Both the House and Senate were out on recess this week. (No, it's not THAT kind of "recess.") A few Senators came back to DC to meet with SCOTUS nominee, Merrick B. Garland. The House floated a draft bill to address the Puerto Rico debt crisis. And it turned out that the FBI didn't need Apple's help after all.
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Confirmation of Supreme Court Nominee Merrick B. Garland
Lawmakers back home for the week
Both chambers were out on recess this week. While "recess" conjures up playground images, it's not all fun and games. Lawmakers have to split time between Washington and their home state or district — balancing the work of votes and committee hearings with the equally important work of being available to — and hearing from — constituents. In fact, one of the best ways to advocate for issues you care about is to attend a town hall meeting or meet in person with your lawmaker while he or she is in the district.
Here's how your lawmakers are spending their recess:
- Visiting local factories, facilities, and businesses, and learning about community's industries and needs.
- Holding town halls, and answering questions from constituents.
- Meeting with local groups, organizations, and students — sometimes even reading to students.
- Discussing bills they've introduced or cosponsored, and gauging support for bills currently in Congress.
- Traveling to other cities and abroad.
- Interviewing with local media and discussing what's happening in DC.
- Attending and holding events and fundraisers.
- Cutting ribbons and participating in groundbreaking ceremonies for new facilities.
- Participating in award ceremonies, both awarding and receiving recognition
Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland spent the week meeting with lawmakers
At least five senators returned to Capitol Hill for private meetings with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
Monday: Met with Democratic Sens. Cardin and Donnelly
Tuesday: Met with Republican Sen. Kirk (the first GOP Senator to meet with the nominee)
Wednesday: Met with Democratic Sens. Gillibrand and Franken
Many lawmakers are waiting for the first step of the appointment process: a hearing, before committing to a vote.
The House Natural Resources Committee officially released a discussion draft and legislative summary for a bill to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. Puerto Rico currently faces over $70 billion in debt, 12 percent unemployment, and a 45 percent poverty rating. The bill would create a 5-member fiscal control board, independent of the Puerto Rican Governor and legislature, and establish a Revitalization Coordinator to fast-track infrastructure projects.
According to House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, “This discussion draft will change. We are releasing it now to encourage feedback, so people can respond to the draft proposal, not a supposition of its content.”
The bill does not allow Puerto Rico to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy. House Natural Resources will hold a hearing and markup following Easter recess, and the House is expected to take up the bill shortly after.
Encryption Debate Continues
The Justice Department ended its legal battle with Apple over unlocking a phone used in the San Bernardino shooting. The FBI was able to unlock the iPhone without Apple's assistance.
Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] spoke out against a bill proposed by Senate Intelligence Chairman and Ranking Member Sens. Burr and Feinstein that would limit encryption protection on technology products. The Burr-Feinstein bill would require companies to follow court orders seeking locked communications.
Senator Wyden plans to reintroduce a bill he proposed in the 113th Congress that would prevent court attempts to undermine current encryption laws. Last week, Rep. Matt Salmon [R, AZ-5] introduced legislation that would prohibit the federal government from using the All Writs Act to to compel tech companies to break encryption.
- New jobs report: added 215,000 jobs, unemployment rate up to 5%
- 3 in 4 Americans think there will be a terrorist attack in the US in the next year.
- For the first time in almost 5 years, mortgages are not the top consumer complaint, according to CFPB report — debt collection is now #1 complaint.
- New study says 16,000 American babies are born premature each year in part because of air pollution, costing $760M annually in hospital stays and medication.
- Released: 2016 National Civics Survey Results — 4 out of 5 Americans have not contacted their representative. Also, Republicans are twice as likely to contact Congress as Democrats.
- Joint Economic Committee released employment update reports for each state, compare and contrast real median household income and unemployment from state to state.
- The internet is creating tight media clusters rather than increasing geographic diversity. In 2004, 1 in 8 reporting jobs were in New York, Washington DC, or Los Angeles — now that share is 1 in every 5 reporting jobs.
- New report on the cultural impact of immigration and what Americans want from immigration reform.
- New USGS hazard map includes man-made quakes for the first time – putting 7 million Americans at risk.
Legislative Lowdown: States Edition
- California, New York, and DC consider legislation to raise minimum wage to $15.
- Maryland Appeals Court decided it is unlawful for police to use covert cellphone tracking devices without a warrant.
- Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal [R] vetoed controversial "religious liberty" bill.
- New York legislature passed new bill that mandates paid family-leave policy. Gov. Andrew Cuomo [D] also barred certain state travel to North Carolina after NC passed bill that would restrict bathroom use to the sex listed on birth certificates, rather than gender identity.
- Colorado House advanced a three-bill package addressing the gap in average pay between male and female workers.
- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker [R] signed 56 bills into law, including a ban on cellphones in construction zones and a ban on flying drones over prisons.
- Obama administration sent letters to U.S. governors highlighting state legislation to combat opioid epidemic.
- With states working to implement ESSA, here’s an early look at trends in state K-12 legislation.
- Federal financial regulators said they’re on board for standardizing and digitizing data. SEC said switch to searchable digitized files is already underway. Issa bill would require nine major financial agencies to adopt data standards. Hurt bill would exempt small businesses from having to file using specific markup language (used to define and organize data).
- Senate Democrats sent a letter to Republican leaders proposing late April confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee and up-or-down vote on the Senate floor about a month later.
- House conservatives are trying to nix the lame-duck session to avoid "slapdash lawmaking," particularly on big items like budget, spending, Trans Pacific Partnership, or confirmation of Supreme Court nominee.
- Special House committee issued subpoenas to eight medical organizations as part of fetal tissue research inquiry.
- Ever wondered why the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) doesn't apply to Congress? Check this out.
- Republicans who joined President Obama in Cuba said it will be difficult to lift the trade embargo and end the travel ban in a Republican-held Congress.
- Police charged CVC gunman with assaulting, resisting, and impeding officers with a dangerous weapon after he pointed a BB gun at officers.
- Justice Department announced it will resume controversial practice that allows local police to seize and keep assets. DOJ suspended payments under this program in December, due to budget cuts included in last year's spending bill.
- Republicans on Ways and Means created working groups to address separate problems they have with Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.
- We launched filter bubble wrap, a partisan filter for legislative information.
- Rolling Stones played historic free concert in Cuba, a country that once banned most Western music.
- Obama administration is considering easing some sanctions to grant non-U.S. companies access to the U.S. financial system for U.S. dollar transactions involving Iran.
- Supreme Court took unusual step — asking government and religious nonprofit groups to pitch solutions in birth control case. Two-page order said opposing sides should file additional briefs by April 12.
- President Obama commuted 61 prison sentences for people serving time for drug offenses, bringing total number of commutations for federal inmates during his administration to 248.
- Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on a case that threatened to prevent public unions from collecting fees from workers even if they decide not to be union members.
- Energy Department announced it will participate in wind energy transmission project in the panhandle regions of Oklahoma and Texas – largest clean energy infrastructure project in the U.S.
- One of the oldest and most profitable patent trolls saw their “product activation” patent invalidated by Patent Trademark and Appeals Board (PTAB).
- FDA relaxed guidelines for pill that induces abortion.
- Rep. Katherine Clark [D, MA-5] asked Genius (in the news lately for their Web Annotator) how they could prevent abuse and Genius responded.
- 35,000+ people gathered on the South Lawn for annual White House Easter Egg Roll, plenty of big names in attendance including Beyoncé, Jay Z and Blue Ivy, Shaq, minions, and Darth Vader.
"Department of Homeland Security has Strengthened Management, but Execution and Affordability Concerns Endure" from U.S. Government Accountability Office
"An Analysis of the President's 2017 Budget" from Congressional Budget Office
"Observations on Lobbyists' Compliance with Disclosure Requirements" from U.S. Government Accountability Office
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