Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Civil Rights Leaders Join Forces with Nation's Mayors

Source: National Urban League

Washington, D.C. - October 31, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The United States Conference of Mayors, led by President and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, convened prominent civil rights leaders and a delegation of the nation’s mayors to discuss a national agenda to protect civil rights and ensure economic inclusion. The group convened at the historic Gracie Mansion with host NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio around a common purpose and shared vision for creating a better future for Americans hardest hit by inequality.

The group committed to developing both a slate of local policy initiatives they can work to implement themselves and recommendations for action at the federal level, emerging with a series of short- and long-term imperatives including fights to domestic budget cuts that will stagnate earnings, household incomes and economic growth across all communities. The nation’s mayors and civil rights leaders also stressed the importance of ensuring the 2020 Census count is fair and accurate and combatting bigotry and hate while addressing racially motivated violence.

“Whatever your political leanings, there’s no denying that there is a paralysis in Washington, D.C. We can disagree about the cause, and we can disagree about the remedy, but one thing we are not going to disagree about is the fact that we can’t wait for it to resolve itself,” said Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League. “We are moving forward, and this is where we begin.”

“Mayors are closest to communities and prioritize people, not politics,” said US Conference of Mayors President Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans. “In the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement was underway, people moved out of cities and into the suburbs, but now, the opposite is happening. As a result, mayors must be focused on policies and programs that lift up and benefit all of our communities and we don’t have time to wait on Washington. Here’s the reality, while we’d like to have the Federal government as a real partner, the greatness of America will stand in spite of what’s happening in Washington. If we build new partnerships and work together, we can change the way our country works through big issues like fairness, immigration reform, and economic security. We are confident that through the conversations we started today, we can find common ground, identify best practices and build a long and fruitful relationship that will significantly impact our country."

In attendance at the meeting were Mayor Christopher Cabaldon (West Sacramento, Calif.), Mayor Greg Fischer (Louisville, Ky.), Mayor Michael Hancock (Denver, Co.), Mayor Toni Harp (New Haven, Conn.), Mayor Catherine Pugh (Baltimore), Mayor Allison Silberberg (Alexandria, Va.), Mayor Paul Solberg (Madison, Wis.), and Mayor Richard Thomas (Mount Vernon, NY).

Leadership from the US Black Chambers, Inc., National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, National Newspapers Publishers Association, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Immigration Law Center, Anti-Defamation League, Enterprise Community Partners, US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, National Action Network and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

“We are here because we are fighting for the soul of this country and the future of this country, said Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, SC and Vice President of the US Conference of Mayors. “Cities are where things are happening; 85% of Americans live in cities and 91% of the country’s GDP comes from cities. If we can come together, we can determine policies. It’s our job to tell the world we are greater than the sum of our parts.”

"Rarely have we seen a time where it was so important for mayors and civil rights leaders to come together," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Inequality is the crisis of our time. One underpinned by institutional and structural racism, and one that together we can work to solve. I am proud to be joined by a coalition of strong mayors and civil rights leaders who all know that cities are places of change. In a time of hostility towards cities from Washington, together we'll lead the way.”

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Court Blocks Trans Military Ban in Yet Another Setback for the Discrimination Administration

Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

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Washington, D.C. - October 31, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- In yet another blow to the Trump administration’s campaign of discrimination against transgender Americans, a federal court today temporarily blocked President Donald Trump’s dangerous and disrespectful Twitter-based ban on transgender military service members.

The ruling in Doe v. Trump concluded that the ban appeared to be based on little more than prejudice, saying that “there is absolutely no support for the claim that the ongoing service of transgender people would have any negative effective on the military at all,” and that “there is considerable evidence that it is the discharge and banning of such individuals that would have such effects.” The ruling also followed other recent court decisions in recognizing that government discrimination against transgender people is subject to heightened scrutiny by courts.

NCTE recently led a coalition of transgender organizations from around the country in filing an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the military ban is part of a wider pattern of discrimination against transgender people by the Trump administration.

NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling issued the following statement:

Again and again, our courts have been forced to step in and halt this administration’s unconstitutional and dangerous bigotry. As today’s ruling makes clear, this ban was never about military readiness—just like President Trump’s Muslim bans have never been about national security. This ban is about discrimination, plain and simple. We are grateful that the plaintiffs and thousands of other troops will be able to continue serving without the threat of discharge while this case proceeds. Unfortunately, this ruling is not the end of the story, and these troops and their units will still face uncertainty unless Congress acts to end this ban for good.
Lawmakers in both major parties have denounced the ban, and bipartisan bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to end it. Though backed by both the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate leaders blocked a vote to add a measure that would have ended the ban to the pending national defense authorization bill.

In related News:

In defeat for Trump, judge blocks transgender military ban

First-time Buyers Stifled by Low Supply, Affordability: 2017 Buyer and Seller Survey

Source: National Association of Realtors

Washington, D.C. - October 31, 2017 (The Ponder News) --Despite solid interest in buying a home – sparked by steady job gains, record low mortgage rates and higher rents – the severe drought in housing supply in much of the country over the past year accelerated price growth and kept many first-time buyers out of the market.

This is according to the National Association of Realtors®' 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers1, which also identified numerous current consumer and housing trends, including: mounting student debt balances and smaller down payments; increases in single female and trade-up buyers; the growing occurrence of buyers paying the list price or higher; and the fact that nearly all respondents use a real estate agent to buy or sell a home, which kept for-sale-by-owner transactions at an all-time low of 8 percent for the third straight year.

In this year's survey, the share of sales to first-time home buyers2 inched backward to 34 percent (35 percent in 2016), which is the fourth lowest share since 1981. In the 36-year history of NAR's survey, the long-term average of first-time buyer transactions is 39 percent.

“The dreams of many aspiring first-time buyers were unfortunately dimmed over the past year by persistent inventory shortages, which undercut their ability to become homeowners,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “With the lower end of the market seeing the worst of the supply crunch, house hunters faced mounting odds in finding their first home. Multiple offers were a common occurrence, investors paying in cash had the upper hand, and prices kept climbing, which yanked homeownership out of reach for countless would-be buyers.”

Added Yun, “Solid economic conditions and millennials in their prime buying years should be translating to a lot more sales to first-timers, but the unfortunate reality is that the nation's homeownership rate will remain suppressed until entry-level supply conditions increase enough to improve overall affordability.”

Other key findings and notable trends of buyers and sellers in this year's 144-page survey include:

Student debt balances continue to grow

Highlighting the additional challenges imposed on consumers trying to reach the market, 41 percent of first-time buyers indicated they have student debt (40 percent in 2016). The typical debt balance also increased ($29,000 from $26,000 in 2016), and over half owe at least $25,000. Additionally, of the 25 percent who said saving for a down payment was the most difficult task in the buying process, 55 percent said student debt delayed saving for their home purchase.

“NAR survey findings on student debt released earlier this fall revealed that an overwhelming majority of millennials with student debt believe it's delaying their ability to buy a home, and typically for seven years,” added Yun. “Even in markets with a plethora of job opportunities and higher pay, steep rents and home prices make it extremely difficult to put savings aside for a down payment.”

Single females make up larger share of sales

Solid job prospects, higher incomes and improving credit conditions translated to continued momentum in the growing share of single female buyers. At 18 percent (matches highest since 2011), single women were the second most common household buyer type behind married couples (65 percent). Furthermore, single women purchased slightly more expensive homes than single men despite earning less. The overall share of single male buyers (7 percent) remained below unmarried couples (8 percent) for the second straight year.

Down payment amounts decrease for first-timers, rise for repeat buyers

The ongoing climb in home prices pulled the typical down payment for first-timers to 5 percent this year (6 percent in 2016), which matches the lowest since 2013. Meanwhile, higher home values likely gave more sellers the wherewithal to use the cash from their recent sale to make a bigger down payment on their new home purchase (14 percent; 11 percent in 2016). Repeat buyers' sales proceeds from their previous purchase (55 percent) surpassed their own personal savings (50 percent) this year as a larger source of their down payment.

Personal savings ranked first for first-time buyers as the primary source of their down payment, followed by a gift from a friend or relative (25 percent; 24 percent in 2016). Over a half of first-timers said it took a year or more to save for a down payment, and 25 percent said saving was the most difficult task in the entire buying process.

