Blocking Robocalls, Stepping Up Suicide Prevention for Vets, and Appropriating Funds for a New Space Force
Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (S 151) – Approximately 58.5 billion robocalls were made in the United States last year, a 22 percent increase over 2018. That works out to an average of 178.3 robocalls per person, per year. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that this law was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress. The legislation requires that phone companies ensure all calls come from real numbers, do not charge extra to block robocalls, and authorize government regulators to punish scammers with fines of up to $10,000 per call. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ); it was signed into law by the president on Dec. 30, 2019.
Building Blocks of STEM Act (S 737) – This bill modifies National Science Foundation (NSF) grant programs that support STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to promote the role of teachers and caregivers in encouraging participation by female students in STEM activities. Specifically, the bill authorizes the development of gender-inclusive computer science enrichment programs in pre-kindergarten through elementary school. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). It was introduced on March 11, 2019, and signed into law by the president on Dec. 24.
Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act (HR 2333) – This legislation requires the Government Accountability Office to report on the responsibilities, workload, training and vacancy rates of suicide prevention coordinators. The bill responds to reports that coordinators are overworked and unable to keep up with their many responsibilities, particularly in light of the recent increase in veteran suicides. The Act was introduced on April 18, 2019, by Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY); it passed the House in May, the Senate in December and was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.
Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (HR 1865) – This annual appropriations bill sets government spending limits for the current fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020). Among a myriad of provisions, the bill extends funding for various health-related programs; deters pharmaceutical companies from blocking lower-cost generic alternatives from entering the marketplace; and repeals the Cadillac tax on expensive employer plans, the medical device excise tax, and the health insurance fee that was initially imposed by the Affordable Care Act. The final version of the bill was passed by the House and Senate in mid-December and signed by the president on Dec. 20, 2019.
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (S 1790) – This $738 billion defense bill authorizes fiscal year 2020 appropriations and policies for the Department of Defense. Provisions include authorization for a sixth, stand-alone branch of the U.S. military service (Space Force); guaranteed 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers; a 3.1 percent pay raise for active-duty personnel; allows for Liberian nationals living in the United States under Deferred Enforced Departure to apply for permanent residency; funding for improvements to military housing and health care; funding to purchase 60 F-35s for the Air Force; and a dictate that prohibits Turkey from participating in the F-35 program as long as it maintains a Russian-made missile system. Note that passage of this bill does not provide budget appropriations, which is authorized in subsequent legislation. This bill was passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 17, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.
FUTURE Act (HR 5363) – This bill permanently authorizes funding for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, and increases appropriations for Pell Grants. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) on Dec. 9, 2019, passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 10, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 19, 2019.