Category Archives: U.S. Congress

Federal lawmakers eye changes to standardized testing in schools

WASHINGTON — Education officials in Vermont are pleased with a step taken by Congress to reduce the high-stakes standardized testing provisions under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Thursday, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions gave preliminary approval to the Every Child Achieves Act, which would give more authority to states to decide how to evaluate their schools, and would replace the current law that has led to nearly every school in Vermont to be identified as failing.

U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who serves on the Senate committee, said the annual standardized tests taken by Vermont’s children in grades three through 11 do not fully capture what a child is learning in school.

“I think it is wrong to judge schools solely on the basis of narrow tests. We have to work on what kind of criteria we really need,” Sanders said. “What we in Vermont understand is, a kid is more than a test. We want kids to be creative. We want kids to be critical thinkers. We also want schools held accountable for factors other than test scores, including how they meet the challenges of students from low-income families.”

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act — commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind and signed into law in 2001 — calls for annual testing of math and science skills. Every year, a greater percentage of students are needed to pass the tests in order for a school to meet adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

By 2014, the AYP bar had been raised so high that a single student who does not meet proficiency standards will cause the student’s entire school to be identified as low performing. No Child left Behind includes a provision in which a state can receive a waiver from the high standards, as long as the state agrees to use standardized the scores to evaluate teachers.

Vermont is one of a small handful of states who did not seek out a waiver. As a result, nearly every school in the state has been identified as low performing.

In August, the State Board of Education sent a letter to Congress requesting provisions outlined in the Every Child Achieves Act: more flexibility to evaluate the state’s education system, without placing so much emphasis on standardized testing.

“Although the federal government is encouraging states to use scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations, this policy direction is not appropriate,” the letter reads, noting that standardized tests do not measure other skills called for the by the state’s Education Quality Standards, such as “global citizenship, physical and health education and wellness, artistic expression and transferable 21st-century skills.”

Friday, Stephan Morse, chairman of the State Board of Education, welcomed the news that Congress is looking at a replacement for No Child Left Behind.

“We are encouraged by what the senator is doing and we are encouraged by the new direction they are taking,” Morse said.

Agency of Education Sec. Rebecca Holcombe is also encouraged by the steps being taken by Congress.

“If this bill becomes law, Vermont should have the flexibility to ensure greater equity of opportunities for all students, to ensure all our students are sufficiently supported to reach their full potential, and to ensure all educators are engaged and supported in professional learning and improving instruction,” Holcombe said. “While the proposed bill still requires annual testing, there is an opportunity for states such as Vermont to create innovative assessment systems that work for their needs.”

Welch returns from trip to Tunisia and Ukraine

WASHINGTON — Rep. Peter Welch has returned from a week-long trip abroad, visiting countries where democracy is under attack.

The democratic congressman was part of a fact-finding mission led by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Ukraine, which is facing incursions from its neighbor, Russia, and to Tunisia, whose economy is still reeling from a terrorist attack in March.

Welch, who serves on the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, discussed his trip to the Bardo National Museum in Tunis — the capital of Tunisia — where, March 18, members of the self-proclaimed Islamic State killed 22 people, most of them tourists.

“It is the one place that is an island of safety in a cauldron of conflict,” Welch said of Tunisia’s place in the Middle East. “Tunisia does not have the sectarian violence plaguing other countries in the region.”

Tunisia was the birth place of the “Arab Spring,” a series of democratic revolutions that began in Tunisia in 2010 and continued in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. While the revolutions in the latter counties have devolved into partisan and sectarian violence, until recently, Tunisia remained relatively stable and safe.

“Its an example of how the Arab Spring could succeed and not fail,” Welch said.
The attack has led cruise ships to stop visiting the port city of Tunis, whose economy relies on tourism.

Welch’s delegation planned to visit Tunisia before the attack on the national museum, and during the trip, Welch and others toured the museum — which still had bullet holes in the walls throughout the building — and laid a wreath to honor the dead.

