Friday, April 12, 2019

Governor Baker Signs Executive Order Reaffirming and Reconstituting the Governor's Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

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by: Massachusetts Governor’s Office

Boston, MA - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Governor Charlie Baker signed an Executive Order Reaffirming and Reconstituting the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. Lt. Governor Karyn Polito announced the Executive Order and the 2019 Action Plan at a meeting of the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“I thank the Council and Lt. Governor Polito for their dedication to continue working together to end domestic violence and sexual assault here in the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “I am confident that the addition of the Transportation and Veterans’ Services secretariats will bring valuable voices to the conversation surrounding both prevention and assisting survivors.”

“I am proud of the progress the Council has made over the last four years, from providing law enforcement with important tools, to the kickoff of our Public Awareness Campaign that will educate the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “I am pleased to announce our 2019-2020 Action Plan and look forward to working with my colleagues on the Council to keep all residents of Massachusetts safe.”

This new Executive Order builds upon the Council’s accomplishments of the last four years and will serve as the roadmap of the Council for the second term of the Baker-Polito Administration with several structural and procedural changes to more effectively support the Council’s mission.

  • Establishes the Secretary of Transportation as a member of the Council to serve as a resource with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to aide in the Commonwealth’s human trafficking efforts.
  • Establishes the Secretary of Veterans’ Services as a member of the Council to lead on several new initiatives generated from the Veterans, Military, and Families subcommittee.
  • Increases membership to bring additional subject matter expertise to the Council and expands the Council’s regional representation.

  • The executive order identifies key priorities for the next two years. The Council will focus on assessment and response; human trafficking; prevention and education; military, veterans and families; housing stability; and self-sufficiency. A report will be submitted to the Governor at the end of each two-year cycle.

    To read the executive order, click here.

    Lt. Governor Polito also announced the Council’s 2019-2020 Action Plan which includes:

    Public Awareness Campaign:

  • Small panel of experts to work with a vender to assist in developing acampaign; identify the audience and resources for support; & assist in monitoring the quality of the project

  • Response and Assessment:

  • Coordinate attendance for Regional Chief's Meetings across Massachusetts to discuss DV Toolkit
  • Coordinate and establish distribution process of guidelines/best practices for domestic violence high risk teams
  • Explore and identify opportunities to expand safety nets for victims and perpetrator accountability

  • Housing Stability and Self Sufficiency:

  • Explore and provide recommended safety nets for victims’ housing protections
  • Increase collaboration between SA/DV and shelter/housing systems and subsidized housing models to promote existing best practice solutions and expand housing options

  • Human Trafficking:

  • Continue to work towards expanding Child Sexual Exploitation training/policy/practice to DYS, DCF and DMH
  • Identify opportunities for increased collaboration between the High Risk Victims Unit (HRVU) of the Massachusetts State Police and District Attorney's Offices
  • Research the strategies/best practices associated with the identification, safe recovery and ongoing supports of child victims

  • Prevention and Education:

  • Complete “Skills Chart” across educational sectors and identify opportunities for adoption and implementation
  • Identify opportunities to support launch and sustainability of consistent messaging for the Statewide
  • Public Awareness Campaign

  • Veteran/Military Families:

  • Collaborate with OVC TTAC in creating best practice military-civilian SA/DV Tools
  • Explore and identify opportunities to expand Military & Civilian response training/ policy/ practice to DPH, DCF, and Veteran Services

  • Governor Baker signed Executive Order 563 on April 27, 2015, which re-launched the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and elevated the Council to the Governor’s Office. Over the last four years, with Lt. Governor Karyn Polito as Chair, the Council has successfully worked to support effective implementation of key provisions of Chapter 260: An Act Relative to Domestic Violence and advanced other important initiatives, such as in undertaking a 2018 Action Plan to address five priority areas: Assessment and Response; Child Trafficking; Military, Veterans, and Families; Housing Stability and Self-Sufficiency; and Prevention and Education.

    Water Quality Certification Improvement Act of 2019 Introduced

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    by: David McKinley (R-WV, 1st)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Rep. David B. McKinley P.E. (R-WV), introduced the Water Quality Certification Improvement Act of 2019, which will help advance energy infrastructure projects.

    This legislation will clarify Section 401 of the Clean Water Act which is part of the permitting process for pipelines and other infrastructure projects. Currently, some states have used the Section 401 certification process to prevent and delay federally permitted projects.

    “Building and modernizing energy infrastructure is vital for our economy and our energy security,” Rep. McKinley said. “States like Washington and New York have been abusing this law to block coal exports and delay pipeline projects. It is critical we clarify Section 401 and stop the abuse of this law on behalf of an ideological ‘keep it in the ground’ agenda.”

    In addition to McKinley, the legislation introduced today is cosponsored by Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Greg Gianforte (R-Mo.), Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), and Pete Stauber (R-Minn.).

    “The far-left’s politicization of the Clean Water Act has obstructed critical interstate commerce projects that produce great economic value to the West. The state of Washington halting development of the Millennium Bulk Terminal, which would export Wyoming’s clean-burning coal overseas, prevented the creation of new jobs, impeded industry’s expansion in the West, and severely undercut Wyoming’s economy under the guise of water quality. I’m proud to be a co-sponsor of the Water Quality Certification Improvement Act, which would prevent other states from taking steps that harm Wyoming’s economy,” Rep. Liz Cheney said.

    Specifically, the legislation will:

  • Clarify that the scope of a section 401 review is limited to water quality impacts only
  • Clarify that states, when evaluating water quality, can only consider discharges that would result from the federally permitted or licensed activity itself – not from other sources;
  • Require states to publish clear requirements for water quality certification requests
  • Require states to make final decisions on whether to grant or deny a request in writing based only on water quality reasons; and
  • Require states to inform a project applicant within 90 days whether the states have all the materials needed to process a certification request.

  • Read the Water Quality Certification Improvement Act of 2019 here.

    President Donald Trump is expected to issue an executive order today aimed at speeding up the permitting process for pipelines.

    Legislation in Support of Nuclear Disarmament Introduced

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    by: James McGovern (D-MA, 2nd)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Congressmen James McGovern (D-MA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced H. Res. 302, a resolution on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, calling on the federal government and the American people to work towards reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, rejecting first strike and first use of nuclear weapons, and canceling the trillion dollar program to upgrade and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

    The resolution also calls on the President and Secretaries of State and Defense to embrace the goals and provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which calls for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and was signed by 122 nations at the United Nations on July 7, 2017. It was the first ever legally binding international agreement to prohibit and eliminate all nuclear weapons.

    “There is simply no reason for the United States – or any country – to possess nuclear weapons,” said Congressman McGovern. “Our world has made real progress toward peace in the last century, yet nuclear weapons continue to keep us tethered to a dark and dangerous past. Maintaining our nuclear arsenal costs billions of dollars that should be spent on the American people, not on preparing for a nuclear war which would threaten the existence of humanity. At the end of the day, either we must put an end to nuclear weapons – or they will put an end to us.”

    “No one can imagine a situation in today’s world where we’d need to use a nuclear weapon, nor can we afford them,” said Congressman Blumenauer. The mere existence of these weapons should scare all of us, and the consequences of their use are disastrous. For the betterment of all people, these outdated cold-war weapons should be relegated to the dustbins of history in favor of a nuclear-free future.”

    Since the height of the Cold War, the United States and Russia have dismantled more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, but 14,500 of these weapons still exist worldwide. About 95% of nuclear weapons are in the hands of either the United States or Russia.

    The Congressional Budget Office estimates that annual spending on U.S. nuclear weapons will peak at about $50 billion during the late 2020s and early 2030s.

    On February 2, 2019, the United States and Russia withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which has prohibited the development and deployment of ground-launched nuclear missiles with ranges of 310 miles to 3,420 miles, and has resulted in each country dismantling more than 2,500 missiles and has kept nuclear-tipped cruise missiles off the European continent for three decades, thus sparking increased concern in a renewed nuclear arms race between the two countries and other nuclear-armed nations.

    The full text of H. Res. 302 can be found here.

