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Senate Passes Murray’s Historic Bipartisan, Bicameral Deal to Improve American Workforce Development System with 95-3 Vote

Jun 25 2014

Murray: “Today’s overwhelming, bipartisan vote is proof that Congress is still capable of working across party lines to break through the gridlock and invest in American workers and the economy.”

Bill expected to pass House of Representatives, head to President’s desk

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) a bipartisan, bicameral bill authored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and seven of her colleagues, Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate. The bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives for approval, would modernize and improve existing federal workforce development programs, help workers attain skills for 21st century jobs, and foster a modern workforce that evolving American businesses rely on to compete.

“Today’s overwhelming, bipartisan vote is proof that Congress is still capable of working across party lines to break through the gridlock and invest in American workers and the economy,” said Senator Murray.  “I’ve seen firsthand that federal workforce programs can change lives, boost our economy, and get people back to work, but we can’t expect to adequately train Americans for jobs at Boeing or Microsoft with programs designed in the 1990s.  With the global economy changing faster than ever, we need to make sure that when new, 21st Century jobs are created, we have Americans ready to fill them. I’m thrilled Republicans and Democrats in the Senate stood together today, and I fully expect the House to do the same and send this bill to the President’s desk.”

The bill, which was introduced by a bipartisan group of leaders from the House and Senate in May, would improve federal workforce development laws that have been overdue for reauthorization for over a decade. Dozens of labor, business, and workforce development leaders and advocates have endorsed the legislation and urged Congress to pass it promptly. See the current list of supporters here.

The legislation represents a compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee with a bipartisan vote of 18-3 in July of 2013.

More on the bill:

Prior to today’s vote Senator Murray delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor:

“Madam President, just last month, I joined seven of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats from the House and the Senate, to introduce a critical piece of legislation called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

“It’s a bill to reauthorize and dramatically improve the Workforce Investment Act, or WIA, which authorizes a number of critical workforce development programs in all 50 states.

“Madam President, this legislation is something I’ve been working on for several years with a number of my colleagues.

“It’s something that’s been overdue for more than a decade, and since we introduced a compromise deal last month, we have been working feverishly with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol to iron out any issues they might have, and make a few small, technical fixes.

“We’ve made sure that every single member of the Senate and their staff have had the time to look through this deal, ask questions, and propose amendments, and now, we’re one final step away from sending this tremendous, bipartisan deal, to the House of Representatives, and then, hopefully, to the President’s desk.

“Madam President, I’d like to ask unanimous consent to include in the record a list of over 100 of the organizations supporting this bill, including business groups, labor, educators, governors and mayors, and countless others.

“Madam President, improving our federal workforce programs is something I’ve been working on for more than a decade, and during that time, I’ve heard from so many workers and businesses in Washington state and across the country who tell me how important effective workforce programs are for them and their communities.

“Business owners large and small have told me that while the existing programs help, it’s become harder and harder to find workers with the skills they need to fill new jobs in the 21st Century.

“And workers who want to advance their career or get back on the job after being unemployed have told me that it’s more and more difficult to get the education and skills they need to compete for new jobs.

“So Madam President, I’m thrilled that we’ve reached this important step in the process. And the reason this agreement was even possible is the incredible, bipartisan process we’ve had over the last few months to reach a compromise we could all agree on.

“And I’d like to thank my coauthors of this bill in the Senate for their hard work throughout the process and their work to rally support for it today: Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa and the great Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, and the esteemed ranking member of the HELP Committee And finally, my close partner in this process, Senator Johnny Isakson from Georgia.

“Madam President, Senator Isakson and I are the co-authors of this Senate version of a bill to reauthorize WIA, and throughout this process, it has been an absolute pleasure to work across the aisle with him to get this done.  His integrity and commitment have been key to making this a reality.

“Senator Isakson’s office is just next door to mine, and whether it was on the phone or while the two of us were walking here to the Chamber to cast votes, we must have had hundreds of conversations on how to reach this point – and so it means so much to be to be here with him today.

“Madam President, I also want to thank a few other Senators whose commitment to improving our workforce systems has been remarkable.

