June 2020 Legislative Update
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
To our AAV Community:
On May 12th of 2020, H.R. 6800 (also known as the ‘HEROES Act’) was introduced to the U.S House of Representatives, whereupon it passed the House on May 15th and has since been received by the Senate. While it is uncertain whether this bill will be passed by the Senate, and therefore nationally enacted, it is prudent that we as avian practitioners and veterinarians have knowledge of the impact of the proposed legislation.
Division K – COVID-19 HERO ACT
Title V Forgiving Student Loan Debt and Protecting Student Borrowers
This section of H.R. 6800 adds a new subsection, ‘COVID–19 National Emergency Private Education Loan Repayment Assistance,’ to the existing ‘Truth in Lending’ Act. Many of our younger members (and perhaps we all) are still working to pay off student debt from veterinary school tuition. While prior COVID-19 relief packages have enacted temporary federal student loan debt payment relief, this has not yet been applied to privately owned student debt. H.R. 6800 would change this, empowering the Secretary of Treasury to cover the payments of currently scheduled private student loan payments through September 30th, 2021 – limiting the total payments to up to $10,000 per borrower. It also proposes to prevent all interest capitalization on private student loan repayment and to ensure ‘no adverse credit information’ will be given to consumer reporting agencies during this time period.
While this may seem like a natural extension of the policies enacted for our federal loan borrowers – there is a caveat. The final clause of this subsection is one that limits “Application to only economically distressed borrowers,” i.e. “a borrower of a private education loan who, as of March 12, 2020—
- (i) based on financial state or other conditions, would be otherwise eligible, if the borrower instead had a Federal student loan, of having a monthly payment due on such loan of $0 pursuant to an income-contingent repayment plan under section 455(d)(1)(D) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1087e(d)(1)(D)) or an income-based repayment plan under section 493C of such Act (20 U.S.C. 1098e);
- (ii) was in default on such loan;
- (iii) had a payment due on such loan that was at least 90 days past due; or
- (iv) based on financial state or other conditions, was in forbearance or deferment.”
By no means does this discount the value of this action, as it holds dramatic value for those in dire straits, however it is important for each borrower to recognize whether or not they stand to be impacted by this new policy.
Division J – Support for Essential Workers, At-Risk Individuals, Families, and Communities
Title I: Family Care for Essential Workers
For our members with young families, there is the proposed congressional appropriation of $850,000,000 to provide “child care services for a child of an essential worker or daytime care services (or other adult protective services) for a dependent or household member of an essential worker (if such services are required). These funds are re-appropriated from current Social Security funding “to reimburse an essential worker for the cost of obtaining the services,…to a provider of child care services, or to establish a temporary child care facility operated by a State or local government.”
Per the legislation, the definition of an “Essential Worker” is as follows:
- a health sector employee
- an emergency response worker
- a sanitation worker
- a worker at a business which a State or local government official has determined must remain open to serve the public during the emergency (COVID-19)
- any other worker who cannot telework, and whom the State deems to be essential during the emergency (COVID-19)
Without question this provision stands to greatly benefit many within the veterinary community who have been not only serving our communities in a time of need, but also continue to fight a novel battle to find care for their families amidst a chaotic world.
Division S – Other Matters
Title IV - Wildlife-Borne Disease Prevention
Perhaps the most pertinent provision of H.R. 6800 to the public health and veterinary community is the ‘Wildlife-Borne Disease Prevention Act of 2020’. This provision requires the CDC and USGS (in collaboration with other federal agencies) to “identify wildlife species…that could pose a biohazard risk to human health, and perform a risk analysis…[to determine which] species is injurious.” It also provides support of diplomatic action to encourage the end of the international wildlife trade of ‘injurious species’, develop an electronic permitting system for US Fish and Wildlife to use in conjunction with law enforcement, and appropriate twenty-one million dollars to enact these plans.
The Lacey Act (18 USC 42-43; 16 USC 3371-3378) was enacted in 1900 to combat the impact of unlawful hunting and the interstate shipment of illegally killed game as well as the killing of birds for the feather trade. It has since been expanded to include plant products as well, with the responsibilities of enforcement shared between APHIS and US Fish and Wildlife. The current language of the Lacey Act is relevant to the importation of ‘injurious wildlife’ – specifically prohibiting the importation of species “injurious to human beings, to the interests of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, or to wildlife or the wildlife resources of the United States.” The newly proposed amendment in H.R. 6800, would change the phrasing to “injurious to or to transmit a pathogen that can cause disease in humans, to be injurious to the interests of agriculture…” It also bans not only the importation of such species, but additionally bans the “interstate transport between States within the continental United States” – a drastic change from prior policy, where this portion of the Lacey Act (18 USC 42) did not apply to interstate trade.
