The Week Ahead: Sept. 21 – 26

It’s a short week, with Congress out for Yom Kippur on Wednesday and a papal visit on Thursday: Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress, with remarks that are expected to make both sides of the aisle nod and squirm. The Senate will vote on a 20-week abortion ban while the specter of a government shutdown continues to loom. The President will welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday after a late-breaking agreement over the weekend meant the US will not impose sanctions for Chinese cyberhacking.

Pope Francis to Address Congress

Pope Francis to address Congress

At the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress. Approximately 31% of Congress is Catholic, including Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi, as compared to 22% of the American public.

Pope Expected to Discuss Climate Change

While the content of the Pontiff’s speech have not been released, speculation has been enough for at least one Catholic House Member to announce plans to boycott the speech: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) penned an op-ed explaining his objections to reports that the Pope will focus the speech on climate change.

In contrast, eleven conservative Members of Congress signed onto a resolution expressing commitment to “conservative environmental stewardship.”

Expressing the Commitment of the House of Representatives to Conservative Environmental Stewardship (HRes 424)

Sponsor: Rep. Christopher Gibson [R, NY]

In June, the Pope issued an “encyclical” (a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church) on Climate Change, stating: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods… It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

Senator Al Franken introduced a resolution expressing agreement with the encyclical:

A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the "Laudato Si" encyclical of Pope Francis, and global climate change. (SRes 244)

Senate Vote on 20-week Abortion Ban

As foreshadowed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during last week’s Planned Parenthood discussions, the Senate will vote Tuesday on a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. The bill is not expected to reach the 60-vote cloture requirement, but will give Senators another opportunity to go on the record on the issue.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (HR 36)

Sponsor: Rep Trent Franks (R-AZ) Prohibits an abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater (with exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother). The bill has passed the House.

Government Shutdown Looms

House conservatives are standing strong on a demand for defunding of Planned Parenthood to be included in a must-pass spending bill to keep the government operating beyond September 30. Appropriations Chair, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) recently explained that Con­gress cannot ac­tu­ally change the status of Planned Par­ent­hood’s fed­er­al funds in a short-term con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion be­cause they are al­lot­ted through Title X grants that have already been giv­en out. Last week, the House passed a "standalone" bill to defund Planned Parenthood:

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act (HR 3134)

Sponsor: Rep Diane Black (R-AZ) prohibits federal funds for any purpose to Planned Parenthood or affiliates for one year unless they certify that no abortions will be performed during that period.

From our Hill sources: Republican Leadership would like to see a CR that funds the government until December 11. Democrats prefer a shorter term CR to give incentive for a longer term bill to be negotiated (that would take spending through 2016) with their priorities, including: avoiding a showdown on increasing the debt limit, lifting Sequester limits, limiting any changes to Dodd-Frank, reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. Ironically, the more COnservatives push and make Democratic votes necessary to keep the government open, the more leverage Democrats have on these priorities.

A "Clean" CR, which House Leadership and Democrats want, could upset House Conservatives and lead to a leadership battle in the House with a privileged "motion to vacate the chair" on tap. In that case, Speaker Boehner could find himself depending on Democratic votes to retain his gavel.

Declaring the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives vacant. (HRes 385)

Sponsor: Rep Mark Meadows (R-NC)

Chinese President Arrives for State Visit

President of China, Xi Jinping, will arrive in Washington on Wednesday for a state visit that almost began with sanctions in response to Chinese cyberespionage. After an all-night negotiating session on Friday, officials announced that an agreement had been reached and sanctions would not be be imposed before the visit. Some in Congress, however, are encouraging the President to act:

Expressing the sense of Congress that the President in consultation with the Department of the Treasury should apply economic sanctions against Chinese businesses and state-owned enterprises that can be linked to cyberattacks against United States entities. (HConRes 78)

Sponsor: Rep Joe Wilson (R-SC)

Also in the House:

This week House will rename approximately twelve federal buildings and post offices and consider the RAPID Act:

The Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act (RAPID) (HR 348)

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) says the bill is "a way to reform and expedite the approval and completion of critical energy and infrastructure projects." "Everybody agrees that new or improved infrastructure is needed in nearly every corner of America. Everybody agrees lower energy costs mean more money in their pockets. And everybody agrees that approving critically important economic projects should be simple. This is exactly what my RAPID Act does. It streamlines, it eliminates duplicative processes, it rewards good environmental stewardship and it aids our economy," said Rep. Marino.

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

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The Week Ahead: Sept. 13 – 17

From our Hill Sources: Congress bounded back from recess with sound and fury — and the (short) week ahead will bring more of the same: heated debate on the Iran Deal and intractable positions on Planned Parenthood funding threatening a government shutdown if it holds up a continuing resolution. Beneath the turbulent surface, however, new data shows that bipartisanship is on a rebound!

Iran Deal will proceed. Opponents will keep fighting.

The Iran Nuclear Deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) will proceed; but challenges to it will continue. Last week, forty-three Democrats blocked a vote in the Senate to “disapprove” the Iran Deal, effectively guaranteeing that no such bill emerge from Congress. 

On Sunday, Leader McConnell said that President Obama "won the 'short-term battle' because Congress will not be able to block the Iran nuclear deal. … but believes the issue has a 'long shelf life' and that the debate will continue until Americans 'render judgment' on Election Day 2016." (Source: Fox News)

The Senate will hold an additional vote to disapprove the Iran Deal on Tuesday at 6 PM, though there is no indication the result will be different.

The House took several votes last week aimed at Members on the record and pursuig any possible roadblocks for the deal.