“First – Senator Enzi, my colleague from Wyoming. Senator Enzi has been working for a very long time to reauthorize WIA.  More than once when we would be at the White House for meetings, regardless of the topic, he would tell President Bush and now, President Obama that this should be a bipartisan effort we can all agree on.  I think today’s vote is proof that he was right all along.

“Second, I want to recognize and thank Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio for his years of leadership on workforce issues.   Senator Brown’s understanding of the changes in the American economy and our places of work is unparalleled, and the state of Ohio should be proud to have him represent them in the Senate.

“In particular, Senator Brown’s work on the issues of skills, manufacturing, economic competitiveness, and education reform, have been critical. In crafting this deal, we were fortunate to be able to draw on his SECTORS Act and weave the concepts of sector initiatives throughout this bill.  In fact, because of Sen. Brown strong advocacy, we were successful in requiring sector initiatives at both the state and local levels, as well as including them in plans, functions, and reports. 

“I know that in my state of Washington, we use sector strategies in everything from the aerospace industry, to maritime, health, construction, gaming, finance, renewable energy, and vinoculture.  And they all work to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our workforce system.

“So I am proud to include sectors in this bill, and to have worked with Sen. Brown closely, and to have benefitted from his knowledge and leadership.

“I’d like also like to thank Senator Kay Hagan from North Carolina, for her work on this legislation. Her ‘America Works’ bill provided us with a great framework to think about skills, certification and credentials, and the need to be closely aligned with employers. 

 “Because of her leadership and vision, this bill requires that training that leads to a recognized post-secondary credential receive a priority, meaning that both workers and employers benefit from the training provided through this act. 

“We also require that all states and locals report on the number of credentials offered, meaning that the entire workforce system will be more closely aligned to the needs of employers and workers, and will yield more direct value in and for the marketplace. 

“Sen. Hagan also worked hard to ensure that we focus not just on initial credentials, but credentials that are industry recognized and both portable and stackable.

“And finally, Madam President, I’d like to thank Senator Franken from Minnesota, who represents the same state as the late Senator Paul Wellstone, who was my predecessor as the Democratic lead on this bill. And true to Sen. Wellstone’s legacy, Sen. Franken has shown a deep understanding of the needs of job seekers, workers, and employers, as well as a passion to help all of them advance and succeed.

“I was pleased to work closely with Senator Franken on this legislation, and to ensure that a number of his priorities were included.  Lead among his priorities was building closer ties with community colleges, and we worked hard to make sure that happened. 

“I am also pleased that we benefitted from a truly innovative program in Minnesota—Twin Cities RISE, which has been a pioneer in pay-for-performance models for many years, and which helped to inform our inclusion of pay-for-performance provisions in this bill.

“So, Madam President, it’s clear that this bill is the product of many authors, and while we know that nobody got everything they wanted – we all got a bill that will help workers, businesses, and the economy for years to come. Because federal workforce programs have proven time and again that the best investment we can make as a country is an investment in American workers.

“I’ve seen firsthand in my home state of Washington, workers who were laid off who were able to get: new training, new skills, and new jobs.

“And I’ve seen so many Washington state businesses – from aerospace companies to video game design firms – that were able to access workers with new skills they needed to grow and compete…

“But with millions of new jobs that will require postsecondary education and advanced skills in the coming years, we will fall behind if we don’t modernize our workforce development system and programs now.

“We have to make sure that when high-tech jobs of the 21st Century are created – Americans are ready to fill them. And that’s what we’ve done with this bill.

“We’ve doubled down on the programs that work. We’ve improved the programs that had become outdated. And we’ve created a workforce system that’s: more nimble and adaptable better aligned with what businesses need. and more accountable – so we can continue to make it better.

“Madam President, we started with a House proposal and a Senate proposal, and we met in the middle.

“That’s exactly what the American people sent us here to do – work together to help workers and help the economy grow.

“This is an all-too-rare opportunity for all of us to get behind a strong, bipartisan, bicameral bill, so I urge all of my colleagues to support the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and send it to the House for a vote.  

“Thank you Madam President, I yield the floor.”