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Gabbard on Kona Airport, vets home loans

MEDIA RELEASE

Updates from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard during the month of February:

Gabbard Calls to Resolve Kona International Airport Customs Issue, Air Travel Fee Increases

In a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee, Gabbard asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to work with local and state officials in Hawaii to resolve Customs and Border Patrol issues that are preventing Kona International Airport from accepting international flights.

She also reiterated her serious concerns about the recent airline fee increase, and its impact on Hawaii travelers.

“Kona was able to accept flights and we had Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) operating from there up until [2012],” said Gabbard, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. “I think our folks on the ground have been really proactive in trying to make sure that we’re able to meet CBP standards, and are requesting a five-year exemption so that we can continue to operate as we were up until [2012], which is important from an economic perspective, but also from a security perspective. If anything were to happen at the Honolulu International Airport, that we have another gateway and we have another facility there.”

“I know the burden of being on a multi-hour flight to Honolulu, and then you’ve got to change planes and fly to Kona,” said Secretary Johnson in response. “I know the inconvenience of that. So I’d like to see us work with local airport officials to try to get a place where you can have an international arrivals capability. You make a good point that if you lose one, you don’t have a second. So I’d like to see us try to work together on that.”

The congresswoman also highlighted the unique transportation challenges that face residents and visitors in Hawaii, and the need to exempt the state from the recently passed fee increases for airline travelers:

“With the budget that was passed recently, some of these fees that directly impact airline travel were increased in part to help pay for CBP, to help pay for TSA. I’m going to be an advocate here for the two noncontiguous states, Hawaii and Alaska, where air travel is essentially our only option. This is not an area that it’s a luxury, but one that is essential for business, for health care, for education, and I look forward to working with you on seeing how we can – as has been done in the past – make sure that these two states are considered differently.”

‘We Will Keep Fighting for Military Justice Reform Pushes forward in the House for Military Justice Improvement Act’

Gabbard released the following statement on the Senate’s vote on the Military Justice Improvement Act (S. 1752). The congresswoman introduced companion legislation in the House last year (H.R. 2016).

“Over the past year, Sen. Gillibrand and I, along with a group of bipartisan members, have elevated the conversation about military sexual assault to the forefront. It is a topic that is widely misunderstood, and one that has been swept under the rug for too long. While I’m disappointed the Senate did not pass the Military Justice Improvement Act today, our fight for justice is far from over. Men and women in our uniformed ranks deserve a system of justice system that works for them, and leadership that truly has zero tolerance for sexual assault in the ranks.

“Having worn the uniform for more than ten years, I remain proud to serve our country alongside so many brave men and women, who voluntarily put their lives on the line for our nation. Their voices deserve to be heard, and we owe them a justice system that is fair and transparent. I will continue to push for bipartisan support to move our bill through Congress and to the President for his consideration.”

Gabbard’s bill has garnered wide bipartisan support in the House, including Democratic and Republican leadership.

Gabbard Calls on House to Pass the Hire More Heroes Act

Gabbard spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives in support of passing the Hire More Heroes Act.

The bill exempts veterans who already receive health insurance through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), or reservists covered under TRICARE, from being counted towards the number of employees (50) required by the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

The bill passed by a vote of 406-1.

“We’re facing an unfortunate and unacceptable huge number of unemployed veterans – many people who are young, and who are capable and coming back from conflicts overseas, and these are veterans who will serve as a huge asset to businesses of any size because they come with a unique amount of training,” Gabbard said on the House floor. “This measure does a very important thing that would encourage these small-business owners to grow, as well as to hire more veterans by exempting those who receive insurance either from the VA or from TRICARE. This bill provides an incentive for businesses to hire veterans. This is a common-sense improvement to the Affordable Care Act that will benefit both of these important groups.”

“The Hire More Heroes Act is a bipartisan jobs bill that will not only encourage the hiring of veterans but will also allow businesses to expand and grow our economy without being penalized,” said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), who introduced the legislation. “I appreciate the support and assistance in getting this bill through the House from my friend, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and look forward to more opportunities for us to work together to put forth commonsense legislation that will help put our nation’s unemployed veterans back to work.

Currently, 8 million veterans are receiving health care through the VA system, and every service member returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has the option of signing up for health care through the VA.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees or equivalents to provide health insurance or pay a per-employee fine.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees do not have a mandate under the ACA.

