Senate Passes Padilla Wildfire, Flooding, Mental Health Provisions in Bipartisan National Defense Authorization Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) released the following statement after the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024, which includes several bipartisan amendments he authored, including to expedite the transfer of critical firefighting aircraft to the State of California, to bolster West Coast Atmospheric River forecasting, and to require reporting on mental health and wellness support for students in Department of Defense-operated schools:

“The Senate passed a strong defense bill that protects our national interests at home and abroad, raises wages for our troops, puts us on track to outcompete China, and demonstrates our unwavering commitment to Ukraine.

“I’m especially proud that this bill includes amendments I authored to expedite the transfer of aircraft to California that will help us fight wildfires and bolster our ability to more accurately predict the landfall and severity of deadly atmospheric rivers. As we prepare to face more extreme weather events in the future, our defense spending must include critical investments in domestic priorities — these amendments make sure we’re doing just that.

“Crucially, the bill also requires detailed reporting on mental health support services for children in military schools. For far too long, we have turned a blind eye to the significant mental health challenges they face every day.”

HC-130 Hercules Firefighting Aircraft Transfer

Expediting the transfer of the HC-130 Hercules firefighting aircraft has been a longstanding priority for Padilla. The amendment addresses the ongoing delays in the transfer, modification, and delivery of seven Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft to the State of California for firefighting purposes, as required by the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

After years of delays due to contracting issues, this amendment terminates the federal contract and immediately initiates the title transfer of all seven aircraft from the Coast Guard to CALFIRE. Padilla’s amendment relieves the Air Force and the federal government of the contractual requirement to complete the modifications, allowing the state to complete them instead. California Governor Gavin Newsom has already secured funding in the state budget to finish modifications of the aircraft, which will dramatically expedite the timeline for the planes to become operational and begin protecting California communities from future wildfires.

Atmospheric Rivers Reconnaissance, Observation and Warning (ARROW) Act

Padilla’s atmospheric river forecasting amendment is based on his Atmospheric Rivers Reconnaissance, Observation and Warning Act, which will improve the accuracy and timeliness of West Coast Atmospheric River (AR) forecasts by directing the Air Force and NOAA to provide the necessary aircraft, personnel, and equipment to meet AR mission requirements during the winter season in the West Coast. As the frequency and intensity of AR storms increase — which Californians saw firsthand earlier this year — AR reconnaissance flights are increasingly critical for anticipating the landfall and severity of ARs, enabling communities to prepare for and mitigate damage from storm events, while and conserving water for future droughts. Improving AR forecasts is critical to enhancing public safety and supporting emergency services, water management, and flood control. Full text of the amendment is available here

Reporting on Mental Health Services for Children in Military Schools

As a co-founder of the bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus, Senator Padilla is committed to destigmatizing mental health and promoting bipartisan legislation and solutions to combat the national mental health crisis, including among military children. His amendment requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report on programs and policies to support mental health and wellness among students in schools operated by the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Solicitation Requirements and Reporting on Government-Operated Dry Docks in Certain Contract Solicitations

The bill includes a provision Padilla helped secure that clarifies that the Navy will only use government-operated docks for non-nuclear ship repair if there is insufficient competition from private industry to perform the work. This will protect our shipyard workforce in San Diego from unfair competition.

The bill includes a Padilla priority to require annual reporting requirements from the Navy through 2028, on the use of government docks for ship repair and maintenance.

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