Age of first-timers stays flat; climbs to new survey high for repeat buyers

For the second straight year, the median age of first-time buyers was 32 years old. First-time buyers had a higher household income ($75,000) than a year ago ($72,000) and purchased a slightly smaller home (1,640-square-feet; 1,650-square-feet in 2016) that was more expensive ($190,000; $182,500 in 2016). Fewer first-time buyers purchased a home in an urban area (17 percent; 20 percent in 2016).

The age of repeat buyers increased to an all-time survey high this year (54 years old; 52 years old in 2016) as older households, perhaps with plans to stay in the workforce longer but with an eye towards retirement, felt more comfortable about buying. Overall, repeat buyers had roughly the same household income than last year ($97,500; $98,000 in 2016) and purchased a 2,000-square-foot home (unchanged from last year) costing $266,500 ($250,000 in 2016).

Supply scarcity leads to increase in buyers paying list price or higher

Underscoring the supply and demand imbalances prevalent in many parts of the country, 42 percent of buyers paid the list price or higher for their home, which is up from a year ago (40 percent) and a new survey high since tracking began in 2007. Buyers in the West were the most likely (51 percent) to pay at or above list price.

“Many of those in the market to buy a home this year had little room to negotiate,” said Yun. “Listings in the affordable price range drew immediate interest, and the winning offer often times had to waive some contingencies or come in at or above asking price to close the deal.”

Buyers report less difficulty obtaining a mortgage

The improving financial health of borrowers and a slight ease in credit standards are leading to a smoother process in obtaining a mortgage. Fewer buyers (34 percent) compared to a year ago (37 percent) indicated that the mortgage application and approval process was somewhat or much more difficult than they expected.

Fifty-eight percent of buyers financed their purchase with a conventional mortgage, and 34 percent of first-time buyers took out a low-down payment Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgage, which is up from 33 percent last year but down from 46 percent five years ago.

Nearly all buyers choose a single-family home in a suburban location

A majority of buyers continue to choose a home in a suburb, small town or rural area (85 percent) as opposed to an urban one (13 percent; 14 percent in 2016). Eighty-three percent of buyers purchased a detached single-family home, which for the third straight year remains the highest share since 2004 (87 percent). Purchases of multi-family homes, including townhouses and condos, were at 11 percent.

Most buyers search for homes online…and use a real estate agent

This year's survey data continues to show that the internet (95 percent) and real estate agents (89 percent) remain the top two information sources used during buyers' home search. Overall, 87 percent of buyers ended up purchasing their home through a real estate agent (88 percent in 2016), and finding the right property to buy and help negotiating the terms of the sale were the top two things buyers wanted most from their agent. Even for those who found the home they purchased online, nearly all still closed on it with the help of an agent (88 percent).

“It's no surprise a majority of first-time buyers indicated that the top benefits received from their agent were help understanding the buying process (83 percent), pointing out unnoticed property features or faults (60 percent), and negotiating better sales terms (51 percent),” said President William E. Brown, a Realtor® from Alamo, California. “Realtors® over the past year have helped buyers – and especially first-timers – navigate extremely competitive market conditions where the need to be prepared and act quickly has been paramount to the success of purchasing a home.”

Homeowner tenure at all-time high; equity and share of repeat buyers climbs

The typical seller over the past year was 55 years old, had a higher household income ($103,300) than last year ($100,700) and was in the home for 10 years before selling – matching the all-time high set both in 2014 and a year ago. Prior to 2009, sellers consistently lived in their home for a median of six years before selling.

With home values steadily rising over the past several years, sellers realized a median equity gain of $47,500 ($43,100 in 2016) – a 26 percent increase (24 percent last year) over the original purchase price. Homes sold after 21 years of ownership had the largest equity gain (104 percent), while those who purchased six or seven years ago saw a larger return (27 percent) than those who purchased between eight and 15 years ago (14 percent to 18 percent).

The percent share of buyers trading up increased for the third straight year, rising to 52 percent from 46 percent in 2016. In 2014, 40 percent of buyers purchased a bigger home.

“The decline in first-time buyers and uptick in repeat buyers trading up to a larger home reflects the more favorable conditions for home shoppers at the upper end of the market, where listings are more plentiful and sales have been consistently higher over the past year,” said Yun.

Seller use of an agent remains at all-time high; FSBOs at record low

Sellers' use of a real estate agent this year remained at an all-time high of 89 percent. This in turn – for the third straight year – held for-sale-by-owner sales to their lowest share (8 percent) in the survey's history.

An overwhelming majority of sellers were satisfied with the selling process (88 percent), with most also indicating that they would definitely or probably use their agent again or recommend him or her to others (85 percent).

“Homeowners understand the value, and seek the expertise and guidance Realtors® bring to the table when it's time to sell their home,” said Brown. “Despite incredibly favorable market conditions for sellers – where finding interested buyers was not a problem – nearly all turned to a Realtor® to help assist them through the intricacies of listing their home on the market, accepting offers, negotiating the sales price and closing the deal.”

NAR mailed a 131-question survey in July 2017 using a random sample weighted to be representative of sales on a geographic basis to 145,800 recent home buyers. Respondents had the option to fill out the survey via hard copy or online; the online survey was available in English and Spanish. A total of 7,866 responses were received from primary residence buyers. After accounting for undeliverable questionnaires, the survey had an adjusted response rate of 5.6 percent. The sample at the 95 percent confidence level has a confidence interval of plus-or-minus 1.10 percent.

The recent home buyers had to have purchased a home between July 2016 and June 2017. All information is characteristic of the 12-month period ending in June 2017 with the exception of income data, which are for 2016.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America's largest trade association, representing more than 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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Trump Will Aid Persecuted Christians in Middle East

Source: Liberty Counsel

Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Vice President Mike Pence announced a new policy at the In Defense of Christians annual summit in Washington, promising direct aid to persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

The Obama administration previously gave over a billion dollars in aid to the Middle East through the United Nations. However, little of that money made it to Christians and other vulnerable religious minority groups in that region. The Trump administration has now promised to bypass the United Nations and give the funds directly through the United States Agency for International Development to organizations on the ground to help victims of persecution and genocide.

Vice President Pence also noted the United Nations continues to deny funding requests in many instances to partner with faith-based groups with proven track records and deep roots in the Middle East. “My friends,” the Vice President said, “those days are over. This is the moment. Now is the time. And America will support these people in their hour of need. President Trump and I see these crimes for what they are: vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the gospel of Christ. And so too does this president know who and what has perpetrated these crimes and he calls them by name: radical Islamic terrorism,” said Pence.

Through Liberty Counsel’s Liberty Relief International project, we strategically partner with ministries to provide humanitarian relief and spiritual support to persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

“Every day, Christians are persecuted and murdered for their faith in the ancient land where Christianity was first born,” said Mat Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Founder and President of Liberty Relief International. “We commend the Trump administration for recognizing this serious threat and helping these victims of persecution and genocide directly. The United Nations is a useless organization that refuses to help Christians. This announcement by the Trump administration is a welcome relief,” said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is an international litigation, education and policy organization. Liberty Counsel has a number of affiliated ministries, including Christians in Defense of Israel and Covenant Journey, a program that provides a life-changing experience in Israel for Christian college-age students who have leadership potential.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Rep. Watson Coleman Statement on Special Counsel Indictments of Former Trump Campaign Employees

Source: Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ, 12th)


Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) released the following statement today on federal indictments against former Trump campaign employees and associates:

“The indictment of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and senior aide Rick Gates, along with reports of a guilty plea by Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous are the latest in troubling revelations surrounding this President.

The Special Counsel’s investigation is critical to uncovering the full extent of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and its interference in our democracy. I am also concerned by attempts by Trump allies to undermine and discredit Special Counsel Mueller and his investigation, as we have already witnessed attempts by President Trump to interfere in this investigation. Congress has a duty and responsibility to protect the integrity and independence of this process—our democracy depends on it.”

Retirement Plan Modernization Act Introduced in the House

Source: Tim Walberg (R-MI, 7th)

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Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Congressmen Tim Walberg (MI-07) and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (MP-00) introduced the Retirement Plan Modernization Act, bipartisan legislation to help make it easier for small businesses to offer retirement plans while keeping fees down for employees. H.R. 4158 helps small businesses better manage the administrative expenses of retirement plans by providing a long-overdue update to the automatic IRA rollover limit for former employees’ assets.

