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  • An Update on Legislative and Regulatory Issues

    by Ellen Smith, MWWPR

    Congress and the President are aiming to finish a tax bill, budget initiatives, and some healthcare reform, and make changes to immigration before adjournment at the end of December. A series of impending deadlines that will have an impact on the process and timing ahead include:

    • Complete the Fiscal Year 2018 budget/annual funding (October 1, 2017 – September 30, 2018). The concurrent continuing resolution (CR) expires on December 8, 2017, and a CR or full bill needs passage to keep the government open.

      On October 26, 2017, the House adopted a non-binding budget resolution or budget blueprint, thus allowing tax-writing panels to use reconciliation instructions, which allow simple majority votes.

      Additional disaster funding will likely be included in any new appropriations bill over “emergency” funding or ways to pay for new funding.

    • Enact legislation for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) before March 5, 2017.
    • Consider addressing debt ceiling measures and enacted caps affecting sequestration measures.
    • The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), community health centers, and Perkins loan program expired on September 30, 2017.

    Immigration Issues

    Kirstjen Nielsen, key aide to Presidential Chief of Staff John Kelly, and former Chief of Staff to Kelly when he was Homeland Security Secretary, will be nominated as Secretary of Homeland Security. There are a number of key issues under her bailiwick in the coming months:

    • DACA-DREAMers: There is bipartisan interest in finding a solution to this issue before expiration in March 2018. The American Council on Education (ACE) led a higher education “Theme Week” October 16 - 20, 2017, and created the Protect Dreamers Higher Education Coalition, which a variety of associations, including NACE, joined. ACE also organized an 800-institution letter to Congress urging passage of a bill.

      Some House and Senate leaders want passage of a bipartisan bill before March and won’t vote for a final budget bill in December until completion.

      President Trump says he is open to a deal if the border wall is included; some Republicans in the Senate are also working on a compromise.

      Immigration principles released by President Trump include reductions in the numbers of immigrants, including family immigrants.

    • H-1B and other issues: The Inspector General found that the H-1B program lacks consistent processes to target fraud, abuse, and repeat offenders.

      On October 3, 2017, USCIS announced resumption of premium processing, which had been suspended in April.

      E-verify likely will be implemented to strengthen control of undocumented workers.

    • A larger immigration bill is unlikely to be completed, although some issues may be added to a DACA/DREAMers bill.
    • Modifications to the travel ban, including the addition of new countries, have been challenged in court.

    Tax Issues: Potential Impacts on the Higher Education Community

    • Details of a tax bill may emerge as soon as the week of October 30, 2017, with the hope of finishing a bill by December 2017.

      Vulnerable areas include charitable giving, endowments, tax-exempt bonds, unrelated business income tax, work force education benefits (Section 127, section 117 d, Student FICA), savings for college, and deductions and other incentives.

      Note that changes to state and local taxes can affect public institutions.

    Higher Education Reauthorization and Other Education Policy Issues

    • Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, plans to introduce a bill/discussion draft within the next few weeks.

      In the past, the chairwoman has been opposed to a unit record system for data collection.

      The House held a series of hearings in priority areas, including reforming higher education to address the current challenges and opportunities, consider accreditation data and transparency, and improve federal financial aid. House Democrats also launched a campaign called “Aim Higher,” which outlines their policy objectives for HEA.

    • The Senate HELP Committee has responsibility for health and education, and often takes the lead on health reform. As such, the chair and members continue working on health reform changes, although they have much background work done on higher education reauthorization and other higher education issues.

      The College Transparency Act of 2017: On May 15, a bipartisan group of Senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), released the College Transparency Act of 2017, a bill that would overturn the ban on a federal student-level data system that would allow for the tracking of employment and graduation rates. A House version also exists.

      Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and senior Democrat Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have the comments of many institutions and students in mind as they look to evaluate next steps. Regulatory relief, access, accountability, and other issues will be on the agenda.

    • The administration continues to examine ways to eliminate regulations. Officials from for-profit colleges, consumer groups, and nonprofit schools have been named to a panel that will hammer out new regulations meant to protect federal student loan borrowers defrauded by their schools.

      The Obama Administration had sought with the regulation to set a new standard for when borrowers could cancel their debt.

      Education Secretary Betsy DeVos instead has opted to overhaul the “borrower defense to repayment” regulation. She said the Obama-era regulation created “a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs.”

      The negotiated rule-making panel will first meet on November 13. If over the next several months the panel comes to a unanimous agreement on a proposal, the department is bound to go forward with that proposal. If no consensus is reached by panel members, then the department is free to move ahead with its own proposal.

    • The Department of Education published updated information on the College Scorecard at the end of September; the Scorecard includes a new feature that allows students to compare data from up to 10 institutions at once.

    Ellen Smith is a vice president at MWWPR and works closely with NACE leadership on public policy issues and initiatives.

    Posted November 2, 2017