    McAdams amendment to net neutrality bill supports enforcement against illegal content

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    by: Ben McAdams (D-UT, 4th)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Ben McAdams voted for the “Save the Internet Act of 2019” – H.R. 1644, and added an amendment stipulating that the bill would not prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking unlawful content, such as child pornography. McAdams’ amendment was adopted unanimously.

    “The internet has been an important tool for education, innovation and economic growth but it has also, unfortunately, been exploited by criminals who would harm our children. My amendment makes clear that an open and free internet doesn’t stop efforts to identify and prosecute the law-breakers,” said McAdams.

    The legislation would reinstate net neutrality rules from the prior administration. Those rules, adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in the 2015 Open Internet Order, reclassified broadband internet service a “common carrier” service subject to more oversight than less-regulated “information services.” The rules prohibit ISPs from blocking or slowing consumers’ connections based on the source of content.

    McAdams said the bill is supported by public interest groups including Consumer Reports, New America’s Open Technology Institute and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

    Mast, Sherman Introduce Resolution Supporting Israel’s Humanitarian Aid Efforts in Syria

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    by: Brian Mast (R-FL, 18th)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18), who volunteered alongside the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) following his U.S. military service, and U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman (CA-30) have introduced a bipartisan resolution reaffirming support for collaboration among United States nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including faith-based organizations, and the IDF to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syrians, such as through “Operation Good Neighbor.”

    Since its beginning eight years ago, the Syrian civil war has forced 14 million Syrians to flee the country. The IDF’s “Operation Good Neighbor” worked with United States NGOs to deliver food, fuel, medicine, ambulances and medical supplies from Israel into southern Syria.

    “When I volunteered alongside the IDF in Israel, I witnessed firsthand how the men and women of the IDF play such an important role in not just protecting Israel but also providing stability in the Middle East,” Rep. Mast said. “The IDF’s Operation Good Neighbor has resulted in important humanitarian aid and relationships between the IDF and the Syrian people. We should continue to use this program as a model as we find new ways to bring long-term stability to the region.”

    The resolution reaffirms support for collaborative efforts between United States NGOs, including faith based organizations, and the IDF “for having provided vital aid to internally displaced people and local residents in southern Syria while also countering generations of hostility, promoting dialogue between neighbors, and ultimately advancing long-term stability in the region.”

    “Operation Good Neighbor was a rare bright spot amid the never-ending tragedy of the Syrian Civil War,” Rep. Sherman said. “It was yet another powerful example of the immense good the United States and Israel can do when we work together—not only for ourselves but for the region as a whole.”

    A companion bill was also introduced in the Senate by Senators James Lankford (OK) and Bob Casey (PA).

    The State Flexibility and Patient Choice Act of 2019 Introduced

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    by: Roger Marshall (R-KS, 1st)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- This week, Congressman Dr. Roger Marshall introduced H.R. 2183- The State Flexibility and Patient Choice Act of 2019. This legislation would drive the cost for health care down and increase patient choice by empowering states to come up with innovative solutions to stabilize their individual and small group markets.

    “I have long said, in order to fix our broken health care system, we must focus on solutions that prioritize transparency, innovation, and consumerism,” Rep. Marshall said. “This bill is designed to give more power to states so that they have the freedom to develop programs and policies that will focus on cost and patient choice. I am proud of this legislation, it’s a great step in the right direction.”

    The State Flexibility and Patient Choice Act would streamline Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the State Innovation Waivers application process by allowing states to waive certain requirements of the ACA to implement their own plan to provide health insurance to residents.

    To obtain a waiver under the proposed guidelines of the legislation, a state must have a waiver signed into law and demonstrate that the plan will not increase the federal deficit and will provide coverage to the same number of citizens.

    “My goal is to help get more people covered and drive down the cost for patients in the process.” Rep. Marshall said. “I believe that each state has unique needs and demands and shouldn’t be forced to fit a one-size-fits-all model. It’s simple; this bill could help pave the way for Kansans to make health care decisions for Kansans by eliminating arbitrary processes mandated by Obamacare.”

    Currently, eight states have approved a 1332 waiver, and seven of them are reinsurance programs. Congressman Marshall’s legislation would take the hassle out of the waiver application process that has proved to be convoluted and difficult for states to navigate. The State of Maryland has an approved waiver to introduce a reinsurance program to lower premiums and stabilize their markets. Their well-run reinsurance program has shown success in decreasing people’s premiums this year and was praised as a collaborative, bipartisan success story between Maryland and the Administration.

