Friday, January 5, 2018

Mullin Statement on SAMHSA Rule Affecting Patients’ Records

By Markwayne Mullin (R-OK, 2nd)

Washington, D.C. - January 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-2) released the following statement after the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finalized a rule allowing patients’ substance abuse records to be shared for billing and operational purposes:

“I’m encouraged by this final rule that improves billing and streamlines operations within the health care system,” Mullin said. “However, the real need is for doctors to have access to these records before treating their patients. We cannot expect doctors to safely treat a patient with only half of their medical history, yet under current law that is exactly what they are expected to do. I want to thank SAMHSA for their efforts to update this outdated law and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to modernize this process and ensure doctors have the information they need to deliver the best care possible for their patients.”

Congressman Mullin is the lead sponsor of H.R. 3545, the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act, which would give doctors access to patients’ substance abuse records for the sake of preventing tragic overdoses and improving patient safety.

On January 18, 2017, SAMHSA published a final rule (82 FR 6052) to provide greater flexibility in disclosing patient identifying information within the health care system while continuing to address the need to protect the confidentiality of substance use disorder patient records.

See more headlines at The Ponder News Web Site


By Betty McCollum (D-MN, 4th)

Washington, D.C. - January 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.), Ranking Member of the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, and Democratic leaders of the Energy and Commerce and Transportation and Infrastructure committees sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt today expressing their serious concerns regarding a no-bid contract awarded by EPA to Definers Public Affairs.

The Democrats voiced concerns that the $120,000 contract – recently terminated by Definers after press reports brought the contract to light – was awarded without full and open competition to a company with no apparent experience in providing these services to a Federal agency. The Democratic leaders also wrote that they were “deeply troubled” by Definers staffers’ involvement in an apparent witch hunt against EPA employees who may have publicly or privately expressed concerns about the agency or its leadership.

In addition to McCollum, the letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), E&C Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY), and T&I Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D-CA).

“We have become increasingly concerned about the secrecy and lack of transparency from your administration, and this latest report is an alarming new development,” the Democratic Committee leaders wrote to Administrator Pruitt. “Hiring a firm that offers services attacking the press and surveilling your employees threatens the functioning of your agency and potentially the freedom of the press guaranteed by our Constitution.”

As part of their inquiry, the Democrats are requesting answers to a series of questions and additional information from Administrator Pruitt, including:

  • What was Pruitt’s role in selecting Definers for this award? In addition to Pruitt, which EPA political appointees were involved in selecting Definers?
  • Were Pruitt or other EPA political appointees aware of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by Definers employees against individual agency employees before the contract was awarded?
  • Was Definers, America Rising, or any of their agents involved in creating or funding the website
  • Were Pruitt, his agents, or any current EPA employees involved in generating or reviewing the content of the website, or providing or raising funds for the site?
  • What work did Definers perform for EPA pursuant to the contract? What was the total amount of taxpayer funds EPA paid Definers during the duration of the contract?
  • On December 10, The New York Times published an article identifying an alarming decrease in enforcement actions brought by the EPA under Pruitt’s leadership. EPA issued an unusual press release in response, which has since been removed from the agency website but continues to be cited by conservative media sources. What role did Definers play in the agency’s response to the December 10th article?
  • Provide any correspondence between EPA and any representative of Definers, America Rising, America Rising Squared, and the Need to Know Network regarding the December 10th article.
  • What firewalls were in place in the contract with Definers Corp to ensure that Definers firewalled the media monitoring services provided under the Contract from its services that would violate the Publicity or Propaganda Prohibition and Anti-Lobbying provisions?
  • Please provide a copy of the contract between EPA and Definers Corp. including any statement of work.

  • The letter to Administrator Pruitt is available HERE.

    See more headlines at The Ponder News Web Site

    Reactions to Trump Administration’s Plan to Open Coasts to Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

    Washington, D.C. - January 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Lots of people reacted to Trump's decision to expand offshore drilling:

    Louie Gohmert (R-TX, 1st)

    “It is truly exciting and encouraging that we have a president that is doing all he can to make us completely energy independent. Being energy independent will ensure that we can never be blackmailed by totalitarian nations who provide us any energy. Under this current administration, we are headed on a road that will establish this country as one of the strongest energy superpowers.”

