New to the art form? This Wall Street Journal article will get you orientated. Also, for more information on how some of these titles mislead lawmakers and the citizenry, find some academic commentary from Brian Christopher Jones here: https://works.bepress.com/brian_jones/.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

ABLE Act headed for House passage

Rep. Ander Crenshaw's (R., FL) ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act of 2013 is headed to the House Floor. Congress.gov notes that it "[a]mends the Internal Revenue Code to establish tax-exempt ABLE accounts to assist an individual with a disability in building an account to pay for qualified disability expenses." 

A press release by Rep. Crenshaw is below the jump. 

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WASHINGTON, DC -- Congressman Ander Crenshaw, chairman of the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, issued the following statement regarding the announcement that the House will consider the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act – H.R. 647/S.313) in early December. He is the House-side author of the federal legislation.
“The ABLE Act is headed for a vote in December – testament to the wide-spread support for millions who face the daily struggle of living with disabilities. They deserve the same financial planning tools available to other Americans. My bill gives them just that by empowering families to live healthy and independent lives through tax-free savings accounts.
“Step-by-step with focus and teamwork, ABLE has earned more bipartisan, bicameral support than any other bill in Congress, and I’m excited for its passage. Easing financial strains through tax-free savings accounts for qualified expenses such as medical, post-secondary education, housing, and transportation, the ABLE Act would provide a brighter future for millions of Americans.
“No longer would they have to stand by and watch others use Internal Revenue Service-sanctioned tools that are unavailable to them. The playing field would finally be level. It creates incentives to employment for individuals with disabilities by allowing them to contribute to their own ABLE accounts and seek out employment opportunities without the fear of losing benefits.”
BACKGROUND:
H.R. 647/S. 313 has the support of a majority of Congress (380 House co-sponsors, 74 Senate co-sponsors) and would amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 to create tax-free savings accounts for qualified expenses. Benefits provided through private insurance, the Medicaid program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources would be supplemented, but not supplanted by the legislation.

Monday, October 6, 2014

10|20|30 Funding Recipe

Rep. James Clyburn (D., SC) has introduced the 10|20|30 Act of 2014. The measure is more of a funding recipe for future legislation than anything. According to a press release by Rep. Clyburn, 
In the United States, there are 474 counties where 20 percent or more of the population has been living below the poverty line for the last 30 years. The counties are as diverse as our great nation; Appalachian communities in Kentucky and North Carolina, Native American communities in South Dakota and Alaska, Latino communities in Arizona and New Mexico and African American communities in Mississippi and South Carolina. They lack access to quality schools, affordable quality health care and adequate job opportunities.
...
When we drafted the Recovery Act, I fought to ensure that no communities were left behind by including a provision that directed at least 10 percent of Rural Development investments to communities where 20 percent or more of the population had lived below the poverty line for the last 30 years (10-20-30).
I am urging Congress to include the 10-20-30 approach in future funding proposals, and expand it to all federal agencies. It doesn’t require additional funding -- only the stipulation that at least ten percent of any agency’s appropriated programmatic funds be invested in 10-20-30 communities. We are only as strong as our weakest link, and these communities must be included in our efforts to get the entire nation back on track.

Brace for IMPACT

On Monday the President signed into law Rep. Dave Camp's (R., MI) Improving Medicare Post-Acute Care Transformation (IMPACT) Act of 2014. According to a White House press release, the measure "creates a standardized Medicare assessment tool for comparing patient data across the various types of post-acute care settings for purposes of quality, payment, and discharge planning, and makes other changes to Medicare current law relating to post-acute care."

More information on the measure, including the full text, can be found on Congress.gov

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

For All Sports FANS

Given all the current interest in professional sports, the Senate Judiciary Committee has convened a hearing on Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., CT) and John McCain's FANS (Furthering Access and Networks for Sports) Act. According to a press release, the measure would "would decrease the frequency of sports blackouts by requiring leagues to meet basic obligations to fans if they wish to continue receiving substantial benefits from the public."