  • HR 411: a resolution declaring that: " the President has not complied with provisions of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 requiring transmission to Congress of nuclear agreements with Iran and related verification assessments because the communication from the President did not constitute the agreement as defined by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954; and the period for review by Congress of nuclear agreements with Iran under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 has not commenced because the agreement has not yet been transmitted to the appropriate congressional committees and leadership."
  • HR 3460: a bill blocking the President’s ability to lift sanctions on Iran until January 21, 2017
  • HR 3461: a bill stating that Congress "favors the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action relating to Iran's nuclear program" 

From our Hill sources: The statutory Congressional review period of the Iran deal ends on September 17.

Planned Parenthood Funding and the Looming Government Shutdown

Authorization for government spending ends on October 1. The government will shut down if a continuing resolution ("CR") is not passed before then. Thirty-one Republicans have vowed to oppose any CR that does not explicitly de-fund Planned Parenthood. The President has vowed to veto any bill that has such a provision (in the unlikely event that one could get past the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.) 

This week House Leadership will attempt to satisfy Planned Parenthood opponents by holding a standalone de-funding vote (separate from the CR.) The bill will be a chance for Members to go on the record, but is not expected to advance in the Senate.

  • The Defund Planned Parenthood Act (HR 3134) Sponsor: Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) — prohibits federal funds for any purpose to Planned Parenthood or affiliates for one year unless they certify that no abortions will be performed during that period.

From our Hill sources: Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has said that he would  support a “clean” measure to fund the government and avoid a government shutdown. Ironically, if a clean funding bill requires votes from Democrats to pass, it may allow Democrats to make demands on a longer term spending bill. Regarding Planned Parenthood funding, McConnell told Politico: “What we are going to do is move to the pain-capable [abortion] bill sometime this month and see how people feel about that,” he said.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (HR 36) Sponsor: Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) — Prohibits an abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater

​From our Hill sources: The President has said he would veto the 20-week ban, which would set up a vote in the Senate to override (requiring 67 votes.)

This week the House will also vote on:

  • The Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (No bill number or summary available yet) Sponsor: Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)

Bipartisanship on the Rise

According to our friends at Quorum Analytics (as reported by Vox), Congress is not as divided as it has been:

while bipartisan bill writing is still well below its historical average levels, it has bounced back — especially in the Senate — from the nadir it reached in the 112th Congress.

Also in the House this week

The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA) (HR 758)

Sponsor: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

"LARA restores accountability to our legal system by penalizing lawyers for filing baseless lawsuits. The bill specifically ensures that judges impose monetary sanctions against lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits, including the attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the victim of the frivolous lawsuit; and reverses the 1993 amendments to Rule 11 that allow parties and their attorneys make frivolous claims without penalty by withdrawing them within 21 days." — Source: House Judiciary Committee


The House will also vote on the following legislation this week:

  • H.R. 2961: To establish a research, development, and technology demonstration program to improve the efficiency of gas turbines used in combined cycle and simple cycle power generation systems  |  Sponsor: Rep. Paul Tonko 
  • S. 230 – To provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation located in Bethel, Alaska  |  Sponsor: Sen. Lisa Murkowski 
  • S. 501 – New Mexico Navajo Water Settlement Technical Corrections Act  |  Sponsor: Sen. Tom Udall

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

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Bills to honor 9/11 victims and provide treatment for first responders

9/11/15: Today marks the fourteenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. President Obama will mark the solemn occasion at Fort Meade.

We remember and honor those who perished, offer deepest sympathies to the families, and express our gratitude to those heroes who rushed in.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to honor those who died and to provide medical care for first responders. We highlight those below. Click through to share your thoughts with Congress.

Bills to extend the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program

The original September 11th Victims Compensation Fund operated from 2001-2004. On January 2, 2011, President Obama signed into law the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which re-authorized the VCF, allowing individuals who became ill or died after the original VCF closed to be compensated for economic damages and losses stemming from their physical injuries. Current authorization from the VCF ends in October 2015.

On September 6, 2015, Special Master of the VCF, Sheila Birnbaum, reported that to date, the VCF has found 12,150 people eligible for compensation in claims totalling $1,443,475,952.82.

James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act (S 928) — bipartisan —

Senate Sponsor: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY)

James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act (HR 1786) — bipartisan —

House Sponsor: Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D, NY-12)

The bills would extend the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program Fund indefinitely and index appropriations to the medical care component of the consumer price index for urban consumers.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the bill in June.

Bill to Release Documents Related to the 9/11 Attacks

Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act of 2015 (S 1471) — bipartisan —

Senate Sponsor: Sen. Rand Paul (R, KY)

This bill "requires the President to declassify and release to the public the previously redacted portions of the report on the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001, filed in the Senate and the House of Representatives on December 20, 2002, including all the material under the heading "Part Four–Findings, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters." CRS Summary

"I firmly believe the family members of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have the right to know the details surrounding the tragedies that occurred on that sad day. The American people deserve a government that instills trust and a restoration of their sense of security, and I believe that the Transparency for the Families of the 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act is a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Paul upon introduction of the bill.


Making the World Trade Center site a National Monument

Representative Tom MacArthur (R, NJ-3) has introduced a bill designating the National September 11 Memorial located at the World Trade Center in New York City, New York, as a national memorial.

National 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center Act (HR 3036) — bipartisan —


— Highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

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The Week Ahead: Sept. 8 – Sept. 11

From our Hill Sources: Congress' "crazy busy" Awful Autumn is upon us, as Members make their way back to Washington to work on a long list of outstanding issues with very few legislative days scheduled (15 for the Senate, 10 for the House.) Avoiding a government shutdown and a vote on the Iran Deal, are on the short-term agenda, with much more ahead in the coming weeks.

Congress Expected to Disapprove — But Not Stop — the Iran Deal

World Leaders announce the Iran Deal

On August 4, 2015, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the European Union announced a nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On July 19, the State Department officially transmitted the agreement to Congress, triggering the 60-day Congressional review period set by legislation passed by Congress in May. During this review period, Congress must vote on a joint resolution of approval or disapproval (or opt to do nothing). The 60-day review period expires on Sept. 17, 2015.

