Categorized | Government, News

Updates from Sen. Schatz

MEDIA RELEASE

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and 11 of his colleagues sent a letter to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Oka.) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) urging them to include updates to current law to promote and prioritize safety for all users of our national transportation system.

In addition to Sen. Schatz, the following Senators cosigned the letter: U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

“We are concerned that while overall fatalities due to traffic crashes have been on a steady decline over the last decade, totaling 32,719 in 2013, pedestrian fatalities have increased in total (4,735) and as a percentage of all fatalities (14 percent) compared with 2004,” wrote the Senators. “We believe a prudent response to this data is to include provisions in the next transportation reauthorization that unequivocally signals Congress’s interest in seeing states take affirmative action to design roadways with all users in mind.”

The letter continues, “When it was determined the incidence of motor vehicle crashes was unacceptably high, Congress and the states made policy decisions that reduced accidents — such as required use of seat belts, speed restrictions and crack downs on impaired and distracted driving. We should use the present opportunity to make targeted policy decisions that make roads, sidewalks and town centers safer for all users.”

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Boxer –

As the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works prepares to unveil a long-term reauthorization of our nation’s transportation policy we ask that you include important updates to current law that promote and prioritize safety for all users of our nation’s transportation system.

We are concerned that while overall fatalities due to traffic crashes have been on a steady decline over the last decade, totaling 32,719 in 2013, pedestrian fatalities have increased in total (4,735) and as a percentage of all fatalities (14 percent) compared with 2004. Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2013, on average, a pedestrian was killed every two hours and injured in a traffic crash every eight minutes.

In addition to the tragic human cost of these deaths, the total economic and societal cost of motor vehicle crashes in 2010 was calculated to be $871 billion, according to a 2014 NHTSA report. Of that amount, events involving pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for $90 billion, or 10.3 percent of the total.

The people most likely to be killed or injured as pedestrians are children and seniors. According to Centers for Disease Control data from 2003 through 2010, pedestrian death among children aged 1 to 15 is the third leading cause of accidental injury death. Among older adults, people 65 and older accounted for 12.6 percent of the total population but about 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities from 2003 to 2010. Looking ahead, the number of people 65 and over is projected to nearly double from 2010 levels, reaching almost 80 million by 2035, or 20 percent of the total U.S. population. We have to be proactive in order to put in place now the kinds of strategies that will mitigate fatalities amongst our nation’s elderly in the years ahead.

We believe a prudent response to this data is to include provisions in the next transportation reauthorization that unequivocally signals Congress’s interest in seeing states take affirmative action to design roadways with all users in mind. That includes kids, youth, adults and the elderly who get around by foot, bicycle, bus, train or motor vehicle. For decades we have been a nation focused on getting adults in vehicles from point A to point B as quickly as possible. It absolutely remains a priority to maintain a system that gets people and goods where they need to go with minimal delay. Fortunately, many cities and towns have demonstrated that safety for all road users can be simultaneously accomplished.

When it was determined the incidence of motor vehicle crashes was unacceptably high, Congress and the states made policy decisions that reduced accidents — such as required use of seat belts, speed restrictions and crack downs on impaired and distracted driving. We should use the present opportunity to make targeted policy decisions that make roads, sidewalks and town centers safer for all users.

Specifically, we ask that you include language that:

1. Directs state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to adopt a policy that considers and seeks to accommodate safe access to the transportation system for all users of the system including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit users, children, older individuals, individuals with disabilities, motorists and freight vehicles.

2. Provides for clear exemptions to this planning requirement, such as excessive cost, and where a roadway prohibits use.

3. Directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to engage in relevant research and provide for technical assistance to States, metropolitan planning organizations and local jurisdictions to facilitate design and implementation of these types of planning strategies.

The goal of this policy is straightforward – reduce injury and fatalities among kids, adults and the elderly on our streets and in our cities. We hope you will seriously consider and ultimately embrace this approach.

Sincerely,
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz

SCHATZ, COLLEAGUES TO HHS: WOMEN SHOULD HAVE FULL ACCESS TO ALL FDA-APPROVED CONTRACEPTION

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 37 Senate Democrats sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell following reports that insurers are failing to cover forms of contraception approved by the FDA, as required under the Affordable Care Act, and failing to provide women with accurate information about the range of essential health care services that are now available without cost-sharing.

