Thursday, September 14, 2017

House Adopts Tonko Amendment to Upgrade Mental Health Crisis Response Systems

Source: House Representative Paul D. Tonko (D-NY, 20th)

Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to adopt an amendment by New York Congressman Paul D. Tonko that would allocate $12.5 million to states to establish real-time bed registries to assist individuals experiencing a psychiatric or substance abuse crisis.

Rep. Paul Tonko: “When a person is going through a mental health or substance use crisis, getting immediate and effective treatment can be a matter of life and death. Today, many states today lack a reliable system for keeping track of which treatment facilities have space available, meaning vulnerable patients are left waiting while overburdened healthcare workers call each area hospital, one by one, in the hope that they can find an appropriate placement. Even at its best, this is an inefficient and time-consuming process. At its worst, the results are tragic. By streamlining the process of finding the appropriate treatment placement for patients in crisis, this program promises to save lives, increase system efficiency, and provide a higher standard of care for those who urgently need it.”

The Strengthening Community Crisis Response Systems grant program was authored by Rep. Tonko and included as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law by former President Obama.

Bed registries supported by this legislation would collect and provide real-time Internet-based information regarding available beds, the type of patient that may be admitted, the level of security provided, and any other information that may be necessary to allow for the proper identification of appropriate facilities for treatment of individuals in psychiatric or substance abuse crisis.

These systems include psychiatric hospitals, crisis stabilization centers, first responders, emergency health care providers, primary care providers, law enforcement, court systems, health care payers, social service providers, behavioral health providers, and residential community resources.

Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act Passes House, Opposed by Congress Member

Source: House Representative Dina Titus (D-NV, 1st)

Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada’s First Congressional District released the following statement after the U.S. House passed H.R. 3697, the so-called “Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act.”

The legislation creates new grounds for removal of “gang members,” but the bill’s poorly-written and broad language captures many individuals who have no involvement in any gang activity: members of the religious community, humanitarian workers, and green-card holders, among others. The bill strips away due process rights by allowing law enforcement to take action based on the mere belief of an association with criminal activity. There have been no hearings, no mark-ups, and no opportunities to offer amendments.

“A vote for this bill is a vote to attack, profile and deport immigrants. I stand with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to say that this legislation’s dangerous and sweeping provisions ignore due process rights and change the definition of ‘criminal gang’ to target nuns, ministers, rabbis, humanitarian workers, and others who harbor immigrants who are often fleeing danger. Instead of infringing on constitutional rights and ramming through bills without normal order, Republicans should work with Democrats to debate and pass comprehensive reform bills to fix our nation’s broken immigration system and fight crime.”

Denies Admission to Individuals on the Mere Belief of Wrongdoing.

The bill denies the admission of many categories of immigrants—including persons sponsored for family- and employment-based green cards, as well as certain lawful permanent residents returning from abroad—based on nothing more than an immigration officer having a “reason to believe” of an affiliation to gang or certain other criminal activity.

Under this bill, many immigrants could be denied admission or even deported with little due process based on no real evidence of a gang affiliation. The “reason to believe” standard is a low burden of proof similar to probable cause, and it does not require a conviction or even an arrest. The government need only have grounds to “believe” an affiliation to certain wrongdoing.

Classifies Religious Workers and Humanitarian Aid Workers as Gang Members.

  • The bill refers to a broad range of criminal activity, including the “harboring” of immigrants under INA § 274. This “harboring” provision is not restricted to those in the business of smuggling immigrants, but includes anyone who provides shelter, transportation, or support to undocumented immigrants. The federal courts have found that “harboring” includes offering a known undocumented individual a place to stay. This statute has been used against religious workers, as well as persons who live with undocumented family members.
  • As noted above, the bill would not even require a criminal conviction (or even an arrest) in order to support a finding of harboring for purposes of this provision. Instead, the mere belief of involvement in harboring could be used to classify individuals as criminal gang members.
  • This provision could thus be used against religious or humanitarian workers who provide aid to undocumented immigrants. The bill thus would turn nuns who assist undocumented immigrants into gang members overnight. And it is retroactive, so any non-citizen religious or humanitarian aid worker who has harbored an undocumented immigrant in the past could be detained and deported.
  • Bill Introduced to Repeal Obamacare’s Individual Mandate

    Source: House Representative Pat Tiberi (R-OH, 12th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Pat Tiberi (R-OH), chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee and Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, introduced legislation that would repeal Obamacare’s individual health insurance mandate.

    “We need to put patients and families, not the federal government, in charge of their own health care,” said Tiberi. “However, the individual mandate is forcing Americans to purchase plans they don’t want, don’t need, and can’t afford to use. This legislation would provide relief to Americans who are trapped in overpriced and unreliable Obamacare plans and eliminate the threat of an unfair fine from the IRS.”

