The POPVOX Blog

  1. The Week Ahead: Oct. 20 - 24

    From our Hill Sources: Congress is still in recess -- but some Members of Congress returned for a hearing on Ebola and introduced travel bans. The Supreme Court was working over the weekend on voter ID laws. And there are new regulations addressing sexual assault on college campuses. Here's the full scoop. Weigh in and POPVOX will deliver your letter to lawmakers.

    Ebola

    Last week, Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee returned to Washington to hold a hearing, "Examining the US Public Health Response to the Ebola Outbreak." They grilled their witnesses, in what seemed like the "who's who" list of the public health world.

    1. "Ebola has been on the world's radar screen since March and yet the United States and the international community are still scrambling to stay ahead of and stop this outbreak. We remain gravely concerned about this ongoing threat and the committee will continue diligently investigating the response efforts and preparedness plans,” said Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). “The stakes could not be any higher, and as I have said before, we cannot afford to look back at this point in history and say we could have done more.”

    (Watch the video or read the witnesses' testimonies.)

    Absent from the list of witnesses were nurses.

    Nurses -- the front-line of defense against Ebola -- at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas voiced frustration and concern over what they viewed as a lack of preparation and training at their hospital. Now, two healthcare providers at the hospital have been infected with the virus.

    According to the nurses' own account of the hospital's response since Thomas Duncan, the first patient with Ebola, arrived:

    1. "Hospital officials allowed nurses who had interacted with Mr. Duncan to then continue normal patient care duties, taking care of other patients, even though they had not had the proper personal protective equipment while caring for Mr. Duncan. Patients who may have been exposed were one day kept in strict isolation units. On the next day were ordered to be transferred out of strict isolation into areas where there were other patients, even those with low-grade fevers who could potentially be contagious. Were protocols breached? The nurses say there were no protocols." (Read the nurses' inside account.)

    The Texas hospital nurses called National Nurses United, the nation's largest nurses organization, to help share their story. (The RNs are choosing to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.) NNU held a conference call with 11,500 nurses from across the country -- and then sent a letter to President Obama on their behalf. They are urging the President to “invoke his executive authority” to order all US hospitals to meet the highest “uniform, national standards and protocols” in order to “safely protect patients, all healthcare workers and the public.” (Read the full letter.)

    Response from Congress

    Military Funding: In October, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense agreed to "redirect $750 million in the Department of Defense’s Ongoing Contingency Operation (OCO) account to support the US military’s mission in the Ebola response effort" for six months, according to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). The Pentagon plans to send as many as 4,000 US troops to West Africa to help run testing laboratories, build treatment centers, train healthcare workers, and provide assistance with transportation and other logistics.

    Travel Ban? House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) are urging the Obama Administration for a temporary travel ban from affected West African countries. (Read their letter.)

    Congressmen Kenny Marchant (R-TX) and Sam Johnson (R-TX) plan to introduce legislation that "would ban travel and travel visas to the US for foreign nationals traveling from or through countries designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having “widespread and intense transmission” of Ebola."

    • DRAFT

      Stop Ebola Act

      Would impose special limitations on the issuance of visas to, and the admission into the United States of, aliens having certain associations with countries with widespread and intense transmissions of Ebola Virus Disease.

    Congressman Dennis Ross (R-FL) has drafted a similar bill that "will restrict all commercial flights from traveling to and from Ebola affected countries until the virus is declared to be contained and no longer a threat" as determined by the Director of the Center for Disease Control.

    • DRAFT

      Contain Ebola and Stop the Epidemic (CEASE) Act

      Would ban the arrival of any commercial aircraft from a country in which the Ebola virus disease has reached epidemic proportions as determined by the Director of the Center for Disease Control. Would deny a visa to any individual whose travel itinerary includes a departure from such a country.

    From our Hill Sources: Some Members of Congress are pointing out that a travel ban wouldn't work because there are no direct flights between the US and Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone. Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) explained that "isolating West Africa will only exacerbate the epidemic in the region. Aside from being impractical, this reactionary strategy will force Ebola patients underground making it nearly impossible to track their movements, hinder the capacity for international healthcare workers to transport and administer critical aid, and erode the continent’s fragile economy."

    Related Bills: While Congress has been in recess for nearly a month, there are several bills related to public health funding, Ebola and nurses that are still pending. 

    • HR 5580

      Accelerating Biomedical Research Act

      (Also S 2658 in the Senate.) "Would allow the budget cap put in place by the Budget Control Act (BCA) to be adjusted for increased investments in the National Institute of Health (NIH)," according to bill sponsors. "The bill would allow appropriations to increase NIH funding by 10 percent for the first two years and five percent each year thereafter."

    • HR 4847

      End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act

      --Bipartisan-- "Would more broadly increase research and assistance to help developing countries contain diseases before they spread internationally," according to the bill sponsor.

    • S 739

      National Nursing Shortage Reform and Patient Advocacy Act

      Would "establish minimum nurse-to-patient ratios that will save lives, improve the quality of care and help to address the nursing shortage by creating a work environment that encourages nurses to remain in the hospital workforce; provide whistleblower protections to protect the right of nurses to advocate for the safety of patients and report violations of minimum standards of care; invest in nursing mentorship demonstration programs to better prepare nurses for work in a hospital setting," according to the bill sponsor.

    • S 2115

      American Cures Act

      (And America HEALS Act, HR 4384, in the House.) "In 2011, fifty-three percent of all funding for basic research came from the federal government. At NIH – the foremost biomedical research institute in the world – the number of research grants the agency is able to fund has declined every year for the past 10 years. The American Cures Act would reverse that trend by augmenting federal appropriations for biomedical research with a mandatory trust fund dedicated to steady growth in research conducted at NIH, CDC, DHP, and the Veterans Medical & Prosthetics Research Program. Each year, the bill would increase funding for each agency and program at a rate of GDP-indexed inflation plus 5 percent," according to the bill sponsor

    • HRes 701

      House Ebola Resolution

      --Bipartisan-- Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the current outbreak of Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia is an international health crisis and is the largest and most widespread outbreak of the disease ever recorded. (A similar resolution, SRes 541, was passed by the Senate on Sept. 18th.) 

    Voter ID Laws

    On Saturday, the Supreme Court told the state of Texas that it may enforce its strict voter ID law for this year’s general election, with early voting starting Monday. Under the law, a voter who does not present a voter registration certificate when checking in at the polling place, along with first-time voters who do not give an identification number or ID when registering to vote, must show one of only seven forms of ID. College ID cards, for example, are not acceptable. (See the Texas Secretary of State website.) "The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification," according to the AP.

    The Supreme Court action wasn’t a ruling on the legality of the Texas law, but part of an emergency request by the Obama Administration and civil rights groups. The law was struck down by a Federal judge last week, but a Federal Appeals Court had put that ruling on hold because it was too close to the election to change the voting rules.

    According to SCOTUSblog, "the Justice Department has indicated that the case is likely to return to the Supreme Court after the Appeals Court rules. Neither the Fifth Circuit Court's action so far nor the Supreme Court's Saturday order dealt with the issue of the law's constitutionality. The ultimate validity of the law, described by Saturday's dissenters as 'the strictest regime in the country,' probably depends upon Supreme Court review."

    Here are related bills in Congress about voter ID laws and voting rights in general:

    • HR 3321

      Voter ID Accessibility Act

      Under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, state and federal offices that provide public assistance are required to offer individuals the opportunity to register to vote and to provide assistance in completing voter registration applications. This bill would "build on this critical legislation to require, in any state with a photo ID mandate for voting, that these offices notify individuals of the mandate and offer them the opportunity to obtain suitable identification free of charge," according to the bill sponsor.

    • HR 12

      Voter Empowerment Act

      (And S 123 in the Senate.) To modernize voter registration, promote access to voting for individuals with disabilities, protect the ability of individuals to exercise the right to vote in elections for Federal office. According to the bill sponsor, "The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. Too many people in this country had to give their lives to exercise a right already guaranteed them by the Constitution. Outlawing the poll tax 49 years ago does not mean we are finished protecting democratic freedom. New challenges to equal access still arise today. To be a credible voice for equal justice abroad, we must be watchful here at home to alleviate every historic and current  impediment to the democratic process."

    • S 85

      FAST Voting Act

      Authorizes a federal program that would award grants based on how well applicant states are able to improve access to the polls in at least nine specified ways, including: providing flexible registration opportunities, including same-day registration; Providing early voting, at a minimum of 9 of the 10 calendar days preceding an election; providing absentee voting, including no-excuse absentee voting; providing assistance to voters who do not speak English as a primary language; providing assistance to voters with disabilities, including visual impairment; and providing effective access to voting for members of the armed services, according to the bill sponsors.

    • S 2865

      Voter Registration Modernization Act

      To provide for voter registration through the Internet. According to the bill sponsor, "voting is one of our most sacred rights as Americans. Instead of adding new burdens, we should make voting easy for millions of people. Bringing our nation’s antiquated voter registration system into the 21st century is common sense... We must ensure that all states have secure online voter registration in order to make every voice heard at the ballot box."

    • S 1336

      Permitting States to require proof of citizenship for voter registration in Federal elections

      According to the bill sponsor, "The right to vote is a fundamental building block of our nation’s democratic process and it is crucial that we have the measures in place to uphold the integrity of our elections. This bill ensures that states can enforce the commonsense requirement that those registered to vote must actually be US citizens."

    • HR 2115

      Voter Registration Efficiency Act

      "Would require individuals applying for a license in a new state to indicate if they intend to register to vote in the new state, and informs the election official in the previous state of the change," according to the Committee on House Administration.

    • HR 1280

      Voter Fraud Prevention Act

      "Stiffens the penalties for individuals convicted of voter fraud or tampering with official election materials, such as voter registration cards and absentee ballots. The bill increases the jail sentence from 5 years to 10 years, and anyone convicted of either of these offenses would permanently lose their right to vote in federal elections," according to the bill sponsor.

    • S 532

      Same Day Registration Act

      "Would require states to allow people to register to vote for a federal election on the same day that they cast their ballots," according to the bill sponsor.

    • S 2235

      Democracy Restoration Act

      Would secure the Federal voting rights of persons when released from incarceration. According to the bill sponsor, "The Democracy Restoration Act would restore voting rights in federal elections to approximately 5.8 million citizens who have been released from prison and are back living in their communities...The legislation would restore voting rights to prisoners after their release from incarceration. It requires that prisons receiving federal funds notify people about their right to vote in federal elections when they are leaving prison, sentenced to probation, or convicted of a misdemeanor."  

    Sexual Assault on College Campuses

    The Department of Education issued final rules last week that aim to reduce sexual assault on college campuses "to more effectively address, and ultimately reduce, sexual violence on college campuses, including, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking." 

    "An estimated one in five women has been sexually assaulted during her college years," according to the Obama Administration. "Of those assaults, only 12 percent are reported, and of those reported assaults, only a fraction of the offenders are punished." 

    About the regulations: The regulations require a college to record incidents of stalking based on the location where either the perpetrator engaged in the stalking or the victim first became aware of the stalking. It also adds gender identity and national origin as two new categories of bias that serve as the basis for a determination of a hate crime; describes each type of disciplinary proceeding used by the institution in cases of alleged dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking; and provides that an institution's disciplinary proceeding will afford the accuser and the accused the same opportunities to have others present during the institutional disciplinary proceeding, including the opportunity to be accompanied to any related meeting or proceeding by an advisor of their choice.

    From our Hill Sources: While many in Congress are applauding the regulations, some lawmakers, like Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), are saying more should be done.

    Here's a look at proposals addressing sexual assault on college campuses.

    • HR 5269

      HALT Campus Sexual Violence Act

      --Bipartisan-- Strengthens prevention and enforcement by requiring: the Dept. of Education to issue penalties for noncompliance with civil rights requirements under its authority, including Title IX; the availability of a private right of action for students harmed by institutions that fail to meet campus safety requirements; increasing penalties for Clery Act violations; annual climate surveys; and public disclosure of all resolutions agreements between higher education institutions and the Department of Education and compliance reviews, according to bill sponsors

    • HR 5277

      SOS Campus Act

      (And S 2695 in the Senate) Would require every institution of higher education that receives federal funding to designate an independent advocate for campus sexual assault prevention and response. This advocate would be responsible for ensuring that survivors of sexual assault – regardless of whether they decide to report the crime – have access to emergency and follow-up medical care; guidance on reporting assaults to law enforcement; medical forensic or evidentiary exams; crisis intervention, ongoing counseling and assistance throughout the process; and information on their legal rights, according to bill sponsors

    • HR 5354

      Campus Accountability and Safety Act

      (And S 2692 in the Senate) --Bipartisan-- Would require colleges to designate Confidential Advisors who will serve as a confidential resource for victims of assaults committed against a student; set training standards for on-campus personnel; survey students about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem; use a uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings and may no longer allow athletic departments or other subgroups to handle complaints of sexual violence for members of that subgroup alone; and set stiffer penalties on schools, according to bill sponsors

    Get to Know Your Ballot

    Election Day is around the corner! We wanted to share with you a new tool that helps see exactly what's on your ballot: Voter'sEdge. It's created by MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics. You enter your address and MapLight will show you what to expect. (Learn more.)

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  2. The POPVOX Top 20: Oct. 10 - 16

    This week, the most active bill on POPVOX was the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (HR 5212).

    Federal and state law enforcement agents may seize money and property from individuals by asserting that they believe the money is connected to some illegal activity. Under federal law and most states' laws, they are entitled to keep most of the money and property they seize. According to the Dept. of Justice, civil asset net forfeitures surged to $4.2 billion in 2012 which was up from $1.7 billion in the preceding year—a one-year increase of over 150%.

    "Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear," according to Saturday’s investigative article in The Washington Post. The Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program allows local and state police to keep up to 80% of the assets they seize. 

    Weigh in on the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act and the other most active bills on POPVOX. We'll deliver your comment to Congress, guaranteed.

    Top 20 Bills of the Week

    These are the bills and proposals that POPVOX users weighed in on with Congress in the past week. Keep in mind that these numbers aren't aggregates of total support, but just what happened in the past seven days. Want to get this list via email? Sign up!

    • HR 5212

      #1 Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act

      --Bipartisan-- Would "raise the level of proof necessary for the government to seize property; restore the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' by placing the burden on the government to prove a property owner had knowledge of criminal activity Increase transparency of civil forfeiture proceeds; restrict the use of equitable sharing agreements between DOJ and local/state law enforcement agencies that infringe upon state laws," according to the bill sponsor.

      553 Support | 11 Oppose

    • S 2644

      #2 Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act

      To restore the integrity of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. "Would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property. State law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General's Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury's General Fund," according to the bill sponsor.

      251 Support | 3 Oppose

    • HRes 106

      #3 Resolution calling for the protection of religious minority rights

      Calling for the protection of religious minority rights and freedoms in the Arab world. According to the bill sponsor, "The freedom to worship by minority religious communities has repeatedly come under deadly attack in recent months.  I can hardly pick up a newspaper without reading about a religious group being attacked or faith leader being imprisoned...Religious minorities must be protected from violence and guaranteed the freedom to practice their religion." 

      168 Support | 59 Oppose

    • HR 652

      #4 To limit assistance to countries that engage in certain discriminatory practices.

      To prohibit assistance (other than humanitarian assistance) to a country that follows any of the following activities: (1) engages in state-sanctioned religious persecution of minority religious groups as evidenced by anti-blasphemy laws or penalties applied to minority religious groups for sharing their faith; (2) prevents equal access to education on the basis of gender, race, or ethnicity; or (3) does not accept the return of its nationals who have been removed from another country following a removal proceeding. Authorizes the President to waive such prohibition on a case-by-case basis if in U.S. national security interests to do so.

      204 Support | 20 Oppose

    • HR 5502

      #5 Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act

      --Bipartisan-- "Makes a number of changes to civil asset forfeiture laws to restore the constitutional protections guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment," according to bill sponsors. "The FAIR Act would ensure that Americans are innocent until proven guilty by requiring the government to meet a higher legal standard before seizing an individual’s property. This legislation would raise the standard to seize assets from a preponderance of evidence to a higher standard of clear and convincing evidence. In addition, the FAIR Act would eliminate the practice of equitable sharing and eliminate all profit incentives by requiring that all funds seized by the federal government go into the general treasury fund."

      214 Support | 5 Oppose

    • HR 3069

      #6 Shield Our Streets Act

      Authorizes the Attorney General to carry out a program, through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, to award grants to assist eligible local law enforcement agencies with hiring and training new law enforcement officers and with rehiring career law enforcement officers who have been laid off as a result of budget reductions.

      24 Support | 185 Oppose

    • HR 5483

      #7 Firefighter Equipment Protection Act

      --Bipartisan-- Codifies a national security exemption from emissions regulations for excess personal property of the Department of Defense that is transferred under specified DOD property transfer programs to a firefighting agency in a state or to another state agency. "This rule, in essence, favored the CO2 emissions from raging wildfires over the comparably minimal emissions from the vehicles needed to put them out," according to the bill sponsor. The bill "permanently reverses this bureaucratic, nonsensical rule, protects the programs that supply this needed equipment from any future overreaching EPA decision and ensures that these programs continue to support firefighters who protect our nation’s communities."

      158 Support | 47 Oppose

    • S 2675

      #8 Supporting religious freedom in foreign countries

      According to the bill sponsor, "By amending the International Religious Freedom Act, this legislation encourages the administration to take a firmer stance on religious freedom violators and codifies America’s commitment to advancing religious freedom as a key objective of US foreign policy."