In the letter, Schatz and his colleagues urged Secretary Burwell to help states develop plans of action to ensure health plans comply with the Affordable Care Act, provide full access to all FDA-approved form of contraception, and take appropriate enforcement action when necessary.

“In the 21st century, women should have access to affordable, comprehensive healthcare services, like birth control, that empower them to make their own healthcare decisions and provide economic security for their families. By helping women get contraceptive coverage and other essential health benefits without cost-sharing, the Affordable Care Act took a critical step toward this goal,” the Senators wrote. “Unfortunately, we write with serious concerns that some insurers are failing to uphold the standards set in the Affordable Care Act and as a result leaving women without the health care services they are entitled to under the law.”

The Affordable Care Act provided access to important preventive services, including birth control, at no cost. However, recent reports by the National Women’s Law Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation indicate that some qualified health plans are not in compliance with the law, and have been denying women coverage, charging them incorrectly, or providing inaccurate information.

In addition to Sens. Schatz and Murray, the following Sens. cosigned the letter to Secretary Burwell: Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore..), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Mark Warner (D-Va).

Full text of the letter to Secretary Burwell:

Dear Secretary Burwell:

In the 21st century, women should have access to affordable, comprehensive health care services, like birth control, that empower them to make their own health care decisions and provide economic security for their families. By helping women get contraceptive coverage and other essential health benefits without cost-sharing, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took a critical step toward this goal, and nearly 50 million women are benefiting today. Unfortunately, we write with serious concerns that some insurers are failing to uphold the standards set in the Affordable Care Act and, as a result, are leaving women without the health care services they are entitled to under the law.

From 2012 to 2013, as a result of progress made in the ACA, the number of women who filled their prescriptions for oral contraceptives without a co-pay nearly quadrupled from 1.3 million to 5.1 million, and in 2013 alone, women saved more than $483 million in out-of-pocket costs for birth control. We appreciate the Department’s work to implement this provision.

Recently, however, there have been ongoing reports of health insurance carriers and pharmacies failing to provide these benefits or provide accurate information about their availability, in clear violation of law. Two reports by the National Women’s Law Center based on national surveys, the State of Birth Control Coverage, and State of Women’s Coverage, document such failures, and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s “Coverage of Contraceptive Services” report shows a general lack of consumer awareness of the no-cost contraception benefit and non-compliance.

The Northwest Health Law Advocates and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington also recently released a report, Contraception Coverage in Washington’s State Qualified Health Plans, which similarly showed health plans on Washington Health Benefit Exchange are out of compliance with the law. The report found that carriers—specifically customer service representatives—did not seem aware of the requirement to provide birth control at no out-of-pocket cost to consumers and were providing consumers with incorrect information. The report also found that some insurance carriers’ formularies categorized certain forms of contraception like IUDs, which have been shown to be 99.9% effective in reducing unintended pregnancies, on higher priced drug tiers or excluded them entirely.

These reports document a troubling nationwide trend. Research shows that costs can significantly restrict women’s ability to get the right care. In fact, almost one third of women report they would change their form of contraception if cost were not a factor. This is why the ACA provided for access to all FDA-approved forms of contraception, and why it is critical that we ensure women get the full range of health care services that insurers are now required to cover.

The Department of Health and Human Services should be closely monitoring and ensuring compliance with the law, and working with all stakeholders to reach that end.

Specifically, we request that you:

· provide greater clarity on the ACA requirement to cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception for carriers and take appropriate enforcement actions;

· increase consumer education and awareness of the benefits of the ACA, including contraception; and

· proactively encourage states to properly enforce compliance, and ensure that local stakeholders and states develop plans of action for compliance

We applaud the steps that the Department has already taken to provide clarity regarding oral contraceptives, but clearly more must be done to ensure that women are receiving the full range of contraceptive benefits guaranteed by law. We ask that you provide us a written update on your actions to ensure they do. We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure all women have access to all methods of FDA-approved contraception.

