Washington Watch: House committee passes apprenticeship bill

The House Education and Labor Committee on Thursday held a mark up of apprenticeship legislation written by Democrats. Many of the committee members participated remotely. (Screenshot of streamed event)

The House Education and Labor Committee on Thursday approved the National Apprenticeship Act of 2020 (H.R. 8294) by a vote along partisan lines. The bill would reauthorize the National Apprenticeship Act, which established the registered apprenticeship system, for the first time since its inception in 1937. 

Much of what has come to be known as the characteristics of registered apprenticeship – progressive wage increases, mentorship, safety standards and more – is not actually contained in statute. Instead, it has been implemented through U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations over the years.

The new legislation seeks to codify many of these provisions in statute and modernize them to expand registered apprenticeships to new industries. It also would authorize annual grants ranging from $400 million to $800 million to support this purpose, a substantial increase over current funding. 

Bipartisan negotiations on the bill were ongoing and a discussion draft was recently circulated when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March. At Thursday’s markup, committee members on both sides of the aisle commended each other on the bipartisan nature of those talks, but indicated that agreement on the legislation remained just out of reach. Republicans primarily objected that the bill does not include the newly formed industry-recognized apprenticeship programs, focusing instead solely on registered apprenticeships. Republicans also would authorize less funding for the grant programs. 

Several GOP committee members offered amendments during the markup, most of which were rejected along party lines, including one to replace the entire bill. An amendment offered by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York) to increase coordination between the apprenticeship system and other workforce training programs was approved by a voice vote. 

The legislation, which does not have a Senate counterpart, is very unlikely to be enacted before the end of the current Congress.

The markup was held in part, seemingly, to honor the bill’s primary author, Rep. Susan Davis (D-California), who is retiring from Congress at the end of the year. Committee members on both sides of the aisle praised Davis for her work on the bill and on her congressional career. 

About the Author

Jim Hermes
is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.