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Keeping tabs on congress

The issues that Congress addressed in recent weeks were Surface Transportation Reauthorization, Coal Combustion Residuals, Genetically Engineered Food and Sanctuary Cities. Following are the corresponding votes from Senators Bill Nelson, Senator Marco Rubio and House Representative Gwen Graham, of the 2nd Congressional District, and Congressman Ted Yoho, of the 3rd Congressional District.

In the Senate:
Surface Transportation Reauthorization 'Shell' – The Senate agreed to the motion with a vote of 67-26 with seven not voting, to invoke cloture on amendment no. 2327 to the McConnell, R-Ky., substitute amendment, as modified, that would reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. The McConnell substitute amendment would provide a six-year authorization of surface transportation programs, with enough offsets to cover three years of shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund. Nelson voted yes. Rubio voted no.

In the House:
Coal Combustion Residuals – With a vote of 258-166 and nine not voting, the House passed a bill that would establish minimum federal standards regarding the disposal and storage of coal combustion residuals (CCR) that would codify parts of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rule regarding coal ash, while superseding other elements of the rule. Additionally, the bill would permit states to create their own coal ash permit programs, but would provide for EPA oversight of the bill's standards in cases when a state lacks its own program or fails to meet the standards set in the bill. Graham and Yoho voted yes.

Genetically Engineered Food – With a vote of 275-150 and eight not voting, the House passed a bill that would require the Agriculture Department to establish a voluntary national genetically engineered (GE) food certification program under which food producers could label their product as including or not including genetically modified ingredients. The program created under the bill would pre-empt related state and local laws and prohibits mandatory labeling of GE or non-GE food. Graham and Yoho voted yes.

Sanctuary Cities – With a vote of 241-179 and 13 not voting, the House passed a bill that would withhold certain federal law enforcement grants to state and local governments that bar their officials from taking certain immigration-related actions, such as gathering or maintaining information on the immigration or citizenship status of individuals or sharing such information with federal immigration authorities. The withheld federal law enforcement grants include the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (which allows states to enter into a contractual arrangement with the federal government for compensation for the incarceration of undocumented criminal immigrants), the Community-Oriented Policing Services program (COPS, which helps support the hiring of police officers at the state and local level) and the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne-JAG, which supports a range of programs, including prosecutions and courts). Graham voted no. Yoho voted yes.

There is one upcoming vote for the Senate and three for the house. Hire More Heroes Act of 2015 (H.R.22) is a bill that would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exempt employees with health coverage under TRICARE or the Veterans Administration from being taken into account for purposes of determining the employers to which the employer mandate applies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act (H.R.675) is a bill that would increase, effective as of December 1, 2015, the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans, and for other purposes. TSA PreCheck Expansion Act (H.R.2843) is a bill that would require certain improvements in the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck expedited screening program, and for other purposes. Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization (H.R.1735) is a bill that would reauthorize appropriations for fiscal year 2016 for military activities of the Department of Defense and for military construction, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes.

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