A View from the Hill: October 2020

U.S. Capitol

It has been quite some time since our last View from the Hill edition, and there is plenty to report from 2020, but we’ll keep focused on activity that has taken place since the summer in order to keep this edition as succinct as possible.

Not long after returning from their August break, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released his latest pandemic relief package. The $500 billion measure included $500 million for fishery disaster relief, along with other small business relief provisions. The $500 million in fishery disaster relief funding was also included in the Senate’s previous relief package released at the end of July. At the time, it contrasted with the House’s HEROES Act, the $3.4 trillion relief package passed at the end of May, which included $100 million for disaster relief aid.

The release of McConnell’s package restarted what turned out to be contentious, on-again, off-again negotiations, mainly between the White House and the House, but with the Senate engaged as well. Those negotiations continued even as the House passed another smaller relief package, also called the Heroes Act (not to be confused with May’s $3.4 trillion HEROES Act). This most recent bill from the House totaled $2.2 trillion and included many of the same provisions and some new ones. You can read a section-by-section here.

Importantly, the package included a few fisheries provisions, including $250 million this time for fishery disaster assistance. This relief is specified to provide direct relief to tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants, including a $25 million set aside for tribal fisheries. This latest provision was significantly higher than the $100 million the original HEROES Act included at the end of May, but still far less than the $500 million included in the Senate bill released at the end of July.

In addition to pandemic relief measures, Congress also passed a few large legislative packages, including a Continuing Resolution (CR) that keeps the federal government funded until December 11. The House passed the bill on September 22, the Senate passed the bill on, and the President signed it later that evening, just before FY20 funding was to expire at midnight.

The House also recently passed the Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices (DESCEND) Act. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), requires fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico to carry equipment that allow fish to recover from barotrauma after being caught and brought to the surface.

Both chambers are now recessed until October 19, when the Senate is scheduled to return. The House is expected to remain out until after the election on November 3, but should a relief package be finalized, both chambers will likely return to pass the measure.

And finally, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, continued his fisheries listening tour with a virtual stop in New England September 28. The event, conducted virtually, focused on New England and fisheries management issues faced by stakeholders in the region. Topics included electronic monitoring, increased funding, the seafood supply chain, and mandatory observer coverage, among other important issues. A video recording of the session can be viewed here, and you can read the Congressman’s press release here, and the Network’s here.

Top photo courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol

About Rob Vandermark

Rob Vandermark is the executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network.

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