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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, December 31, 2015 10:03 pm

Hoosiers shape federal laws

Brian Francisco | Washington editor

A variety of legislative proposals drafted or shaped by Hoosiers in Congress became laws in 2015.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., saw several of his offerings end up in bills signed by President Barack Obama.

Three made their way into the federal spending and tax-breaks legislation Obama signed in December. One allows any group applying for tax-exempt status to seek remedy from the U.S. Tax Court if the IRS fails to act on its application in a timely manner. Another requires an analysis of cybersecurity threats to mobile communications devices.

A third bars foreign citizens from traveling to the U.S. without visas if their home countries fail to implement participation mandates of the Visa Waiver Program, including sharing information on terror suspects.

"The threat posed by radical jihadists necessitates that we reassess and strengthen our border security," Coats said in a statement last February, when he introduced legislation to make changes in the Visa Waiver Program.

Two of his proposals were part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act that became law in June. 

One provision requires taxpayers to possess valid tax forms to qualify for higher education tax benefits and provides tax penalty relief to colleges and universities if they certify that they have requested taxpayer information from students. The other strengthens remedies against imports that are subsidized and "dumped" in the U.S. by foreign manufacturers. 

Another trade remedy measure by Coats that became law gives federal agencies greater ability to access information for determining potential injury to American industries.

Legislation carried by Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to address mental health care for members of the armed services was included in the defense authorization bill that became law in November. Donnelly’s legislation will require that Defense Department medical providers be trained in suicide risk recognition and management, and it establishes a special designation for private-sector providers who demonstrate a strong knowledge of the mental health needs of military personnel. 

"The legislation aims to ensure that the providers have the knowledge, the training and the tools needed to deliver the best care," Donnelly said in March in a conference call with news media.

Also included in the defense bill was a Donnelly amendment requiring the Pentagon to assess the presence and effects of counterfeit electronic parts that have reached defense systems.

A bill authored by Donnelly to let privately insured credit unions apply for membership in the Federal Home Loan Bank system was signed into law in December as part of the transportation bill, which also included a Donnelly amendment for metropolitan planning organizations to have employers and other groups assist in the development of transportation plans that are eligible for federal funds.

Donnelly was the sole original co-sponsor of two Republican-sponsored bills that became law. One set a uniform federal standard for natural gas-powered vehicles carrying freight, and the other will allow more community banks to qualify for an 18-month examination cycle instead of a 12-month cycle. 

Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th, was among the chief sponsors and negotiators for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which became known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

Signed in December by Obama, the bill ceded more control over public schools to state and local education authorities by eliminating federal oversight edicts, including standardized student testing and school performance requirements, that were enacted by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

"This bill gives power back to the people. It gets Washington out of our classrooms and lets the states take control of how they educate their children," Rokita said in a statement the day the bill was signed.

Obama approved two proposals by Rep. Todd Young, R-9th. The first, signed in July, reduced excise tax rates on liquefied natural gas and propane used for motor vehicles to account for the fact that they use less energy than diesel fuel and gasoline, respectively. 

The second, signed in August, requires hospitals to inform Medicare patients of their admission status and the financial implications of that classification on Medicare eligibility and cost-sharing. 

"This new law ensures seniors won’t be caught off guard by a large medical bill because they weren’t given proper notice of their status in the hospital," Young said in a statement after the hospitals legislation was signed.

bfrancisco@jg.net