CONFERENCE REPORT ON S. 2943, NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2017

December 2, 2016
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.

   Before addressing matters of concern to the Education and the Workforce Committee, I want to underscore my strong support for the shipbuilding and ship maintenance provisions. I have the honor of representing Hampton Roads, Virginia, the heart of our nation's shipbuilding industrial base. I strongly support the conference report's shipbuilding and ship maintenance provisions, specifically language urging the Secretary of the Navy to speed up the procurement schedule for aircraft carriers to ensure that our carrier fleet is not again reduced to 10 carriers. These provisions in the conference report will not only significantly benefit my region, but will be critical for our nation's security. I'd like to commend Congressman FORBES and Congressman COURTNEY for their efforts on this area.

   As a conferee and Ranking Member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, I was pleased to see that the final conference report eliminated matters of grave concern.

   First, the Conference Report removed Section 3512 of the House bill which redefined ``recreational vessels'' across almost all statutes.

   The aim of this provision was to exempt workers repairing vessels over 65 feet in length from coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Act (LHWCA), such as very large yachts and luxury watercraft. By stripping injured workers of the protections under LWHCA, these workers would have been shifted into coverage under state workers' compensation laws. Many state workers' compensation benefit levels are substantially inferior to LHWCA coverage, especially in states such as Florida.

   Earlier this year, the Florida Supreme Court found that the Florida workers' compensation law was unconstitutional because the duration of disability benefits was so truncated and the benefit levels so anemic that they did not constitute ``a system of redress'' that ``functions as a reasonable alternative to tort litigation.''

   Both the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) opposed Section 3512.

   The DOL noted that Section 3512 would ``lead to uncertainty and foster litigation regarding Longshore Act coverage'' because the new definition of ``recreational'' vessel introduced subjective criteria. For example, would vessels with paid crews or which are leased out for commercial purposes be deemed recreational or commercial? DOL also expressed concern that this ``legislation will simply encourage employers to shift their employees out of the more protective federal longshore workers' compensation system,'' and into inferior state workers' comp coverage.

   The Coast Guard noted changing the definition of ``recreational vessel'' under Section 4301 of Title 46 (the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971) would have adverse impacts on Coast Guard regulatory and enforcement authorities.

   Second, I was pleased to see that Impact Aid has been preserved for Local Educational Agencies consistent with past precedent.

   Third, there were two provisions that adversely impacted employee protections in the workplace, which were deleted in the conference report.

   One such provision was Section 1094 of the House bill, which was misleadingly labeled ``Protections Relating to Civil Rights and Disabilities'' authorized taxpayer-funded employment discrimination in every grant, cooperative agreement, contract, subcontract, and purchase order awarded by every Federal agency doing business with a religiously affiliated organization.

   Section 1094 would effectively nullify the protections from workplace discrimination for LGBT workers that were provided in Executive Order 13672 (Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by Contractors and Subcontractors) that was signed on July 21, 2014.

   Further, the provision would incorporate an exemption from the Americans with Disabilities Act that could permit taxpayer-funded discrimination not only against employees and applicants who are not members of the same religion, but also against those who fail to adhere to the organization's religious tenets.

   Accordingly, religious organizations in receipt of federal dollars could use their religious viewpoint to: discharge working women who use birth control or who is pregnant and unmarried; fire employees who engage in premarital sex; deny employment or health benefits to married same-sex couples that they already provide to married opposite-sex couples; or refuse to consider for employment anyone, however qualified, whose religion is inconsistent with the employer's religious tenets.

   Ninety-one religious, education, civil rights, labor, and women's organizations wrote to express their opposition in a letter dated August 25, 2016. The groups noted that: ``effective government collaboration with faith-based groups does not require the sanctioning of federally funded religious discrimination.''

   I am pleased that the conference report did not authorize religious employers to discriminate in hiring using federal funds. I want to applaud Senator Blumenthal for his leadership in helping to remove this provision.

   In addition, Sections 1095 of the House bill and Section 829-I of the Senate bill would have eliminated or diminished the application of the ``Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces'' Executive Order.

   This executive order requires companies to disclose whether they have engaged in serious, repeated, willful or pervasive violations of any of 14 long-standing labor laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act, and nondiscrimination laws.

   Each year, thousands of federal contractor workers are deprived of overtime wages, denied basic workplace protections, forced to endure illegal discrimination, and made to tolerate unwarranted health and safety risks. Companies supported by and entrusted with federal government contracts should be expected to represent the gold standard in the American workplace.

   The executive order aims to level the playing field so that those who repeatedly violate those laws do not gain competitive advantage over those law abiding contractors who expend the funds and make the effort to ensure full compliance.

   Finally, I want to recognize the exceptional effort made by Ranking Member Smith and his staff to work with the Education and Workforce Committee to produce a final bill that meets the defense needs of this nation and also ensures workers are treated fairly.