In early November, NSTA hosted our Fall Conference in Key Largo, a three-day live meeting that was not part of our original live meeting schedule as 2022 began. Due to the lingering effects of COVID-19, we were forced to cancel our 2022 NSTA Midwinter Meeting and rescheduled this meeting for the first week of November. Just under 65 attendees ventured to South Florida for the event despite Hurricane Ian’s disruptions further north in the state.
One area that we were looking forward to covering was a summary of the 2022 Congressional Midterm Elections – a program presented by Becky Weber, NSTA lobbyist from Prime Policy Group. The program was interesting because unlike most previous elections, we did not yet have the results of many key races. In fact, at the time of the event, control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives was not determined. Despite this void, Becky delivered an insightful presentation that is helping shaping our advocacy initiatives for 2023.
Immediately following elections and the Fall meeting, we headed to our Capital. As many of you know, the period of time after elections, but before the new Congress takes over, is called “Lame Duck”, and this session is usually ripe for progress to be made on a host of issues. NSTA leadership took to Capitol Hill on Nov. 16-17 to meet with key members of the House and Senate in an attempt to address two areas of concern with respect to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus program.
While NSTA continues to be supportive of efforts to transition the school bus fleet to cleaner energy sources, we are concerned that the original law did not contain language that allows private school bus operators (contractors) to access funding directly. Instead, private operators are required to partner with a school bus manufacturer, dealer, or school district in order to submit a grant application.
We received feedback that this glitch in the program was likely a drafting error, in that the term “contractor” was actually defined in the new law, just not the way the industry commonly utilizes it.
One additional concern arises with a five-year service requirement that is also outlined in the law. If a private operator cannot complete the five-year contract service requirement, it may be receive financial penalties – requiring repayment of some or all of the grant proceeds.
On the first day, during our trip to the nation’s capital, we met with senior staff of EPA, as well as Republican Counsel to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. Additionally, we sat down with our good friend, Sen. Tom Carper (DE), to go over these changes.
The next day, we met with directly with Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), as well as staff members for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), Rep. Frank Pallone (NJ-6), Rep. John Joyce (PA-13), and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-5). McMorris-Rodgers is the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
While we have not gotten confirmation that our changes will be taken up in what remains of the 117th U.S. Congress, NSTA believes that our message was well received, and that relief still can be achieved. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Just before Christmas, NSTA got good news about amendments addressing these issues.)
We will keep everyone updated as to the latest information on our efforts and are planning our 2023 NSTA Bus-In to coordinate with the Congressional calendar at the end of April. We are hoping to resume pre-COVID events with a day full of meetings with Members and staff to advocate for our industry.
On behalf of NSTA, I wish you all good health and great success in the New Year.