    “Obamacare’s individual mandate fundamentally alters the relationship between the government and the governed, severely limiting individual freedom,” said Burgess. “Since its conception, the individual mandate has been a direct attack on our personal liberty. This bill will provide the American people immediate relief from this overstep.”

    Click Here to read H.R. 3725.

    Rep. Thompson Announces Opposition to So-Called “Sportsmen’s Package”

    Source: House Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA, 5th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Representative Mike Thompson (CA-05), Chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and two-time co-chair of the Congressional Sportsman's Caucus, issued the following statement on the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, following a markup on the legislation:

    “The SHARE Act is being billed as a ‘sportsmen’s package’, but the drawbacks for outdoor recreationists in this bill outweigh the benefits,” said Chairman Thompson. “The bill includes a number of anti-conservation provisions, jeopardizes lives by weakening gun regulations, and opens up law enforcement officers personally to frivolous litigation.

    “The bill would give States the ability to override federal fishing rules in federally-managed waters. This could be devastating not only to species, but also to the long-term viability of fishing industries and the countless jobs they sustain. Overriding the science that drives fishing in federal waters is short-sighted and counter to our economic interests. California’s National Marine Sanctuaries alone generate more than $140 million a year in economic impact from commercial fishing.

    “The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) is a long-standing program that has been extremely effective in leveraging non-federal funds to protect, restore, and manage wetland habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. However, this bill would prohibit NAWCA from using funds for land acquisition, one of the core purposes of NAWCA: to protect and conserve wetlands for public benefit. Conservation projects like the California Delta and the Suisun Wetlands have been greatly enhanced because of NAWCA land acquisition. The beauty and diversity of wetlands like these belongs to all of us and must be protected. Wetlands across our country also support a $2.4 billion recreation industry fueled by hunters, birdwatchers, boaters, photographers, and many more.

    “This bill would also deregulate the sale of firearm silencers. Advocates of this provision claim it serves to protect gun-owners’ hearing, a laughable assertion if the consequences weren’t so serious. Silencers do not actually silence gunfire, despite what we’ve seen in movies, they simply disperse the sound. We’ve all become too familiar with mass shootings in this country, and the deregulation of silencers could take future active shooter situations from bad to worse, preventing law enforcement from pinpointing active shooters.

    “Further, the SHARE Act would open up our law enforcement officers to personal legal liability for doing their jobs when they inquiry about interstate firearm transportation during routine stops. This is absolutely ridiculous—we need to be making law enforcement’s job easier, not opening up individual officers to lawsuits.

    “I deeply regret that my colleagues in the majority party have failed to take into account the priorities of hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationists while crafting this ‘sportsmen’s package.’ I hope they will listen to the folks they are trying to help and make significant changes to the bill. Until then, I will continue to strongly oppose the legislation."

    Off-Leash Walking in Golden Gate National Recreation Area Passes House

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

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) released the following statement today after her amendment to prevent the National Park Service from restricting off-leash dog walking in Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) near San Francisco passed the House of Representatives.

    “I’m pleased that my amendment to stop the National Park Service (NPS) from restricting off-leash dog walking in Golden Gate National Recreation Area has passed the House. This is a 40-year tradition in the Bay Area, and the NPS’ attempts to ban it have been fraught with corruption and opaque decision making. I particularly thank my colleague and fellow dog lover, Congressman Jeff Denham, for co-sponsoring this amendment. We need to start from scratch in order to have a Dog Management Plan that respects the needs of all GGNRA users, even the furry four-legged ones.”

    Immigration in the National Interest Act Introduced

    Source: House Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX, 21st)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced the Immigration in the National Interest Act (H.R. 3775), which creates a points-based merit immigration system that gives priority to immigrants who have the skills and abilities needed to contribute to our U.S. economy.

    The legislation is the House companion to Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue’s (R-GA) introduction of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act.

    Rep. Smith: “Our immigration system is the most generous in the world. The United States admits one million legal immigrants every year. However, less than one in six green card holders are admitted based on education and skills.

    “The Immigration in the National Interest Act ensures that our legal immigration system prioritizes those with the highest skills and education necessary to boost economic growth, spur innovation, and create jobs in our country. It will also reduce the number of low-skilled and under-educated immigrants. Studies have shown these individuals typically depress wages or take jobs from Americans, and receive four times as much more in government assistance than they pay in taxes.

    “Additionally, this bill will end the policy of automatically admitting extended relatives of legally admitted immigrants, often referred to as chain migration. Those relatives outside the nuclear family must use other methods to immigrate legally to our country.

    “Thank you to Senators Cotton and Perdue for their partnership on this important issue. And I appreciate President Trump’s support of this legislation and his help in fulfilling the pledge we made to make our immigration laws better serve America.”