    “It’s incredible what people can accomplish when we give them freedom and choices,” Rep. Marshall said. “This legislation will help streamline the process and encourage other states to follow success like Maryland to apply for a waiver so they have the flexibility and freedom to come up with solutions that help patients get the healthcare they need at an affordable price.”

    Dr. Marshall’s legislation would:

  • Continues to protect those with pre-existing conditions.
  • Creates an expedited process for identical or significantly similar applications of approved waivers.
  • Amends the contract year terms from 5 to 6 years to consider states with two-year budget cycles.
  • Helps Basic Health Programs (BHPs) to utilize all available pass-through funding.
  • Allows for consideration of other state-federally funded sources (i.e. CHIP and Medicaid).
  • Amends budget neutrality so a state’s savings are considered throughout the entire contract period, rather than annually.

  • To find more information, please click here.

    Senator Murray, Senate Democrats Introduce New Legislation to Tackle Nationwide Digital Equity Gap

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    by: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Led by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, a group of Senate Democrats introduced new legislation aimed at closing the growing digital divide in communities across the country.

    The Digital Equity Act of 2019 creates new federal investments targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity”— a concept defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as the “condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.” The legislation was cosponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jack Reed (D-RI) and a companion bill will also be introduced in the House of Representatives.

    “For so many of us, having a reliable broadband connection is a given—we use the internet to pay bills, do our taxes, book travel, do homework, and much more. We can do it on our own time, in our own homes—even from our phones. But for far too many individuals and families—including those from communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, and rural communities—getting online isn’t so easy to do, and I strongly believe that in 2019, we shouldn’t be a country of haves and have-nots when it comes to using the internet,” said Senator Murray. “That’s why I’m proud to join with my Democratic colleagues to introduce the Digital Equity Act, which will direct significant new federal investments to help ensure people in our communities have the tools, support, and technologies necessary to take full advantage of a broadband connection when they have access to one. Congress can and should help states, counties, tribes, and others do more to close the growing digital divide, and the Digital Equity Act is a major step in the right direction. It’s the right thing to do for families, and it’s the right thing to do for our economy to make sure everyone is reaching their full potential."

    “The internet impacts every aspect of our day-to-day lives, from conducting business to pursuing an education to connecting with friends and loved ones. Put simply: it is the most important tool for anyone trying to participate in 21st century life,” said Senator King. “And it’s not enough to simply have access to the internet; you also need to know how to use it. By making these investments in digital equity and digital inclusion, we can ensure Americans of all ages and backgrounds are fluent in the technology that will drive so much of our nation’s future.”

    “The Internet is a powerful tool that has become instrumental in economic and social mobility and civic engagement. In 2009, Hawaii capitalized on funds made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to expand broadband to schools and public computer centers, making it one of the most-connected states in the country. But physical infrastructure is only part of the equation,” said Senator Hirono. “The Digital Equity Act will provide grants for things like digital literacy and digital skills education to low-income populations and improving the online accessibility of social services for individuals with disabilities that will allow the people of Hawaii to make full use of what broadband has to offer. Only then can they fully participate in our society, democracy, and economy.”

    “More and more, we rely on the internet to help us participate in our democracy and take part in the global economy. Expanding access to the digital world will help combat inequality, increase transparency in our institutions, and help citizens hold their government accountable. That’s why I’m pleased to support the Digital Equity Act,” said Senator Whitehouse.

    “As we rely more on technology in our everyday lives, we have to make sure that every family has access to broadband, regardless of their zip code. This legislation will help close the digital divide and bring high-speed internet to communities across the county,” said Senator Klobuchar.

    “Access to broadband internet service is literally transformative. With broadband, students can access vast educational resources, families remain connected, citizens engage their representatives, and businesses reach new customers,” said Senator Blumenthal. “For far too long, the digital divide has left behind those overlooked and underserved communities that would benefit most from broadband. Our bill would invest much-needed resources in our broadband infrastructure – spurring growth and development, and helping to level the playing field for all Americans.”