Renewed Calls for Critical Funding for Missile Defense in FY2015 Budget

Gabbard has joined her colleagues in sending a letter to President Barack Obama highlighting needs for missile defense funding in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

“Time and time again, Hawaii has been placed in the cross-hairs of a belligerent North Korean regime whose capabilities continue to increase,” Gabbard said. “It is critical that we invest and fund improvements to our missile defense capabilities, so we can protect the people of Hawaii, our interests in the Asia-Pacific region, and the mainland. Now is not the time to be cutting our missile defense budget. Now is the time to invest in the best technology to ensure the safety and security of our people.”

Full text of the letter:

March 3, 2014

Dear Mr. President:

We respectfully write to you today to share our concerns regarding the ability of the United States to confront the rapidly changing strategic challenges posed by advanced intermediate and long-range ballistic missile technology.

While the United States has made great strides in developing our ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities, it is imperative that we strengthen our current and near-future ability to counter immediate threats. Additionally, we must continue cultivating promising technologies with BMD applications which are the key to maintaining vital strategic advantages enjoyed by our Armed Forces, particularly technologies like directed energy, railguns and space-based defenses.

In order to meet these challenges we want to voice our support for robust missile defense funding, and request you make it a priority in your Fiscal Year 2015 Budget.

The crucial need to continue and strengthen research and development of BMD has become even more pressing in light of recent tests of missile systems by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the deployment of advanced weapon systems by the People’s Republic of China.

Also of concern is the purportedly successful test of the WU-14 hypersonic boost-glide weapon platform recently conducted by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

While the actual fielding of a boost-glide weapon system will likely take years, we must invest adequate resources now in preparation for the impending deployment of such a system.

It is clear that China is increasingly relying on ballistic missile platforms in order to provide effective asymmetric warfare capabilities in theaters where it cannot match U.S. Armed Forces. Additionally, the DPRK often uses ballistic missile tests in order to extract leverage in international negotiations.

Further, in the Middle East, Syria and Hezbollah are increasing their ballistic missile technology and stockpiles, aided by the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism, Iran.

It is for these reasons that we ask that you work with Congress to provide adequate resources for the research, development and deployment of BMD assets. Failure to do so could leave our Armed Forces exposed to potentially crippling attacks, degrade the confidence of our regional allies and economic partners and embolden our enemies.

We thank you for taking our thoughts into consideration and look forward to working with you to maintain the United States’ unique role in the world.

‘Protect Hawaii Homeowners from Drastic, Arbitrary Insurance Premium Increases’

Gabbard has voted to limit drastic and arbitrary increases for flood insurance premiums in Hawaii.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (H.R. 3370) will lower the cap on average annual rate increases to 15 percent, requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure flood maps are as accurate as possible, and to implement measures to ensure affordability of flood insurance. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the legislation does not increase the deficit.

The bill passed by a vote of 306-91.

“Nearly one-quarter of Hawaii homes and businesses with flood insurance would be blindsided by proposed premium hikes, which would have been 25 percent higher without the legislation we passed in the House today,” said Gabbard, who is a cosponsor of H.R. 3370. “As FEMA continues to adjust its flood maps, we have a responsibility to make sure that our families and business owners are not pushed out of their homes or their businesses shuttered by this sudden shift in premium prices. For example, an 18-unit condo building on Maui that is re-classified by FEMA from lowest-risk to highest-risk of flooding would jump from about $1,775 per year per unit to more than $10,000 per unit.”

Last summer, the congresswoman also supported a one-year delay of the premium hikes in the Homeland Security appropriations bill.

H.R. 3370 also repeals three “triggers” that would increase flood insurance premiums under the 2012 Biggert-Waters reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program:

1. All properties sold after July 6, 2012. New homeowners and business owners will continue to receive the same treatment as the previous owner.

2. All properties that purchased a new policy after July 6, 2012, before they were legally required to purchase insurance.

3. All properties that had a lapsed policy, provided that the lapse was as a result of the property covered by the policy no longer requiring coverage.

Renewed Call to Fight Even Higher Airline Fee Increase

Gabbard has highlighted the Hawaii priorities in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request, and renewed her call to exempt Hawaii from a hike in airline fees.

The President’s budget request totals $3.901 trillion, adhering to 2015 spending levels that were agreed to by Congress in the Bipartisan Budget Act last December.

In the budget request, the Aviation Passenger Security Fee increases again from $5.60 per one-way trip to $6.00. Congress recently approved an increase from $2.50 to $5.60 per trip.

“As our economy continues to recover from the financial crisis, it is important to continue making smart investments and necessary cuts to use every taxpayer dollar effectively,” Gabbard said.

