On S. 3297, The Advancing America’s Priorities Act
Earlier this week, I joined the Majority Leader in the introduction of S.3297, the Advancing America’s Priorities Act. The Majority Leader selected 35 legislative items from the jurisdiction of seven Senate Committees, including eight bills from that of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for this effort. These are all measures with bipartisan support and, we believe the support of a strong bipartisan majority of the Senate. I have moved several through the Judiciary Committee and several have already passed the House. All have the support of all Democratic Senators, and all were cleared for unanimous Senate passage, but each has been stalled on the Senate floor by Republican objection.
One key bill included in this package is the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. I thank Senator Dodd and Congressman Lewis for their tireless work on this bill over the last four years. It will strengthen the ability of the Federal Government to investigate and prosecute unsolved murders from the civil rights era. It would create new cold case units in the Justice Department and FBI dedicated to investigating and prosecuting unsolved cases involving violations of criminal civil rights statutes which resulted in death and occurred before January 1, 1970. The Senate legislation was introduced on February 8, 2007. I was proud to cosponsor Senator Dodd’s bill. The Judiciary Committee reported it by unanimous consent as amended on June 20, 2007, more than a year ago. The House legislation passed the House on June 20, 2007, more than a year ago, by a vote of 422-2. Its Republican cosponsors include Senator Cochran, Senator Hatch, Senator Alexander, and Senator Cornyn.
Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting Emmett Till’s cousin Simeon Wright, who was with him that terrible night. The brutal killing of Emmett Till galvanized this nation. I want to acknowledge Mr. Wright’s courage and his commitment to fight for justice for all these years.??The primary purpose of the Till bill is to track down those whose violent acts during a period of national turmoil remain unpunished. By passing this legislation, we honor Emmett Till and all those who sacrificed their lives advancing civil rights. It is disgraceful that it has taken us so long to take this basic step to pursue justice too long delayed. It is incredible to me that some continue to obstruct these efforts. It reminds me of those who so adamantly opposed a national holiday to recognize the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the progress this country has made toward equal justice.
Another important piece of legislation in this bill is the reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. Many Vermonters have told me how much that Act is needed to help young people in Vermont and around the country. I held a hearing in Rutland, Vermont, this year on crime in small cities and towns, which emphad the need for programs to help young people in difficult circumstances, and held another here in Washington on this measure before the Judiciary Committee reported it in April. The companion House bill passed in June.
In addition, the eight Judiciary Committee related bills include several concerning child pornography, exploitation and drugs. The Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act passed the House 409-0 last November; the Enhancing the Effective Prosecution of Child Pornography provision passed the House 416-0 last November; the PROTECT Our Children Act passed the House 415-2 last November; the Drug Endangered Children Act passed the House last September 389-4. All of these bills have been cleared by all Democratic Senators.
Thus, the Judiciary Committee components in S.3297 are all measures that should have passed the Senate long ago. Two of the eight have Republican Senators as their lead sponsors. Others have Republican cosponsors.
People are rightly worried about keeping their communities safe and protecting their children. The Judiciary Committee has worked throughout this Congress to advance these priorities of Americans. Sadly, these important efforts have been obstructed by Republican objections. I hope that all Senators will join together tomorrow to pass S.3297 without further delay.
The bill we will consider tomorrow contains eight Judiciary Committee related pieces. There were selected from many, many more bills that have been reported favorably by the Senate Judiciary Committee and that have passed the House. All these bills have the support of every Democratic Senator, and it is Republican objections, usually anonymous objections, that are keeping them from passing.
Let me mention some of the others:
S.879, No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act of 2007 -- This bill would make it illegal for any foreign state, or any instrumentality or agent of a foreign state, to act collectively with another foreign state to limit the production, set the price or take any other action to restrain trade of oil, natural gas, or any petroleum product. The actions of OPEC to limit production of oil, natural gas and other petroleum products results in higher prices of crude oil, and thus, gasoline in the United States. These actions are having a harmful effect on American consumers. This legislation will make clear that the actions of nations and their agents to limit supply and fix prices of oil, natural gas and other petroleum products to affect the U.S. market violates U.S. antitrust law, and it will authorize the Attorney General to enforce antitrust law against such nations, and prevent technical legal doctrines such as sovereign immunity and act of state from preventing actions for redress. .
