The Leahy Letter -- July 15, 2011

Flood Waters Recede And Federal Help Arrives

In response to spring storms that left much of Vermont underwater, President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a Major Federal Disaster Declaration in mid-June for seven of Vermont's 14 counties. The declaration was extended to cover additional counties in early July. Senator Leahy worked with Governor Shumlin, Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch to shape and expedite the federal relief effort.

The two major disaster declarations together encompass most counties in Vermont for damage done to both public and private property. There also is a pending request by the Governor, supported by Senator Leahy and the other members of Vermont's congressional delegation, to further extend the dates and area covered. For specific information on the types of assistance available, Vermonters should contact FEMA directly.

Senator Leahy hailed the timely approval of federal disaster relief, "We now have a charter for the federal role in building back from the heavy toll these floods have taken on Vermont's families, businesses and community life. This disaster declaration is both an outline and an authorization, and we will work together in bringing these promises to life. This kind of teamwork will be needed for many months to come as we pull together during Vermont's recovery."

Vermont's congressional delegation recently announced a $1.2 million emergency grant to create jobs for displaced workers to help with flooding clean up. The funds, from the U.S. Department of Labor, will be used to provide temporary work on projects related to recovery, repair, renovation and reconstruction of demolished public and non-profit property.

For more information on temporary employment through this program, please visit the website of the Vermont Department of Labor.

Another Breakthrough For Affordable Housing In Vermont

Senator Leahy joins representatives of Housing Vermont, Cathedral Square Corporation and The Champlain Housing Trust at the groundbreaking ceremony for Thayer Commons housing complex in Burlington.

Affordable housing remains a problem in many Vermont communities. Building on a long history of work to develop and maintain affordable housing options, Senator Leahy attended the recent groundbreaking for Thayer Commons, a new housing complex to be built in Burlington. This $13.8 million project was funded in part by a grant secured by Senator Leahy from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Champlain Housing Trust, Cathedral Square Corporation and Housing Vermont are partnering to complete this complex, with 66 affordable apartments for seniors and families to be constructed in the first phase.

At the groundbreaking, Senator Leahy said, "An affordable housing accomplishment like this doesn't happen by accident, and I'm so proud to have been part of the superb team that is making it a reality. Thayer Commons is a great example of a mixed income, smart growth, green project that tackles real, everyday, practical needs for affordable and senior housing while keeping at its core sound community development principles."

For more information on Senator Leahy's priorities in expanding affordable housing opportunities in Vermont please click here.

Epidemic Continues To Plague Bat Populations In Vermont And Beyond

The outbreak of white nose syndrome (WNS) that began decimating bat populations in Vermont and New England just a few years ago continues to spread south and west to other states. WNS has now been confirmed in 19 states, threatening bat colonies on a widespread scale. The implications are grim both for these ecosystems and for the role bats play in agriculture. Bats are leading pollinators of our crops, and their appetite for insect pests saves American farmers about $23 billion each year - money that would otherwise be needed for pest control services.

Senator Leahy again is taking a leading role in the Senate to make the WNS emergency the priority it deserves to be. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, he is teaming up with committee colleague Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to push for sufficient funds to fight WNS. Nine senators have joined the Leahy-Lautenberg budget request. In a letter to their Appropriations Committee colleagues they said: "This is a wildlife crisis of unprecedented scale, and the Department of the Interior needs additional resources to fully address this emergency." Please click here to view the letter.

Please click here to view a recent video from the CBS Early Show with Scott Darling from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife about white nose syndrome in bats.

Refugees Enrich Communities And Strengthen The Nation

The Statue of Liberty continues to beckon those seeking freedom from oppression. More than a decade ago Senator Leahy authored the Refugee Protection Act, a bipartisan charter of laws meant to build upon America's important work to protect refugees seeking safety on our shores. On June 15, he introduced the Refugee Protection Act of 2011, a bill designed to streamline and update U.S. laws relating to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The Refugee Protection Act of 2011 will improve the expedited removal process and strengthen legal protections for asylum seekers as they present their claims. The bill will ensure that asylum seekers and others have access to counsel, religious practice and visits from family.

In introducing his legislation Senator Leahy said, "There is no question that the United States is a leader among nations in refugee protection, but we can do better. In Vermont, I have seen how the admission of refugees and asylum seekers has revitalized and enriched communities, resulting in the creation of new businesses, safer neighborhoods, and stronger schools. This bill would help return the United States to its rightful role as a safe and welcoming home for those suffering from persecution around the world."

Since 1989, nearly 5,600 refugees have resettled in Vermont. On June 20, the international community marked World Refugee Day. Please click here to read Senator Leahy's comments marking the occasion.

New Bipartisan Push For 'A Second Chance'

Senator Leahy speaks at a press conference on the Second Chance Reauthorization Act on June 13.

As a former prosecutor and now the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy has long led in improving the American criminal justice system, working to balance the needs of victims and communities and the importance of effectively reintegrating offenders into society. On June 20, Senator Leahy joined Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to introduce the Second Chance Reauthorization Act, a bill to help state and local authorities as they work to reintegrate prisoners into their communities and to reduce rates of recidivism.

The Second Chance Reauthorization Act would improve and consolidate existing grant programs and reduce costs for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, adjustments that would ultimately save taxpayer dollars. Leahy and Portman believe that preparing inmates for reintegration into their communities is a worthwhile objective that can be addressed within the current structure of the correctional system if proper attention is paid to the challenges faced by these individuals, their families, neighbors and potential employers. The Second Chance Reauthorization Act takes strides toward addressing these challenges and reducing wasteful spending, and includes an important all-state minimum funding formula to ensure that small rural states like Vermont are included.