An identical measure was introduced in the House by Rep. Brian Higgins (D., NY). 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Spoof-Proofing America

Last week the House passed Rep. Grace Meng's (D., NY) Anti-Spoofing Act of 2014, which builds on the 2009 Truth in Caller ID Act, protecting American citizens from spoofers calling from outside the US. Also, the proposed law would now cover text messages as well. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D., MN) and Roy Blunt (R., MO) have introduced identical legislation in the Senate, known as the Caller ID Scam Prevention Act of 2014

The proponents of the new legislation claim that technology has advanced since passage the 2009 law, and new legislation is needed. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

W21

Senators Barbara Boxer (D., CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D., CA), and Representatives Grace Napolitano (D., CA) and Peter DeFazio (D., OR) have introduced W21, or Water in the 21st Century Act. The measure hopes to provide nationwide communities better help to "conserve, recycle and manage limited water supplies."

According to a press release, the bill would "would expand rebates and grants for water conservation and efficiency; support local investments in water recycling and improved groundwater management and storage; invest in research into water-saving technologies and desalination; and establish an open water data system. The measure would also help local communities take steps to become better prepared for drought."

The W21 label also seems a bit innovative, as it allows those tweeting about the bill to easily slip it into the text of a tweet and also use it as a hashtag. 

A partial press release is located below the jump, which notes some significant provisions. 

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The legislation includes a number of important provisions that would help communities in California, Oregon and across the country:
Efficiency and Conservation
  • Strengthens EPA’s WaterSense program, which promotes water conservation in products, buildings, and landscapes through information and rebates. The bill authorizes $50 million to administer the program and $700 million for rebates, through FY2019, and then funds them at FY2019 levels adjusted for inflation thereafter.
  • Creates a new grant program within the Environmental Protection Agency for local water systems to conserve water, increase water efficiency or reuse water; modify or relocate existing water system infrastructure made or projected to be made inoperable by climate change impacts; preserve or improve water quality, and other projects.
Water Recycling, Storage, and Integrated Water Management
  • Leverages federal financing – through loan guarantees and matching grants – to help support projects on a regional scale, including water recycling, ground water management, water storage and water conveyance infrastructure.
    • $250 million over five years for secured loans.
    • $150 million for integrated regional water management, reclamation, and recycling projects grants.
Innovation through Research, Data, and Technology
·       Establishes an open water data system at the Department of the Interior.
  • Reauthorizes the Water Resources Research Act at $9 million a year through 2020.
  • Reauthorizes the Water Desalination Act at $3 million a year through 2020.
  • Directs the Secretary of the Army to review reservoir operations and assess whether there is a benefit in adjusting operations to take into account improved forecasting data.
Drought Preparedness
  • Establishes Drought Resilience Guidelines for state and local agencies through EPA in coordination with USDA, Commerce and Interior.
  • Directs U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in consultation with state and federal agencies, to prepare a salmon drought plan to address the impacts of drought on the salmon population.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stop Militarizing America's Cops

In the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the ongoing protests in Ferguson, MO, Rep. Hank Johnson (D., GA) has announced that he plans to file the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which would "rein in a Defense Department program that provides Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, M16 assault rifles and other surplus military equipment to local law enforcement, free of charge." The Huffington Post noted that Johnson said, 
"Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s," Johnson says in his letter. "Our local police are quickly beginning to resemble paramilitary forces. This bill will end the free transfers of certain aggressive military equipment to local law enforcement and ensure that all equipment can be accounted for."
The militarization of local police has become one of the central issues in this ordeal, after two reporters from the Washington Post and one reporter from HuffPo were arrested, and video emerged of an Al Jazeera film crew getting tear gassed. Even Sen. Rand Paul (R., KY) penned an op-ed in Time arguing that America must demilitarize its police. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Even in a Divided Congress, Autism CARES

On Friday President Obama signed Rep. Christopher Smith's (R., NJ) Autism CARES (Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support) Act of 2014. According to a press release, the legislation "authorizes $1.3 billion over five years to continue the critical pipeline of federal research dollars that are helping to unlock the mysteries of autism, find ways to prevent and mitigate its occurrence, and ensure that families have the tools they need to know what to do after a diagnosis."

The President also signed a number of other bills into law. The full list is provided below the jump. 