“Congress must recognize the unique role that airline travel plays in Hawaii. An additional airline fee increase balances the budget on the backs of our people who depend on affordable air travel just to get to work, access healthcare, and visit their family and friends,” she said. “I will continue to work toward a Hawaii exemption to this fee hike, as has been done previously for Hawaii and Alaska.

“Hawaii has a number of priorities that I will work to address throughout the budget process, including funds for military construction, support for our kupuna and keiki, and investments in innovation and technology.”

The President’s budget proposal would repeal tax breaks to oil and gas companies, using some of the billions of dollars in savings for further research on alternative energy. It also proposes measures to address opportunity inequality.

Gabbard said, “One of the greatest challenges we face today is the huge gap that exists between the wealthy, and those who struggle daily just to feed their families and raise their keiki. I strongly support the President’s proposal to close tax loopholes that cater to top earners and special interests, and welcome efforts to support job creation and opportunities for working- and middle-class families across our islands.”

A few Hawaii highlights in the President’s Budget include:
Please note: this is not a complete list of Hawaii budget items.

Hawaii Military Construction:

* $96 million: Fort Shafter
* $53.4 million: Kaneohe Bay
* $9.7 million: Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard
* $52.9 million: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam
* $32 million: Native Hawaiian Education
* $27 million: Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions
* $13 million: Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant Program
* $11 million: East-West Center
* $250 million: Honolulu Rail Transit Project

Vote to Strengthen Cybersecurity, Privacy Protections

Gabbard has supported passage of H.R. 3696, the National Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (NCCIP), a bill which was marked up in the House Homeland Security Committee.

The legislation aims to take steps toward protecting the United States from cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, both physical and technical.

“The threat of cyber-attacks is real and is not limited to our bank accounts or e-mail; they threaten our electrical grid, mass transportation, and the management of water and gas pipelines,” said Gabbard, who is a co-sponsor of the legislation. “We take this threat seriously, and establish necessary public-private partnerships to protect our critical infrastructure. A large-scale attack on any of these sophisticated systems would have devastating impacts on families and communities across our country.

“The NCCIP Act is a first step toward strengthening our defenses against these kinds of cyber-attacks. It also guards personal privacy protections by requiring all Federal agencies to report, without delay, network data breaches involving personally identifiable data to the National Cybersecurity and Communications Information Center, as well notifying any potential victims.”

Privacy, national security, and industry advocates have expressed support for the legislation. The bill will now await consideration and a vote by the full House of Representatives.

VA Home Loans Will Resume for Isle Veterans

Gabbard has applauded the announcement by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that effective immediately, it will resume guaranteeing home loans for veterans seeking to purchase certain properties in Hawaii.

Since 2011, veterans in Hawaii have been unable to take advantage of VA benefits to purchase homes or refinance existing loans on homes served by rainwater catchment systems, disproportionately affecting veterans on Hawaii Island.

“Over the past year, I have worked to overcome tremendous obstacles that have prevented Hawaii’s veterans from purchasing a home with their VA benefits simply because the only available water source for their home was a rainwater catchment system,” Gabbard said. “For too long veterans who have served our country have been caught in an unacceptable bureaucratic stalemate which has prevented them from using the benefits they have earned and deserve.”

“The solution announced today by the VA recognizes the unique needs of Hawaii veterans and will allow them to purchase homes served by rainwater catchment, which many times are the only homes available in places like Hawaii Island. I commend the efforts of the Hawaii Department of Health and the VA for coming to a resolution that provides a straightforward approval process and resuming the home loan guaranty program for our veterans and their families.”

Highlights Watchdog Group’s NSA Reform Recommendations

Gabbard has issued the following statement on a new report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent watchdog group.

The board issued a 238-page report concluding that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of phone records has only provided minimal benefit in combating terrorism, and that the program is illegal and should be shut down.

“This new report by the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has highlighted the serious overreach of the NSA and its violations of Americans’ civil liberties, and the minimal benefits that its bulk phone records collection has provided for our national security,” Gabbard said.

“By making targeted reforms to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, Congress can end this vast and unnecessary overreach of the NSA into our personal lives,” she said. “The PCLOB’s report underscores the urgent need for Congress to pass these reforms, and to put an end to the surveillance of innocent Americans.”

Gabbard is an original co-sponsor of the USA Freedom Act which reforms Section 215 of the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act that has been widely blamed for the bulk collection of innocent Americans’ personal data.

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