This year’s LFCA delegation headed to the Capitol to meet with the state of Louisiana congressmen to discuss the current bills before the Senate that could impact fire service.
Here is a list of the legislative initiatives hot sheet that each member used when speaking to each congressman.
1. Protect the FIRE/SAFER Grant Programs
▪ The Problem: Many fire departments across the country cannot afford the equipment, training, and staffing necessary to meet a baseline level of readiness. This situation puts firefighters and their communities in danger.
▪ The Solution: The FIRE and SAFER grant programs augment local funding and provide much needed assistance to meet these needs. To date, the programs are working well to improve preparedness and response capabilities, but much more needs to be done. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 114-113) appropriated $345 million each for the FIRE and SAFER grant programs, a $5 million increase for each program. For FY 2017, the Obama Administration proposed cutting the FIRE and SAFER grants to $335 million each and focusing them on terrorism preparedness. The House Appropriations Committee would appropriate $345 million for each program, while the Senate Appropriations Committee would appropriate $340 million for each program.
▪ The Explanation: If you have received a grant under the FIRE or SAFER grant programs, explain how you used the money and how it has improved your ability to serve your community in response to all hazards. If you have not received a grant under these programs, explain how you could use that grant money. Give a specific example of how a FIRE or SAFER grant has helped or could help you serve your community.
▪ The “Ask:” Ask your representatives and senators to support at least $345 million each for the FIRE and SAFER grant programs in FY 2017 and to reauthorize these programs.
Notes from IAFC: (March 1, 2017)
- Number-one goal will be to reauthorize these two grant programs. The funding for these is authorized through September 30, 2017; if Congress doesn’t take any action, the programs will be eliminated in January 2018. The IAFC would like Congress to reauthorize both programs for another five years and remove provisions to sunset the programs.
- The Senate for FY2017 the Senate proposed cutting the FIRE & SAFER Grant programs by $5 million each to $340 million. The House still is proposing $345 million for each program.
- Currently, the federal government is funded by a continuing resolution through April 28, so the FIRE and SAFER grant application periods will be delayed again because the federal government can’t issue new grants under a continuing resolution.
Notes from CFSI: (March 17, 2017)
- Eliminate the sunset provision that will permanently terminate the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs on January 2, 2018;
- Extend the authorization for the programs through Fiscal Year 2022;
- Implement a technical correction to the individual waiver authorities under the SAFER grant program;
- Implement a technical correction to the maintenance of expenditures provision in the SAFER grant program;
- Implement a technical correction to the 21st Century Cures Act related to specialized training for first responders intervening with individuals with mental illnesses; and
- Implement a technical correction to the application requirements for the SAFER grant program.
- Federal Taxation of Volunteer Incentives
▪ The Problem: State and local governments use property tax rebates and other incentives to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. The Internal Revenue Service views these incentives as income. A previous federal law excluded any property tax benefit and up to $360 per year of all other state and local benefits to volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel from taxable income. This law expired at the end of 2010.
▪ The Solution: The Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA; H.R. 1550) would permanently reinstate the tax benefit and raise the $360 cap to $600.
▪ The Explanation: Explain that taxing such incentives makes them ineffective, and may hinder recruitment and retention of volunteer emergency responders. Further, point out that the number of volunteer firefighters nationwide has decreased from 880,000 in 1984 to 788,250 in 2014 according to the NFPA’s U.S. Fire Department Profile. State and local incentives are important when recruiting and retaining volunteers who must struggle to balance their careers and the obligations of today’s two-income families.
▪ The “Ask:” Ask your representatives and senators to protect state and local benefits for volunteer firefighters by becoming an original cosponsor of the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act, H.R. 1550.
Notes from CFSI:
On Wednesday March 15, Congressman David Reichert (WA-8) and Congressman John Larson (CT-1) introduced HR.1500. It has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.
- Incentivizing Fire Sprinkler Retrofits
▪ The Problem: Automatic fire sprinkler systems are a proven way to reduce the chances of being killed or injured in a fire as well as significantly limit damage to a building. However, retrofitting an existing building with an automatic fire sprinkler system can be very expensive. The current tax code provides a dis-incentive for building owners to install these life-saving systems by impeding the ability of property owners to recover the costs of installing the fire sprinkler system.
▪ The Solution: The Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act (FSIA, S. 602/H.R. 1481) would provide two mechanisms to incentivize owners of low, medium, and high-rise buildings to retrofit their properties with fire sprinkler systems. The FSIA would classify fire sprinkler systems as a Section 179-eligible expense, thus allowing low- and medium-rise property owners to deduct the cost of these systems from their taxes. The FSIA also would accelerate the depreciation schedule for fire sprinkler systems to 15-years and allow high-rise building owners to recover more quickly the costs of retrofitting their properties with automatic fire sprinkler systems.