Furthermore, the ‘Wildlife-Bourne Disease Prevention Act of 2020’ allows the Secretary of the Interior to act swiftly “in the case of an emergency posing a significant risk to the health of humans,” allowing them to designate a species as injurious “by interim final rule”. Any interested party may also petition for a species to be declared ‘injurious’, at which time the Secretary of the Interior shall investigate the scientific merit (within 90 days) and make a determination within 12 months.
One interesting change from the original language – “Whoever violates this section…shall be fined…or imprisoned..or both” – is the addition of reasonable knowledge. The new language is as follows: “Any person who knowingly imports, ships, or transports any species in violation of subsection (a) of this section and who reasonably should have known that the species at issue in such violation is a species listed in subsection (a) of this section, or in any regulation issued pursuant thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.” While many aspects of H.R. 6800 can be seen as a step forward in wildlife law, this seems to open a door for plausible deniability – allowing wildlife criminals to argue they could not possibly have ‘reasonably known’ that the species they were selling was listed under these sections. While this is carefully worded legislation, the Legislative Committee worries the expectation of reasonable knowledge may be a slippery slope when it comes to enforcement of amended legislation.
One of the most prudent portions of H.R. 6800 is a renewed focus on the United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC). The legislation calls for the director to “establish and maintain a national database of wildlife disease, including disease that cause a human health risk.”
In the pursuit of this, the center “shall, with respect to wildlife disease”
- Develop, validate, and deploy diagnostic tests
- Provide diagnostic services to Federal, State, and Tribal natural resource management agencies
- Provide confirmatory testing of diagnostic results
In order to mitigate zoonotic disease risk, the USGS Director is instructed to:
- Develop a framework for wildlife disease experts in the United States to conduct risk assessments of wildlife diseases;
- Communicate risk factors associated with wildlife diseases to the public
- Develop strategies to mitigate the threat posed by wildlife disease
In addition to these goals, the Director of USGS shall coordinate with the Director of US Fish and Wildlife to:
- Monitor wildlife disease threats to evaluate the risk posed by and impact of such diseases on the United States, conduct research and development to create statistically supported sampling frameworks for broad-scale surveillance of wildlife disease threats
- Conduct research on human dimensions of wildlife disease transmission and on effective outreach to stakeholders to help manage wildlife disease
- Conduct statistical modeling to understand and predict wildlife disease movement
- Make recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior on wildlife species to be listed as injurious
In order to expand international surveillance efforts, the USGS Director is also tasked with coordinating with the Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to “strengthen global capacity for wildlife health monitoring to enhance early detection of diseases that have the capacity to jump the species barrier and pose a risk to the United States, including by providing funding for”:
- Academic, governmental, and nongovernmental partner entities working to prevent wildlife disease outbreaks, emerging pathogens of wildlife origin, and epidemics or pandemics
- Building wildlife disease diagnostic capacity and monitoring systems in countries with areas that pose a high risk for animal-to-human transmission of disease
- Providing technical assistance through training, data sharing, and performing testing in countries with areas that pose a high risk for animal-to-human transmission of disease
The final portion of the “Wildlife-Borne Disease Prevention Act of 2020” also directs for the US Fish and Wildlife Service Director to “establish a grant program to provide onetime funding to the States, the District of Columbia, Tribes, and the territories and insular areas of the United States to conduct epidemiological surveillance, research, management, and education relating to emerging wildlife disease.” Needless to say, the development of a national grant program specifically tailored to the study of emerging wildlife disease within the United States holds the potential to create a vast impact for our veterinary university wildlife hospitals and their students, as well as state wildlife veterinarians, private wildlife hospitals, and even NGOs within the One Health field.
Overall, the HEROES Act takes tremendous steps forward in the support of veterinary practitioners as trained professionals and essential personnel, as well as strengthening our national wildlife health program at a critical moment. While passed through the house of the 116th Congress during a time of immense national tragedy and international pain, it is truly the kind of One Health legislation we need to meet this moment and enact a different future. On June 1st, the HEROES act was read to the U.S. Senate for the second time and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. While it may be questionable whether the HEROES Act will become national law, it is important that we all advocate for each national recovery package sent to the senate floor to include the “Wildlife-Borne Disease Prevention Act of 2020” and other provisions which will help to support our families, colleagues, and the nation. In a very divided time, may we all remember - One World, One Health.
Report prepared by: AAV Legislative Committee