    “This move is an important step forward to pursuing our nation’s energy potential. It is refreshing to know that we have a leader in the White House who values the assets this nation has to offer and is willing to take bold, yet common sense steps to both protect and benefit the American people.”

    John Garamendi (D-CA, 3rd)

    “When I was elected to Congress, the very first bill I introduced was legislation to ban oil and gas drilling off of the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf,” Garamendi said. “The Trump Administration’s plan to expand coastal drilling represents a threat to the health, safety, and environment of every coastal community in the United States. I could not be more strongly opposed, and I will fight this through every possible avenue I have.”

    “As Deputy Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton Administration, I worked with Secretary Babbitt and President Clinton to severely limit offshore oil and gas exploration in the same areas that are now being opened by President Trump and Secretary Zinke. As Lieutenant Governor, I served as Chair of the State Lands Commission. During that time, I refused to permit any new oil drilling off the California Coast because of the risks of ecological and economic disaster. Since then, catastrophes like the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf Coast have made it clear that the risks are far too great. Coastal governors across the country, including Republicans, oppose this plan. President Trump and Secretary Zinke should listen to them, rather than doing the bidding of their oil industry donors.”

    In January 2009, as Lieutenant Governor and Chair of the State Lands Commission, Garamendi was the deciding vote to block new oil drilling at the PXP platform off the Santa Barbara coast. Garamendi also led the fight to oppose an attempt in the legislature to circumvent the decision, putting an end to the effort to open what would have been the first new offshore oil drilling off the California coast in four decades.

    Clay Higgins (R-LA, 3rd)

    “We are working together with President Trump and his administration to deliver an energy policy that places American families and American industry first. Expanding offshore drilling access in the Gulf of Mexico means more jobs and economic growth for South Louisiana. I am committed to unleashing American energy potential and will continue to fight for Louisiana oil and gas jobs.”

    Earlier this year, Congressman Higgins joined 155 Members of both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate on a letter to Secretary Zinke in support of a new 5-year plan that promotes America’s potential for energy dominance.

    Richard Hudson (R-NC, 8th)

    “I’ve been advocating for environmentally-sound offshore exploration and energy jobs in the Atlantic for years. I’m thrilled we finally have a president who shares my desire to responsibly open North Carolina to energy exploration and energy jobs while protecting our beautiful coastal waters.

    “Norway is a prime example that offshore energy development and energy jobs can go hand-in-hand with a healthy environment. The fishing industry, the oil and gas industry, and the tourism industry have safely and successfully coexisted since 1971, with all industries being huge contributors to Norway’s economy. I applaud this announcement and will continue to work to get North Carolina into the energy business to unlock good-paying energy jobs and strengthen our energy security.”

    On April 28, Rep. Hudson joined President Donald Trump at the signing of the America First Offshore Energy Executive Order. President Trump’s EO directed the Interior Department to review the current development plan on the Outer Continental Shelf for offshore oil and gas exploration with the goal to unleash American energy and thousands of jobs while maintaining strong environmental safeguards. This EO came shortly after Rep. Hudson sent a letter to President Trump on April 13 urging him to include all proposed Atlantic lease sales in future leasing plans by the Department of the Interior. To view the letter Rep. Hudson sent the administration, click here.

    While there has been broad bipartisan support for oil and gas leasing off the southeastern Atlantic coast, the Obama Administration removed the Atlantic lease sale in March 2016. Rep. Hudson has continued to be on the front lines of advancing energy exploration and development in North Carolina. In 2016, he introduced legislation to require the Obama Administration to make Atlantic lease sales off North Carolina’s coast available for offshore exploration and development.

