The Leahy Letter -- March 31, 2011

Senate Passes Leahy's America Invents Act

Earlier this month, the Senate overwhelmingly approved major legislation authored by Senator Leahy to significantly update the country's patent system for the first time in nearly 60 years. The bipartisan America Invents Act will streamline and transition the nation's patent system to the more modern 'first-inventor-to-file' system, used by the rest of the industrialized world, and encourage entrepreneurs to create businesses and jobs here at home in America, without adding a penny to the deficit. Senator Leahy has worked to enact patent reform legislation for six years. He is now working with leaders of the House of Representatives to move the legislation through that chamber. A companion bill to Leahy's Senate-passed patent reform bill was introduced Wednesday by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith.

Senator Leahy Leads Congressional Delegation To Haiti And The Dominican Republic

Photos taken by Senator Leahy and his staff while visiting the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Clockwise from top left: Senator Leahy commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic;
a banner hangs in Haiti honoring the victims of the 2010 earthquake;
Senator Leahy speaks with volunteers at a rehab center in Haiti;
a view of the rubble that remains from the earthquake.

Late this March, Senator Leahy led a congressional delegation of two senators and two congressmen to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. On the three-day trip were Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina,Congressman Peter Welch, and Congressmen Xavier Becerra of California. The delegation traveled to the Dominican Republic to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, an organization which has had a widespread impact on that country's struggling people over the past five decades. Accompanied by Peace Corps Director, the group met with Peace Corps volunteers and the local children they work with.

The delegation then traveled nearby to Haiti to gain a clearer understanding of the hardships the Haitian people have faced as they work to recover and rebuild from the catastrophic earthquake which shook the island in January of 2010. The delegation met with representatives of relief organizations and toured a camp for Haitian people displaced by the earthquake. The delegation met with government officials and dignitaries in Port-au-Prince. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, Senator Leahy is assessing the impact of U.S. foreign aid support for the recovery efforts.

To view photos of the delegation's trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, please click here.

Revitalization Of The Church Street Marketplace
Begins New Phase

The Office of the Mayor of Burlington this week announced the start of construction to improve and revamp the lower portion of the Church Street Marketplace. The project, which will be funded in large part by federal dollars secured by Senator Leahy, will focus on upgrading infrastructure related to pedestrian safety and will significantly improve the side streets that tie into the popular pedestrian mall.

The 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity: A Legacy for User (SAFTEA-LU) Act is the source of much of the funding for the work that is underway. Through this legislation, Senator Leahy channeled $6 million to the City of Burlington specifically to help make needed improvements to the Church Street Marketplace.

Senator Leahy says that "The Church Street Marketplace is the crown jewel of Downtown Burlington and a true treasure for Vermont. I was pleased to work with the city to upgrade the Marketplace's aging infrastructure and begin to incorporate the side streets and alleyway into the overall Church Street experience. These improvements will ensure that Church Street continues to be a vital and vigorous place for residents and visitors alike for years to come."

Senator Leahy Offers A Bill To Make Permanent
Program That Has Been Jobs Generator In Vermont

Senator Leahy, Marcelle Leahy, Jay Peak President Bill Stenger and Sugarbush President Win Smith review recent construction photos from Jay Peak during a news conference at the Burlington International Airport in March. Both Jay Peak and Sugarbush have benefitted from the EB-5 program.

Senator Leahy is renewing his efforts to make the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center pilot program permanent. The Regional Center Program attracts foreign investors seeking legal permanent residency and a chance to invest in the American economy. Vermont's Regional Center program has forged a successful private-public partnership among the State of Vermont and many Vermont businesses. The state's Regional Center projects have drawn business and tourism to the state, fueling local economies and creating jobs throughout Vermont. Since its creation in 1993, the regional center program has attracted more than a billion dollars in foreign investment to the United States and created thousands of jobs.