Sincerely,
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz

SCHATZ, COLLEAGUES INTRODUCE BIPARTISAN BILL TO PROMOTE PRESERVATION OF NATIVE LANGUAGES

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act, a bill to provide grants to Native American language educational organizations to preserve disappearing Native languages. The bill reauthorizes the Native American Languages Program until 2020, and includes improvements to expand the program’s eligibility to smaller-sized classes and allow for longer grant periods.

“Once nearly extinct, the Hawaiian language lives today through thousands of speakers in Hawaii and across the country,” said Schatz. “Visiting schools in Hawaii, I have seen first-hand how critical Native language schools and programs are in preserving the Hawaiian language and culture. Our legislation will help strengthen language programs and ensure the Hawaiian language and many other indigenous languages continue to thrive for generations to come.”

“Esther Martinez was one of New Mexico’s strongest advocates for preserving Native heritage and language, and I’m proud to introduce this legislation to honor and continue her work. Grants through the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act help families and communities keep their languages alive, preserving the deep history and culture behind them,” said Udall. “Language education is about more than tradition; it fosters pride and an interconnectedness between generations and has been linked to higher academic achievement among Native youth. I’m pleased to support the continuation and expansion of these important grants in New Mexico and across the country.”

“Preserving Native language is central to cultural identity, and that’s what Esther Martinez fought for,” said Heinrich. “Languages like Keres, Tewa, Tiwa, Towa, Zuni, Diné, Eastern Apache and Western Apache, make us a stronger, more culturally rich and historically grounded nation. Simultaneously, the preservation and instruction of these languages raises high school graduation rates and college enrollment for tribal students. Teaching and preserving these languages should be a central educational priority. This bill helps to achieve that goal.”

“The spoken language of our Native peoples is the thread that weaves together generations, enriching tribal communities and strengthening their sovereignty and culture,” said Heitkamp. “Throughout North Dakota, we have seen the benefits of enabling Native American children to learn their native languages – helping them understand their history and culture while also giving them the tools they need to learn and grow. This bipartisan bill will enable these critical programs continue to give Native American children the head start they deserve while also helping make sure their sacred bonds and ancestral stories are protected and strengthened for future generations.”

“Preserving native languages connects students with generations of rich history and culture,” said Tester. “This bill strengthens cultural identity, helps keep students in school, and preserves the vibrant history of Indian Country. We need to act to ensure the survival of native languages before it is too late.”

“Language is key to maintaining cultural heritage,” said Franken. “The Native American Languages Program promotes learning of Dakota, Ojibwe, and other languages throughout Indian Country. This legislation is about not only teaching the words themselves but also passing along the history and culture those words represent.”

The senators’ bill reauthorizes legislation that first passed in 2006, named for the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo master storyteller Esther Martinez. The Esther Martinez Native American Preservation Act amends the Native American Languages Act of 1990 to strengthen Native language education by creating and funding Native language nests, Native language survival schools, and Native American language restoration programs. The program’s current authorization expired in 2012, but annual appropriations have continued during the lapse.

Based on recommendations from tribes and the administration, the senators included improvements to the program in this bill to reduce the class size eligibility for the grants and allow longer grant periods of up to five years. The bill reduces the number of students required for eligibility from 10 to five for Native American language nests, which provide childcare and instruction for children up to age seven and their parents. The bill also reduces the class size required for eligibility from 15 to 10 students for Native language survival schools, which aim for their students to achieve Native language fluency, and provide teacher training and development to support successful language learning. The urgent need to protect and preserve Native American languages is clear and applications for grants through the program roughly doubled from fiscal year 2013 to 2014, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

SCHATZ STATEMENT ON ADMINISTRATION’S POLICE BODY CAMERA PILOT PROGRAM

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) released the following statement in response to the Obama Administration announcement that it would provide $20 million in grants to local police departments for the purchase of body cameras for officers. Departments awarded the funding will be part of a pilot program which will evaluate the impacts of body cameras.