This week, the House and Senate will vote on a joint resolution to disapprove the Iran Deal. The President has said he will veto the resolution. Last week, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) became the 34th Senator to support the deal, ensuring that the Senate will not have sufficient votes to override a Presidential veto. See "A Guide to Congress' Upside-Down Vote on Iran" from the AP.

Disapproving of the agreement transmitted to Congress by the President on July 19, 2015, relating to the nuclear program of Iran (HJRes 64)

Sponsor: Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA-39) States that Congress does not favor the nuclear agreement with Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) transmitted by the President to Congress on July 19, 2015, for purposes of prohibiting the taking of any action involving statutory sanctions relief by the United States pursuant to such agreement.

Avoiding a Government Shutdown – Substance or Symbolism on Planned Parenthood Funding?

Government funding runs out on September 30. To avoid a shutdown, Congress will need to pass a temporary "continuing resolution" (CR). Several GOP Members have indicated that they will not vote for a CR if it does not include a provision to de-fund Planned Parenthood; President Obama says he would veto any bill that contains such a provision. If a senator decides to block a CR without the defunding provision, the delay could result in a government shutdown. With many predicting Senate "fireworks" on the topic in the coming days. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said "funding the government is the top challenge facing him when he returns to the Capitol."

All four presidential candidates currently serving in the Senate (Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-TX)) support defunding Planned Parenthood, according to The Hill, though they differ on whether a shutdown threat is the best tactic.

Several bills have been introduced to prohibit federal funding of Planned Parenthood. S. 1881 from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), failed to achieve cloture in the Senate before Congress left for recess. (The final tally was 53-46.)

A bill to prohibit federal funding of Planned Parenthood (S 1881)

Sponsor: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) prohibits federal funding of Planned Parenthood Federation of America or its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics.

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act (HR 3134)

Sponsor: Rep Dianne Black (R-TN) freezes Planned Parenthood funding for one year.

Also in the House

The House will also vote on the following legislation this week:

Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (HR 1344)

Sponsor: Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY-2) would reauthorize the federal authority for hearing tests and intervention programs for newborn babies, which were first authorized through the Newborn Infant Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 1999. "Early detection of hearing loss is just like the early detection of any other disease or illness – it can dramatically change the outcome of one’s prognosis. By reauthorizing these screening and intervention programs, and by shifting our focus to ensure there is less loss to follow-up, we can ensure all newborn babies are being evaluated and receiving any necessary treatment." said Rep. Guthrie.

Protecting Our Infants Act (HR 1462) –bipartisan–

Sponsor: Rep. Katherine Clark (R-MA-5) directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify and make available best practices for the diagnosis and treatment of NAS, evaluate and coordinate federal efforts to research and respond to NAS, and assist state health agencies with their data collection efforts. "There is nothing political or partisan about the opiate epidemic or the babies who are suffering its devastating effects… The partners we’ve made across the aisle, across chambers, and with doctors throughout the country are ready to fight for the children and families impacted by this epidemic, and we’re pushing Congress to take action. The Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015 is a common sense approach to determining how to best care for these newborns while also addressing the enormous cost of that care," said Rep. Clark.

National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Authorization Act (HR 1725) –bipartisan–

Sponsor: Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY-1) bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act, or NASPER Act. NASPER provides grant funding to States to foster the use of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) in the fight against the growing prescription drug abuse epidemic. "Prescription drug abuse continues to takes lives, ruin families, and drain on our health care system and its resources. Tragically, drug overdose death rates in the United States have increased five-fold since 1980, and drug overdose now kills more Americans than automobile accidents. The NASPER program will provide States with the necessary investments to build upon the success PDMPs have had in reducing prescription drug abuse through streamlined access to timely, accurate, and secure patient prescription history. This will allow physicians to properly treat their patients while cracking down on the interstate trafficking of prescription medications and patients who are simply doctor shopping," said Rep. Whitfield.

Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Authorization Act (HR 2820) –bipartisan–

Sponsor: Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ-4) provides that two collaborative programs that support treatment and therapies derived from adult stem cell lines will not expire at the end of the federal fiscal year. Under the legislation, the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program will be authorized for five years at $20 million annually, while the National Cord Blood Inventory is authorized at $23 million annually for a five-year period. "This important bipartisan legislation is needed to expand and extend two great research and therapy programs that are already saving lives… Cord blood and bone marrow adult stem cells have applicability and potential that is proven and invaluable. People are being cured each and every day by these therapies—continuing federal support offers a lifeline to thousands more. We look forward to seeing this bill quickly pass the House and Senate and be signed into law," said Rep. Smith.

E-Warranty Act (HR 1359) –bipartisan–

Sponsor: Rep. Deb Fischer (R-NE-0) streamlines warranty notice rules and provides explicit direction to manufacturers that they have the option to meet their warranty requirements on their company’s website. "The world is changing, and our technology is getting smaller, faster, and more efficient. Our laws must follow suit. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Senator Bill Nelson to introduce a new, bipartisan bill to provide manufacturers the option of posting their warranty information online," said Rep. Fischer.

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

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The Week Ahead: August 31 – Sept. 4

From our Hill Sources: Congress returns from August recess on Sept. 8 to what the media are now calling "Awful Autumn" or the "Fall from Hell." It will try to review the Iran nuclear deal by the Sept. 17 deadline. In addition, Members of Congress will work to avoid a government shutdown by Oct. 1, the end of the fiscal year. And, Congress will play host to a visit by Pope Francis as he speaks to a Joint Meeting of Congress on Sept. 24. (Read the invitation.)

But first, Labor Day!

In anticipation of Labor Day, we're spotlighting bills related to workers' wages, safety and health and time off. Share your voice on POPVOX!