S.368, COPS Improvements Act of 2007 -- This bill would reauthorize and improve the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Since 1994, the programs created by the COPS initiative have helped drive down crime rates. The COPS program would restore vital programs that have been cut at a time when our law enforcement officers need it most. S.368 would authorize $600 million to hire officers to engage in community policing, intelligence gathering and anti-terror initiatives, and to serve as school resource officers. It would authorize $350 million per year for technology grants and $200 million per year to help local district attorneys hire community prosecutors. Also, it would establish the COPS office as an entity within the Department of Justice to carry out these functions and activities under the COPS program in order to eliminate duplication of efforts.
S.119/H.R.400, War Profiteering Prevention Act of 2007 -- This legislation would strengthen the tools available to federal law enforcement to combat contracting fraud during times of war, military action, or relief or reconstruction activities. It would also extend extraterritorial jurisdiction in an attempt to reach fraudulent conduct wherever it occurs. The bill would create a new criminal fraud offense in title 18 of the United States Code to prohibit fraudulent acts involving the provision of goods or services in connection with a war, military action, or relief or reconstruction activities.
S.185, Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 -- This bill would repeal provisions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that eliminated the jurisdiction of any court to hear or consider applications for a writ of habeas corpus filed by aliens who have been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as enemy combatants. Passage of this bill would restore the basic and essential right to challenge arbitrary detention by the Government to non-citizens, including the 12 million lawful permanent residents currently in this country, who under current law may be held forever with no recourse to challenge their detention in court. This legislation will contribute to renewed global respect for American values and the rule of law.
S.2511, A bill to amend the grant program for law enforcement armor vests to provide for a waiver of or reduction in the matching funds requirement in the case of fiscal hardship -- This bill would amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to authorize the Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance to waive, in whole or in part, matching fund requirements applicable to the grant program for the purchase of armor vests for law enforcement officers.
S.2344, Internet Safety Education Act of 2007 -- This bill would create a competitive grant program for eligible organizations to carry out free, age-appropriate programs that promote Internet safety for children. This would give educators and parents the tools necessary to teach proper online interactions and promote safe internet usage to their students and children in an age-appropriate manner.
H.R.3095, To amend the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 to modify a deadline relating to a certain election by Indian tribes -- This bipartisan bill would provide Indian tribes a one year extension in which to decide how to comply with the requirements of the Adam Walsh Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The Adam Walsh Act enacted new requirements for States and Indian tribes to maintain sex offender registration information, post such information on the Internet, and share such information among States and other Indian tribes. The Justice Department proposed detailed regulations for States and Indian tribes to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, but those regulations are not yet final. The Indian tribes cannot make an informed decision on how to comply with the act until those regulations are final. This year one-year extension would give Indian tribes sufficient time to make appropriate choices.
S.267/H.R.545, Native American Methamphetamine Enforcement and Treatment Act -- This bill would ensure that Indian tribes are able to apply for grant programs authorized by the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act. When Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, tribes were unintentionally left out as eligible applicants in some of these programs. This bill would clarify that territories and Indian communities are eligible to receive the resources they need to fight methamphetamine use.
S.877, Controlling the Abuse of Prescriptions Act of 2007 -- This bill seeks to crack down on performance-enhancing drugs by putting human growth hormone on the same list of controlled substances as anabolic steroids. Classifying human growth hormone (HGH) as a Schedule III controlled substance would subject the drug to more government regulation and stiffer penalties for illegal distribution.
S.1027, PACT Act -- This bill would help combat cigarette trafficking by updating existing anti-trafficking laws and introducing new tools to combat illegal remote sales, such as those conducted over the Internet. The legislation closes loopholes in current tobacco trafficking laws, enhances penalties for violations, and provides law enforcement with new tools to combat the innovative new methods being used by cigarette traffickers to distribute their products. By strengthening criminal laws governing cigarette trafficking, and empowering federal, state and local law enforcement with the powers to investigate and prosecute the cigarette traffickers of the 21st Century, the PACT Act can help disrupt terrorist groups and other organized criminal enterprises.
