CongressionalWatch

Congress Gives Final OK to Relief Bill, Takes Up Gun Checks and Confirmations

WASHINGTON — Congress gave final approval to the coronavirus relief bill this week, but there were other essential issues discussed in Washington, as well. The House passed two bills aimed at strengthening background checks on gun sales, for instance, and the Senate confirmed several key appointments by Biden, including Merrick Garland as attorney general.

Here are votes on major issues during the legislative week ending March 12.

HOUSE

Final OK to Virus Relief

Voting 220 for and 211 against, the House on March 10 gave final congressional approval to a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package (HR 1319) that would add $300 per week to unemployment checks through Sept. 6; deliver payments of $1,400 per person to 150 million Americans; increase the Child Tax Credit in a way designed to cut child poverty nearly in half; deliver $350 billion to state, county, city, tribal and territorial governments; provide $25 billion in grants to the restaurant industry; increase Affordable Care Act premium subsidies; fund the reopening of K-12 schools; provide $25 billion in rental aid to avert evictions and $10 billion to help landlords meet their expenses; and fund programs to vaccinate against COVID-19 to slow the spread of the virus.

A yes vote was to send the bill to President Biden, who then signed it.

Alabama

Voting yes: Terri Sewell, D-7

Voting no: Jerry Carl, R-1, Barry Moore, R-2, Mike Rogers, R-3, Robert Aderholt, R-4, Mo Brooks, R-5, Gary Palmer, R-6 

Protecting Labor’s Right to Organize

Voting 225 for and 206 against, the House on March 9 passed a bill (HR 842) that would protect and expand employee rights to collectively bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions. The bill would establish the right to organize as a civil right enforceable in federal court, prohibit the permanent replacement of striking workers and enable employees to file class-action lawsuits over working conditions. The bill also would negate state right-to-work laws allowing non-union employees to benefit from negotiated contracts without paying union dues. In addition, the bill would:

  • Make it difficult for employers to classify “gig economy” workers as independent contractors to prevent them from joining unions.
  • Authorize stiff National Labor Relations Board fines for employers who unlawfully disrupt organizing campaigns.
  • Impose personal liability on corporate directors who knowingly sanction their company’s union-busting tactics.
  • Allow immediate reinstatement in court, through injunctive relief, of workers fired for union activity.
  • Allow mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes between newly certified unions and companies in drafting their first contract.
  • Permit unions to conduct secondary boycotts.
  • Allow union elections to be conducted at neutral sites and prohibit employers’ “captive audience” meetings to persuade workers.
  • Permit workers with multiple employers to negotiate directly with the one exercising the most control over their employment.
  • Prevent employers from using a worker’s immigration status to determine his or her terms of employment.

Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said the bill “will undo decades of Republican antiworker policies. It puts power back into the hands of workers and secures the right to organize and bargain for good wages, fair benefits and an equal voice on the job.”

Scott Fitzgerald, R-Wis., said the bill would “undermine the ability of states to choose their own labor laws by striking down the right-to-work laws of 27 states,” forcing “millions of workers to pay dues to labor unions without any say about how their money was spent.”

A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.

Alabama

Voting yes: Sewell

Voting no: Carl, Moore, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer

Expanding Checks on Gun Sales

The House on March 11 voted, 227 for and 203 against, to expand federal gun background checks to cover sales conducted at gun shows, over the Internet or through classified ads, with an exception for sales between family members. The bill (HR 8) would plug loopholes that allow millions of U.S. firearms sales to skirt the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is structured to deny guns to the mentally ill, individuals with criminal records and domestic abusers.

Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said: “Every day, 30 people are killed by someone using a gun. That number jumps to 100 if you factor in accidents and suicides involving guns. The steady stream of gun violence devastates families, communities, and schools … . This status quo is not OK.

Greg Murphy, R-N.C., said the bill would “absurdly hamper people’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves. This sort of broad government overreach does not save lives but treats everyday law-abiding citizens like criminals.”

A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.

Alabama

Voting yes: Sewell 

Voting no: Carl, Moore, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer

Extending Gun Background Checks

Voting 219 for and 210 against, the House on March 11 passed a bill (HR 1446) that would allow more time for the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to complete reviews of impending gun sales. Now, sales automatically go through if the check is not finished within three business or weekend days. The bill would extend the window to as many as 20 business days.

Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the bill would “close a dangerous loophole that puts weapons in the hands of individuals who should not legally be permitted to purchase them merely because the FBI is not able to complete the background check in time.”

Kat Cammack, R-Fla., said the bill “puts the onus on individuals to contact the government if their background check hasn’t been completed in 10 days. You know who cannot afford to wait? The single mom looking to protect herself and her children from a violent ex who has just been released from jail.”

A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.

Alabama

Voting yes: Sewell 

Voting no: Carl, Moore, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer 

Checks on Undocumented Immigrants

Voting 207 for and 217 against, the House on March 11 defeated a Republican motion to HR 8 (above) requiring undocumented immigrants to be reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when federal background checks detect they are attempting to buy a firearm.

Ben Cline, R-Va., said: “Since 1998, over 28,000 illegal aliens have been denied a firearm after failing a (background) check … . This means over 28,000 criminals have been allowed to stay in the United States when ICE should have been alerted about their criminal act but (was) not.”

No opponent spoke against the motion.

A yes vote was to adopt the GOP requirement.

Alabama

Voting yes: Carl, Moore, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer 

Voting no:  None

Not voting: Sewell

SENATE

Confirming Merrick Garland as Attorney General

Voting 70 for and 30 against, the Senate on March 10 confirmed federal appeals judge Merrick B. Garland, 68, as attorney general. Garland held Department of Justice positions under former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2016, his nomination to the Supreme Court was blocked in the GOP-controlled Senate for 10 months and then withdrawn.

A yes vote was to confirm the nominee.

Alabama

Voting yes: None

Voting no: Richard Shelby, R, Tommy Tuberville, R

Confirming Marcia Fudge as Secretary of Housing

Voting 66 for and 34 against, the Senate on March 10 confirmed Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Fudge, 68, was a mayor in suburban Cleveland before entering Congress in 2009, and she once chaired the Congressional Black Caucus.

A yes vote was to confirm the nominee.

Alabama

Voting yes: None

Voting no: Shelby, Tuberville

Confirming Michael Regan as EPA Chief

Voting 66 for and 34 against, the Senate on March 10 confirmed Michael S. Regan, 44, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the first Black person to lead the agency in its 50-year history. A specialist in reducing air pollution, Regan served at the EPA under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and was secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

A yes vote was to confirm the nominee.

Alabama

Voting yes: None

Voting no: Shelby, Tuberville

KEY VOTES AHEAD

The House during the week of March 15 will take up a bill to protect women against violence, while the Senate will vote on Biden administration nominees.