    Jared Huffman (D-CA, 2nd)

    “Secretary Zinke’s announcement today confirms that the Trump administration is hell-bent on trampling the public interest and further lining the pockets of Big Oil at the expense of clean air, clean water, and the health of the American people,” said Rep. Huffman. “Californians will never let this happen. Our state has shown that we can have a growing economy along with environmental protections, and we have made it very clear, again and again, that we do not want to put our fisheries, our beaches, or our coastal economies at risk just to enrich the fossil fuel industry. The bottom line is that offshore drilling means oil spills, and the risk is even higher now that the Trump administration is weakening offshore safety rules. This reckless proposal for a new offshore drilling spree should face widespread, bipartisan opposition. We’ll fight them in Congress, on the beaches, in the courts, and at the ballot box. I’m confident we’ll defeat this dangerous plan.”

    Rep. Huffman has led the fight against offshore drilling in Congress, authoring the West Coast Protection Act to prohibit any new oil and gas drilling off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. He also joined with fellow California Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-San Pedro) and Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) in leading a letter with 36 colleagues opposing new Pacific Ocean lease sales in the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plans. All three West Coast Governors, as well as all six West Coast Senators, oppose new Pacific lease sales, and every Democratic congressional representative from a coastal district in Washington, Oregon, and California has cosponsored Rep. Huffman’s West Coast Protection Act.

    Rep. Huffman is also the author of the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act, which has been cosponsored by 60 members of the House of Representatives. He recently led 69 members of Congress in urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to protect the Arctic Ocean from dangerous activities by the oil & gas industry and to exclude all new Arctic Ocean lease sales from any future offshore drilling plan.

    Darrell Issa (R-CA, 49th)

    "It’s not the time to reopen California’s shoreline to new drilling. Secretary Zinke has said that the ‘states and local communities’ will have a voice, but Californians have made themselves clear: they do not want new drilling off our coasts. I will work to ensure that voice is heard and that California’s coastal areas are taken out of consideration."

    Pramila Jayapal (D-WA, 7th)

    “The Trump administration’s move to open up protected waters to offshore drilling puts millions at risk. It sacrifices shoreline communities, precious natural habitats, and runs roughshod over the local and state representatives around the country who oppose this decision – all to benefit a handful of oil corporations.

    “The administration says this is necessary to meet our energy needs. This is nothing but a smokescreen. We can meet our energy needs, take on climate change, and safeguard our Earth by rapidly and justly transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. We’ve mapped out a clear path to get there by 2050 with the 100 by ‘50 Act – legislation that I am proudly co-sponsoring. All it takes is political will and courage to stand up to the fossil fuel industry.

    “Energy efficiency, environmental protection and respect for frontline communities are not at odds with each other. Our movement for climate and economic justice will continue to mobilize and fight the Trump agenda every step of the way.”

    Mike Johnson (R-LA, 4th)

    “The Trump administration’s decision to allow enhanced exploration, leasing and development within the Outer Continental Shelf, previously closed to such activities, prioritizes home-grown energy production and puts the United States one step closer to achieving energy dominance. I look forward to the many benefits Louisiana and other coastal states will see from this all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

    Senator Bill Nelson- (D - FL)

    “This plan is an assault on Florida’s economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment. This proposal defies all common sense and I will do everything I can to defeat it.”

    Amy Bera (D-CA, 7th)

    "As kid who grew up enjoying our beautiful California beaches, this decision is a travesty. Instead of embracing energy sources that keep our air and water clean, President Trump is doubling down on drilling California’s coastline.

    I am seriously concerned about the potential environmental and public health risks that come with offshore drilling. We must defend our coastline and the environment from disaster, such as the BP oil spill that did such tremendous damage. Moving towards a clean energy future would ensure we create 21st century jobs and safeguard a clean environment to pass on to our children and grandchildren. This decision takes us backwards.”
    Kathy Castor (D-FL, 14th)

    “The only way to fully protect Florida’s economy and environment from the risk of oil drilling off of our beaches is to extend the moratorium permanently,” said U.S. Rep. Castor.  “The moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is scheduled to end in 2022 and Congress must enact a law to ban offshore drilling off of the Florida coast once and for all.  Without such protection, politicians like Gov. Rick Scott and Pres. Donald Trump, who previously supported drilling off the Florida coast, can change their minds again.”