      139 Support | 49 Oppose

    • HR 4889

      #9 Clean and Efficient Public Safety Vehicles Act

      Would "help municipal public safety and law enforcement agencies save money on fuel costs and reduce their negative effects on our environment," according to the bill sponsor. Would "encourage local government agencies like fire and police departments to invest in technology that reduces both fuel consumption and improves environmental impacts by ensuring that a portion of their federal grant funds are used on emissions reduction."

      25 Support | 136 Oppose

    • S 2373

      #10 Funding Gun Violence Prevention Research

      A bill to authorize the appropriation of funds to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for conducting or supporting research on firearms safety or gun violence prevention.

      10 Support | 131 Oppose

    • HR 4316

      #11 Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act

      "Would require the US Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress, and make available online: 1) funds expended to respond to ESA lawsuits; 2) the number of employees dedicated to litigation; and 3) attorneys fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements," according to the House Natural Resources Committee.

      77 Support | 55 Oppose

    • S 2711

      #12 US Commission on International Religious Freedom Reform and Reauthorization Act

      To reauthorize the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

      9 Support | 111 Oppose

    • HR 2902

      #13 Supreme Court Ethics Act

      (Also S 1424 in the Senate) Would require the US Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics for Supreme Court Justices. Unlike every other federal judge, Supreme Court justices are exempt from the Code of Conduct for US Judges—a binding code of ethics that ensures neutrality and transparency in our courts, according to the bill sponsor.

      96 Support | 17 Oppose

    • HR 4318

      #14 Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act

      "Would prioritize resources towards species protection by placing reasonable caps on attorneys fees and making the ESA consistent with another federal law. The Equal Access to Justice Act limits the hourly rate for prevailing attorney fees to $125 per hour. However, no such fee cap currently exists under the ESA, and attorneys have often been awarded huge sums of taxpayer-funded money. This bill would put in place the same $125 per hour cap on attorneys fees for suits filed under the ESA that currently exist under the Equal Access to Justice Act," according to the House Natural Resources Committee.

      46 Support | 67 Oppose

    • HR 621

      #15 First Amendment Resolution

      Reaffirming the commitment of the House of Representatives to the First Amendment and the vital freedom of speech protections it provides for Americans.

      91 Support | 11 Oppose

    • HR 2758

      #16 Redistricting Reform Act

      To prohibit States from carrying out more than one Congressional redistricting after a decennial census and apportionment, to require States to conduct such redistricting through independent commissions.

      16 Support | 80 Oppose

    • HR 2928

      #17 Fair and Independent Redistricting (FAIR) Act

      To direct the Election Assistance Commission to develop and publish recommendations for best practices that States may use in establishing and operating independent Congressional redistricting commissions.

      14 Support | 79 Oppose

    • HR 96

      #18 Cameras in the Courtroom Act

      —Bipartisan— Would permit television coverage of all open sessions of the US Supreme Court unless a majority of justices decided that allowing coverage of a particular case would violate the due process rights of a party appearing before the court. "Currently, cameras are barred from the Supreme Court, and the court allocates only 50 seats to view open proceedings. This limited seating suggests an elitism and propensity of secrecy unworthy of the third branch of our government. Cameras in the courtroom would bring a higher degree of transparency and accountability to the high court, and would give the public better access to deliberations on the important issues that come before the court," according to the bill sponsor.

      81 Support | 10 Oppose

    • HR 2851

      #19 End Racial Profiling Act

      According to bill sponsors, it provides a prohibition on racial profiling, enforceable by declaratory or injunctive relief; and mandates training on racial profiling issues as part of Federal law enforcement training, the collection of data on all routine or spontaneous investigatory activities that is to be submitted through a standardized form to the Department of Justice. The receipt of federal law enforcement and other funds that go to state and local governments is conditioned on their adoption of effective policies that prohibit racial profiling.

      15 Support | 70 Oppose

    • S 2811

      #20 Children and Firefighters Protection Act

      Would immediately ban the 10 worst chemical flame retardants from upholstered furniture and children’s products, such as changing table pads, portable crib mattresses, pajamas, nap mats, and nursing pillows. The 10 flame retardants include: TDCPP, TCEP, TBBPA, decabromodiphenyl ether, antimony trioxide, HBCD, TBPH, TBB, chlorinated paraffins, and TCPP. Also gives the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) additional authority and requires them to convene a panel to review the safety of all other chemical flame retardants and issue a ban on flame retardants, in addition to the ten worst, that are found to be dangerous, according to the bill sponsor.

      53 Support | 31 Oppose

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  3. Issue Spotlight: Ebola on the Hill

    House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing:
    "Examining the US Public Health Response to the Ebola Outbreak"

    Today, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are coming back to Washington to hold a hearing related to the Ebola outbreak. (Watch the video.)

    "Ebola has been on the world's radar screen since March and yet the United States and the international community are still scrambling to stay ahead of and stop this outbreak. We remain gravely concerned about this ongoing threat and the committee will continue diligently investigating the response efforts and preparedness plans,” said Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). “The stakes could not be any higher, and as I have said before, we cannot afford to look back at this point in history and say we could have done more.”

    The hearing witnesses are the heavy-hitters in the public health world:

    1. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, Director, CDC (Read his testimony)
    2. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH (Read his testimony)
    3. Dr. Luciana Borio, Assistant Commissioner, Counterterrorism Policy, FDA (Read his testimony)
    4. Dr. Robin Robinson, Director, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Dept. of Health and Human Services (Read her testimony)
    5. Mr. John Wagner, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, Customs and Border Protection (Read his testimony)
    6. Dr. Daniel Varga, Chief Clinical Officer and Senior Vice President, Texas Health Resources (Read his testimony)

    Absent from the list of witnesses are nurses

    Nurses -- the front-line of defense against Ebola -- at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas voiced frustration and concern over what they viewed as a lack of preparation and training at their hospital. Now, two hospital staff at the hospital have been infected with the virus.

    According to the nurses' own account of the hospital's response since Thomas Duncan, the first patient with Ebola, arrived:

    1. "Hospital officials allowed nurses who had interacted with Mr. Duncan to then continue normal patient care duties, taking care of other patients, even though they had not had the proper personal protective equipment while caring for Mr. Duncan. Patients who may have been exposed were one day kept in strict isolation units. On the next day were ordered to be transferred out of strict isolation into areas where there were other patients, even those with low-grade fevers who could potentially be contagious. Were protocols breached? The nurses say there were no protocols." (Read the nurses' inside account.)

    The Texas hospital nurses called National Nurses United, the nation's largest nurses organization, to help share their story. (The RNs are choosing to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.) NNU held a conference call with 11,500 nurses from across the country -- and then sent a letter to President Obama on their behalf. They are urging the President to “invoke his executive authority” to order all US hospitals to meet the highest “uniform, national standards and protocols” in order to “safely protect patients, all healthcare workers and the public.” (Read the full letter.)

    Response from Congress

    Military Funding: Last week, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense agreed to "redirect $750 million in the Department of Defense’s Ongoing Contingency Operation (OCO) account to support the US military’s mission in the Ebola response effort" for six months, according to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). The Pentagon plans to send as many as 4,000 US troops to West Africa to help run testing laboratories, build treatment centers, train healthcare workers, and provide assistance with transportation and other logistics.

    Travel Ban?: Meanwhile, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) are urging the Obama Administration for a temporary travel ban from affected West African countries. (Read their letter.)

    Congressmen Kenny Marchant (R-TX) and Sam Johnson (R-TX) plan to introduce legislation that "would ban travel and travel visas to the US for foreign nationals traveling from or through countries designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having “widespread and intense transmission” of Ebola."

    • DRAFT

      Stop Ebola Act

      Would impose special limitations on the issuance of visas to, and the admission into the United States of, aliens having certain associations with countries with widespread and intense transmissions of Ebola Virus Disease.

    Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) has drafted a bill that "will restrict all commercial flights from traveling to and from Ebola affected countries until the virus is declared to be contained and no longer a threat" as determined by the Director of the Center for Disease Control. Rep. Ross explained, "now that two of our health care workers have contracted the virus I am putting my foot down. This legislation is a more serious approach to preventing Ebola from further infiltrating our homeland."

    • DRAFT

      Contain Ebola and Stop the Epidemic (CEASE) Act

      Would ban the arrival of any commercial aircraft from a country in which the Ebola virus disease has reached epidemic proportions as determined by the Director of the Center for Disease Control. Would deny a visa to any individual whose travel itinerary includes a departure from such a country.

    Related Bills: While Congress has been in recess for nearly a month, there are several bills related to public health funding, Ebola and nurses that are still pending. Share your voice with POPVOX:

    • HR 5580

      Accelerating Biomedical Research Act

      (Also S 2658 in the Senate.) "Would allow the budget cap put in place by the Budget Control Act (BCA) to be adjusted for increased investments in the National Institute of Health (NIH)," according to bill sponsors. "The bill would allow appropriations to increase NIH funding by 10 percent for the first two years and five percent each year thereafter."

    • HR 4847

      End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act

      --Bipartisan-- "Would more broadly increase research and assistance to help developing countries contain diseases before they spread internationally," according to the bill sponsor.

    • S 739

      National Nursing Shortage Reform and Patient Advocacy Act

      Would "establish minimum nurse-to-patient ratios that will save lives, improve the quality of care and help to address the nursing shortage by creating a work environment that encourages nurses to remain in the hospital workforce; provide whistleblower protections to protect the right of nurses to advocate for the safety of patients and report violations of minimum standards of care; invest in nursing mentorship demonstration programs to better prepare nurses for work in a hospital setting," according to the bill sponsor.

    • S 2115

      American Cures Act

      (And America HEALS Act (HR 4384) in the House.) "In 2011, fifty-three percent of all funding for basic research came from the federal government. At NIH – the foremost biomedical research institute in the world – the number of research grants the agency is able to fund has declined every year for the past 10 years. The American Cures Act would reverse that trend by augmenting federal appropriations for biomedical research with a mandatory trust fund dedicated to steady growth in research conducted at NIH, CDC, DHP, and the Veterans Medical & Prosthetics Research Program. Each year, the bill would increase funding for each agency and program at a rate of GDP-indexed inflation plus 5 percent," according to the bill sponsor

    • HRes 701

      House Ebola Resolution

      --Bipartisan-- Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the current outbreak of Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia is an international health crisis and is the largest and most widespread outbreak of the disease ever recorded.

    • SRes 541

      Senate Ebola Resolution

      --Bipartisan-- recognizing the severe threat that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa poses to populations, governments, and economies across Africa and, if not properly contained, to regions across the globe, and expressing support for those affected by this epidemic. -- Passed the Senate on Sept. 18. -- 

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  4. Issue Spotlight: National Fire Prevention Month

    October is National Fire Prevention Month, so we want to spotlight some bills related to fire prevention and the firefighters that battle them.

    The traditional fire season has only just begun in the West — and already firefighters have battled a higher-than-usual number of wildfires. In California alone, firefighters have battled nearly 5,000 wildfires, almost a 1,000 more than in a typical year. There were 1,389,500 fires in 2011, resulting in 3,005 deaths and $11.7 billion in fire loss. The largest cause of residential building fire was cooking (46%). To fight these fires, there were an estimated 1,129,250 firefighters (career: 345,950, volunteer: 783,300) in 2012. Eighty-one firefighters died while on duty, and 31,490 were injured, according to the US Fire Administration. Already this year, 67 firefighters lost their lives. (See the list of firefighters).

    Related Bills in Congress

    Here’s a look at some related proposals in Congress. Share your voice with POPVOX:

    • HR 5483

      Firefighter Equipment Protection Act

      --Bipartisan-- Codifies a national security exemption from emissions regulations for excess personal property of the Department of Defense that is transferred under specified DOD property transfer programs to a firefighting agency in a state or to another state agency. "This rule, in essence, favored the CO2 emissions from raging wildfires over the comparably minimal emissions from the vehicles needed to put them out," according to the bill sponsor. The bill "permanently reverses this bureaucratic, nonsensical rule, protects the programs that supply this needed equipment from any future overreaching EPA decision and ensures that these programs continue to support firefighters who protect our nation’s communities.

    • HR 3747

      Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Reauthorization Act

      --Bipartisan-- Would "reauthorize a tax break for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel," according to bill sponsor. "The tax break, authorized in 2007 following its original introduction by Larson, expired in 2010. By renewing this tax exemption, VRIPRA would increase the value of benefits offered by communities that bolster recruitment and retention of volunteer first responders."

    • HR 1437

      Honorable Stephanie Tubbs Jones College Fire Prevention Act

      --Bipartisan-- Directs the Secretary of Education to make competitive demonstration grants to institutions of higher education (IHEs), fraternities, and sororities for up to half the cost of installing approved fire suppression systems in student housing and dormitories owned or controlled by such entities.

    • S 2266

      Federal Firefighters Fairness Act

      --Bipartisan-- "Ensures that firefighters who were harmed in the line of duty or contracted certain diseases are covered by federal worker’s compensation," according to the bill sponsors. "Under current law, the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA) provides federal employees injured in the performance of duty with workers' compensation benefits. This bill would amend FECA so that if a federal firefighter dies or becomes disabled from a specified list of diseases, the disease will be presumed to have been caused by the employment, and the death or disability will be presumed compensable. The bill is intended to address the difficultly that firefighters who suffer from these diseases face in obtaining compensation under current law, which requires proof that the illness resulted from the line of duty."

    • S 2811

      Children and Firefighters Protection Act

      Would immediately ban the 10 worst chemical flame retardants from upholstered furniture and children’s products, such as changing table pads, portable crib mattresses, pajamas, nap mats, and nursing pillows. The 10 flame retardants include: TDCPP, TCEP, TBBPA, decabromodiphenyl ether, antimony trioxide, HBCD, TBPH, TBB, chlorinated paraffins, and TCPP. Also gives the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) additional authority and requires them to convene a panel to review the safety of all other chemical flame retardants and issue a ban on flame retardants, in addition to the ten worst, that are found to be dangerous, according to the bill sponsor.

    • S 2593

      FLAME Act Amendments Act

      Would allow for the full funding of wildland firefighting budgets for the US Forest Service and Department of the Interior as well dramatically increase resources for forest restoration programs. "Rather than budgeting for wildfires using just 70 percent of a 10-year historic average of suppression expenditures as the Obama Administration recently proposed, this bill requires the Forest Service and the Interior Department to budget for 100 percent of their suppression costs using the most accurate budget forecast model available (known as the "FLAME regression model")," according to the bill sponsor. The bill also prohibits federal agencies from raiding non-wildfire accounts to pay for wildfires, a practice known as "fire-borrowing."

    • HR 4889

      Clean and Efficient Public Safety Vehicles Act

      Would "help municipal public safety and law enforcement agencies save money on fuel costs and reduce their negative effects on our environment," according to the bill sponsor. Would "encourage local government agencies like fire and police departments to invest in technology that reduces both fuel consumption and improves environmental impacts by ensuring that a portion of their federal grant funds are used on emissions reduction."

    • HR 5677

      Federal Wildland Firefighter Classification Act

      Alter the position titles of federal firefighting personnel from "forestry technicians" to "wildland firefighters." "Requires the Office of Personnel Management to alter the designations of firefighting personnel at the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, a change that will improve morale and retention among federal firefighters," according to the bill sponsor.

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  5. Your Custom Ballot - from our Friends at MapLight

    Most people have already decided how they will vote on the "top of the ticket" (the state and national races that get the most media attention). But when it comes to school boards, city councils, ballot measures, and other important options on the ballot, it's tough to keep up!

    Our friends at MapLight have created a wonderful tool to help you see exactly what is on your ballot. Just enter your address below and MapLight will show you who and what to expect. That will help you do your research before you head to the ballot box. And of course, POPVOX is a great place to start to check out the bills and co-sponsorships from your Members of Congress. Also -- check out Vote411 from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters and sign up for text alerts from TurboVote, so you never miss an election!

  6. Issue Spotlight: Civil Forfeiture

    Civil Asset Forfeiture: Federal and state law enforcement agents may seize money and property from individuals by asserting that they believe the money is connected to some illegal activity.

    Under federal law and most states' laws, they are entitled to keep most of the money and property they seize. According to the Dept. of Justice, civil asset net forfeitures surged to $4.2 billion in 2012 which was up from $1.7 billion in the preceding year—a one-year increase of over 150%.

    "Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear," according to Saturday’s investigative article in The Washington Post. "They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.” The details of the article are from 43,000 annual reports submitted by local and state agencies to the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, an initiative that allows local and state police to keep up to 80 percent of the assets they seize. Of the nearly $2.5 billion in spending reported in the forms, 81 percent came from cash and property seizures in which no indictment was filed, according to an analysis by The Post.

    Even HBO comedian John Oliver took an in-depth look at civil asset forfeiture. And in Congress, two bills have been introduced to address the issue:

    • HR 5212

      Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act

      --Bipartisan-- Would "raise the level of proof necessary for the government to seize property; restore the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' by placing the burden on the government to prove a property owner had knowledge of criminal activity Increase transparency of civil forfeiture proceeds; restrict the use of equitable sharing agreements between DOJ and local/state law enforcement agencies that infringe upon state laws," according to the bill sponsor.

    • HR 5502

      Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act

      --Bipartisan-- (And S 2644 in the Senate) "Makes a number of changes to civil asset forfeiture laws to restore the constitutional protections guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment," according to bill sponsors. "The FAIR Act would ensure that Americans are innocent until proven guilty by requiring the government to meet a higher legal standard before seizing an individual’s property. This legislation would raise the standard to seize assets from a preponderance of evidence to a higher standard of clear and convincing evidence. In addition, the FAIR Act would eliminate the practice of equitable sharing and eliminate all profit incentives by requiring that all funds seized by the federal government go into the general treasury fund."