    Smith Bills Take Aim at Two Unjust Policies Uncovered in Superstorm Sandy

    Source: House Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ, 4th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) is leading the charge, for a second time, to reform two federal disaster relief and recovery programs, one that discriminates against faith-based organizations and another that forces individual victims to take on new debt while boxing them out of possible federal grants. These flaws surfaced during the Superstorm Sandy recovery effort and both fixes are now gaining support as Congress prepares a larger recovery package for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

    “Superstorm Sandy taught us tough lessons—in the preparation for a storm and its aftermath, it showed us some significant flaws in our federal assistance programs,” said Smith, whose constituents in coastal areas in Monmouth and Ocean counties were hit hard by the Superstorm Sandy in 2012. “The Equity for Disaster Victims Act of 2017 (H.R. 3674) and the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2017 (H.R. 2405) address injustices in our disaster recovery programs and both bills are desperately needed,” he said.

    Smith’s original bill, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 592), passed the House of Representatives just months after Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey in a decisive 354-72 vote. Sadly, the Senate failed to act on the legislation.

    Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2017

    The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2017 (H.R. 2405) is bipartisan legislation that would put houses of worship on an even playing field with other private non-profit organizations seeking disaster assistance. In the last 8 years, here have been many nonprofit religious organizations, churches, synagogues and other religious centers that were completely shut out of getting federal assistance despite damage they sustained and the essential services they provide in the wake of a disaster.

    “Faith-based organizations are hit just as hard as other private non-profits when natural disasters strike,” Smith said. “They don’t need or want special treatment—but to be totally excluded from recovery programs is unjust and unfair. It’s ironic that houses of worship are among the first to open their doors and serve victims of natural disasters—but also the first to be turned away from disaster assistance.

    FEMA’s past discriminatory policy of excluding houses of worship from disaster relief is not prescribed by any law. The Obama Administration just refused to help them. It’s discrimination and the policy must change.”

    Smith’s new bill, cosponsored by lead Democrat Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and a dozen bipartisan Members, stipulates that FEMA provides disaster relief assistance using criteria that are neutral with regard to religion. Any funds granted to houses of worship would be allocated in accordance with FEMA’s standard policies and procedures for other private nonprofit facilities in the wake of a natural disaster.

    Last week, lawmakers were encouraged by messaging from President Trump. On September 8th, the President tweeted: “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).”

    The Equity for Disaster Victims Act of 2017

    Smith’s second bill, The Equity for Disaster Victims Act of 2017 (H.R. 3674), would reform the federal government’s disaster relief programs to allow homeowners, small businesses and nonprofits that accepted Small Business Administration (SBA) loans following Sandy to receive federal grants for which they would otherwise be eligible except for the fact that they had accepted a federal loan. Smith’s bill would require that the grant money be used to repay the loan, thereby enabling victims to avoid further debt while allowing them to benefit from the same grants—usually run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development—that others who delayed their application later received.

    “Homeowners who were encouraged—and in many cases pressured—to move quickly and apply for loans through the SBA only to learn later that such loans make them ineligible for subsequent grant programs,” Smith explained. “The current misguided rule is designed to eliminate a duplication of benefits, but instead it punishes those who follow federal advice and rewards those who procrastinate. My bill restores fairness to the equation and enables victims to qualify on equal footing for grant programs that are by nature available later in the process.”

    In July of 2015, Smith testified before the House Committee on Small Business and urged SBA and HUD to provide an equitable solution. He told the committee of a New Jersey family who applied for and received an SBA home disaster loan after their homes were destroyed by Sandy.

    After liquidating their retirement savings and incurring a substantial tax penalty as a result, the family applied for relief through New Jersey’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. The family was shocked to learn of their ineligibility for a grant award solely due to their acceptance of the SBA loan—a consequence that they were never informed of during the loan process. Others in a similar predicament were also denied grants.

    “To qualify for the SBA loans, victims tap other assets, company pension plans, IRAs, college saving accounts—all to take on new debt so they can rebuild,” said Smith. “Allowing them access to grants to help pay back that debt helps them get back on their feet and ensures that they are not penalized for working diligently towards recovery.”

    Smith noted that not only is the policy unfair, but it is not clearly explained to people desperate after a disaster. “Homeowners, from the Jersey Shore to the Gulf Coast and everywhere in between, need to know of their potential preclusion from further assistance when considering home disaster loans,” Smith said. “Post-Superstorm Sandy, these loans were the primary option offered to homeowners needing to rebuild. Those who accept home disaster loans should not be precluded from future HUD assistance just because such assistance is not yet available.”

    Senior Safe Act Re-Introduced

    Source: House Representative Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ, 9th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09) and Congressman Bruce Poliquin (ME-02) reintroduced the bipartisan Senior Safe Act, legislation to help identify, report, and stop financial abuse of seniors.

