In the past two months, U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) has been involved with introducing four bipartisan bills that are currently under review in Congress.
The legislation includes bills to help pharmacists fight the opioid epidemic, help college students pay for college, encourage trucks that use electric vehicle technology and keep drivers safe from fatal truck underride accidents.
DeSaulnier is the representative for the 11th Congressional district, which includes Danville, Alamo and Blackhawk.
All four bills have been referred to relevant committees and subcommittees in the House of Representatives.
H.R. 4275 -- Empowering Pharmacists in the Fight Against Opioid Abuse Act
This bill would require federal agencies to create and distribute materials to help pharmacists understand when they are legally allowed to decline to fill out a prescription for a controlled substance -- for example, when there is a suspicion of fraud, forgery or other forms of alteration.
"Given that 75% of opioid abusers reported that their first exposure was a prescription drug, what happens at a pharmacy counter can help reduce addictions and save lives," DeSaulnier said. "Pharmacists need the resources to know when and why they can decline to dispense controlled substances to people at risk of becoming addicted or those trying to abuse the system."
Representative Earl L. "Buddy" Carter (R-GA) was the co-sponsor on this piece of legislation.
H.R. 3581 -- Pell Grant Flexibility Act
This bill would protect low-income students from being taxed when using their Pell Grants for non-tuition purposes.
Currently, when students use Federal Pell Grants for non-tuition expenses -- like housing, books, transportation or school supplies -- the subsidy is taxed.
"Outside of the obvious cost of tuition, the price of attending college includes housing, transportation to campus, having supplies like textbooks and notebooks as well as other items such as stable childcare," DeSaulnier said. "In order to give our students the best shot at success, this bill makes Pell grants more flexible so students can focus more on their learning than on their wallets."
About eight million students receive Pell Grant funding every year, most of whom have annual family incomes under $40,000.
Joining DeSaulnier in introducing this legislation include Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Thomas MacArthur (R-NJ), Peter King (R-NY) and 22 national education organizations, including the Contra Costa Community College District, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, among others.
H.R. 4421 -- To amend title 23, United States Code, with respect to vehicle weight limitations, and for other purposes.
H.R. 4421 would increase the federal weight limit for commercial trucks in order to allow for the testing of trucks powered by electric batteries.
The current weight limit for commercial trucks is 80,000 pounds, but since electric battery systems are heavier than diesel fuel tanks, this bill seeks to allow for a weight increase of 2,000 pounds for electric trucks.
"By adjusting federal law to account for new technological advances, we can help spur innovation, support manufacturers, and promote public health and safety," DeSaulnier said on this bill. "As a long-time member of the California Air Resources Board and advocate for environmental protection, I am pleased to partner with my colleagues on an effort that will help test energy-efficient transportation technologies."
This weight increase is already permitted for natural gas trucks, so this legislation would establish a parity for electric vehicle (EV) technology.
Other sponsors of the bill include Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Lloyd Smucker (R-PA).
H.R. 4622 -- Stop Underrides Act of 2017
Also on the vehicular front, the Stop Underrides Act would help prevent dangerous truck underride crashes, which happen when a car collides with a truck and gets lodged underneath -- some of the most fatal accidents on the road.
This bill would update current federal law, as it relates to "underride guards," barriers attached to the lower area of a truck. H.R. 4622 would require that the guard be attached to the sides and front of a truck, in addition to the back.
"Over 300 people are killed each year from truck underride collisions, and these collisions are often underreported. It is time to act," DeSaulnier said. "No mother or father should see their child’s life cut short by an accident that could have been prevented with commonsense safety improvements. Fatalities from motor vehicle accidents in California increased 13 percent from 2015 to 2016, and this bill is an important step towards making our roads safer."
This legislation has Senate support as well, as DeSaulnier and Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) were joined by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) in introducing the bill.
The bill is endorsed by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the National Safety Council.