The Leahy Letter -- June 13, 2011

Hunt Middle School Gets A Farm To School Visit From Senator Leahy

Marcelle and Patrick Leahy join students at Hunt Middle School in Burlington for a healthy lunch and a discussion of the Farm to School program.

Senator Leahy and his wife, Marcelle, recently visited Hunt Middle School in Burlington for a nutritious Farm to School lunch made with Vermont products. The visit spotlighted the benefits of serving healthy, local food in school cafeterias and kicked off the spring planting of the school's own garden. Hunt Middle School is home to one of the top Farm to School programs in the country giving students the opportunity to learn about and engage in their food choices, empowering them to take responsibility for their health now and into the future. Senator Leahy, long a champion for child nutrition and a leader of the Farm to School movement in Congress, praised the school and said, "A successful Farm to School education program involves more than just moving food from the field to the cafeteria. It is a complex web of partnerships weaving together health, nutrition, economy, agriculture, and the education curriculum."

During the 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization debate Senator Leahy fought to expand the original 2004 Farm to School program he created and secured $5 million in annual funding that begins in the coming school year. The new Farm to School program is designed to offer one-time grants up to $100,000 to schools or nonprofit groups to help schools purchase adequate equipment to store and prepare fresh foods, sustain relationships with local farmers, plan seasonal menus, and develop nutrition education plans that teach the importance of nutrition and agriculture.

Senator Leahy Presses To Lay The Groundwork For Restoring VT-Montreal Amtrak Service

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on May 17 focusing on security and commerce along the Northern Border, Senator Leahy asked the top Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official, Commissioner Alan Bersin, to work with Vermont state officials to help restore Amtrak service between Vermont and Montreal. The rail service was suspended in the 1980s. The link had been a useful component of passenger and commercial transportation for bother Vermont and Canada. Senator Leahy discussed with Commissioner Bersin the security challenges to be met before service can be reestablished and asked CBP to work with state officials to develop effective but efficient cross-border screening techniques.

Time To Close Giant Oil Companies' Tax Loopholes?

The debate on tax subsidies to large oil companies has reached the floor of the U.S. Senate. For now, the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act of 2011 has been sidelined by a filibuster that the Senate failed to break in a vote on May 17. Senator Leahy is an original cosponsor of the legislation, which would repeal the $2 billion in taxpayer funded subsidies that annually supplement the enormous profits of the five largest, most profitable oil companies in the world. These firms have earned nearly $1 trillion in profits and have received tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies over the last decade. The reforms backed by Senator Leahy would reduce the deficit by more than $21 billion over the next decade.

Senator Leahy said, "These tax expenditures paid for by the American people go day in and day out to some of the wealthiest and most profitable oil companies of all time. If these tax breaks were ever justified, that time passed long, long ago. Budgets are about our priorities. Wave after wave of budget cuts have been enacted this year, putting on the chopping block the needs and the priorities of working men and women and families who have been struggling for so long. It is unconscionable that some in Congress remain unwilling to even discuss deficit reductions that include these huge taxpayer subsidies to giant oil companies."

Senator Leahy Introduces Legislation
To Thwart Rogue Online Sites

Senator Leahy is the author and lead sponsor of bipartisan legislation aimed at combating websites that are dedicated to the theft of American intellectual property. Websites created to market counterfeit or pirated goods, cheat and mislead consumers and cost the economy billions of dollars, as well as thousands of American jobs. The PROTECT IP Act will give law enforcement more effective tools to take action against the worst of the worst rogue websites, once a court determines that a site is dedicated to infringing activities. Senator Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which unanimously approved the PROTECT IP Act on May 26.

Vermont's Value-Added Producers Get Funding
With Senator Leahy's Support

Senator Leahy speaks to farmers and agribusiness professionals gathered at Aurora Farms in Charlotte in support of value-added agricultural projects.

On May 23, Senator Leahy gathered with farmers and agribusiness professionals at Aurora Farms and the Nitty Gritty Grain Company in Charlotte to announce that Vermont's farming sector is netting nearly $2 million to support value-added agricultural projects. Producing value-added crops, such as the organic flour, cornmeal and cornbread mix produced by the Nitty Gritty Grain Company, gives small-scale farmers a competitive edge against larger distributors of raw commodities.

The funding comes from the Vermont Agriculture Innovation Center -- founded in 2009 with assistance from Senator Leahy -- which contributed $735,057, and a federal match of more than $1.2 million. The Center will provide grants for more than two dozen projects to support technical, marketing and organizational development services to value-added farming businesses in Vermont.

