WASHINGTON – Last year, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) continued to work across the aisle to produce bipartisan results. Tillis was successful in getting a number of his priorities codified into law, including protecting veterans and holding VA executives accountable, securing more than a billion dollars in federal funds to help North Carolinians affected by natural disasters, and reforming Department of Defense personnel policies, including improved education and healthcare benefits for servicemembers, their families, and DOD civilian employees.
A look back at some of Tillis’ bipartisan accomplishments in 2018:
- Tillis & Klobuchar Bipartisan Legislation to Help Veterans Exposed to Toxic Burn Pits Signed Into Law – During the War on Terror, the burning of waste like plastic, aerosol cans, electronic equipment, human waste, tires, and batteries on military bases exposed many servicemembers to a variety of potentially harmful substances. In response, Senators Tillis and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced and successfully passed legislation that would create a Center of Excellence in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) focused on researching the health effects associated with burn pits and treating veterans who become sick after exposure.
- Tillis Works to Improve and Pass Landmark Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Legislation – Senator Tillis has been a longtime advocate of criminal justice reform, recognizing that it can strike the balance between reducing crime and making our justice system more equitable, when done right. As North Carolina Speaker of the House in 2011, he spearheaded the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act, sweeping criminal justice reform legislation. Senator Tillis has worked to replicate those changes on the federal level, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley praised Tillis for his work to improve the First Step Act, bipartisan legislation that was recently signed into law.
- Tillis-Warren bipartisan legislation protecting veterans from predatory home lending signed into law – Since its inception, the VA home loan program has successfully insured more than 20 million home loans to help veterans become homeowners. However, a small number of lenders were abusing the program by utilizing misleading advertising tactics and engaging in a practice known as “churning” – the refinancing of a home loan over and over again to generate fees and profits for lenders at the direct expense of veterans and their families, often without their knowledge. To fix the problem, Senators Tillis and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Protecting Veterans from Predatory Lending Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation that would protect veterans from targeted predatory home loan practices. The Tillis-Warren legislation was codified into law in 2018. Click here to watch a video of Senators Tillis and Warren discussing their bipartisan bill.
- Tillis, North Carolina Delegation Secure Florence Disaster Relief Funding – In the wake of Hurricane Florence making landfall in North Carolina, Senator Tillis immediately began working with Senator Burr and the North Carolina Congressional Delegation to secure disaster relief funding for the areas affected by the storm. Tillis successfully secured an initial down-payment of up to $1.18 billion in disaster relief funding for North Carolina just three weeks after Florence made landfall, and Tillis continues to work with his colleagues and Congressional leaders on securing additional funding.
- Tillis Secures Upgrades To North Carolina Military Installations, Important Policy Improvements for Servicemembers and Military Families in NDAA – As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Senator Tillis played a vital role in developing the bipartisan 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which included more than a dozen provisions authored by Senator Tillis to improve the lives of our servicemembers and military families, make critical improvements to North Carolina’s military installations, and provide the largest pay raise for servicemembers in nine years. Among Senator Tillis’ provisions included in the NDAA:
- Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) Reform
- Addressing opioid abuse
- Impact Aid to educational agencies
- Extend Title IX protections to victims of juvenile sexual assault and harassment
- Combatting domestic violence and child abuse
- Expanding military spouses employment opportunities
- $241 million in construction funding for North Carolina’s military bases
- Tillis Helps Secure the Release of Pastor Brunson – Throughout 2018, Senator Tillis worked to help secure the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina native, who was facing an effective life sentence in Turkey, accused of crimes he did not commit. In March 2018, Senator Tillis visited Pastor Brunson in a Turkish prison and Tillis returned three weeks later for the first hearing of his trial. On April 20th, Senator Tillis led a bipartisan letter signed by 71 senators to President Erdogan calling for his release and Tillis spoke on the Senate floor nearly every week the Senate was in session to call for his release and bring attention to his plight. Senator Tillis took legislative action to apply pressure on Turkey, working on a bipartisan basis to secure language in the FY19 NDAA that would effectively delay the transfer of F-35s to Turkey. The Turkish Government finally released Pastor Brunson in October 2018.