“Far too many families in Michigan are struggling to save for their retirement years,” said Congressman Walberg. “Often businesses will cite not having enough resources to administer a plan, as a key reason for not offering retirement benefits. This bipartisan bill is a commonsense step in our efforts to empower every American to retire with financial security and peace of mind. By reducing administrative costs, we can help more small businesses offer retirement benefits and ensure employees are not needlessly stuck paying higher fees.”

“Our legislation reduces administrative costs in retirement plans for active employees and updates a two decade old standard for automatic rollovers,” said Congressman Sablan. “Chairman Walberg and I continue to work together to find bipartisan agreement on practical fixes like this that benefit employers and employees throughout America.”

“The Chamber thanks Chairman Walberg and Ranking Member Sablan for introducing the bipartisan Retirement Plan Modernization Act. Increasing the cash-out limit is long overdue. It has not been touched in 19 years and is not subject to indexing, unlike many other limits in the retirement system. Updating both of these flaws will streamline retirement plan administration and reduce burdens for employers, especially small businesses,” said Randy Johnson, Senior Vice President of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Increasing the threshold for employers to cash-out retirement plan accounts brings us into the 21st century and reduces administrative expenses which in turn makes it easier for employers to maintain retirement plans and for employees to keep their retirement assets with them as they move jobs,” said Lynn Dudley, Senior Vice President, Global Retirement and Compensation Policy at the American Benefits Council.

Under current law, automatic IRA rollovers occur if a participant is no longer employed by the employer sponsoring the retirement plan and their balance is between $1,000 and $5,000. Congress has periodically adjusted the cash-out limit over the years to reflect increasing costs of administration; however, the last time it was updated was 1997. The Retirement Plan Modernization Act would raise the automatic IRA rollover limit, based on the rate of inflation, from $5,000 to $7,600 and allow for future increases to be indexed for inflation.

Congressman Walberg serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions while Congressman Sablan serves as Ranking Member of the subcommittee. For more information on Walberg's work in Congress visit walberg.house.gov.

Driver Fatigue Prevention Act Introduced in the House

Source: Jackie Speier (D-CA, 14th)

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Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- As cities across the country have seen a sharp increase in the number of tragic bus accidents, and driver related issues are a major contributor to these accidents, U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) has introduced the Driver Fatigue Prevention Act to address the problems associated with driver fatigue. As it stands now, bus drivers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime provisions, which cover the majority of America workers. This legislation would extend these overtime provisions to intercity bus drivers. U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

When bus drivers are overworked and fatigued, there is a greater likelihood of accidents, injuries and deaths,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA, 14th) said. “We can’t afford it. We owe Americans safety on the roadways.”

“We know that driver fatigue is causing accidents and we have an obligation to do something about it,” Senator Casey said. “By ensuring that employers must compensate their bus drivers for every hour of work completed, they are less likely to overwork their employees. If my colleagues are serious about making our roads safer, than we must pass this legislation.”

Among other benefits, the Driver Fatigue Prevention Act would help to ensure that drivers are compensated for the full amount of work that they complete, thus making employers less like to overwork their drivers.

Surviving Spouses Income Security Act, H.R. 4106, Introduced in the House

Source: Jacky Rosen (D-NV, 3rd)


Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (NV-03) released the following statement after she helped introduce Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter’s (NH-01) Surviving Spouses Income Security Act, H.R. 4106, designed to improve the formula used to allocate benefits and compensation to Gold Star Families -- the family members of deceased service members:

“When a service member is laid to rest for their sacrifice to our country, the very least we can do as a nation is to ensure the financial stability of their loved ones,” said Rosen. “By increasing payments to Gold Star Families and securing their access to benefits, we can honor and comfort the surviving spouses and children of fallen service members. I am proud to work with Congresswoman Shea-Porter on this legislation and will continue to honor service members and their families and work to help them obtain their much-deserved benefits and resources.”

BACKGROUND: Introduced earlier this week, H.R. 4106 would improve “dependency and indemnity compensation” (DIC), which is a payment made to the surviving dependents of either a deceased active duty service member, retired military member who has died from a service-connected cause, or a veteran who was rated 100% disabled for a period of ten years prior to a death, not caused by their service-connected condition. The Surviving Spouses Income Security Act creates a new Dependents and Survivors Income Security (DSIS) benefit, equal to 55% of the rate of compensation for a veteran with a 100% service-connected disability. Currently, DIC to military families is not equivalent to that paid to surviving family members of civilian federal employees who are killed while performing their duties, and this bill would more closely align these benefits.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 3,662 Nevadans are beneficiaries of the VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Benefit, which is paid to Gold Star Families, surviving spouses and family members of veterans who pass away as a result of their service-connected disability, and survivors of veterans who were 100% service-connected disabled for at least 10 years before their death. The benefit is often much less than VA disability compensation paid prior to the veteran’s death.

Rohrabacher Applauds House Probe into Clinton-Russia Collusion

Source: Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA, 48th)

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Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Concerning moves this week by the Republican leadership to conduct joint investigations by the House Intelligence Committee and the Government Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, released the following statement:

“Emerging from the aftermath of last year’s presidential election is evidence of collusion and a cauldron of corruption that appears to be one of the most significant national security scandals in my lifetime. The Uranium One sale raises serious questions involving the Russians and payments made to the Clinton Foundation – as well as a half-million-dollar speaker fee paid directly to Bill Clinton. If those foundation donations – more than $145 million – are connected to the Uranium transaction, then the American people need to know the facts. For longer than a year, the media have been pushing the Trump–Russia narrative down America’s throat. This could well turn out to be one of the biggest frauds in our country’s history, made even worse by substantiation of the Clintons’ collusion with Russia.

“I applaud the Republican House leadership, which is now stepping up to uncover and disclose this corrupt and fraudulent activity by the Democratic Party. Those crimes apparently were committed as the Democrats and their leftwing allies conducted a bogus media campaign against the Trump presidency. I am confident the leadership – including Rep. Devin Nunes, R-CA, Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-FLA, and Rep. Peter King, R-NY – will shed investigative light on the hypocrisy and fraud foisted on the American people by last year’s Democratic presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.”

New Economy Works to Guarantee Independence and Growth (NEW GIG) Act Introduced in the House

Source: Tom Rice (R-SC, 7th)

Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Tom Rice (R-S.C.) today introduced the New Economy Works to Guarantee Independence and Growth (NEW GIG) Act, legislation that clarifies provisions in the tax code that classify workers as either independent contractors or employees. Right now, freelance-style workers are often left struggling to understand the complicated and subjective tax code as it applies to their style of work. The NEW GIG Act creates a safe harbor that allows workers to comply with a simple set of objective factors to be classified as an independent contractor, creating simplicity and continuity instead of complex rules. The bill also strengthens tax reporting requirements for independent contractors in order to reduce confusion and promote greater compliance. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate earlier this year.

“America is the land of opportunity and ‘gig-economy’ jobs are helping expand that opportunity for people in South Carolina and all across the country,” said Congressman Rice. “Now people can go on their phones and be hired for home maintenance repairs or ride-sharing services almost instantly. The NEW GIG Act serves to bolster this booming sector of our economy while reducing the complexity in worker classification that exists today. I look forward to working with Senator Thune and the stakeholders in the on-demand community to further improve this area of the tax code and provide these workers certainty.”

“Today’s fast-growing ‘gig economy’ has made it easier for people to offer unique services, like home repair and cleaning, child care, food delivery, or ride sharing, through easy-to-use mobile applications that can be opened with a simple swipe of a finger,” said Senator Thune. “While these gig economy companies have created thousands of new jobs, they’ve also faced new challenges when it comes to how the service providers are classified by the IRS. I’m pleased to have a strong partner in Rep. Rice to help move this legislation that would provide clear rules so on-demand workers can work as independent contractors with the peace of mind that their tax status will be respected by the IRS.”

The bill would create a safe harbor based on objective tests, which if satisfied, would ensure that the service provider (worker) would be treated as an independent contractor, not an employee, and the service recipient (customer) would not be treated as the employer. In the context of the gig economy where an internet platform or app facilitates the transactions and payments, that third party would also not be treated as the employer.

