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Amendment in 2021 NDAA extends Guam's H2B authorization to civilian projects

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — H-2B labor could be extended to civilian projects on island, something local business leaders and elected officials have sought for the last few years, if Congress' latest military spending legislation passes with a new amendment intact.

In the ongoing discussion on H.R. 6395 the "William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA for Fiscal Year 2021," Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas successfully introduced an amendment that would allow existing authorization to use H-2B laborers on military projects to projects outside military installations.

Amendment #515 to the 2021 NDAA "Extends H-2B exemptions contained in section 1045 of P.L. 115-232 for skilled construction labor related to military realignment projects to civilian projects throughout Guam."

Guam's commercial, construction, and housing industries have lacked labor forces after the federal government, in late 2015, started declining local businesses' requests for H-2B workers. A new interpretation of the H-2B policies reduced the nearly 100% approval rate to nearly 0%.

A backhoe along with paving crew members from Hawaiian Rock Products scrape excess asphalt during a road paving project along Route 9 in Yigo, Guam in February. The Guam Daily Post photo

Congress eventually passed legislation that allowed H-2B exemptions for military-related projects. However, this failed to provide relief for commercial projects, which also saw an increase in cost due to the labor shortage.

The Guam Economic Development Authority estimates up to $1 billion in cancelled or delayed private sector projects because of this problem, according to San Nicolas.

Securing the amendment

In order to secure the amendment for consideration, the House Armed Services Committee or HASC, the Committee on Natural Resources or NRC, and the Committee on the Judiciary, all needed to authorize it.

"Today we have built consensus within all three House committees of jurisdiction to access much needed H-2B civilian project labor on Guam," Congressman San Nicolas opened. "The support was bi-partisan, with both Democrat and Republican offices rallying to include the amendment to the NDAA on behalf of Guam," Congressman San Nicolas added.

In addition to clearing HASC, NRC, and Judiciary, the amendment thereafter needed to be cleared by the Committee on Rules as being in order.

"345 amendments proffered for the NDAA didn't survive scrutiny by Rules for consideration — Guam was one of them that did," Congressman San Nicolas continued. "This unanimous consent across three committees of jurisdiction and Rules for an amendment specific to Guam is a strong sign that this language has muster to remain in the final passage of the 2021 NDAA, and is a testament to the support Guam has throughout the Congress," Congressman San Nicolas added.

"I would like to particularly recognize the Guam Chamber of Commerce's Armed Services Committee for traveling every year to D.C. to see this through, John Thomas Brown for his direct contribution to the artful language of the proposed amendment, Juan Carlos Benitez for his direct advocacy throughout the D.C. Republican establishment, Greg Massey from Department of Labor for his unreserved assistance, and the policy team of the Guam congressional office for their great work," said Congressman San Nicolas.

"Additionally I would like to thank the HASC, NRC, Judiciary, and Rules committee leadership, ranking leadership, and staff leadership for all of their support, as well as specific bi-partisan Members Smith, Thornberry, Trahan, Grijalva, Rob Bishop, Haaland, Nadler, Lofgren, Jim Jordan, McGovern, Shalala, Perlmutter, Scanlon, Morelle, Raskin, and Yoho, each of whom were directly involved and critical to Guam in the final stages of this process," Congressman San Nicolas added.

"Next steps upon passage of the amendment and H.R. 6395 will be to protect the language in the Senate consideration of the overall NDAA, and we will once again engage the private sector, the Government of Guam, and the Guam Republican Party for their aid in doing so," Congressman San Nicolas concludes.

The vote on the "William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021" is scheduled for this week.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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