Saturday, September 9, 2017

Protect DREAMer Confidentiality Act of 2017 Introduced

Source: Senator Martin Heinrich (D - NM)

Washington, D.C. - September 9, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) are leading efforts in the House and Senate to safeguard the private information—such as addresses and telephone numbers—of the young immigrants known as DREAMers to ensure that they are not targeted for deportation.

“Nearly a million DREAMers across the country have come out of the shadows because of the promise that DACA represented, including more than 7,000 from New Mexico. These are some of our brightest students and veterans who came forward based on the promise that our government would not deport them and provided personal information about themselves and their families. However, DREAMers across the country now face a harsh uncertainty about their future and are worried that the information they shared will be used against them. To do this would be an extraordinary and unprecedented breach of trust by our government,” said Heinrich. “That is why I introduced the Protect DREAMer Confidentiality Act to safeguard DREAMers’ private information—such as addresses and telephone numbers. We must protect the personal information DACA applicants entrusted with the government and ensure that they are not unfairly targeted by President Trump for deportation.”

“DREAMers provided their personal information in exchange for protected status. No matter what one may think about the DACA program, it is wrong to use this information against DREAMers and Congress needs to prevent that from happening,” said O’Rourke.

Heinrich and O’Rourke introduced bicameral legislation to protect the confidentiality of information submitted in requests for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) from disclosure to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or U.S. Customs and Border Protection for any purpose other than implementing the DACA Program, unless there are national security concerns or other limited exception.

A copy of the Protect DREAMer Confidentiality Act of 2017 introduced by Heinrich and cosponsored by U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) is available here.

A copy of the Protect DREAMer Confidentiality Act of 2017 introduced by O'Rourke and U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) is available here.

Child Protection Improvements Act Passes in the Senate Judiciary Committee

Source: Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R - UT)

Washington, D.C. - September 9, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The bipartisan Child Protection Improvements Act—which was introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)—passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This bill amends the National Child Protection Act of 1993 to establish a national criminal history background check system and criminal history review program for organizations that serve children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities.

Senator Hatch’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

Thank you, Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein, for bringing the Child Protection Improvements Act before the Judiciary Committee today. I also want to thank Senator Franken for teaming up with me to introduce this important bill, as well as Senators Klobuchar, Kennedy, Sasse, and Blumenthal, who have all joined as cosponsors. The objective of this bipartisan bill is simple: to better protect the most vulnerable in our society—namely, children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities.

The Child Protection Improvements Act amends the National Child Protection Act of 1993 to make permanent a pilot program originally created by the Adam Walsh Act. This program ensures that organizations that serve children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities have access to FBI fingerprint background checks for their employees, volunteers, and coaches. My hope is that this bill, which is broadly supported by youth-serving organizations and law enforcement groups, will save many lives and better protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Yesterday, a letter in support of S. 705 was sent to this Committee signed by twenty-eight youth-serving organizations, including the YMCA, the Girl Scouts of America, the Boys & Girls Club, and many more. I ask unanimous consent that this letter be placed in the record.

I encourage my colleagues on this Committee to join me in advancing this legislation to the Senate floor.

With that, I call up and offer my manager’s amendment ALB17605 to S. 705, the Child Protection Improvements Act. This amendment caps the cost of an FBI background check under this program “at the actual cost of the background check.”

Additionally, the amendment clarifies that for-profit organizations participating in this program may not pay less than the total sum of the costs of the FBI background check.

Bill Introduced To Cut Insurance Subsidies and Save Taxpayers $4 Billion

Source: Senator Jeff Flake (R - AZ)

Washington, D.C. - September 9, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) today introduced a bipartisan bill to allow taxpayers to realize an estimated $3.9 billion in savings, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The bill targets federal subsidies supporting windfall profits for private crop insurance companies, while in no way impacting farmers’ ability to purchase reasonably priced crop insurance.

The bill amends the Federal Crop Insurance Act to lower the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) rate of return from 14.5 percent to 9.6 percent. The SRA is an agreement negotiated between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the private insurance companies that determines the amount of taxpayer subsidies that will be paid to those private companies for participating in the federal crop insurance program, as well as the amount of risk shouldered by the federal government.

A reduction to 8.9 percent in the SRA rate of return was already included in the 2015 budget deal passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, but crop insurance advocates were able to have this change repealed those savings through an omnibus spending bill. Reducing the SRA rate of return to 9.6 percent will only impact the profits that crop insurers make, and it will have no impact on farmers’ crop insurance prices or the availability of crop insurance.

The bill also ends the provision prohibiting the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) from realizing significant taxpayer savings through regular renegotiations of the SRA. When the SRA was previously renegotiated in 2010, over $6 billion in taxpayer savings was found. Unfortunately, the 2014 farm bill prohibits the USDA from finding any additional savings that could reduce the federal deficit, and requires any savings that happen to be found be put back into the crop insurance program.