(Photo of the first Labor Day parade, 1882 Source: DOL


About Labor Day

Labor Day pays tribute “to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker,” according to the Department of Labor. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation, which first passed in Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. (Learn more about Labor Day history)

Bills Related to Wages

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009, but many states have minimum wage laws higher than the federal wage. Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have already raised their minimum wage to $15, and similar increases are being considered in other cities and states across the country, including: Washington, DC; Sacramento, CA; Olympia, WA; Kansas City, MO; Delaware; and Massachusetts. In Congress, several bills have been introduced to regarding the federal wage laws:

Pay Workers a Living Wage Act (S 1832)

Sponsor: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)  Phases in a $15 minimum wage by 2020 over 5 steps, increasing to $9 in 2016, $10.50 in 2017, $12.00 in 2018, $13.50 in 2019, and $15 in 2020. After 2020, the minimum wage will be indexed to the median hourly wage. The tipped minimum wage will be gradually eliminated. (Read bill text)

Original Living Wage Act (HR 122)

Sponsor: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)  “The Original LAW Act would link the minimum wage to fifteen percent over the federal poverty threshold for a family of four ($23,850) and increases the minimum wage automatically every four years to ensure that inflation does not erode its purchasing power. Under current poverty guidelines, this legislation would cause the national minimum wage to be increased from $7.25 to approximately $13.00,” according to the bill sonsor.  (Read bill text)

Davis-Bacon Repeal Act (S 1785)

Sponsor: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)  To repeal the wage rate requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act. Since 1935, the Davis-Bacon Act has required that workers on all federally funded or federally assisted construction projects whose contracts total more than $2,000 be paid no less than “prevailing wages” in the area in which the project is located, according to the CBO. (Read bill text)

RAISE Act (HR 1003)

Sponsor: Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN)  “To amend the National Labor Relations Act to allow employers to give merit-based compensation increases to individual employees, even if those increases are not part of a collective bargaining agreement. If enacted, the RAISE Act would essentially make wages set in union contracts a minimum floor, while giving employers the flexibility to reward diligent employees for their hard work,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

Worker Safety and Health

Established in 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the major federal agency responsible for workplace safety. Since then, fatality and injury rates have dropped markedly. In 1970 around 14,000 workers were killed on the job. That number fell to approximately 4,340 in 2009 even with US employment almost doubling since then. Since the passage of the OSH Act, the rate of reported serious workplace injuries and illnesses has declined from 11 per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.6 per 100 workers in 2009. (Source: OSHA)

There are several bills in Congress addressing worker safety and health:

Protecting America’s Workers Act (S 1112)

Sponsor: Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)  “Would strengthen and modernize the Occupational Safety and Health Act by giving OSHA more tools ensure workplace safety,” according to the bill sponsor. "This legislation will expand the number of workers in safe workplaces and make it harder to violate workplace safety laws. It will also protect whistleblowers who bravely speak out about unsafe work conditions for themselves, their coworkers, and their families. This legislation protects the public's right to know about safety violations and about OSHA investigations. It will also help us track and respond to workplace safety issues by requiring tracking of worker injuries."  (Read bill text)

Voluntary Protection Program Act (HR 2500)

Sponsor: Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN)   “Would codify the VPP program, a successful partnership between private industry and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which was created in 1982 but never authorized in law. The program requires implementation of comprehensive health and safety worksite protocols, which when certified compliant by OSHA, yields fewer injuries and illnesses and allows agency officials to focus on higher risk workplaces," according to the bill sponsor.  (Read bill text)

Bills Related to Child Labor

The federal child labor provisions, authorized by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, were enacted to ensure that when young people work, the work is safe and does not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities, according to the Department of Labor. These laws provide exemptions, and there are several proposals in Congress to expand child labor safety provisions:

Children Don't Belong in Tobacco Fields Act (S 974)

Sponsor: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)  “The US currently has no specific restrictions to protect children from nicotine poisoning or other health risks associated with tobacco farming,” according to the bill sponsors. “The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit children under the age of 18 from coming into direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves.”  (Read bill text)

Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE) (HR 2764)

Sponsor: Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)  “Addresses the problems associated with 500,000 children employed in agriculture in the US by raising labor standards and protections for farmworker children to the same level set for children in occupations outside of agriculture,” according to the bill sponsor.  (Read bill text)

Stop Blood Tomatoes Act (HR 2385)

Sponsor: Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA)  “Would require corporations with revenues over $1 billion dollars to undergo annual independent audits of their supply chains to verify that they are not selling products manufactured by child or forced labor,” according to the bill sponsor. “The results of these reviews would be prominently displayed on the companies’ websites stating that their products “May have been produced using child/forced labor” or “Products are free of child labor and forced labor’’. The results would also be reported to the Securities Exchange Commission and the Department of Labor.”  (Read bill text)

Child Performers Protection Act (HR 3383)

Sponsor: Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY)  To limit the number of hours that children may be employed as actors, performers, and models, to require blocked trust accounts for the financial protection of such children, to clarify the liability of employers, contractors, and other individuals for sexual harassment of such child performers (Read bill text)

Future Logging Careers Act (HR 1215)

Sponsor: Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID)  Would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 so that 16 and 17 year olds would be allowed to work in mechanized logging operations under parental supervision. “Like farming and ranching, timber harvesting is often a family-run business where the practice of harvesting and transporting forest products from the forest to the mills is passed down from generation to generation,” said the bill sponsor. “But while the agriculture industry enjoys regulatory exemptions that allow family members between the ages of 16 and 17 to work under their parents’ supervision, the logging industry doesn’t have that same right. We should not unfairly penalize young people who want to enter the logging industry and make it their career.” (Read bill text)

Bills Related to Time Off from Work

Currently, there is no federal law that guarantees paid time off from work. The Family and Medical Leave Act, enacted in 1993, only provides unpaid leave for serious health problems or the birth of a child. There are several proposals in Congress to establish federal paid time off policies as well as flexible work hours:

Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (S 786 and HR 1439)