    “Americans lose billions of dollars each year to financial fraud, and seniors are a top target,” said Congresswoman Sinema. “These financial crimes devastate their bank accounts and often go unreported. Seniors deserve to retire with dignity, and they shouldn’t have to worry that their hard earned savings are at risk of fraud. This bill is a commonsense solution to help identify, report, and stop financial abuse of Arizona seniors.”

    “Maine has the most elderly population in the Nation, a demographic that we have seen is particularly vulnerable to these vicious fraud schemes,” said Congressman Poliquin. “We need to make sure that our seniors are provided the help and protections against these fraud perpetrators, who are estimated to cost our seniors nearly $3 billion annually through illegal financial abuses. It is absolutely unacceptable for Mainers’ hard-earned investments to be so egregiously abused by common criminals, and I am proud to work across the aisle in continuing to ensure they are protected.”

    Recent studies estimate nearly 1 in 5 American seniors may be a target of financial fraud or abuse. Even when financial institutions suspect abuse, the abuse may go unpunished. Current laws lack the necessary flexibility to allow financial institutions to report suspected abuse to authorities.

    The Senior Safe Act encourages individuals and financial institutions to report suspected instances of fraud and elder financial abuse. It also incentivizes firms to train employees to identify and stop financial fraud. This bill helps law enforcement track down financial criminals who target seniors by enabling banks, credit unions, investment advisors, broker-dealers, and other financial service providers to better communicate with appropriate agencies when they suspect financial exploitation of seniors.

    Last Congress, this commonsense legislation passed the House with broad bipartisan support.

    Comprehensive Child Care and Early Learning Bill to Ensure Families Have Access to Affordable, High-Quality Child Care Introduced

    Source: House Representative Carol Shea Porter (D NH, 1st)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Representatives Shea-Porter (NH-01), Bobby Scott (VA-03), ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Jared Polis (CO-02), and Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, a comprehensive early learning and child care bill to ensure affordable, high-quality child care for working families across the country.

    “Decades of research shows that properly nurturing children in the early years of life is instrumental in supporting enhanced brain development, cognitive functioning, and emotional and physical health," said Congressman Scott. "Today, the cost of child care has skyrocketed and too many parents now have to choose between paying for child care or a good-paying job. This bill fixes this national crisis and lays out the path of what early learning in America should look like.”

    “This legislation is about children learning and parents earning, with a bold solution to close the gap in access to affordable, quality child care and early education.” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Democrats are fighting to give working mothers and fathers A Better Deal in the 21st century economy – one that puts children on the path to success tomorrow and parents on a path to bigger paychecks today.”

    The Child Care for Working Families Act would create a federal-state partnership to ensure families making less than 150 percent of their state’s median income do not pay more than seven percent of their income on child care. The bill also supports access to high-quality preschool programs for low- and moderate-income 3- and 4-year olds. Finally, the bill would support our nation’s child care workforce by significantly improving wages and training for teachers and caregivers.

    “Education, from early childhood through college, is the single best investment we can make in our future. Sadly, many parents are priced-out of high-quality preschool and child care,” said Congressman Polis. “No child should be denied a good start just because of their family's economic circumstances, and no parent should have to be faced with the burden of not being able to afford the very best for their kids. The Child Care for Working Families Act will finally give families access to high-quality child care and preschool.”

    “At a time when far too many working families are struggling, finding quality, child care that doesn’t break the bank shouldn’t be another thing keeping parents up at night,” said Senator Murray. “As a former preschool teacher, I know what quality early learning and care can do for a child’s development, so I’m proud to introduce the Child Care for Working Families Act to address our child care crisis and support access to high-quality preschool so that all children are ready for kindergarten and beyond. This is not only the right to thing to for working families, but it’s a smart investment in our children, our future, and our economy.”

    The Child Care for Working Families Act is a part of the Democrats’ economic agenda to offer working families A Better Deal. Affordable child care is just one of many proposals Democrats put forth to build an economy that works for all, not just those at the top.

    “American families shouldn’t have to break the bank, sacrifice their careers or forgo saving for the future so their kid can have access to high-equality learning and care that will put them on a path to success later in life,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. “Instead of helping the one percent in this country with a new child care tax cut, Democrats are offering a better deal for American families to address the high cost of child care.”

    Affordable, high-quality child care is no longer a luxury—it’s a necessity,” said Senator Casey. “Unfortunately, many working families have been priced out of these services that we know help children excel. This legislation works to level the playing field so that all children can begin on the right foot, regardless of income.”