“With the national debt fast approaching an unprecedented $20 trillion, cutting wasteful federal subsidies to big insurance companies and saving the taxpayers almost $4 billion in the process just seems like common sense to me,” said Flake. “These much-needed reforms will, not only save taxpayers billions of dollars, but also maintain farmers’ access to crucial, affordable crop insurance.”

“The costs of the crop insurance program are skyrocketing unnecessarily,” said Shaheen. “We can ensure protections for farmers without putting taxpayers on the hook to guarantee enormous profits for insurance companies. This bipartisan legislation will not impact insurance options available to farmers and will save taxpayers billions of dollars.”


  • In July 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a study finding the crop insurance program’s target rate of return does not reflect market conditions. Read that full report here.
  • On Nov. 5, 2015, Flake and Shaheen introduced the Assisting Family Farmers through Insurance Reform (AFFIRM) Act, a bipartisan bill to reform the crop insurance system. Read more on the bill here.
  • Legislation Introduced to Support Civic Participation and Strengthen Voting Rights

    Source: Senator Tammy Ducksworth (D - IL)

    Washington, D.C. - September 9, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced the Pre-Registration of Voters Everywhere (PROVE) Act today to expand voter registration efforts nationwide and increase American citizens’ participation in their democratic process. The PROVE Act would enable citizens who are 16 and older to preregister to be added to voter rolls when they turn 18. Representatives Don Beyer (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) also introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives today.

    “The right to vote is a founding tenet of our democracy, and the strength of our democracy depends upon the participation of the American people,” said Duckworth. “Yet, many Americans still face unnecessary barriers when it comes to casting their vote, and voter turnout continues to lag behind that of many other developed nations. We should be doing everything we can to make it easier – not harder – for Americans to access the ballot box. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill to help young Americans become more civically engaged. By allowing Americans to pre-register at 16 years old, we have a chance to increase voter participation and strengthen voting rights for Americans across the country.”

    Young people are already allowed to pre-register to vote in twenty states – including Illinois and Maryland – and the District of Columbia. The PROVE Act would nationalize this standard to increase civic participation among young Americans by reducing existing barriers many young people face when it comes to voting in federal elections.

    “Too many people still face barriers in voting, and increasing participation in our democratic progress is something we should work toward – regardless of party or political background. The PROVE Act would do just that, ensuring that young people are pre-registered to vote and ready to head to the ballot box when they turn 18 years old,” said Van Hollen. “Maryland has been a national leader on this issue, and this legislation will help move the entire nation forward and ultimately strengthen our democracy.”

    Duckworth has been a vocal advocate for strengthening voting rights in Illinois and across the country. In July, she helped introduce the Anti-Voter Suppression Act to repeal President Trump’s Executive Order establishing an “election integrity” commission to investigate widespread voter fraud. Duckworth has been a vocal critic of the commission’s actions, including its intrusive and illegal request for personally-identifiable information on every United States voter, which they temporarily halted amid a growing number of legal challenges.

    The PROVE Act, which the Senators introduced during National Voter Registration Month, is endorsed by Common Cause, Fair Vote Action, Head Count, Project Vote and Rock the Vote.

    Full text of the bill is available here.

    Donnelly, Collins Reintroduce 40 Hours is Full Time Act

    Source: Senator Joe Donnely (D - IN)

    Washington, D.C. - September 9, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- To protect American workers, U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Susan Collins (R-ME) announced the reintroduction of their Forty Hours is Full Time Act, which would change the definition of a “full-time employee” under the Affordable Care Act to someone who works an average of 40 hours per week.

    Employers across our country continue to make decisions to cut employees’ hours due to how the health care law currently defines a “full-time employee” – as someone who works an average of 30 hours per week. Employers are making the law’s 30-hour standard part of their business planning, and as a result, employers nationwide are cutting their workers’ hours to 29 hours a week or fewer. The bipartisan legislation would help employees impacted by the current definition of a full-time worker and allow employers to better plan for the future by using the more commonly accepted definition of “full time”: someone who works 40 hours.

    Donnelly said, “I believe that we can work together to fix issues with the health care law and improve our health care system. I have heard from part-time workers across many industries, like school cafeteria managers to grocery store employees to adjunct professors at colleges, that have seen their hours cut to comply with the health care law. In Indiana, common sense holds that a full-time employee is someone who works an average of 40 hours a week, and the health care law should reflect that. I’m proud to partner with my friend and colleague Senator Collins to reintroduce the Forty Hours is Full Time Act, and I am hopeful the Senate will consider this bipartisan bill soon.”