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H.R. 606, which designates a facility of the United States Postal Service located in Tyrone, New York, as the Specialist Christopher Scott Post Office Building;

H.R. 1671, which designates a facility of the United States Postal Service located in Dublin, California, as the James "Jim" Kohnen Post Office;

H.R. 2291, which designates a facility of the United States Postal Service located in New York, New York, as the Vincent R. Sombrotto Post Office;

H.R. 3212, the “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2014,” which requires the Secretary of State to initiate a process to develop and enter into bilateral procedures with certain countries concerning child abductions and contains other related authorities;

H.R. 3472, which designates a facility of the United States Postal Service located in Alden, New York, as the Sergeant Brett E. Gornewicz Memorial Post Office;

H.R. 3548, the “Improving Trauma Care Act of 2014,” which expands the definition of trauma as it applies to grants and activities authorized to support trauma and emergency care under the Public Health Service Act;

H.R. 3765, which designates a facility of the United States Postal Service located in Corning, New York, as the Specialist Ryan P. Jayne Post Office Building;

H.R. 4028, which includes the desecration of cemeteries among the many forms of violations of the rights to religious freedom;

H.R. 4360, which designates a facility of the United States Forest Service for the Grandfather Ranger District located in Nebo, North Carolina, as the Jason Crisp Forest Service Building;

H.R. 4386, the “Money Remittances Improvement Act of 2014,” which authorizes the Treasury Department to rely on examinations of financial institutions conducted by State supervisory agencies in assuring compliance with Federal requirements for recordkeeping and reports on certain monetary instruments transactions;

H.R. 4631, the “Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support Act of 2014” or the “Autism CARES Act of 2014,” which reauthorizes Combating Autism Act funding for autism research, screening, intervention, and education activities, as well as a coordinating committee at the Department of Health and Human Services;

H.R. 4838, which redesignates a railroad station located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, commonly known as "30th Street Station", as the William H. Gray III 30th Street Station;

H.R. 5021, the “Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014,”which transfers a total of $10.765 billion to the Highway Trust Fund from the Treasury General Fund and the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund; extends the spending authority for surface transportation programs from September 30, 2014, to May 31, 2015; and increases Federal revenue by extending the authority to collect certain customs user fees and extending the period for certain lower required private pension plan contributions;

H.R. 5195, which authorizes additional Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan Nationals;

S. 653, the “Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act,” which authorizes the President to appoint a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia;

S. 1104, the “Assessing Progress in Haiti Act of 2014,” which directs the Secretary of State to prepare a strategy and transmit that and an annual report to Congress on the status of the post-earthquake recovery and development in Haiti; and

S. 1799, the “Victims of Child Abuse Reauthorization Act of 2013,” which authorizes appropriations and establishes audit and other oversight requirements for Justice Department grant programs that assist in responding to victims of child abuse and in improving the quality of criminal prosecution of child abuse cases.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Healthy Climate and Family Security: Who Would have Thought?

Today Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., MD) introduced the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2014. According to a press release the measure: 
caps carbon pollution and reduces CO2 emissions gradually but steadily, auctions carbon pollution permits to the first sellers of oil, coal, and natural gas into the U.S. market, and returns 100 percent of the auction proceeds electronically each quarter to every American with a valid Social Security number in the form of a Healthy Climate Dividend. On an economy-wide level, the price signal placed on carbon pollution will accelerate innovation and incentivize both greater energy efficiency as well as greater use of lower-carbon energy alternatives.
Rep. Van Hollen also has a factsheet and an infographic on the bill, and has written an op-ed for the Huffington Post

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

House Believes 'America Gives More'

Last week the House passed Rep. Tom Reed's (R., NY) America Gives More Act of 2014, which promotes charitable giving through the tax code. The measure is a combination of five previous bills, including the Fighting Hunger Incentive Act of 2014. 

The Obama Administration opposes the measure, and in a statement noted: 

[T]he Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 4719, which would permanently extend three current provisions that offer enhanced tax breaks for certain donations and add another two similar provisions without offsetting the cost. If this same, unprecedented approach of making certain traditional tax extenders permanent without offsets were followed for the other traditional tax extenders, it would add $500 billion or more to deficits over the next ten years, wiping out most of the deficit reduction achieved through the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2013. Just two months ago, House Republicans themselves passed a budget resolution that required offsetting any tax extenders that were made permanent with other revenue measures.
As with other similar proposals, Republicans are imposing a double standard by adding to the deficit to continue and create tax breaks that primarily benefit higher-income individuals, while insisting on offsetting the proposed extension of emergency unemployment benefits and the discretionary funding increases for defense and non-defense priorities such as research and development in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. House Republicans also are making clear their priorities by rushing to make these tax cuts permanent without offsets even as the House Republican budget resolution calls for raising taxes on 26 million working families and students by letting important improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and education tax credits expire.

