The 109th Congress that adjourned early Saturday enacted legislation sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander to establish a permanent conservation fund to create parks and open spaces, help reduce the price of natural gas, increase funding for science, encourage the teaching of American history and civics, reduce the number of premature births, and reimburse schools that opened their doors to Hurricane Katrina victims.
“I’m pleased we were able to make significant progress in a number of areas important to Tennesseans during the 109th Congress,” said Alexander, who also supported successful efforts to preserve the state and local tax deduction for Tennesseans and pass legislation to establish a long-term energy policy for the U.S.
During the 109th Congress, Alexander was a principal sponsor of the following legislative proposals that have passed the Congress:
-Hurricane Education Recovery Act – provides funding to assist with the cost of educating 150,000 public and non-public school students in grades K-12 who were displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Also provides $750 million in Restart Aid to help repair, restock and reopen schools in the states most affected by the storms. Passed as an Enzi-Kennedy amendment to the Deficit Reduction Act and later became law as part of the Fiscal Year 2006 (FY06) Defense Appropriations Bill.
-Land and Water Conservation Fund – provides a permanent funding source for the LWCF for the first time in 40 years by setting aside 12.5 percent of the revenues from new oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for states and localities to fund public outdoor recreation areas and facilities such as athletic fields, parks and greenways. Since 1965, Tennessee has received $69 million in LWCF grants to parks and facilities such as Centennial Park in Jackson, Steele Creek Park in Bristol, the Nashville Riverfront, Kennedy Park in Memphis, Chattanooga’s Lookout Valley Park, and many more across the state. This provision passed as part of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act.
-PREEMIE Act – expands research on premature births, improves education for expectant mothers, and provides better treatment for babies who are born too early. Prematurity accounted for 19 percent of all childhood deaths in Tennessee in 2002 and, on average, 214 babies are born preterm in the state each week.
-Presidential and Congressional Academies – establishes funding for the first Presidential Academies for K-12 teachers of U.S. history and civics as well as Congressional Academies for incoming high school juniors and seniors studying those subjects. These summer academies were authorized by legislation introduced by Alexander that became law in 2004. Funding was included in the FY06 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill at Alexander’s request.
-In April of 2005, he introduced the Natural Gas Price Reduction Act. Three of the bill’s provisions later became law as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. They included:
Liquified Natural Gas Facility Siting Process – streamlines the siting process for LNG terminals to make it easier to import natural gas and therefore lower the price.
Energy Department Innovation – creates a study to determine whether the Department of Energy should follow the management practices of a Pentagon research agency (DARPA) that contributed to innovations like the Internet, stealth technology and global positioning systems.
Solar Tax Credit Extension – extends a 30 percent solar investment tax credit for homeowners and businesses who install solar energy cells through 2007.
-Increased Funding for Science – authored a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee signed by 68 Senators that helped to significantly increase funding for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science which oversees the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Office of Science received a $170 million increase above the Administration's FY06 budget request in the final version of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. Seventy senators have signed a similar letter for FY07.
Alexander cosponsored and helped enact into law numerous pieces of legislation, including:
-Two-year extension of state and local tax deduction – over 532,000 Tennesseans received average deductions of $400 on their 2004 federal tax returns totaling over $200 million in tax savings.
-Permanent tax relief for Nashville songwriters – allows songwriters to treat the sale of their catalogs as capital gains instead of income, thereby dropping the tax rate from as high as 35% to the same 15% capital gains rate paid by other businesses.
-Energy Policy Act of 2005 – establishes a long-term energy policy for the United States.
-Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 – reduces the federal deficit by $35 billion over the next five years.
-Federal Funding and Accountability Act – creates an Internet-based searchable database of federal government spending, making the government more transparent and accountable to taxpayers.