Sponsor: Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY)  “The current Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides unpaid, job-protected leave for serious health related events, but only about half of the workforce qualifies for this unpaid leave, and many more simply cannot afford to take it because it is unpaid,” according to the bill sponsors. “The “Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act” or the FAMILY Act would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits. This trust would be funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each, creating a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget. Benefit levels, based on existing successful state programs in New Jersey and California, would equal 66 percent of an individual’s typical monthly wages up to a capped monthly amount that would be indexed for inflation. The proposal makes leave available to every individual regardless of the size of their current employer and regardless of whether such individual is currently employed by an employer, self-employed or currently unemployed, as long as the person has sufficient earnings and work history.”  (Read bill text)

Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act (S 1564)

Sponsor: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) “Would provide 10 days of paid vacation for employees who have worked for an employer for at least one year. A recent study by Oxford Economics found benefits of taking time off from work include higher productivity, greater employee retention, increased workplace morale, significant health benefits and a boost to the economy,” according to the bill sponsor.  (Read bill text)

Healthy Families Act (S 497 and in the House, HR 932)

Sponsor: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)  “Would allow workers to earn paid sick leave to use when they are sick, to care for a sick family member, to obtain preventive care, or to address the impacts of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault,” according to the bill sponsor. “The Healthy Families Act would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of job-protected paid sick leave each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.”  (Read bill text)

Schedules that Work Act (HR 3071 and in the Senate, S 1772)

Sponsor: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)  "Addresses unstable, unpredictable, and rigid scheduling practices like placing workers "on-call" with no guarantee of work hours, scheduling them for "split shifts" of non-consecutive hours, sending workers home early without pay when demand is low and punishing workers who request schedule changes," according to the bill sponsors. "All employees of companies with 15 or more workers will have the right to request changes
in their schedules without fear of retaliation. Employers would be required to consider and respond to all schedule requests, and, when a worker’s request is made because of a health condition, child or elder care, a second job, continued education, or job training, the employer would be required to grant the request unless a legitimate business reason precludes it." (Read bill text)

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

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The Week Ahead: August 24 – 28

From Our Hill Sources:  With Congress still in recess, the President challenged Congress “to do its part” when it returns in September. “Americans expect Congress to help keep our country strong and growing,” he continued. “When Congress gets back, they should prevent a shutdown, pass a responsible budget, and prove that this is a country that looks forward—a country that invests in our future, and keeps our economy growing for all Americans.” 

This week, we’re highlighting reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank, which the President considers a top priority, as well as the federal budget process. Will there be another federal government shutdown? Congress has only a few weeks to act when it returns from recess.

Finally, we are spotlighting “sanctuary cities” and the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Share your voice on POPVOX!

(Photo: Workers raising the first of 32 sections of drapery in the Rotunda, from the Architect of the Capitol on Instagram. (Watch time-lapse video of the construction)

Reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank

On the top of the President’s list for Congress after recess was reauthorizing the Export Import Bank:

“When it returns from recess, reauthorizing the bank ought to be a top agenda for members of Congress.”


The Export-Import Bank’s charter expired on July 1—for the first time in its 81-year history. While the bank cannot currently make new loans, it continues to service outstanding loans and guarantees. However, its funding runs out at the end of FY 2015, Sept. 30, without Congressional action.

Reauthorization Proposals in Congress

Before leaving for recess, the Senate voted 64-29 on an amendment reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank’s charter attached to their long-term highway bill. The amendment, from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), reauthorizes the bank's charter through the fall of 2019.

The amendment passed by the Senate and the House proposal, which failed to be considered, is identical to a bill that was introduced in March:

Export-Import Bank Reform and Reauthorization Act (S 819)

Sponsor: Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) —Bipartisan— Would reauthorize the Bank’s charter until September 30, 2019 and implement several reforms, including: Reduce risk to taxpayers by requiring higher loan loss reserves; Put greater focus on small businesses by increasing the required lending to small businesses from 20 percent to 25 percent; and increase oversight of Ex-Im Bank practices by: Creating a Chief Risk Officer and a Risk Management Committee to oversee the Bank's operations; Requiring the Inspector General to regularly audit the Bank’s risk management procedures; and Creating a non-political Chief Ethics Officer to oversee ethics practices of Bank employees. (Source: bill sponsors)

Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN), sponsor of a House bill to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, is pushing for a vote on his bill when Congress returns from August recess. “Make no mistake, American jobs will be lost over the month of August because we did not act to get this reauthorized," he explained

Reform Exports and Expand the American Economy Act (HR 597)

Sponsor: Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) —Bipartisan— Would reauthorize the Export-Import Bank through 2019. “Includes 31 meaningful reforms to the Ex-Im Bank that will enhance transparency, improve accountability, and reduce risk, while preserving an important entity that supports American jobs,” according to the bill sponsor. “Reforming and reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank will not only allow American companies to break into emerging markets but it will keep jobs here at home.” (Read bill text)

From our Hill Sources: Supporters of the Export-Import Bank may continue to look for opportunities to add the Export-Import Bank to other must-pass legislation throughout the rest of the year.

Another Government Shutdown?

Also in his weekly address, President Obama urged Congress to pass a budget and avoid a government shutdown. The fiscal year ends on Sept. 30th, giving Congress only a few weeks after their recess to act. Alternately, they could pass a Continuing Resolution, a short-term funding bill that extends pre-existing funding at the same levels as the previous fiscal year. The President also challenged Congress to pass a budget without the sequestration cuts: 

Congress also hasn’t passed a budget – and when they return from vacation, they’ll only have a few weeks to do so, or shut down the government for the second time in two years. They’ve had all year to do this. Months ago, I put forward a detailed plan to strengthen our economy and our national security in a fiscally responsible way. And for months, I’ve said I will veto any budget that locks in the sequester—those senseless cuts to domestic and national security priorities. Remember, we can’t cut our way to prosperity. We should be investing in things that help our economy grow today and tomorrow, like education or infrastructure or scientific research."


