New laws make overdue reforms, encourage groundbreaking medical research

Published 7:00 am Thursday, December 29, 2016

Congress ended 2016 with a major piece of legislation to keep goods flowing on our waterways and our communities protected from dangerous floods. The “Water Resources Development Act” (WRDA) is good for Mississippi, authorizing important projects such as dredging for our ports on the Mississippi River and initiatives to make our coastal ecosystems more resilient.

As a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, I am pleased to see WRDA cross the finish line and become law. Over the past few years, WRDA bills have not been passed every two years as they should be. The Republican majority of the 114th Congress changed that pattern, passing a 2016 WRDA two years after its last reauthorization.

In fact, during this Congress, critical bills have been enacted on a regular basis – a welcome change from the pattern of dysfunction and gridlock under former majority leader Harry Reid. Here are a few legislative highlights worth noting from this year:

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• Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA is a big win for consumers and makes the first legislative reforms to chemical safety in four decades.

Among the law’s provisions is a much-needed update to the screening process for products with potentially harmful chemicals. The law also provides greater transparency about this screening process to the public.

• 21st Century CURES Act. By reinvigorating the search for critical medical breakthroughs, this new law might be as significant as the legislation that originally created the National Institutes of Health. Putting the best minds together to find a cure for Alzheimer’s was a goal of my “EUREKA Act,” which became law in CURES.

• Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). With overdoses from heroin and opioids happening at a particularly alarming rate, this law promotes awareness and local action to save lives and raise awareness. Opioid abuse does not discriminate by geography, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background.

CARA focuses on outreach that can help those who struggle with addiction find a way to turn their lives around.

Addressing issues of national importance has been a hallmark of the entire 114th Congress. Last year, we were successful in enacting substantial educational reform, giving states more control over their schools and prohibiting national mandates like Common Core. Another law – the “Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act” – recognizes the devastating impact of suicide among our veterans and improves the mental health services available through the VA.

Ensuring that our nation’s infrastructure is updated and modernized remains a priority, with WRDA being only one part of the effort. Last year, Congress passed the first multiyear highway bill in a decade, giving our roads, bridges, and railroads the attention they have long needed. Projects that were stalled – in our state and elsewhere – can now move forward with more certainty. For many communities, this certainty means more economic growth and new jobs.

I hope our success with this highway law is just the beginning, laying the foundation for Congress to consider President-elect Trump’s pro-growth infrastructure plan.

I am confident that much more can be accomplished in the new Congress, and we can do so without putting a greater burden on taxpayers.

During the past Congress, lawmakers kept discretionary spending levels in check, and that financial responsibility should continue.

The American public has made it clear they want practical, cost-effective solutions. Senate Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump are committed to getting the job done.

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker