Author Archives: Rachna Choudhry

Issue Spotlight

ISSUE SPOTLIGHT: Paid Leave Legislation

POPVOX_Paid-Leave-Legislation_Issue-spotlight

In recent months, the issue of paid family leave has gotten a boost from the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who has been meeting with Members of Congress in support of paid maternity leave. While campaigning, then-candidate Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential nominee to offer a proposal for six weeks of paid maternity leave to biological mothers.

Here’s a look at the current law, as well as what’s been proposed by President Trump and lawmakers in Congress and in state legislatures across the country.

Current Laws

The United States is the only country among 41 nations without a federal paid leave policy for new parents, according to Pew Research Center.

The only federal work-family policy is the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), which was enacted in 1993. FMLA provides certain employees with up to 12 work weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave a year for a serious illness, to care for a seriously ill family member or for the birth or adoption of a child. It was expanded in 2009 to include new military family leave benefits. Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

Trump’s Proposal for Paid Leave

Then presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed a child care plan which included six weeks of paid leave for new mothers:

“The Trump plan will guarantee six weeks of paid maternity leave by amending the existing unemployment insurance (UI) that companies are required to carry. The benefit would apply only when employers don't offer paid maternity leave, and would be paid for by offsetting reductions in the program so that taxes are not raised. This enhancement will triple the average paid leave received by new mothers.”

The funding for paid maternity leave, which would cost $2.5 billion annually at an average benefit of $300 per week, “could be offset through changes in the existing UI system.” This plan would reduce the $5.6 billion per year in improper payments or by implementing the proposals included in the administration’s FY 2017 budget regarding program integrity.

However, critics have expressed concern that a maternity leave-only policy would lead to employer discrimination against women workers, as well as discrimination against fathers and adoptive mothers.  

Proposals in Congress

While the FMLA is the only federal law on the books “designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities,” there are several proposals in Congress to expand options to take time off. Weigh in on these bills on POPVOX and share with your friends and networks:

FAMILY ACT (S. 337 and H.R. 947) from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D, NY] and Rep. Rosa DeLauro [D, CT-3] “would create a self-sustaining family insurance program for all workers – young and elderly, single and married, and men and women, regardless of the size of their employer,” according to the bill sponsor. The bill is modeled after state paid leave programs and would provide up to 66 percent wage-replacement for 12 weeks in the event of a serious personal or family medical emergency.  

Strong Families Act (S. 344) from Sen. Deb Fischer [R, NE] “would create a tax credit to incentivize businesses to offer at least two weeks of paid family leave per year,” according to the bill sponsors. The leave would be separate from other vacation or sick leave, and workers could take it on an hourly basis. Employers would receive a nonrefundable tax credit equal to 25 percent of what they pay employees during their leave.

Working Families Flexibility Act (H.R. 1180) from Rep. Martha Roby [R, AL-2] is known as the “comp-time bill,” it would allow private-sector workers to receive paid time off, or comp time, for overtime hours worked. “A working mom or dad could use an hour of overtime he or she earned as paid ‘time and a half’ off work instead of ‘time and a half’ cash, if that’s what they would rather have,” explained the bill sponsor.

Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (S. 362 and H.R. 1022) from Sen. Brian Schatz [D, HI] and Rep. Carolyn Maloney [D, NY-12] would provide federal employees six weeks of paid leave following the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child, according to the bill sponsors. Currently, federal employees are entitled to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid Family and Medical Leave.

Proposals at the State Level

Five states and the District of Columbia have paid family and/or medical leave laws in effect or expected to go into effect. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island all have programs in place, while New York, Washington, and the District of Columbia have passed laws that will go into effect in the coming years.

Taking their lead, several other states have proposed creating paid leave insurance programs that provide income replacement to eligible workers for family caregiving or bonding with a new child. Weigh in on POPVOX, and we’ll deliver your message to your state lawmakers:

Connecticut: S.B. 1 and H.B. 6212

Would allow employees to start contributing a portion of their paycheck to a Family and Medical Leave Compensation Trust Fund in 2019 and to start using the system by July 1, 2020. The amount of money an employee on leave could receive would be capped at $1,000 per week, according to news sources.

 

Minnesota: S.F. 830 and H.F. 1013

Would provide Minnesotans with up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement during pregnancy and medical leave and 12 weeks of family leave, defined as bonding with a new child or caring for a seriously-ill family member, according to the bill sponsors. Workers would receive between 80 and 55 percent of their wages, based on income, up to $1,000 per week. Program costs would be minimal and shared equally by employers and employees. The median worker and his/her employer would each contribute $1.75 per week.

 

Montana: H.B. 392

Would create a fund to give workers paid family or medical leave from their jobs. The fund would be made up of contributions split equally between the employee and employer. Or, the employer could opt to pay the entire amount. The combined amount would be no more than one percent of the employee’s monthly wages. To receive the benefits, a worker must either have a serious health condition, or be caring for either a new child or family member with a serious health condition. It also applies if you’re caring for a covered servicemember who lists you as next of kin, according to news reports.
 

Massachusetts: S. 1048 and H. 2172

Would create an insurance program making workers workers eligible for paid leave to recover from a serious illness or injury, care for a sick or injured family member or care for a new child. The maximum weekly benefit is set at $650 under H. 2172 and $1,000 in S. 1048. Both bills call for the leave to be financed at least in part by employer contributions and allow employers to require that workers contribute up to 50 percent of the premium cost, according to news sources.

 

Wisconsin: (number pending)

Creates a Family Medical Leave Insurance program completely paid for by employees. Under the program a participating employee is eligible to receive a percentage of their pay during the time they take family or medical leave from work. The program would not cost employers any money. Employees pay for the benefit by contributing a certain percentage of their check into a trust fund. The percentage was to be determined by Department of Workforce Development in consultation with Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, according to bill sponsors, State Senator Janis Ringhand and Representative Sondy Pope.  

 

Virginia: H.B. 2126

Entitles individuals to a family and medical leave insurance (FMLI) benefit payment for each month they are engaged in qualified caregiving, not to exceed 60 qualified caregiving days per year. Benefits would amount to 66 percent of an individual's monthly wages, based on highest annual earnings from the prior three years, up to a capped monthly amount, according to the bill summary.


Nebraska: L.B. 305

Would provide paid family and medical leave for Nebraska employees who are currently covered by unemployment insurance. Qualifying employees would be required to pay into the program, at a cost of less than $2 per week. The program would provide workers with about two-thirds of their regular pay for up to 12 weeks leave for their own health or the birth or adoption of a child and up to six weeks leave for the care of a family member, according to news sources.

Oklahoma: S.B. 143

Would establish a family temporary disability insurance program to provide up to six (6) weeks of wage replacement benefits to workers who take time off work to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or domestic partner, or to bond with a minor child within one year of the birth or placement of the child in connection with foster care or adoption. An individual shall be eligible to receive family temporary disability insurance benefits equal to sixty-five percent (65%) of his or her weekly wage amount for each full day during which he or she is unable to work due to caring for a seriously ill or injured family member or bonding with a minor child within one year of the birth or placement of the child in connection with foster care or adoption.

 


Please keep in mind that highlighting specific legislation does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

Issue Spotlight

International Women’s Day

International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900's. The first National Women's Day was observed across the United States on February 28, 1909. However, the tragic 1911 Triangle Factory Fire that took the lives of more than 140 working women became a catalyst for subsequent Women's Days (which was already growing as an internationally celebrated event).

Only days before the Triangle Fire, more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies in Europe campaigning for women's rights to work, vote and hold public office, as well as ending discrimination.

On this International Women's Day, March 8, POPVOX is spotlighting a variety of bills related to paid leave, an important issue for working women. Recently, the issue has gotten considerable attention with the help of Ivanka Trump. 

The United States is the only country among 41 nations without a paid leave policy for new parents, according to the Pew Research Center. The issue recently got a boost from the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who has been meeting with Members of Congress in support of paid maternity leave. While campaigning, then-candidate Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential nominee to offer a proposal for six weeks of paid maternity leave to biological mothers. However, critics have expressed concern that a maternity leave-only policy would lead to employer discrimination against women workers, as well as discriminate against fathers and adoptive mothers.  

 

Current Law

The Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), which was enacted in 1993, provides certain employees with up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave a year for a serious illness, to care for a seriously ill family member or for the birth or adoption of a child. It was expanded in 2009 to include new military family leave benefits. Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

Proposals Pending in Congress

While the FMLA is the only federal law in the books “designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities,” there are several proposals in Congress to expand options to take time off. Weigh in on these bills on POPVOX and share with your friends and networks:

FAMILY ACT (S. 337 and H.R. 947) from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D, NY] and Rep. Rosa DeLauro [D, CT-3] “would create a self-sustaining family insurance program for all workers – young and elderly, single and married, and men and women, regardless of the size of their employer,” according to the bill sponsor. The bill is modeled after state paid leave programs, and would provide up to 66 percent wage-replacement for 12 weeks in the event of a serious personal or family medical emergency.

Strong Families Act (S. 344) from Sen. Deb Fischer [R, NE] “would create a tax credit to incentivize businesses to offer at least two weeks of paid family leave per year,” according to the bill sponsors. The leave would be separate from other vacation or sick leave, and workers could take it on an hourly basis. Employers would receive a nonrefundable tax credit equal to 25 percent of what they pay employees during their leave.

Working Families Flexibility Act (H.R. 1180) from Rep. Martha Roby [R, AL-2] is known as the “comp-time bill.” It would allow private-sector workers to receive paid time off, or comp time, for overtime hours worked. “A working mom or dad could use an hour of overtime he or she earned as paid ‘time and a half’ off work instead of ‘time and a half’ cash, if that’s what they would rather have,” explained the bill sponsor.

Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (S. 362 and H.R. 1022) from Sen. Brian Schatz [D, HI] and Rep. Carolyn Maloney [D, NY-12] would provide federal employees six weeks of paid leave following the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, according to bill sponsors. Currently, federal employees are entitled to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid Family and Medical Leave.

 


Please keep in mind that highlighting specific legislation does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

Advocacy

ADVOCACY Q&A: How do you run an effective digital advocacy campaign?

Q & A with advocacy expert Rachna Choudhry POPVOX

How do you run an effective digital advocacy campaign?

 

Here are my best tips for running an effective digital advocacy campaign:

 

1. So-called “form letters” don’t work. The average Congressional office receives thousands of letters from constituents per week. Most of these are form letters, sent at the prompting of an organization or association with identical text, similar to a petition. In some offices, form letters get automatically grouped together as one letter. And, some Congressional offices don’t respond to form letters at all.

 

Rather than focusing on the quantity of constituent letters, organizations should focus on the sincerity and authenticity of those letters. Anna Vetter, Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director for Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21) explained this to me, as well as other tips on how to craft a good letter to Congress. When done effectively, digital advocacy campaigns can help people engage in an authentic way.

 

2. Don’t be afraid to let your supporters write their own letters in their own words. There’s a fear-factor about giving up control of the message. Organizations often are nervous about giving their supporters free reign in writing letters to lawmakers. What would they say if we didn’t script it for them? I respond by asking the organization if they’re doing a good job of educating and informing their supporters. If so, then have faith in your supporters' comments! (If not, then do a better job of informing supporters.)

 

3. Figure out the campaign’s goals. Before starting a campaign, organizations also need to be honest with themselves about their goals. Is it truly advocacy and engaging lawmakers to secure more cosponsors or a vote on a bill? Or is the digital campaign about building your list or donor base? Organizations should pick the campaign tools and technology based on the goal of the campaign, and not vice versa. If your organization’s goal is to grow your list of supporters, then an advocacy campaign may not be the way to go.

 

4. Urge your supporters to research their Member of Congress and state or district. For example, if you’re running a campaign about children’s cancer, your supporters in a particular district may know whether the Member of Congress or their family has experience with cancer or is connected with the medical research community. (Perhaps the Member’s wife is a children’s nurse? Or, perhaps the district has a large medical research facility?) And, there may be a supporter that is personally connected with the Member. (Did they go to college together? Does their child play soccer with the Congresswoman’s son?) This information can really help the campaign and build relationships with the Member’s office.

 

5. Remember that Members and staffers want to build relationships with their constituents. That’s why they host coffees or town halls in the towns and cities they represent. As an organization, it’s important to encourage supporters to stay in touch with their lawmakers about the issue after they’ve taken an action. They can follow up with the office with a phone call or attend a town hall meeting, for example. And if their Member of Congress ends up cosponsoring a bill, encourage the constituent to thank them!

 

POPVOX’s Write Lawmaker tools allow for a field where organizations can ask participants a question. I often recommend asking whether they have a personal connection with their Member of Congress. It’s surprising how many people actually personally know their elected officials, either through school, church or sports!

 

This is part of a weekly Q&A series with our advocacy expert Rachna Choudhry. Send your questions to outreach@popvox.com and see the answers in future editions!

Issue Spotlight

Issue Spotlight: The Wage Gap, the “X-Files” and Congress

It's not often when leaders in Hollywood and the nation's capital are talking about the same issue.

In recent months, the wage gap between men and women has gotten national attention as Hollywood stars and Members of Congress are focusing on the issue. This week, wage disparity between men and women was highlighted again when "X-Files" costar Gillian Anderson (Agent Dana Scully) talked about what she was offered for the reboot of the show.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Gillian Anderson said she was offered "half of what they wanted to offer" to her costar David Duchovny (Agent Fox Mulder) to participate in the reboot. She eventually got the salary that her costar was offered this time around. However, during the first run of the show, it took her three years before finally closing the wage gap between her pay and Duchovny's, according to the Daily Beast

"Especially in this climate of women talking about the reality of [unequal pay] in this business, I think it’s important that it gets heard and voiced. It was shocking to me, given all the work that I had done in the past to get us to be paid fairly. I worked really hard toward that and finally got somewhere with it." — Gillian Anderson of "X-Files"

"The Truth is out there?" TwitterEqual Pay is the law

In 1963, Congress passed and President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay lower wages to women doing substantially the same work as their male counterparts. The next year, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, making it illegal to discriminate, including in compensation, on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin.

In 2009, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which “restored the interpretation of the law that a pay discrimination claim accrues when a discriminatory pay decision or practice is adopted, whenever an employee is subjected to a discriminatory pay decision or practice, and each time a discriminatory pay decision or practice affects an employee, including each time the employee receives a discriminatory paycheck.”

Proposals in Congress addressing the wage gap

There are two bills pending before Congress that addresses the wage gap. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which has the support of President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate, and the Workplace Advancement Act in the Senate, sponsored by Republican Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE). While the Paycheck Fairness Act has failed to garner Republican support, the introduction of the Workplace Advancement Act by Republican Senators indicates that there is some common ground on the issue of wage discrimination.

According to the Workplace Advancement Act’s bill text: 

“Despite this significant progress, surveys suggest there is a concern among American women that gender-based pay discrimination still exists.”

HR 1619 and S 862: PAYCHECK FAIRNESS ACT

Sponsors: Rep. Rosa DeLauro [D-CT] and Sen. Barbara Mikulski [D-MD]

“Builds upon the landmark Equal Pay Act signed into law in 1963 by closing loopholes that have kept it from achieving its goal of equal pay. The bill would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance, not gender. It also prohibits employer retaliation for sharing salary information with coworkers. Under current law employers can sue and punish employees for sharing such information. In addition, it strengthens remedies for pay discrimination by increasing compensation women can seek, allowing them to seek both back pay and punitive damages for pay discrimination – conforming it to damages allowed in other discrimination cases. The bill empowers women in the workplace through a grant program to strengthen salary negotiation and other workplace skills, and requires the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training efforts to eliminate pay disparities,” according to the bill sponsors.

S 2200: WORKPLACE ADVANCEMENT ACT

Sponsors: Sen. Deb Fischer [R-NE]

To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to strengthen equal pay requirements. “To prevent retaliation against employees who inquire about, or discuss, their salaries, while also reinforcing current law banning gender discrimination under both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” according to the bill sponsor.

Status: Last year, as part of the fiscal year 2016 budget, the Republican-led Senate passed an amendment offered by Senator Fischer on a bipartisan vote of 56 to 43. The amendment was supported by 53 Republicans and Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Donnelly (I-IN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).


— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —

Photo credit: "The X-Files": My Struggle image from Twitter

Weekly Update

The Week Ahead in Congress: Dec. 14-18

It’s Crunch Time for Congress

A deadline to fund the federal government approaches, along with dozens of expiring tax provisions. Congress is also expected to vote on several national security bills and continue debate on gun control legislation this week.

And we’re rooting for Congressional staff who are hoping to make it home for the holidays!

Averting a Government Shutdown…
Until Wednesday

On Friday, Congress averted a shutdown by extending the government’s funding for five days beyond its December 11 deadline. On the House floor, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers [R, KY-5] spoke in support of the short-term continuing resolution (H.R. 2250) to fund the federal government through Dec. 16:

“I believe we are making good progress on a final, full-year appropriations package. While I had hoped that we would be done by this point, there are still many moving pieces. It is my hope and expectation that the final Omnibus legislation will be completed by this new deadline.”– House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers

The “moving pieces” are the policy riders that lawmakers are eager to attach to this catch-all legislative package. (See: “What’s an Omnibus” from POPVOX.) Hundreds of riders have reportedly been proposed, including:

  • Repealing the crude oil export ban in place since the 1970s: “Our nation’s inability to export crude oil threatens our national security as well the safety and security of our allies. Israel and our European allies depend upon unstable and unfriendly sources like Russia and the OPEC Oil Cartel for their energy needs. This dependence allows them to intimidate our allies. This situation would not be occurring if the United States was able to sell crude oil internationally,” according to Rep. Kevin Cramer. [R, ND] (A similar proposal passed the House in October as H.R. 702)
  • Defunding Planned Parenthood: “It is clear that Congress can use the appropriations process to stop the flow of federal funding to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates by attaching a simple provision to the Omnibus,” according to Rep. Jim Bridenstine [R, OK-1] (A similar proposal passed both the House and Senate in the recent Reconciliation bill H.R. 3762)
  • Suspending resettlement of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries: Reps. Lamar Smith [R, TX-2], Marsha Blackburn [R, TN-7], Brian Babin [R, TX-36], and Jim Bridenstine [R, OK-1] are calling for a temporary suspension of Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) resettlement funding for all refugees, as well as individuals not in a legitimate lawful status….The lawmakers are currently crafting language to address the issue for inclusion in an omnibus spending bill.” See full statement here. (A similar proposal passed the House in October as H.R. 4038)
  • Blocking the EPA’s water rules: According to Sen. John Hoeven [R-ND] on his efforts to eliminate the Waters of the U.S. regulation: “I’ve included legislation in the appropriations bill to defund the regulation and I really think that we’re going to get that done by the end of the year.” (A measure disapproving the rule passed the Senate as S.J.Res. 22)

 

Negotiations on Tax Extenders

Negotiations around the spending bill have become intertwined with another issue—extending a series of expiring tax breaks, including those for businesses and low-income workers.

Congressional leaders and White House officials have been working to come up with an agreement before the end of the year, when many of these tax provisions expire. The deal could reach $800 billion. Republican leaders in the House have indicated that the omnibus spending bill and the tax extenders bill may come to the floor together in one large vehicle—making it a very interesting time in Congress. Some are calling it “silly season”!

Many of these tax provisions are typically renewed every year or every other year, but the Republican package would make many of the tax breaks permanent. For a list of expiring tax provisions, see the POPVOX Issue Spotlight on Tax Extenders.

In case Congress and the White House aren’t able to reach a long-term agreement on tax extenders, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady released a two-year bill as a backup plan:

TAX INCREASE PREVENTION AND REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT ACT
Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Brady [R, TX-8]

The proposal would extend, for two years (generally through the end of 2016), a number of tax relief provisions that expired at the end of calendar year 2014, … Several of the provisions are modified… modifications generally become effective in 2016.

The amendment “would restrict companies’ tax-free spinoffs into real estate investment trusts (REITs), while easing taxes on foreign investment in U.S. real property.” – BNA  Summary  |  Text  |  Revenue Estimate

Earlier this year, the Senate Finance Committee passed its own version of a tax extenders bill:

1946: TAX RELIEF EXTENSION ACT OF 2015
Bipartisan
Sponsor: Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT]

Amends the Internal Revenue Code to extend expired and expiring tax provisions affecting individual and business taxpayers and the energy sector.  
Summary  |  Bill Text  |  Revenue Estimate

 

National Security

The House will also vote on several bills related to national security and terrorism:

H.R. 3654: COMBAT TERRORIST USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA ACT
Bipartisan

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Poe [R, TX-2]

“Would require the Administration to fulfill its 2011 commitment to come up with a comprehensive strategy to counter terrorists’ use of social media. The bill also requires the Administration to outline and report to Congress on its own efforts and those in coordination with private companies to combat terrorist use of social media,” according to the bill sponsor.

 

H.R. 3878: STRENGTHENING CYBERSECURITY INFORMATION SHARING AND COORDINATION IN OUR PORTS ACT
Bipartisan

Sponsor: Rep. Norma Torres [D, CA-25]

“Would improve information sharing and cooperation in addressing cyber security risks at our nation’s ports,” according to the bill sponsor.

“During a recent hearing, the Port of Long Beach brought up significant cyber security vulnerabilities at U.S. ports. This is due in part to port landlords not always coordinating with port tenants and also to federal agencies only beginning to consider the impact of a cyber-attack on our maritime infrastructure in its security assessments and strategies.”

 

Connecting the No-Fly List to Purchasing Firearms

Last week, Rep. Mike Thompson [D, CA-5] introduced a discharge petition that would force a vote on a bill that would prevent people on the “no fly” list from buying firearms. The petition needs 218 signatures from members of the House to go to the House floor for a vote. So far, Rep. Peter King [R, NY-2], the author of the bill, and Reps. Dan Donovan [R, NY-11] and Robert Dold [R, IL-10] are the only Republicans among the 172 lawmakers who have signed on to the measure:

H.R. 1076: DENYING FIREARMS AND EXPLOSIVES TO DANGEROUS TERRORISTS ACT
Bipartisan
Sponsor: Rep. Peter King [R, NY-2]

“Right now federal law prohibits nine categories of dangerous persons from purchasing or possessing firearms. Remarkably, persons on the terrorist watch lists are not among these prohibited purchasers. After 9/11, it makes no sense that the federal government cannot stop gun sales to suspected terrorists. My legislation closes this glaring gap in federal background checks,” according to the bill sponsor.

See the full list of signatures on the discharge petition.

 

Customs Enforcement and a Ban on Internet Taxes

Last week the House passed a “conference report” (agreement between the House and Senate) on a Trade and Customs enforcement bill, which the Senate may take up this week.

“The Conference Report for the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 reconciles the differences between the House and Senate bills, formally authorizes U.S. Customs and Border Protection, facilitates the legitimate trade of goods, and combats violations of U.S. trade laws.” – Conference committee release

The Trade and Customs bill also includes a permanent extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, prohibiting taxes on Internet goods and services or internet access. The bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Ron Wyden [D-OR], said:

“I co-wrote the Internet Tax Freedom Act nearly a decade ago to help spur the growth of the digital economy. Today online commerce is responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs. In my view, when you have something that works, that has stood the test of time, you ought to make it permanent.”


H.R. 644: TRADE FACILITATION AND TRADE ENFORCEMENT ACT OF 2015

Bipartisan
Sponsor: Rep. Tom Reed  [R, NY-23]

The bipartisan, bicameral trade legislation authorizes U.S. Customs and Border Protection and puts in place effective tools to strengthen trade enforcement at the border and facilitate the efficient movement of legitimate trade and travel.    Summary  |  Bill Text 

Also in the House

The House will also vote on:

Res. 536: RESOLUTION SUPPORTING FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IN LATIN AMERICA
Bipartisan
Sponsor: Rep. Albio Sires [D, NJ-8]
“Supports a free press in Latin America and the Caribbean by condemning violations of press freedom and violence against journalists, bloggers, and individuals exercising their right to freedom of speech. It also urges countries in the region to implement the recommendations to Member States made by the Organization of American States Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. Lastly, this resolution urges the United States Agency for International Development and the Department of State to assist the media in closed societies to promote a free press,” according to the bill sponsor.

 

H.R. 3750: FIRST RESPONDERS PASSPORT ACT
Bipartisan

Sponsor: Rep. Darrell Issa [R, CA-49]

“Would waive passport fees for certain first responders who travel to foreign countries to aid in disaster response,” according to the bill sponsor.

H.R. 2241: GLOBAL HEALTH INNOVATION ACT
Bipartisan

Sponsor: Rep. Albio Sires [D, NJ-8]
“To encourage the development of health products that are affordable, culturally appropriate, and easy to use in low-resource health systems. This bill will require the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to submit a report on the development and use of global health innovations at the Agency,” according to the bill sponsor.

S 1347: ELECTRONIC HEALTH FAIRNESS ACT
Bipartisan  

Sponsor: Sen. Johnny Isakson [R-GA]

 

Amends title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act to prohibit, for a payment year after 2015, any patient encounter of an eligible professional occurring at an ambulatory surgical center from being treated as such an encounter in determining whether an eligible professional qualifies as a meaningful electronic health record (EHR) user.

— Passed by the Senate on August 5, 2015; now goes to the House for consideration. —

 

Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Update

The Week Ahead in Congress: Dec. 7 – 11

Avoiding a Government Shutdown… and More

It’s that time of year again… when Congress looks to pass spending legislation to avoid a federal government shutdown by Friday. During the last budget negotiations in late September, a Republican proposal defunding Planned Parenthood threatened to trigger a shutdown, which was averted by a temporary measure keeping the government funded until December 11. Now, Members of Congress are proposing to include carbon and water deregulation measures as well as limiting Syrian refugees as part of the spending bill.

The Hill 101: What is an “Omnibus” bill?

In addition to the omnibus spending bill, the House will work on changing the Visa Waiver Program, in light of the Paris attacks, as well as banning microbeads. The Senate will continue a bipartisan effort to replace No Child Left Behind, before sending it to the President for his signature. And, House Speaker Paul Ryan is calling for comprehensive mental health legislation to address gun violence, while other Members of Congress are proposing an end to the ban on federal gun violence research.


 

Sunday night: President Obama Live Address to the Nation

Last night, President Obama addressed the nation. In the speech, he discussed the tragedy of San Bernardino, which he called “an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people.” In addition, the President called on Congress to take four actions:
  1. Deny weapons to individuals on the no-fly zone,
  2. Make it tougher to access assault weapons,
  3. Improve the security of the visa waiver program,
  4. Pass an authorization for the use of military force against ISIS.
Several bills are pending in Congress to address each of these topics (and the House will vote this week on changes to the visa waiver program.) Find out more and tell Congress what you think about these issues.

 

Visa Waiver Program Changes

The House will vote on legislation to amend the Visa Waiver Program, which allows for visa-free travel into the US for millions of people from 38 participating countries.

“Following the attacks in Paris last month, a bipartisan majority in the House swiftly urged the Obama administration to pause its Syrian refugee resettlement program. We also pledged to examine other potential vulnerabilities that foreign terrorists could exploit to enter the country. To that end, next week the House will consider thoughtful legislation offered by Rep. Candice Miller to ratchet up security guidelines within the Visa Waiver Program.

– House Speaker Paul D. Ryan

 

Would “help the Department of Homeland Security identify and stop terrorists with Western passports from entering the United States,” according to the bill sponsor

  • “Requires countries participating in our Visa Waiver Program to continually share terrorism and foreign traveler data with the United States and requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend their participation if they do not meet this requirement.  (Currently, the Secretary can only suspend VWP participation for imminent national security threats.)
  • “Requires countries participating in our Visa Waiver Program to utilize INTERPOL’s criminal and law enforcement databases by requiring countries to report lost and stolen passports within 24 hours and screen all passengers against all INTERPOL databases and notices, and requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend their participation if they do not meet this INTERPOL requirement.”

 


Mental Health Legislation in Response to Mass Shootings

The tragic mass shootings in Colorado, South Carolina and California have prompted Members of Congress to discuss the causes of gun violence and ways to reduce it. House Speaker Paul Ryan called on Congress to work on mental health legislation early next year, noting a bill introduced by Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) to address the issue:

 

H.R. 2646: Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act
— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Tim Murphy [R-PA-18]

 

“Fixes the nation’s broken mental health system by focusing programs and resources on psychiatric care for patients & families most in need of services,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read summary here)

 

Gun Violence Research

On the same day as the San Bernardino shooting, a group of doctors lobbied lawmakers in Washington, DC to end the ban on allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct research on gun violence.

In 1996, Congress added an amendment, known as the Dickey Amendment, to an appropriations bill that blocked the CDC from researching gun violence and discontinuing funding for that research. Last week, the amendment’s author, Congressman Jay Dickey [R-AR], reversed his position in a letter to the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force:

“Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners, in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile… it is my position that somehow or someway we should slowly but methodically fund such research until a solution is reached.  Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution.”

— Former Congressman Jay Dickey, author of the initial gun violence research ban

 

In October, more than 100 members of the House sent a letter to leadership to end the ban on federal funding for gun violence research. “As a result of this ban, there has been very limited academic research into the causes of gun violence and its impact on public health, weakening efforts to make our communities safer and to implement bipartisan gun reforms,” explained the letter.

 

In addition, several bills have been introduced to promote research on gun violence:

 

H.R. 2612 and S. 1473: Authorizing CDC gun violence prevention research
— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Carolyn Maloney [D, NY-12] and Sen. Ed Markey [D, MA]

Would set aside $10 million in funding each year for FY2016-2021 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct or support research on firearms safety or gun violence prevention, according to the bill sponsors.

 

H.R. 3926: Gun Violence Research Act

Sponsor: Rep. Mike Honda [D, CA-17]

“Would Give the CDC the authority to research the causes, mechanisms, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of injuries with respect to gun violence; encourage the improvement and expansion of National Violent Death Reporting System; and empower health care providers by not inhibiting a physician or other health care provider from asking a patient about the possession of a firearm, speaking to a patient about gun safety, or reporting to authorities a patient’s threat of violence,” according to the bill sponsor.

 

H.Res 467 Establishing the Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention

Sponsor: Rep. Mike Thompson [D, CA-5]

Establishes the House Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention to investigate and report on: the causes of mass shootings, methods to improve the federal firearms purchaser background check system, connections between access to firearms and dangerously mentally ill individuals, strengthening federal penalties for trafficking and straw purchasing of firearms, closing loopholes that allow some domestic abusers continued access to firearms, linkages between firearms and suicide, gun violence’s effect on public health.

 


Banning Microbeads

This week, the House will vote on banning microbeads. According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee:

“Microbeads are those tiny little scrubbers in your soap, cleansers, and even toothpaste. On their own, they are nearly invisible, smaller than a pinhead. But once they’ve flushed down the drain is when the problems begin…. They are known to absorb pollutants, and are often mistaken as food by fish and wildlife. Simply put, microbeads are causing mega-problems.”

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Frank Pallone [D, NJ-6]

Would ban the sale or distribution of cosmetics products containing plastic microbeads effective January 1, 2018.


Conference on Customs and Trade Enforcement

Last week, the House agreed to go to conference with the Senate to negotiate the two chambers’ versions of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, also known as Customs Reauthorization. The House and Senate each passed different versions of the bill this summer.

A House-Senate agreement would send the bill to the President—authorizing the Customs and Border Protection agency for the first time since it was created in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks.

H.R. 644: Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Reed [R, NY-23]

“Provides direction on how to streamline trade, improve enforcement, and measure progress within Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in order to move the ever-increasing volume of legitimate trade more efficiently and halt trade that doesn’t comply with US laws,” according to the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill focuses on three critical aspects of CBP’s mission, as well as enhancing transparency and accountability: facilitating and streamlining the flow of legitimate trade; modernization of CBP’s automated systems; and enforcement of US trade laws.  


Education Reform in the Senate

Last week, the House passed a House-Senate conference agreement that would replace No Child Left Behind. The agreement now goes to the Senate for its approval. It represents a compromise between the House-passed Student Success Act (H.R. 5) and the Senate-passed Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177):

— BIPARTISAN —

This agreement is a historic step in reforming K-12 education. Lead negotiators – Representatives John Kline [R, MN-2] and Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] and Senators Lamar Alexander [R, TN] and Patty Murray [D, WA] — combined policies from the House bill that passed with only Republican support, and the Senate bill that carried broad bipartisan support.


In the House

The House will also vote on the following bills:

Sponsor: Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee [D, TX-18]

“Requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit a study on the circumstances which may impact the effectiveness and availability of first responders before, during, or after a terrorist threat or event,” according to the House Homeland Security Committee.

 

 

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Buddy Carter [R, GA-1]

“Would reauthorize the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) located in Brunswick, Georgia. Since its creation in the 1970’s, FLETC has provided high-quality, cost-effective, standardized training for federal law enforcement training officers from multiple agencies,” according to the bill sponsor. 

 

 

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Will Hurd [R, TX-23]

“Will give state and local governments access to federal resources when it comes to securing their digital information systems,” according to the bill sponsor. “directs the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to coordinate with state and local governments on securing their information systems on a voluntary basis. The NCCIC can assist in identifying system vulnerabilities and possible solutions. They can also provide technical, implementation and privacy training for cybersecurity analysts. In addition, the NCCIC will be required to seek feedback from state and local governments in order to report on the effectiveness of their efforts.”  Source

(Congressman Hurd organized cyber offensive campaigns while working as an undercover officer in the CIA.)

 

 

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Michael McCaul [R, TX-10]

Establishes a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives Office (CBRNE) within the Department of Homeland Security.

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. John Ratcliffe [D, TX-4]

Would expand: (1) the role of the Directorate of Science and Technology as the primary research, development, testing, and evaluation arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and (2) the duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology, who is the head of the Directorate.

 

 

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Sen. John Thune [R, SD]

Would “make the STB more accountable and effective in addressing rail rate and service disputes,” according to the bill sponsor. http://www.thune.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2015/6/senate-passes-bipartisan-surface-transportation-board-reforms
·       “Improves the STB’s current dispute resolution process by setting timelines for rate reviews and expanding voluntary arbitration procedures to address both rate and service disputes;
·       “Ensures the STB has the authority to proactively resolve problems before they escalate into larger disputes by providing the STB with the ability to initiate investigations on matters other than rate cases; and
“Improves the STB’s structure and
decision making processes by expanding the board membership from three to five and, with proper disclosure, allowing board members to talk with one another.”
— Passed by the Senate on 6/8/2015; now goes to the House for consideration. — 

 

 

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Darrell Issa [R, CA-49]
“Would waive passport fees for certain first responders who travel to foreign countries to aid in disaster response,” according to the bill sponsor. 

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Ted Poe [R, TX-2]

“would increase public oversight over foreign aid by requiring federal agencies to show both where taxpayer money is spent around the world and how effective that aid is,” according to the bill sponsor. “First, it would require the President to establish guidelines on measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans for all foreign aid programs. Second, it would increase aid transparency by codifying what is currently being done through the Foreign Assistance Dashboard and increasing the amount of information required to be posted online, including actual expenditures and evaluations.” Source

 

 

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Albio Sires [D, NJ-8]

“To encourage the development of health products that are affordable, culturally appropriate, and easy to use in low-resource health systems. This bill will require the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to submit a report on the development and use of global health innovations at the Agency,” according to the bill sponsor. 

 

 

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Brady [R, TX-8]

Would extend from 45 days to 60 days the annual notice period for the announcement of payment rates under Medicare Advantage (MA). MA organizations shall have at least 30 days to comment on proposed changes.

 

 

— BIPARTISAN —
Sponsor: Rep. Scott Perry [R,PA-4

Makes technical corrections to the Homeland Security Act (HSA) of 2002.

 

 

Sponsor: Sen. Tom Carper [D, DE]

“Would improve existing programs, requirements and procedures across federal agencies established to identify and prevent improper payments,” according to the bill sponsor.  “Improper payments continue to cost agencies billions of taxpayer dollars, and ultimately undermine the effectiveness of the services that Americans rely upon. This legislation builds on past bipartisan efforts to implement stronger program integrity measures across the federal government and provide agency officials with the tools they need to identify and prevent improper payments.”
—Passed by the Senate on 7/28/2015; now goes to the House for consideration.—

 

 

Sponsor: Rep. Mac Thornberry [R, TX-13]

“Requires the BLM to commission a survey along the 116-mile stretch of the Red River using the gradient boundary survey method developed and backed by the Supreme Court to determine the proper ownership boundary between public and private land,” according to the bill sponsor. 

 

 


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

Weekly Update

The Week Ahead in Congress: Nov. 30 – Dec. 4

Congress is back in session after Thanksgiving recess. The House will consider an energy bill—and whether to disapprove the Administration’s new EPA standards — while the President travels to Paris for the COP21 climate change conference. The Senate and House will soon vote on the final long-term highway funding bill, which is being hammered out in conference, before a Friday deadline.


 

#GivingTuesday

“Giving Tuesday” — the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving — kicks off the holiday season in a spirit of service following the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard [D, HI-2] and Rep. Will Hurd [R, TX-23] introduced a bipartisan resolution to recognize #GivingTuesday (H.Res. 482):

H.Res. 482: Expressing the sense of the House that Congress should recognize the benefits of charitable giving and express support for the designation of #GivingTuesday       — Bipartisan — 

 


Energy Policy Changes (and Challenges)

House energy policy vote

This week, the House will vote on an energy bill that, according to the sponsor, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, Rep. Fred Upton [R, MI-6], addresses “many of the nation’s energy laws [that] are rooted in the days of energy scarcity and do not take into account our newfound energy abundance.”

H.R. 8: North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act  
—  Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Fred Upton [R, MI-6]
“Fortifies America’s energy security by reinvesting in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and by hardening and modernizing energy infrastructure to withstand21st century threats like cyber, severe weather, and EMP attacks. The legislation will also help benefit the United States by streamlining the approval of LNG exports and by providing improved coordination on energy diplomacy issues with our North American neighbors… also includes energy efficiency provisions,” according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Section-by-Section Summary   |   Congressional Budget Office Score

 

Paris Climate Talks #COP21

On Sunday, President Obama travels to Paris to attend the United Nations “Conference of Parties” to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference or “COP21.” The stated goal of the conference was “to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate,” with over 150 heads of state participating. That goal, however, was a sticking point for the Obama Administration, which would be constitutionally-bound to submit any “treaty” to the Senate for ratification. On the eve of the talks, it was announced that French negotiators would not push for a “treaty” designation and would be open to allowing some non-binding provisions.

In Congress, Members have introduced three measures stating that the results of the Paris talks should be considered a treaty and submitted by the President for the “Advice and Consent” of the Senate.

 

S.Res.290: Expressing the sense of the Senate that any protocol to, or other agreement regarding, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change… shall be considered a treaty requiring the advice and consent of the Senate.
Sponsor: Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY]

 

H.Con.Res. 97: Expresses the sense of Congress that the President should submit to the Senate for advice and consent the climate change agreement … and Congress should refuse to consider any budget resolutions and appropriations language that include funding for the Green Climate Fund until COP-21 emissions commitments are submitted to the Senate. 
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Kelly [R, PA-3]

 

S.Con.Res 25A concurrent resolution expressing the sense of Congress that the President should submit the Paris climate change agreement to the Senate for its advice and consent.
Sponsor: Sen. Mike Lee [R, UT]

 

Obama Administration Efforts on Climate Change

In May 2015, President Obama, in a speech at the Coast Guard Academy commencement, said that climate change poses a serious national threat:

 

“Around the world, climate change increases the risk of instability and conflict. Rising seas are already swallowing low-lying lands, from Bangladesh to Pacific islands, forcing people from their homes. Globally, we could see a rise in climate change refugees…

Climate change, and especially rising seas, is a threat to our homeland security, our economic infrastructure, the safety and health of the American people.”
—  President Obama speech to Coast Guard Academy commencement

 

On August 3, 2015, President Obama and EPA announced the “Clean Power Plan” regulatory plan—“a historic and important step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants that takes real action on climate change.” It establishes “strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change,” according to the EPA. Learn more about the Clean Power Plan.

 

This Week: Congressional Efforts to “Disapprove” Obama Environmental Regulations

This week, the House will vote on two resolutions to formally “disapprove” Administration regulations under the rarely-used “Congressional Review Act.” (Read more from POPVOX on the CRA). The resolutions have already passed the Senate and are expected to be vetoed if they reach the President’s  desk. (Only one CRA resolution in history has been successful.)

 

S.J.Res. 23: Resolution Disapproving of the New EPA EGU Carbon Pollution Standards
Bipartisan
Sponsor: Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY]

Disapproves of the EPA’s “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.” The EPA is finalizing new source performance standards (NSPS) under Clean Air Act (CAA) section 111(b) that, for the first time, will establish standards for emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) for newly constructed, modified, and reconstructed affected fossil fuel-fired electric utility generating units (EGUs). This action establishes separate standards of performance for fossil fuel-fired electric utility steam generating units and fossil fuel-fired stationary combustion turbines.

S.J.Res. 24Resolution Disapproving of the EPA’s Carbon Pollution Guidelines for Existing Sources  
Sponsor: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito [R, WV]

Disapproves of the EPA’s “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.”  The EPA is establishing final emission guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units (EGUs).


Highway and Transportation Funding Deadline Friday

A long-term highway funding bill is currently under negotiation by a formal House–Senate conference committee.

“This is significant in and of itself,” explained a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan. Conference committees have become rare. This month, two conference committees met—one on the highway bill and one on K-12 education reform. The ESEA conference report may also get a vote this week.

 

 

The House and Senate are under pressure to pass the highway bill before a Friday deadline for the expiration of highway funding authority — a time set by the latest stop-gap, short-term extensions passed to give the conference committee time to work.

This means that by Friday, the conference committee must negotiate differences to create one bill, pass the bill in both the House and Senate and finally send it to the President for his signature into law. However, House procedures require that Members have 48 hours to view legislation before voting on it—making the deadline essentially December 2nd.

The House passed its version earlier this month, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act (H.R. 3763), which would spend $261 billion on highways, $55 billion on transit and approximately $9 billion on safety programs — but requires that Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years. The Senate passed a six-year highway authorization, the DRIVE Act (H.R. 22), providing three years of guaranteed funding for the highway trust fund, in July.


Also in the House

This week, the House will also consider:

S. 1170: Breast Cancer Research Stamp Reauthorization Act 
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA]
– Passed Senate 9/22/15  –

Current authorization for the Breast Cancer Research Stamp expires this year, and this bill would extend the sale of the stamps for an additional four years. The stamp provides first-class postage and currently costs 60 cents, with 11 cents directed toward helping fund breast cancer research programs.  Since 1998, proceeds from the stamp have exceeded $80.4 million, helping to fund the National Cancer Institute’s breast cancer research programs at the National Institutes of Health and the Medical Research Program at the Department of Defense, according to the bill sponsors.

S. 611: Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act  
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Sen. Roger Wicker [R, MS]
Passed Senate 6/9/15  –

“Would reauthorize the “Safe Drinking Water Act’s” (SDWA) technical assistance and training provision for $15 million per year over the next six years,” according to the sponsor. “More than 50,000 small and rural communities, comprising more than 90 percent of the drinking water supplies in the country, are responsible for providing safe, clean water to their citizens. The Environmental Protection Agency’s technical assistance and training provision assists these communities in securing the necessary technical expertise to improve and protect their water resources. The initiative has been effective in ensuring implementation of the SDWA in rural areas.”

H.R. 3490: Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. John Ratcliffe [R, TX-4]

“Authorizes the National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI) under the US Secret Service in order to train state and local law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges on how to investigate cyber and electronic crimes, conduct computer and mobile device forensic examinations, and respond to network intrusion investigations,” according to the House Judiciary Committee. 

H.R. 3279: Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act 
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Doug Collins [R, GA-9]

“Will strengthen the Equal Access to Justice Act, passed in 1980, by reinstating the tracking and reporting requirements on how much money is being paid out by the federal government under EAJA. The Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act increases transparency by requiring the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) to submit an annual report to Congress and establish an online searchable database to allow public access to information on the amount being spent on attorneys’ fees under EAJA. This allows taxpayers to see to whom their money is being paid and from which agencies,” according to bill sponsors.

H.R. 1755: Changing the Disabled American Veterans’ Federal Charter
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Miller [R, FL-1]

Since 1920, Disabled American Veterans “provides free assistance to veterans and their families in obtaining federal benefits and services earned through military service” and “represents the interests of disabled veterans, their families, their widowed spouses and their orphans before the federal, state and local governments.” This bill would alter the DAV’s federal charter as a step toward changing its tax-exempt status from a 501(c)(4) to a 501(c)(3) organization to “facilitate DAV in its fund-raising efforts,” according to the House Judiciary Committee. 

H.R. 1541: PRISM (Preservation Research at Institutions Serving Minorities) Act 
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Raúl Grijalva [D, AZ-3]

Would make Hispanic-serving institutions eligible for technical and financial assistance for the establishment of preservation training and degree programs, according to the House Natural Resources Committee. 

H.R. 2212: To take Federal lands in Lassen County, California, into trust for the benefit of the Susanville Indian Rancheria 
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Doug LaMalfa [R, CA-1]

Would direct the Secretary of the Interior to take into trust approximately 300 acres of adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed lands for the Susanville Indian Rancheria. Under the bill, class II and class III gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is prohibited on these lands, according to the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. 

H.R. 2288: To remove the use restrictions on certain land transferred to Rockingham County, Virginia
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Bob Goodlatte [R, VA-6]

Removes a deed restriction on Rockingham County, VA property so that upgrades can be made to a childcare facility, according to the House Committee on Natural Resources. 

H.R. 2270: Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act
   — Bipartisan  —   
Sponsor: Rep. Denny Heck [D, WA-10]

Would designate the wildlife refuge on the Nisqually River Delta as “The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.” The legislation also creates a National Historic Site at the location of the signing of the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty, and requires the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to involve the Nisqually, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Squaxin Island Tribes in the development of educational materials for the National Historic Site, according to the sponsor.

Background: Billy Frank Jr. was known as a tireless champion for treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, and salmon recovery. He was on the front lines in the campaign against state-imposed limits on tribal fishing, known as the Fish Wars in the 1960s and 1970s where he organized “fish-ins”—modeled after the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. Those efforts lead to the 1974 Boldt, which reaffirmed the Tribes’ rights to half of the fish harvest in Washington.


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

Weekly Update

The Week Ahead in Congress: November 23rd-27th

With Congress in recess this week for Thanksgiving, here’s a look at bills related to military action against ISIS, safeguards and funding for admission of Syrian refugees — and whether states have the authority to refuse refugees. Before leaving for recess last week, the House and Senate reached bipartisan agreement on replacing No Child Left Behind. And, as you plan your holiday shopping, remember “Small Business Saturday”!


Replacing No Child Left Behind

Last week, the House and Senate conference committee reached agreement on a proposal to replace No Child Left Behind. The legislation is expected to be on the floor of both chambers shortly after the Thanksgiving recess. It represents a compromise between the House-passed Student Success Act (HR 5) and the Senate-passed Every Child Achieves Act (S 1177).

Conference Agreement on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — Bipartisan—

This agreement is a historic step in reforming K-12 education. Lead negotiators – Representatives John Kline [R, MN-2] and Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] and Senators Lamar Alexander [R-TN] and Patty Murray [D-WA] — combined policies from the House bill that passed with only Republican support, and the Senate bill, which carried broad bipartisan support.

This agreement, in my opinion, is the most significant step towards local control in 25 years.”  – Senator Lamar Alexander

According to the House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, this agreement:

  • “Reduces the federal role in K-12 education. One-size-fits-all federal policies dictating accountability and school improvement are eliminated.”
  • “Restores local control by returning to state and local leaders the primary responsibility for accountability and school improvement. The framework protects the right of states to opt out of federal education programs, as well as provides new funding flexibility so federal resources are better spent on priorities set at the local level.”
  • “Empowers parents. We continue to promote transparency about school performance, so parents have the information they need to do what’s best for their children. We also strengthen the charter school program and magnet school program to offer parents greater school choice.”

Read the full summary  |  Check out the POPVOX Issue Spotlight


Small Business Saturday

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the full holiday shopping season just around the corner, Congress considered bills related to small business issues before leaving for Thanksgiving recess. Small Business Saturday, November 28, celebrates and supports small businesses and their roles in communities.

The Senate recently adopted a resolution honoring small businesses (S.Res. 304). The House Small Business Committee will consider a similar resolution when they return:

H.Res. 534 — Bipartisan —

Sponsor: Rep. Steve Chabot [R, OH-1]

Expressing support for the designation of a “Small Business Saturday” and supporting efforts to increase awareness of the value of locally owned small businesses.

The resolution notes that there are over 28 million small businesses in the United States, representing 99.7 percent of all businesses with employees and employing more than 48 percent of private sector employees.

The House Small Business Committee also held a hearing on the contribution of entrepreneurs to America’s economy and considered a resolution recognizing the third Tuesday in November as National Entrepreneurs’ Day:

HRes. 511 — Bipartisan —

Sponsor: Rep. Steve Chabot [R, OH-1]

Expressing support for designation of the third Tuesday in November as “National Entrepreneurs’ Day”.


Military Action Against ISIS?

In the wake of the Paris attacks, the White House released a progress update on the fight against ISIS (also known as ISIL or Daesh). A part of that strategy includes “relentlessly pursuing ISIL leaders and going after attack plotters wherever they are.” Some Members of Congress are urging for additional action.

Last week, Congressman Tom Emmer (R-MN) introduced a joint resolution declaring a state of war against the Islamic State:

H.J.Res. 73

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Emmer [R, MN-6]

Declaring that a state of war exists between the Islamic State and the Government and the people of the United States and making provision to prosecute the same.

“The Islamic State has declared war against America and now we have an obligation to act,” said Congressman Emmer. “The wolf of tyranny is at our doorstep and now is the time to euthanize this evil before it enters America’s home. Congress must exercise its constitutional authority through this Declaration of War and give the President the power to utilize all facets of our military and diplomatic strength to successfully defeat our enemies. It is time that we speak with one voice and unite as a country against the Islamic State.”

Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced a resolution urging the Administration to work with the NATO member states:

H.Res. 525

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Poe [R, TX-2]

Urging the Administration to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty in response to the Paris attacks. Article 5 signifies that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all and requires a joint response from all NATO members.


Syrian Refugees and National Security

More than four million Syrians have fled the conflict zone in their home country, contributing to the largest global refugee crisis since World War II. In response to the crisis, the Obama Administration announced plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States over the course of this fiscal year — after each of them undergo 18 to 24 months of security screenings, including biometric (fingerprint) and biographic checks, medical screenings, and lengthy interviews.

Last week, the House passed the American SAFE Act (HR 4038), which aims to “stop the open flow of 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States without adequate vetting.” The President issued a veto threat, saying that the bill introduces “unnecessary and impractical requirements that would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act (HR 4038)

Sponsor: Rep. Michael McCaul [R, TX-10]

|| Passed by the House on Nov. 19, 2015; now goes to the Senate for consideration ||

“Would put in place the most robust national security vetting process in history for any refugee population and it gives the American people the assurances needed that we will do everything possible to prevent terrorists from reaching our shores,” according to the bill sponsors.

“Specifically, under this legislation, no refugee from Iraq or Syria will be admitted into the U.S. unless: 1. The FBI Director certifies the background investigation of each refugee; and 2. The Secretary of Homeland Security, along with the FBI Director and the Director of National Intelligence, certifies to Congress that each refugee is not a security threat to the United States. Under this legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee can enter the United States until the American people’s representatives in Congress receive these certifications.”

The American SAFE Act is under fire by some Republicans in the Senate who believe there isn’t a way to easily vet Syrian refugees, and estimate the costs of resettling Syrian refugees in the United States as too high. (The bill doesn’t specify how the certification process is supposed to work.) Senator Jeff Sessions [R-AL], Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, explained:

“[T]he American SAFE Act – fails to defend the interests of the American people. It is based on a flawed premise, as there is simply no way to vet Syrian refugees. …  there is no database in Syria against which they can run a check…  no way to enter Syria to verify the applicants’ personal information.  And we know the region is being flooded with false documents.” – Senator Jeff Sessions


States’ Response to Refugees

In October 2015, 187 Syrian refugees were accepted into the US and settled in 17 states—the first of the 10,000 expected in this fiscal year:

Last week, 27 Republican governors wrote to President Obama asking him to “suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees.” The governors wrote that while the US “has long served as a welcoming beacon”, the priority must be on “ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our citizens.”

Members of Congress also responded by introducing bill related to governors’ authority to receive refugees into their states:

States Right of Refusal Act (HR 4032)

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Poe [R, TX-2] and 32 cosponsors

“Will amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to ensure that States have the right to refuse to participate in the Refugee Resettlement program if their Governor chooses to opt out.  Right now, the Refugee Resettlement Act only permits consultation with the States, but it does not give the States the right to refuse,” according to the bill sponsor.

Give States a Chance Act (HR 4078)

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Yoho [R, FL-2] and 2 cosponsors

“Protects state governors’ right to refuse Syrian refugees in their states if they have not been properly notified, if they impose a security threat, or if the proposed location is not appropriate,” according to the bill sponsor.

HR 4030

Sponsor: Rep. Steven Palazzo [R, MS-4] and 0 cosponsors

“Would support the rights of the states to determine whether or not they choose to accept refugees as part of any resettlement program,” according to the bill sponsor. 

Refugee Relocation Security Act (HR 4033)

Sponsor: Rep. Eric “Rick” Crawford [R, AR-1] and 1 cosponsor

“Would put an immediate moratorium on the relocation of refugees from Syria and Iraq into the United States. In response to state and local leaders… who have expressed concerns about the relocation of refugees, the bill would give State governments the authority to decide whether or not to allow refugees into their states,” according to the bill sponsor.

H.Con.Res. 94

Sponsor: Rep. Mark Meadows [R, NC-11] and 0 cosponsors

Declares that, in the case of a governor requesting that Syrian refugees not be resettled in his or her state (whether temporarily or permanently), no federal official should take any adverse action against, or withhold funds from, the state, and no federal official should take any other action to persuade or entice the governor to reverse such request.

Find more information and related bills in the POPVOX Issue Spotlight


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

Issue Spotlight

Veterans Day 2015

Veterans Day falls on November 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I.

“Armistice Day” under President Woodrow Wilson originally honored those who served in WWI and commemorated the armistice that brought the war to an end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month of 1918. In 1954, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day under President Dwight Eisenhower to commemorate veterans of all wars.

Last week, Senator Johnny Isakson [R-GA], Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, highlighted the committee’s work on behalf of veterans in the 114th Congress ahead of Veterans Day, including the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, improvements to the Veterans Choice Program and the Veterans Identification Card Act.

 

This Veterans Day, here’s a look at a few issues that lawmakers are working on:


Military Veterans, For-Profit Colleges, and the 90/10 Rule

In May 2015, Corinthian Colleges, Inc., a for-profit parent company of 28 schools closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy. As a result, thousands of students — many of them veterans who used their GI Bill benefits to enroll — were left with no options of transferring credits to traditional schools.

The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has called on Congress to strengthen accountability of for-profit schools:

“Some of these schools have brought the ethics of payday lending into higher education… They prey on the most vulnerable students, and leave them with debt that they too often can’t repay.”

Thirty percent of veterans using the post-9/11 GI Bill attend for-profit schools — compared to only 8% of students nationally, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of government data. Some lawmakers are have asserted for-profits schools have recruited veterans in order to comply with the “90/10 rule.” The rule requires for-profit schools to derive at least 10% of revenue from non-federal sources, so not to rely solely on federal financial aid. Because GI Bill benefits aren’t counted as a federal source, veteran enrollment has prevented some schools from violating the rule.

About a quarter of the money spent under the new GI Bill has gone to for-profit colleges, According to the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pension Committee. “For-profit colleges received $1.7 billion in Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits in the 2012-2013 school year, nearly as much as the total cost of the program just four years earlier.”


Military and Veterans Education Protection Act (S 1664 and HR 3988 in the House)
Sponsor: Senator Tom Carper [D, DE] and Jackie Speier [D, CA-14]
Bipartisan

“Would close a loophole that allows for-profit schools to avoid having to secure at least 10 percent of their revenue from non-federal sources.”

From our Hill Sources: Under current law, for-profit schools must follow the “90-10 rule” which requires them to obtain at least 10 percent of their revenues from sources other than taxpayers. However, current law leaves open a loophole that allows for-profit institutions to count military and veteran educational assistance, including tuition assistance and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, as non-federal revenues.


 Updating the Post-9/11 GI Bill

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944—commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights—with key provisions that offered veterans education and training, loan guaranty for homes, farms or businesses, and unemployment pay. In 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions as a result of the GI Bill.

In 2008, the GI Bill was updated again to address the needs of veterans with active duty service on, or after, Sept.11 2001. Today, nearly 550 service members transition from military to civilian life each day. One-half of eligible veterans use their GI Bill benefit to pursue higher education or a specialized training program or apprenticeship.

This year, lawmakers have introduced several proposals to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill and make it more accountable:


Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition (VET) Act (S 1870)
Sponsor: Sen. Jerry Moran [R, KS] – Bipartisan –

“Establishes a 3-year pilot program that would enable up to 250 GI Bill benefit-eligible veterans who apply to the program to start a new business or purchase an existing business or franchise,” according to the sponsor.

“The VET Act proposes an innovative way to support veterans in their professional development by offering veterans a choice in accessing the resources, training and support they need to pursue the American dream to start a small business, create jobs, and generate growth in our economy.”


Military and Veterans Education Protection Act (S 1664 and HR 3988 in the House)
Sponsors: Senator Tom Carper [D, DE] and Jackie Speier [D, CA-14] – Bipartisan –

“Would close a loophole that allows for-profit schools to avoid having to secure at least 10 percent of their revenue from non-federal sources.”

From our Hill Sources: Under current law, for-profit schools must follow the “90-10 rule” which requires them to obtain at least 10 percent of their revenues from sources other than taxpayers. However, current law leaves open a loophole that allows for-profit institutions to count military and veteran educational assistance, including tuition assistance and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, as non-federal revenues.


Veterans STEM Education Program Act (HR 3949)
Sponsor: Rep. Marc Veasey [D, TX-33]

“Would provide additional authority to the Veterans Affairs Secretary to grant funds to post 9/11 veterans seeking to obtain a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields,” according to the sponsor.


GI Bill Education Quality Enhancement Act (HR 476)
Sponsor: Rep. Brad Wenstrup [R, OH-2]

“Would cap flight training fees paid for by the GI Bill at $20,235 a year,” according to the sponsor. “Some flight schools discovered there was no limit to what they could charge veteran students taking flight school courses. Unfortunately, as a result, some private contractors have exploited this loophole to leverage uncapped fees to charge upwards of $500,000 per student.”