    Collins said, “Our legislation is very straightforward and would remedy a serious flaw in the Affordable Care Act that is causing workers to have their hours reduced and their pay cut. The law creates a perverse incentive for businesses to cut their employees’ hours so they are no longer considered ‘full time.’ Our concerns are not hypothetical: thousands of employers across our country are cutting work hours or staffing levels as a result of the law. The employees affected by this rule aren’t limited to any one sector. In Maine, I have heard from school employees, restaurant staff, seasonal employees, home care nurses, municipal workers, and many more. Our goal is simple. We want to protect part-time workers from having their hours reduced and their paychecks cut because of the illogical definition of full-time work in this law.”

    The Forty Hours is Full Time Act that was reintroduced this week is the same legislation that Collins and Donnelly first introduced in June 2013 and again in 2015.


    Source: Senator Cathrine Cortez Masto (D - NV)

    Washington, D.C. - September 9, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) released the following statement on a bill she cosponsored to extend temporary bankruptcy judgeships. The Bankruptcy Judgeship Act of 2017 calls for a five-year extension for 14 temporary bankruptcy judgeships and will create four new bankruptcy judgeships. The bill passed the Senate and extends one of the temporary judgeships in Nevada for five years.

    “An efficient bankruptcy court system is critical for individuals and corporations as they go through the challenges of seeking bankruptcy relief. This bill will help address the needs of Nevada’s court system by extending a temporary bankruptcy judgeship for five years, ensuring that we are helping bring justice to Nevadans swiftly and effectively. I am pleased that this bill received bipartisan support and I remain committed to improving our justice system to better serve Nevadans.”

    Casey Statement on ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017

    Source: Senator Robert P.Casey, Jr. (D - PA)

    Washington, D.C. - September 9, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Bob Casey released the following statement following the House Judiciary Committee’s decision to advance H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017:

    “Today, the House Judiciary Committee moved to gut the rights of people with disabilities to have equal access to restaurants, hotels, theaters, ball parks, web sites, and all places and services to which all non-disabled citizens have access. In 1990, Congress, through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), affirmed the civil rights of all people with disabilities to have access to all businesses and services offered to the public. Those offering services to the public have had 27 years to make their services accessible to all. H.R. 620 would further delay making services and settings accessible and remove the incentive to make businesses and other public entities accessible for people with disabilities. Good legislation would provide support to help businesses comply with the ADA. I stand with the over 250 disability groups that oppose this approach and will fight to protect the civil rights as enshrined in the ADA.”

    Carper to Trump: Reinstate and Support Extreme Weather Resiliency Programs to Save Lives, Livelihoods and Taxpayer Dollars

    Source: Thomas R. Carper (D - DE)

    Washington, D.C. - September 9, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to support a number of recently revoked or suppressed initiatives designed to help our communities prepare for the growing threats posed by extreme weather events and climate change. Since taking office, President Trump has revoked several Obama-era executive orders promoting extreme weather resiliency and focused efforts on questioning climate science versus planning for the impacts of our changing climate.

    “While our country debates how to address climate change, rising sea levels and extreme weather events are no longer a matter of debate, becoming the new norm and placing extreme burdens on the American people and economy,” Senator Carper wrote. “As seen most recently with Hurricane Harvey, the impacts of extreme weather events are devastating, resulting in lives lost and imposing long-term economic costs.”

    The costs for communities to recover and rebuild from these events are adding up: For Hurricane Harvey alone, the Governor of Texas estimates a cost of up to $180 billion, which is more than the GDPs of Delaware, Maine and South Dakota combined, and more than the budget for the entire U.S. Navy. NOAA has reported that since 1980, the costs of extreme weather events in the United States has exceeded $1.2 trillion, and such events costing $1 billion or more have doubled (on average) in frequency over the past decade. For these reasons and more, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has listed climate change as one of the top fiscal risks facing our country.

    Senator Carper continued, “With a little extra planning – combined with prudent, targeted investments – the federal government can help save lives, livelihoods and taxpayer dollars. These are a few examples of actions the federal government can take today to make our communities safer for tomorrow. The recent events in Houston and the impending impacts from Hurricane Irma are reminders that our country can no longer delay. We must better prepare our communities, making them more resilient in the face of a new climate reality. I stand ready to work with you and your Administration to address these issues.”

    Specifically, Senator Carper urged President Trump to:

    1. Reinstate and Fund Agency Actions on Climate Preparedness and Resiliency, which provided tools for American communities to “strengthen their resilience to extreme weather and prepare for other impacts of climate change,” including provisions to help communities hit by extreme weather events to rebuild smarter and stronger to withstand future events;

    2. Reinstate the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, which provided a flexible framework to establish a new flood risk management standard for federally funded projects;

    3. Release the Fourth National Climate Assessment and Extend the Charter for the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment, which helps communities understand and plan for the near-term and future risks of climate change;

    4. Hold a Red Team/Blue Team Exercise on Climate Preparedness, Not on Climate Science, to assess our nation’s structural vulnerabilities to the expected impacts of climate change.

    The text of the letter can be found below and in pdf form here.