▪ The Explanation: Explain that fire sprinkler systems are proven to reduce an occupants chance of dying in a fire by 83%, decrease property damage by 74%, and confine a fire to its room of origin in 95% of fires. Consider explaining that the costs of retrofit installations can place fire sprinklers systems can be out of the reach of many business owners, but the FSIA will make these systems more affordable.
▪ The “Ask:” Ask your representatives and senators to incentivize the installation of fire sprinkler systems by cosponsoring the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act (S. 602/H.R. 1481).
Notes from CFSI: (March 17, 2017)
To address this problem, Congressman Tom Reed (NY-23), Congressman James Langevin (RI-2), Senator Susan Collins (ME), and Senator Thomas Carper (DE) have introduced the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act (H.R. 1481/S. 602). The legislation contains two parts that target high-risk structures:
- Section 179 tax treatment- Section 179 of the tax code allows small and medium-sized businesses to fully expense certain types of equipment purchases like machines, equipment, vehicles, and computers. Fire sprinkler systems are not currently a 179 property and this legislation would make them eligible for 179 tax treatment.
- High-Rise Retrofits- The most vulnerable structure not covered by section 179 tax treatment are high-rise structures (buildings 7 stories or higher). In the United States, there are nearly 10,000 high-rise fires annually and they are some of the deadliest fires for civilians and firefighters. This legislation will provide a financial incentive to high-rise building owners to install sprinkler systems by reducing the depreciation schedule from 39 years to 15 years. This reduction will also put sprinkler improvements more in line with the current tax code that allows 15-year depreciation for leasehold improvements.
H.R. 1481 was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and S. 602 was referred to the Senate Finance Committee. The Joint Committee on Taxation is currently reviewing the legislation to estimate its cost.
- The Creation of a Nationwide Voluntary Cancer Registry for Firefighters
▪ The Problem: There is an overall higher risk of cancer among firefighters. Research has shown that there are significant increases in the risks of cancers in the colon, prostate, intestine, lung, bladder, kidney and other organs in firefighters. For some types of cancer, the risk relative to the general population can be 229% higher.
▪ The Solution: There is a need for more comprehensive research into the links between firefighting and cancer. The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (H.R. 931/S. 382) would create a voluntary national firefighter registry. Researchers would be able to compare the information in this registry with state cancer registries to investigate what is causing the increased risk of cancer in firefighters and prevent that risk.
▪ The Explanation: The legislation would establish the national firefighter registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The information would be anonymous and submitted on a voluntary basis. Researchers that use data from this registry would have to make their research and results available to the fire and emergency service to develop personal protective equipment and tactics and procedures to mitigate the risk of cancer.
▪ The “Ask”: Ask your representatives and senators to cosponsor the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (H.R. 931/S. 382).
Notes from CFSI (March 17, 2017)
The registry would:
- Develop a firefighter registry of available cancer registry data collected by existing state cancer registries and a strategy to maximize participation;
- Create a registry that will contain relevant history, such as other occupational information, years of service, number of fire incidents responded to, and additional risk factors
- Make de-identified data available to public health researchers to provide them with robust and comprehensive datasets to expand groundbreaking research;
- Improve our understanding of cancer incidences by requiring its administrators to consult regularly with public health experts, clinicians, and firefighters.
H.R. 931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Identical legislation, S. 382, was introduced by Senator Robert Menendez on February 15th. S. 382 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
- Requirement to Give Back Public Safety Communications Spectrum in the T-Band
▪ The Problem: On February 22, 2012, President Obama signed Public Law 112-96. The law requires that the Federal Communications Commission begin auctioning the public safety T-Band spectrum by February 2021 and clear all public safety operations from the band within two years of auction close (i.e., by early 2023). The T-Band (470-512 MHz) is a key spectrum resource allocated for land mobile communications operations in 11 major urban areas of the United States. While the law provides that auction revenues can be used toward the cost of relocating public safety operations to other spectrum bands, the law is silent on identifying a new spectrum home. The IAFC estimates that it will cost $5.9 billion to compete this spectrum migration. In addition, at least five jurisdictions have no excess spectrum to which to migrate.
▪ The Solution: Ultimately, the best solution is to change the law and allow the 11 metropolitan areas to remain in the T-Band spectrum until the nationwide public safety broadband network being developed by FirstNet can support mission-critical voice communications as part of its interoperable network.
▪ The Explanation: If your agency’s land-mobile radio communications are on the T-Band, explain how this requirement to migrate from the T-Band will hurt your communications. Explain why it is important for your agency to have adequate spectrum for its voice communications.