From our Hill Sources: Democrats in Congress believe there is bipartisan support for ending the sequestration cuts, which are the arbitrary across-the-board spending cuts that were enacted after the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011. In June, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) urged Congress to repeal the “mindless mechanism of sequestration” as the Senate worked on the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016.

Ending Sequestration Cuts

Some Democrats in Congress have been pushing for repealing the sequestration cuts since they began in 2013. There’s a proposal in Congress that would repeal the cuts:

Cancel the Sequester Act (HR 782)

Sponsor: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)  This one sentence legislation would repeal sequestration, the across the board cuts that went into effect in 2013. (Read bill text)

Defunding Planned Parenthood

In addition, some conservative Republicans have threatened to hold up funding bills to keep the government open after Oct. 1 unless federal money for Planned Parenthood is cut. In a letter to House leadership, 18 Republican Representatives pledged that they “cannot and will not support any funding resolution—an appropriations bill, an omnibus package, a continuing resolution, or otherwise—that contains any funding for Planned Parenthood, including mandatory funding streams.” (Learn more in our previous Weekly Update.)

Stand-alone bills to defund Planned Parenthood have been introduced in both the House and Senate. The House bill has yet to have received a vote:

Defund Planned Parenthood Act (HR 3134)

Sponsor: Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) —Bipartisan— “Would place an immediate moratorium on all federal funding of Planned Parenthood for the span of one year while Congress conducts a full investigation into the organization’s activities,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

In the Senate, the bill was considered, but it didn’t have the 60 votes needed to advance:

Prohibiting federal funding of Planned Parenthood (S 1881)

Sponsor: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) “In addition to defunding Planned Parenthood, this legislation ensures the preservation of Federal funding for women’s health services including relevant diagnostic laboratory and radiology services, well-child care, prenatal and postpartum care, immunization, family planning services including contraception, sexually transmitted disease testing, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and referrals,” according to the bill sponsors. “Funds no longer available to Planned Parenthood will continue to be offered to other eligible entities to provide such women’s health care services.” (Read bill text) —Failed cloture vote (53-46) on August 3, 2015.—

From our Hill Sources: Under the Hyde Amendment, Planned Parenthood is banned from using federal funding for abortion services.

Sanctuary Cities

We’ve been hearing about “sanctuary cities” particularly on the Presidential campaign trail, and wanted to spotlight related proposals in Congress. The issue became a flash point after the death of Kathryn Steinle, who was fatally shot on July 1 in San Francisco by a Mexican national with a criminal record who had been deported several times.

Before leaving for recess, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing, “Sanctuary Cities: A Threat to Public Safety.” Jim Steinle, Kathryn’s father, testified before the Committee in support of laws to keep “undocumented immigrant felons off our streets for good”: 

“Our family realizes the complexities of immigration laws, however, we feel strongly that some legislation should be discussed, enacted and/or changed to take these undocumented immigrant felons off our streets for good. We would be proud to see Kate’s name associated with some of this new legislation. We feel that if Kate’s Law saves 1 daughter, 1 son, a mother or a father, Kate’s death won’t be in vain."

What is a Sanctuary City?

The term sanctuary city is given to cities that have policies designed to shelter immigrants who are in the United States illegally. These practices can be by law (de jure) or they can be by practice (de facto) Generally, these cities do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual's immigration status.

As the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained, “one of the characteristic elements of our broken immigration system is the significant challenges that the federal government and federal law enforcement officials have had in enforcing the law by working closely with local law enforcement officials. And this is something that the United States Congress had the opportunity to fix in the context of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. But this fix was blocked by Republicans in the House of Representatives.”

When comprehensive immigration reform efforts failed in Congress last year, President Obama “acted on his own; and in acting on his own, the President actually scrapped the Secure Communities Program” in November 2014. This was the program that previously codified the relationship between the federal government and local law enforcement that actually caused a number of cities to declare themselves sanctuary cities.

The Secure Communities Program was then replaced by the Priority Enforcement Program, which focuses on convicted criminals and others who pose a danger to public safety. The Program enables the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with state and local law enforcement to take custody of individuals who pose a danger before those individuals are released into our communities. (Source: DHS

Congress Responds to Sanctuary Cities

In reaction to Steinle’s murder, the House passed the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act last month:

Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act (HR 3009)

Sponsor: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) —Passed the House on 7/24/2015— “Would deny funding for states or local governments that fail to enforce immigration laws that protect Americans,” according to the House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). (Read bill text)

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, which was supposed to be marked-up by the Senate Judiciary Committee in early August, but has been postponed until after recess:

Stop Sanctuary Cities Act (S 1814)

Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) “To withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities that fail to comply with detainer requests issued by the Department of Homeland Security,” according to the bill sponsors. “Under the legislation, sanctuary cities would be ineligible to receive funds under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), a federal grant program intended to offset the cost to states and local jurisdictions for jailing illegal immigrants who commit crimes. States or cities that do not then come into compliance within 180 days would subsequently lose eligibility for grants under the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne JAG). The bill would also ensure that these funds are reallocated to other regions of an affected state that are in compliance with federal immigration law.” (Read bill text)

Related Bills in Congress

Last year’s calls for “comprehensive immigration reform” in Congress resulted in a bipartisan framework, which was passed by the Senate but not considered by the House. Some in Congress continue to fight for a comprehensive approach: “Without comprehensive immigration reform, we are jeopardizing the safety and imperiling the economic security of immigrant families and our country,” explained Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY). Others in Congress have introduced more piecemeal proposals to fix the immigration system.

