Senate Democrats

S. 3297, The Advancing America’s Priorities Act

Summary and Background

On Tuesday, July 22, 2008, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and the chairs of the seven committees with measures included in the bill, introduced S.3297, the Advancing America’s Priorities Act. The billincludes a package of bipartisan legislation ranging from bills to promote important medical research to authorize new programs to protect children from exploitation to bills to promote U.S. foreign policy goals. Each of these bills has passed the House of Representatives by voice vote or by an overwhelming roll-call vote, and nearly all have a companion bill in the Senate that has passed out of committee. While these would likely pass the Senate by unanimous consent or by an overwhelming margin under normal circumstances, most have been blocked by one or two Republican Senators. S.3297 packages these bills together and provides a pathway for them to be considered and passed. The Senate is expected to take up this comprehensive measure during the week of July 28.

Major Provisions

Title I: Healthcare Provisions

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Registry Act.This subtitle would provide for the creation and maintenance of a single nationwide Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Registry at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by identifying, building upon, expanding and coordinating among pre-existing registries and building on the foundation provided by the pilot programs.  The purpose of the registry is to better describe the incidence and prevalence of ALS in the United States; examine appropriate factors, such as environmental and occupational factors that may be associated with the disease; better outline key demographic factors (such as age, race or ethnicity, gender and family history of individuals diagnosed with the disease); and better examine information about other disorders that can be confused with, misdiagnosed as, or progress to ALS.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.2295) passed the House as a stand-alone measure on October 16, 2007 by a vote of 411-3, and a companion bill (S.1382) was reported out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on December 4, 2007.

Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act.This subtitle would support and enhance cooperation in paralysis research, rehabilitation, and quality of life programs for people with paralysis. 

The House version of this legislation (H.R.1727) passed the House as stand-alone measure by voice vote on October 15, 2007, and a companion bill (S.1183) was reported out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on August 3, 2007.

Stroke Treatment and Ongoing Prevention Act. This subtitle (also known as the “STOP Stroke Act”) would help establish comprehensive systems of stroke care in healthcare settings as well as augment the education of first responders to ensure that patients presenting with signs or symptoms of a stroke will receive the highest quality of care.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.477) passed the House as a stand-alone measure by voice vote on March 27, 2007, and a companion bill (S.999) was likewise reported out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on March 27, 2007. In 2002, a previous version of this legislation passed the senate by unanimous consent.

Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act. This subtitle would help provide support services to women suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis and would also help educate mothers and their families about these conditions.  In addition, it would support research into the causes, diagnoses, and treatments for postpartum depression and psychosis.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.20) passed the House as stand-alone measure on October 15, 2007 on a 382-3 vote, but action on the companion bill (S.1375) was blocked in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions by a Republican Senator.

Vision Care for Kids Act.This subtitle would ensure that children get the vital vision care that they need to succeed in school by establishing a state grant program through the CDC to compliment and encourage existing state efforts to improve children’s vision care. Grant funds would be used to provide comprehensive eye exams to children that have been previously identified as needing such services, with priority given to children nine and under; provide treatment or services necessary to correct vision problems identified in that eye exam; and develop and disseminate educational materials to recognize the signs of visual impairment in children for parents, teachers, and health care practitioners.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.507) passed the House as a stand-alone measure by voice vote on October 15, 2007. This legislation also has a companion bill in the Senate (S.1117).

Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act. This subtitle would ensure that pregnant women facing a positive prenatal test result, or who deliver an infant with a postnatal condition, will be more likely to receive up-to-date, scientific information about the life expectancy, clinical course, intellectual and functional development, and prenatal and postnatal treatment options, and referrals to support services. Additionally, the measure would require the Department of Health and Human Services to make grants to entities to collect, synthesize, and disseminate evidenced-based information related to diagnosed conditions and make that information available to health providers and to coordinate access to new or existing support services.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.1810) was reported out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions as a stand-alone measure on April 21, 2008. This legislation also has a companion bill in the House (H.R.3112).

Title II: Judiciary Provisions

Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act.This subtitle would strengthen the ability of the federal government to investigate and prosecute unsolved murders from the civil rights era. It would create new cold case units at the Justice Department and FBI solely dedicated to investigating and prosecuting unsolved cases involving violations of criminal civil rights statutes which resulted in death and occurred before January 1, 1970.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.535) was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee as a stand-alone measure on June 20, 2007, a companion bill (H.R.923) likewise passed the House on June 20, 2007 on a 422-2 vote.

Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act.This subtitle would reauthorize and increase authorization levels for the programs under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), such as the Basic Center Program (BCP) and the Transitional Living Program’s (TLP), through the year 2013. The legislation would also require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop performance standards for RHYA direct service grantees, require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate the grant-making process for these programs under HHS, require HHS to conduct an incidence study on the prevalence of the runaway and homeless youth population, and authorize HHS to conduct a public information campaign to raise awareness of the unaccompanied youth population and their service and support needs.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.2982) was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee as a stand-alone measure on May 22, 2008, a companion bill (H.R.5524) passed the House by voice vote on June 9, 2008.

Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act. This subtitle would enable state and local governments to apply for funding for mental health courts, which can divert qualified offenders from prison to receive treatment; programs to provide specialized training for criminal justice and mental health system personnel; local treatment programs that serve individuals with mental illness; and mental health treatment for those in or released from prison

The Senate version of this legislation (S.2304) was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee as a stand-alone measure on April 1, 2008, a companion bill (H.R.3992) passed the House by voice vote on January 23, 2008.

Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act. This subtitle would close a jurisdictional loophole that allowed a Kansas man who was convicted of possessing child pornography to escape punishment. The legislation would expand definitions used in the crimes of child sexual exploitation and child pornography to cover those offenses to the full extent of Congress’s Commerce Clause powers.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.4120) passed as stand-alone measure under suspension by a vote of 409-0 on November 14, 2007.

Enhancing the Effective Prosecution of Child Pornography Act.This subtitle would amend the federal criminal code to: (1) include child pornography activities and the production of such pornography for importation into the United States as predicate crimes for money laundering prosecutions; and (2) define “possess” with respect to crimes of child sexual exploitation and child pornography to include accessing by computer visual depictions of child pornography with the intent to view.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.4136) passed as a stand-alone measure under suspension by a vote of 416-0 on November 15, 2007. This legislation has a companion bill in the Senate (S.2869).

Drug Endangered Children Act. This subtitle would authorize the Department of Justice to award grants designated to improve coordination among law enforcement, prosecutors, child protection services, social service agencies, and health care providers to help transition drug endangered children into safe residential environments.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.1199) passed as a stand-alone measure by on September 24, 2007 on a 389-4 vote,, and a companion bill (S.1210) was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 22, 2007.

Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission Act. This subtitle would create a 22-member commission, made up in part of citizens from the District of Columbia and the states associated with the War of 1812 to ensure a suitable national observance of the War of 1812.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.1389) passed as a stand-alone measure by voice vote on September 24, 2007, and a companion bill (S.1079) was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 17, 2008.

PROTECT Our Children Act. This subtitle would seek to streamline the protection and investigation of child exploitation cases by establishing a Special Counsel for Child Exploitation Prevention within the Department of Justice, and to combine state, local, and federal insight into how best to address the growing problem of child exploitation on the internet through creation of an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.3845) passed as a stand-alone measure on November 14, 2007 on a 415-2 vote, and a companion bill (S.1738) was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 7, 2008.

Title III: Environmental Public Works Provisions

Captive Primate Safety Act. This subtitle would prohibit the transportation of monkeys, apes, and other nonhuman primates across state lines for use in the pet trade. These animals have been banned from importation into the United States for use as pets since 1975. It has no impact on trade or transportation of animals for zoos, scientific research facilities, or certain other licensed and regulated entities, which are exempted. 

The Senate version of this legislation (S.1498) was reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as a stand-alone measure on July 31, 2007, and a companion bill (H.R.4933) was passed in the House by voice vote on March 31, 2008.

Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network Continuing Authorization Act.This subtitle would make permanent the existing authorization for a network of Chesapeake Bay-related sites, such as parks, wildlife refuges, and trails. The sites currently receive more than 10 million visitors annually.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.2707) was reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as a stand-alone measure on May 21, 2008, and a companion bill (H.R.5540) was passed in the House by voice vote on June 5, 2008.

Beach Protection Act.This subtitle would reauthorize the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000 (BEACH), which requires the Environmental Protection Agency to develop rapid testing procedures not currently used that detect bathing water contamination so that beaches can be closed as rapidly as possible if contamination is detected.  Current tests take 24 to 48 hours to produce reliable results, during which time thousands of American families enjoying the beach on their vacations may be exposed to dangerous pollutants.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.2844) was reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as a stand-alone measure on May 21, 2008, and a companion bill (H.R.2537) was passed in the House by voice vote on April 16, 2008.

