This week: The House passed a bill to loosen federal laws relating to business start-ups’ ability to pitch investors, legislation to protect e-mail privacy (see below) and a resolution to block the Department of Labor’s final fiduciary rule. The Senate voted on amendments to the fiscal year 2017 funding bill for energy and water programs.
Next week: The House and Senate are both out of session.
Amendment Addressing Western Drought Conditions Added to Appropriations Bill. Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Harry Reid (D-NV) saw the Senate adopt their Reid-Heller Water Management Amendment to the Energy and Water appropriations bill this week. The amendment supports innovative water conservation projects in the Colorado River Basin that will help ensure water from the Colorado River is used as efficiently as possible. The Pilot System Conservation Program was authorized by the Energy and Water appropriations bill of 2015. The Reid-Heller amendment increases the Secure Water Act by an additional $50 million on the condition it is used for the Pilot Projects. The on-going drought in the West has significantly increased the near-term risk that water elevations in the Colorado River system could decline to levels that would trigger shortages. This voluntary program compensates reductions in water use and water efficiency upgrades in order to keep additional water in the Colorado River system.
New Bill Seeks To Address Lead in Water. Senate Democrats, led by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), today introduced the True LEADership Act (S.2821) to address lead-laden water and housing across the country. The bill seeks to increase investments in water infrastructure, particularly through a new grant program specifically designed for projects that reduce lead in tap water. It establishes a mandatory, nationwide requirement for states to report elevated levels of lead in children. It also creates a new tax credit for homeowners and for school to remove lead lines and aid children with the effects of lead poisoning.
Flint Aid and WaterSense in WRDA Bill. Water Resources Development Act, known as WRDA, sails quickly through Senate committee. This bill now includes provisions for federal assistance to Flint, Michigan, to replace its lead-tainted water supply, along with approvals for big government projects such as levees, flood control, Florida Everglades restoration and port dredging. An amendment was also included authorizing the EPA’s WaterSense program. This comprehensive bill also authorizes 25 critical Army Corps projects in 17 states. Senator Boxer stated: “WRDA ensures that the American people have clean drinking water, provides flood protection, maintains navigation routes, and improves wastewater infrastructure. What happened in Flint has shown us how vulnerable some our water systems are, and this bill is a perfect vehicle to upgrade our water infrastructure."
E-mail Privacy Protections. Legislation passed the House this week to give private e-mails of Americans slightly greater protection. The legislation specifically tightens up existing requirements for federal law enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant before forcing a technology company to furnish them with certain private e-mails. The bill, which passed overwhelmingly, managed to placate law enforcement, technology companies and user interests. It is a precursor to more expansive legislation dealing with complications posed by the recent San Bernardino shootings and efforts to unlock the shooters’ Apple iPhone. That legislation, which is not imminent and is being worked on behind the scenes, will deal more deeply with the delicate issues of to whether and to what extent private technology companies should be required to directly assist federal law enforcement agencies with access to their products and more specifically how to deal with new encryption technology that has successfully blocked the agencies’ access to critical content. Most lawmakers want to move this broader legislation before the next incident occurs, but most are not optimistic of quick action given the delicacy of the issues involved.
Depreciation Schedules. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) unveiled a proposal this week to simplify corporate depreciation schedules. The discussion draft avoids the issue of the length of depreciation schedules for capital investments and instead focuses on easing record-keeping requirements and weeding out complications that businesses face when writing off investments. It appears that Senator Wyden is holding off on the debate on depreciation schedules until later. At the same time, many Republicans are advocating to eliminate these rules altogether and allow businesses to immediately deduct the entire cost of their investments. It is not expected either of these plans to advance in 2016, though Senator Wyden’s plan is noteworthy since he could be Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee if Democrats take control of the Senate.
Annual Defense Bill. The House Armed Services Committee moved forward this week with its annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes $610.5 billion in spending on defense programs for fiscal year 2017. The NDAA will go to the floor and pass the House in May. As currently written, it differs from President Obama’s request in several areas. For example, President Obama requests three C-130J aircraft, while the House bill doubles the President’s request and calls for six. The details of this bill matter for many defense companies that contract with the Department of Defense. At the end of the day, this bill will more closely reflect what becomes law rather than President Obama’s budget request BDS Movement Against Israel. Many students on college and university campuses have been pushing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolutions against Israel. The BDS movement has moved beyond campuses and while this movement is not new, Congress is ratcheting up efforts to oppose BDS. A recently-introduced bipartisan bill will protect state and local governments’ right to disassociate pensions and contract from entities that boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel. There currently is no time frame for the anti-BDS legislation to move in Congress, but Congress is keeping a close eye on BDS and may be ready to act at the appropriate time.
