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Updates from Sen. Schatz (Dec. 3-15)

MEDIA RELEASE

SCHATZ NAMED TO KEY POST ON SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE

U.S. Senate Democratic leadership has announced the selection of U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to serve on the key Senate Committee on Appropriations.

The appointment is an especially important one. Prescribed in the U.S. Constitution, the Committee writes the legislation that allocates funds to government departments, agencies and organizations. The Committee also has responsibility for supplemental spending bills as may be needed during the fiscal year.

“This is an important job because the Committee makes appropriations that support our national priorities, and because I will be in a position to ensure that the needs of Hawai‘i are strongly represented at a critical juncture,” stated Schatz. “It is an honor and I look forward to working with all Committee members as we move forward.”

“The Appropriations post is a most significant one for our State and Country,” stated Retired Admiral Thomas Fargo, former Commander of the United States Pacific Command. “This appointment so early in his career speaks to the fact that Sen. Schatz has earned the respect of his Senate colleagues and is increasingly effective in Washington.”

And the Senator will also retain his seats as a member on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

In addition, Senate Democratic leadership selected Schatz to serve as one of three Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. The Ethics Committee investigates allegations, and recommends disciplinary action, in cases of improper conduct by senators including violations of law or Senate rules and regulations.

Appointments to these four committees are subject to a full vote by the Senate that is scheduled to occur in early January 2015.

Senate Democrats have also named Schatz to the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, a Democratic leadership committee.

The group makes recommendations on committee chairmanships and committee assignments to the Democratic caucus. It also brings together senators, community leaders, policy experts, businesses and intergovernmental organizations to help develop policies to strengthen the economy and support families, workers and businesses.

SCHATZ, BOOKER, COLLEAGUES SEEK TO PROHIBIT TRAINING AND EQUIPPING OF SYRIAN OPPOSITION

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 that would remove Section 1209 of the bill granting the Department of Defense two-year authority to train and equip vetted Syrian opposition.

U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) joined their effort to block the authority from becoming law until the entire Congress has debated the policy.

“The strategy for defeating the Islamic State in Syria has still not been well-articulated,” Schatz said. “I remain deeply skeptical that training and equipping the Syrian opposition is an effective course of action. For most of these fighters their primary goal is to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, giving us no assurances that they will actually fight the Islamic State. Empowering them risks worsening the violent conditions that have given rise to the Islamic State and could potentially drag the United States into the chaos of a civil war that needs a political solution, not a military one. This authority should not be buried in a must pass defense authorization bill. Congress should have a full debate on the potential consequences that this train and equip provision could have on U.S. policy in Syria and the broader region. The President does not have the authority under the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force to conduct an open-ended war in Syria. Congress ought to revoke these AUMFs and debate a new, more tailored authorization for the use of force against the Islamic State.”

“Passing the NDAA is critical to our national defense and to supporting our men and women in uniform, which is why I am voting for it. However, this NDAA will authorize billions for operations against ISIS, and Congress will likely appropriate those funds through the omnibus this week,” said Booker. “It is critical to combat the grave threat posed by ISIS, but authorizing and funding a train and equip program without proper debate and an Authorization for the Use of Military Force is a disservice to our service men and women who are risking their lives carrying out this campaign. That is why I am joining my colleagues in co-sponsoring this amendment. A debate on a new authorization to defeat ISIS is overdue.”

Last week, Schatz and Baldwin sent a letter to President Obama to immediately submit for Congressional consideration a proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force specific to the war against the Islamic State. In the letter, the Senators said that they believe this action will allow Congress to properly evaluate the President’s vision and strategy for combat operations and will foster the critical debate that the American public deserves.

SCHATZ, HEINRICH INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO MODERNIZE ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the Promoting Regional Energy Partnerships for Advancing Resilient Energy Systems Act (PREPARE Act), legislation that would help states modernize U.S. energy systems to make them cleaner, more efficient, cost-effective, reliable and resilient.

With an aging U.S. energy infrastructure in need of replacement and growing challenges to grid security, the PREPARE Act authorizes the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) to enter into regional cooperative agreements with states to provide support and funding that will help states develop strategies and plans that address the unique energy needs of the region.