    “Broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st Century—it isn’t just nice, it’s necessary if we’re going to build an economy that works for everyone,” said Senator Smith. “This bill represents a positive step forward in that direction, ensuring that traditionally overlooked communities are not left behind in our efforts to provide affordable and reliable internet service to all Minnesotans and other Americans.”

    “From students completing homework to people of all ages applying online for jobs, broadband internet plays a crucial role in a community’s growth and economy. Expanding access to broadband will help create more opportunity for Marylanders, and will move our state forward on closing the digital divide. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this common-sense legislation, and I will continue working to expand economic opportunity for all,” said Senator Van Hollen.

    According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five teenagers in the U.S. say they have been unable to complete homework assignments due to lack of a reliable internet connection. The digital divide, also sometimes referred to as the “homework gap” as it applies to students, exacerbates existing wealth and income gaps in our communities; subsequently, many people—including those from communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, and rural communities, overwhelmingly impacted by the digital skills gap—are at risk of being left behind in an increasingly technology-driven world, absent intervention. To that end, the Digital Equity Act of 2019 strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society by creating an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State, as well as an additional annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, or communities of interest. Finally, the legislation tasks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.

    “I believe the future belongs to the connected. No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to modern communications to have a fair shot at 21st century success. But today millions of American lack the broadband access that they need to meaningfully participate in the digital age. That means too many students fall into the Homework Gap, unable to complete school assignments that require high-speed internet service. It means that too many small businesses will not have the work force with the skills necessary to compete in the global economy. It means that too many communities will go without the civic and commercial infrastructure that is needed to thrive and grow. So thank you to Senator Murray for this legislation which thoughtfully addresses digital equity and seeks to expand technology opportunity for all,” said Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

    “Local and state leadership drive most efforts to bring people online with affordable Internet access and training. On the one hand, this is fabulous because trusted community relationships are essential to effective digital inclusion work. On the other hand, financial support of local digital inclusion work is sorely lacking. The Digital Equity Act recognizes the value of local trusted institutions while allocating financial support. NDIA and our 350 affiliates in 41 states fully support the Digital Equity Act and look forward to its passage,” said National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer.

    The Digital Equity Act of 2019 is endorsed by: Alliance for Community Media, American Library Association, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Broadband Connects America, Center for Law and Social Policy, Center for Media Justice, Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, Coalition on Adult Basic Education, Common Cause, Consortium for School Networking, Competitive Carriers Association, EdTech Center @ World Education, Free Press Action Fund, International Society for Technology in Education, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, National Coalition for Literacy, National Collaborative for Digital Equity, National Congress of American Indians, National Consumer Law Center on behalf of their low-income clients, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National League of Cities, National Parent Teacher Association, New America's Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities, NTEN, Public Knowledge, Rural Telecommunications Congress, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the Urban Libraries Council.

    Read the bill text HERE.

    Find more background on the Digital Equity Act HERE.

    Find a section-by-section breakdown of the Digital Equity Act HERE.


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    by: Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a new Senate resolution calling for accountability for Saudi Arabia’s numerous human rights violations, and requiring the State Department to produce a report determining whether the Kingdom has committed “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

    The resolution also requires the Trump Administration to provide further information on the possible involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) in the assassination of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, and on whether the Saudi-led military coalition is taking any steps to limit civilian casualties in its war in Yemen.

    Merkley was joined on today’s resolution by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Tim Kaine (D-VA).

    “Over the last several years, Saudi Arabia has become more brazen than ever before in its malign activities and shocking human rights violations,” said Merkley. “The Kingdom is conducting a brutal and bloody war in Yemen, inflicting thousands of civilian casualties and creating the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today. It committed a coldblooded assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident. And Saudi Arabia continues to commit grievous human rights abuses against its own residents, like the jailing and threatened execution of women’s rights activists who dared to push the Kingdom to evolve in its extremely restrictive treatment of women and girls. Unacceptably, the Trump Administration has not stood up to Saudi leaders, but has instead rewarded them with smiling photo ops and ever-bigger arms deals, compromising our values and our standing in the world. It’s time for a reckoning and a full accounting of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, and that’s what our resolution requires.”