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  7. The Week Ahead: Oct. 13 - 17

    From our Hill Sources: Congress is still in recess -- and won't be back until after the November elections. However, their staffers are still on the Hill. Here's a look at a few of the issues we're hearing about. Weigh in and POPVOX will deliver your letter to Congress.

    Civil Asset Forfeiture

    Federal and state law enforcement agents may seize money and property from individuals by asserting that they believe the money is connected to some illegal activity. Under federal law and most states' laws, they are entitled to keep most of the money and property they seize. According to the Dept. of Justice, civil asset net forfeitures surged to $4.2 billion in 2012 which was up from $1.7 billion in the preceding year—a one-year increase of over 150%.

    "Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear," according to Saturday’s investigative article in The Washington Post. "They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.” The details of the article are from 43,000 annual reports submitted by local and state agencies to the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, an initiative that allows local and state police to keep up to 80 percent of the assets they seize. Of the nearly $2.5 billion in spending reported in the forms, 81 percent came from cash and property seizures in which no indictment was filed, according to an analysis by The Post.

    Even HBO comedian John Oliver took an in-depth look at civil asset forfeiture. And in Congress, two bills have been introduced to address the issue:

    • HR 5212

      Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act

      --Bipartisan-- Would "raise the level of proof necessary for the government to seize property; restore the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' by placing the burden on the government to prove a property owner had knowledge of criminal activity Increase transparency of civil forfeiture proceeds; restrict the use of equitable sharing agreements between DOJ and local/state law enforcement agencies that infringe upon state laws," according to the bill sponsor.

    • HR 5502

      Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act

      --Bipartisan-- (And S 2644 in the Senate) "Makes a number of changes to civil asset forfeiture laws to restore the constitutional protections guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment," according to bill sponsors. "The FAIR Act would ensure that Americans are innocent until proven guilty by requiring the government to meet a higher legal standard before seizing an individual’s property. This legislation would raise the standard to seize assets from a preponderance of evidence to a higher standard of clear and convincing evidence. In addition, the FAIR Act would eliminate the practice of equitable sharing and eliminate all profit incentives by requiring that all funds seized by the federal government go into the general treasury fund."

    National Fire Prevention Week

    Last week was National Fire Prevention Week, so we want to spotlight some bills related to fire prevention and the firefighters that battle them. The traditional fire season has only just begun in the West — and already firefighters have battled a higher-than-usual number of wildfires. In California alone, firefighters have battled nearly 5,000 wildfires, almost a 1,000 more than in a typical year.

    There were 1,389,500 fires in 2011, resulting in 3,005 deaths and $11.7 billion in fire loss. The largest cause of residential building fire was cooking (46%). To fight these fires, there were an estimated 1,129,250 firefighters (career: 345,950, volunteer: 783,300) in 2012. Eighty-one firefighters died while on duty, and 31,490 were injured, according to the US Fire Administration. Already this year, 67 firefighters lost their lives. (See the list of names).

    Meanwhile, here’s a look at some related proposals in Congress:

    • HR 5483

      Firefighter Equipment Protection Act

      --Bipartisan-- Codifies a national security exemption from emissions regulations for excess personal property of the Department of Defense that is transferred under specified DOD property transfer programs to a firefighting agency in a state or to another state agency. "This rule, in essence, favored the CO2 emissions from raging wildfires over the comparably minimal emissions from the vehicles needed to put them out," according to the bill sponsor. The bill "permanently reverses this bureaucratic, nonsensical rule, protects the programs that supply this needed equipment from any future overreaching EPA decision and ensures that these programs continue to support firefighters who protect our nation’s communities.

    • S 2811

      Children and Firefighters Protection Act

      Would immediately ban the 10 worst chemical flame retardants from upholstered furniture and children’s products, such as changing table pads, portable crib mattresses, pajamas, nap mats, and nursing pillows. The 10 flame retardants include: TDCPP, TCEP, TBBPA, decabromodiphenyl ether, antimony trioxide, HBCD, TBPH, TBB, chlorinated paraffins, and TCPP. Also gives the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) additional authority and requires them to convene a panel to review the safety of all other chemical flame retardants and issue a ban on flame retardants, in addition to the ten worst, that are found to be dangerous, according to the bill sponsor.

    • S 2593

      FLAME Act Amendments Act

      Would allow for the full funding of wildland firefighting budgets for the US Forest Service and Department of the Interior as well dramatically increase resources for forest restoration programs. "Rather than budgeting for wildfires using just 70 percent of a 10-year historic average of suppression expenditures as the Obama Administration recently proposed, this bill requires the Forest Service and the Interior Department to budget for 100 percent of their suppression costs using the most accurate budget forecast model available (known as the "FLAME regression model")," according to the bill sponsor. The bill also prohibits federal agencies from raiding non-wildfire accounts to pay for wildfires, a practice known as "fire-borrowing."

    • HR 4889

      Clean and Efficient Public Safety Vehicles Act

      Would "help municipal public safety and law enforcement agencies save money on fuel costs and reduce their negative effects on our environment," according to the bill sponsor. Would "encourage local government agencies like fire and police departments to invest in technology that reduces both fuel consumption and improves environmental impacts by ensuring that a portion of their federal grant funds are used on emissions reduction."

    • S 2266

      Federal Firefighters Fairness Act

      --Bipartisan-- "Ensures that firefighters who were harmed in the line of duty or contracted certain diseases are covered by federal worker’s compensation," according to the bill sponsors. "Under current law, the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA) provides federal employees injured in the performance of duty with workers' compensation benefits. This bill would amend FECA so that if a federal firefighter dies or becomes disabled from a specified list of diseases, the disease will be presumed to have been caused by the employment, and the death or disability will be presumed compensable. The bill is intended to address the difficultly that firefighters who suffer from these diseases face in obtaining compensation under current law, which requires proof that the illness resulted from the line of duty."

    • HR 3747

      Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Reauthorization Act

      --Bipartisan-- Would "reauthorize a tax break for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel," according to bill sponsor. "The tax break, authorized in 2007 following its original introduction by Larson, expired in 2010. By renewing this tax exemption, VRIPRA would increase the value of benefits offered by communities that bolster recruitment and retention of volunteer first responders."

    • HR 1437

      Honorable Stephanie Tubbs Jones College Fire Prevention Act

      --Bipartisan-- Directs the Secretary of Education to make competitive demonstration grants to institutions of higher education (IHEs), fraternities, and sororities for up to half the cost of installing approved fire suppression systems in student housing and dormitories owned or controlled by such entities.

    • HR 5677

      Federal Wildland Firefighter Classification Act

      Alter the position titles of federal firefighting personnel from "forestry technicians" to "wildland firefighters." "Requires the Office of Personnel Management to alter the designations of firefighting personnel at the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, a change that will improve morale and retention among federal firefighters," according to the bill sponsor.

    Ferguson Revisited

    Over the weekend, demonstrators marched 12 miles Saturday from Ferguson, Missouri to a downtown St. Louis plaza calling for charges to be brought against the police officer who killed 18-year old Michael Brown on Aug. 9th. Here's a recap of the investigation of Brown's death, and how Congress has responded.

    At the request of Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Justice leadership traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, for meetings with the city and the community on Oct. 2 - 3. They met with Ferguson City and Ferguson Police Department leadership regarding the ongoing "pattern and practice investigation" into FPD. Officials from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) also attended law enforcement leadership meetings in Ferguson and St. Louis County as part of COPS’s efforts "to provide technical assistance to the police department on an ongoing basis." (Read the full statement).

    In August, President Obama announced that the Justice Department has opened an independent federal civil rights investigation into the death of Michael Brown: "They are on the ground and, along with the FBI, they are devoting substantial resources to that investigation."

    Last week, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) visited Ferguson to speak with civil rights leaders. During his visit, he stated his concerns about long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes and military programs to give unused equipment to local police departments. Senator Paul wrote:

    1. "Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement." (Read his piece in Time.)

    While Senator Paul hasn’t introduced a bill related to de-militarizing local law enforcement, a bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA):

    • HR 5478

      Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act

      --Bipartisan-- Would "end the free transfers of certain aggressive military equipment to local law enforcement and ensure that all equipment can be accounted for," according to the bill sponsor, Rep. Henry "Hank" Johnson (D-GA). The bill targets a Pentagon surplus program that transfers military equipment like mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles to local governments, including MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles.

      A "Dear Colleague" letter from Rep. Johnson stated: "Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s. Unfortunately, due to a Department of Defense (DOD) Program that transfers surplus DOD equipment to state and local law enforcement, our local police are quickly beginning to resemble paramilitary forces."

    Related Bills

    • HR 4934

      Regulatory Agency De-militarization (RAD) Act

      --Bipartisan-- To prohibit certain Federal agencies from using or purchasing certain firearms. "In recent years, numerous federal regulatory agencies – including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Food and Drug Agency and the Department of Education – have created their own special law enforcement teams to conduct their own arrests and raids. This is in part a product of the 2002 Homeland Security Act, which gave most Offices of Inspector General arrest and firearm authority," according to the bill sponsor, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT).

    • HR 2851

      End Racial Profiling Act

      (Also S 1038 in the Senate.) According to bill sponsors, it provides a prohibition on racial profiling, enforceable by declaratory or injunctive relief; and mandates training on racial profiling issues as part of Federal law enforcement training, the collection of data on all routine or spontaneous investigatory activities that is to be submitted through a standardized form to the Department of Justice. The receipt of federal law enforcement and other funds that go to state and local governments is conditioned on their adoption of effective policies that prohibit racial profiling.

    • HR 3069

      Shield Our Streets Act

      Authorizes the Attorney General to carry out a program, through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, to award grants to assist eligible local law enforcement agencies with hiring and training new law enforcement officers and with rehiring career law enforcement officers who have been laid off as a result of budget reductions.

    Women's Pay

    Last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that women should trust “karma” instead of asking for pay raises and suggested that the “system” would reward their work. In an apology, Nadella said he was “completely wrong” and via e-mail to Microsoft employees, he wrote:

    1. "I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work... If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."

    Nadella's statement and apology has brought the issue of pay equity into the forefront -- and the government's role in addressing wage discrimination. Despite passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which requires that men and women in the same work place be given equal pay for equal work, the "gender gap" in pay persists, according to the White House. Full-time women workers’ earnings are only about 77 percent of their male counterparts’ earnings. "Decades of research shows that no matter how you evaluate the data, there remains a pay gap — even after factoring in the kind of work people do, or qualifications such as education and experience — and there is good evidence that discrimination contributes to the persistent pay disparity between men and women."

    Here are some proposals in Congress addressing the wage gap:

    • S 2199

      Paycheck Fairness Act

      (And HR 377 in the House.) Would "strengthen the Equal Pay Act and close the loopholes that have allowed employers to avoid responsibility for discriminatory pay," according to bill sponsors. Requires that employers seeking to justify unequal pay bear the burden of proving that its actions are job-related and consistent with a business necessity; prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers; puts gender-based discrimination sanctions on equal footing with other forms of wage discrimination – such as race, disability or age – by allowing women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages; requires the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training efforts to work with employers in order to eliminate pay disparities; requires the Department of Labor to continue to collect and disseminate wage information based on gender; creates a new grant program to help strengthen the negotiation skills of girls and women.
    • S 168

      Fair Pay Act

      (And HR 438 in the House.) Would require employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions, and would give workers the information they need to determine when jobs are undervalued, according to bill sponsors. Would require employers to disclose pay scales and rates for all job categories at a given company. "This would give employees the information they need to identify discriminatory pay practices. Importantly, it does not require specific information on individual employees. The bill would give all employees the tools they need to have informed pay discussions with their employers."  
    • S 2172

      End Pay Discrimination Through Information Act

      Prohibits retaliation for inquiring about, discussing, or disclosing the wages of the employee or another employee in response to a sex discrimination complaint or charge, or in furtherance of a sex discrimination investigation, proceeding, hearing, or action, including an investigation conducted by the employer.

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  8. The POPVOX Top 20: Oct. 3 - 9

    Supreme Court Ethics: Most Active Issue of the Week

    Whether the Supreme Court should adopt a code of ethics is the most active issue on POPVOX this week. The Supreme Court's 2014 - 2015 term began this week, and the Justices and their docket were a priority for POPVOX users. (See what's on their docket.)

    Every judge in the country--except for the nine Justices on the Supreme Court--are required to abide by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, "a binding code of ethics that ensures neutrality and transparency in our courts," according to Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY). The Code of Conduct reads:

    1. "A judge should not: (1) act as a leader or hold any office in a political organization; (2) make speeches for a political organization or candidate, or publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office; or (3) solicit funds for, pay an assessment to, or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate, or attend or purchase a ticket for a dinner or other event sponsored by a political organization or candidate."

    The Supreme Court Ethics Act (HR 2902), which was the most active bill on POPVOX this week, would require the Court to adopt a code of ethics within 180 days of passage. "In order to restore the people's trust, the Supreme Court needs to adopt a Code of Conduct –just as every other federal judge is required by law. As the highest court in the land and the ultimate arbiter of justice in America, the integrity of our justices should be beyond reproach, and this law will ensure that we hold true to the standards on which this country was founded," explained Congresswoman Slaughter.

    Weigh in on the Supreme Court Ethics Act and the other most active bills on POPVOX. We'll deliver your comment to Congress, guaranteed.

    Top 20 Bills of the Week

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    These are the bills and proposals that POPVOX users weighed in on with Congress in the past week. Keep in mind that these numbers aren't aggregates of total support, but just what happened in the past seven days.

    • HR 2902

      #1 Supreme Court Ethics Act

      (Also S 1424 in the Senate) Would require the US Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics for Supreme Court Justices. Unlike every other federal judge, Supreme Court justices are exempt from the Code of Conduct for US Judges—a binding code of ethics that ensures neutrality and transparency in our courts, according to the bill sponsor.

      218 Support | 39 Oppose


    • HR 96

      #2 Cameras in the Courtroom Act

      —Bipartisan— Would permit television coverage of all open sessions of the US Supreme Court unless a majority of justices decided that allowing coverage of a particular case would violate the due process rights of a party appearing before the court. "Currently, cameras are barred from the Supreme Court, and the court allocates only 50 seats to view open proceedings. This limited seating suggests an elitism and propensity of secrecy unworthy of the third branch of our government. Cameras in the courtroom would bring a higher degree of transparency and accountability to the high court, and would give the public better access to deliberations on the important issues that come before the court," according to the bill sponsor.

      190 Support | 31 Oppose


    • HR 621

      #3 1st Amendment Resolution

      Reaffirming the commitment of the House of Representatives to the First Amendment to the Constitution and the vital freedom of speech protections it provides for Americans.

      185 Support | 16 Oppose


    • HR 3829

      #4 State Marriage Defense Act

      —Bipartisan— (And S 2024 in the Senate) Would "help restore the 10th Amendment, affirm the authority of states to define and regulate marriage, as well as, provide clarity to federal agencies seeking to determine who qualifies as a spouse for the purpose of federal law," according to the bill sponsor. "By requiring that the Federal Government defer to the laws of a person’s state of legal residence in determining marital status, we can protect states’ constitutionally established powers from the arbitrary overreach of unelected bureaucrats."

      155 Support | 37 Oppose


    • HR 4858

      #5 San Gabriel National Recreation Area Act

      To establish the San Gabriel National Recreation Area as a unit of the National Park System in the State of California.

      14 Support | 161 Oppose


    • S 549

      #6 Public Online Information Act (POIA)

      (Also HR 4312 in the House) Requires executive branch agencies to publish all publicly available information on the Internet in a timely fashion and in user-friendly formats, according to the bill sponsor. The bill would establish an Advisory Committee "to coordinate and encourage the efforts of the government to make government information from all three branches of government available on the Internet." "Judicial and legislative agencies are encouraged to consider the guidelines issued by the Advisory Committee."

      137 Support | 35 Oppose


    • HR 5606

      #7 Homemade Firearms Accountability Act

      To require homemade firearms to have serial numbers. "This legislation responds to recent crimes and violent actions involving the use of homemade firearms, including a deadly bank robbery this July in Stockton, CA that left three dead, and the mass shooting in Santa Monica, CA last June at the hands of John Zawahri," according to the bill sponsor, Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA). 

      12 Support | 147 Oppose


    • HR 1975

      #8 Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

      (Also S 942 in the Senate) To eliminate discrimination and promote women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. "Would close legal loopholes and require employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees who have limitations stemming from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer," according to the bill sponsor. "These on-the-job accommodations would be low-cost and not disruptive. The bill also bars employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions."

      35 Support | 104 Oppose


    • S 2823

      #9 North American Energy Infrastructure Act

      —Bipartisan—  Eliminates the Presidential Permit requirement for projects crossing the national boundary between the US and Canada or Mexico and puts the decision making into the hands of appropriate agencies. Imposes a 120-day time limit on the State Department to either issue a certificate of crossing or deny a project approval following completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Focuses the NEPA process to the federal section of the pipeline – the portion that crosses the border and recognizes that the states are the ones to regulate the siting of pipelines within their boundaries, according to bill sponsors-- A similar bill, HR 3301, passed the House on June 24, 2014. -- 

      107 Support | 24 Oppose


    • S 2136

      #10 Keystone Oil for American Consumers

      To ensure that oil transported through the Keystone XL pipeline into the US is used to reduce US dependence on Middle Eastern oil. "The Keystone XL pipeline would terminate in Port Arthur, Texas, which is a foreign trade zone, allowing for the re-export of the Canadian tar sands oil without paying taxes," according to the bill sponsor.

      102 Support | 22 Oppose


    • HR 2758

      #11 Redistricting Reform Act

      To prohibit States from carrying out more than one Congressional redistricting after a decennial census and apportionment, to require States to conduct such redistricting through independent commissions.