- Tillis Secures Full Reimbursement of $35.2 Million Owed to Swain County – In the early 1940s, the federal government flooded several communities in Swain County to build the Fontana Dam. In 1943, the federal government promised to rebuild the 30-mile North Shore Road. For over six decades the government failed to deliver on that promise and, in 2007, agreed to a cash settlement of $52 million. After waiting more than a decade, Senator Tillis helped secure the remaining $35.2 million owed to Swain County from the North Shore Road settlement. This settlement will be essential in the development and upkeep of Swain County for future generations. Swain County will not have access to the principal amount, but will be able to collect interest and use the funds for economic development and other projects
- Tillis Bipartisan Legislation to Help Veterans Applying for Commercial Driver’s Licenses Becomes Law – The brave men and women that serve in the U.S. military learn a wide range of skills applicable to jobs once they enter the civilian workforce, but too often face unnecessary barriers that make it harder for them to find jobs. Senators Tillis, John Cornyn (R-TX) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) successfully pushed legislation into law that allows active-duty military, reservists, and veterans to apply the experience they gained serving our nation in a civilian capacity and not force them to go through a duplicative credentialing process to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
- Tillis Bipartisan Legislation Holding VA Executives Accountable Signed Into Law – There are numerous instances within the VA where Senior Executive Service (SES) employees used their leadership positions as leverage to be reassigned to another position for their own personal gain, or were reassigned, rather than disciplined, for poor performance. As a result, Senators Tillis and Angus King (I-ME) introduced the VA Senior Executive Accountability (SEA) Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation that will strengthen accountability of senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The legislation was codified into law in 2018.
- Tillis & Warren Successfully Urge IRS to Protect Lower-Income Military Retirees from Losing Retirement Benefits – In October of 2017, the IRS expanded its application of the Federal Payment Levy Program (FPLP) to include military payments so they could impose a levy on retirement payments to veterans in an effort to recoup back taxes. But unlike its application of the FPLP to other federal benefits, the IRS did not apply a low-income filter to exempt military retirees who would suffer economic hardship from having their payments levied. In response, Senators Tillis and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) argued and successfully changed the policy so that the IRS applied the low-income filter to military retirees – the same way the IRS applies the filter to lower-income Americans receiving Social Security benefits – so that lower-income military retirees are not denied critical benefits they need to stay afloat financially.
- Tillis Provisions Included in Bipartisan Legislation to Expand Veterans’ Access to Care – Senator Tillis was a strong advocate for the landmark VA MISSION Act, bipartisan legislation that strengthens health care services at the VA while streamlining the department’s community care programs to ensure veterans receive efficient, timely and quality care, whether inside the VA system or from providers in their communities The legislation includes two provisions authored by Senator Tillis that allows the VA to use a third-party entity to electronically process health care claims from medical providers and authorizes the VA to implement pilot programs for new and innovative payment and delivery models for VA health care that will allow the department to modernize and adapt to the ever-changing needs of the veteran population.
- Tillis & Shaheen Re-establish Senate NATO Observer Group – At a time when the NATO alliance is more important than ever, Senator Tillis and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) announced the re-establishment of the Senate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Observer Group. This re-established Observer Group, which is co-chaired by Senators Tillis and Shaheen, has an expanded mission to closely monitor and inform Senators outside of national security committees about defense spending commitments of Alliance members, the process of upgrading military capabilities, the Alliance’s counter-terrorism capability, NATO enlargement and the ability of NATO member states to address non-conventional warfare.
- Tillis and Burr Secure $147 Million Infrastructure Grant for Eastern North Carolina – Senator Tillis worked with Senator Burr and the NC delegation to secure a $147 million grant for key infrastructure projects across Eastern North Carolina’s highway corridors. The grant, which will be the largest infrastructure project in the state, will help widen up to 25 miles of road along I-95 and upgrade the remaining sections of U.S. 70 to interstate grade, allowing the freeway to become I-42.