Senate Votes to Bring Jobs Home

Today the Senate passed Sen. John Walsh's (D., MT) Bring Jobs Home Act. The bill would provide a 20% credit for businesses that insourced jobs from abroad back into the US, and would close the tax break for businesses that outsourced jobs overseas. 

The Obama Administration released a statement strongly supporting the bill, and noting: 
Senate passage of this bill is consistent with the Administration's commitment to support economic growth, job creation, and business investment in the United States, and serves to discourage outsourcing in all sectors of the economy, but particularly in the Nation's manufacturing sector. Following a decade in which the United States lost over five million manufacturing jobs, the Nation has begun to make progress. Since February 2010, the U.S. manufacturing sector has added more than 650,000 new jobs, the fastest pace of manufacturing job growth since the mid-1990s. Instead of rewarding firms for shifting production and jobs overseas, the tax code should strengthen the domestic manufacturing sector, support job growth and innovation, and encourage companies from all sectors of the economy to invest in the United States.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Royalties for American ART

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., NY) has introduced the ART (American Royalties Too) Act of 2014, which attempts to compensate American artists when their work is sold at public auction both in the US and abroad. A similar measure has been presented in the Senate by Tammy Baldwin (D., WI). 

A partial press release on the measure is located after the jump. 

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Rep. Nadler Welcomes Hearing on Artists’ Resale Rights

Jul 14, 2014 Issues: Jobs, Labor and the Economy
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, is pleased to announce that the Subcommittee’s next hearing will be on moral rights, termination rights, resale royalty, and copyright term.  Congressman Nadler introduced the American Royalties Too (ART) Act, which will be discussed at the hearing, earlier this year in order to ensure visual artists are compensated when their original artwork is resold.  His legislation would bring fairness to American artists who, unlike their fellow visual artists in 70 countries, do not receive any compensation when their works are resold at public auction. ...

HUMANE Act to the Rescue!

In light of the recent border crisis, Sen John Cornyn (R., TX) and Rep. Henry Cuellar, (D., TX) introduced the HUMANE (Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency) Act. According to a press release on the measure, the bill would: 
  • Improve the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008—treating all unaccompanied migrant children crossing our border with equality under the law, and allowing for voluntary reunification with family, whether they are from Mexico, Central America, or any other country.
  • Keep current protections for safe repatriation.
  • Allow unaccompanied migrant children who have a claim to remain legally in the United States to make this claim in court before an immigration judge within 7 days of the completion of Health and Human Services screening under the TVPRA of 2008. It authorizes up to 40 new immigration judges for this purpose, and keeps current law in place requiring HHS to make all efforts to secure pro-bono legal counsel for the child.
  • Require immigration judges to make a determination as to whether an unaccompanied migrant child is eligible to remain in the United States within 72 hours of making their claim. Children who succeed in their claim will be allowed to remain in the United States in the custody of a sponsor while they pursue their legal remedies. Children who do not successfully make such a claim will be reunited with family in their home country.
  • Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide unaccompanied migrant children with protective shelter while they are awaiting their initial hearing in court before a judge.
  • Allow access to these expedited court hearings for unaccompanied migrant children who have already been released to sponsors with notices to appear in immigration court. 
  • Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct FBI fingerprint background checks on any person taking custody of an unaccompanied alien child. Prohibits the Secretary from releasing children to persons convicted of sex offenses and human trafficking.
  • Require a plan and provide for additional resources necessary for operational control of our southern border. 
Also, see the two bill sponsors speaking about the measure on Fox News here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

For STELA, It's in the STAR[s]!

Today the House Judiciary Committee approved the STAR (Satellite Television Access Reauthorization) Act, which extends the the expiring provisions of STELA (Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act) of 2010. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., VT), sponsored the original STELA law, and has a corresponding measure introduced in the Senate. 

A press release from the House Judiciary is located below. 

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House Judiciary Committee Approves Satellite Television Reauthorization

Jul 10, 2014 Issues: Jobs, Labor and the Economy
Washington, D.C. – The House Judiciary Committee today approved by voice vote theSatellite Television Access Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5036), a bipartisan bill authored by Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-N.C.) to extend, for five years, the expiring provisions of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) of 2010 which governs satellite companies’ ability to retransmit broadcast television.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D- Mich.), Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-N.C.), and Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) praised the Committee’s approval of this legislation in the joint statement below.
“Today’s passage of the Satellite Television Access Reauthorization Act by the House Judiciary Committee ensures that our constituents have full access to network programming no matter where they live for another five years.  Our constituents depend upon this license for entertainment, news, and sports.  We look forward to working with our colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee and in the Senate to ensure that legislation to protect satellite consumers is in place before the December 31, 2014 expiration of STELA.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Bill

Democrats have challenged the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., by introducing the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014, or the Hobby Lobby Bill. In the House, Reps. Louise Slaughter (D., NY) and Diana DeGette (D., CO), co-chairwomen of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., NY) filed the bill, and in the upper chamber, Senators Patty Murray (D., WA.), Mark Udall (D., CO) and Ben Cardin (D., MD) are pushing the measure. 