      26  Support | 76 Oppose


    • S 1424

      #12 Supreme Court Ethics Act

      To require the US Supreme Court to promulgate a code of ethics.

      80 Support | 20 Oppose


    • HR 3911

      #13 Anti-Bullying

      To amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to include bullying and harassment prevention programs. Would require states to use grants for safe and drug-free schools to collect and report information on the incidence of bullying and harassment. Includes bullying and harassment within the Act's definition of violence.

      31 Support | 68 Oppose


    • HR 2846

      #14 Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel Act

      —Bipartisan— To transfer to Jerusalem the United States Embassy located in Tel Aviv.

      82 Support | 15 Oppose


    • HR 2928

      #15 Fair and Independent Redistricting (FAIR) Act

      To direct the Election Assistance Commission to develop and publish recommendations for best practices that States may use in establishing and operating independent Congressional redistricting commissions.

      18 Support | 74 Oppose


    • HR 3906

      #16 Fixing America's Inconsistent Redistricting (FAIR) Act

      To require States to carry out Congressional redistricting in accordance with plans developed by nonpartisan service agencies of the legislative branch of State governments.

      27 Support | 62 Oppose


    • HR 4325

      #17 Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act

      (And S 2047 in the Senate.) Would "prohibit the marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teens," according to bill sponsors. Would permit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine what constitutes marketing e-cigarettes to children, and would allow the FTC to work with states attorneys general to enforce the ban.

      31 Support | 56 Oppose


    • HR 2648

      #18 Prohibiting firearms sales to certain classes of high-risk individuals

      To prohibit the sale or other disposition of a firearm to, and the possession, shipment, transportation, or receipt of a firearm by, certain classes of high-risk individuals.

      11 Support | 74 Oppose


    • HR 2405

      #19 Firearm Recidivist Sentencing Act

      To clarify the circumstances under which the enhanced penalty provisions for subsequent convictions apply. Amends the federal criminal code, with respect to additional penalties for using or carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, to: (1) modify the penalty to require an additional prison term of not more than 5 years, not more than 7 years if the firearm is brandished, and not more than 10 years if the firearm is discharged (currently, not less than 5, 7, or 10 years respectively); (2) allow a prison term for any term of years (currently, minimum mandatory term of 25 years) for a person who has a prior conviction that has become final; (3) require an additional prison term of not more than 15 years (currently, not less than 15 years) for using, carrying, or possessing armor piercing ammunition during the commission of a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime; and (4) eliminate the death penalty for cases in which the use of such ammunition results in a death.

      9 Support | 65 Oppose


    • SJRes 44

      #20 Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State; Sunsetting in One Year

      Authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, with four key limitations, according to the resolution’s sponsor: 1) No US ground troops; 2) Repeal of the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force; 3) Sunset after one year; 4) Narrow definition of "associated forces."

      14 Support | 59 Oppose

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  9. Issue Spotlight: Atrocities against Christians and Yezidis in Iraq

    The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has specifically targeted Christians living in Iraq, making the practice of Christianity punishable by death. Christianity has been in Iraq for 2,000 years, however, those who refuse to convert to Islam are now being slaughtered by ISIS; men, women, and children have all been beheaded. According to The Huffington Post, no Christians are left in the city of Mosul (Read more). 

    According to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), "After seizing Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, the Islamic State spray-painted blood red symbols of the Arabic letter 'n' on Christian property in the city. 'N' is short for 'Nazarene,' a derogatory term for Christians used by some in the region. The Islamic State then issued an ultimatum to all Christians in Mosul: 'leave, convert to Islam, or die by the sword.' Most fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs."

    This current violence follows a repeated pattern of persecution against Christians in Iraq, stretching back to when Saddam Hussein was overthrown. Sixty Christian churches were bombed in 2004, while several members of the clergy were killed for not converting to Islam. In 2003, there were 1 million Christians in Iraq; today there are 300,000. Currently, 120,000 Iraqi Christians have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan to avoid massacre, according to Daniel Williams, a former senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and Washington Post correspondent. (Read more). 

    According to Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), "There is no doubt about it – religious cleansing is continuing to occur in Iraq.  Churches have been seized and some turned into mosques.  Every trace of Christianity is being eradicated.  The Christians' property has been seized, looted and given to others."

    In a statement, President Obama condemned the violence and called for action: 

    1. "As ISIL has marched across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis. And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect. Countless Iraqis have been displaced. And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women. When we face a situation like we do on that mountain -- with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help -- in this case, a request from the Iraqi government -- and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That’s what we’re doing on that mountain. I’ve, therefore, authorized targeted airstrikes, if necessary, to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there."

    Weigh in on Bills Relating to Religious Freedom Overseas

    • HRes 683

      House Resolution regarding religious minorities

      (And SRes 530 in the Senate) Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives on the current situation in Iraq and the urgent need to protect religious minorities from persecution from the Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) as it expands its control over areas in northwestern Iraq. According to the Senate version's sponsor, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), "We cannot sit idly by as Christians in Iraq suffer. Recently, President Obama declared on Religious Freedom Day that religious liberty 'is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe.' We must put action behind those words." --This resolution passed the House on Aug. 1 , and the Senate on Sept. 18--

    • HCRes 110

      Resolution calling for international intervention on behalf of Iraqi civilians

      --Bipartisan-- Calling for urgent international intervention on behalf of Iraqi civilians facing a dire humanitarian crisis and severe persecution in the Nineveh Plain region of Iraq. According to the bill sponsor, "Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city. For sixteen hundred years, Mosul has been a center of Christian life. Today, not a single Christian remains in the city. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly called ISIS, is advancing a campaign of ruthless and systematic persecution against ethnic and religious minorities in the territory it now rules. We are witnessing an ongoing crime against humanity. This resolution calls for UN Security Council consideration of an urgent international humanitarian intervention to speed assistance to communities facing ferocious ethnic and religious cleansing. The world cannot simply watch as the region’s refugee crisis worsens every day. We must act for the principles of basic human rights and religious freedom that our international endeavors seek to champion."

    • S 2675

      Supporting religious freedom in foreign countries

      According to the bill sponsor, "By amending the International Religious Freedom Act, this legislation encourages the administration to take a firmer stance on religious freedom violators and codifies America’s commitment to advancing religious freedom as a key objective of US foreign policy."

    • HRes 106

      Resolution calling for the protection of religious minority rights

      (And SRes 69 in the Senate) Calling for the protection of religious minority rights and freedoms in the Arab world. According to the bill sponsor, "The freedom to worship by minority religious communities has repeatedly come under deadly attack in recent months.  I can hardly pick up a newspaper without reading about a religious group being attacked or faith leader being imprisoned...Religious minorities must be protected from violence and guaranteed the freedom to practice their religion." 

    • HR 5415

      Authorization for Use of Military Force against International Terrorism Act

      -- Bipartisan -- "Authorizing the use of military force against international terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda and its affiliates, like al Nusra, Ansar al Sharia, al Shabaab and Boko Haram, while encouraging close coordination with NATO and regional allies on any action." According to Congressman Wolf, "the motive behind the bill is to end any ambiguity about the President's authority -- or the Congress' support -- for a US-led international coalition to disrupt and eliminate ISIS and al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups from committing genocide."

    • HR 301

      To provide for the establishment of the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia

      --Bipartisan-- (And S 653 in the Senate) According to the bill sponsor, the Special Envoy would work with foreign governments to address inherently discriminatory laws. HR 301 requires the Special Envoy to give priority to programs, projects and activities for Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. --Passed the House on Sept. 18; Senate version enacted into law on Aug. 8--

    • HR 652

      To limit assistance to countries that engage in certain discriminatory religious, educational, or freedom of movement practices.

      To prohibit assistance (other than humanitarian assistance) to a country that follows any of the following activities: (1) engages in state-sanctioned religious persecution of minority religious groups as evidenced by anti-blasphemy laws or penalties applied to minority religious groups for sharing their faith; (2) prevents equal access to education on the basis of gender, race, or ethnicity; or (3) does not accept the return of its nationals who have been removed from another country following a removal proceeding. Authorizes the President to waive such prohibition on a case-by-case basis if in U.S. national security interests to do so.
    • S 2711

      US Commission on International Religious Freedom Reform and Reauthorization Act

      To reauthorize the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  10. The Week Ahead: Oct. 6 - 10

    From our Hill Sources: Congress is still in recess -- and won't be back until after the November elections. But the Supreme Court is back in session this week! POPVOX is spotlighting bills related to the Supreme Court, and their upcoming docket.

    The Supreme Court

    • HR 2902

      Supreme Court Ethics Act

      (Also S 1424 in the Senate.) Would require the US Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics for Supreme Court Justices. Unlike every other federal judge, Supreme Court justices are exempt from the Code of Conduct for US Judges—a binding code of ethics that ensures neutrality and transparency in our courts, according to the bill sponsor.

      "We are a nation defined by the rule of law, and our government is defined by our comprehensive system of checks and balances. Recent reports of dubious ethical behavior by Supreme Court justices have undermined these two fundamental principles, and have eroded the American people's faith in the Supreme Court as an institution. In order to restore the people's trust, the Supreme Court needs to adopt a Code of Conduct –just as every other federal judge is required by law. As the highest court in the land and the ultimate arbiter of justice in America, the integrity of our justices should be beyond reproach, and this law will ensure that we hold true to the standards on which this country was founded," explained the bill sponsor.

    • HR 96

      Cameras in the Courtroom Act

      —Bipartisan— Would permit television coverage of all open sessions of the US Supreme Court unless a majority of justices decided that allowing coverage of a particular case would violate the due process rights of a party appearing before the court.

      “Currently, cameras are barred from the Supreme Court, and the court allocates only 50 seats to view open proceedings. This limited seating suggests an elitism and propensity of secrecy unworthy of the third branch of our government. Cameras in the courtroom would bring a higher degree of transparency and accountability to the high court, and would give the public better access to deliberations on the important issues that come before the court,” according to the bill sponsor.

    • S 549

      Public Online Information Act (POIA)

      (Also HR 4312 in the House.) Requires executive branch agencies to publish all publicly available information on the Internet in a timely fashion and in user-friendly formats, according to the bill sponsor. The bill would establish an Advisory Committee "to coordinate and encourage the efforts of the government to make government information from all three branches of government available on the Internet." "Judicial and legislative agencies are encouraged to consider the guidelines issued by the Advisory Committee."

    The Supreme Court's Agenda

    On Monday, the Supreme Court will start its 2014 - 2015 term. "This term promises to be somewhere between very important and absolutely historic," said Tom Goldstein, publisher of the SCOTUSBlog website. Many of the issues they will consider aren't new -- and have been debated by Congress and the states. Here's a look at the issues the Supreme Court is considering, and related bills that Congress is considering:

    Free Speech and Facebook

    Elonis v. United States: (Dec. 1) What is the level of proof needed to convict someone of making criminal threats?

    After his wife obtained a protection-from-abuse order, defendant Anthony Elonis wrote on his Facebook page, "Fold up your PFA and put it in your pocket Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?" and other things. Elonis said in court papers that his online posts were "fictitious" rap lyrics that were a "therapeutic" way to deal with the pain in his life. He argued that the posts were constitutionally protected speech, not true threats. (Source)

    Related Bills

    • HRes 621

      1st Amendment Resolution

      Reaffirming the commitment of the House of Representatives to the First Amendment to the Constitution and the vital freedom of speech protections it provides for Americans.
    • HR 3911

      Anti-Bullying

      To amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to include bullying and harassment prevention programs. Would require states to use grants for safe and drug-free schools to collect and report information on the incidence of bullying and harassment. Includes bullying and harassment within the Act's definition of violence.

    Jerusalem

    Zivotofsky v. Kerry: (Nov. 3) Does an American child born in Jerusalem have a right to have "Israel" listed as his place of birth on his US passport?

    This question has divided Congress, which favors designating Jerusalem as "Israel." The State Department has refused to go along, noting that Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as their capital. An appeals court said this power rests with the President and the State Department, not Congress, but the court will hear the child's appeal. (Source)

    Related Bills

    Pregnancy Discrimination

    Young v. United Parcel Service: (Dec. 3) What is the duty of employers to provide workplace accommodations under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

    Peggy Young was employed as a delivery driver for the United Parcel Service (UPS) when she became pregnant, and her medical professionals told her not to lift more than 20 pounds. UPS’s employee policy requires their employees to be able to lift up to 70 pounds -- and Young was forced to take an extended, unpaid leave of absence. Young sued UPS and claimed she had been the victim of gender- and disability-based discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. (Source)

    Related Bills

    • HR 1975

      Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

      (Also S 942 in the Senate.) To eliminate discrimination and promote women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. "Would close legal loopholes and require employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees who have limitations stemming from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer," according to the bill sponsor. "These on-the-job accommodations would be low-cost and not disruptive. The bill also bars employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions."

    Gerrymandering

    Alabama Legislative Black Caucus vs. Alabama: (Nov. 12) Can state officials use race in drawing election districts?

    Alabama's Republican-led Legislature moved 120,000 black residents into already majority-black election districts. Black lawmakers and Alabama Democrats said this "racial gerrymandering" would dilute the voting strength of the state's black residents. (Source)

    Related Bills

    • HR 3906

      Fixing America’s Inconsistent Redistricting (FAIR) Act

      To require States to carry out Congressional redistricting in accordance with plans developed by nonpartisan service agencies of the legislative branch of State governments.
    • HR 2928

      Fair and Independent Redistricting (FAIR) Act

      To direct the Election Assistance Commission to develop and publish recommendations for best practices that States may use in establishing and operating independent Congressional redistricting commissions.
    • HR 2758

      Redistricting Reform Act

      To prohibit States from carrying out more than one Congressional redistricting after a decennial census and apportionment, to require States to conduct such redistricting through independent commissions.

    Firearm Possession and Felonies

    Johnson vs. US: Should possession of a short-barreled shotgun be treated as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act?

    Samuel Johnson, the founder of the Aryan Liberation Movement, told an undercover FBI agent that he manufactured napalm, silencers, and other explosives, and possessed an AK-47 rifle, several semi-automatic weapons, and a large cache of ammunition. In April 2012, Johnson was arrested at a meeting with his probation officer and admitted to possessing some weapons. A grand jury charged Johnson with six counts of firearm possession, three of which relied on his classification as an “armed career criminal.” (He had three prior felony convictions, which included possession of a short-barreled shotgun.) Pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), Johnson faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years. (Source)

    Related Bills

    • HR 2405

      Firearm Recidivist Sentencing Act

      To clarify the circumstances under which the enhanced penalty provisions for subsequent convictions apply. Amends the federal criminal code, with respect to additional penalties for using or carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, to: (1) modify the penalty to require an additional prison term of not more than 5 years, not more than 7 years if the firearm is brandished, and not more than 10 years if the firearm is discharged (currently, not less than 5, 7, or 10 years respectively); (2) allow a prison term for any term of years (currently, minimum mandatory term of 25 years) for a person who has a prior conviction that has become final; (3) require an additional prison term of not more than 15 years (currently, not less than 15 years) for using, carrying, or possessing armor piercing ammunition during the commission of a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime; and (4) eliminate the death penalty for cases in which the use of such ammunition results in a death.
    • HR 2648

      Prohibiting firearms sales to certain classes of high-risk individuals.

      to prohibit the sale or other disposition of a firearm to, and the possession, shipment, transportation, or receipt of a firearm by, certain classes of high-risk individuals.
    • HR 4784

      End Purchase of Firearms by Dangerous Individuals Act

      "Would ensure lifesaving information is submitted into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to keep firearms away from individuals with a mental illness who are a danger to themselves and others," according to the bill sponsor.

    Whistleblower Protection

    Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean: Can a federal air marshal can be fired for revealing sensitive information to the media?

    Robert MacLean was an air marshal in 2003. After being briefed about a potential terrorist attack, MacLean learned that the TSA was cutting back on overnight trips for undercover air marshals because of a budget shortfall. He went to his boss, who told him to keep quiet. Instead, he leaked the information to an MSNBC reporter. This caused a Congressional uproar, and the Department of Homeland Security canceled the order within 24 hours, calling it “premature and a mistake.” MacLean was fired. (Source

    Religious Freedom

    Holt v. Hobbs (Oct. 7): Does the Arkansas Department of Corrections grooming policy violate religious freedom?

    Gregory Holt, a Salafi Muslim, wants to grow a beard in accordance with his beliefs, but the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ grooming policy, which allowed trimmed mustaches and quarter-inch beards for diagnosed dermatological problems but otherwise no facial hair. (Source)

    Shredding Fish

    Yates vs. US: (Nov. 5) Does the obstruction-of-justice law that forbids destroying documents or "any tangible object" include small fish?

    John Yates was convicted of violating the “anti-shredding provision” of Sarbanes-Oxley designed to discourage people from engaging in evidence-destruction (like what took place in the waning days of Enron). The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission caught Yates with 72 undersized red grouper on his vessel and issued a civil citation -- but on returning to port, there were only 69 fish on board. He was essentially indicted for dumping (or paper-shredding) the evidence. (Source

    Same-Sex Marriage

    Various pending appeals from state officials in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin. Do state bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution's equal protection guarantees?

    Thirty-one states do not allow same-sex marriage. In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down part of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a Congressional law that recognized marriage for federal purposes as between only one man and one woman. But many states say that the voters -- not the courts -- should decide. (Source)

    UPDATE: On Monday, Oct. 6, the Supreme Court declined to review rulings that cleared the way for same-sex marriage in Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin, meaning marriages can take place there immediately.