    “The government of Saudi Arabia has long had one of the worst human rights records in the world,” said Sanders. “Since Muhammad bin Salman became crown prince in 2017, it has gotten even worse. The Saudi government should release the many political activists it has unjustly imprisoned, must give a full accounting of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and cease its disastrous war in Yemen, which has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Furthermore, the Trump administration’s refusal to criticize Saudi abuses dramatically undermines the United States’ ability to advance a human rights agenda around the world, empowering extremists and undemocratic leaders who insist that our support for those rights and values is not serious.”

    “President Trump has ignored the requirements of the Magnitsky Act, which applies to the Saudi Crown Prince,” said Leahy. “The Saudi Government has engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights, in violation of section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act. This White House talks about the rule of law, and then flaunts the law it when it suits them -- in this instance, to shield the Crown Prince from accountability for the premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This Resolution reaffirms that the Congress will continue to pursue the whole truth about the Saudi Royal Family’s crimes.”

    “Congress must continue to keep pressure on the Trump Administration to hold the Saudis accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and ongoing violations of human rights violations – including unjust detention of activists, journalists, and minorities,” said Blumenthal. “As the Trump Administration continues to curry favor with regimes that violate human rights and perpetrate gruesome crimes, I am pleased to join my Senate colleagues in demanding accountability and transparency.”

    “Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, including the brutal murder of U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, are unacceptable. Yet this Administration has given the Crown Prince its full-throated endorsement. That’s why Congress must speak out. This resolution condemns these abuses and calls on the President to sanction the Saudi leadership, consistent with the law. I urge the Senate to take up this measure immediately,” said Van Hollen.

    “The fact that the Saudi regime would recently double down on the six month anniversary of its cold blooded murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and arrest several more of its civic activists is outrageous,” said Durbin. “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has learned nothing from the international outrage regarding his barbaric actions and believes he can act with impunity from the Trump Administration. Such behavior will not go unnoticed in Congress.”

    “The Saudi regime has repressed peaceful dissent for decades, but the Crown Prince has presided over a series of new lows, from arresting US citizens to the horrific war in Yemen to the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi,” said Wyden. “The Senate should make clear to Donald Trump that his business as usual with the Saudis is no longer an option.”

    “President Trump can’t continue to turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s actions under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” said Feinstein. “The murder of a U.S. resident in a Saudi consulate, the ongoing atrocities being committed in Yemen and the numerous violations of human rights, particularly those against women, is not behavior the United States should support. It’s time for the Trump administration to hold the Saudi government accountable.”

    “This Administration has turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the arrest of civil rights activists, and the humanitarian catastrophe that is the Yemen Civil War. Most recently, we have seen reports that this Administration has made secret authorizations for the transfer or nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. This resolution is about sending a loud and clear message that the United States cannot continue to stand behind a regime that grossly violates human rights,” said Kaine.

    Merkley’s resolution comes as there is increasing congressional pressure on the Trump Administration to stand up to Saudi Arabia. Both the House and Senate recently passed—with strong bipartisan support—a resolution that would end U.S. support for Saudi’s bombing campaign in Yemen. And at hearings this week, Senators sharply criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the administration’s defiance of the Global Magnitsky Act. The administration has refused to make a determination on whether MBS was involved in the assassination of Khashoggi, which would trigger sanctions, despite legal requirements that it do so.

    In February, Merkley led a bipartisan resolution with Senators Paul (R-KY) and Markey (D-MA) setting out that any civilian nuclear cooperation “123” agreement with Saudi Arabia should meet the strongest nonproliferation “gold-standard,” to deny the Kingdom the ability to develop a nuclear weapon – all the more vital with the discovery this week of a Saudi Arabian ballistic missile base and test facility.

    The full text of Merkley’s resolution is available here

    Marijuana Banking Bill Introduced

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    by: Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee, introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019 to ensure that legal cannabis businesses can access banking services.