Here are a few recently introduced bills related to "sanctuary cities":

Protecting American Citizens Together Act (PACT Act) (S 1764)

Sponsor: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) “Would prevent “sanctuary cities” from harboring dangerous criminal aliens by requiring state and local law enforcement to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following the arrest of an illegal immigrant, and detain an illegal immigrant if requested to do so by ICE,” according to the bill sponsors. “Additionally, if the Bureau of Prisons receives a request from ICE to transfer an illegal immigrant to their custody, that request will take priority over the request from state and local agencies. Under this legislation, localities will be required to follow the new requirements as a condition of receiving federal law enforcement grants.” (Read bill text)

From our Hill Sources: Sen. Paul also introduced this proposal as an amendment to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (S 754), which may be considered after recess by the Senate.

Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act (S 1640)

Sponsor: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) “Named for two Sheriff’s Deputies in California who were murdered by an illegal alien with an extensive criminal record and immigration history,” according to the bill sponsors. “In addition to enhancing cooperation with states and local law enforcement and eliminating loopholes that allow criminal aliens to obtain immigration benefits, this bill would constitute the strongest response to sanctuary jurisdictions that this government has ever undertaken. Specifically, it would withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions that do not cooperate with the enforcement of federal immigration laws or do not honor federal immigration detainers, provide immunity to jurisdictions that honor federal detainers and hold aliens until ICE can pick them up, and provide a general sense of Congress that “the Department of Homeland Security has probable cause to believe that an alien is inadmissible or deportable when it issues a detainer” for an alien.” (Read bill text)

Improving Cooperation with States and Local Governments and Preventing the Catch and Release of Criminal Aliens Act (S 1812)

Sponsor: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) “Would withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate on criminal aliens and other high priority individuals. The bill would also increase the amount of time, from up to 2 years to a mandatory 5 years, an illegal immigrant must spend in jail for re-entry after deportation,” according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text)

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

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Notes from Martin O’Malley Civic Tech event in San Francisco

Note: POPVOX is completely nonpartisan. We do not endorse candidates or take positions on issues. Throughout the 2016 election cycle, however we will share our interactions with candidates and information about how their positions match up on pending bills in Congress — so that you can share your voice!

Democratic Presidential Candidate, Martin O'Malley, recently visited San Francisco. POPVOX CEO, Marci Harris, was invited to participate in two "civic tech" events hosted by the campaign. Here are her thoughts:


Wednesday night: Civic Tech Pitch Contest

I was invited to join judge a “Civic Tech” pitch contest hosted by the Martin O’Mally campaign at The Hall in San Francisco. The pitches were great, spanning from nonprofits to for-profit apps, clean energy tools to worker training games, vote-by-mail, and a better FOIA system. Companies were: ROC UnitedBayes ImpactWattTimeLassy projectNextRequestCivicMakersLong Distance Voter, and TechCongress.

The winner, John Guydon, CEO and Co-Founder of the Lassy Project, was amazing. Their app is an improved system to find missing persons, well beyond the “Amber Alert” system, with several success stories already under their belt that exemplify the possibilities of “Tech for Good.”


Thursday Morning: Civic Tech Panel

On Thursday, the O’Malley campaign held a civic tech panel, hosted and moderated by Brigade CEO, Matt Mahan. I joined Governor O'Malley and John Guydon (winner of the previous night’s panel), Sid Espinosa, Director of Philanthropy and Civic Engagement for MicrosoftKimberly Bryant, Founder, Black Girls Code; and Sam Lessin, entrepreneur & former Vice President of Product at Facebook.

Matt started the panel by asking: "How can we leverage technology connect more people to the opportunities of the Innovation economy?" "Education" was the common thread.

Governor O'Malley asked, "How early can you teach kids to code?" Kimberly answered by describing coding programs that target children as young as six to teach them the skills of the new economy. She and Sam Lessin emphasized moving from viewing people as "consumers" of technology to creators, no matter where they are in the country. 

I was happy to give a shout-out to the vey successful CO:deCatalyst program in Jackson, Tennessee led by POPVOX team members, William Donnell and Ben Harris, and friend-of-POPVOX, Ben Ferguson; to bring coding courses to local Madison County high schools (check it out and vote for their SxSW panel!) 

Sam Lessin also mentioned that procurement policies were a major barrier to improving how government leverages technology and delivers services to citizens.

Governor O'Malley closed by describing the data-focused management process that he envisions and referenced innovation initiatives he undertook in Maryland, including appointing the first statewide Chief Information Officer and Chief Innovation Officer. In response to a question about the uncertain funding prospects for civic tech companies, he noted that Maryland was the first state to enact B Corp legislation.

Takeaway: A Presidential candidate is talking about “civic tech”!  POPVOX was one of the first companies to ever describe itself as a “Civic Startup,” back in 2010. Five years later, discussions about how technology can be leveraged for better governing are firmly in the mainstream.. and they are bipartisan. We wonder: could we even hear the word “civic tech” in the Presidential debate? 

As the election cycle continues, we at POPVOX will continue to share our interactions and insights into the candidates — always with the nonpartisan intent to help you be better informed. Keep an eye on our Facebook page, where we update on bills related to candidate plans as they are released, including:


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Patent Reform Moves in the House and Senate

8/18/15: Before leaving for recess, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees passed legislation to curb “patent trolling.” Patent trolls use “weak or poorly granted patents” to file numerous patent infringement lawsuits against American businesses “with the hope of securing a quick payday,” according to patent reform bill sponsors

In recent years, "there has been an explosion of abusive patent litigation designed not to reward innovation and enforce intellectual property, but to threaten companies in order to extract settlements based on questionable claims," according to the Obama Administration. Such firms are known as Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs) or "patent trolls." And defendants and licensees in these lawsuits paid out $29 billion in 2011, a 400% increase from 2005.

Patents Rooted in the Constitution

Our nation's patent system is designed to encourage innovation and invention—and is rooted in the Constitution:

The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Patent Bills in Congress

Here’s a look at the two bills passed by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. However, it is still unclear when these bills will receive a floor vote in either chamber.