Objective Tests:
The safe harbor focuses on three areas that are intended to demonstrate the independence of the service provider from the service recipient and/or the payer based on objective criteria, rather than a subjective facts-and-circumstances analysis:

(1) The relationship between the parties (e.g., job-by-job arrangement, the service provider incurs his own business expenses, the service provider is not tied to a single service recipient);
(2) The location of the services or the means by which the services are provided (e.g., the service provider has his own place of business, does not work exclusively at the service provider’s location, provides his own tools and supplies); and
(3) A written contract (e.g., stating the independent-contractor relationship, acknowledging that the service provider is responsible for his own taxes, providing the service recipient’s reporting and withholding obligations).

Safe Harbor Only
Given that the safe harbor is based on objective criteria, it may not apply in every case. However, the bill would preserve the common law rules for worker classification as well as the special rules under current law that permit real estate agents and direct sellers to qualify as independent contractors.

Reporting Rules
The amount paid to the service recipient under the safe-harbor would be reported to the IRS. For gig economy arrangements – three party transactions – the payer would report payments over $1,000 on IRS Form 1099-K (with the option of reporting amounts below that level). For traditional independent-contractor relationships, the service recipient would follow the existing reporting rules and file a Form 1099-MISC showing the amount paid to the service provider. The bill would update the reporting rules to require reporting of payments totaling $1,000 or more in a year, up from $600 under current law. To qualify for safe harbor, the bill would require the service recipient (or payer in the gig-economy model) to withhold a limited amount of the payments made, which would be deposited with the IRS and treated like an estimated tax payment by the service provider.

Retroactive Reclassification
The bill addresses cases where service providers or service recipients (or payers) mistakenly believe they qualify for the safe harbor but fail to meet one or more of the requirements. As long as there is a good faith effort to comply with the requirements of the safe harbor, the bill would provide relief and only allow the IRS to reclassify the service provider as an employee and the service recipient (or payer) as the employer on a prospective basis.

Tax Court Jurisdiction
Under current law, only the service recipient may petition the tax court regarding misclassification of workers. The bill would expand current law to allow the service provider to bring such a case as well.

Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act Introduced in the House

Source: Jared Polis (D-CO, 2nd)

Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. introduced The Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act, legislation to ensure farmers can use their water rights to grow industrial hemp in states where industrial hemp cultivation is allowed.

In 2014, due to an amendment authored by Polis, U.S. Department of Agriculture began a pilot program authorizing farmers to grow industrial hemp. The pilot program has been stifled, though, because the Federal Bureau of Reclamation prohibits farmers from using federally controlled water to grow controlled substances, which includes industrial hemp.

“Farmers deserve the freedom to use their water to grow industrial hemp, an age-old crop with boundless potential,” said Polis. “The law already allows farmers to cultivate hemp; it only makes sense that we cut the red-tape and allow them the water they need to grow it and grow jobs in the process. Hemp can be used as a more sustainable alternative for everything from paper to biofuel, if only we afford the industry the tools it needs to grow.”

Polis’s bill would ensure that owners of water rights can use their water to grow industrial hemp, regardless of whether the water passed through federal water projects.

“Colorado grows more hemp in this country than any other state. In fact, according to the recent Ag report, there’s more hemp acreage in Colorado than there are peach orchards,” said Tim Gordon, President of the Colorado Hemp Industry Association. “So it is imperative that our farmers are able to exercise their water rights for this crop and this expanding industry in Colorado as well as other states following our lead. We are glad to have Congressman Polis take the lead on this issue as he has for years.”

Polis is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the bipartisan Cannabis Caucus. The Caucus serves as a forum for members of the U.S. House of Representatives to discuss, learn, and work together to establish a better and more rational approach to federal cannabis policy, including hemp. Earlier this year, he also reintroduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act which would remove hemp from the Controlled Substance Act.

Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act Introduced in the House

Source: Ted Poe (R-TX, 2nd)

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Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX-02) and Mike Thompson (D-CA-05), and U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) re-introduced bipartisan legislation to level the energy playing field by giving investors in a range of clean energy projects access to a decades-old corporate structure whose tax advantage is currently available only to investors in fossil fuel-based energy projects. The Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act is a straightforward, powerful modification of the federal tax code that could unleash significant private capital by helping an emerging class of energy-generation and renewable fuel companies to form master limited partnerships, which combine the funding advantages of corporations and the tax advantages of partnerships.

“For years, the United States has allowed our energy security to be subject to turmoil and mayhem in the Middle East,” said Representative Poe. “It is in our best interest to pursue a comprehensive energy strategy that encourages the domestic production of all energy. This common-sense tax credit will help the United States do just that.”

“This bipartisan bill will make it easier and more appealing for private capital to be invested in renewable energy,” said Representative Thompson. “We need to take a comprehensive approach to America’s energy future. By leveling the playing field and treating renewable energy the same way we do oil and gas, we can create jobs, diversify our energy infrastructure, and allow for the creation of more renewable energy sources and technology."

“Clean energy technologies have made tremendous progress in the last several decades, and they deserve the same shot at success in the market as traditional energy projects have experienced through the federal tax code,” said Senator Coons. “By updating the code, the bipartisan Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act levels the playing field for a broad range of domestic energy sources -- clean and traditional alike -- to support the all-of-the-above energy strategy we need to power our country for generations to come. This practical, market-driven solution will unleash private capital and create jobs, and that’s why it has earned broad support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress as well as think tanks, business leaders, and investors. Updating the tax code in this way will help increase parity and ensure that these energy technologies can permanently benefit from the incentives that traditional energy sources have depended on to build infrastructure for more than 30 years.”

“The United States has the largest and most efficient capital markets in the world, yet our renewable energy companies rarely have access to those markets,” said Senator Moran. “In order to grow our economy and increase our energy security, sound economic tools like master limited partnerships (MLPs) should be expanded to include additional domestic energy sources. The MLP Parity Act will allow the renewable energy sector to utilize the MLP structure for project development making it accessible to a broader and deeper investment pool that can drastically reduce the time and cost associated with deploying new energy technologies.”

A master limited partnership (MLP) is a business structure that is taxed as a partnership, but whose ownership interests are traded like corporate stock on a market. By statute, MLPs are currently only available to investors in energy portfolios for oil, natural gas, coal extraction, and pipeline projects.

These projects get access to capital at a lower cost and are more liquid than traditional financing approaches to energy projects, making them highly effective at attracting private investment. Investors in clean energy projects, however, have been explicitly prevented from forming MLPs, starving a fast growing portion of America’s domestic energy sector of the capital it needs to build and grow.

Newly eligible energy resources would include solar, wind, marine and hydrokinetic, fuel cells, energy storage, combined heat and power, biomass, waste heat to power, renewable fuels, biorefineries, energy efficient buildings, carbon capture utilization and storage.

In the House, the MLP Parity Act was cosponsored by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX-02), Mike Thompson (D-CA-05), Mark Amodei (R-NV-02), Peter Welch (D-VT-AL), Jerry McNerney (D-CA-09), Paul Gosar (R-AZ-04), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03).

In the Senate, the MLP Parity Act was cosponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

End Outsourcing Act Introduced in the House

Source: Mark Pocan (D-WI, 2nd)

Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI, 2nd) has introduced the End Outsourcing Act, legislation that would update the United States tax code to reward companies that invest in American workers and penalize corporations that outsource domestic jobs and factories.

“For too long, our tax code has incentivized companies to outsource American jobs instead of investing in workers and communities here at home,” said Pocan. “We give corporations that ship American jobs overseas a free pass while workers suffer the consequences. Rather than reward companies that relocate to other countries, we should use our tax code to incentivize firms to invest in our communities and put American workers back on the job. The End Outsourcing Act is a strong step forward in protecting American jobs, growing wages, and strengthening the middle class.”

Specifically, the End Outsourcing Act:

  • Prohibits companies from receiving tax breaks for outsourcing jobs and factories, and claws back tax credits and grants related to the operation and maintenance of a facility closing to relocate abroad;
  • Establishes tax incentives for companies that relocate foreign jobs to rural and impoverished communities in the United States; and
  • Ensures that federal contracting policy takes into consideration whether companies have outsourced domestic jobs.

