Senate Commerce Committee OKs Bills, Nominations

Senate Commerce Committee OKs Bills, Nominations

May 22, 2020  | Jeff Davis

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a business meeting on May 20 to approve various bills and nominations (full agenda here). They included:

Motor safety grant flexibility. The committee approved, by voice vote, S. 3729, which will allow states more time to spend their fiscal 2019 and 2020 motor carrier safety grants from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Transportation and Safety Subcommittee chairman Deb Fischer (R-NE) said ““Many state commercial motor vehicle enforcement agencies have had to adjust their operations to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected their ability to apply for and utilize federal grants. Our legislation would ensure our commercial motor vehicle enforcement agencies around the country have more time and flexibility to use federal dollars already allocated to them as they work to keep Americans safe on the road.”

(More blanket authority for states to change the use of NHTSA highway traffic safety grants was enacted into law in March in section 22005 of the CARES Act.)

Coronavirus air travel task force. The committee approved, by voice vote, an amended version of S. 3681, establishing a joint DOT-HHS-DHS task force on air travel during the coronavirus pandemic. At the markup, a new substitute version of the bill was offered, and three amendments to the substitute were offered and accepted (Lee #1 clarifying that members won’t be paid, Lee #2 changing word order for some reason, and Markey #1 amending the title).

(The Senate bill bears some similarities to section 190504 of the massive coronavirus response bill passed by the House last week (H.R. 6800) which required the same cast of characters to come up with a national aviation preparedness plan for communicable disease outbreaks but did not require them to form a formal task force.)

Shipping advisory committee. By voice vote, the committee approved S. 2894, as amended, which would establish a national shipping advisory committee to “advise the Federal Maritime Commission on policies relating to the competitiveness, reliability, integrity, and fairness of the international ocean freight delivery system.” Membership of the advisory committee would be split 50-50 between importers and exporters (12 members each).

Two amendments were adopted: Lee #1 making sure members serve on a voluntary basis, and Lee #2 providing that any funding for the advisory committee has to come out of the FMC’s existing budget.

Nominations. The committee approved the nomination of Finch Fulton to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Transportation Policy by voice vote (his was the last hearing that any Congressional transportation panels held before the coronavirus took over everything).

The committee also re-approved several nominees on a party-line basis who have been nominated by President Trump several times before and approved in committee, only to languish on the Executive Calendar until, by rule, their papers had to be returned to the President at the end of the annual session of Congress:

  • Diana Furchtgott-Roth, to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Research and Technology. (Nominated 10/2/2017, approved in committee 11/8/2017, returned to the President 1/3/2018. Renominated 1/8/2018, approved again in committee 1/18/2018, returned to the President 1/3/2019. Renominated 1/16/2019, approved again in committee 4/3/2019, returned to the President 1/3/2020. Renominated 2/27/2020, approved again in committee 5/20/2020.)
  • Joseph Gruters, to be a Member of the Amtrak Board of Directors.  (Nominated 2/5/2018, approved in committee 5/22/2018, returned to the President 1/3/2019. Renominated 1/16/2019, approved again in committee 4/3/2019, returned to the President 1/3/2020. Renominated 3/2/2020, approved again in committee 5/20/2020.)
  • Lynn Westmoreland, to be a Member of the Amtrak Board of Directors. (Nominated 10/5/2017, approved in committee 11/8/2017, returned to the President 1/3/2018. Renominated 1/8/2018, approved again in committee 1/18/2018, returned to the President 1/3/2019. Renominated 1/16/2019, approved again in committee 4/3/2019, returned to the President 1/3/2020. Renominated 3/2/2020, approved again in committee 5/2/2020.)
  • Rick Dearborn, to be a Member of the Amtrak Board of Directors. (Nominated 6/25/2018, approved in committee 9/6/2018, returned to the President 1/3/2019. Renominated 1/16/2019, approved again in committee 4/3/2019, returned to the President 1/3/2020. Renominated 3/18/2020, approved again in committee 5/20/2020.)

(See this article in this week’s issue as to how two new Democratic nominees to the Amtrak Board could actually make it possible for some of the above Republican nominees to get confirmed as well.)

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