Senator Leahy said, "As a former prosecutor, I believe strongly in securing tough and appropriate sentences for people who break our laws. But it is also important that we do everything we can to ensure that when these people get out of prison, they enter our communities as productive members of society, so we can start to reverse the dangerous cycle of recidivism and violence. The Second Chance Reauthorization Act will help break this cycle."

For more information on Senator Leahy's work on criminal justice issues, please click here.

Afghanistan: A Time For Wise, Realistic Choices

Below are excerpts from a statement Senator Leahy made on June 22:

"The war in Afghanistan will be ten years old this November. Osama bin Laden, the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, is dead. So what do we do now?

"The American people depend on the global leadership of the United States. Our economy and our security are intertwined with those of other nations. But we must make wise choices. Every life we lose in war is a life lost to a family and to a country that needs the vitality of its youth to build America's future. Whatever we hope for Afghanistan, we must be realistic about what we can accomplish.

"Our current strategy matches neither our national interests nor the fiscal and political realities we face today. We can do a better job of protecting our national security by setting more limited, specific goals. I hope the President will unveil a new counter-terrorism strategy that includes an accelerated redeployment plan."

To read the full statement, please click here.

High-Tech Jobs: An Engine Of Vermont's Economy

Creating and maintaining high-tech jobs in Vermont is an ongoing priority of Senator Leahy's and they are a vital and dynamic part of Vermont's emerging 21st century economy. This past month he announced that General Dynamics of Williston has received a nearly $300 million extension of an existing Army contract to continue work on Hydra rockets.

This funding, which is being routed from the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Alabama, will sustain 40 jobs at the Williston plant and will allow for the ongoing development of a crucial defense technology. Senator Leahy has championed yearly budget requests for the Hydra rocket program as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee.

In announcing the contract extension, Senator Leahy said, "This is a vote of confidence in the work done in Williston on this project, and this also is a timely tonic for our local economy."

The Williston plant employs 400 Vermonters and has played a central role in the development of Hydra rockets, which are relied upon by the Army, Navy, Marines and U.S. Special Operations Command.

The Courage To DREAM

At a Senate hearing on June 28, Senator Leahy underscored a basic American value, one that U.S. courts have affirmed: that in this country, children may not be punished for the actions of their parents. At the first-ever congressional hearing on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy heard testimony from Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The hearing was called to explore the merits of the DREAM Act, a bill supported by Leahy that would make a specific group of immigrant students eligible to work toward U.S. citizenship. These students would need to meet several requirements to qualify for citizenship: they would need to have arrived in the United States before the age of 15; they would need to be long-term residents of the United States; they would need to demonstrate good moral character; earn a high school diploma or equivalent; and complete two years of college or military service in good standing.

At the hearing, Senator Leahy embraced the energy and spirit of the young people who are striving to establish themselves as legal and productive members of American society. He said, "These are young people who find themselves in an impossible situation and who wish for nothing more than to become lawful, patriotic participants in the country they call home."

To read witness testimony from the DREAM Act hearing, please click here.

Clean Air Is A Basic Right, Not An Expendable Luxury

Senator Leahy reports that Vermonters stand to benefit directly from a final rule on Cross-State Air Pollution finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 7. The rule, which will require 27 states to make significant strides toward improving air quality by reducing power plant emissions that cross state lines, has been in the works for more than 20 years.

Vermont lies downwind of many states with large-scale industrial complexes which regularly spew ozone and fine-particle pollution into the atmosphere; prevailing winds carry this pollution into Vermont and have a direct effect on the health of Vermonters and the state's natural resources.

Senator Leahy said, "Solid results like this are what the Clean Air Act was meant to accomplish. For downwind states like Vermont that have taken firm steps to responsibly reduce air and water pollution, cross-state pollution has long been a particularly destructive and frustrating obstacle. These new steps will improve our quality of life and benefit the health of all Vermonters."

The rule is expected to prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths annually nationwide starting in 2014. To read Senator Leahy's full statement on the new rule, please click here.

News You Can Use: 15th Annual Women's Economic Opportunity Conference

Save the date! The 15th Annual Women's Economic Opportunity Conference is set for Saturday, October 8, 201,1 at the Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center. Senator Leahy and his wife Marcelle plan the event each year in partnership with dozens of Vermont businesses and state agencies.

He notes that in the past year Vermonters have had to be flexible in adapting to the long-thawing economic climate, which has been compounded by the loss and disruption from this year's flooding. For many Vermonters, adapting has meant changing careers. This year's practical how-to workshops will offer tools for women at all stages of professional development seeking to expand and succeed in business planning and strategic media planning, to hone their leadership skills, and to discover and apply techniques in work-and-life balance.

To receive future mailings on the conference or for additional information please contact Senator Leahy via email or call 802-229-0569.

Photo Feature: A Vermonter's Perspective On The Final Space Shuttle Launch

As an eyewitness to the Space Shuttle program's final launch, Senator Leahy of course had his camera in tow. An accomplished and lifelong photographer, he knew that the launch signaled the end of an era. "It was a moment that carried a powerful sense of history and dramatic scenes to illustrate it."

Senator Leahy attended the launch of Atlantis and took the attached photos. The first is the shuttle the evening before the launch and the second is the launch in progress, on July 8.

Since 1981 the Space Shuttle program has launched 134 missions to maintain and repair satellites like the Hubble Space Telescope, to build and supply the International Space Station, and to advance the boundaries of scientific knowledge.

The launch of Atlantis was the closing of one chapter in American space exploration and the opening of another. NASA will continue to develop technology for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and continues to plan unmanned research missions. Private firms will begin to take larger roles in carrying out NASA's objectives in space.

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