PATENT Act (S 1137)

Sponsor: Chuck Grassley (D-IA) “Shifts the legal burden back onto those who would abuse the patent system in order to make a quick buck at the expense of businesses that are playing by the rules,” according to the bill sponsor. “Would establish clear, uniform standards for pleading in patent infringement suits to give defendants real notice of the claims against them, and keep meritless lawsuits from clogging federal court dockets. It also increases transparency by requiring early disclosures about the patent-in-suit. The bill protect customers who are targeted for patent infringement based on a product they simply purchased from a manufacturer or off the shelf by allowing the stay of an infringement case against an end user of a product while the manufacturer of the product litigates the alleged infringement.” (Read bill summary or bill text)

From our Hill Sources: This bill has the support of the Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. 

Innovation Act (HR 9)

Sponsor: Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) “The bipartisan Innovation Act (HR 9), which is the same legislation that passed the House in 2013, builds on the reforms that were made in the America Invents Act and addresses certain abusive practices taking place in our courts,” according to the bill sponsors. “Requires plaintiffs to disclose who the owner of a patent is before litigation, so that it is clear who the real parties behind the litigation are. This will ensure that Patent Trolls cannot hide behind a web of shell companies to avoid accountability for bringing frivolous litigation. Requires plaintiffs to actually explain why they are suing a company in their court pleadings.” (Read bill text)

From our Hill Sources: While patent reform has bipartisan support among Members of Congress, important constituencies are divided. Technology companies support these bills. However, the pharmaceutical and biotech industries are opposing the proposals. Meanwhile, research companies only support the Senate bill and not the House bill.

There are two other approaches to patent reform introduced in Congress:

Support Technology and Research for our Nation's Growth Patents Act (“STRONG” Patents Act) (S 632)

Sponsor: Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) “Would make it harder for firms to be targeted with frivolous patent lawsuits, level the playing field between small inventors and large companies, and ensure the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has the resources it needs to ensure patent quality,” according to bill sponsors. The STRONG Patents Act would strengthen our patent system and combat abuse by: Cracking down on abusive demand letters by empowering the Federal Trade Commission to target firms that abuse startups rather than invent anything; Ensuring that pleading standards for patent-infringement cases match the standards used for all other forms of civil actions, creating a significant barrier to frivolous lawsuits before any funds are spent on discovery. (Read bill summary or bill text)

Targeting Rogue and Opaque Letters (TROL) Act (HR 2045)

Sponsor: Micheal Bergess (R-TX) “Establishes that it is an unfair or deceptive act or practice under the FTC Act to engage in a pattern or practice of sending demand letters that contain misrepresentations about patent rights and allows the FTC and State AGs to fine violators acting with reckless indifference. Requires that demand letters include key information, such as the person with the rights of the patent, parent companies, contact information, and information on how the recipient is infringing the patent. This will help businesses weed out legitimate from deceptive demand letters. Establishes a national standard for enforcement of abusive patent demand letters. Preserves all of the FTC’s existing powers and enforcement authority and current state laws dealing with fraudulent or deceptive practices.” (Source: House Energy and Commerce Committee) (Read bill text)

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

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Congress’s Role in US-Cuba Relations

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry made an historic trip to Cuba to re-open the American embassy (check out the Embassy’s website), but the next steps in US-Cuba relations are for Congress to take. For example, some Members of Congress see Cuba as a new market to export food and agriculture. But there are also other interests in developing relations, such as the availability of Cuban-developed drugs. For example, a drug that has saved the limbs of diabetes patients worldwide has been banned in the US, but may become available for clinical trials.

(Photo from the State Dept. blog)

Traveling with Senator Kerry was a bipartisan group of eight Members of Congress: Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA); Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Jeff Flake (R-AZ); and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA); Jim McGovern (D-MA); Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Karen Bass (D-CA). Beyond the Cuban visit, Congress will be responsible for ensuring that the embassy is funded and staffed via the appropriations process. Also, the Senate must confirm the President's nominee for Ambassador to Cuba.

Prior to leaving for recess, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed three amendments to the FY 2016 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill related to Cuba: 

  • Senator Moran’s Cuba Travel Ban Repeal Amendment: Would lift the travel ban on US citizens to Cuba. “I also believe allowing US citizens to travel to Cuba and engage with Cubans would enhance Cuba’s prospect for freedom, liberty and economic opportunity,” explained the sponsor
  • Senator Tester’s Cuba 180-Day Shipping Prohibition Repeal Amendment: Would repeal the requirement that a vessel entering a port or place in Cuba may not load or unload freight at any place in the United States within 180 days without a license issued by the Secretary of the Treasury. (Read amendment text
  • Senator Boozman’s Cuba Private Credit for Agriculture Amendment: Mirrors legislation he previously introduced: Agricultural Export Expansion Act (HR 3306) “would change a provision in current law, lift the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba, and help level the playing field for US farmers and exporters,” according to the sponsors

Bills Related to US-Cuba Relations

POWER Cuba Act (HR 3306)

Sponsor: Bobby Rush (D-IL) “Would authorize the export of energy resources, energy technologies and related services to Cuba,” according to the bill sponsor. “Would promote market access for the efficient exploration, production, storage, supply and distribution of energy resources to our neighbor 90 miles off the coast of Florida. This would include the exportation of crude oil, as well as American technology and technical assistance in developing Cuba’s clean and renewable energy sectors.” (Read bill text)

Cuba Trade Act (HR 3238 and in the Senate, S 1543)

Sponsor: Tom Emmer (R-MN) “Would lift the Cuba embargo and allow for businesses in the private sector to trade freely with Cuba, while prohibiting taxpayer funds to be used on promotion or development of this new market,” according to the bill sponsors. (Read bill text)

Cuba DATA Act (HR 3055 and in the Senate, S 1389)

Sponsor: Kevin Cramer (R-ND) “Would allow US telecommunications and Internet companies to expand their services to and sell their communications devices in Cuba. Cuba is one of the least wired and connected countries in the western hemisphere,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)

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

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