“In Hawaii, we have seen great success in developing an energy strategy that has increased clean energy production and cut electricity bills, saving customers $1.5 billion since 2009. But we were only able to do this by working collaboratively with the Department of Energy and business and community leaders in the state,” Schatz said. “Our bill empowers the Energy Department to give states and regions the tools they need to modernize their energy infrastructure and build a cleaner, more resilient system.”

“Our nation’s electric power industry is going through substantial changes. This bill provides an opportunity for states to collaborate on regional approaches for cleaner power generation and transmission – which are critical to reducing carbon pollution and keeping prices low for consumers,” said Heinrich. “Our state has a unique role to play in coordinating and siting significant new generation and transmission infrastructure that will be essential for growing our economy. Additionally, we are well poised to capitalize on a diversified, but rapidly transforming energy sector, and we stand to benefit from this kind of regional collaboration.”

The PREPARE Act is modeled off of the successful Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative — a federal-state-business-NGO partnership. Introduced in 2008, the partnership provided DoE assistance to the state, which helped convene cross-sectoral working groups and coordinate federal technical assistance.

Since its implementation, energy from renewable sources has risen to 18% in Hawaii, saving an estimated 794 GWh of electricity and $1.5 billion on electricity bills since 2009. Hawaii now ranks 10th in the nation in clean energy jobs.

The PREPARE Act also builds upon the successful State Energy Program administered by DoE. The program provides funding and technical assistance to State Energy Offices to prepare state energy plans and implement clean energy and energy efficiency programs.

Since its creation in 1996, it has delivered energy cost savings of $256 million per year, and every $1 of federal funds under the program has leveraged $10.71 in private and state funds and returned $7.22 in energy cost savings.

From energy efficiency rules in Mississippi expected to save customers $2.3 billion in energy bills by 2034, to a business launch program for innovative energy enterprises in New Hampshire, to a large solar array program to help businesses cut energy costs in Tennessee, it has supported states with a diversity of clean energy programs.

PREPARE would build on that with a regional approach and will offer assistance on planning that encompasses far more than just clean energy programs.

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SCHATZ, BOXER, GILLIBRAND, HIRONO CALL FOR EXTENSION ON HOME LOAN GUARANTEES FOR VETERANS IN HIGH COST OF LIVING AREAS

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) have written Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) requesting an extension to a provision that allows the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase the maximum home loan guaranty amount for veterans in high cost of living areas.

A current provision enacted by Congress in 2008 gave the VA the authority to increase its maximum guaranty amount, making it easier for veterans in high cost of living areas to fulfill their dreams of homeownership.

It is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2014.

“We cannot ask the men and women who have honorably served in our Armed Forces, and their families who have stood with them, to shoulder more of the burden of balancing the budget on top of the sacrifices they have already made in their service to the nation,” the Senators wrote. “We urge members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees to take action to extend this provision in law through December 31, 2015.”

The full text of letter follows:

Dear Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby,

We are writing on behalf of the veterans who will be affected on December 31, 2014, if the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) existing authority to increase the maximum guaranty amount on loans for homes in high cost of living areas expires.

For years, the VA Loan Guaranty Program has helped America’s veterans fulfill their dreams of home ownership. Under current law, the VA is authorized to act as a mortgage insurance program through which eligible veterans can enter into mortgages with private lenders, with the VA guaranteeing that it will pay lenders a portion of losses that may be suffered as a result of a borrower’s default. In most cases, the VA guaranty covers at least 25 percent of the principal balance of a loan, helping veterans avoid making costly down payments that might otherwise prevent them from getting into a home.

Until enactment of legislation in 2008, the VA Loan Guaranty Program did not cover homes in high cost of living areas where the prices exceeded the Freddie Mac conforming loan limit of $417,000 (as determined by section 305(a)(2) of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation Act). Congress took action, giving the VA the authority to consider the 25 percent maximum guaranty amount for a loan as equal to the higher of the Freddie Mac conforming loan limit, or 125 percent of the area median home price, but no higher than 175 percent of the limit determined under the Freddie Mac statute, making it easier for veterans to purchase homes in high cost of living areas without having to make a down payment.