  Senate Proceeds with Veterans Affairs Funding Bill

Last week, the Senate agreed to consider the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, which provides funding for veterans’ benefits and programs and makes funding available to equip, support and house military personnel. Senators voted 93-0 to advance the bill—the first spending bill Senate Democrats have allowed to move forward for FY 2016.

This week, the Senate will consider a substitute amendment to HR 2029 that adjusts funding to comport with the two-year Balanced Budget Act of 2015:

Substitute Amendment to the FY 2016 MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill (HR 2029) 

“Recommends a total of $79.7 billion in discretionary funding, a more than $2.1 billion increase over the committee-reported bill. This amount is $7.9 billion above the FY2015 funding level and $1.0 billion over the President’s FY 2016 budget request,”according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“The substitute recommends $8.2 billion for military construction and $71.2 billion in discretionary funding for veterans programs, a $1.9 billion over the committee’s mark for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The increase of $1.9 billion is for VA Medical Services, increasing the total to $50.7 billion for the treatment and care for approximately 6.9 million veterans in FY2016. The substitute would provide a total of $101 million for the Arlington National Cemetery, a $30 million increase over the committee-approved bill.”


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn’t imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we’re simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system.

Uncategorized

The Week Ahead in Congress: Nov. 9 – Nov. 13, 2015

This week, the House is in recess and the Senate will work on a Veterans Affairs funding bill. Before leaving town, 35 lawmakers—from across the political spectrum—sent a letter urging a vote on authorizing force against ISIS. And President Obama is urging Congress to “ban the box” to give formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance at employment.


 

But first, here’s a look at Veterans Day, as we honor our nation’s veterans and spotlight a few bills related to the GI Bill:

Veterans Day: November 11

Veterans Day falls on November 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I. “Armistice Day” under President Woodrow Wilson originally honored those who served in WWI and commemorated the armistice that brought the war to an end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month of 1918. In 1954, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day under President Dwight Eisenhower to commemorate veterans of all wars.

A Snapshot of Our Nation’s Veterans from the US Census Bureau

Last week, Senator Johnny Isakson [R-GA], Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, highlighted the committee’s work on behalf of veterans in the 114th Congress ahead of Veterans Day, including the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, improvements to the Veterans Choice Program and the Veterans Identification Card Act.

Updating the Post-9/11 GI Bill

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944—commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights—with key provisions that offered veterans education and training, loan guaranty for homes, farms or businesses, and unemployment pay. In 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions as a result of the GI Bill.

In 2008, the GI Bill was updated again to address the needs of veterans with active duty service on, or after, Sept.11 2001. Today, nearly 550 service members transition from military to civilian life each day. One-half of eligible veterans use their GI Bill benefit to pursue higher education or a specialized training program or apprenticeship.

This year, lawmakers have introduced several proposals to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill and close loopholes to reduce waste in the program:


Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition (VET) Act (S 1870)
Sponsor: Sen. Jerry Moran [R, KS]
Bipartisan

“Establishes a 3-year pilot program that would enable up to 250 GI Bill benefit-eligible veterans who apply to the program to start a new business or purchase an existing business or franchise,” according to the sponsor.

“The VET Act proposes an innovative way to support veterans in their professional development by offering veterans a choice in accessing the resources, training and support they need to pursue the American dream to start a small business, create jobs, and generate growth in our economy.”


Military and Veterans Education Protection Act (S 1664 and HR 3988 in the House)
Sponsor: Senator Tom Carper [D, DE] and Jackie Speier [D, CA-14]
Bipartisan

“Would close a loophole that allows for-profit schools to avoid having to secure at least 10 percent of their revenue from non-federal sources.”

From our Hill Sources: Under current law, for-profit schools must follow the “90-10 rule” which requires them to obtain at least 10 percent of their revenues from sources other than taxpayers. However, current law leaves open a loophole that allows for-profit institutions to count military and veteran educational assistance, including tuition assistance and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, as non-federal revenues.


Veterans STEM Education Program Act (HR 3949)
Sponsor: Rep. Marc Veasey [D, TX-33]

“Would provide additional authority to the Veterans Affairs Secretary to grant funds to post 9/11 veterans seeking to obtain a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields,” according to the sponsor.


GI Bill Education Quality Enhancement Act (HR 476)
Sponsor: Rep. Brad Wenstrup [R, OH-2]

“Would cap flight training fees paid for by the GI Bill at $20,235 a year,” according to the sponsor.

“Some flight schools discovered there was no limit to what they could charge veteran students taking flight school courses. Unfortunately, as a result, some private contractors have exploited this loophole to leverage uncapped fees to charge upwards of $500,000 per student.”

 


Senate Proceeds with Veterans Affairs Funding Bill

Last week, the Senate agreed to consider the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, which provides funding for veterans’ benefits and programs and makes funding available to equip, support and house military personnel. Senators voted 93-0 to advance the bill—the first spending bill Senate Democrats have allowed to move forward for FY 2016.

This week, the Senate will consider a substitute amendment to H.R. 2029 that adjusts funding to comport with the two-year Balanced Budget Act of 2015:

Substitute Amendment to the FY 2016 MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill (HR 2029) 

“Recommends a total of $79.7 billion in discretionary funding, a more than $2.1 billion increase over the committee-reported bill. This amount is $7.9 billion above the FY2015 funding level and $1.0 billion over the President’s FY 2016 budget request,”according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“The substitute recommends $8.2 billion for military construction and $71.2 billion in discretionary funding for veterans programs, a $1.9 billion over the committee’s mark for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The increase of $1.9 billion is for VA Medical Services, increasing the total to $50.7 billion for the treatment and care for approximately 6.9 million veterans in FY2016. The substitute would provide a total of $101 million for the Arlington National Cemetery, a $30 million increase over the committee-approved bill.”


 

“Ban the Box”

Last week, President Obama called on Congress to pass meaningful criminal justice reform, including reforms that reduce recidivism, or relapsing into criminal behavior resulting in rearrest, reconviction or return to prison. He also directed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to modify its rules to delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process, which most federal agencies already do.

Additionally, the President urged Congress to pass sentencing reform and legislation that would “ban the box” for federal hiring and hiring by federal contractors:

Fair Chance Act (S 2021 and HR 3470 in the House)
Sponsor: Sen. Cory Booker [D, NJ] and Rep. Elijah Cummings [D, MD-7]
Bipartisan

“Would give formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance at securing employment by prohibiting federal contractors and federal agencies from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment,” according to the sponsor.

“Nationwide, states and cities have been implementing “Ban the Box”polices to help people with records overcome the barrier to employment of having to “check the box” about a past felony conviction on a job application. Eighteen states and over 100 cities and counties have taken action, giving formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance to secure employment. Additionally, companies such as Walmart, Koch Industries, Target, Starbucks, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath & Beyond have embraced these “Ban the Box” policies to more fairly assess job applicants.” – Sen. Cory Booker

The President also urged Congress to pass sentencing reform:

Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S 2123)
Sponsor: Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA]
Bipartisan

“Grants judges greater sentencing flexibility for certain low-level drug offenders and establishes recidivism reduction programs, while targeting violent criminals,” according to the sponsor.

The bill passed the committee by a bipartisan 15-5 vote. (Learn more in this Weekly Update)

Background: Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons. According to the Department of Justice, a study that tracked more than 400,000 prisoners in 30 states after their release from prison in 2005 found that two-thirds (67%) were rearrested within three years of release. Property offenders were the most likely to be rearrested, with 82% released property offenders arrested for a new crime, compared with 77% of drug offenders and 71% of violent offenders. (Source)

 


 

Authorizing Military Force Against ISIS

A week after the Obama Administration announced that it is sending approximately 50 special operations troops into Syria in an advisory role, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers is urging a vote on authorizing force against ISIS. In a letter sent Friday, 35 House members, including liberal Democrats, Republicans and members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, asked to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) for a vote:

“We do not share the same policy prescriptions for US military engagement in the region, but we do share the belief that it is past time for the Congress to fulfill its obligations under the Constitution and vote on an AUMF that clearly delineates the authority and limits, if any, on US military engagement in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region.”

Earlier this year, President Obama sent to Congress a draft AUMF for Iraq and Syria:

– Submitted to Congress on Feb. 12, 2015 –
Would not authorize long‑term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would provide the flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in other, more limited circumstances, such as rescue operations involving US or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership. Would also authorize the use of US forces in situations where ground combat operations are not expected or intended, such as intelligence collection and sharing, missions to enable kinetic strikes, or the provision of operational planning and other forms of advice and assistance to partner forces.


Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.