    “The fact is, we already have legal medical marijuana businesses in New Jersey,” said Sen. Menendez. “What they don’t have are bank services to pay employees, take credit cards, write checks or pay taxes. Instead, they’re forced to operate entirely in cash—large sums—an open invitation for robbery and crime. We can fix this with common sense legislation that simply allows banks and credit unions to service these legitimate, legal enterprises without risk of federal prosecution.”

    Currently, cannabis businesses operating under state laws that have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana have been mostly denied access to the banking system because banks can be prosecuted under federal law. Without the ability to access bank accounts, accept credit cards, or write checks, businesses must operate using large amounts of cash. This creates safety risks for businesses and surrounding communities, and makes it more difficult for local and state governments to collect taxes.

    Sen. Menendez said he also plans to soon introduce separate legislation to allow insurance companies to provide services to legal marijuana businesses. Currently, those businesses are largely barred from getting property, fire, flood, liability and other insurance products.

    “Legal marijuana businesses don’t just need banking services, they need insurance in order to operate and seek financing, and insurers need the green light to participate in this emerging market,” he said.

    At a Senate banking panel hearing in February, Senator Menendez asked Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell about the fact that most banks can’t service legal marijuana businesses because the drug remains illegal on the federal level. Powell agreed with Menendez that Congress should consider providing both financial institutions and insurance providers new clarity so that businesses can operate not only legally, but safely, and that local economies can benefit.

    The SAFE Banking Act of 2019

  • Provides safe harbor for depository institutions and credit unions by preventing Federal banking regulators from:
  • Terminating or limiting depository institutions’ Deposit Insurance Fund or credit unions’ share insurance under the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund for providing services to a state-sanctioned and regulated cannabis business, or to a tribe that has cannabis-related businesses, solely because that institution is providing services to a legitimate state-sanctioned and regulated cannabis business;
  • Prohibiting, penalizing, or discouraging a depository institutions from providing financial services to a legitimate state-sanctioned and regulated cannabis business;
  • Recommending or incentivizing a depository institution to halt or downgrade providing any kind of banking services to these businesses; or
  • Taking any action on a loan to an owner or operator of a cannabis-related business.
  • Creates safe harbor from liability and asset forfeiture for institutions and their officers and employees who provide financial services to legitimate cannabis businesses pursuant to state or tribal law.
  • Does not require depository institutions or credit unions to provide financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business.
  • Requires depository institutions and credit unions to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) under the Bank Secrecy Act pursuant to relevant Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance.

  • See Also:


    Legislation to Enhance Tribal Road Safety Introduced

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    by: Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, introduced, S. 1211, the Addressing Underdeveloped and Tribally Operated Streets (AUTOS) Act. The legislation, which is co-sponsored by Senators Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), would enhance the safety of roads on Indian lands by streamlining existing federal procedures and funding mechanisms used to repair roads and bridges in Indian country.

    “With a backlog of at least $280 million of deferred maintenance, many tribal roads are in dire condition and need to be improved in a timely manner,” said Hoeven. “That’s why we’ve introduced this legislation, which would help accelerate repairs for the many communities that use these roads and bridges on a daily basis. As Congress considers legislation to reauthorize America’s surface transportation programs, we will work to ensure this priority is addressed.”

    “Native Americans’ tribal infrastructure has been stifled under the red tape of the bureaucracy for too long,” said McSally. “I am proud to join the effort to streamline the process for tribal road repairs, increase safety, and provide additional funding for backlogged projects.”

    “Enhancing infrastructure is an important part of improving life on tribal lands,” said Cramer. “This legislation streamlines the approval process for improving tribal roads and authorizes funding for these much needed improvements. Better infrastructure means more economic opportunity.”

    The AUTOS Act does the following:

  • Permits certain traffic safety projects that are identified by the Secretary of the Interior to be eligible for categorical exclusion. The Department of Transportation already allows these categorical exclusions for safety projects.
  • Authorizes $46 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Road Maintenance Program, with increases of $2 million per year.
  • Reinstates the Tribal Transportation Bridge Program as a standalone program instead of a 2 percent carve out in the Tribal Transportation Program.
  • Directs the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation to work with Indian Tribes in developing a standard and uniform crash report form.
  • Directs BIA law enforcement to use one standard crash report form.
  • Increases funding available for the Tribal Safety Transportation Program Safety Fund from 2 percent to 4 percent.