Appalachian Regional Development Amendments Act (S.496/ H.R.799). This subtitle reauthorizes the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for five years. ARC fosters economic development and improvements in the quality of life for the 23 million people who live and work in Appalachia.  The bill refines the Commission’s approach to targeting its resources to the areas of greatest need. It directs the Commission annually to designate counties that are “at risk” of becoming economically distressed.  It continues existing programs and creates a specific authorization for an Economic and Energy Development Initiative for the region that would promote energy efficiency in the region to enhance its economic competitiveness, and increase the use of renewable and cleaner energy resources.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.496) was reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on March 29, 2007 and passed the Senate by unanimous consent on August 3, 2007. A companion bill (H.R.799) passed the House by a vote of 332-70 on July 16, 2007. This year, the House passed an amended version of the Senate bill on July 15, 2008, sent it back to the Senate, where a Republican Senator placed a hold on the legislation.

Title IV: Foreign Relations Provisions

Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act. This subtitle would establish a foundation to promote and support study abroad programs for American students.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.1469) passed as a stand-alone measure in the House by voice vote on June 5, 2007, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported an amended version (S.991) on March 4, 2008.

Reconstruction and Stabilization Civilian Management Act. This subtitle would strengthen the civilian capacity of the U.S. government to deal with post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction efforts overseas.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.1084) passed as a stand-alone measure in the House by voice vote on March 5, 2008, and a companion bill (S.613) was reported out of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on April 10, 2007.

Overseas Private Investment Corporation Reauthorization Act. This subtitle would reauthorize the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) through Fiscal Year 2011. OPIC helps U.S. businesses invest overseas and promotes economic development in new and emerging markets, which in turn supports U.S. foreign policy and creates U.S. jobs. Though it is estimated the agency has nearly $1 billion in deals ready to be signed, OPIC has not been able to initiate new business since April 1, 2008, when its authority ended. OPIC operates at a net profit to the U.S. Treasury.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.2798) passed as a stand-alone measure in the House by voice vote on July 23, 2007, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported a substitute version (S.2349) of the bill on March 4, 2008.

Tropical Forest and Coral Conservation Reauthorization Act. This subtitle would reauthorize the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998, which created the “debt-for-nature” program, through Fiscal Year 2010. The program allows developing nations to reduce their foreign debt through investment in environmental protection programs that help to protect tropical forests and coral reefs.

The House version of this legislation passed (H.R.2185) as a stand-alone measure in the House by voice vote on October 9, 2007, and the Senate version (S.2020) was reported out of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on October 5, 2007.

Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization Act. This subtitle would reauthorize through Fiscal Year 2009 a program to assist victims of torture through the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations (UN).

The House version of this legislation (H.R.1678) passed as a stand-alone measure in the House by a vote of 418-7 vote on April 25, 2007, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported a version of the bill (S.840) on October 9 2007.

Support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.This subtitle would authorize up to $5 million in U.S. funds for the establishment of a museum to memorialize the history of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.3320) passed as a stand-alone measure in the House on a 407-13 vote on November 14, 2007, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported the bill with an amendment (S.2679) on May 19, 2008.

Title V: Commerce, Science, and Transportation Provisions

Broadband Data Improvement Act. This subtitle would update broadband data collection policies at the Federal Communications Commission; require additional broadband study by the General Accountability Office, Small Business Administration, and Bureau of the Census; and create a program of public-private partnerships to map the availability and use of broadband at the state level.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.1492) was reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as a stand-alone bill on October 24, 2007, and a nearly identical bill (H.R.3919) was passed by voice vote in the House on November 13, 2007.

Training for Realtime Writers Act. This subtitle would authorize a grant program to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the Department of Commerce to promote the training and placement of closed caption writers.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.675) was reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as a stand-alone bill on July 31, 2007. Previous versions of the legislation have passed in the Senate by unanimous consent in the 108th and 109th Congresses, and a companion bill (H.R.1687) was incorporated in and passed in the House as part of H.R.4137, the Higher Education Act on November 13, 2007.

Hydrographic Services Improvement Amendments Act.This subtitle would reauthorize and amend the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act (HSIA). The measure would permit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to acquire hydrographic data and provide hydrographic services to support the conservation and management of coastal and ocean resources, to protect life and property, to support the resumption of commerce after emergencies and disasters, and to meet homeland security and maritime domain awareness needs.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.1582) was reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as a stand-alone bill on November 2, 2007, and a companion bill (H.R.3352) was passed in the House on March 31, 2008 by a vote of 308-60.

Ocean and Coastal Exploration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Act.This subtitle would authorize the National Ocean Exploration Program, National Undersea Research Program, and the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping Program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to increase scientific knowledge for the management, use, and preservation of oceanic, coastal and Great Lake resources.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.39) was reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as a stand-alone bill on March 27, 2007, and two companion bills were passed in the House (H.R.2400 and H.R.1834). Previous versions of this bill have been passed by unanimous consent in the Senate in the 108th and 109th Congresses.