    The legislation has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the United Steelworkers (USW), and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).

    Source: Robert Pittenger (R-NC, 9th)

    Congressman Robert Pittenger (NC-09) formally introduced the No Abortion Bonds Act, which prohibits the use of federal tax-exempt bonds to finance construction of abortion clinics.

    “Under a loophole in the current law, cities, counties, and states can issue federally tax-free bonds to finance construction of abortion clinics,” explained Congressman Pittenger during a speech on the House floor. “These tax-free bonds are intended to finance schools, hospitals, and infrastructure, not abortion clinics. This legislation applies the spirit of the Hyde Amendment to the tax code, by preventing tax-free bonds from going to abortion providers.”

    Congressman Pittenger introduced the No Abortion Bonds Act during a Wednesday afternoon speech on the House floor. Click here for full video.

  • In 2012, New York City issued a tax-free, $15 million bond for renovation of Planned Parenthood’s national headquarters.
  • In 2007, Sarasota County, Florida floated an $8 million, tax-free bond to pay for a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.
  • In 2007, the Illinois Finance Authority approved an $8.05 million tax-free bond to pay for a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Aurora.
  • In 2006, the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency granted a $5 million tax-exempt bond for a Planned Parenthood clinic in Worcester.

    State and local governments are allowed to finance construction of schools, roads, and hospitals with special bonds exempt from federal tax. These tax breaks for the investors, which cost the federal government billions in revenue, lead to lower costs for the borrower. Federal taxpayers therefore subsidize the project, in addition to being ultimately responsible for the loan should the borrower fail to pay.

    While the 1976 Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of taxpayer-funding for abortion or abortion-related services, a loophole allows these infrastructure bonds to be used for abortion clinics.

    Congressman Pittenger’s No Abortion Bonds Act:

  • Removes the tax-exempt status of any bond that flows to an abortion provider or abortion clinic.
  • Includes exemption for clinics that only perform abortions in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother.
  • Includes common sense exemption for hospitals.

    Congressman Pittenger’s No Abortion Bonds Act is co-sponsored by Rep. Franks (R-AZ), Rep. Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Black (R-TN), Rep. Hartzler (R-MO), Rep. Walker (R-NC), Rep. Hudson (R-NC), Rep. Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Rep. Wagner (R-MO), Rep. Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Duncan (R-SC), Rep. Mooney (R-WV), Rep. Gibbs (R-OH), Rep. Jenkins (R-WV), Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), Rep. Jones (R-NC), Rep. Biggs (R-AZ), Rep. Dunn (R-FL), Rep. Lipinski (D-IL), Rep. Rokita (R-IN), Rep. Banks (R-IN), Rep. Hice (R-GA), Rep. Palazzo (R-MS), Rep. Webster (R-FL), Rep. Rothfus (R-PA), Rep. Lamborn (R-CO), Rep. Norman (R-SC), Rep. Yoho (R-FL), Rep. Johnson (R-LA), Rep. Flores (R-TX), Rep. Duncan (R-TN), Rep. Cramer (R-ND), Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Moolenaar (R-MI), Rep. Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Messer (R-IN), Rep. Babin (R-TX), Rep. Noem (R-SD), Rep. Brat (R-VA), Rep. Kinzinger (R-IL), Rep. Williams (R-TX), Rep. Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Fortenberry (R-NE), Rep. Loudermilk (R-GA), Rep. Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Roe (R-TN), Rep. Scott (R-GA), Rep. Wittman (R-VA), Rep. LaMalfa (R-CA), Rep. Rouzer (R-NC), Rep. Harris (R-MD), Rep. Davidson (R-OH), Rep. Hultgren (R-IL), Rep. Weber (R-TX).

    Congressman Pittenger’s No Abortion Bonds Act is supported by Americans United for Life, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life, the Eagle Forum, March for Life, Family Policy Alliance, North Carolina Right to Life, and the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
  • Norton Gets Promise from Treasury Inspector General Concerning Investigation into Threats to IRS Employees

    Source: Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)

    Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) at an Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing asked Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russel George about press reports on an increase in threats to Internal Revenue Services (IRS) employees and “potential vulnerabilities outside agency headquarters.” NBC4 reported that “federal investigators have launched 1,556 investigations into possible threats against agency employees from taxpayers since the beginning of the year.” George said his office was currently working with the IRS’ security division to investigate such threats and potential security vulnerabilities and offered to brief Norton and the Committee on his findings at the conclusion of the investigation. Norton pressed George that, in addition to a congressional briefing, a report of findings, recommendations or remedies would be important to reassure employees and the public. George responded that he thought a report with necessary redactions might be appropriate.

    “I appreciate that the Inspector General has taken the increase in threats to IRS employees seriously and is pursuing an investigation,” Norton said. “I will be working with his office to ensure he has the necessary resources to investigate threats against IRS employees and any potential security vulnerabilities. Our federal employees deserve a safe working environment.”

    Perry Supports Presidential Emergency Declaration on Opioids

    Source: Scott Perry (R-PA, 4th)

    Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Scott Perry offered the following statement in the wake of President Trump’s declaration regarding the opioid crisis:

    “I thank President Trump for declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency. His action today allows federal officials to redirect existing health resources and reduce bureaucratic delays that slow our efforts to fight this battle. 175 people die from a drug overdose every day - causing heartache and pain for countless American families. The people battling addiction are our family, friends and neighbors – they’re not just statistics and numbers.

    This is one issue where Republicans and Democrats stand together. In recent years, Congress has passed bills like the Comprehensive Recovery and Addiction Act and the 21st Century Cures Act to provide hundreds of millions of new funding and other tools to help our communities; I was proud to support these efforts. Pennsylvania recently received more than $26 million to increase access to treatment, reduce unmet treatment need, and other prevention and recovery activities. We have much more work to do, but I’m glad we’re working together with President Trump to continue the fight.”

    Perlmutter, Thompson Introduce Legislation to Keep Communities Safe, Help Prevent Future Gun Violence Tragedies

    Source: Ed Perlmutter (D-CO, 7th)

    Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressmen Mike Thompson (CA-05), Chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and Ed Perlmutter (CO-07), Vice-Chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, introduced H.R. 4142, the Safer Communities Act of 2017, legislation aimed at reducing and preventing gun violence by keeping guns away from people who should not have them. The legislation closes the gaps in current federal gun policy by clarifying and expanding existing federal prohibitors related to mental health, substance abuse, history of violence, and other risk factors; provides states with the tools needed to strengthen and enforce gun violence prevention laws; provides resources for mental health crisis intervention services; and improves records reporting into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

    “After nearly every gun violence tragedy, we’ve heard many say that guns are not the problem, mental health is. The Safer Communities Act we’ve introduced today would address that problem and keep guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill,” said Rep. Thompson. “While those suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes, we recognize that improving our mental health system, and keeping firearms from those with other risk factors such as a history of substance abuse disorders and violence, can help prevent gun violence. And by improving intervention services, boosting evidence-based research, and giving law enforcement more tools to get guns out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves or others, we can make our country safer and get people the help they need, while also respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

    “This is a common sense proposal to reduce the likelihood of individuals suffering from mental illness from accessing firearms. It’s important to keep guns away from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others and instead provide them with the mental health services they need,” said Rep. Perlmutter. “We’ve seen far too many tragedies in our communities and we must take steps to prevent future tragedies by making gun violence less easy, less frequent and less deadly.”

    The Safer Communities Act of 2017 clarifies and expands existing federal prohibitors to help keep guns away from those who are determined to pose a danger to themselves or others. Specifically, the legislation prohibits the purchase or possession of a firearm by individuals subject to involuntary outpatient commitment if a court finds they pose a significant and dangerous threat to themselves or others. Current federal law has been interpreted to apply only to inpatient commitments.

    Recognizing that states play an important role in preventing gun violence and ensuring safe communities, the legislation provides states with the tools needed to strengthen and enforce gun violence prevention laws. Specifically, it further supports federal and state partnerships by providing grants to states to strengthen gun violence prevention laws that prohibit individuals with certain risk factors such as a history of dangerous mental illness, substance abuse, and violence from possessing firearms. For example, states could:

    ·         Create laws that enable law enforcement to petition for a warrant to temporarily remove firearms when there is probable cause to believe that an individual poses an imminent risk of harm to self or others. The process by which a warrant is obtained and a gun is removed must be consistent with due process; and

    ·         Create laws that temporarily prohibit the purchase and possession of a gun after an involuntary hospitalization on an emergency basis due to serious mental illness;

    The legislation also requires the FBI to expand its current alert system so state and local law enforcement can pursue cases where prohibited persons try to purchase guns – particularly those prohibited due to serious mental illness.