    Jeff Duncan (R-SC, 3rd)

    "The announcement coming out of the Trump Administration today is tremendous news for American energy independence, economic development, and job creation. The Obama Administration’s shortsighted offshore plan set the U.S. behind our competitors around the world and trampled efforts to move toward energy independence. It’s great to see President Trump correct this misguided policy and replace it with an aggressive, bold agenda to ensure the U.S. is the leading nation for energy security which is critical in our increasingly volatile world. Opening up U.S. waters for drilling, including off the coast of South Carolina, will expand access to critical resources which will greatly benefit South Carolinians and our nation as a whole. As a longtime advocate for offshore energy and a former member of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Outer Continental Shelf’s Five Year Planning Subcommittee, I know this decision will move the U.S. to the forefront of global energy security and closer to achieving the goal of energy independence.”

    Louie Gohmert (R-TX, 1st)

    “It is truly exciting and encouraging that we have a president that is doing all he can to make us completely energy independent. Being energy independent will ensure that we can never be blackmailed by totalitarian nations who provide us any energy. Under this current administration, we are headed on a road that will establish this country as one of the strongest energy superpowers.”

    “This move is an important step forward to pursuing our nation’s energy potential. It is refreshing to know that we have a leader in the White House who values the assets this nation has to offer and is willing to take bold, yet common sense steps to both protect and benefit the American people.”

    Jared Huffman (D-CA, 2nd)

    “Secretary Zinke’s announcement today confirms that the Trump administration is hell-bent on trampling the public interest and further lining the pockets of Big Oil at the expense of clean air, clean water, and the health of the American people,” said Rep. Huffman.  “Californians will never let this happen.  Our state has shown that we can have a growing economy along with environmental protections, and we have made it very clear, again and again, that we do not want to put our fisheries, our beaches, or our coastal economies at risk just to enrich the fossil fuel industry.  The bottom line is that offshore drilling means oil spills, and the risk is even higher now that the Trump administration is weakening offshore safety rules. This reckless proposal for a new offshore drilling spree should face widespread, bipartisan opposition. We’ll fight them in Congress, on the beaches, in the courts, and at the ballot box.  I’m confident we’ll defeat this dangerous plan.”

    Reactions about Sessions' Actions Regarding Marijuana

    Washington, D.C. - January 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an announcement of his intentions to rescind the Obama-era non-interference policy and targeting of states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana use. This has prompted much reaction from House members. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI, 2nd) has denounced his decision and called on Congress to pass H.R.1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which removes marijuana from the federal controlled substances list.

    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said:

    “Attorney General Sessions' reversal of the current non-interference policy that essentially allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference, tramples on states’ rights and is a dangerous escalation of the failed so-called War on Drugs. This overreach by the federal government undermines state governments like Hawaii’s that have legalized medical marijuana and threatens the livelihoods and rights of the people of Hawai‘i and those of the 29 states and Washington DC who have legalized some form of marijuana.

    “This decision reinforces our outdated and destructive policies on marijuana that turn everyday Americans into criminals, tear families apart, and waste billions of taxpayer dollars to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate people for nonviolent marijuana charges. Taxpayer dollars would be better spent tackling the many problems that plague the American people including combating the opioid epidemic, ensuring affordable housing, repairing aging infrastructure, and investing in education, healthcare, veterans’ care, and more.

    “By continuing to pour billions of dollars down the drain with our archaic marijuana policies, we stifle our economy, society, and criminal justice system and leave the people of Hawai‘i and millions more devastated – all for a substance that is far less dangerous and harmful than alcohol. Our laws should accurately reflect scientific consensus – not misplaced stigma and outdated myths about marijuana.

    “I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the federal controlled substances list, treating it the same as alcohol and tobacco. Our bipartisan legislation will end this unnecessary and costly debate once and for all by federally decriminalizing marijuana and kick-starting long overdue, common sense criminal justice reform.”

