assistance and other resources to law enforcement agencies to advance efforts aimed at reducing crime. One of its most important programs, the COPS Hiring Program, awarded over $500,000 to the Commonwealth Department of Public Safety for hiring eight new police officers last November. The COPS office is also responsible for implementing legislation to help improve the physical and mental health by funding development and testing of innovative police strategies and provide training to the community, local government, and law enforcement. As the Northern Marianas economy grows, it is imperative that DPS is prepared and equipped to respond to the public safety needs of our expanding community.



Public Comment:

Legislative Highlights


On the Floor

  • H.R. 1892 – Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (Passed, 240-186)
  • H.R. 4771 – Small Bank Holding Company Relief Act of 2018 Passed, 280-139)
  • H.R. 772 – Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2017 (Passed, 266-157)
  • H.R. 1153 – Mortgage Choice Act of 2017 (Passed, 280-131)
  • H.R. 4547 – Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018 (Passed, 396-0)
  • H.R. 2646 – United States-Jordan Defense Corporation Extension Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1997 – Ukraine Cybersecurity Cooperation Act of 2017 (Passed, 404-3)
  • H.R. 3851 – War Crimes Rewards Expansion Act

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R. 3021 – American Samoa Job Protection & Expansion Act of 2017


On the Floor

  • H.R. 3299 – Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act of 2017
  • H.R. 620 – ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017
  • H.R. 3978 – TRID Improvement Act of 2017
  • H.R. 3542 – Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act
  • H.R. 4376 – Department of Energy Research Infrastructure Act of 2018
  • H.R. 4377 – Accelerating American Leadership in Science Act of 2018
  • H.R. 4378 – Nuclear Energy Research Infrastructure Act of 2018
  • H.R. 4675 – Low Dose Radiation Research Act of 2018
  • H.R. 3397 – Building Blocks of STEM Act
  • H.Res. 129 – Calling on the Department of Defense, other elements of the Federal Government, and foreign governments to intensify efforts to investigate, recover, and identify all missing and unaccounted-for personnel of the United States

Committee Activity

Wednesday, February 14

  • Committee on Natural Resources Legislative Markup
  • Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans Oversight Hearing on "The State of the Nation's Water and Power Infrastructure"

Thursday, February 15

  • Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Jointly with Subcommittee on Workforce Protections Hearing on "The Opioids Epidemic: Implications for America's Workplaces" 
  • Committee on Veterans' Affairs Oversight Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Submission of the Department of Veterans Affairs