    Thompson and Perlmutter’s bill also provides resources for mental health crisis intervention services, boosts mental health research, enhances information sharing and research on gun violence, and improves the submission of mental health records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the database used to determine whether or not a prospective buyer is eligible to buy a firearm.

    The bill changes the outdated and stigmatizing “mental defective” terminology currently used in federal firearms statute and replaces it with “ineligible due to disqualifying mental status.”

    Finally, Safer Communities Act of 2017 establishes a minimum restoration standard, ensuring a fair restoration process of firearm ownership rights that balances public safety with individuals’ rights. One year after an individual’s involuntary commitment ends, they may petition the court to have their rights restored. The application must be accompanied by a clinical opinion of a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed mental health professional. After considering a variety of factors, the judge would determine if restoring gun ownership rights is compatible with the public interest.


    Source: Steve Pearce (R-NM, 2nd)

    Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Steve Pearce today introduced H.R. 4146, the Disabled Veterans’ Life Insurance Act of 2017, to provide needed improvements to the service-disabled veterans’ life insurance program (S-DVI). Disabled veterans have a challenging time receiving life insurance through the civilian sector due to their physical or mental injuries incurred during their time in service. This bill will update the nation’s current S-DVI premiums and disability provisions which are based on mortality and annuity tables from 1941.

    “Veterans injured in combat face many challenges as they return home and adjust back into civilian life. What makes it even more challenging for veterans and their families is having to accept an antiquated insurance system that does little to provide the quality care and services they deserve. For over 70 years, the S-DVI program has been basing their costs off the assumption that veterans only live to an average age of about 62 years old. The legislation I’m introducing will modernize this program to lower premium costs for veterans and provide increased funds to the families of deceased veterans.

    Our nation’s veterans sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms and liberties, and we must honor our commitments to them. This legislation reforms the S-DVI program to provide protection and certainty for service-disabled veterans and their families, breaking down the barriers that affects the livelihoods of veterans across the nation. It is beyond time to enhance the S-DVI program, and I will continue working with my colleagues and veterans in New Mexico to stand by my promise to the men and women who bravely stepped up to serve and protect our nation,” stated Rep. Pearce.

    H.R. 4146 amends Title 38 of the United States Code to adjust the S-DVI cap based on the 2017 inflation rate, increasing the current cap from $10,000 to $95,000, and will create a process for adjusting the cap based on inflation each year. This bill will increase the filling and enrollment limitation from 2 years to 10 years, and includes enrollment waiver options.

    Current premium rates charged for S-DVI coverage are based on Annuity and Mortality Tables from 1941. Under this new legislation, S-DVI premium rates will be determined using current industry standard tables, and will be updated every 5 years after that.

    The Disabled Veterans’ Life Insurance Act of 2017 is supported by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW):

    “DAV strongly supports Rep. Pearce's legislation to update and strengthen VA's Service-Disabled Veterans Life Insurance (S-DVI) program which will make a real difference for many disabled veterans, their families and survivors. The S-DVI program was designed to provide affordable life insurance coverage to disabled veterans unable to purchase private insurance due to their service connected disabilities, however its cost and benefits have been seriously eroded over the past 50 years. Rep. Pearce's legislation will modernize the S-DVI program by using current actuarial data to lower premiums as well as adjusting for inflation to significantly increase the benefit payout,” stated Garry Augustine, DAV Washington Executive Director.

    “The Fleet Reserve Association is in complete support of this bill and looks forward to seeing it passed in the House,” stated John Davis, FRA Director of Legislative Programs.

    “The Veterans of Foreign Wars strongly supports, H.R.4146, the Disabled Veterans’ Life Insurance Act of 2017. This important piece of legislation would remedy many of the issues that currently exist with the Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance program, such as updating the antiquated mortality and annuity tables, increasing the maximum benefit cap, and extending the enrollment eligibility to 10 years,” stated John Towles, VFW Deputy Director.

    H.R. 4146 is also supported by the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).

    Rep. Scott Peters Supports Crack Down on Iran Ballistic Missiles

    Source: Scott Peters (D-CA, 52nd)

    Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52) followed through on his promise to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its destabilizing activities in the Middle East, and pursuit of ballistic missiles by voting to support the Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act.  

    Congressman Peters strongly supports condemning and curbing Iran’s conventional weapons program and sponsorship of terror through strict sanctions. The Iran Ballistic Missile and International Sanctions Enforcement Act directly targets those activities by giving the President the authority he needs to stop the supply, manufacture, and financing of such harmful weapons. In addition, it does not undermine the internationally negotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), passed by the United States along with Russia, China, our European Allies, and Iran, which significantly restricted the path to a nuclear-armed Iran. Today’s action goes after Iran for its ballistic missile development. 

    “The Iranian regime continues to foment instability across much of the Middle East,” said Rep. Scott Peters. “From the beginning, I have maintained that while the Iran Deal is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon for many years, the United States and our allies must continue to hold their feet to the fire for their ongoing human rights abuses, support of terror activities, and ballistic missile program. The recent test of ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons goes directly against the calls of the United Nations Security Council presented under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and passage of enhanced sanctions for this activity is an important step toward holding the regime accountable.”

    Rep. Peters continued, “These sanctions are part of a smart, tough strategy determined to stop Iran from maintaining its current path. This proposal not only cracks down on the development of dangerous weapons, but also targets those individuals at the heart of the foreign and domestic supply chains. This bipartisan approach is exactly the type of action we need to counter threats around the world and keep Americans safe.”

    House Passes Iran & Hizballah Sanctions Bills

    Source: Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ, 9th)

    Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-09) voted for the passage of three bills to take on the growing global threat of the Iranian missile program and the Hizballah terrorist organization. Rep. Pascrell was co-sponsor of all three bills, H.R.1698, H.R.3329, and H.Res.359 (details below).

    “We must continue sending a strong signal that the United States is serious about combating the growing threat Iran poses in the region," Rep. Pascrell said. "By clamping down on the financial support terrorist groups receive and additional sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program, we can pressure Iran to change course and take steps to reduce threats in the region. We cannot do this alone, so I hope our allies will join us in designating Hizballah as a terrorist organization and increase pressure on it and its members to cease and desist. These concrete steps will allow us to work towards a safer region and a safer world."


    H.R.1698 - Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act

    This bill expands sanctions against Iran with respect to the ballistic missiles program of Iran. This bill would use targeted sanctions to try and halt Iran’s ballistic missile program. This bill would require the President to identify and sanction individuals and entities contributing to Iran’s ballistic missile program. In addition, the bill would require the executive branch to determine if Iran’s ballistic missile tests violate UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” and to determine whether responsible parties should be subject to sanctions
    H.R.3329 - Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017                             

    The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act would impose new sanctions against foreign individuals and companies that knowingly assist, sponsor, or provide significant financial, material, or technological support to entities known to fundraise or recruit on behalf of the agents and affiliates of Hizballah. This legislation also requires the president to report to Congress whether the foreign financial institutions of Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism are facilitating transactions on behalf of Hizballah, and therefore should have additional sanctions imposed against them pursuant to U.S. law. In addition, the legislation would impose blocking sanctions against Hizballah for conducting narcotics trafficking and other significant transnational criminal activities, and strengthen reporting requirements on Hizballah’s racketeering activities and efforts by foreign governments to disrupt Hizballah’s global logistics networks and fundraising, financing and money laundering activities. To further expose the foreign terrorist organization’s rampant corruption, it also requires a report on the estimated net worth of senior Hizballah members and any individuals determined by the president to be senior foreign political figures of Hizballah.

    Urges the European Union to designate Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization and increase pressure on it and its members.

    FRC Praises Trump Administration's Plan to Directly Address Needs of Christians in Middle East

    Source: Family Research Council

    Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- The Trump administration announced this week that it would address the needs of the Middle East’s Christian community by providing assistance directly, bypassing UN aid programs which have been largely ineffective in helping displaced Christians affected by ISIS.

