Bills of Note Passed by the Last Congress (2019)

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There were 442 bills passed by the 115th Congress and signed by the President. Most of these new laws have attracted very little attention, so it may be helpful to review a few of them. The list below provides a glimpse into the myriad issues that face each Congress, and the implementation issues that will be the responsibility of the federal agencies:

• PL 115-265, the Save our Seas Act of 2018. The law reauthorizes and amends the Marine Debris Act, located at 33 U.S.C. § 1952, to “promote international action to remove marine debris”. The law requires the Department of State and other federal agencies to develop outreach and educational strategies to address the source of marine debris and provide technical assistance reduce the incidence of marine debris and provide technical assistance to expand waste management systems on an international basis. In case of a “severe marine debris” event, to assist in the cleanup. It is also the sense of Congress that the President should support research and development on systems that result in the reduction of derelict fishing gear and land-based sources of debris that enters the marine environment. The law addresses the membership of an Interagency Marine Debris Coordination Committee. The enormous amount of plastic waste deposited in the ocean must have been a concern to the legislators.

• PL 115-282, the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2018. This law codifies provisions of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act at Chapter 700 of Title 46 of the U.S. Code, codifies legal authorities to regulate vessels in U.S. waters, amends Oil Pollution Act’s oil spill auditing provisions, and directs the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit the Coast Guard’s verification of vessel response plans. The regulation of discharges of pollutants in navigable waters that are incidental to the normal operation of a vessel proved to be controversial. The resolution of this issue resulted in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) having the primary responsibility to establish standards pertaining to these discharges, the Coast Guard given responsibility to enforce these standards, while ensuring the states have the flexibility address standards relating to discharges of pollutants from vessels engaged in maritime commerce and transportation.

• PL 115-307, the National Earthquakes Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act of 2018. This law is codified at 42 U.S.C. § 7701. The amendments made by this act include a definition of “community resilience”, and roles are specified for FEMA, the Nation Institutes of Standards and the U.S. Geological Survey with regard to planning responses to earthquake hazards.

• PL 115-368, the National Quantum Initiative Act. This law provides for a coordinated Federal program to accelerate quantum research and development for the economic and national security of the United States. It appears that the provisions of this law will be codified in the sections dealing with the Higher Education Act of 1965 at 22 U.S.C. §§ 1001, et seq. “Quantum Information Science is defined as “the use of laws of quantum physics for the storage transmission, manipulation, computing, or measurement of information.” The President is directed to establish a National Quantum Coordination Office to serve as a contact on Federal civilian quantum information, science and technology activities. The Director of the National Science Foundation will carry out a basic research and education program on quantum information science and engineering.

• PL 115-396, extends the National Flood Insurance Program until May 31, 2019.

• PL 115-423, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2018. The law reauthorizes the existing National Drought Information System, which is codified at 15 U.S.C. § 313d. Legislative authorities are amended and extended, and a strategy for a national coordinating soil moisture monitoring network will be developed. The act also provides for research into “harmful algal blooms” and an assessment of these blooms in U.S. coastal waters and freshwater systems.

• PL 115-435, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Making Act of 2017. This law amends titles 5 and 44 of the U.S. Code, to require Federal evaluation activities, improve Federal data management and protect confidential information. This law is designed to improve the quality of federal decision making that is based on statistical data, The government requires agencies to develop a strategic plan based on the agency’s goals and objectives.

• PL 115-436, the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act. (An earlier law, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, PL 115-270, authorizes water infrastructure projects in nearly every state). This law amends the Clean Water Act to give municipalities the ability to integrate wastewater and stormwater management, and establishes in EPA the Office of the Municipal Ombudsman to provide technical assistance to municipalities. In connection with its permitting responsibilities, EPA is directed to include “ green infrastructure” provisions.

• PL 115-440, the Tropical Forest Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2018. The law reauthorizes the existing Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998, which is codified at 22 U.S.C. § 251, note, through Fiscal Year 2021. Section 3 of the Act protects tropical forests and coral reefs, and authorizes financial assistance to those countries that meet certain specified standards and employ sound macroeconomic policies.

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