Senator Leahy Commemorates Seventh Annual Sunshine Week

March 13th marked the start of the seventh annual Sunshine Week, a national observance of the importance of open and transparent government. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy held a hearing on "The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): Ensuring Transparency and Accountability in the Digital Age." Senator Leahy, with longtime partner Senator John Cornyn of Texas, also reintroduced their Faster FOIA Act. The legislation addresses the chronic problem of backlogged FOIA requests and excessive delays within government agencies. Senator Leahy is a longtime champion of open government and the public's right to know and authored the recently enacted OPEN FOIA Act, which made the first major reforms to FOIA in more than a decade.

USDA Announces More Support For Vermont
Fresh Fruit And Vegetable Program

On March 23 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a boost in funding for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in Vermont. The program provides fresh produce for snacks at no cost in qualifying schools. The Vermont Department of Education will receive nearly $1.8 million for the 2011/2012 school year. This amount means between $50 and $75 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables for each student in participating schools across the state.

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program was launched in 2002 as a small pilot program and grew rapidly with the support of the Vermont congressional delegation. Senator Leahy pushed for an expansion of the program and also has been a leader in creating and strengthening the USDA's Farm To School program.

As a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Leahy said, "This is a perfect fit for Vermont. Our state is a leader in the Farm to School movement and leads all others in the fresh foods in our children's diets. Starting healthy eating habits early in life carries lifelong benefits."

Senators Seek Support For National Guard Outreach Program

Senator Leahy speaks with Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a deployment ceremony for Vermont National Guard soldiers in January 2010.

On March 18, Senator Leahy joined a group of lawmakers in writing to Secretary of the Army John McHugh and General Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau. In their letter, they ask that funding be sustained for an essential outreach program providing assistance to Vermont veterans returning from Afghanistan and other locations across the globe.

The program, which was one of the first of its kind, has been supported since 2006 by federal grants secured by Senator Bernie Sanders and is now threatened by the congressional budget impasse. In order for the program to continue, leaders at the Pentagon must direct the Army and National Guard to provide necessary financial support.

It provides information to members of the National Guard and their families about physical and behavioral health care as well as social support services and makes a significant difference in the lives of Guard members as they reintegrate following a deployment.

Senator Leahy Speaks Out In Defense Of First Amendment Rights For All, Including American Muslims

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, Human Rights, and the Law held a hearing March 29 on recognizing and protecting the civil rights of American Muslims. At the hearing, Senator Leahy spoke before hearing testimony from several prominent witnesses including Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington.

In defense of the enduring values of the First Amendment, Senator Leahy said, "The First Amendment in our Bill of Rights is one of the most defining principles of our national character. It helps preserve all of our other rights. Religions and ethnic bigotry can be easy to ignite and difficult to extinguish. When divisive religious rhetoric is used for partisan advantage it demeans the principles upon which this great nation was founded."

To watch a video of Senator Leahy delivering remarks at this hearing, please click here.

Panel Approves Leahy Bill To Strengthen
Food Safety Enforcement

Earlier this year, Senator Leahy reintroduced his Food Safety Accountability Act, and today the Senate Judiciary Committee approved his bill, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. The bill will toughen criminal penalties against those who knowingly violate food safety standards by imposing stricter prison sentences and fines for individuals and corporations that contaminate the nation's food supply by knowingly distributing contaminated food products with disregard for consumer safety. Recalls of tainted food products in the last several years, such as certain eggs and peanut products, led Senator Leahy to examine the adequacy of existing penalties leading to his first introduction of the bill last July.

News You Can Use: 'Passport Day In The USA'

On Saturday, April 9, the nation will observe "Passport Day in the USA". In recognition of this event, the newly opened Vermont Passport Agency in St. Albans will hold special walk-in hours for Vermonters wanting help with passport applications and related issues. This is the only day of the year that passport applications can be submitted to Regional Passport Agencies without making appointments or paying expediting fees.

For further information on Passport Day in the USA, please click here.

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693