Senator Cardin's memo on the bill notes that it: 
Ensures that employers cannot interfere in their employee’s decisions about contraception and other health services through discrimination by:
• Banning employers from refusing to cover any health coverage – including contraceptive coverage -- guaranteed to their employees and dependents under federal law.
• Stating that all federal laws do not permit employers to refuse to comply with the ACA requirement, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
• Including the exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement for houses of worship and the accommodation for religious non-profits.

A partial press release from the House members is located below the jump. 

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Slaughter, DeGette, Nadler Introduce Legislation in Response to Hobby Lobby Decision

Jul 9, 2014 Issues: Health Care
WASHINGTON – Today, Reps. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) and Diana DeGette (D-CO), co-Chairs of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), a veteran member of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the leaders in the fight for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, will introduce legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Burwell. The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014 would explicitly prohibit for-profit employers that maintain a group health plan for its employees from using religious beliefs to deny employees coverage of contraception or any other vital health service required by federal law. The bill exempts federally mandated health services from RFRA while keeping in place the existing exemption for religious employers (e.g., houses of worship) and accommodation of religious non-profits who do not wish to provide contraceptives. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) are introducing companion legislation in the Senate.
“This bill will ensure that employee access to critical health services is not at the mercy of their bosses’ religious beliefs,” said Reps. Slaughter, DeGette, and Nadler. “Congress never intended to allow corporate employers to block employee access to critical preventive services like birth control. We hope that our colleagues will join us in acting quickly to correct the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Our bill simply protects employees’ rights to all federally mandated health services, including contraception. A woman’s private medical decisions should be between her, her doctor, and whomever else she wishes to consult – they should not be subject to approval by politicians, Supreme Court justices, or bosses.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fueling an America that Works by...Literally, Fueling America

The House has begun debate on Rep. Doc Hastings's (R., WA) Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act of 2014. The official long title of the measure notes that it will "lower gasoline prices for the American family by increasing domestic onshore and offshore energy exploration and production, to streamline and improve onshore and offshore energy permitting and administration, and for other purposes."

There are also a number of short titles underneath this measure that are included as portions of this bill. Among them are: 

  • BLM Live Internet Auctions Act
  • Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act
  • National Petroleum Reserve Alaska Access Act
  • PIONEERS Act
  • Planning for American Energy Act of 2014
  • Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act
  • Providing Leasing Certainty for American Energy Act of 2014
  • Streamlining Permitting of American Energy Act of 2014

Domestic Prosperity & Global Freedom - ✓

It seems Rep. Cory Gardner (R., CO) has checked all the right boxes in the title of his measure, the Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act, which is primarily in regard to exporting America's abundance of natural gas. The House has even begun debate on the measure and it will likely be passed tomorrow. Rep Gardner surely has high hopes for the legislation in regard to domestic prosperity. He notes "[t]his bipartisan, commonsense legislation will increase liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to allies around the world as well as create 45,000 jobs in the United States over the next four years." 

As for the "global freedom" portion of his title...well, that may be a bit trickier.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Safer Communities Through Closing Catch-and-Release?

Today Senators Chuck Grassley (R., IA), Jim Inhofe (R., OK), Jeff Sessions (R., AL), David Vitter (R., LA) and Ted Cruz (R., TX) introduced the Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2014 (not to be confused with Rep. Lamar Smith's Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2013). Their press release notes that the measure would "close the legal loophole created by the U.S. Supreme Court in Zadvydas v. Davis (2001) that requires immigration authorities to release back into the United States any immigrant that has not been accepted for deportation to other countries after being detained for six months; a practice commonly referred to as “catch and release.”

Safer communities is a common bill title theme in most congressional sessions, and this one is not different. Other bills with similar names are: S.649 - Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013, and the Gun Violence Prevention and Safe Communities Act of 2013.