“It clearly meant a lot to the Tunisians that this congressional delegation kept its schedule and visited Bardo Museum,” Welch said.

The delegation also met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is requesting military aid from the United States to assist in its conflict with Russia. In March 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula — which was part of Ukraine — and Ukraine is facing skirmishes along its eastern border with Russia.

Russia is currently facing economic sanctions from the United States and the European Union, and in February, Congress approved a resolution to send Ukraine $350 million in military aid. Welch said he voted against the resolution because Congress did not debate or hold hearings on the subject.

Welch said he came away from the trip to Ukraine doubting that military aid is the right course of action.

“That’s a very close call. Some of my colleagues would like to give military aid. I came away a skeptic,” said Welch, who supports the positions held by diplomats he met with from France and Germany who are advocating against military aid and in favor of continuing the economic sanctions.

“Europeans see increased sanctions as the best option and there is concern that a military escalation will make a bad situation worse,” Welch said. ““They don’t see the possibility of a military victory for Ukraine if Russia is involved.”

Vermont congressional delegation concerned about war request

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont’s congressional delegation says it has concerns about President Barack Obama’s request to authorize war against Islamic State militants.

Sen. Patrick Leahy says the country has a responsibility to take action but must do so in a way that does not result in an open-ended authorization that becomes legal justification for future action against unknown enemies.

Sen. Bernie Sanders says he fears U.S. involvement in “an expanding and never-ending quagmire in that region of the world” and says he supports targeted U.S. military efforts to protect Americans.

Congressman Peter Welch says he cannot support the authorization as it is because he says it leaves in place the Bush-era open-ended authorization.

Obama would limit the authorization to three years, with no restriction on where U.S. forces could pursue the threat.

Sanders to skip Netanyahu speech to Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — Liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders said Monday he will skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress early next month, arguing that President Barack Obama should have been consulted before the invitation was extended.

The Vermont independent is the first senator to announce he won’t attend the speech. Democratic Reps. John Lewis of Georgia and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina are among a handful in their party who have said they will skip Netanyahu’s speech.

“The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy and the idea that the president wasn’t even consulted — that is wrong,” Sanders said. “I am not going. I may watch it on TV, but I’m not going.”

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, extended the invitation — which comes two weeks before Israel’s elections — without discussing it beforehand with the White House.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Added Sanders in a statement: “I think it is very unfortunate that the Speaker of the House invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to address the Congress without consulting President Obama. Further, Netanyahu’s speech is slated to take place just two weeks before the Israeli elections. The U.S. should avoid even the implication of influencing a democratic election of a foreign country.”

Netanyahu is a sharp critic of administration negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, and Democrats fear he’ll use the opportunity to embarrass Obama and further his own re-election prospects.

Release: Leahy reintroduces online privacy bill

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Wednesday was joined by a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators to introduce legislation to modernize the nation’s electronic privacy laws and bring protections against warrantless searches into harmony with the technological realities of the 21stcentury.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2015 (ECPA) was introduced by Leahy, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Representatives Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in the House.  The bill requires the government to have a search warrant requirement to obtain the content of Americans’ emails and other electronic communications, when those communications are stored with a third-party service provider.

Leahy, who authored the original 1986 ECPA law, said the bill introduced Wednesday would bring needed privacy protections to Vermonters in the digital age.

Leahy said:  “These reforms would protect Americans’ digital privacy – in their emails, and all the other files and photographs they store in the cloud.  It builds consumer trust, and it provides law enforcement agencies with the proper tools they need to ensure public safety.  This is a bipartisan issue, and now is the time to act swiftly to bring Americans’ privacy rights and protections into the digital age.”

Lee, who also joined with Leahy last Congress on legislation to update ECPA, said:  “In the nearly three decades since ECPA became law, technology has advanced rapidly and beyond the imagination of anyone living in 1986.  The prevalence of email and the low cost of electronic data storage have made what were once robust protections insufficient to ensure that citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights are adequately protected.”

