From the Flight Deck
May 20, 2020


The U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 6800, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package.  The HEROES Act passed 208 to 199. Voting largely followed party lines.  But, fourteen House Democrats opposed the bill, and one Republican, retiring Rep. Peter King (R-NY), voted for the measure.  This week we take a closer look at this bill’s trajectory, along with several in-flight COVID-19 legislative measures circling over DCA and taking off across the country.



The cornerstone of the 1,800-page bill is $875 billion for state and local governments and $20 billion each for tribal governments and U.S. territories.  A provision of the bill that Democratic party leadership favors, but is vehemently opposed by Republicans, is another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to an expanded pool of eligible adults.  The bill would also add $75 billion for testing, new provisions for hazard pay for essential workers, $75 billion in mortgage relief, $100 billion for rental assistance, another $25 billion for the Postal Service, student loan forgiveness up to $10,000 per borrower, and expansions to federal nutrition and unemployment programs.



Of additional note, cannabis-banking related language that mirrors the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, appears on pages 1,066-1,091 of the HEROES Act.  The SAFE Banking Act passed the House in September with bipartisan support.  We’ll stay in radio contact on this provision.



In connection with the HEROES Act, the House adopted a resolution to permit remote voting in the House for the first time since the legislative branch was founded in 1789.  The resolution allows the Speaker of the House to designate a 45-day period for the proxy rule to apply.  If the public health emergency is still in effect when that period expires, the Speaker may renew it for another 45 days. If the declared public health emergency expires during the 45-day window, then the proxy period also terminates. All 217 votes in favor of the resolution came from Democratic members, and all Republican representatives voted against it.



Senate Republicans have the House stimulus bill on radar lock as it enters the upper chamber.  And, the White House signaled its intent to veto the measure, if passed. Commentators expect the flight plan for the HEROES Act is to spark difficult negotiations among Democratic leadership, the president, and Senate Republicans, and is also likely to be the last major COVID-19 response bill to land before November's presidential and congressional elections.  We will check back when we get a little closer to our destination.


Additional COVID-19 Measures


A bi-partisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act.  The legislation would create a compensation fund for workers and the families of workers deemed essential during the coronavirus pandemic who have continued to leave their homes for work even as stay-at-home orders have forced most Americans to work remotely. The bill would “authorize appropriated funds as needed for five years” overseen by a special master, with funds made available to essential workers who worked outside the home and family members who became ill with coronavirus through contact with them.  The current bill tracks the 9/11 Victims Fund established in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.



Senate Democratic leaders this week proposed privacy legislation designed to ensure the privacy and security of proposed COVID-19 contact tracing apps. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act is spearheaded by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Senator Warner co-founded the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus in 2016.  Citing a wide range of privacy misuse, intrusions, and breaches, the bill sponsors aim to restore trust in technology platforms used amid the pandemic.  Earlier this month, Senate Republicans released a competing privacy bill, which will set the stage for a debate on the role of technology in re-occupancy efforts.


Making Our Way Around the Country


In related technology news, litigants to an insurance dispute in Collin County, Texas conducted, what is believed to be, the  first virtual jury trial held during the COVID-19 crisis. More than two dozen potential jurors logged in by smartphones, laptops, and tablets for jury selection.  Broadcast over a livestream video, the trial judge occasionally provided technical advice on how to best use their devices.  The one-day trial was a “summary jury trial,” in which jurors hear a condensed version of a case and deliver a non-binding verdict.  Next jury instruction:  “Remember to keep your phones in airplane mode with the cellular features disabled.”



The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied a Pittsburgh-based restaurant’s Emergency Application to exercise statutory and “King’s Bench” powers to assume plenary jurisdiction over the restaurant’s pending COVID-19 business interruption lawsuit filed in Pittsburgh and join all similar COVID-19 business interruption cases in Pennsylvania state courts. The defendant, joined by amicus briefs from leading insurance carrier trade associations, objected to the creation of state-based, multi-jurisdiction consolidation of cases, citing a need to address the unique aspects of business interruption coverage grants and exceptions.



For the second time during the COVID-19 pandemic, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara will require insurance carriers to return partial insurance premiums to consumers and businesses. The order covers insurance lines including workers compensation, commercial automobile, commercial liability, commercial multi-peril, medical malpractice, and any other insurance line where the risk of loss has fallen substantially as a result of the pandemic.  Commissioner Lara’s order requires insurers to provide an adjustment to the premium in the form of a premium credit, reduction, return of premium, or other adjustment as soon as possible, but no later than Aug. 11, 2020.



The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) published its final rule on hours-of-service reform.  Among other changes in the final rule, the on-duty limits for short-haul operations will increase from 12 to 14 hours and from 100 air-miles to 150.  The adverse driving provision will extend the driving window two hours if the driver encounters adverse driving conditions.  And, the 30-minute break provision will be modified to require the break after eight hours of consecutive driving time and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.  U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the final rule strikes a balance between driver control of their hours and safety on the nation’s highways. The rule is effective 120 days from publication in the Federal Register.



Back to our main story this week, today marks the anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s non-stop, transatlantic flight from New Foundland, Canada, to Londonberry, Northern Ireland, in 1932.  Lady Lindy reminds us that preparation is “rightly two-thirds of any venture.”   To help prepare for future trips into the wild blue yonder, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, developed a new publication to help countries address the aviation safety risks arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Stay well, stay safe, and stay connected.   


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