    In addition to Representatives Scott and Polis, other cosponsors in the House of Representatives include Reps. Adams (NC-12), Bass (CA-37), Beatty (OH-03), Blunt Rochester (DE-AL), Bonamici (OR-01), Carson (IN-07), Castro (TX-20), Chu (CA-27), Cicilline (RI-01), Clark (MA-05), Cleaver II (MO-05), Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Conyers Jr. (MI-13), Courtney (CT-02), Cummings (MD-07), D. Davis (IL-07), S. Davis (CA-53), DelBene (WA-01), DeSaulnier (CA-11), Dingell (MI-12), Espaillat (NY-13), Frankel (FL-21), Fudge (OH-11), Grijalva (AZ-03), Guitérrez (IL-04), Hanabusa (HI-01), Hastings (FL-20), Jayapal (WA-07), Khanna (CA-17), Kihuen (NV-04), Kilmer (WA-06), Krishnamoorthi (IL-08), Kuster (NH-02), Langevin (RI-02), Lawrence (MI-14), Lee (CA-13), Luján (NM-03), Matsui (CA-06), McEachin (VA-04), Moore (WI-04), Norcross (NJ-01), Norton (DC-AL), Payne Jr. (NJ-10), Pelosi (CA-12), Pocan (WI-02), Raskin (MD-08), Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Rush (IL-01), Sablan (MP-AL), Shea-Porter (NH-01), Speier (CA-14), Takano (CA-41), Vargas (CA-51), Velázquez (NY-07), Walz (MN-01), Welch (VT-AL), Wilson (FL-24)

    In addition to Senators Murray and Casey, other cosponsors in the Senate include Senators Hirono (D-HI), Franken (D-MN), Schumer (D-NY), Leahy (D-VT), Feinstein (D-CA), Wyden (D-OR), Durbin (D-IL), Menendez (D-NJ), Klobuchar (D-MN), Merkley (D-OR), Gillibrand (D-NY), Blumenthal (D-CT), Baldwin (D-WI), Murphy (D-CT), Heinrich (D-NM), Warren (D-MA), Markey (D-MA), Booker (D-NJ), Van Hollen (D-MD), Duckworth (D-IL), Hassan (D-NH), Harris (D-CA), Reed (D-RI), Udall (D-NM), and Brown (D-OH).

    Text of the Child Care for Working Families Act can be found HERE.

    Fact sheet on the Child Care for Working Families Act can be found HERE.

    Over 100 Organizations have endorsed the Child Care for Working Families Act: Organizations Supporting the Child Care for Working Families Act AASA: The School Superintendents Association, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, American Federation of Teachers, ASCD, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Center for American Progress, Caring Across Generations, Center for Community Change Action, Center for Frontline Retail, Child Care Aware® of America, Child Care Law Center, Child Welfare League of America, Children's Defense Fund, Children’s Leadership Council (CLC), CLASP, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Committee for Children, Common Sense Media, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Education Task Force, Council for Exceptional Children, Council of Administrators of Special Education, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Democrats for Education Reform, Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC), Easterseals, Economic Opportunity Institute, Every Child Matters, Family Focused Treatment Association, Family Values at Work, First Five Years Fund, First Focus Campaign for Children, IDEA Infant Toddler Coordinators Association, International Literacy Association, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Make it Work Campaign, MomsRising, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association for Family Child Care, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, National Black Child Development Institute, National Center for Families Learning, National Council of Jewish Women, National Council of Teachers of English, National Disability Rights Network, National Education Association, National Indian Head Start Directors Association, National Organization for Women, National PTA, National Writing Project, National Council on Learning Disabilities, National Women’s Law Center, Parents as Teachers, People's Action, RESULTS: The Power to End Poverty, Save the Children, Schoolhouse Connection, Social Work Association of America, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Teach Plus, The Arc of the United States, The Education Trust, ZERO TO THREE, California Association for the Education of Young Children, Child Care Aware of Washington, Children’s Alliance (WA), Children's Home Society of Washington, First 5 Association of California, First 5 California, First 5 LA, League of Education Voters (WA), Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, Maryland Working Families, Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children, Missouri Association for the Education of Young Children, New York State Association for the Education of Young Children, Northern Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children, Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children, OneAmerica (WA), Orange County Association for the Education of Young Children, Puerto Rico Association for the Education of Young Children, Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children, Schools Out Washington, Strategies for Children (MA), The YMCA of Greater Seattle (WA), Utah Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP, Wellspring Family Services (WA), and the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association.

    Rep. Sewell Rural Ambulance Bill Passes Committee

    Source: House Representative Terri A. Sewell (D-AL, 7th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- On Wednesday, the Ways and Means Committee passed legislation by Reps. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Devin Nunes (R-CA) extending support for rural ambulance providers and increasing the accuracy of ambulance reimbursements. H.R. 3729, the Comprehensive Operations, Sustainability, and Transport (COST) Act, passed the committee by voice vote.

    Watch Rep. Terri Sewell’s remarks in the Ways and Means Committee.

    “Rural America is facing a health crisis, and in Congress, I am working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to improve health care access and outcomes,” said Rep. Sewell. “In Alabama’s rural Black Belt, hospitals and sufficient health care providers often do not exist, and ambulance services can be the only provider of emergency medical services. For my constituents, reliable ambulance services are a matter of life and death. All ambulance providers in Alabama rely on the add-on payments which our bill extends for five years. By extending this support for ambulance providers, today’s bill helps to make sure that no American loses access to emergency care.”

