CAPITOL HILL – Local representatives have been busy on the Hill in the lead up to the August recess.
The U.S. Senate’s Appropriations committee worked on two major appropriations bills as part of the fiscal year 2018 budget process. Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) is a member of the committee and said both the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill and the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill contain measures to benefit the state, and county.
“This legislation invests in our national infrastructure, affordable housing for families and seniors, and programs that strengthen our economy and help people move into the middle class,” Van Hollen said of the first bill. “It includes critical funding for Maryland projects – from moving Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and the Purple Line forward, to preventing homelessness and combating lead hazards, to supporting regional airports.”
WMATA is funded to the tune of $150 million, the full amount authorized by the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act. The Purple Line is funded through the Capital Investment Grant Program, which has been allocated $2.13 billion.
The bill also includes funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, which had been tapped for zeroing-out in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal. The $3 billion in the appropriations bill would be used by Prince George’s County as well as several municipalities to support homeownership, economic development, housing rehabilitation and other projects.
Two of Van Hollen’s own amendments also made the final cut. Both deal with the Federal Aviation Administration, by requiring it to develop flight paths from airports, including Reagan National, that minimize noise in nearby communities and to step up their efforts on researching noise and other impacts from increasing flight frequency.
In the other appropriations bill, Van Hollen worked to add language condemning the General Services Administration’s recent decision to cancel the FBI headquarters consolidation project, which could have brought 11,000 jobs to Prince George’s County. If passed by the full Congress, the bill will require the General Services Administration to present a plan about consolidating the headquarters within 30 days.
“From protecting our communities, to investing in American innovation, to expanding our economy, this legislation provides important funding for Maryland. It also includes a provision to get the FBI headquarters consolidation project back on track,” Van Hollen said. “And it sends a strong bipartisan message to President Trump that Congress will not support the senseless cuts that he proposed to programs that are vital for our nation’s success.”
Also included are funds for many projects at NASA’s Goddard center in Greenbelt, like the James Webb telescope, the RESTORE-L program to establish a testbed for satellite-related projects, and the earth sciences division. It also funds the Office of Violence Against Women at a record-high $483.5 million and supports police and law enforcement efforts around the country.
Over in the House, Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.-4) has introduced several pieces of legislation in recent days. The MICRO Act (Make Identifiable Criminal Rounds Obvious) introduced last Friday aims to tackle gun violence by microstamping the make, model and serial number of a firearm onto the gun’s internal mechanisms, so that when it fires the identifying information is transferred to the shell casing of the bullet. This will aid law enforcement in identifying weapons that were used in crimes, and through that the perpetrator.
“Forty percent of murders in the United States go unsolved due to lack of evidence, and that number is unacceptable. Microstamping offers law enforcement the chance to track bullet casings to the source of the crime, and is one more step we can take to ensure the safety of the American people,” Brown said. “We must do everything we can to ensure gun violence can be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Gradual fines would be imposed on gun licensees who don’t microstamp their weapons.
Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-Md.-8) is among this bill’s cosponsors.
Brown is also tackling veterans’ healthcare. On Thursday, he introduced the VA Staffing and Vacancies Transparency Act of 2017, which requires the secretary of veterans affairs to report to Congress about steps being taken to fill the more than 45,000 vacancies at the agency, and to post the number of vacancies for the public to see. Congress already set aside $5 million for the VA to hire medical personnel, and Brown says this bill will give Congress more oversight over how and when that money is spent, as well as improve healthcare for veterans.
Brown’s colleague, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.-5), also announced last Wednesday that he has secured a grant of almost $3.6 million for the Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, which Hoyer helped establish as co-chair of the Congressional Fire Caucus.
“I am very proud to represent the brave men and women of the Prince George’s County Fire and Medical Services Department, and I am exceptionally pleased to announce this funding for the department,” Hoyer said. “I have made providing support and federal funding for firefighters a top priority. Our firefighters put their lives on the line each and every day to protect our communities, and in return, we must work to ensure they have the resources necessary to safely execute their jobs.”