Elections

5 highlights from Richard Burr’s time in U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr answers a question during a interview after speaking at the Kannapolis Rotary Club in Kannapolis, N.C., on Tuesday, April 7, 2015.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr answers a question during a interview after speaking at the Kannapolis Rotary Club in Kannapolis, N.C., on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Republican Richard Burr is running this year for a third term in the U.S. Senate.

Before his election to the Senate in 2004, Burr of Winston-Salem represented North Carolina’s 5th Congressional District for 10 years.

Here are five highlights from his legislative record:

Preserve Land and Water Conservation Fund: In the Senate, Burr has been at the forefront of efforts to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was established in 1964 and uses offshore oil and gas royalties to buy and protect land for public use. North Carolina recipients over the years have included Chimney Rock and Catawba Falls.

The fund had expired in September 2015. But Congress voted late last year to reauthorize it for three years. Burr held up other legislation in the Senate to demand an upper chamber vote on the fund. This year, the Senate, at Burr’s urging, voted to permanently reauthorize the fund as part of an energy bill.

In 2015, the Nature Conservancy recognized Burr’s role by giving him its Conservation Leadership Award.

Advancing breakthrough drugs: Burr and Sens. Michael Bennett, a Colorado Democrat, and Orin Hatch, a Utah Republican, sponsored a bill designed to get new breakthrough drugs to market faster by speeding up development and approval.

The Advancing Breakthrough Therapies for Patients Act, which created a new classification for such cutting-edge drugs and therapies, was signed into law in 2012.

In the four years since, the Food and Drug Administration has identified more than 130 products as “breakthrough” therapies. More than 45 of them have been approved.

Cybersecurity information sharing: Burr, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, teamed with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top-ranking Democrat, to successfully push the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act.

The Senate passed it 74-21 last year, in the wake of headline-grabbing cybersecurity breaches at Sony Pictures and Home Depot. Now law, it encourages private companies and the federal government to share information with each other about hackers and cybersecurity threats.

Some privacy groups opposed the legislation, saying that the government and local police could end up with customers’ personal information.

Tax-free savings accounts for the disabled: In 2013, Burr and Sen. Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced the Achieving a Better Life Act in the Senate. The ABLE Act passed both houses in 2014.

The law amends the IRS code to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and for families caring for children with Down syndrome.

Designed to ease the financial strain on these individuals and families, it covers qualified expenses such as education, housing and transportation, and medical and dental care.

Prepare for health threats: Sponsored by Burr and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Actcreated the framework for the federal government to be prepared to respond to pandemics such as Ebola and terrorist attacks with a biological weapon that could threaten national security.

The law established the Biological Advanced Research and Development Authority, a tool to speed up the development of vaccines and treatments for diseases like smallpox and Ebola.

Also part of the law: Creation of the position of assistant secretary for preparedness and response, to be in charge of public health preparation and response.

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