    Other reactions are as follows:

    Matt Gaetz (R-FL, 1st)

    “This cruel plan is repugnant to the Tenth Amendment and harms some of our most vulnerable fellow Americans. In my district and nationwide, children have been helped by medical marijuana when all other treatments have failed. Some have gone from surgeries and seizures to baseball games and homecoming dances.

    Veterans have ditched the ‘combat cocktail’ for soothing medical marijuana treatments and rejuvenated lives. AG Sessions’ policy would make sick children sicker. It would oppose the will of 81% of veterans, according to the American Legion. It will place the government between vulnerable people and something that could help them. This decision even flies in the face of President Trump, who expressed support for medical marijuana and state-level decision-making during his campaign, and stated on July 29, 2016 that “I think it should be up to the states.” While prosecution of bad actors is always welcome, it would be heartless to systemically use the awesome power of the federal government to punish people providing legitimate medicine.”

    Ruben Gallego (D-AZ, 7th)

    “I support full legalization of marijuana. As a member of the Arizona legislature, I introduced a bill that would have legalized marijuana possession and regulated and taxed marijuana in our state in a manner similar to alcohol. I wholly support these types of measures.

    “Marijuana is less harmful than other regulated products, including alcohol, when used properly by adults. I believe that its regulation makes it even safer, and allows states to economically benefit through reasonable taxation – shifting production and sale of marijuana away from drug cartels and criminals and into the hands of taxpaying businesses that are subject to strict regulations.

    “But this decision is also about so much more.

    “Jeff Sessions’ irresponsible decision is not only an infringement on states’ rights, but it is bad policy that will disproportionately hurt Latino and black youth and the economically disadvantaged, who already face higher rates of prosecution and conviction for minor offenses.

    “The Trump-Sessions Justice Department has weakened civil rights enforcement, increased mandatory minimum sentences, walked back monitoring of law enforcement agencies charged with civil rights abuses, and is now looking to ramp up prosecution of legalized marijuana.

    “Jeff Sessions is a man whose entire career has been defined by his hostility towards civil rights and racial justice, and his tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement official has enabled him to continue this dangerous assault on our democracy.

    “The American people deserve a Justice Department that will fight to protect the civil rights of all people instead of promoting bad policy motivated by racial animus.”

    Colleen Hanabusa, (D-HI, 1st)

    “The priorities of this administration continue to mystify me. America is struggling with an opioid epidemic that is killing 91 Americans a day but rather than focus effort and resources on stopping the illegal prescription drug market, the Justice Department is signaling to prosecutors that it is open season on marijuana dispensaries and businesses operating legally in states with established policies and procedures. What a complete waste of time. Hawaii is one of 21 states that permit medical use and we have more than 18,000 patients and issued licenses to eight dispensaries. Times have changed; more than half the population of this country lives in a place where marijuana is legal for recreational or medicinal use. We cannot turn back the clock the way the Attorney General seems to think we can. The state legislature must explore how to regulate and ensure public safety if Hawaii joins the growing movement of states seeking to generate new revenue to pay for essential government services by legalizing marijuana for recreational use. What we cannot do, is throw uncertainty into a growing market space and leave thousands of legal users and patients in limbo. Congress needs to step up and protect states’ rights on this issue.”

    Denny Heck (D-WA, 10th)

    “Perhaps because the Trump Administration was unsuccessful in repealing the Affordable Care Act, they’ve thought up another way to harm cancer patients, chronic pain sufferers, and other law-abiding citizens by taking away common sense guidance for federal law enforcement to work with local communities who have voted to legalize adult use of recreational or medical marijuana. In fact, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population now lives in a place where adult use is legal. Voters across the country have shown they are serious about taking the right steps to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

    “This reckless and irresponsible action from the Department of Justice will not go unanswered. To prevent this action from spiraling out of control, Congress must immediately remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, in order the preserve the legal marijuana markets present in 37 states. It is time for the federal government to catch up with the public, and align federal and state laws in a common sense way to prevent further disruptions to this established legal market that will actually make these communities less safe.”