Leahy and Lee previewed their bill introduction in a joint op-ed last week. The senators joined together in the last Congress to introduce nearly identical legislation, which was unanimouslyapproved by the Judiciary Committee.  The bill introduced Wednesday is cosponsored by Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).  The House version of ECPA has 228 additional cosponsors.  The bill enjoys support from a broad coalition of stakeholders across the political spectrum including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Heritage Action for America, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).

Release: Sanders’ solar bill blocked by GOP

Senate Republicans today shot down a proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to help install up to 10 million solar power systems for homes and businesses in the coming decade.

Rebates for solar systems would have been authorized by a Sanders amendment to a Keystone XL oil pipeline bill now before the Senate.

“The scientific community tells us very clearly if we’re going to reverse climate change and the great dangers it poses for the planet we must move aggressively to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” Sanders said.

His amendment called for a 15 percent rebate to homeowners and businesses that install solar power. The new solar power generated would have been enough to replace one-fifth of the nation’s dirty, coal-fired power plants. The measure also would create new jobs.

“So if you’re interested in reversing the dangers of climate change and creating jobs, I would urge you to support this amendment,” Sanders said. The amendment got 40 votes. It needed 60 to pass.

Sanders’ proposal was supported by Vermont’s Green Mountain Power, a leading proponent of solar and other renewable sources of energy. “Green Mountain Power is finding new ways to help Vermonters save money and be more comfortable, while moving to cleaner local sources of energy,” said Mary Powell, the utility president. “We appreciate the efforts of leaders like Sen. Sanders and others who recognize the importance of ongoing investments in renewable energy.”

Release: Leahy questions DEA policy

 In a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) questioned the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) use of a national database to track the movement of vehicles around the United States.

 News reports this week revealed that the DEA has expanded its license plate reader (LPR) surveillance program from the Southwest Border to include states across the country. The database now includes hundreds of millions of records about motorists, and it reportedly allows the DEA to track motorists in real-time.

 This is the third oversight letter the Senators have sent in recent weeks, raising privacy concerns about the use of emerging law enforcement technologies. Last week, they pressed the administration on the reported use of radar technology that may enable law enforcement agencies to track the movements of private citizens inside their homes. And last month, they questioned the use of cell-site simulators, which can indiscriminately sweep up the cell phone signals of innocent Americans.

 In their letter Wednesday, the Senators reiterated: “We remain concerned that government programs that track citizens’ movements, see inside homes, and collect data from the phones of innocent Americans raise serious privacy concerns.”

 “We also have questions about the way in which the DEA’s database is being used,” the Senators added.  “According to one document, the primary purpose of the program is to broaden the reach of the DEA’s civil asset forfeiture efforts.  Federal asset forfeiture programs have been the subject of recent controversy and we believe that greater transparency and oversight of civil asset forfeiture is needed.  Any program that is dedicated to expanding the Justice Department’s forfeiture efforts requires similar oversight and accountability.”

Release: Leahy testimony on Lynch

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member, Senate Judiciary Committee at the hearing on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to serve asAttorney General of the United States

It is a pleasure to welcome Loretta Lynch to this Committee.  Ms. Lynch is smart, tough, hard-working, and independent.  She is a true prosecutor’s prosecutor.  Her qualifications are beyond reproach, which is why she has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate twice before to serve as the top Federal prosecutor based in Brooklyn, New York.  I look forward to another swift confirmation process for Ms. Lynch.

 As the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Ms. Lynch has brought terrorists and cyber-criminals to justice, obtained convictions against corrupt public officials from both political parties, and fought tirelessly against violent crime and financial fraud.  Ms. Lynch has remained determined to protect the rights of victims.  She has worked hard to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve – as evidenced by the fact that her nomination enjoys strong support from both.  She has prosecuted those who have committed crimes against police officers, as well as police officers who have committed crimes.  Her record shows that as Attorney General, Ms. Lynch will effectively, fairly, and independently enforce the law.