Leahy's Environmental Crimes Bill Advanced
By Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved legislation authored by Senator Leahy that boosts accountability for corporations and individuals concerning environmental crimes. The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act is aimed at deterring environmental crime while protecting and compensating victims of environmental crime. The Leahy bill will direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and amend environmental crime sentencing guidelines to better reflect the seriousness of those crimes. It will also amend current law to make restitution for violations of the Clean Water Act mandatory. Leahy first introduced the Environment Crimes Enforcement Act last year after the April 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Push To Improve The USA PATRIOT Act

Senator Leahy is continuing his efforts to strengthen oversight and privacy protections in the USA PATRIOT Act. Last month Congress passed legislation to extend three expiring intelligence-gathering tools authorized by the USA PATRIOT. Senator Leahy authored legislation earlier this year to address the expiring authorities while adding safeguards for civil liberties. This bill won bipartisan support from the Senate Judiciary Committee. While the legislation passed by Congress provided only a straight extension of the authorities, Senator Leahy said he would continue his bid to improve the law and its oversight, and he has already reintroduced his reforms to continue that effort. He first proposed his reforms in September 2009 and that bill also received bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee and was backed by the Obama administration.

Senator Leahy Helps Kick-Off The
"Get Closer to the Lake" Campaign

At the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, on the Burlington waterfront, Senator Leahy spoke as the Center kicked off a new expansion.

On May 6, staff and board members of the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain kicked off a project to expand the Center's building and its hands-on educational exhibits, lake stewardship, and cultural offerings. The expansion is called "Get Closer to the Lake," which at the time of the event ironically was lapping at the Center's property due to the lake's flooding. At the event, Senator Leahy spoke of the lake's record-high levels, and his vision for the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain and the lake that he loves. Please click here to view video of Senator Leahy's remarks.

Since opening in 2003, the Leahy Center has become an anchor of the Burlington waterfront, delighting and educating people of all ages and drawing attention to the ongoing challenges of caring for Vermont's "great lake".

Updating A Key Privacy Law

In May, Senator Leahy introduced his long anticipated legislation to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), one of the nation's premier digital privacy laws. Senator Leahy was a lead author of the original ECPA law, enacted in 1986. Senator Leahy's ECPA Amendments Act offers commonsense changes to the law to improve privacy protections for Americans' electronic communications and clarifies the legal standards for the government to obtain this information. The legislation includes enhanced privacy protections for more modern means of communication, such as email other electronic modes, which would be subject to a search warrant requirement based on probable cause. The Leahy reforms would provide the first comprehensive updates to ECPA since 1986 and will fill gaps in existing law and update the law to reflect how Americans today use electronic communications.

Fighting Creditor Fraud

Senator Leahy introduced legislation in late May to fight creditor fraud and protect homeowners in the bankruptcy process. The Fighting Fraud in Bankruptcy Act will enhance the ability of the Executive Office of the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee (EOUST) to fight creditor fraud and prevent needless and costly litigation. The legislation is supported by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and is in response to EOUST's efforts to hold mortgage servicers accountable in the bankruptcy process. It will clarify the legal authority of trustees and bankruptcy courts while further protecting homeowners facing foreclosure.

Senate Judiciary Committee Advances
Leahy-Authored Anti-Fraud Bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee also recently approved legislation authored by Senator Leahy and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to bolster law enforcement agencies' ability to investigate and prosecute fraud. The Fighting Fraud to Protect Taxpayers Act will enhance existing tools used by law enforcement to investigate fraud, including mortgage, foreclosure, financial, and healthcare fraud, that has victimized thousands of unsuspecting Americans. Senator Leahy, a longtime leader in protecting consumers from fraud, introduced The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act (FERA) in 2009 to increase resources available to federal prosecutors to pursue and bring to just those who commit financial fraud. That legislation was among the first signed into law by President Obama in 2009.

Senate Passes Resolution Honoring Police Officers

Last month Senator Leahy introduced and the Senate passed a resolution to honor police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty last year. Senator Grassley (R-Iowa) joined Senator Leahy in sponsoring the resolution as the Senate came together to show its strong support and appreciation of America's law enforcement officers. A former prosecutor in Vermont, Senator Leahy has long championed police officers and their service to their communities. He authored the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program which has helped equip thousands of officers with lifesaving bulletproof vests.

News You Can Use: Resources For Vermonters
Impacted By Flooding

Joined by Governor Shumlin and Joanne Gallagher, Recovery Director of FEMA Region 1, Senator Leahy examined the rising waters and discussed ways to help Vermonters cope with the flooding.

Much of Vermont and many Vermonters have been swamped as Lake Champlain and several rivers have overflown their banks and damaged homes and businesses. Senator Leahy has been monitoring the damage and supporting the efforts of Governor Shumlin and other state officials as they work to address the needs of so many Vermonters who have lost their homes and property to the rising waters.

In early May, Senator Leahy met with the regional FEMA director and surveyed the elevated lake near the Burlington waterfront. The Senator continues to consult with federal officials about providing resources and support to regions of Vermont as well as individuals and families affected by the unprecedented flooding.

Vermonters seeking information on emergency management efforts within the state and how to apply for federal assistance can visit the Vermont Emergency Management website.

To learn more about the Federal Emergency Management Agency and federal assistance, please visit the FEMA website.

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693