    Related Bills

    • HR 3829

      State Marriage Defense Act

      -- Bipartisan -- (And S 2024 in the Senate) Would "help restore the 10th Amendment, affirm the authority of states to define and regulate marriage, as well as, provide clarity to federal agencies seeking to determine who qualifies as a spouse for the purpose of federal law," according to the bill sponsor. "By requiring that the Federal Government defer to the laws of a person’s state of legal residence in determining marital status, we can protect states’ constitutionally established powers from the arbitrary overreach of unelected bureaucrats.”
    • HR 3133

      Marriage and Religious Freedom Act

      -- Bipartisan -- (And S 1808 in the Senate) Would prohibit discrimination through the federal tax code against individuals or institutions that exercise religious conscience regarding marriage as the union of one man and one woman. "Under the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, no individual or institution which celebrates and defines marriage as between one man and one woman would be denied or lose exemption from taxation provided for under federal law," according to the bill sponsor

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  11. The POPVOX Top 20: Sept. 26 - Oct. 2

    Keystone XL -- POPVOX's Most Active Issue of the Week

    The most active issue on POPVOX this week was approving the Keystone XL pipeline. September marked six years since application to build the Keystone XL pipeline was first submitted. TransCanada has proposed laying 1,179 miles of pipe, 36 inches in diameter, that would connect oil producers in Canada’s tar sands region with refineries along the American Gulf Coast. The project has been extensively debated and studied — and the Obama Administration has not yet made a decision to approve the pipeline. (Source: keystone-xl.com)

    Congress could have passed legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, but the proposal failed to pass in the Senate in May. Then, Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-NV) had agreed to a vote to approve the pipeline — if Republicans agreed to a bipartisan energy efficiency bill. Republicans threatened a filibuster, which killed the energy efficiency bill and the subsequent pipeline vote.

    This week's most active bill, the North American Energy Infrastructure Act (S 2823), would eliminate the Presidential Permit requirement for projects crossing the national boundary between the US and Canada or Mexico and puts the decision making into the hands of appropriate agencies, according to the bill sponsors. It would also impose a 120-day time limit on the State Department to either issue a certificate of crossing or deny a project approval following completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.

    According to the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND):

    1. “With our closest friend and ally Canada, we can produce more energy than we use, but we can’t get to the point of energy independence without the infrastructure necessary to achieve it. ISIS is reported to be making more than a million dollars a day selling oil from the land it occupies in the Middle East. Energy infrastructure projects are too important to our economy and our national security to be dragged out, virtually for years in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline. We need a process that is fact-based and transparent, a process that looks out for the interests of the American people now and into the future. Our bill achieves that goal."

    Weigh in on the North American Energy Infrastructure Act and the other most active bills on POPVOX. We'll deliver your comment to Congress, guaranteed.

    Top 20 Bills of the Week

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    These are the bills and proposals that POPVOX users weighed in on with Congress in the past week. Keep in mind that these numbers aren't aggregates of total support, but just what happened in the past seven days.

    • S 2823

      #1 North American Energy Infrastructure Act

      —Bipartisan—  Eliminates the Presidential Permit requirement for projects crossing the national boundary between the US and Canada or Mexico and puts the decision making into the hands of appropriate agencies. Imposes a 120-day time limit on the State Department to either issue a certificate of crossing or deny a project approval following completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Focuses the NEPA process to the federal section of the pipeline – the portion that crosses the border and recognizes that the states are the ones to regulate the siting of pipelines within their boundaries, according to bill sponsors(A similar bill, HR 3301, passed the House on June 24, 2014.)

      137 Support | 46 Oppose

    • HR 4325

      #2 Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act

      (And S 2047 in the Senate.) Would "prohibit the marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teens," according to bill sponsors. Would permit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine what constitutes marketing e-cigarettes to children, and would allow the FTC to work with states attorneys general to enforce the ban.

      48 Support | 125 Oppose

    • S 2136

      #3 Keystone Oil for American Consumers

      To ensure that oil transported through the Keystone XL pipeline into the US is used to reduce US dependence on Middle Eastern oil. "The Keystone XL pipeline would terminate in Port Arthur, Texas, which is a foreign trade zone, allowing for the re-export of the Canadian tar sands oil without paying taxes," according to the bill sponsor.

      131 Support | 38 Oppose

    • SJRes 44

      #4 Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State; Sunsetting in One Year

      Authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, with four key limitations, according to the resolution’s sponsor: 1) No US ground troops; 2) Repeal of the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force; 3) Sunset after one year; 4) Narrow definition of “associated forces.&rdquo

      38 Support | 114 Oppose

    • HJRes 125

      #5 Authorizing Military Force Against ISIL, Sunsetting After 18 Months

      According to the resolution’s sponsor: would give temporary, tailored authority for the combat ongoing against ISIL in Iraq, and for strikes against ISIL targets in Syria; and would harmonize the legal authorities under which the President is authorized to take offensive action by sunsetting the 2002 Iraq AUMF immediately and then sunsetting both the new authorities and the 2001 AUMF eighteen months after the enactment of the joint resolution. Does not authorize the use of ground combat forces in Iraq or Syria.

      38 Support | 103 Oppose

    • HR 4813

      #6 Protection and Accountability Regulatory Act

      --Bipartisan-- "Would stop the Obama Administration’s rules for both new and existing power plants, and place a five-year moratorium on any similar rules," according to the bill sponsor.

      104 Support | 27 Oppose

    • S 2865

      #7 Voter Registration Modernization Act

      To provide for voter registration through the Internet. According to the bill sponsor, "voting is one of our most sacred rights as Americans. Instead of adding new burdens, we should make voting easy for millions of people. Bringing our nation’s antiquated voter registration system into the 21st century is common sense. We must ensure that all states have secure online voter registration in order to make every voice heard at the ballot box."

      19 Support | 111 Oppose

    • S 2884

      #8 Prohibiting tax-exempt status to professional sports leagues that use the term redskins.

      According to the bill sponsor, "American taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize a $9 billion league that promotes a dictionary-defined racial slur. It’s time to end the special tax breaks for the National Football League."

      10 Support | 105 Oppose

    • HR 5485

      #9 The Ravi Thackurdeen Safe Students Study Abroad Act

      To require additional reporting on crime and harm that occurs during student participation in programs of study abroad.

      63 Support | 48 Oppose

    • SRes 524

      #10 Global Climate Change Resolution

      "Would simply express the sense of the Senate that climate change is occurring and that it will continue to pose ongoing risks and challenges to our citizens and to our country," according to the resolution sponsor.

      13 Support | 97 Oppose

    • S 2905

      #11 Carbon Pollution Transparency Act

      To require the Congressional Budget Office to calculate a carbon score for each bill or resolution.

      10 Support | 93 Oppose

    • HR 334

      #12 Keystone For a Secure Tomorrow Act

      Would "allow Congress to directly and immediately approve the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline," according to the sponsor.

      68 Support | 31 Oppose

    • HR 5486

      #13 Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act

      Would require child safety packaging for liquid nicotine containers. Directs the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to require safer, child-resistant packaging for liquid nicotine products within one year of passage, according to bill sponsors.

      28 Support | 61 Oppose

    • HRes 489

      #14 Alzheimer's Resolution

      -- Bipartisan -- Calls on the US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enter into negotiations with the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop a Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Plan, according to sponsors. Also calls on the US government to encourage and facilitate partnerships with the private sector, such as the current partnership between the National Institutes of Health and 10 pharmaceutical companies to identify new approaches to treat Alzheimer’s. It states that the HHS Secretary along with the Secretary of the Treasury should develop the foundation for a Global Alzheimer’s Fund that would provide resources to support implementation of specific strategies to address AD.

      64 Support | 22 Oppose

    • HR 5226

      #15 Charlotte’s Web Medical Hemp Act

      --Bipartisan-- Would "ensure that children and individuals with epilepsy and other debilitating seizure disorders have access to life-changing Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil and therapeutic hemp." According to the bill sponsor, this legislation "in no way federally legalizes the recreational use of marijuana, nor is CBD marijuana; rather, the bill is an incremental approach to providing relief to those suffering from ailments that could benefit from CBD oil and therapeutic hemp." It also doesn’t legalize all forms of marijuana for medical use. It removes CBD oil and therapeutic hemp from the federal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. Therapeutic hemp is defined as having no more than .3% THC, which means it has no hallucinogenic effects of traditional marijuana.

      82 Support | 3 Oppose

    • HJRes 123

      #16 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

      —Bipartisan— According to the bill sponsor, "it’s past time for President Obama to define a course of action. The brutal murder of two American journalists was a shocking wake up call for the public, but the threat ISIL poses to America’s national interests has grown unchecked for some time. We need a strategic plan to stop the spread of their hateful ideology and violence. The defeat of ISIL must be a top priority – this resolution authorizes the use of force for a definite period and requires President Obama to develop and share his strategy with Congress and the American people."

      49 Support | 35 Oppose

    • Draft

      #17 Higher Education Affordability Act (Draft)

      According to a Committee release, the draft bill "takes a comprehensive approach to rein in rising college costs and ensure the system is better serving students and families. The proposal focuses on four main goals: increasing college affordability, helping struggling borrowers, strengthening accountability, and improving transparency."

      48 Support | 32 Oppose

    • HR 5522

      #18 ATF Elimination Act

      To abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, transfer its functions relating to the Federal firearms, explosives, and arson laws, violent crime, and domestic terrorism to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and transfer its functions relating to the Federal alcohol and tobacco smuggling laws to the Drug Enforcement Administration. "The ATF is a largely duplicative, scandal ridden agency that lacks a clear mission. It is plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges and a lack of leadership," according to the bill sponsor. "For decades it has been branded by high profile failures. There is also significant overlap with other agencies. At a time when we are approaching $18 trillion in debt, waste and redundancy within our federal agencies must be addressed. Without a doubt, we can fulfill the role of the ATF more efficiently."

      73 Support | 5 Oppose

    • HR 5204

      #19 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Modernization Act

      To amend the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act to improve recreation opportunities and increase consistency and accountability in the collection and expenditure of recreation fees collected on public lands and forests. According to the bill sponsors, "Re-authorization of the Federal Lands and Recreation Enhancement Act of 2004 is an area where we can work together to improve government and protect the taxpayer." The bill "will help expand and improve opportunities for public recreation on federal lands by updating how the Federal agencies collect and spend Federal recreation fees authorized by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA)," according to its sponsor, House Natural Resources Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT). Currently, the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act authorizes the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation to collect fees for accessing and enjoying federal recreation lands and waters. These recreation fees fund necessary services and improvements that enhance the public visitor experience on federal lands such as welcome centers, trails, tours, campgrounds, picnic areas, roads, and boat landings. The bill "ensures that a minimum of 90% of fees collected are retained and used at the collection site so that recreation users are directly paying for the services used," according to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee.

      33 Support | 45 Oppose

    • HR 5606

      #20 Homemade Firearms Accountability Act

      To amend chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, to require homemade firearms to have serial numbers.

      11 Support | 64 Oppose

  12. Issue Spotlight: Tobacco and E-Cig Marketing to Young People

    Protecting Kids from Tobacco and E-Cigarette Advertisements

    Last week, the Senate leadership and House Democrats released a report identifying tobacco and e-cigarette ads and images in magazines targeting teen readers. According to the report, "tobacco companies continue to glamorize smoking in advertisements in magazines with large youth readership" and that "magazines frequently contain alluring images of smokers in their editorial content." These advertisements and images appeared most frequently in Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, US Weekly, People and Time. (Read the report).

    Along with the report, the members of Congress wrote to the magazine publishers urging them to act to help reduce teen tobacco use: "We hope you will reconsider your policies and voluntarily act to reduce cigarette, e-cigarette, and other tobacco product advertising and cut the number of editorial and news images of cigarette, e-cigarette, and other tobacco product in your policies. Eliminating them will help reduce teen smoking, which is a goal we should all share." (Read the letters).

    Members of Congress have also introduced bills related to the selling and marketing of cigarettes and e-cigs to young people. Weigh in:

    Photo credit: Bruno Mars Images from Rolling Stone Magazine (May 9, 2013) 

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  13. Issue Spotlight: Airstrikes Against ISIS

    US fighters and drone aircraft continue to strike targets tied to the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS or ISIL) as part of the President's "comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL." To conduct these strikes, the US employed Air Force and Navy attack and fighter aircraft. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates also participated in these strikes, according to CENTCOM.

    Night vision footage of a US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refueling a US Air Force B-1B Lancer during strike operations in Syria, Sept. 27, 2014. 

    Background on Congressional Authorization and the Constitution

    President Barack Obama laid out his strategy to the American people and to the United Nations — but the debate in Congress on whether he needs Congressional authorization for this mission against ISIS continues. The Constitution separates the power to declare war (Legislative Branch) from the power to conduct war (Executive Branch). In other words, Congress decides whether to fight, and the President, as Commander-in-Chief, manages the fight authorized by Congress.

    In the last century, Congress has authorized major military actions, including World War I and II, the Gulf War, the response to the 9/11 attacks, and the Iraq War. The 2001 authorization for the use of military force is the longest continuously used congressional use of force authorization.

    Congress's Response to the President

    The Obama Administration is using the 2001 authorization and the 2002 Iraq War authorization as approval for the military campaign against ISIS. However, some in Congress believe that the President should seek authorization for military action against ISIS, especially as the airstrikes continue. Congress did approve funding to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS, which was a part of the Continuing Resolution (HJRes 124).

    Speaker of the House John Boehner believes Congress should debate authorizing military action against ISIS in Syria "after the new Congress convenes in January," according to the New York Times.

    Meanwhile, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) are urging Speaker Boehner to bring Congress back to session for a debate and vote on the issue:

    1. "Speaker Boehner should recognize the gravity of this situation and call members of Congress back to Washington to vote on ongoing military actions in Iraq and Syria. Congress needs to fulfill its constitutional duties by having a robust debate and a vote on Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that is tailored to these specific actions. Military authorizations from a decade ago should not justify war policy today. Americans are wary of any expanded military campaigns and their voices should be heard through their elected representatives."

    Proposals Pending in Congress Regarding Military Action

    Before adjourning for recess, Members of Congress introduced several proposals authorizing military action:

    • HR 5415

      Authorization for Use of Military Force against International Terrorism Act

      —Bipartisan— "Authorizing the use of military force against international terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda and its affiliates, like al Nusra, Ansar al Sharia, al Shabaab and Boko Haram, while encouraging close coordination with NATO and regional allies on any action." According to the bill sponsor, Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), "the motive behind the bill is to end any ambiguity about the President's authority -- or the Congress' support -- for a US-led international coalition to disrupt and eliminate ISIS and al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups from committing genocide."

    • HJRes 125

      Authorizing Military Force Against ISIL; Sunsetting After 18 Months

      According to the resolution’s sponsor: would give temporary, tailored authority for the combat ongoing against ISIL in Iraq, and for strikes against ISIL targets in Syria; and would harmonize the legal authorities under which the President is authorized to take offensive action by sunsetting the 2002 Iraq AUMF immediately and then sunsetting both the new authorities and the 2001 AUMF eighteen months after the enactment of the joint resolution. Does not authorize the use of ground combat forces in Iraq or Syria.

    • SJRes 44

      Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State; Sunsetting in One Year

      Authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, with four key limitations, according to the resolution’s sponsor: 1) No US ground troops; 2) Repeal of the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force; 3) Sunset after one year; 4) Narrow definition of "associated forces."

    • HJRes 123

      Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

      —Bipartisan— According to the bill sponsor, "it’s past time for President Obama to define a course of action. The brutal murder of two American journalists was a shocking wake up call for the public, but the threat ISIL poses to America’s national interests has grown unchecked for some time. We need a strategic plan to stop the spread of their hateful ideology and violence. The defeat of ISIL must be a top priority – this resolution authorizes the use of force for a definite period and requires President Obama to develop and share his strategy with Congress and the American people."

    Find more bills related to military action against ISIS.

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  14. Issue Spotlight: The A-10 Thunderbolt and the F-35 Lightning

    In March 2014, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced that the Air Force is “severely, severely limited by the fiscal choices” after the "sequestration" related budget agreement. As a result, the Air Force announced it would retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support aircraft and the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. Instead, the Air Force will prioritize the joint strike fighter, the new aerial refueling tanker program and the long-range strike bomber. (Source: Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee)

    The decision to retire the A-10 has been a controversial one. “That is, I know, an extremely controversial area... But I want you to know we are absolutely committed to the close air support mission,” Secretary James explained. “We will not let it drop.”

    A-10 Thunderbolt (The Warthog)

    Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), John McCain (R-AZ), and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, oppose the retirement of the A-10, citing the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Ray Odierno. General Odierno believes that it's “the best close air support aircraft” and confirmed that the Army did not recommend that the Air Force retire the A-10. It's been known for flying "75 feet above the enemy position." (Read the Senators' article on the A-10.) Sen. Ayotte's husband, Joe, was an A-10 pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq and also served in the Air National Guard.

    1. Primary Function: Close air support, airborne forward air control, combat search and rescue 
    2. Fun Facts: Top speed: 439 mph; Range: 800 miles; Wingspan: 57'
    3. Contractor: Fairchild Republic Co.
    4. Unit Cost: $18.8 million
    5. Inventory: Active force, 187; Reserve, 49; ANG, 107

    Should Congress Retire the A-10 Aircraft?

    The Air Force proposed retiring the 283 A-10s remaining in the fleet by 2019 to save an estimated $4.2 billion over five years. And in June, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut the A-10 from the Air Force’s fleet. Days later, the House voted for an amendment to the Dept. of Defense Appropriations Act that prevents the Air Force from using appropriated funds to divest the A-10. (The full House adopted the amendment by Congresswoman Candice Miller (MI-10) by a 300 - 114 vote.)

    The Senate's Defense Appropriations bill proposes $338 million to maintain the A-10 fleet. (Read bill summary)

    Meanwhile, Members of Congress have also introduced a bill to prohibit the retirement of the A-10:

    • S 1764

      Limiting the retirement of the A-10

      (Also HR 3657 in the House) Prohibits the obligation or expenditure of any Department of Defense (DOD) funds to retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage any A-10 aircraft until: (1) the Secretary of the Air Force certifies that the F-35A aircraft has achieved full operational capability and Block 4A capabilities and that a sufficient number of F-35A aircraft exists in the Air Force inventory to replace the A-10 aircraft in order to meet close air support capability requirements of the combatant commands.

    F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter 

    Meanwhile, Congress has provided funds to build and maintain the F-35 Lightning II, "a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility," according to its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. They cite General Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff of the US Air Force: “When a 5th Generation fighter meets a 4th Generation fighter — [the latter] dies. We can't just dress up a 4th Generation fighter as a 5th Generation fighter; we need to get away from that conversation."

    The aircraft's "advanced airframe, autonomic logistics, avionics, propulsion systems, stealth, and firepower will ensure that the F-35 is the most affordable, lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used by so many warfighters across the globe," according to the Joint Strike Fighter Program. The F-35 is intended to replace the US Air Force A-10s and F-16s, US Navy F/A-18s, US Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18s, and UK Harrier GR7s and Sea Harriers, according to the Air Force.

    So far, the federal government has provided close to $400 billion in funding to develop and procure 2,457 F-35 aircraft through 2037. Fifty-two aircraft have been delivered through 2012, according to a 2013 GAO report.

    The Senate's Defense Appropriations Committee provides funding for 34 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the same as the President’s budget request. The House Appropriations Committee voted to support funding for 38 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for FY 15, an increase of four jets more than the President's budget. "In order to reduce costs, it is a priority to get the Joint Strike Fighter line to full rate production as soon as possible," explained Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX), who serves on the Committee.  

    1. Primary Function: Multirole fighter
    2. Fun Facts: Top speed: 1,199 mph; Range: 1,379 miles; Wingspan: 35'
    3. Contractor: Lockheed Martin
    4. Unit Cost: varies by version, $181 - $299.5 million (source)
    5. Versions: a conventional-takeoff-and-landing (CTOL) variant for the US Air Force, an aircraft-carrier version (CV) for the US Navy, and a short-takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) version for the US Marine Corps and the UK Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. 
    6. Inventory: 34 - 38 in FY 15. (The US military plans to acquire 2,457 F-35 aircraft in the future.)

    Related Bills

    Members of Congress have introduced proposals related to Air Force aircraft:

    • HR 5119

      C-130 Modernization Act

      (S 2758 in Senate) To authorize the Secretary of the Air Force to modernize C-130 aircraft using alternative communication, navigation, surveillance, and air traffic management program kits and to ensure that such aircraft meet applicable regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration.
    • HR 4230

      Limit the retirement of KC-10

      The KC-10 aircraft, which is the largest, newest, and most capable refueling aircraft currently in the military’s inventory, is a workhorse and vital to meeting air refueling mission taskings for the Arctic, Trans-Atlantic, and Pacific routes,” according to the bill sponsor.
    • HR 3125

      Bio-based fuel research

      To authorize the Secretary of the Air Force to make competitive grants to support research and development, education, and training to produce a bio-based aviation fuel for use by the Air Force and to provide an initial infusion of funds for the grant program.

    Photo credits: National Air Force Museum  and Air Force aircraft fact sheet 

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  15. The Week Ahead: Sept. 29 - Oct. 3

    From our Hill Sources: Congress is in recess until after the November elections. However, some members of Congress are calling on the House to return to debate and vote on authorizing military action against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). And this month marks the six-year anniversary of the initial application for the Keystone XL pipeline, which is still being debated in Congress.

    Also, Congress issued a report on cigarette marketing to young people, so we're spotlighting related bills. And the Senate is considering higher education affordability. Weigh in on POPVOX!

    Airstrikes Against ISIS

    US fighters and drone aircraft continue to strike targets tied to the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS or ISIL) as part of the President's "comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL." To conduct these strikes, the US employed Air Force and Navy attack and fighter aircraft. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates also participated in these strikes, according to CENTCOM.

    Background on Congressional Authorization and the Constitution

    President Barack Obama laid out his strategy to the American people and to the United Nations — but the debate in Congress on whether he needs Congressional authorization for this mission against ISIS continues. The Constitution separates the power to declare war (Legislative Branch) from the power to conduct war (Executive Branch). In other words, Congress decides whether to fight, and the President, as Commander-in-Chief, manages the fight authorized by Congress.

    In the last century, Congress has authorized major military actions, including World Wars I and II, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and the response to the 9/11 attacks. The 2001 authorization for the use of military force is the longest continuously used congressional use of force authorization.

    Congress's Response to the President

    The Obama Administration is using the 2001 authorization and the 2002 Iraq War authorization as approval for the military campaign against ISIS. However, some in Congress believe that the President should seek authorization for military action against ISIS, especially as the airstrikes continue. Congress did approve funding to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS, which was a part of the Continuing Resolution (HJRes 124).

    Speaker of the House John Boehner believes Congress should debate authorizing military action against ISIS in Syria "after the new Congress convenes in January," according to the New York Times.

    Meanwhile, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) are urging Speaker Boehner to bring Congress back to session for a debate and vote on the issue:

    1. "Speaker Boehner should recognize the gravity of this situation and call members of Congress back to Washington to vote on ongoing military actions in Iraq and Syria. Congress needs to fulfill its constitutional duties by having a robust debate and a vote on Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that is tailored to these specific actions. Military authorizations from a decade ago should not justify war policy today. Americans are wary of any expanded military campaigns and their voices should be heard through their elected representatives."

    Before adjourning for recess, several proposals regarding military action were introduced:

    • HR 5415

      Authorization for Use of Military Force against International Terrorism Act

      —Bipartisan— "Authorizing the use of military force against international terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda and its affiliates, like al Nusra, Ansar al Sharia, al Shabaab and Boko Haram, while encouraging close coordination with NATO and regional allies on any action." According to Congressman Wolf, "the motive behind the bill is to end any ambiguity about the President's authority -- or the Congress' support -- for a US-led international coalition to disrupt and eliminate ISIS and al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups from committing genocide."

    • HJRes 125

      Authorizing Military Force Against ISIL, Sunsetting After 18 Months

      According to the resolution’s sponsor: would give temporary, tailored authority for the combat ongoing against ISIL in Iraq, and for strikes against ISIL targets in Syria; and would harmonize the legal authorities under which the President is authorized to take offensive action by sunsetting the 2002 Iraq AUMF immediately and then sunsetting both the new authorities and the 2001 AUMF eighteen months after the enactment of the joint resolution. Does not authorize the use of ground combat forces in Iraq or Syria.

    • SJRes 44

      Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State; Sunsetting in One Year

      Authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, with four key limitations, according to the resolution’s sponsor: 1) No US ground troops; 2) Repeal of the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force; 3) Sunset after one year; 4) Narrow definition of “associated forces.”

    • HJRes 123

      Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

      —Bipartisan— According to the bill sponsor, "it’s past time for President Obama to define a course of action. The brutal murder of two American journalists was a shocking wake up call for the public, but the threat ISIL poses to America’s national interests has grown unchecked for some time. We need a strategic plan to stop the spread of their hateful ideology and violence. The defeat of ISIL must be a top priority – this resolution authorizes the use of force for a definite period and requires President Obama to develop and share his strategy with Congress and the American people."

    Find more bills related to military action against ISIS.

    Tobacco and E-Cig Marketing to Young People

    Last week, the Senate leadership and House Democrats released a report identifying tobacco and e-cigarette ads and images in magazines targeting teen readers. According to the report, "tobacco companies continue to glamorize smoking in advertisements in magazines with large youth readership" and that "magazines frequently contain alluring images of smokers in their editorial content." These advertisements and images appeared most frequently in Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, US Weekly, People and Time. (Read the report).

    Along with the report, the members of Congress wrote to the magazine publishers urging them to act to help reduce teen tobacco use: "We hope you will reconsider your policies and voluntarily act to reduce cigarette, e-cigarette, and other tobacco product advertising and cut the number of editorial and news images of cigarette, e-cigarette, and other tobacco product in your policies. Eliminating them will help reduce teen smoking, which is a goal we should all share." (Read the letters).

    Members of Congress have also introduced bills related to the selling and marketing of cigarettes and e-cigs to young people. Weigh in:

    Higher Education Affordability

    Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released for discussion a draft proposal for the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). "College affordability, skyrocketing student debt, accountability, and transparency – these are all very high-stakes issues for students and families," he explained. "The Higher Education Affordability Act seeks changes to our system of higher education in order to make a college education more affordable and accessible.”

    • Draft

      Higher Education Affordability Act (Draft)

      According to a Committee release, the draft "takes a comprehensive approach to rein in rising college costs and ensure the system is better serving students and families. The proposal focuses on four main goals: increasing college affordability, helping struggling borrowers, strengthening accountability, and improving transparency."

    Meanwhile, the House approved several HEA-related bills before leaving for recess:

    • HR 3136

      Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act

      —Bipartisan— Would "provide students new opportunities to receive a high-quality education in a way that best serves their personal and financial needs." --Passed by the House on July 23--

    • HR 4983

      Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act

      —Bipartisan— "Would improve consumer information to provide a more complete picture of all student populations, streamline existing transparency efforts at the federal level to reduce confusion for students, and require better coordination by federal agencies to avoid duplication and confusion," according to bill sponsors. --Passed by the House on July 23-- 

    • HR 4984

      Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act

      —Bipartisan— Would "promote financial literacy through enhanced counseling for all recipients of federal financial aid," according to bill sponsors. Ensures borrowers, both students and parents, who participate in the federal loan program receive interactive counseling each year that reflects their individual borrowing situation. Provides awareness about the financial obligations students and parents are accumulating by requiring borrowers to consent each year before receiving federal student loans. --Passed by the House on July 24--

    • HR 5134

      Extending two small HEA agencies

      —Bipartisan— To extend the operations of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity and the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance for one year. Their operations will cease Sept. 30 unless they are extended. --Passed by Congress on September 15, and is waiting to be signed into law by the President--

    • HR 3393

      Child Tax Credit Improvement Act and Student and Family Tax Simplification Act

      —Bipartisan— The legislation consolidates four existing education provisions — the Hope Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the Lifetime Learning Credit, and the tuition deduction — into a single, modernized and strengthened AOTC, according to bill sponsors. The new AOTC, which would be permanent and partially refundable, would provide a 100-percent tax credit for the first $2,000 of eligible higher education expenses and a 25-percent tax credit for the next $2,000 of such expenses (for a maximum credit of $2,500). The first $1,500 of the credit would be refundable, meaning that families could receive the benefit regardless of whether they have Federal income tax liability. --Passed by the House on July 24--

    Keystone XL Pipeline — Six Years Later

    This month marks six years since application to build the Keystone XL pipeline was first submitted. TransCanada has proposed laying 1,179 miles of pipe, 36 inches in diameter, that would connect oil producers in Canada’s tar sands region with refineries along the American Gulf Coast. The project has been extensively debated and studied — and the Obama Administration has not yet made a decision to approve the pipeline.

    Congress could pass legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, but the proposal failed to pass in the Senate in May. Then, Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-NV) had agreed to a vote to approve the pipeline — if Republicans agreed to a bipartisan energy efficiency bill. Republicans threatened a filibuster, which killed the energy efficiency bill and the subsequent pipeline vote.

    Weigh in on bills related to Keystone:

    • S 2823

      North American Energy Infrastructure Act

      —Bipartisan—  Eliminates the Presidential Permit requirement for projects crossing the national boundary between the US and Canada or Mexico and puts the decision making into the hands of appropriate agencies. Imposes a 120-day time limit on the State Department to either issue a certificate of crossing or deny a project approval following completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Focuses the NEPA process to the federal section of the pipeline – the portion that crosses the border and recognizes that the states are the ones to regulate the siting of pipelines within their boundaries, according to bill sponsors(A similar bill, HR 3301, passed the House on June 24, 2014.)
    • HR 334

      Keystone For a Secure Tomorrow Act

      Would "allow Congress to directly and immediately approve the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline," according to the sponsor.

    • HR 3

      Northern Route Approval Act

      —Bipartisan— To approve the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Keystone XL pipeline. --Passed the House on May 22, 2013--

    • S 2136

      Keystone Oil for American Consumers

      To ensure that oil transported through the Keystone XL pipeline into the US is used to reduce US dependence on Middle Eastern oil. "The Keystone XL pipeline would terminate in Port Arthur, Texas, which is a foreign trade zone, allowing for the re-export of the Canadian tar sands oil without paying taxes," according to the bill sponsor

    • S 2280

      Keystone Pipeline Approval

      —Bipartisan— "Would immediately authorize TransCanada’s application with the State Department to build the Keystone XL pipeline," according to the bill sponsors. "Would also finalize the environmental review process and respects existing private property rights." 

  16. The POPVOX Top 20: Sept. 19 - 25

    The most active proposal on POPVOX this week was about advancing a cure for Alzheimer's disease: HRes 489 is a bipartisan resolution calling on the US "to both engage in and lead a coordinated, international effort to advance work for the treatment, prevention and perhaps even a cure for Alzheimer’s disease as well as other forms of dementia," according to sponsors.

    Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States with a 68 percent increase in deaths caused by Alzheimer’s in the last ten years alone, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is expected to increase by 40 percent by 2025 and increase by 2.5 times to over 13 million by 2050. The WHO and Alzheimer’s Disease International 2012 Dementia Report estimates that there were 35.6 million people with dementia (including AD) worldwide in 2010. Beyond the human suffering, the global cost of this condition totaled $604 billion in 2010, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. (Learn more).

    This Saturday, the UC-Berkeley Golden Bears will be hosting the first collegiate football game dedicated to raising awareness for Alzheimer's disease. The game, which will also serve as Berkeley's home opener for the Pacific-12 Conference, is being promoted on Twitter via the hashtag #ENDALZ which is also promoting Alzheimer's fundraising events. 

    Weigh in on the Alzheimer's resolution and the other most active bills on POPVOX. We'll deliver your comment to Congress, guaranteed.

    Top 20 Bills of the Week

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    These are the bills and proposals that POPVOX users weighed in on with Congress in the past week. Keep in mind that these numbers aren't aggregates of total support, but just what happened in the past seven days.

    • HRes 489

      #1 Alzheimer's Resolution

      -- Bipartisan -- Calls on the US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enter into negotiations with the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop a Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Plan, according to sponsors. Also calls on the US government to encourage and facilitate partnerships with the private sector, such as the current partnership between the National Institutes of Health and 10 pharmaceutical companies to identify new approaches to treat Alzheimer’s. It states that the HHS Secretary along with the Secretary of the Treasury should develop the foundation for a Global Alzheimer’s Fund that would provide resources to support implementation of specific strategies to address AD.

      506 Support | 48 Oppose

    • HR 5522

      #2 ATF Elimination Act

      To abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, transfer its functions relating to the Federal firearms, explosives, and arson laws, violent crime, and domestic terrorism to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and transfer its functions relating to the Federal alcohol and tobacco smuggling laws to the Drug Enforcement Administration. "The ATF is a largely duplicative, scandal ridden agency that lacks a clear mission. It is plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges and a lack of leadership," according to the bill sponsor. "For decades it has been branded by high profile failures. There is also significant overlap with other agencies. At a time when we are approaching $18 trillion in debt, waste and redundancy within our federal agencies must be addressed. Without a doubt, we can fulfill the role of the ATF more efficiently."

      337 Support | 18 Oppose

    • S 2884

      #3 Changing the Redskins's name

      According to the bill sponsor, "American taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize a $9 billion league that promotes a dictionary-defined racial slur. It’s time to end the special tax breaks for the National Football League."

      23 Support | 246 Oppose

    • S 2828

      #4 Ukraine Freedom Support Act

      -- Bipartisan -- Imposes broad sanctions on Russia’s defense, energy, and financial sectors, as well as increases military and non-military assistance for Ukraine, according to bill sponsors. Requires the President to apply sanctions against Rosoboronexport and other Russian defense firms that contribute to instability in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Syria; companies worldwide that make significant investments in particular unconventional Russian crude oil energy projects; Gazprom, if the President determines that Gazprom is withholding significant natural gas supplies from member countries of NATO or further withholds such supplies from countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova. Authorizes the President to provide $350 million (in FY15) military assistance to Ukraine, including providing defense articles, defense services, and training to the Government of Ukraine for the purpose of countering offensive weapons and reestablishing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-armor weapons; crew weapons and ammunition; counter-artillery radars to identify and target artillery batteries; fire control, range finder, and optical and guidance and control equipment; tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment. Authorizes $50 million (in FY15) in short-term emergency energy assistance.

      74 Support | 185 Oppose

    • HR 5669

      #5 Revoking citizenship due to terrorist affiliation

      To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for the loss of nationality by native-born or naturalized citizens due to affiliation with designated foreign terrorist organizations.

      164 Support | 28 Oppose

    • HR 4813

      #6 Protection and Accountability Regulatory Act

      --Bipartisan-- "Would stop the Obama Administration’s rules for both new and existing power plants, and place a five-year moratorium on any similar rules," according to the bill sponsor.

      141 Support | 17 Oppose

    • HR 4

      #7 Jobs for America Act

      To make revisions to Federal law to improve the conditions necessary for economic growth and job creation. Consists of 15 House-passed bills "that will make various changes to federal law to improve the conditions necessary for economic growth and job creation," according to the House Rules Committee.