 Born in North Carolina, Ms. Lynch is the daughter of a Baptist preacher and a school librarian.  We are honored to have members of her family with us today.  I know she will be introducing them to us momentarily.  Ms. Lynch grew up hearing her family speak about living in the Jim Crow South, but she never lost faith that the way to obtain justice is through our legal system.  Her nomination is historic.  When confirmed as the 83rd Attorney General of the United States, she will be the first African American woman to lead the Department of Justice.  I can think of no one more deserving of that honor.

 Ms. Lynch will lead a Justice Department that faces complex challenges.  Nearly one-third of its budget goes to the Bureau of Prisons, draining vital resources from nearly all other public safety priorities.  A significant factor leading to this budget imbalance is the unnecessary creation of more and more mandatory minimum sentences.  Passing new mandatory minimum laws has become a convenient way for lawmakers to claim that they are tough on crime – even when there is no evidence that these sentences keep us safer. That policy fallacy is one of the reasons we have the largest prison population in the world.  And it is why I oppose all mandatory minimums.  We must work together on thoughtful solutions to address our mass incarceration problem.

 The Justice Department also needs strong leadership to keep up with the rapid development of technology.  We must stay ahead of the curve to prevent and fight threats to cybersecurity and data privacy.  The growing threat of cybercrime is very real but so is the specter of unchecked government intrusion into our private lives – particularly dragnet surveillance programs directed at American citizens.  The intelligence community faces a critical deadline this June when three sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are set to expire.  We must protect our national security and our civil liberties.  We must work together to reform our Nation’s surveillance laws so we can achieve both goals and restore the public’s trust.

 The next Attorney General will play an essential role in protecting all Americans on these issues and many others.

 The President’s selection for Attorney General—no matter the President—deserves to be considered swiftly, fairly, and on her own record.  A role this important cannot be used as yet another Washington political football.  I am confident that if we stay focused on Ms. Lynch’s impeccable qualifications and fierce independence, she will be quickly confirmed by the Senate.  Ms. Lynch deserves a fair, thoughtful, and respectful confirmation process – and the American people deserve an Attorney General like Ms. Lynch.

Ms. Lynch, I thank you for your years of public service, and I look forward to your testimony.

Release: Shumlin makes transportation push to Congress

Testifying before a U.S. Senate Committee today, Gov. Peter Shumlin urged Congress to act quickly to replenish the Federal Highway Trust Fund so Vermont and other states can get to work repairing crumbling infrastructure. The Governor warned that in Vermont, projects relying on federal money need to go out to bid next month in order to begin construction in the spring. Failure of Congress to act could put at risk those badly needed projects and the jobs that go with them.

 The Governor was joined by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley from Alabama in a bipartisan show of support for continued transportation infrastructure funding from Congress. Vermont alone relies on roughly $300 million each year in funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which will become insolvent in May if Congress fails to act.

 “Our nation’s economic prosperity depends upon a reliable transportation system to efficiently move people and goods,” Gov. Shumlin said in written testimony submitted to the Committee. “Governors across this nation understand that infrastructure is fundamental to our economic competitiveness and job growth.  We make that connection every day as we travel around our states and talk to our citizens and employers.”

 In his testimony, the Governor pointed to the negative effect transportation infrastructure disruptions can have on jobs and the economy, citing the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene, which damaged 500 miles of roads and bridges throughout the state, and the sudden emergency closure of the Lake Champlain Bridge in 2008, which caused serious transportation problems for Vermonters in that region.