EPA Proposal Incentivizing Renewables Under White House Review. The EPA sent its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program, which encourages states to invest in renewables, to the White House Office of Management and Budget for regulatory review. The incentive program was included in the EPA's Clean Power Plan — the Obama administration's central climate change regulation. Despite the Supreme Court's February stay of the rule, many states and tribes have expressed interest in the voluntary program designed to provide incentives for early investments in renewables and energy efficiency programs in low-income communities. The program is designed to be a voluntary matching fund for states to fund wind and solar power generation and demand-side energy efficiency measures in low-income communities.
Minnesota Adopts Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC). The state of Minnesota has formally adopted the 2012 edition of IAPMO’s flagship document and American National Standard designated plumbing code, the UPC, with state- specific amendments. The adoption became effective Jan. 23. The Minnesota Plumbing Board voted in favor of the adopting the UPC and subsequently followed the state’s rulemaking process culminating in this adoption. The provisions of the 2012 UPC will govern the design, installation, and maintenance of plumbing systems throughout the North Star State and protect the health and safety of the nearly 5.5 million Minnesotans who utilize them.
Solar-powered Flight Coming To An Airport Near You. Here is the Latest on a solar plane flying from Hawaii to California. Yesterday, Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard suited up for his three-day voyage from Hawaii to California in a solar plane. The Swiss-made Solar Impulse 2 is continuing its circumnavigation of the globe using only energy from the sun. Piccard also said the flight's destination, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is fitting. He said on his way to the airfield that when the plane lands there, it will land "in the middle of the pioneering spirit." Let’s hope that it is not an overcast day.
New Los Angeles Building Ordinance Sets Precedent For Water Efficiency. Last week, the City of Los Angeles adopted an ordinance that will ensure new buildings in Los Angeles use water more efficiently than ever before. Among other things, the new ordinance will require all new buildings in Los Angeles to be designed to reduce potable water use by 20 percent indoors. Additionally, all new buildings must be constructed to be "graywater ready,” have separate water meters for outdoor water use, submetering for multi-family and commercial tenant space to record individual usage, and pool covers for all new residential swimming pools. Non-potable water must be used for cooling tower make-up water and it requires smart hot water design that limits the volume of water delivered to any fixture to 0.6 gallons before hot water arrives.
Fitbit Wins Ruling Knocking Out Jawbone. Fitbit won a ruling that invalidated the last of the Jawbone Inc. patents that were the subject of a dispute at the U.S. International Trade Commission. The companies compete in the market for wearable fitness trackers, with Fitbit far in the lead. The fight has been marked with claims that Fitbit lured Jawbone employees who brought with them key information on things like product design and marketing plans. The judge had already said other Jawbone patents were invalid, and some claims were withdrawn by Jawbone. In her most recent order, she said Jawbone patents “seek a monopoly on the abstract ideas of collecting and monitoring sleep and other health-related data.”
Front-runner Momentum. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won enough in the five northeastern states holding primary elections this week to strongly solidify their front-runner statuses. Trump in particular rolled through the five states and won practically all 172 Republican delegates at stake. Both Clinton and Trump are so far in front in their parties at this point that it is difficult to see how any other person can be nominated. Bernie Sanders’ campaign will continue on for the time being, and he acknowledged this week that his goal now is to shape Clinton’s policy platform, not to win the nomination. Absent a Clinton indictment or an unexpected twist in the race, it seems things are set for the fall: Clinton vs. Trump vs. an assortment of minor third party candidates.
Delegate Numbers. 246 (the number of remaining delegates Trump needs to win the nomination outright). 232 (the number of remaining delegates Clinton needs to win the nomination outright). 502/1018 (the respective numbers of delegates in play for the Republican/Democratic contenders in the remaining 13 states and territories). 18 (the difference between Rubio and Kasich of awarded delegates even though Rubio pulled out of the race 41 days ago). 1 (the number of delegates that Carly Fiorina, now Ted Cruz’ VP selection, won prior to dropping out in early February).
Vote Totals. Clinton has attracted 12,135,109 votes in total, while Trump has received 10,056,691. Trump has now surpassed the entire 2012 vote total of Mitt Romney, who competed in all the states as part of his nomination. Trump is on pace to break the all-time high among Republicans in the modern polling era of George W. Bush in 2000 of 10.8 million.