    The announcement came as Vice President Pence spoke to a gathering addressing persecution of Christians:

    “Our fellow Christians and all who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly. And tonight, it is my privilege to announce that President Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations. And from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID.”

    Family Research Council President Tony Perkins remarked:

    “The Trump administration announcement is welcomed news to families and individuals in the Middle East who have lost their homes, their jobs and even friends and family at the hands of ISIS. I commend the president for following through on his promise to protect religious freedom by ensuring that the vulnerable among us are not targeted because of their religion, and are able to rebuild their lives and freely live out their faith in their ancestral homelands. I look forward to seeing the needs of these communities met on the ground, and stand ready to assist the president in making this happen. In the Middle East and elsewhere, America must do more to ensure that the human right of freedom of religion is cherished the world over,” noted Perkins.

    Travis Weber, Family Research Council’s Director of the Center for Religious Liberty, also commented on the Trump administration’s plan:

    “While our attention has been riveted by stories of ISIS’s defeat, the Christian communities left devastated in its wake will still need to rebuild and attempt to move on with their lives. For too long, the persecuted Christians of the Middle East—lacking political power and overlooked in the eyes of the world—have not received proper assistance in returning to their ancestral lands, the same lands the first Christians walked nearly 2,000 years ago. Meanwhile, Iran and other power players are trying to come in and ply their influence in the vacuum created by ISIS’s defeat. It is in these situations that protecting the freedom of religion—and inculcating society with a true understanding of this right—is most critical,” observed Weber.

    ERLC President Russell Moore, Tennessee Christian Leaders Denounce ‘White Lives Matter’ Rallies

    Source: Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

    Nashville, TN - October 30, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Christian leaders across Tennessee joined together in denouncing the “White Lives Matter” rallies scheduled for Oct. 28 in Middle Tennessee.

    In a joint statement, Moore and others agreed, “As Christian leaders in Tennessee, we declare ourselves in resolute opposition to this expression of racism and white supremacy. We denounce and repudiate white supremacy as a work of the devil, designed to dehumanize and divide.

    “We call every follower of Jesus in the state of Tennessee to speak out against white supremacy, in all of its forms and to pray and work for racial unity in our communities. We also pray for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God.”

    Study: Workplace bullying is underestimated driver of nurse and patient outcomes

    Source: Emergency Nurses Association

    Des Plaines, IL - October 30, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- New research from the Emergency Nurses Association recently published in the International Emergency Nursing Journal indicates workplace bullying is a significant factor in the dynamics of patient care, nursing work culture, and nursing retention. The study, aimed at developing a grounded theory of workplace bullying in emergency departments, describes bullying behavior, the dynamic of hazing and how nurses and patients are negatively impacted.

    Forty-four emergency nurses participated in focus groups to share their perceptions and experience with workplace bullying, in addition to actions taken when bullying is observed.

    As a result, researchers developed a model of nurse bullying in U.S. emergency departments they say can help hospital and emergency department leaders understand the process by which bullying manifests in their department.

    The theory describes responses to bullying as it occurs, how those responses affect the frequency of that behavior, and the influence the bullying and environmental elements might have on the prevalence of bullying.

    The research suggests that when guilty bystanding, maintaining the status quo, or retaliation are pronounced, bullying will be more pronounced than in EDs where the “calling-it-out” strategy is employed.

    “Workplace bullying is unfortunately pervasive in emergency nursing to the detriment of patient care,” said lead researcher and Director of ENA’s Institute for Emergency Nursing Research Lisa Wolf, PhD, RN, CEN, FAEN. “Our new theory shows a clear process nurses and administrators can use to identify bullying elements within their environment to ultimately correct this behavior.”

    Researchers say management can have a significant effect on reducing workplace bullying and its related risks to nurses and patients. An assessment of hospital work environments should include nurse perceptions of and responses to workplace bullying.

    The Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) is the premier professional nursing association dedicated to defining the future of emergency nursing through advocacy, education, research, innovation, and leadership. Founded in 1970, ENA has proven to be an indispensable resource to the global emergency nursing community. With more than 42,000 members worldwide, ENA advocates for patient safety, develops industry-leading practice standards and guidelines, and guides emergency healthcare public policy. ENA members have expertise in triage, patient care, disaster preparedness, and all aspects of emergency care.

    Congress repeals rule to protect consumer rights to class action

    Source: Consumer Action

    Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- The U.S. Senate passed a resolution (S.J. Res. 47) yesterday to repeal the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule to restore consumers’ rights to band together to hold banks and lenders accountable in class action lawsuits when the companies break the law.

    The CFPB conducted a five-year study that revealed the negative impact of forced arbitration on consumers before spending two years crafting a rule to prevent companies from keeping wronged customers from joining class actions. Despite the care taken by CFPB, Republicans in Congress have voted to throw out the Bureau’s efforts before the ink is even dry on the rule announced just this summer.

    In our view, the Senate has declared war on consumers and given a big fat gift to companies like Equifax and Wells Fargo, who now can continue to abuse and defraud customers without fear of liability. Because of the short-sightedness of many in Congress, giant banks and other corporations regulated by the CFPB can rest assured that no matter how they treat their customers, those customers will be prevented from collective redress.

    Republicans in Congress have decided: There will be NO meaningful justice for consumers wronged by the wealthy and powerful.

    National Education Groups Issue Statement on Proposed Salt-D Elimination

    Source: AASA, The School Superintendents Association

    Alexandria, VA - October 30, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- National education groups representing superintendents, school boards, school business professionals, rural schools and communities, and educational service agencies issued the following statement in response to President Trump’s proposed elimination of the State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT).

    “We believe any comprehensive tax reform must preserve the state and local tax (SALT) deduction as a matter of national priority. The SALT revenue is invested in local communities to fund vital needs including infrastructure, public safety, homeownership and public schools, which educate almost 90 percent of students in our country. Representing public education leaders entrusted with the important responsibility for educating students, we are deeply committed to ensuring students get the best possible education and support. Eliminating the SALT deduction endangers public education and our students’ future.

    “State and local tax deductions ensure a stable local tax base that public schools rely on to educate students and provide needed services, such as health care and related needs. The current proposal to eliminate the SALT deduction as part of broader tax reform would cripple this ability and damage state and local economies.

    “Policymakers can support tax reform and preserve this deduction. For the sake of our nation’s students and their future, we urge Congress to preserve and protect the SALT deduction.”

    In alphabetical order, representatives from the national organizations included:

    AASA, The School Superintendents Association
    Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director

    Association of Educational Service Agencies
    Joan Wade, Executive Director 

    Association of School Business Officials, International
    John Musso, Executive Director

    National Rural Education Association
    Allen Pratt, Executive Director

    National School Boards Association
    Thomas Gentzel, Executive Director and CEO

    Saturday, October 28, 2017

    Congress Moves Budget in Wrong Direction With Deficit-Financed Tax Cuts

    Source: Concord Coalition

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    Washington, D.C. - October 28, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The Concord Coalition said that fiscal policy has taken a very negative turn with adoption of the 2018 congressional budget resolution explicitly calling for deficit-financed tax cuts.

    “In the face of a debt burden higher than at any time since the end of World War II and with annual deficits already projected to rise in the coming decades as retirement and health care spending steadily mounts with the long-foreseen aging of the population, President Trump and Republican congressional leaders are placing a huge bet that we can borrow our way to prosperity,” said Robert L. Bixby, Concord’s executive director. “Their enthusiastic embrace of a $1.5 trillion deficit-financed tax cut is risky business and deeply disappointing.”

    The main purpose of any budget should be to set priorities and make the necessary trade-offs. This budget, which the House approved today, fails that test. Its main purpose is to cut taxes, not to make hard choices and cut the deficit.

    If Republican leaders had wanted to cut the deficit while cutting taxes in a more responsible way they could have adopted the approach taken earlier by the House, which called for deficit-neutral tax reform and $200 billion of enforceable spending cuts. The Senate, however, removed these two provisions. What’s left is a combination of enforceable tax cuts, phantom spending cuts and an unrealistically rosy economic scenario.