National Sea Grant College Program Amendments Act.This subtitle would reauthorize the National Sea Grant College Program through fiscal year 2014. This program is a university-based program that supports coastal resource use and conservation.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.3160) was reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as a stand-alone bill on June 24, 2008, and a companion bill (H.R.5618) was passed by voice vote in the House on July 14, 2008.

Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act.This subtitle would authorize the establishment of an integrated system of coastal and ocean observations for the nation’s coasts, oceans, and Great Lakes.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.950) was reported out to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as a stand-alone bill on November 2, 2007, and a companion bill (H.R.2342) passed the House by voice vote on March 31, 2008.

Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act. This subtitle would authorize a coordinated federal research program on ocean acidification. 

The Senate version of this legislation (S.1581) was reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as a stand-alone bill on May 22, 2008, and a companion bill (H.R.4174) passed the House on July 10, 2008.

Title VI: Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Provisions

National Capital Transportation Amendments Act. This subtitle would amend the National Capital Transportation Act of 1969 to authorize major capitol investments over 10 fiscal years to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The DC Metro is critical to federal government operations. Over 40 percent of Metro ridership consists of federal employees. Moreover, the government relies upon Metro for transporting the millions of tourists who visit the nation’s capital each year, for special events, and for evacuation planning. The funding is contingent on the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia jointly matching the federal contribution towards WMATA’s capital projects.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.1446) was reported out of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs as a stand-alone bill on October 3, 2007, and a companion bill (H.R.401) was reported out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on May 9, 2007. The legislation was adopted in the House by a vote of 295-127 as an amendment to the H.R.6003, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which passed the House on June 11, 2008..

Preservation of Records of Servitude, Emancipation, and Post-Civil War Reconstruction Act.This subtitle would establish two programs to assist African Americans and others in conducting genealogical and historical research. It requires the Archivist of the United States to establish, as part of the National Archives, an electronically searchable database of historic records of servitude, emancipation, and post-Civil War reconstruction contained within federal agencies. The subtitle also requires the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to provide grants to states, colleges and universities, libraries, museums and genealogical associations to preserve records and establish databases of local records of such information.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.390) was passed in the House on January 22, 2007 on a 414-1 vote and was reported out of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on November 14, 2007.

Predisaster Hazard Mitigation Act.This subtitle would reauthorize the Predisaster Mitigation Grant Program at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is a Stafford Act program that gives grants to states for eligible projects to mitigate the risk of future natural disasters. The subtitle also requires FEMA to report to Congress on the suitability of using funds under the Predisaster Mitigation Program for flood control projects and authorizes FEMA in fiscal year 2010 to make grants for up to five flood control projects that are eligible under the criteria for the Predisaster Mitigation Program.

The Senate version of this legislation (S.3175) was reported out of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs as a stand-alone bill on June 25, 2008, and a companion bill (H.R.6109) was passed in the House by voice vote on June 23, 2008.

Title VII: Rules and Administration Provisions

Smithsonian Greenhouse Facility. This subtitle would authorize appropriations of for the construction of a greenhouse facility in Suitland, Maryland to be used by the Smithsonian Institution to assist in the maintenance and preservation of the National Orchid Collection held in trust by the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian’s lease on its current greenhouse expires in May, 2009. Without a new greenhouse, the Smithsonian will not be able to care for the orchid collection.

The House version of this legislation (H.R.5492) was passed in the House by voice vote on March 11, 2008.

Legislative History

On Tuesday, July 22, 2008, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and the chairs of the seven committees with measures included in the bill, introduced S.3297, the Advancing America’s Priorities Act, which encompasses a package of bipartisan legislation that have been blocked by Senators in the minority caucus, most often by Senator Coburn. Nearly all of these bills have passed the House of Representatives by voice vote or by an overwhelming roll-call vote and have a companion bill in the Senate that has passed out of committee. Moreover, it is anticipated that all would likely pass the Senate by unanimous consent or by an overwhelming margin, after limited debate, if not obstructed. S.3297 packages these bills together and provides a pathway for them to be considered and passed. The Senate is expected to consider this comprehensive measure during the week of July 28.

Expected Amendments

At the time of this writing, it is unclear whether amendments will be offered to S.3297.

CBO Estimate

At the time of writing, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had not released a cost estimate for S.3297. The CBO has, however, responded to a questionnaire by Senator Conrad. In that response, the office confirmed that authorizing a future appropriation neither triggers new spending nor increases the national debt. This confirmation contradicts concerns that the bills included in S.3297 would increase the national deficit by authorizing future appropriations. Absent actual appropriations, the included authorizing bills do not have a direct effect on spending or revenues.

Administration Position

At the time of this writing, no Statement of Administration Policy had been issued for S.3297. The Administration has, however, indicated support for many of the bills included in the package.

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