 Federal funding has helped Vermont make significant progress improving its transportation infrastructure in the past few years. In 2008, Vermont ranked near the bottom of all states – 45th in the nation – for numbers of structurally deficient bridges. By 2013 the state ranked 28th. The overall percentage of structurally deficient bridges has declined from 19.7 percent in 2008 to just over 7 percent in 2014. And the percentage of pavement rated in very poor condition has declined from a high of 36 percent in 2008 to only 13 percent in 2014.

 The Governor testified before the before U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and was introduced by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders who sits on that committee. Sen. Sanders has been influential in pushing Congress to act to fund transportation infrastructure investments and recently introduced a bill to rebuild America’s crumbling network of roads, bridges, transit systems, and other infrastructure projects. The five-year plan would invest $1 trillion in the effort and create or maintain at least 13 million decent-paying jobs.

 “In Vermont and across our country we have roads and bridges that are in desperate need of repair,” Sen. Sanders said. “That is why I have introduced legislation to invest $1 trillion to modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. I look forward to working with Gov. Shumlin and my colleagues in Congress to pass legislation to rebuild our state and national infrastructure.”

Release: GMP praises Sanders’ solar amendment

Green Mountain Power today issued the following statement from Mary Powell, President and CEO, in support of Senator Sander’s Rooftop Solar Amendment:

 “Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s Energy Company of the Future, supports Senator Bernie Sanders’s amendment for its economic and environmental value. The proposal will support installation of solar power systems on top of 10 million homes and businesses within the next decade.  This plan aligns with GMP’s mission to deliver low-cost, low-carbon, and highly reliable power, which is critical to our energy future.

 “GMP is partnering with customers to accelerate the pace of change here in Vermont. We are finding new ways to help Vermonters save money and be more comfortable, while moving to cleaner local sources of energy – exemplified by our Energy Homes of the Future ‘e-Homes’ in Rutland and our goal to make Rutland the Energy City of the Future. Generating energy through microgrids empowers our customers to make more choices about how and when they use energy.  We are also partnering with NRG Energy Inc. to bring innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable energy solutions for Vermonters.

“While some national utilities and national utility organizations are reaching out to GMP to join in opposition to fight innovative clean energy solutions like this solar proposal from Senator Sanders, we are moving full steam ahead with our efforts to find new ways to benefit customers. We want to transform the distribution grid from a 100-year-old electric delivery model to a new system designed to create efficiencies and distributed energy solutions through renewable technologies and energy storage. This is the future, and we are so excited to be a part of how Vermont is leading the way.

“We appreciate the efforts of leaders like Senator Sanders and others who recognize the importance of ongoing investments in renewable energy.”

Shumlin heads to D.C. seeking federal highway funds

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin is heading to Washington Wednesday to provide testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works about the need for funding in the Highway Trust Fund.

Vermont and other states rely on the federal fund to complete road, bridge and other infrastructure repairs and projects. But the fund, which is replenished through the federal gas tax, has solvency issues as that revenue source plummets.

The fund is supported with a federal gas tax of 18.3 cents per gallon, and a tax of 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel. But Americans are driving less and the fund is not keeping pace with infrastructure needs across the country.

Shumlin said his testimony will focus on “the desperate need to refill the transportation trust fund so Vermont and the other 49 states can rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks to reporters during a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks to reporters during a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

“I understand there’s tremendous difficulty getting anything done in Congress, but it seems to me the one thing that Republicans, Democrats, independents can agree on, if we let our roads and bridges crumble, we lose our quality of life and we lose our ability to grow jobs and economic opportunity,” Shumlin said at a news conference Tuesday.

Shumlin, who was invited to testify by Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer, according to his aides, will be joined by Republican Gov. Robert Brentley of Alabama, and South Dakota Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist. Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy canceled his appearance to oversee winter storm cleanup.

Shumlin said he was asked by the National Governor’s Association to present the states’ perspective to Congress.

“As I talk to both Republican and Democratic governors, we’re united on this one. The National Governor’s Association feels very strongly that Congress must come up with a solution by May to refill the transportation trust fund or we will lose jobs and we’ll lose our infrastructure, and it’s really critical,” he said.