    U.S. Representatives Ed Perlmutter (CO-07), Heck, and Don Young (R-AK) introduced bipartisan legislation in April 2017 to allow marijuana-related businesses in states with existing regulatory structures to access the banking system. A similar companion bill in the Senate was introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Cory Gardner (D-CO). The SAFE Banking Act reduces the public safety threat that arises when small businesses are forced to operate on a cash-only basis. Last year, Travis Mason, a Marine veteran and security guard at a marijuana business in Aurora, Colorado was tragically killed during a robbery.

    Pramila Jayapal (D-WA, 7th)

    “I’m extremely disappointed in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ attempt to disregard the will of the people and return us to the days of prohibition and the war on drugs.

    “At a time of broad public support for marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform, we should be moving forward – not going back to outdated and harmful policies that do little to enhance public safety and disproportionately hurt people of color.

    “Washington voters led the way in legalizing marijuana five years ago, taking an important step in reducing mass incarceration, strengthening public health, and bolstering our economy – and I will fight for them. I will be working with my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan way to address this issue. Republicans who have an actual commitment to state’s rights should speak out now against this decision.”

    Ruben Kihuen (D-NV, 4th)

    “Secretary Sessions’ decision clashes with the will of hundreds of thousands of Nevadans and millions of Americans who have voted in favor of marijuana legalization. Mr. Sessions and the Department of Justice are reversing a years-long policy of respecting the rights of states in order to take out a personal vendetta on an industry that has sold nearly $130 million worth of product in Nevada and brought in $20 million in tax revenue to the state since July. This decision will not only impact the marijuana industry and the thousands of jobs it is creating, but it will put at risk a stable source of vital tax revenue for our state.”

    Frelinghuysen to FTA: Gateway/Hudson Rail Tunnels are "national infrastructure priority"

    By Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ, 11th)

    Washington, D.C. - January 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11), Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, is writing to federal transit officials that the Gateway/Hudson River Tunnels projects are a “national infrastructure priority” that needs to be done.

    In a letter dated January 4, 2018 to FTA Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams, Frelinghuysen wrote, “A project of this size and scope requires investment from all stakeholders and your vision too! I strongly encourage the Administration to support my state and New York in this effort.”

    “I believe it is unrealistic for the Administration to expect the most important infrastructure project in the country to move forward without full participation and investment from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Department of Transportation (DOT).”

    Frelinghuysen’s letter was prompted by recent correspondence from Williams to New York state officials in which she denied the existence of a funding agreement for the first phase of the project.

    “It is …imperative we pursue Gateway to ensure millions of Americans continue to access this vital economic Northeast Corridor that enables safe transportation of more than 800,000 daily riders, from Washington to Boston, in an area that supports approximately 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Further, this rail project serves as a critical choke point for Amtrak’s entire operation on the East Coast from Florida to Maine.

    Frelinghuysen also reminded FTA Administrator Williams, “It is the responsibility of the House Committee on Appropriations to assure that such national priorities are met.”

    See more headlines at The Ponder News Web Site

    Hartzler Supports FEMA’s Move to Help Churches Struck by Disaster

    By Vicky Hartzler (R-MO, 4th)

    Harrisonville, MO - January 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-04) praised the announcement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that it would no longer exclude houses of worship from receiving federal disaster aid.

    “This action corrects an egregious injustice inflicted by the Obama Administration,” Hartzler said. “It’s unthinkable that FEMA used churches for staging areas and then denied the very same institution aid for its buildings. Discrimination for any reason is wrong—including religious discrimination. Churches are a central part of our communities, and I am pleased that they will now have equal access to the funding that other private foundations do in the wake of natural disasters. I look forward to working on a permanent legislative fix for this issue in the near future.”

    FEMA’s previous policy prevented houses of worship from receiving disaster aid, although it allowed similar private nonprofits to receive such help. In October, Congresswoman Hartzler joined her colleagues in sending a letter to President Trump asking him to change this policy, stating that it was discriminatory and violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Rep. Hartzler also co-sponsored H.R. 2405, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2017, which would amend current law to include tax-exempt houses of worship as "private nonprofit facilities" for purposes of disaster relief and emergency assistance eligibility. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, three Texas churches damaged by the storm also sued FEMA over its policy, stating that it was discriminatory.