    In August, John Paul Jones Hospital in Camden announced it will be closing as an acute care hospital if additional resources are not obtained. John Paul Jones is one of at least three rural hospitals in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District in danger of closing operations in the near future.

    Legislation Providing Regulatory Relief From FCC Rules for Small Businesses

    Source: House Representative Kurt Schrader (D-OR, 5th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressmen Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Bob Latta (R-OH) have authored bipartisan legislation, the Small Entity Regulatory Relief Opportunity Act (SERRO), to provide regulatory relief for small businesses and entities under the jurisdiction of Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules. Any entity that qualifies as a small business as defined by the Small Business Administration would be able to seek this regulatory relief.

    SERRO seeks to reduce the regulatory burden for these entities in a few different ways.

  • The bill directs the FCC to establish streamlined procedures for small businesses seeking relief through petition waivers.
  • The legislation also would provide a one-year grace period before new regulations apply to small entities after they become effective for larger businesses, except in certain cases where statute specifically bans deferment or to protect public safety.
  • SERRO would also direct the FCC to review all existing regulations applicable to operations of service providers to determine whether there is a good cause for relief to be granted to smaller entities.

  • “As a former small business owner, I know how burdensome many rules and regulations from Washington, D.C. can be to a small business’s ability to grow and innovate,” said Rep. Schrader. “By establishing streamlined procedures for obtaining waivers from regulations that are often unnecessary and not designed for small entities, we are providing relief for our small telecommunications providers while creating greater certainty and efficiency to help them continue to provide vital services to many of our smaller and often rural communities. I’ve always said DC should be in the business of producing outcomes, not micromanaging, and our bill will help to do just that.”

    “Small businesses are the engines of our economy — creating two out of every three new jobs,” said Latta. “We also know small businesses are the most susceptible to burdensome regulations that harm their ability to grow, expand, and hire new employees. In the telecommunications sector, smaller entities often do not require the same level of regulatory oversight as large entities — as both Congress and the FCC have recognized. While the FCC has provided regulatory relief on a case-by-case basis, small businesses and their customers would benefit from greater certainty, fewer costs, and more administrative efficiency that this legislation would provide.”

    Schakowsky & Pallone: New DOT Automated Vehicle Guidance is a Step Backwards

    Source: House Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL, 9th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) released the following statement today on new federal guidance for Automated Driving Systems released by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

    “After waiting months for the Trump Administration to release its vision for self-driving cars, AV Guidance 2.0 is a step backwards. Instead of focusing on safety and ensuring car makers are properly testing these vehicles, the Administration chose to cave to industry and pressure states into not acting. Since the Trump Administration is not providing any leadership, Congress must move forward with bipartisan legislation that puts safety first through mandatory safety assessment certifications, a framework for updating safety standards, plans for privacy and cybersecurity, and general improvements in vehicle safety.”

    Baltimore Drops Charges in Freddie Gray Case

    Source: House Representative John P. Sarbanes (D-MD, 3rd)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman John Sarbanes joined U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Congressmen Elijah E. Cummings and Dutch Ruppersberger (all D-MD) in issuing the following statement after reports that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will not bring federal charges against the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray:

    “We are disappointed by reports that DOJ will not seek justice for Freddie Gray, but we are not surprised. We must now focus on ensuring that BPD has the resources it needs to implement the court-ordered consent decree and repair the sacred trust between police officers and the people they are sworn to protect.

    “In order to improve BPD and reduce the violence in our city, Baltimore will need the support of the Trump Administration and DOJ. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has repeatedly stood in the way of our City’s progress by attempting to impede the implementation of the consent decree and holding hostage federal resources to reduce violent crime.

    “In light of this reported decision, we are once again calling on DOJ to actively support — not undermine — the consent decree and to provide Baltimore with all federal resources available to improve our police force. Doing anything less would be unconscionable.”

    Legislation Introduced to Raise the Wages of Working Families

    Source: House Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH, 13th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) to introduce legislation in the House that would give working families a much-deserved wage boost to compensate for 40 years of wage stagnation. Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Sherrod Brown. The Grow American Incomes Now (GAIN) Act would greatly expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) so that more working families and childless workers are eligible to receive it. The bill comes at a time when the Trump Administration and Republicans are supporting devastating budget cuts to programs that help working families in exchange for tax breaks for the very wealthy and big corporations.

    The GAIN Act roughly doubles the EITC for working families and increases the credit for childless workers almost six-fold. Under the proposal, the maximum tax credit available increases to $12,131 for families with three or more qualifying children; $10,783 with two qualifying children; $6,528 with one qualifying child; and $3,000 with no qualifying children. Currently, a family of three can receive a maximum credit of $6,318 and someone with no children can receive at most a $510 tax credit.