    “While justified by some as a way to grow the economy, the long-term effect of deficit-financed tax cuts would likely be to slow economic growth and make a bad long-term fiscal outlook even worse,” Bixby said.

    There is still time, however, for elected officials to chart a more responsible path. The budget resolution is simply a blueprint. It is not legislation. As Congress and President Trump now begin to write a tax reform bill, The Concord Coalition urges them not to base their plan on the unlikely proposition that large tax cuts will pay for themselves.

    Don Todd: The Dossier Is Not Opposition Research

    Source: Americans for Limited Government

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    Americans for Limited Government Foundation President Don Todd today issued the following statement blasting the Hillary Clinton campaign and DNC-funded Fusion GPS-Christopher Steele dossier:

    “I have been doing opposition research since 1978. My resume includes four Presidential campaigns, nearly one hundred Senate campaigns and a few Governor races. I was the oppo team leader in all of them. I can say with absolute certainty the so-called dossier is not opposition research it is raw political sewage for which the idiot Democrats may have paid over one hundred sixty thousand dollars a page. To call it oppo research is an insult to me and the many I have worked with over the years.

    “Real political research is about issues that people care about not made up stories about bed peeing. Had I ever come up with such a document I am sure I would have summarily and rightfully fired.”

    Read more:

    “Hillary Clinton and the DNC funded the fake Trump-Russia collusion dossier, turned it into an FBI inquisition, surveillance and then attempted coup,” By Robert Romano, Oct. 26, 2017

    ALL Praises GlaxoSmithKline for Manufacture of Ethical Shingles Vaccine

    Source: American Life League


    Washington, D.C. - October 28, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- American Life League joined with Children of God for Life in praising GlaxoSmithKline for producing an ethically sourced shingles vaccine that was just recently approved by the FDA for licensing in the US. Shingrix is produced using a yeast cell line. Previously, the only available shingles vaccine, Zostavax, used aborted fetal cells.

    ALL president Judie Brown stated:

    America's leading authority on ethical vaccines, Children of God for Life, issued a statement this morning that sounds a clarion call to one and all that there are such things as ethical vaccines and companies working to improve vaccines. The newest shingles vaccine, Shingrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical company, does not employ the use of human embryonic cells and does—according to its own studies—maintain 90 percent efficacy in those 70 years of age and older who were involved in the clinical trials.

    GSK's efforts to create an ethical vaccine for adults comes with a challenge to all other big pharma companies that have not met the call to manufacture similarly manufactured ethical vaccines not tainted with fetal cells from aborted babies. It can be done! We await the advent of additional vaccines that meet this standard.

    Related News:

    Moral Shingles Vaccine FDA Approved


    Source: American Civil Liberties Union

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    Washington, D.C. - October 28, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The Senate Intelligence Committee released the text of the bill that was voted on in a closed session to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the government to surveil Americans’ communications without a warrant and is set to expire at the end of the year.

    The bill would reauthorize Section 702 for eight years, and it would authorize for the first time several of the government’s illegal practices — such as searching for information about people in the U.S., collecting domestic communications, and collecting communications that are neither to nor from a surveillance target. The bill lacks much-needed reforms to ensure that the government gets a warrant to search for information of people in the U.S., to end illegal practices that the NSA has used to collect domestic communications, and to ensure appropriate transparency.

    Neema Singh Guliani, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel, had the following reaction:

    “It's unacceptable that an issue of this magnitude was debated behind closed doors. We now know what mischief they were up to in secret. Not only did they fail to curb the litany abuses that have occurred in recent years, in many respects, the bill would expand existing surveillance authorities. Now that this language has seen the light of day, it is clear that this bill would further strip Americans of their constitutional rights.

    “No president — including our current one — should have the authority to conduct large-scale warrantless surveillance of Americans. Such power leaves Americans vulnerable to illegal spying that improperly targets government critics, activists, journalists, and communities of color.”

    American Bar Association Responds to AG Sessions comments criticizing judges

    Source: American Bar Association


    Washington, D.C. - October 28, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The American Bar Association is alarmed by the remarks made Thursday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions about federal judges, accusing those he disagrees with of ruling on policy preference and not the law.

    Ironically, Sessions complains that judges are not respecting the separation of powers and the concept of co-equal branches of government while at the same time himself disregarding the constitutional independence of the judicial branch.

    Sessions said that “some judges have failed to respect our representatives in Congress and failed to appropriately respect the prerogatives and perspectives of the executive branch.” The judiciary rules on matters based on the laws and the Constitution. Their oath is “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and not to protect “the prerogatives and perspectives” of the executive branch.

    The courts are an important part of the justice system. While criticism of judicial decisions is a constitutionally protected right of every American and embedded in our tradition of free and open discussion about government, judges should not be attacked or diminished by another branch of government just because they do not rule in its favor. Judicial independence is critical to maintaining the rule of law in our nation.

    Go to www.abalegalfactcheck.com for the ABA’s new feature that cites case and statutory law and other legal precedents to distinguish legal fact from fiction.

    With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

    Related News:

    AG Sessions on Hawaii District Judge Remarks: ‘I Wasn’t Criticizing the Judge or the Island’

    President Trump’s Declaration of Opioid Public Health Emergency Ignores Reality, Condemning More People to Death and Imprisonment in Name of the Drug War

    Source: Drug Policy Alliance

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    Washington, D.C. - October 28, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- President Trump declared a public health emergency on the opioid overdose crisis. In a speech at the White House, Trump characterized the crisis as a “war” and outlined his administration’s plans to “defeat” it, including Reagan-era style “just say no” prevention campaigns and restrictions on opioid prescribing. He also touted drug courts, building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and other punitive approaches as solutions.

    Advocates expressed concern that Trump’s approach to drugs ignores the facts about the causes of the opioid overdose crisis, stigmatizes immigrants, and doubles down on policies that have already proven not only ineffective, but devastating for people across the United States, particularly among communities of color.

    The following is a statement by Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

    “In the face of a devastating overdose crisis, President Donald Trump today made clear his strategy: to stick his head in the sand and point the finger at immigrants. While a couple of his proposals might help mitigate overdose, his speech today revealed a profound and reckless disregard for the realities about drugs and drug use in the United States. Trump seemed to be saying that prevention boils down to ads encouraging young people to "just say no" to drugs, ignoring the utter failure of that strategy when the Reagan administration started it in the 1980s. He made a big deal about completely taking a certain opioid off the market, even though the opioids involved in overdoses are mostly coming from the illicit market. He blamed immigrants for bringing drugs across the border, ignoring that immigrants are overwhelmingly more law-abiding than U.S. citizens, and that the illicit drug trade has always found ways to get around the walls and barriers the U.S. has put up to block it. He held up drug courts as a solution, ignoring all the evidence showing they do more harm than good. And he continued talking about criminal justice answers to a public health problem, even though the war on drugs is itself a major factor contributing to the overdose crisis. Trump had a chance to do something meaningful to help stem the tide of overdose deaths in the country; instead, he is condemning even more people to death, imprisonment, and deportation in the name of his war on drugs.”

    ASAM Applauds President Trump For Taking Historic Step

    Source: American Society of Addiction Medicine

    Dr Brandt Skincare

    Rockville, MD - October 28, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- President Donald J. Trump directed the declaration of a Nationwide Public Health Emergency to address the country’s opioid crisis. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) applauds President Trump for taking this historic step. However, it’s critical for our nation to understand that opioid addiction is a chronic disease that leads to characteristic biological, psychological, and social manifestations, often requiring long-term treatment and support to address these components. As a result, this historic step must remain part of a longer march toward a day when all communities have been empowered to build a healthcare delivery infrastructure that can consistently deliver affordable, evidence-based addiction treatment to those in need. Corey Waller, MD, MS, FACEP, DFASAM, Chair of ASAM’s Legislative Advocacy Committee, had this to say about the President’s announcement:

    “We hope the public health emergency declaration will lay the groundwork for long-term, systemic changes to our prevention and treatment delivery systems, as well as to our training programs for physicians and other health professionals. If we are truly going to turn the tide and prevent future crises related to substance misuse and addiction, then we must come together to make the investments required. ASAM will continue to work closely with the President, his administration, and Congress to broaden access to evidence-based addiction treatment and prevention programs that will profoundly improve the health and safety of all people.”