      121 Support | 36 Oppose

    • S 2865

      #8 Voter Registration Modernization Act

      To provide for voter registration through the Internet. According to the bill sponsor, "voting is one of our most sacred rights as Americans. Instead of adding new burdens, we should make voting easy for millions of people. Bringing our nation’s antiquated voter registration system into the 21st century is common sense. We must ensure that all states have secure online voter registration in order to make every voice heard at the ballot box."

      24 Support | 124 Oppose

    • HR 4569

      #9 Disclosure Modernization and Simplification Act

      To require the Securities and Exchange Commission to make certain improvements to form 10-K and regulation S-K.

      93 Support | 32 Oppose

    • HR 5418

      #10 IRS Emails

      Would prohibit officers and employees of the Internal Revenue Service from using personal email accounts to conduct official business. According to the bill sponsor"The American people demand a higher ethical standard from public servants in our government. As our investigation continues to expose the rot at the core of the IRS’s culture, we must put safeguards in place to ensure this breach of the public trust is never repeated. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant.’ My bills bring the operations of the IRS into the sunlight of public scrutiny, providing greater accountability for future generations of Americans." --Passed by the House on Sept. 17th --

      113 Support | 1 Oppose

    • HR 2555

      #11 Report on military assistance to Ukraine

      -- Bipartisan -- Expresses the sense of Congress that the President, working with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, should provide the armed forces of Ukraine with appropriate non-lethal military assistance and military training support requested by the government of Ukraine. Directs the Secretary of Defense (DOD), every 180 days until Jan. 31, 2017, to report to Congress regarding military assistance to Ukraine.

      91 Support | 15 Oppose

    • S 532

      #12 Same Day Registration Act

      According to the bill sponsor, "The right to vote is the foundation of effective democratic government. Voting is the only true way the American people can ensure their elected leaders are held accountable for their actions and decisions, and we should be doing everything we can to foster this right."

      15 Support | 87 Oppose

    • HR 5169

      #13 Senior Executive Service Accountability Act

      Would "give agencies the tools they need to better manage their senior executives and address areas of misconduct,” according to bill sponsors-- Passed the House on Sept. 16th --

      91 Support | 6 Oppose

    • HR 5405

      #14 Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act

      --Bipartisan-- To make technical corrections to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, to enhance the ability of small and emerging growth companies to access capital through public and private markets, to reduce regulatory burdens. The bill is a package of 11 bills.

      54 Support | 34 Oppose

    • SRes 524

      #15 Global Climate Change Resolution

      "Would simply express the sense of the Senate that climate change is occurring and that it will continue to pose ongoing risks and challenges to our citizens and to our country," according to the resolution sponsor.

      9 Support | 77 Oppose

    • HR 4137

      #16 Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act

      "Would prohibit individuals from using welfare benefit cards for purchases at marijuana stores, as well as forbid the withdrawal of welfare cash at ATMs in these stores. The legislation aligns with other commonsense prohibitions enacted in recent years such as preventing recipients from accessing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare benefits in liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs by adding stores selling marijuana to the list,” according to the bill sponsor-- Passed the House on Sept. 16th --

      70 Support | 8 Oppose

    • S 2685

      #17 USA Freedom Act

      -- Bipartisan -- "Would restore Americans’ privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records and requiring greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities," according to the bill sponsors. Bans bulk collection under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and other surveillance authorities, requires the government to narrow the scope of a search to a clearly defined "specific selection term," adds needed transparency and reporting requirements, and provides key reforms to the FISA Court. The bill builds on the House version of the USA Freedom Act (HR 3361), which passed in May.

      61 Support | 14 Oppose

    • HR 5226

      #18 Charlotte’s Web Medical Hemp Act

      --Bipartisan-- Would "ensure that children and individuals with epilepsy and other debilitating seizure disorders have access to life-changing Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil and therapeutic hemp." According to the bill sponsor, this legislation "in no way federally legalizes the recreational use of marijuana, nor is CBD marijuana; rather, the bill is an incremental approach to providing relief to those suffering from ailments that could benefit from CBD oil and therapeutic hemp." It also doesn’t legalize all forms of marijuana for medical use. It removes CBD oil and therapeutic hemp from the federal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. Therapeutic hemp is defined as having no more than .3% THC, which means it has no hallucinogenic effects of traditional marijuana.

      64 Support | 9 Oppose

    • S 2905

      #19 Carbon Pollution Transparency Act

      To require the Congressional Budget Office to calculate a carbon score for each bill or resolution.

      15 Support | 56 Oppose

    • HR 662

      #20 Prohibiting Contributions to UN Climate Change Efforts

      To prohibit the US from contributing taxpayer dollars to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), according to bill sponsor

      57 Support | 10 Oppose

  17. Issue Spotlight: Camp Lejeune

    Here's an example of sharing your voice, telling others to do so  and being heard by your elected officials in Washington, DC.

    Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune

    From 1957 to 1987 -- thirty years -- the water supply at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina was contaminated. "An estimated 750,000 people may have been exposed to probable and known human carcinogens," according to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. To date, it is the largest recorded environmental incident on a domestic Department of Defense installation.

    People Shared their Voice about the Contamination

    In the subsequent years, and decades, after the water contamination was detected, servicemembers and their families urged Congress to do something. And their stories were heart-felt. So much so that they inspired the POPVOX team to create the "+appreciate" function, enabling POPVOX users to say, "thank you -- and I *appreciate* you taking the time to share your story." 

    The Ensminger family's tragedy lead them to advocacy. As Jerry Ensminger explained on POPVOX about a Congressional proposal addressing the water contamination, originally called the Janey Ensminger Act:

    1. "This bill is named after my deceased daughter, Jane Y. Ensminger. She was the only one of my four children to have been conceived, carried, or born while living aboard Camp Lejeune. When Janey was six years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia and died shortly after her ninth birthday. Fourteen years later I discovered that the drinking water in several water distribution systems aboard Camp Lejeune were highly contaminated with a cocktail of chemicals (TCE, PCE, DCE, vinyl chloride, benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene, xylene, and methylene-chloride).

      One of the most shocking revelations I discovered in my nearly 15 year fight for justice on this issue was the fact that the Department of the Navy and United States Marine Corps knew about the presence of these chemicals in the water for nearly 5 years before they took any action to rectify the problem. They also had regulations which prohibited these chemicals from being in our water. All of us were at Camp Lejeune voluntarily serving to protect our nation, none of us expected or suspected that we were being poisoned by our own leaders...Jerry Ensminger."

      — jmeusmc (NC-7) (Link to comment

    And they were joined by hundreds of other POPVOX users who weighed in on this issue. Here are just a few of their comments:

    1. "My Mother died of several forms of cancer and my father had numerous pollups on his body, both were stationed at Camp LeJeune during the period of water contamination, and both died at young ages, I was stationed at Camp LeJeune during the contamination and I have experienced some of the same issues as my Mother and Father. I thank you for supporting this bill."

      — johnjhobrien (MO-5) (Link to comment) 

    2. "I am truly happy that after all these years the service members that were station in Camp Lejeune will finally have the healthcare that they so despertally need. I too am a Mariine that was stationed in Camp Lejeune from 1976 trhough 1979, and I too am suffering from so many medical problems, Thank you so much for not leaving a service member behind."

      — domingo.aguilar (CA-8) (Link to comment

    3. "I was stationed at Camp Lejeune in 1983 as a Navy Hospital Corpsman. I was diagnosed with advanced Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2005. My Doctor told me that it is caused by exposure to pesticides and other hazardous chemicals, and is incurable. I have undergone 32 rounds of chemotherapy at my own expense. I recently learned of this issue and feel that I remain faithful to my country, I now need my country to remain faithful to me, and my family, when I need to undergo further treatment. Semper Fi"

      — FreddyKeilman (NC-11) (Link to comment)

    4. "I am the daughter, grand daughter, and great-great niece of United States Marines. There are four generations of Marines in my family. Both my grandfather and my father were stationed at MCB Camp Lejeune. My father, mother, and older sister lived in NCO housing aboard Lejeune, at Knox Trailer park, part of Tarawa Terrace. My mother was pregnant with me when my father was TAD to a Naval Air Station between his 2nd and 3rd tours in Viet Nam. They left Lejeune after living there for 3.5 years. We never knew why my mother became so ill when I was just a little girl. So many things went wrong so quickly. We felt CURSED. She had blood issues that no one could explain. Neurological problems that defied diagnosis. My grandmother raise me until I was about 12 and could mostly take care of myself because my family was in shambles. At 18 yrs old, my sister was operated for uterine tumors, which returned. She managed to give birth to 3 children, but suffered 6 miscarriages. Her first son was born 2 months premature, with Spina Bifida, & congenital heart defects. I could go on, but my family DESERVES fair treatment."

      — OhioJarheadBrat (OH-8) (Link to comment

    Congress Listened

    In August 2012, Congress passed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act. It provides health care for Marines and family members who had lived on the base for at least 30 days and are suffering from related medical conditions. (Add your name to the Camp Lejeune registry, if you or your family are ill.) 

    While veterans began receiving care immediately after the law passed in 2012, it has taken longer for the VA to establish a reimbursement policy for medical care provided to military families who once lived on the base and were also exposed to the toxins in the water supply. The VA this week announced final regulations on health care services for veterans who served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between Jan. 1, 1957 and Dec. 31, 1987. The VA also developed regulations to reimburse eligible Camp Lejeune family members for out-of-pocket health care costs incurred for any of the 15 covered medical conditions listed in the 2012 law after other health insurance coverage and reimbursement is received. (Family members will be eligible to apply for this benefit next month.) (Learn more.)

    Next Steps in Congress

    A 2013 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) study found that the drinking water was contaminated as far back as 1953, four years earlier than previously thought. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) have introduced legislation that would extend health care coverage for Camp Lejeune veterans and their families back to 1953:

    In addition, Rep. GK Butterfield (D-NC) and Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced a bill that would "protect the ability of North Carolinians harmed by toxic chemicals to seek legal recourse, including Marines harmed by contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune":

    • HR 4993

      Seeking Legal Recourse

      (And S 2542 in the Senate.) To clarify the effect of State statutes of repose on the required commencement date for actions under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. "Clarifies that federal law preempts state laws that limit the timeframe in which damages could be recovered for injuries and diseases that often do not appear for decades after toxic exposure. " according to bill sponsors.

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  18. Issue Spotlight: Climate Change

    The UN Climate Summit, Sept. 23

    Yesterday, the United Nations hosted a Climate Summit "to engage leaders and advance climate action and ambition." The goal of the Summit is to "catalyze ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature."

    President Obama addressed the Summit, and announced that he is directing federal agencies to factor climate resilience into international development programs and investments. (Read his remarks.)

    1. "For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week -- terrorism, instability, inequality, disease -- there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate." -- President Obama

    New Executive Order on Climate-Resilient International Development

    In his speech, the President highlighted "the ambitious actions the US is taking under his Climate Action Plan, while stressing that all major economies must step up to the plate if we are to avoid the dangerous consequences of climate change." President Obama announced an Executive Order on Climate-Resilient International Development, requiring agencies to factor climate-resilience considerations systematically into the US government’s international development work and to promote a similar approach with multilateral entities. (Read the new Executive Order.)

    One of the key elements of the President's Climate Action Plan is to address the largest source of carbon emissions — the 32 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions that come from the power sector, mostly from coal-fired power plants. The "Clean Power Plan," a recent Environmental Protection Agency proposal, will for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants. With POPVOX, you can now tell the EPA what you think about the Clean Power Plan -- and we'll deliver your message to the EPA as a "public comment":

    • EPA

      EPA's Clean Power Plan

      By 2030, the plan will cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide; cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent; avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand. It will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program, according to the EPA.

    On June 23, the Supreme Court maintained the EPA's power to regulate green house gas emissions with only minor restrictions. This ruling is in addition to another decision earlier this term that allowed the EPA regulate air pollution that drift across state borders. The EPA is now able to regulate 83% of sources related to greenhouse gas emissions. 

    Related Bills in Congress

    Congress has also introduced several bills related to climate change and the EPA proposals. Here are a few pending before Congress:

    • HR 4813

      Protection and Accountability Regulatory Act

      --*Bipartisan*-- "Would stop the Obama Administration’s rules for both new and existing power plants, and place a five-year moratorium on any similar rules," according to the bill sponsor.
    • S 2533

      Agency PAYGO for Greenhouse Gases Act

      "Would limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to impose the costs of greenhouse gas (GHG) rules on other federal agencies without first providing an offset. Would prohibit the EPA from circumventing Congress to implement the President’s Climate Action Plan, including the EPA’s June 2, 2014 proposed regulations on carbon emissions from existing power plants," according to bill sponsors.
    • HR 4850

      Coal Jobs and Affordable Energy Protection Act

      To prevent the EPA’s proposed regulations from taking effect until the Department of Labor certifies that the regulations would not cost jobs; the Congressional Budget certifies that the regulations would not result in any loss in the gross domestic product; the Energy Information Administration certifies that the regulations would not increase electricity rates; the Federal American Electric Reliability Corporation certifies that electricity deliver would remain reliable.
    • S 2414

      Coal Country Protection Act

      To amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the regulation of emissions of carbon dioxide from new or existing power plants under certain circumstances. The bill would prevent the EPA’s proposed emissions rule from going into effect until the Department of Labor certifies that the rule will not cause a loss in the US GDP, the Department of Energy certifies that the rule will not increase electricity rates, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certifies that electricity delivery will remain viable.
    • HR 5034

      Stop the EPA Act

      To amend title 5, United States Code, to provide for certain special congressional review procedures for EPA rulemakings.
    • HR 4799

      Clean Air Fairness Act

      To amend the Clean Air Act to give States adequate time to revise their State implementation plans to prevent emissions activity within such States from contributing significantly to nonattainment in, or interfering with maintenance by, any other State with respect to any national ambient air quality standard.
    • HR 4808

      Protecting Jobs, Families, and the Economy From EPA Overreach Act

      --*Bipartisan*-- Requires that specific criteria be met before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can impose any new regulations on the nation’s power plants, including the controversial new rule recently announced by the Obama Administration, according to the bill sponsors.
    • S 2905

      Carbon Pollution Transparency Act

      To require the Congressional Budget Office to calculate a carbon score for each bill or resolution.
    • HR 4754

      Managed Carbon Price Act

      To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by requiring a Federal emission permit for the sale or use of covered substances. Would reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions and to help American industry transition to clean sources of energy, according to bill sponsors.
    • S 2526

      Commonsense Legislative Exceptional Events Reform (CLEER) Act

      "Would streamline Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations intended to ensure that states and localities are not considered in violation of federal air-quality standards due to uncontrollable, naturally occurring events – otherwise known as “exceptional events” – such as the dust storms and wildfires that occur in Arizona," according to bill sponsors.
    • S 2514

      Ozone Regulatory Delay and Extension of Assessment Length (ORDEAL) Act

      "Would give the EPA more time to review and revise air quality standards, ensuring a more certain regulatory environment for state air-quality agencies and businesses, according to bill sponsors.

    Additionally, there are several proposals related to global climate change:

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.

  19. Issue Spotlight: National Voter Registration Day

    Happy National Voter Registration Day!

    The midterm elections are coming up! Are you registered to vote? (You can register online.) Today might be a good day to sign up. Across the country, from Wilmington, DE to Cambridge, MA to Cincinnati, OH, volunteers will be registering people to vote as a part of National Voter Registration Day. Celebrities such as Russel Simmons and Fergie Duhamel have even joined the effort, promoting the day via Twitter with the hashtag "#CelebrateNVRD."

    According to the official National Voter Registration Day website, "In 2008, 6 million Americans didn't vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn't know how to register. In 2014, we want to make sure no one is left out. This single day of coordinated field, technology and media efforts will create pervasive awareness of voter registration opportunities--allowing us to reach tens of thousands of voters who we could not reach otherwise."

    Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley recognized the day in a statement:

    1. "Government works best when more people participate at the ballot box. We’re doing more, not less, to give young people, the mentally disabled, our military, and so many others the opportunity to make their voices heard in their communities, and exercise what Dr. Martin Luther King called, ‘civil right number one’ — the right to vote.”

    In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the crux of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing nine states -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia -- to change their election laws without advance federal approval. Chief Justice John Roberts explained that Congress can still go on an create new federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but they must do so based on contemporary data. 

    Weigh in on Bills Relating to Voter Registration

    • HR 12

      Voter Empowerment Act

      (And S 123 in the Senate.) To modernize voter registration, promote access to voting for individuals with disabilities, protect the ability of individuals to exercise the right to vote in elections for Federal office. According to the bill sponsor, "The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. Too many people in this country had to give their lives to exercise a right already guaranteed them by the Constitution. Outlawing the poll tax 49 years ago does not mean we are finished protecting democratic freedom. New challenges to equal access still arise today. To be a credible voice for equal justice abroad, we must be watchful here at home to alleviate every historic and current  impediment to the democratic process."

    • HR 2829

      Restoring Important Voter Eligibility Requirements to States Act

      To amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to require an applicant for voter registration for elections for Federal office to affirmatively state that the applicant meets the eligibility requirements for voting in such elections as a condition of completing the application, to require States to verify that an applicant for registering to vote in such elections meets the eligibility requirements for voting in such elections prior to registering the applicant to vote.

    • S 85

      FAST Voting Act

      A bill to provide incentives for States to invest in practices and technology that are designed to expedite voting at the polls and to simplify voter registration. According to the bill sponsor, "the November 2012 elections were a wake-up call. Tens of thousands of Americans, including Republicans and Democrats in both 'red states' and 'blue states,' saw their fundamental right to vote for the candidate of their choice eroded by exceptionally long lines and confusing procedures in well over a dozen states. It does not have to be this way. We can pass the FAST Voting Act to accelerate the adoption of efficient and effective practices for administering elections."