Monday, June 9, 2014

HAWKS, TIGERS & HUD...Oh My!

Today the Obama Administration released their statement of opposition to Rep. Tom Latham's (R., IA) Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015. In particular, the White House notes that,
The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 4745, making appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2015, and for other purposes. The bill fails to make needed investments in our Nation's infrastructure, provides insufficient support for critical housing programs for low-income Americans and the homeless, and includes objectionable language provisions.
Discussion of the bill is complete with  talk of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Grants, HAWK (Homeowners Armed With Knowledge) Demonstration Projects, and of course promotion of the Administration's latest GROW AMERICA proposal. 

Rep. Latham's bill has been reported out of committee and will soon be considered by the full House. 

GROW[ING] AMERICA's Bill Titles

Last month the Department of Transportation released the GROW AMERICA (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America) Act, which along with the USA PATRIOT Act and the USA FREEDOM Act, is another needless and painstakingly long short bill title. 

To ascertain my take on such acronyms, see my recent article in the Stanford Law & Policy Review Online. 

Generally, the Department of Transportation notes that the bill aims to: 
  • Address the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund and provide $87 billion to address the nation’s backlog of deficient bridges and aging transit systems;
  • Create millions of new jobs to ensure America’s future competitiveness;
  • Increase safety across all modes of surface transportation, including increasing the civil penalties the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) can levy against automakers who fail to act quickly on vehicle recalls;
  • Provide certainty to state and local governments that must engage in long-term planning;
  • Reduce project approval and permitting timelines while delivering better outcomes for communities and the environment;
  • Bolster efficient and reliable freight networks to support trade and economic growth; and
  • Create incentives to better align planning and investment decisions to comprehensively address regional economic needs while strengthening local decision-making.
More information can be found in these Dept. of Transportation GROW AMERICA fact sheets. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Have You Been SAVE[D]?

Rep. Ann Wagner's SAVE (Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation) Act of 2014 was passed earlier this week by the House (392-19), and now travels to the Senate for consideration. According to the official summary of the bill, it "[p]rohibits knowingly benefitting financially from, receiving anything of value from, or distributing advertising that offers a commercial sex act in a manner that violates federal criminal code prohibitions against sex trafficking of children or of any person by force, fraud, or coercion."

I honor of House passage, Rep. Wagner released a video statement regarding the legislation: 


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fighting Bath SALTS?

Hearings were recently held in the Senate for Sen. Amy Klobuchar's SALTS (Synthetic Abuse and Labeling of Toxic Substances Act) Act.  The measure aims to enhance the fight against synthetic drugs, including those known as "bath salts," on the federal level. 

A partial press release on Sen. Klobuchar's bill is located below the jump. 

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KLOBUCHAR BILL WOULD STRENGTHEN SYNTHETIC DRUG LAWS

Winona Daily News

July 19, 2013

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced Thursday she is sponsoring legislation that would continue the fight against synthetic drugs at the federal level.
The bill, which already has bipartisan support, would make it easier to prosecute the sale and distribution of what are known as analogues, synthetic drugs that are close but not identical to those already banned. Manufacturers and sellers frequently market the products with the slogan “not fit for human consumption.”
The Drug Enforcement Agency has the ability to prosecute analogue drug distribution and sales, but not specifically those labeled as not fit for human consumption.
“When it comes to fighting the rise of synthetic drugs, it seems like every time one drug is made illegal another drug that is almost identical pops up, and law enforcement has to go through the entire process all over again,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This bill will make it easier to crack down on new synthetic drugs by closing a loophole that allows drug dealers to flout the law.”
This bill would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to require considering a number of factors when determining whether a controlled substance analogue was intended for human consumption. U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Diane Feinstein, D-California, are co-sponsoring the bill. ...

Friday, May 9, 2014

ENLIST Act Now in Amendment Form

Rep. Adam Smith (D., WA) has offered his ENLIST (Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training) Act as an amendment to the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act. Essentially, the measure would allow immigrants unlawfully present in the US to gain citizenship through serving in the military. 

A press release on the amendment is provided below the jump. 