    The proposed EITC expansion would also be phased out at higher income levels and remain fully refundable. It would allow for a worker with no children who makes up to $37,113 annually to still be eligible to receive the tax credit and covers a family with three or more children making up to $75,940 a year to receive the EITC. The current maximum qualifying income to receive the EITC is $15,010 for childless workers and $48,340 for families with three or more children.

    “America is the richest nation in the history of the world, and yet still too many hardworking families are living paycheck to paycheck. Wages for low-income and middle-class families haven’t gone up in over 30 years, while massive amounts of wealth have gone to the top one percent. This trend is not sustainable, and will not allow long-term economic success for the United States. It is about time we make sure American workers are given a fair wage for a fair days work. That is why I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the GAIN Act, which would provide for a $1 trillion expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This would put an extra $12 thousand dollars in the pockets of hardworking families making $75 thousand a year. This bill will give Americans the raise they deserve,” said Rep.Tim Ryan

    “The EITC is already proven at lifting people out of poverty. By strengthening it to reach more families and individuals, it can have a lasting impact on our economy,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “In today's age of automation and globalization, where work is sometimes seasonal and hours are often curtailed, this bill provides every hard-working American with a fair income for their labor.”

    The bill also recognizes many Americans live paycheck to paycheck and includes a provision that would provide an Early Refund EITC as an alternative to payday loans and other predatory lending products. EITC advances would be capped at $500 each taxable year and would be subtracted from the recipient’s total credit when they file their annual tax return. Instead of receiving the lump sum once a year, this early refund makes it easier for working families and individuals to pay their monthly bills and provide financial security. The bill also lowers the qualifying age for the EITC from 25 years old to 21 years old.

    Who Benefits from the EITC

    More than 26 million working families and individuals in every state received the EITC in 2015 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Under the bill, it is estimated that nearly half of American households will pay no federal individual income tax in 2017, up from the 44 percent under current law.

    Current Maximum Credits vs. the Brown-Khanna GAIN Act

    Type of household Current maximum amount of credit (2017 Tax Year)

    Maximum amount of credit under Brown-Khanna

    Three or more qualifying children $6,318 / $12,131

    Two qualifying children $5,616 / $10,783

    One qualifying child $3,400 / $6,528

    No qualifying children $510 / $3,000

    Legislation and cosponsors

    House cosponsors (as of 9/11/17): Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Don Beyer (D-VA), Robert Brady (D-PA), Julia Brownley (D-CA), George Kenneth Butterfield (D-NC), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), John Conyers (D-MI), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), John K. Delaney (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), John Garamendi (D-CA), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), Colleen Hanabusa (DHI), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Gwen Moore (DWI), Jerrold Nadler (D-NJ), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DWA), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (DIL), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Jose E. Serrano (D-NY), Darren Soto (D-FL), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Maxine Waters (DCA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Frederica Wilson (D-FL)

    Bill Introduced to Curb Theft of Firearms

    Source: House Representative Steve Russell (R-OK, 5th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Steve Russell (OK-5) introduced the Federal Firearms Licensee Protection Act of 2017, a bill to enhance penalties for theft of a firearm from certain federal firearms licensees (FFLs), and to criminalize the theft of a firearm from a gun range or shooting club.

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reports that FFLs nationwide have seen a 48 percent increase in firearms burglaries over the past five years. Firearms robberies have increased by 175 percent during that same period. Roughly 7,758 firearms were stolen from FFLs in burglaries and robberies in 2016. The ATF and the firearms industry are rightly concerned by these statistics.

    In order to curb this alarming trend, the Federal Firearms Licensee Protection Act of 2017 would strengthen criminal penalties for theft of firearms from FFLs and impose mandatory minimum sentences for these crimes. This legislation would send a strong message to criminals to think twice before attempting to burglarize or rob FFLs. The theft of firearms is a serious threat to public safety. Deterrence of firearm theft will prevent firearms from falling into criminal hands.

    Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act Passes House

    U.S. House of Representatives

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act has passed the House. Keith Rothfus (R-PA, 12th) had this to say:

    “This is the first time the House has passed all 12 appropriations bills with open input from its members before the September 30th deadline since 2004. This is an objective that I have long supported,” said Congressman Rothfus. “This year’s spending bills include many important provisions such as protections for the sanctity of life, increased funding for our military, and significant reforms to our financial services sector. The bills also provide funding for our veterans, programs to combat the opioid epidemic, and cancer research.”

    He added: “The time for the Senate to act is now. Waiting until the continuing resolution runs out in December is irresponsible and dangerous for our country.”

    Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, on Tuesday condemned the decision by House Majority leadership to block an amendment to H.R. 3354, the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act. The amendment, offered by Representatives Ruppersberger, Serrano, Khanna, Grisham, Jeffries, and Meng, would have offered $10 million in supplemental funding to state and local governments to dismantle and fight domestic white supremacist organizations.