    On Tuesday, January 2, 2018 FEMA announced that it would allow churches to apply for hurricane disaster aid. The change applies to private nonprofit organizations that were damaged on or after August 23 or that had applications pending before FEMA as of that date.

    See more headlines at The Ponder News Web Site

    Illegal Who Killed Kate Steinle Avoids State Prison Time on Weapons Charge

    Source: Western Journalism

    The illegal immigrant who discharged a firearm and killed 32-year-old Kate Steinle was sentenced to three years in prison Friday, but he won’t be spending any more time in state jail.

    Read more about this from Western Journalism

    Animal Welfare Bills Introduced in the House

    Washington, D.C. - January 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) sent a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, urging them to allow for consideration of H.R.1406, the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act, and H.Res.401, a resolution urging all nations to outlaw the dog and cat meat trade and to enforce existing laws against such trade on the House Floor.

    In addition, Congressmen Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Charlie Crist (D-FL), members of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, introduced a pair of bills – the Puppy Protection Act [HR 4693] and the Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF!) Act [HR 4691] – to provide better protection for puppies by improving standards for federally licensed commercial dog breeders.

    “It’s crucial we stand up for animals—both as individuals and as a society. That means strengthening important regulations under the Animal Welfare Act to meet this goal,” said Fitzpatrick. “As a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, I’m committed to ensuring our government is doing its part to promote animal welfare.”

    “The Bible teaches us to care for all of God’s creatures, and that includes man’s best friend,” said Crist. “I’m proud to help introduce this bipartisan legislation that protects dogs from unprincipled dealers and breeders, providing a voice for the voiceless.”

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates federally licensed commercial dog breeders that sell dogs wholesale to retail pet stores and commercial brokers, or directly to consumers over the Internet under the Animal Welfare Act. While the Animal Welfare Act is meant to ensure dogs in federally licensed facilities are treated humanely, the current regulations fall far short. The Puppy Protection Act creates stronger standards for veterinary care, housing, breeding practices, and specific standards for socialization and placement of retired breeding dogs.

    The WOOF! Act would prohibit the USDA from issuing commercial breeding licenses to individuals or shell companies directly connected to dealers of dogs who have had their licenses suspended or revoked. This common-sense legislation prohibits those who have violated the Animal Welfare Act from using loopholes continue selling animals commercially.

    The WOOF! Act and the Puppy Protection Act will not impact family pets, livestock, or hobbyist breeders.

    What they’re saying about the Puppy Protection Act and the Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF!) Act:

    Matt Bershadker, President & CEO – ASPCA: “The bills introduced by Representatives Fitzpatrick and Crist would significantly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of dogs kept in inhumane conditions by federally licensed commercial breeders. These animals often spend their entire lives in filthy, crowded cages stacked on top of one another with no access to adequate veterinary care or regular exercise. Even when a breeder’s license is revoked for violating these notoriously weak federal standards, they too often continue breeding animals by hiding their business under a family member’s name. We thank Representatives Fitzpatrick and Crist for their leadership on these measures to enhance animal welfare enforcement and improve standards of care to reduce cruelty and suffering for dogs in commercial breeding facilities."

    Wayne Pacelle, President & CEO - Humane Society of the United States: “No dog should spend her entire life in a tiny cage, her paws never touching grass, outside and exposed to frigid temperatures and winds, and bred so relentlessly that her body eventually wears out. Some puppy mill operators game the system and register their mill under a different name after they are cited for animal welfare violations. These two bills will prevent that trickery and also strengthen the standards of care for hundreds of thousands of dogs on commercial breeding facilities.”
    See more headlines at The Ponder News Web Site


    Source: Eliot Engel (D-NY, 16th)

    U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the following joint statement Thursday in response to the Trump Administration’s recognition of a winner in the Honduran presidential election despite widespread irregularities reported by international election observers. Protests and political unrest in Honduras continue:

    Read more about this from Eliot Engel (D-NY, 16th)