NE drug lab, other NH projects contained in Senate spending bill

November 11, 2020

A $50 million drug laboratory based in New England could emerge in final congressional negotiations over an omnibus federal spending bill, according to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Bi-partisan talks resulted in several other programs of interest to New Hampshire being included in a Senate spending package, including more than $600 million of work for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, assistance programs for first responders, a pay raise for all military personnel, relief for New England fishermen and continued spending to address PFAS water contamination.

The measure would continue a dramatic increase in federal grants created two years ago for hardest-hit states like New Hampshire that are dealing with the opioid epidemic.

"This government funding legislation addresses a myriad of issues that are top of mind for Granite State families," Shaheen, D-N.H., said in a statement.

The projects were contained in a massive $1.4 trillion budget measure Senate Republican leaders unveiled Tuesday. It combined all 12 spending bills, traditionally taken up one at a time.

Congressional leaders in both parties have agreed to building a global budget bill in hopes of getting the lame-duck Congress to reach agreement with President Donald Trump.

The prospects for that final deal remain unclear.

The Congress passed a temporary stopgap measure to keep the federal government operating; without further action it expires on Dec. 11. 

Ranking Democrat

Shaheen is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee working group that crafts budgets for the Commerce and Justice departments along with federal science programs.

The opioid epidemic exposed an expensive and time-consuming process for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; the closest drug laboratory for the region is in New York City.

"One of the key issues I fought to address in this year's bill was a gap in our substance use disorder response strategy created by an absence of adequate testing facilities. Currently, samples that may contain fentanyl must be transported by ground to New York and back, delaying testing and wasting valuable time," Shaheen said.

"This legislation would provide funding to construct a new DEA laboratory right here in New England. I'm also pleased by a number of the provisions included to advance community policing and to make important reforms to improve accountability and transparency in our law enforcement agencies."

Shaheen stressed that this compromise lacks any progress on a new relief measure to deal with COVID-19. "But our work is far from over."

"As Democrats and Republicans from both chambers come together to finalize this legislation, we need to ensure it rightly addresses the full scope of the COVID-19 health and economic emergencies impacting our communities," Shaheen said.

"We are still in the middle of this pandemic and our country needs a funding bill that will help Americans survive and recover from this crisis."

Projects in Senate plan

Here are some of the other projects that benefit New Hampshire contained in this spending package.

• Portsmouth Naval Shipyard: The bill includes $160 million for the Multi-Mission Dry Dock project, one new Virginia-class submarine to be repaired there and authorization of $472 million to preserve the option of an additional sub. Also, $20 million for submarine workforce development training and $130 million for submarine industrial base expansion.

• Pease Air National Guard Base: Includes money for 15 KC-46 Pegasus refueling tankers. Pease was picked as the first main operating base for these refuelers, which are to serve as the backbone for air operations in the future.

• Military spouse occupational licensing: Shaheen got $2.75 million for her bill to help military spouses who are small business owners; she highlighted the story of Andrea Krull, whose husband is from New Hampshire and her struggles having to get re-licensed as families moved from state to state.

• Fishermen aid: Shaheen secured $10.3 million to cover the cost of observer fees that had been imposed on Granite State fishermen and more money into research of New England groundfish, lobstering and monitoring the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

• PFAS study: The bill includes $50 million into research into PFAS contamination and this includes $15 million to continue the health impact study Shaheen created in 2018. It encourages the Veterans Administration to create a registry of veterans who may have been exposed to the chemicals during their military service.

• Law enforcement suicides: The bill requires the U.S. Fire Academy to report on firefighter suicides and earmarks $3 million for the Department of Justice to, for the first time, collect information and report on law enforcement suicides.

By:  Kevin Landrigan
Source: Union Leader