States need to begin lining up contractors for the summer construction season but cannot commit to projects unless funding is secured.

“We just can’t be constantly in a situation where we say, ‘Hey, we have bridges that are falling apart, we have roads that are crumbling, but we can’t go out there and line up contractors because we just don’t know if the feds are going to get their act together to get us the money that we need to do it,’” Shumlin said.

The governor said he will not tell Congress how to address the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, but would support moving to a tax that is assessed on the number of miles driven rather based on the gallons of fuel purchased.

“I would love to see us move to a vehicle miles traveled tax, but I understand that can’t get done by May. The point is we have both a long-term need to move to a fairer way of raising revenue, because obviously electric cars need to contribute to, but the real challenge we face right now is if we don’t get money in that fund by May, all 50 states will lose the battle against crumbling roads and bridges and I just don’t think there’s an American who believes that’s a good idea,” Shumlin said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Release: Leahy tackles homelessness

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Tuesday reintroduced bipartisan legislation to curb youth homelessness, which affects 1.6 million teens throughout the country who are among the most likely to become victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) joined as original bill cosponsors.

 Leahy noted that the winter snowstorms in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions currently threatening the safety of thousands of Americans spotlight the importance of passing this bipartisan bill to ensure that homeless children are not left to face such challenges alone.

 Leahy said:  “Homelessness is on the rise for youths and young adults.  Too many young people in Vermont and around the country find themselves without safe places to sleep at night.  These programs, offering outreach and early intervention for runaway and homeless teens, are the last line of defense for teens in crisis.  Youth homelessness also can be a pipeline to chronic homelessness, victimization, sexual exploitation and trafficking in urban and rural communities.  It’s our job in Congress to do what we can to counter this tragic reality, this scandal in the shadows.  I am proud to say that last year, 95 percent of teens receiving services from the Vermont Coalition for Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs were able to exit to safe living situations.”

 Thirty-nine percent of the homeless population is under the age of 18, and the average age at which a teen becomes homeless is 14.7 years old.  A 2013 study by the Convenant House offers startling details about the connection between youth homelessness and human trafficking.  The Leahy-Collins Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act reauthorizes programs that help youth obtain housing, education and job training.  The bill includes training for service providers to identify victims of trafficking, and it includes a new provision that prohibits grantees from denying services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

 Leahy and Collins introduced similar legislation last year, which earned bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee but stalled in the Senate.  Leahy has long been a champion of youth services provided by the original Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act and fought for its reauthorization in 1998 and again in 2003.  He has also worked for years to counter the tragedy of human trafficking, most recently by including a reauthorization of the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Act as part of his Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in 2013, and by supporting increased appropriations for trafficking victims under last year’s Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

 Collins said:  “As Chairman of the Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, one of my goals is to address chronic homelessness.  We must make sure our nation’s homeless youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other youth.  The programs reauthorized by this bill are critical in helping homeless youth stay off the street and find stable, sustainable housing.”

 

The bill is supported by the National Network for Youth, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, the True Colors Fund, the Center for American Progress, and the Human Rights Campaign, among many others. 

 

Release: Sanders introduces infrastructure bill

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today introduced far-reaching legislation to rebuild America’s crumbling network of roads, bridges and transit systems and other infrastructure projects. The five-year plan would invest $1 trillion and create or maintain at least 13 million decent-paying jobs, said Sanders, the Senate Budget Committee ranking member.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the ranking member of the appropriations committee, and it is backed by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the AFL-CIO and others.

“For too many years, we’ve underfunded our nation’s physical infrastructure. We have to change that and that’s what the Rebuild America Act is all about. We must modernize our infrastructure and create millions of new jobs that will put people back to work and help the economy,” Sanders said.