- Tillis and Burr Secure Additional $189 Million for Hurricane Matthew Recovery – Following the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Senator Tillis worked with Senator Burr and the North Carolina delegation to secure funding for rebuilding efforts in North Carolina and successfully negotiated an additional $189 million for recovery efforts. These funds were secured by the North Carolina delegation in the Senate budget agreement passed in February and brought the total funds North Carolina received to over $1.4 billion through Congressional appropriations and grants.
- Tillis Works Across the Aisle To Get The Bipartisan Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act Signed Into Law – Following the passage of Dodd-Frank, many financial institutions across the county were unable to handle the one-size-fits-all model of regulations imposed on them, no matter their size. As a result, many of these institutions were forced to close or consolidate, greatly reducing the access to capital for consumers and small business owners. For example, in March of 2008, North Carolina had 102 banks headquartered in the state. Due to accelerated consolidation after the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, the number of North Carolina-headquartered banks fell to 50 as of March 2018. In response, Tillis worked with his colleagues on the bipartisan Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, to provide relief for smaller financial institutions from Dodd-Frank regulations that were meant for the biggest, most complex institutions, while also ensuring a safe financial system.
- Tillis Bipartisan Legislation to Help American Consumers Signed Into Law – The residential ceiling fan market is roughly $1.8 billion, with 15 million units moved annually, and there were two efficiency requirement regulations on ceiling fans that would begin enforcement one year apart from each other: light bulbs in January 2019 and motors in January 2020. The staggered timing of the regulations would have wasted time and tens of millions of dollars in total compliance costs would ultimately limit affordability and availability for American consumers. Senators Tillis and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced and passed bipartisan legislation that makes a simple change to synchronize the implementation of both regulations on the single enforcement date in 2020, avoiding wasteful costs that could have been passed onto Americans families.
- Tillis Secures $53 Million for State Veterans Home Construction in North Carolina – Last year, Senator Tillis led an appropriations letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations to urge them to provide robust funding for the VA State Home Construction Grant Program. As a result, Senator Tillis secured $53 million to fund three North Carolina State Veterans Home construction projects through the VA State Veterans Home Construction Grant Program.
- Tillis Provisions Leveling the Playing Field for Public HBCUs Included in Farm Bill – HBCUs have been facing an outdated provision that prohibited 1890 land grants (all HBCUs) from carrying over more than 20% of all extension funding. To eliminate this unfair and constraining funding limit, Senator Tillis introduced bipartisan legislation that was included in the Farm Bill to give HBCUs the same financial flexibility that other land grants currently enjoy.
- Tillis Co-Introduced Legislation To Spur Investment In Rural Businesses And Create Rural Jobs Included in Farm Bill – In an effort to expand access to much-needed resources and investment for rural entrepreneurs to start and expand local businesses, Senator Tillis introduced bipartisan legislation that was included in the Farm Bill that creates a new grant program to invest in local efforts to launch new companies and create new jobs in rural communities.
- Tillis Provisions Helping North Carolina Ag and Textiles Included in Bipartisan Farm Bill – 2018 was one of the most challenging in recent memory for North Carolina agriculture. From depressed commodity prices to a second devastating hurricane in two years, North Carolina farmers needed certainty and predictability, and Senator Tillis worked with his colleagues on the bipartisan Farm Bill on behalf of North Carolina’s farmers. Tillis-championed provisions in the Farm Bill include:
- Continued full funding for programs that help keep NC cotton and textiles competitive.
- $10 million in authorized funding for the newly established Rural Innovation Stronger Economy Grant Program (RISE) to create jobs in rural communities with additional provisions that allow investment in business incubators, maker spaces, and job training centers, and that expand access to capital for rural entrepreneurs.
- $300 million in funding for North Carolina’s livestock and poultry industries to adequately defend against and respond to the threat of foreign animal diseases.
- Improvements to crucial risk management tools, such as crop insurance, that allow North Carolina farmers to manage unpredictable risks such as adverse weather.
Click here to watch the video with Senator Elizabeth Warren.