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Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith offered anamendment to the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act designed to provide certain undocumented immigrants who serve in the military with permanent legal status. While the amendment was ruled out of order in committee on procedural ground, Smith pledged to continue to push the legislation.
“If an individual has been in the United States since a young age, and is committed enough to join the military, then they should be provided with the opportunity to become a permanent legal resident. It’s that simple,” said Ranking Member Adam Smith. “There is no better way for a young individual who feels a strong sense of connection to this country to become a citizen than to serve in the armed forces. My amendment will provide that opportunity and I will continue to work to attempt to overcome the procedural hurdles to this bill.”
The amendment, modeled after the ENLIST Act, would authorize the enlistment in the armed forces of undocumented immigrants who have been continuously present in the United States, were younger than 15 years of age when they initially entered the United States and are otherwise eligible for original enlistment in the armed forces.

Monday, May 5, 2014

An Open Book for Justice

The House Judiciary Committee has recently marked-up Rep. Cynthia Lummins's (R., WY) H.R. 2919, the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act.  Essentially the proposal amends the Equal Access to Justice Act, and would track the fees, administrative costs and other awards of those engaged in litigation with the United States (a feature of the original law that was eliminated by Congress in 1995). It would also require annual reports to Congress. 

A partial press release is noted below. 

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Lummis, Cohen Draft Bill to Track Equal Access to Justice Act Payments

Bipartisan legislation restarts agency tracking obligations; modernizes record-keeping with online database.

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Washington, Aug 1, 2013 | Christine D'Amico ((202) 225-2311) 0 comments

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced legislation today, called the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, to reinstate tracking and reporting requirements of payments made under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). ...

EAJA, initially passed in 1980, is funded by a permanent appropriation.  Payments of attorney’s fees and costs occur regardless of any annual spending decisions made by Congress.  To maintain its oversight responsibilities, Congress included a requirement that agencies and the Department of Justice issue annual reports on the amount of money paid out under the law.  Congress ended those tracking and reporting requirements in 1995.

The Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act requires every federal agency to begin tracking EAJA payments again, and tasks the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) with compiling that data.  ACUS is also required to submit an annual report to Congress, and to establish an online searchable database that will allow the public access to how much has been paid from EAJA, from which agencies, and to whom taxpayer dollars are being paid. ...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

DATA Transparency for Federal Agencies

The Senate has unanimously passed Sen. Mark Warner's (D., VA) DATA (Digital Accountability and Transparency Act) of 2014, and the bill now travels to the House for consideration. The measure is landmark data transparency bill that would allow citizens to track money spent by federal agencies on usaspending.gov

A partial press release by Senator Warner is provided below the jump. 

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Senate Unanimously Passes Warner-Portman Transparency Legislation

~ Bipartisan DATA Act allows taxpayers to track every dollar spent by federal agencies ~ ~ ‘Most significant transparency legislation since Freedom of Information Act' ~

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate today passed Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) bipartisan Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA). This landmark transparency legislation will allow taxpayers to track every dollar spent by federal agencies on a common website, and help lawmakers more easily identify fraud, waste and abuse to create a more efficient government. The DATA Act expands the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) to standardize and fully disclose federal agency expenditures, and it incorporates steps to simplify financial reporting and improve the quality of spending data. Passage of a House version of the DATA Act is expected shortly after the upcoming two-week congressional recess. 
“Our taxpayers deserve to know how their federal funds are spent – dollar for dollar – and it is our obligation to share that information in a clear and direct way. Today, the Senate passed this important bipartisan legislation to make sure taxpayers get the transparency they are entitled to,” Sen. Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee’s Government Performance Task Force said. “The DATA Act will improve the way the federal government does business and it’s a true example of how Washington is supposed to work – across the aisle and on both sides of the Capitol.”
“During a time of record $17 trillion debt, our bipartisan bill will help identify and eliminate wasteful spending by better tracking federal spending. I am pleased that our bill to improve federal financial transparency and empower taxpayers to see how their money is spent has passed the Senate, and I urge swift passage in the House of Representatives,”  Sen. Portman said.
coalition of more than 25 nonpartisan government accountability organizations have endorsed the DATA Act, and it is regarded by some as the most significant open-government legislation since the Freedom of Information Act in 1966. ...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

SARA Who?

Rep. Rick Crawford (R, AR) has introduced the Sexual Assault Reporting on Aircraft (SARA) Act of 2014, which would require the attorney general to collect data every calendar year about sexual offenses that occur on aircraft. The cheeky catch with the title, however, is that the SARA portion doesn't appear to be in reference to anybody that has been assaulted on a plane, or have any connection to sexual assault in general (besides being a very common female name). It seems that Congressman Crawford humanized the title without having a story to back up the acronym motive, which is an innovative (but questionable) move in regard to statutory titles. 