    • S 2865

      Voter Registration Modernization Act

      To provide for voter registration through the Internet. According to the bill sponsor, "voting is one of our most sacred rights as Americans. Instead of adding new burdens, we should make voting easy for millions of people. Bringing our nation’s antiquated voter registration system into the 21st century is common sense. My legislation will strengthen New York’s efforts to make every vote count. We must ensure that all states have secure online voter registration in order to make every voice heard at the ballot box."

    • S 1336

      Permitting States to require proof of citizenship for voter registration in Federal elections

      To permit States to require proof of citizenship for registration to vote in elections for Federal office. According to the bill sponsor, "The right to vote is a fundamental building block of our nation’s democratic process and it is crucial that we have the measures in place to uphold the integrity of our elections. This bill ensures that states can enforce the commonsense requirement that those registered to vote must actually be U.S. citizens."

    • HR 2115

      Voter Registration Efficiency Act

      To amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to require an individual who applies for a motor vehicle driver’s license in a new State to indicate whether the new State is to serve as the individual’s residence for purposes of registering to vote in elections for Federal office.

    • HR 1280

      Voter Fraud Prevention Act

      To amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to increase the penalties imposed for intimidating, threatening, or coercing any person from engaging in voter registration activities or for procuring, submitting, or casting false voter registration applications or ballots, to require election officials to transmit voter registration cards and absentee ballots to voters in elections for Federal office through the use of the automated tagging and tracing services provided by the United States Postal Service.

    • S 532

      Same Day Registration Act

      According to the bill sponsor, "The right to vote is the foundation of effective democratic government. Voting is the only true way the American people can ensure their elected leaders are held accountable for their actions and decisions, and we should be doing everything we can to foster this right."

    • S 2235

      Democracy Restoration Act

      A bill to secure the Federal voting rights of persons when released from incarceration. According to the bill sponsor, "The Democracy Restoration Act would restore voting rights in federal elections to approximately 5.8 million citizens who have been released from prison and are back living in their communities...The legislation would restore voting rights to prisoners after their release from incarceration. It requires that prisons receiving federal funds notify people about their right to vote in federal elections when they are leaving prison, sentenced to probation, or convicted of a misdemeanor."

    • HJRes 44

      A Constitutional Right to Vote

      Proposing an amendment to the US Constitution regarding the right to vote. "Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides." 

    • HCRes 17

      National Voting Rights Act Mobilization Day

      Expressing the sense of Congress that a day should be designated as “National Voting Rights Act Mobilization Day."
  20. The Week Ahead: Sept. 22 - 26

    From our Hill Sources: Congress is in recess (again). Previously, we had reported that the Senate would be in session (including weekends) until Sept. 23rd. And the House would be in session until Oct. 2nd. But both the Senate and the House adjourned last week to hit the campaign trail. They won't be back until after the November elections. The Senate didn't work over the weekend, and according to our Hill Sources, they haven't worked a full week all year.

    Here's a recap of what they accomplished in the past two weeks, after their five-week August recess. While our elected leaders may be out on the campaign trail, it's important to note that their staffers are still on the Hill, responding to constituents. So keep weighing in on POPVOX.

    On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver remarks at the UN's Climate Summit. You can see recent proposals in Congress that address carbon pollution. We've also created a place on POPVOX where our users can weigh in on a recent Environmental Protection Agency proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. 

    More than 500 New Bills and Resolutions Introduced

    In the two weeks after their August recess and before leaving for recess, Members of the House introduced almost 330 bills and resolutions. Senators introduced 175 bills and resolutions. (That's a lot!) Take a look at what they introduced on our "New Bills" page.

    Some of the bills introduced before Congress adjourned included: changing the Redskins' name; revoking the citizenship of individuals affiliated with designated foreign terrorist organizations; prohibiting accessing porn websites from Federal computers; increasing funding for domestic violence prevention programs, paid for by closing a tax loophole used by professional sporting leagues, and making it illegal for businesses to penalize customers who write negative reviews on Yelp or other online review sites.

    Shutdown Averted

    Last week, the House and Senate agreed on a "continuing resolution", or CR, that will keep the government operating even after regular appropriations acts have expired. President Obama signed the $1 trillion spending bill Friday afternoon. The bill also authorizes the President's plans to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). In addition, it extends the charter for the Export-Import Bank through June 30, 2015, and it provides additional funding to combat the Ebola epidemic and for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    • HJRes 124

      Continuing Appropriations Resolution

      A short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2014. The legislation continues funding for government programs and services at the current annual cap rate of $1.012 trillion until Dec. 11, 2014. This rate of funding will remain in place for the length of the CR, or until Congress approves annual Appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2015. In addition, the bill includes an amendment, adopted on the House floor, to authorize the training and equipping of Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as requested by the President, according to the House Appropriations Committee. -- Passed the House and Senate on Sept. 18th; and signed into law by the President on Sept. 19th. --

    However, according to the House Appropriations Committee, "the CR does include some changes to existing law that are needed to prevent catastrophic, irreversible, or detrimental changes to government programs, to address current national or global crises, or to ensure good government." These provisions are funded within the total level of funding in the legislation. Some of these provisions include:

    1. Extending expiring Dept. of Defense activities, including counter-drug operations, support to the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, and rewards for assistance in combatting terrorism.
    2. Continuing a surge in funding for State Dept. programs to counter regional aggression toward Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries.
    3. Ensuring appropriate treatment of veterans and continued oversight of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, such as additional funds for disability claims processing, and funds for investigations into potential improper conduct including “waitlist” and “whistleblower” allegations.
    4. Allowing funding flexibility for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to maintain staffing levels, border security operations, detention space, and immigration enforcement activities.
    5. Addressing the recent Ebola crisis, including additional funding to accelerate HHS research on Ebola therapies, and additional funding for the Centers for Disease Control’s response to the growing outbreak in Africa.
    6. Allowing additional funds to offset food price increases in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to ensure that no current recipients are removed from the program.
    7. Allowing funding flexibility to maintain weather satellite programs, ensuring the continuation of data for weather warnings and forecasts, including forecasts of severe weather events.
    8. Allowing the continuation of current funding for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.
    9. Extending the operating authority for the Export-Import Bank through June 30, 2015. A provision extending the Internet Tax Freedom Act through the period of the CR ending on December 11, 2014.

    Appropriations During the "Lame Duck"

    From our Hill Sources: We can expect to see the 12 appropriations bills combined into an omnibus spending bill in the "lame-duck session," after November’s midterm elections.

    Here are the appropriations bills that Congress has been working on:

    1. Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Approps: HR 4800 in the House and S 2389 in the Senate
    2. Commerce/Justice/Science Approps: HR 4660, passed by the House on May 30th; and S 2437 in the Senate.
    3. Defense Approps: HR 4870, passed by the House on June 20th.
    4. Energy & Water Approps: HR 4923, passed by the House on July 10th.
    5. Financial Services Approps: HR 5016, passed by the House on July 16th.
    6. Homeland Security Approps: HR 4903 in the House.
    7. Interior & Environment Approps: HR 5171 in the House.
    8. Legislative Branch Approps: HR 4487, passed by the House on May 1st.
    9. Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Approps: HR 4486, passed by the House on April 30th.
    10. State/Foreign Operations Approps: HR 5013 and S 2499 in the Senate.
    11. Transportation/HUD Approps: HR 4745, passed by the House on June 10th; and S 2438 in the Senate.

    Job Creation Package in the House

    Job creation has been a priority of the new House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). (See his priorities for September.) Last week, the House passed a package bill which consisted of 15 bills that they had previously already passed.

    From our Hill Sources: It's unlikely that the Senate will consider this package of bills.

    • HR 4

      Jobs for America Act

      To make revisions to Federal law to improve the conditions necessary for economic growth and job creation. 

    The Jobs for America Act consists of 15 House-passed bills "that will make various changes to federal law to improve the conditions necessary for economic growth and job creation," according to the House Rules Committee:

    1. Save American Workers Act (HR 2575): --Bipartisan-- Repeals Obamacare’s 30-hour definition of full-time employment and the 120-hours-per- month definition of full-time equivalents, and replaces those thresholds with 40-hours- per-week for full-time employees and 174-hours-per-month for full-time equivalents. -- Passed by the House on Apr. 3, 2014 -- 
    2. Hire More Heroes Act (HR 3474):  --Bipartisan-- Incentivizes businesses to hire veterans by excluding them from Obamacare’s employer mandate threshold. Amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to permit an employer, when determining whether it must provide health care coverage to its employees under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), to exclude employees who have coverage under a healthcare program administered by the Department of Defense (DOD). This includes TRICARE or coverage provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). -- Passed by the House on March 11, 2014 -- 
    3. American Research and Competitiveness Act (HR 4438):  --Bipartisan-- Makes the R&D Tax Credit permanent, paving the way for increased innovation and investment in the U.S. Makes permanent and increases to 20 percent the alternative simplified method for calculating the research credit. -- Passed by the House on May 9, 2014 -- 
    4. America's Small Business Tax Relief Act (HR 4457):  --Bipartisan-- Makes section 179 expensing permanent ensuring that our small businesses have the certainty they need to grow their businesses and create jobs. Makes permanent the maximum expensing allowance at $500,000 and the phaseout threshold at $2 million. -- Passed by the House on June 12, 2014 -- 
    5. S Corporation Permanent Tax Relief Act (HR 4453):  --Bipartisan-- Provides the necessary flexibility for S corporations to access capital and make new investments. Amends the Internal Revenue Code to reduce from 10 to 5 years the period during which the built-in gains of an S corporation are subject to tax and to make such reduction permanent. -- Passed by the House on June 12, 2014 -- 
    6. Bonus depreciation (HR 4718):  --Bipartisan-- Making bonus depreciation permanent in order to lower the cost of capital for businesses. Makes permanent the 50-percent additional first-year depreciation deduction for qualified property. -- Passed by the House on June 11, 2014 -- 
    7. Repeal of the Medical Device Tax: (Passed by the House as part of HJRes 59--Bipartisan-- Repeals the excise tax on medical device manufacturers and importers.
    8. Small Business Capital Access and Job Preservation Act (HR 1105):  --Bipartisan-- Scales back costly Dodd-Frank Act regulations so that more capital can be invested in small- and medium-sized businesses. Provides an exemption from SEC registration for advisers to private equity funds that are not leveraged and that do not have outstanding a principal amount in excess of twice their funded capital commitments. -- Passed by the House on Dec. 4, 2013 -- 
    9. Small Business Mergers, Acquisitions, Sales, and Brokerage Act (HR 2274):  --Bipartisan-- Exempts certain brokers from onerous regulations when they facilitate the purchase or sale of businesses so that more capital can be used to innovate and create jobs. -- Passed by the House on Jan. 14, 2014 -- 
    10. Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act (HR 899):  --Bipartisan-- Equips Congress and the public with tools to determine the true costs of regulations. Provides for a Committee chairman or ranking member to request that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) perform an assessment comparing the authorized level of funding in a bill or resolution to the prospective costs of carrying out any changes to a condition of Federal assistance being imposed on state, local, or tribal governments.  -- Passed by the House on Feb. 28, 2014 -- 
    11. Achieving Less Excess in Regulation and Requiring Transparency (ALERRT) Act (HR 2804): promotes jobs, better wages, and economic growth through regulatory reform. -- Passed by the House on Feb. 27, 2014 -- 
    12. Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (HR 367): ensures that Congress votes on all new major rules before they can be enforced. Requires passage of a joint resolution of approval for a major rule before it can take effect. -- Passed by the House on Aug. 2, 2013 -- 
    13. Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (HR 3086):  --Bipartisan-- Protects internet access for all Americans and fosters growth in the digital economy. Permanently extends the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), which generally prohibits states and local governments from taxing Internet access or placing multiple or discriminatory taxes on Internet commerce.   -- Passed by the House on July 15, 2014 -- 
    14. Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (HR 1526): will put Americans back to work by promoting responsible timber production. Requires the Forest Service to produce at least half of the sustainable annual yield of timber each year and share 25 percent of receipts with the counties. Protects the environment by requiring projects to complete National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultations.   -- Passed by the House on Sept. 20, 2013 -- 
    15. National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act (HR 761):  --Bipartisan-- Allows the U.S. to develop resources that are critical to our economic competiveness.   -- Passed by the House on Sept. 18, 2013-- 

    Energy Package in the House

    The House employed the same package strategy around energy issues, passing a package that included a half-dozen bills, all of which had already been passed previously by the House:

    • HR 2

      American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act

      To remove Federal Government obstacles to the production of more domestic energy; to ensure transport of that energy reliably to businesses, con- sumers, and other end users; to lower the cost of energy to consumers; to enable manufacturers and other businesses to access domestically produced energy affordably and reliably in order to create and sustain more secure and well-paying American jobs.

    The American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act (HR 2) includes the following Energy and Commerce Committee bills:

    1. Northern Route Approval Act (HR 3):   --Bipartisan-- "to end the regulatory delays blocking construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and finally allow the job-creating project to proceed after nearly six years of review. The bill would eliminate the need for a Presidential Permit, address all other necessary federal permits, and limit litigation that could further block the project’s construction." -- Passed by the House on May 22, 2013 -- 
    2. Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act (HR 1900):   --Bipartisan--  "will expedite and modernize the federal review process for natural gas pipeline permits to help facilitate the construction of new pipeline infrastructure needed to help transport the nation’s growing natural gas supply to markets and consumers. The bill sets reasonable deadlines for review and helps hold agencies involved in the permitting process accountable. Despite the country’s growing supplies of natural gas, consumers in many areas of the country are still suffering from high heating prices due to a lack of adequate pipeline infrastructure. Consumers along the East Coast were hit particularly hard during last year’s Polar Vortex. This bill will get much-needed pipelines in the ground quicker, delivering relief to families and businesses across the country. -- Passed by the House on Nov. 21, 2013 -- 
    3. North American Energy Infrastructure Act (HR 3301):   --Bipartisan-- "will create a more modern and efficient cross-border approval process for oil pipelines, natural gas pipelines, and electric transmission lines that traverse the borders of the United States. The bill applies the lessons learned from the Keystone XL process, and will ensure that energy projects no longer fall victim to years of delay and red tape just because they cross an international border. Implementing a fair and standardized approval process for cross-border energy projects will help bring certainty to the regulatory process, encourage investment in job-creating energy infrastructure, and strengthen our partnership with Canada and Mexico toward achieving North American energy independence." -- Passed by the House on June 21, 2014 -- 
    4. Energy Consumers Relief Act (HR 1582): "will help protect consumers from higher energy costs by increasing transparency for major EPA regulations. It requires that before EPA finalizes any new energy-related rules estimated to cost more than $1 billion, the agency must submit a report to Congress detailing certain cost, benefit, energy price, and job impacts. The Secretary of Energy, in consultation with other relevant agencies, then must make a determination regarding the impacts of the rule. EPA would be prohibited from finalizing certain rules if the rule is determined to cause significant adverse effects to the economy." -- Passed by the House on Aug. 1, 2013 -- 
    5. Electricity Security and Affordability Act (HR 3826):   --Bipartisan-- "will protect a diverse electricity portfolio, which is needed to provide affordable and reliable energy to American households and businesses. According to EIA, electricity prices are already at the highest rate in five years, and EPA’s proposed power plants rules will cause rates to spike even further. Whitfield’s legislation directs EPA to adopt workable standards for new coal-fired plants that require technologies that have been adequately demonstrated and are commercially feasible. It would also instruct Congress to set the effective date for EPA’s regulations for existing plants." -- Passed by the House on March 6, 2014 -- 
    6. Thermal Insulation Efficiency Improvement Act (HR 4801):   --Bipartisan-- "will help identify opportunities for federal agencies to use energy and water more efficiently. The bill requires the Department of Energy to evaluate and report potential energy savings available to federal agencies through greater use of thermal insulation."-- Passed by the House on March 6, 2014 -- 
    7. Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act (HR 6):   --Bipartisan--  "will help speed up the Department of Energy’s approval of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. Increasing U.S. LNG exports would help boost the U.S. economy while increasing global energy security, and this legislation would bring certainty to the export approval process to ensure the U.S. does not miss this window of opportunity. -- Passed by the House on June 25, 2014 -- 

    The UN Climate Summit, Sept. 23

    Tomorrow, the United Nations is hosting a Climate Summit "to engage leaders and advance climate action and ambition." The goal of the Summit is to "catalyze ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature." President Obama will deliver remarks at the Climate Summit. 

    We'd like to spotlight the "Clean Power Plan," a recent Environmental Protection Agency proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The EPA's Clean Power Plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program. 

    With POPVOX, you can now tell the EPA what you think about the Clean Power Plan -- and we'll deliver your message to the EPA as a "public comment":

    • EPA

      EPA's Clean Power Plan

      By 2030, the plan will: cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide; cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent; avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand. It will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program, according to the EPA.

    On June 23, the Supreme Court maintained the EPA's power to regulate green house gas emissions with only minor restrictions. This ruling is in addition to another decision earlier this term that allowed the EPA regulate air pollution that drift across state borders. The EPA is now able to regulate 83% of sources related to greenhouse gas emissions. 

    Ready for candidate ads this campaign season?

    With Congress hitting the campaign trail -- we know one thing is certain: political ads across the airwaves. At some point many candidates will face the notorious political decision of whether or not to "go negative" with their advertising -- attacking the record, and in many cases the character, of an opponent. POPVOX is teaming up with the National Institute for Civil Discourse in their "Respect or Reject" campaign, a nonpartisan effort to let people share their opinions on campaign ads. Tell Congress what you think about political advertising and going negative

    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 an overwhelmingly complex legislative system.