S.627, Safe Babies Act of 2007 -- This bill would amend the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 to require the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to award a grant to a national early childhood development organization to establish a National Court Teams Resource Center. The goals of the Center would be to promote the well-being of maltreated infants and toddlers and their families, help prevent the recurrence of abuse and neglect of children, and promote timely reunification of families.
H.R.5569, To extend for 5 years the EB-5 regional center pilot program, and for other purposes -- This bill would extend the EB-5 Regional Center program for five years. This program allows entrepreneurs from around the country to apply for Regional Center designation with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which in turn allows project managers to attract foreign investment to discrete projects within specified geographic areas, many of which are rural areas in need of economic stimulation. Over the years, this program has resulted in foreign capital investment of billions of dollars and the creation of thousands of jobs in American communities. This important program is set to expire on September 30, 2008, and its reauthorization is critical for the many Americans who depend upon this program to make positive economic changes to their communities.
S.442, John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act of 2007 -- This bill would establish a student loan repayment program for qualified attorneys who agree to remain employed for at least three years in certain public sector employment. This targeted student loan repayment assistance program will bolster the ranks of attorneys in the criminal justice system, enhancing the quality of that system and the public's confidence in it.
S. 3296, To extend the authority of the United States Supreme Court Police to protect court officials off the Supreme Court Grounds and change the title of the Administrative Assistant to the Chief Justice -- This bill would extend for five years the authority of the United States Supreme Court Police to protect Supreme Court Justices when they leave the Supreme Court grounds. In January of this year, the Court Security Improvement Act was signed into law to authorize additional resources to protect Federal judges, personnel, and courthouses. This additional legislation would extend the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court Police to protect the Supreme Court Justices on and off Court grounds. It would also change the title of the Chief Justice’s senior advisor from “Administrative Assistant” to “Counselor.”
S.3106, A bill to amend chapter 13 of title 17, United States Code (relating to the vessel hull design protection), to clarify the definitions of a hull and a deck -- This bill would give the Department of Defense full assurance that government and defense designs will not be subject to unwarranted restrictions. In 1998, Congress passed the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act to recognize the significant time, effort, and innovation that figure into ship design. Recent action in the courts has made it clear that in order to be effective, this law needs to be clarified and refined. This bill does exactly that by clarifying the definition of “hull” and “deck,” to ensure that the intellectual property rights of vessel hull designers would be protected.
H.R.6344, Responsive Government Act of 2008 -- This bill would provide the Federal courts and the Director of the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) with needed emergency authority to delay judicial proceedings or statutory deadlines in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency situation which makes it impractical for parties, including the United States, to comply with certain filing conditions or to protect the rights and privileges of people affected by certain emergencies or a major disaster. We have recently observed how the ravages of natural disasters disrupt the lives of our fellow citizens, which can impede the ability to comply with strict statutory deadlines. Thus the Responsive Government Act provides critical flexibility to the courts and the PTO to help ameliorate the practical difficulties caused by these emergency situations.
S.621, Wartime Treatment Study Act -- This bill would establish two fact-finding commissions to supplement the work done in the 1980s by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which studied the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The Act would create one commission to review the U.S. Government's treatment of German Americans, Italian Americans, and European Latin Americans during World War II, and another commission to review the U.S. Government's treatment of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.
S.2942, A bill to authorize funding for the National Advocacy Center -- This bill would authorize the National District Attorneys Association to use the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina, for a national training program to improve the professional skills of state and local prosecutors and to enhance the ability of federal, state, and local prosecutors to work together.
I hope that those Republican Senators who are holding up these measures will work with me by coming forward and letting me know what it is in the bill that they find objectionable. That way, we might be able to work something out to accommodate them. But when they object anonymously and do not come forward to work with us, it seems they are only interested in obstruction.
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Press ContactDavid Carle: 202-224-3693
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