  • The bill, S. 1211, text can be found here.

    The BIA, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) coordinate programs to address transportation issues in Indian country. The largest share of federal funding for highways on Indian lands is provided through the Tribal Transportation Program (TTP), which is jointly administered by the FHWA and the BIA. Resources for these tribal transportation programs is mostly derived from the Highway Trust Fund.

    Interior Department Veteran David Bernhardt to be Confirmed as Secretary

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    by: Senator Mitch McConnell (R - KY)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the need to confirm more of the president’s well-qualified nominees including his nominee for Secretary of the Department of Interior, David Bernhardt:

    “Today, the Senate will vote to confirm the president’s choice to serve as Secretary of the Interior. As I’ve discussed this week, David Bernhardt is no stranger to the Department. He’s served twice before. In fact, this body has confirmed him twice before. Each time, his professionalism and dedication proved us right. As Solicitor and as Deputy Secretary, Mr. Bernhardt has offered capable leadership and a firm grasp on the complex policy environment surrounding our nation’s public lands. And his expertise has not gone unnoticed.

    “Praise for Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination to head the Department has poured in from a growing list of more than forty stakeholder organizations; from agriculture, trade, conservation, and Native American organizations. They describe him as a leader whose ‘experience is sorely needed.’ They laud his commitment to ‘make the lands [the Department] manages accessible to the recreating public.’

    “So we have before us an opportunity to confirm a well-qualified steward of our nation’s public lands and resources. Yesterday, a bipartisan majority of our colleagues voted to end debate on his nomination. And I hope each will join me in voting ‘yes’ once more later today. Of course, confirming Mr. Bernhardt will be just the latest in a series of many executive calendar accomplishments.

    “Following on the heels of last week’s turn back toward the Senate’s historic tradition concerning nominations, we’ve been able to approve a number of the President’s nominees at a much more reasonable pace in the last several days. I’ve noted with particular interest that, for all the breathless warnings my Democratic colleagues issued about the kinds of people we’d be confirming, these unobjectionable nominees have actually mostly coasted through on a bipartisan basis.

    “We saw support from both sides of the aisle for Roy Altman to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and for Daniel Domenico to the District of Colorado. We saw an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in favor of confirming General John Abizaid to serve as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a voice voted confirmation for Jeffrey Kessler to serve as Assistant Secretary of Commerce. These are not lightning-rod people whom my Democratic colleagues would have eagerly debated and investigated for an extra 30 hours. They are the kind of thoroughly qualified public servants who used to sail briskly through previous Senates without opposition.

    “And now, even as my Democratic colleagues continue to require us to file cloture on individuals whom they go on to actually support, we’re able to fill out the President’s team at a more reasonable clip. There are still many more empty seats left to fill. But this week’s progress marks a great new beginning -- not just for an administration that needs its personnel, but for the health of this institution.”

    See Also:


    McEachin Leads Letter Urging Senate to Oppose Bernhardt Nomination

    Senator Markey Decries Trump Pipeline Power Grab

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    by: Senator Edward J.Markey (D-MA)

    Washington, D.C. - April 12, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement regarding the two executive orders issued this week by President Donald Trump. One executive order would allow the President to unilaterally approve or deny permits for construction, connection, operation, and maintenance work on international pipeline projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, bypassing the State Department and circumventing the need for environmental reviews. The other executive order would make it harder for states to protect their water quality and the environment by directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide new guidance on states’ use of Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which allows states to withhold certifications or impose conditions on federal permits for activities that could result in discharges to bodies of water. The attack on Section 401 authority was opposed by the Western Governors’ Association earlier this year.

    “This Trump pipeline power grab will only benefit the American Petroleum Institute and Big Oil’s bottom line,” said Senator Markey, Chair of the Senate Climate Change Task Force. “These executive orders trample states’ rights and completely undermine the role that science and environmental reviews play in making policy and permitting decisions about pipelines projects across the country. It is Congress—not the President—that has the authority to make changes to states’ powers under the Clean Water Act. I will continue to fight this effort to turn states and communities across the country into Big Oil playgrounds.”