▪ The “Ask:” Ask your representatives and senators to re-examine the requirement that public safety agencies vacate the T-Band spectrum and consider the findings of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council.
7. Protecting Access to Emergency Medications
▪ The Problem: Fire departments and EMS agencies regularly rely upon “standing orders” from their medical directors to permit paramedics and other advanced life support (ALS) providers to administer medications to patients experiencing certain medical emergencies. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is currently developing regulations which may prohibit fire and EMS agencies from relying upon “standing orders” when administering medications which fall under DEA scheduling. These new regulations could make it significantly harder for EMS agencies to administer commonly utilized medications such as epinephrine and fentanyl. Any delay in delivering these important medications could delay care for patients experiencing cardiac arrest, mental health emergencies, extreme pain, or other conditions.
▪ The Solution: Congress should pass the Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act of 2017 (H.R. 304). This legislation will preserve the ability of fire departments to rely upon standing orders when administering medication to patients. Additionally, this legislation would permit fire departments to file a single registration directly with the DEA rather than the current system which forces fire departments to indirectly register through their medical directors and declare every location where controlled substances are maintained by the agency. This legislation passed the House unanimously on January 9.
▪ The Explanation: Controlled substances play an important role in the provision of pre-hospital emergency medical care. If fire and EMS departments are prohibited from using standing orders, then EMS personnel will need to consult a physician for each individual administration of medication to a patient. This process may cause severe delays in patient care, particularly in rural areas where there is already a recognized shortage of physicians. This legislation would also ease the administrative burden which forced fire and EMS departments to maintain many different DEA registrations for each fire station and vehicle carrying ALS medications.
▪ The “Ask:” Ask your senators to pass the Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act of 2017 (H.R.304).
Notes from CFSI:
H.R. 304 was introduced by Congressman Richard Hudson (NC-8) on January 5, 2017. Louisiana co-sponsor Rep Ralph Abraham (R-LA-5).
Summary: The legislation clarifies existing law to allow EMS providers to continue dispensing controlled substances under “standing orders”.
8. Reauthorizing the Medicare Ambulance Extender Payments
▪ The Problem: Fire departments and EMS agencies are chronically under-reimbursed by Medicare for emergency medical care provided to Medicare beneficiaries. For more than ten years, Congress has permitted the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide an additional 2%, 3%, and 22.6% in reimbursements for transportations of Medicare beneficiaries from pre-determined urban, rural, and super-rural zip codes. If Congress does not act, the authorization for these payments will expire on January 1, 2018.
▪ The Solution: Congress should include a long-term, if not permanent, reauthorization for the Medicare Ambulance Extender Payments in any healthcare reform legislation that Congress may consider in 2017.
▪ The Explanation: Fire departments will face a 2%, 3%, or 22.6% reduction in reimbursements for EMS transportations of Medicare beneficiaries if Congress does not act by January 1, 2018. Congress has historically reauthorized these payments in extremely short-term increments of six months to one year. A permanent, or at least multi-year, reauthorization would restore predictability to this important payment program and for the budgeting process in fire departments across the United States.
▪ The “Ask:” Ask your representative and senators to include a long-term, or permanent, reauthorization of the Medicare Ambulance Extender Payments in any healthcare reform legislation that Congress may consider.
- Improve Hazardous Materials Response Training for First Responders
▪ The Problem: The national energy boom has focused attention on the importance of safely transporting crude oil and other hazardous materials across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the overall volume of crude oil moving by rail has quadrupled in less than a decade. Recent incidents in the
transport of crude oil have demonstrated the need for local fire and emergency services to be prepared for hazmat incidents.
▪ The Solution: In FY 2015, Congress created the ALERT grants to provide hazardous materials training for volunteer or remote emergency responders. The IAFC was awarded $2.6 million in ALERT grant funds to develop a training program in coordination with the IAFF, NVFC and the other major fire service organizations. The grant program is focused on providing training for incidents involving rail shipments of crude oil, ethanol, and other flammable liquids. The training will consist of both in-person and web-based components. The FY 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 114-113) reauthorized PHMSA to use unspent funds under the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grants program to continue funding the ALERT grants. President Obama’s FY 2017 budget request includes a proposal to extend the ALERT grant program through FY 2017. The Senate version of the FY 2017 Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2577) includes provisions that would reauthorize the ALERT grants for FY 2017.
▪ The Explanation: If you have crude oil or other hazmat rail shipments in your jurisdiction, explain how you plan and train for possible incidents. Also, explain the time commitments and expenses of planning and training for rail and hazmat incidents. Explain how federally-funded, web-based and in-person training can help your department prepare for a potential incident involving the transportation of crude oil or other hazardous materials.
▪ The “Ask:” Ask your representatives and senators to continue to support funding for the ALERT grants.