    “It’s unbelievable that House leadership refused to even consider our common sense measure that would empower local police to identify and dismantle radical hate groups across the nation,” Congressman Ruppersberger said. “In the last year, we’ve seen the resurgence of white supremacists and other hate groups in the public sphere who have hate in their hearts and the goal of hurting innocent Americans. The events in Charlottesville demonstrated the tragedy that can come at the hands of these well-organized and well-armed white supremacy groups. It’s unfortunate and beyond disappointing that my colleagues are unwilling to recognize this threat to our American values.”

    U.S. Representative Austin Scott (GA-08) released the following statement:

    “For the past several months, the House has been working around the clock to craft common-sense spending policies that secure our borders, provide for the common defense, invest in our country’s infrastructure, and spur economic growth,” said Rep. Scott. “While this legislation is certainly a step in the right direction in reining in and cutting wasteful government spending, I will not stop pushing for continued efforts and reforms.”

    Included in passage of H.R. 3354 is an amendment authored by Rep. Scott supporting multi-national efforts to reduce the flow of drugs from Central and South America into the U.S. by providing training and technical assistance to partners in the hemisphere to enhance regional security capabilities. Rep. Scott commented:

    “As it is here in the U.S., local law enforcement often serves as the foundation for interdiction and counter-drug operations in Central American and Caribbean countries,” said Rep. Scott. “By increasing funding for training and assistance activities conducted by Colombian police and military forces, we enable Colombia to train even more regional police forces to function independently and efficiently, addressing the threats transnational criminal organizations pose on our country and bolstering our successful partnerships to tackle the narcotics issue and save the lives of countless Americans.”

    Ahead of a vote on his amendment last week, Rep. Scott spoke on the House Floor urging his colleagues to support the measure. Click here to watch his remarks.

    This legislation included Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bills for several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of the Treasury, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Social Security Administration, and Department of Transportation Housing and Urban Development, among others.

    U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Rules, released the following statement after supporting the passage of all 12 appropriations bills:

    “Under Republican leadership in the House, we have effectively held the line on spending while responsibly funding the government. Today the House once again upheld our constitutional duty by passing all 12 spending bills. I strongly supported this package because it includes important conservative policies that override years of destructive Obama-era regulations. From cutting the EPA to below 2006 funding levels, to stopping the enforcement of the Department of Labor’s harmful and misguided Fiduciary Rule, to reining in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to putting an end to the IRS’ previous practices of targeting conservative groups, these are just a few of the ways this bill rights the many wrongs of the past eight years. Additionally, in light of the recent catastrophic hurricanes in my home state of Texas and in the south, this bill also ensures that FEMA has the resources they need to continue addressing the many needs of these devastated communities.

    “I applaud Chairman Frelinghuysen and his entire team’s diligence and hard work throughout this process. I believe he produced a sound product that was bolstered by the 468 amendments that we made in order at the Rules Committee. While I understand the Senate moves at a slower pace than we do, I sincerely hope that they can move this critical package so we can implement these conservative policies and get our country back on track.”

    To learn more about H.R. 3354, Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act, click here.

    Rep. Royce Circulates Draft Bill to Modernize Anti-Money Laundering Laws

    Source: House Representative Ed Royce (R-CA, 39th)

    Washington, D.C. - September 14, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), circulated draft legislation, the Anti-Money Laundering Modernization Act, which strengthens the United States anti-money laundering (AML) and countering terrorism financing (CTF) system. Rep. Royce is seeking comments from stakeholders and bipartisan support to move this bill forward.

    “Our nation’s anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing regime has been a 40-year work in progress and there is increasing recognition that it needs to be modernized,” said Rep. Royce. “The guiding principle of our anti-money laundering regime must be to protect the national security of the United States and our allies, as well as the integrity of the international financial system. In order to accomplish this end, our regulatory infrastructure must keep pace with the times. Criminal syndicates, rogue nations and terrorist networks are not sitting idly by, and neither can we.”

    In July, Representatives Royce and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) sent a letter to the Treasury Secretary with several recommendations for improving the U.S. AML regime. Several of their recommendations are contained in this draft legislation, including adjusting for inflation the thresholds for filing suspicious activity reports (SARs) and currency transaction reports (CTRs) which haven’t been updated since 1996 and 1972, respectively. Doing so would reduce the number of filings which now total over 55,000 per day and allow FinCEN to prioritize those of the highest law enforcement and national security consequence. The draft bill furthermore would expand the ability of financial institutions to share suspicious activity reports within their organization to improve enterprise-wide risk management and require the Treasury Department to improve qualitative feedback for financial institutions and Federal financial regulators on their AML/CTF efforts. Lastly, the legislation would improve FinCEN’s administrative rulings process and require Treasury to explore the potential for artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other technologies to help detect and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.