Despite Congress’s well-intentioned efforts to ensure that veterans are able to fulfill their dreams of home ownership, the authority allowing the VA to increase the maximum guaranty amount for home loans in high cost of living areas will expire on December 31, 2014, leaving many veterans with dreams of buying a home in limbo.

We urge members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees to take action to extend this provision in law through December 31, 2015. We recognize the hard choices that you must make as you evaluate tradeoffs between extending this $24 million authority and other budgetary priorities. But we cannot ask the men and women who have honorably served in our Armed Forces, and their families who have stood with them, to shoulder more of the burden of balancing the budget on top of the sacrifices they have already made in their service to the nation.

Thank you for considering our request and for your continued support of the veterans and their families we all serve.

Sincerely,

BRIAN SCHATZ
U.S. Senator

BARBARA BOXER
U.S. Senator

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND
U.S. Senator

MAZIE K. HIRONO
U.S. Senator

UNDER SCHATZ QUESTIONING NFL ADMITS TEAMS SHOULD BE MORE ACCOUNTABLE FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) sent a letter to National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell calling on the NFL to address domestic violence and the pervasive culture of avoiding long-term suspensions to quickly get players back on the field for financial motives.

The letter follows a Senate Commerce Committee hearing where Schatz questioned Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, about domestic violence in in the NFL.

Under questioning from Schatz, Vincent stated the NFL was reviewing options to hold teams more accountable for the culture of excusing domestic violence which include “the removal of draft picks.”

“You should consider using all tools at your disposal to hold team owners accountable for promoting cultures that either explicitly or tacitly excuses domestic violence and sexual assault, including penalizing teams by taking away draft picks,” Schatz wrote to Goodell. “I urge you to create accountability at all levels of the NFL, particularly among team owners, who have the most direct financial incentives to avoid long-term suspensions and quickly get players back on the field. There must be a proactive effort to implement a culture of active opposition to these societal scourges, and to communicate that message both to those within the NFL and to its audience.”

Full text of letter is as follows:

December 3, 2014

Roger Goodell
Commissioner
National Football League
1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 645
Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Commissioner Goodell,

I remain deeply concerned by the National Football League’s (NFL) lack of aggressiveness in implementing consistent disciplinary policies regarding domestic violence and sexual assault by league and team employees. I appreciate Mr. Vincent’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on December 2nd, 2014, but his and his fellow witnesses’ words must be matched with action. I encourage you to hold the NFL to the commitments that Mr. Vincent made and proactively address the concerns raised at the hearing. You should consider using all tools at your disposal to hold team owners accountable for promoting cultures that either explicitly or tacitly excuses domestic violence and sexual assault, including penalizing teams by taking away draft picks.

As you continue the process of reevaluating and improving your disciplinary policies related to cases of domestic abuse and sexual assault I urge you to create accountability at all levels of the NFL, particularly among team owners, who have the most direct financial incentives to avoid long-term suspensions and quickly get players back on the field.

At the December 2nd hearing, Mr. Vincent noted that an NFL owners’ meeting in the coming weeks will begin to consider systems of accountability for team owners, staff, and even local law enforcement who work for teams when off duty. One possible penalty that Mr. Vincent mentioned was the removal of draft picks for teams that do not proactively move to both prevent and punish domestic violence and sexual assaults committed by their employees. The NFL also committed to providing critical funding to domestic violence support groups that have been flooded with requests for help in the wake of the Ray Rice video. I hope you will keep that option and other points of leverage on the table to drive home the point to team owners that the NFL is serious about accountability.

As you work to remove any incentive that discourage the reporting of assaults and encourage lax punishment, I also urge you to work diligently to change the culture of your league and your teams from the board room to the locker room. In an industry that actively styles itself as far more than a business, one that seeks to create and promote role models for youth, there can be zero tolerance for misogyny or violence. Indeed, there must be a proactive effort to implement a culture of active opposition to these societal scourges, and to communicate that message both to those within the NFL and to its audience.

Sincerely,

Brian Schatz
United States Senator

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