Personalized titles are quite common in regard to legislation (e.g. Megan's Law, Laci and Connor's Law, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, etc.). Yet all of those laws are in relation to actual persons that, unfortunately, have a tragic story attached to them. To my knowledge, the SARA Act of 2014 does not have a personal story attached to it, and is attempting to mask itself as a humanized title in order to gain political traction. 

I've written about personalized and humanized titles in the Connecticut Law Review and also in Legisprudence

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Google Gets Bipartisan Bill Title Nod

Senators Tom Coburn (R., OK) and Claire McCaskill (D., MO) have introduced the Let Me Google That For You Act, which would eliminate the  National Technical Information Service. The NTIS was established in 1950 and attempts to archive and sell governmental reports, most of which are available free from other agencies should one wish to make a bit of effort (see bill title). According to a GAO report, the agency may have outlived its usefulness, considering it has lost money  ten out of the past eleven fiscal years. 

A partial press release is provided below. 

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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and U.S. Representatives Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX) today introduced the Let Me Google That For You Act, a bill to eliminate an outdated agency that has lost more than $1 million trying to sell government reports that are available for free online. With a money-losing profit model only the government could design, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) sells free government reports to other federal agencies and the public – at a loss.
“This is the ‘let me google that for you’ office of the federal government,” said Dr. Coburn.  “Nearly all of the reports being sold are already available for free on other government websites, including my own.  NTIS is selling at least six of the oversight reports issued by my office, such as the annual Wastebook which details outrageous Washington spending and mismanagement.  Ironically, the latest edition of Wastebook—which lists NTIS as one of the most wasteful government offices—is not available for sale yet by NTIS.  I have sent a letter to the Department of Commerce today requesting the office stop charging for the reports that I issue to taxpayers at no cost that highlight government waste, like the NTIS.”
“This agency has clearly outlived its usefulness,” said McCaskill, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight. “I find it staggering that the agency is selling government reports both to the public and to other federal agencies that are widely available for free and easy to find with a simple Google search—and the agency is still losing money. I think Americans would gain a little more confidence that their tax dollars are being spent wisely if we ended this display of waste and inefficiency. This is a government office performing a function that the advent of the Internet has made outdated, and it’s past time we eliminate it.” ...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Restoring Democracy...One Vote at a Time

Sen. Ben Cardin (D., MD) has introduced S. 2235, the Democracy Restoration Act, which seeks to enfranchise felons once they have served their time and have been released back into society. Sen. Cardin sponsored a similar bill in the 112th Congress, but it never got out of committee. 

A partial press release is provided below the jump. 

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Cardin Leads Reintroduction Of Bill To Create Nationwide Standard For Restoring Voting Rights For Americans Released From Prison


Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has introduced a bill, S. 2235, theDemocracy Restoration Act that would reduce recidivism rates by restoring voting rights to individuals after they have served their time and have been released from incarceration. Studies indicate that former prisoners who have voting rights restored are less likely to reoffend, and that disenfranchisement hinders their rehabilitation and reintegration into their community. Original cosponsors of S. 2235 include Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Companion legislation also was introduced today in the House of Representatives by Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.
An estimated 5.85 million citizens of the United States – about 1 in 40 adults in the United States – currently cannot vote as a result of a felony conviction. Of the estimated 5.85 million citizens barred from voting, only 25% are in prison. By contrast, 75% of the disenfranchised reside in their communities while on probation or parole or after having completed their sentences.  Approximately 2.6 million citizens who have completed their sentences remain disenfranchised due to restrictive state laws.
“When prisoners are released, they are expected to obey the law, get a job, and pay taxes as they seek a fair shot at being rehabilitated and reintegrated into their community. Along with these responsibilities and obligations of citizenship should be the right to vote,” said Senator Ben Cardin. “The patchwork of state laws leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation in Federal elections based solely on where an individual lives, in addition to the racial disparities inherent in our judicial system. Congress has a responsibility to remedy these problems and enact a nationwide standard for restoration of voting rights.”
In 35 States, convicted individuals may not vote while they are on parole. In 11 States, a conviction can result in lifetime disenfranchisement. Several States require prisoners to seek discretionary pardons from Governors, or action by the parole or pardon board, in order to regain their right to vote. Several States deny the right to vote to individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors. States are slowly moving or repeal or loosen many of these barriers to voting for ex-prisoners. ...