“My legislation puts 13 million people to work repairing the backlog of infrastructure projects all across this country. These projects require equipment, supplies and services, and the hard-earned salaries from these jobs will be spent in countless restaurants, shops and other local businesses. It’s no surprise that groups across the political spectrum – from organized labor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – agree that investing in infrastructure will pay dividends for future generations.”

Sanders’ bill makes targeted investments in roads, bridges, transit, passenger and freight rail, water infrastructure, marine ports and inland waterways, national parks, municipal broadband and the electric grid. A short summary of the bill can be found here and the text of the bill itself is here.

Tom Trotter, legislative representative for the AFL-CIO, said Sanders proposal will “raise the profile about the serious needs of our nation’s infrastructure. This proposal provides a stark blueprint of what needs to be accomplished and provides an opportunity to create millions of new jobs.”

Casey Dinges, senior managing director at the society of engineers, said: “Senator Sanders’ initiative to invest $1 trillion over five years through his Rebuild America Act will have a far-reaching impact on restoring and modernizing our nation’s aging infrastructure.”

And Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania and a leader of the Building America’s Future initiative, said: “America’s infrastructure is falling apart. It is time to get serious about modernizing our infrastructure as the consequences of further inaction are unconscionable.”

Release: Welch stands up for privacy with GPS Act

Rep. Peter Welch, joined by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Jon Conyers Jr. (D-MI), reintroduced the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act (GPS Act) last week.  The legislation creates clear rules about when law enforcement agencies can access and track Americans’ electronic location data.

 “Cell phones are in the pockets and purses of most Americans,” said Welch. “While tracking technology has transformed our lives in many positive ways, it also poses a risk to privacy through potential misuse of tracking data.  The time has come to modernize our statutes to reflect the technology of our age.  This bipartisan legislation protects Americans’ right to privacy while ensuring law enforcement officials are able do their important jobs.”

 “Buying a smartphone shouldn’t be interpreted as giving the government a free pass to track your movements,” said Wyden. “GPS data can be a valuable tool for law enforcement, but our laws need to keep up with technology and set out exactly when and how the government can collect Americans’ electronic location data.”

 “As technology makes tracking people’s movements easier and less expensive, we need to update our laws to protect privacy and respect individual rights,” said Chaffetz. “In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States vJones, which was certainly a step in the right direction, we need clarification specific to the use of GPS technology. This law will settle the controversy and provide specific and clear guidelines to ensure this valuable and effective technology is not abused.”

 “Smartphones make our lives easier, but the privacy of the individual and due process are fundamental to the American way of life,” said Kirk. “Law enforcement can greatly benefit from information obtained from smartphones and GPS devices – but only if it’s obtained legally.”

 “We must enact the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act to require the government to obtain a warrant based on probable cause to compel companies such as cell phone service providers to disclose the geolocation information of their customers,” said Conyers. “Geolocation tracking, whether information about where we have been or where we are going, strikes at the heart of personal privacy interests.  The pattern of our movements reveals much about ourselves.  When individuals are tracked in this way, the government is able to generate a profile of a person’s public movements that includes details about a person’s familial, political, professional, religious, and other intimate associations.  That is why we need this legislation to provide a strong and clear legal standard to protect this information.”

 Courts have issued conflicting opinions about whether the government needs a warrant to track Americans through their cell phones and other GPS devices. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 2012’s U.S. vs. Jones case that attaching a GPS tracking device to a vehicle requires a warrant, but it did not address other digital location tracking, including through cell phones, OnStar systems and consumer electronics devices.

 The GPS Act applies to all domestic law enforcement acquisitions of the geolocation information of individual Americans without their knowledge, including acquisitions from private companies and direct acquisitions through the use of ‘Stingrays’ and other devices.  It would also combat high-tech stalking by creating criminal penalties for surreptitiously using an electronic device to track a person’s movements, and it would prohibit commercial service providers from sharing customers’ geolocation information with outside entities without customer consent.

Video: Welch presser on travel and tourism