“The announcement today by the Administration is an important step forward,” said Schatz. “I hope the Department will use the grant program to encourage police departments to put in place responsible policies to ensure that cameras increase accountability and protect the privacy rights of citizens. I support the Administration’s efforts and will continue to push for legislation to rebuild the trust between communities and the police and to reform our broken criminal justice system.”

Last month, Schatz introduced legislation that would create a police body camera pilot program, which would be similar to the program announced today by the Justice Department. Schatz’s Police Creating Accountability by Making Effective Recording Available (Police CAMERA) Act of 2015 would provide grants to assist state and local law enforcement agencies as they develop safe and effective body-worn camera programs that also protect citizens’ privacy rights.

SCHATZ CELEBRATES ASIAN -PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) released the following statement to mark the start of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, which commemorates the history, contributions, and achievements of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

“During the month of May, we celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, recognizing the lasting contributions to our nation made by the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. We also commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States more than 170 years ago. The Asian-Pacific American influence is a part of our daily lives in Hawaii where its traditions and customs are woven into our culture, cuisine, and commerce. The Hawaii that we proudly call our home today owes a great legacy to the Ancient Hawaiians who established a vibrant and self-sustaining society in one of the most isolated places in the world. The strong values and numerous accomplishments of Asian-Pacific Americans highlight strength in diversity and inspire community-building throughout our nation.”

SCHATZ, COLLEAGUES INTRODUCE RAISE THE WAGE ACT TO HELP WORKERS, ECONOMY

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) joined other Senate Democrats in introducing a bill to raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 to help more families make ends meet, expand economic opportunity, and help build an economy that works for all families, not just the wealthiest few.

“If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to support your family. But too many working families today can barely make ends meet because our federal minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living,” said Schatz. “Raising the minimum wage would lift millions of families out of poverty and put them on the path to the middle class, helping build a stronger, more resilient economy for everyone.”

In the House of Representatives, Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) introduced a companion bill to raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020.

In addition to Sens. Schatz and Murray, Senate cosponsors of the Raise the Wage Act include the following: Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore,), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

SCHATZ, COLLEAGUES URGE FULL FUNDING FOR FOOD SAFETY IN WAKE OF RECALLS FOLLOWING LISTERIA OUTBREAK

Following one of the most sweeping food recalls in history by Blue Bell Creameries and yesterday’s announcement of a recall of potentially contaminated pasta salad at Hy-Vee stores across the Midwest, seven Senators joined in urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fully fund the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety activities authorized by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Since it was signed into law in 2011, the FSMA has been underfunded by less than half the amount it needs for full implementation.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) was joined by the following Senators in sending the letter: U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn).

“[The Food Safety Modernization Act] was enacted to bring our nation’s food safety system into the 21st century by enabling our agencies to prevent food contamination rather than reacting once illnesses have occurred. Prevention is key given that food borne pathogens cause an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths annually,” the Senators wrote.

“Providing the President’s requested increase of $109.5 million would enable FDA to retrain inspectors in the new prevention-based oversight system; hire technical experts to assist growers and food manufacturers to understand and comply with the new requirements; and build the new comprehensive food import oversight system provided for in the law.”

The FSMA included a provision establishing a “Preventive Controls” rule that was specifically designed to reduce the impact of food borne pathogens. The rule, which has yet to be finalized, would require food manufacturers to identify and implement preventive control measures, such as increased factory testing, to help catch pathogens like Listeria before entering the supply chain. According to the Senators, “Having measures like this in place, and the funding to ensure their understanding and compliance, are absolutely necessary to prevent future life-threatening outbreaks and costly recalls.”

On April 20, Blue Bell Creameries voluntarily expanded its recall to include all products due to potential Listeria contamination. The Centers for Disease Control reported that at least ten patients were hospitalized and three deaths have been linked to the contamination. Late yesterday, news broke that Hy-Vee Inc. was recalling Hy-Vee Summer Fresh Pasta because of a potential Listeria contamination.

Text of the letter is below:

April 30, 2015

Dear Chairman Cochran, Vice Chairwoman Mikulski, Sen. Moran and Sen. Merkley:

In light of the ongoing multistate, multiyear outbreak of listeriosis associated with Blue Bell Creameries, we reiterate our request that the Subcommittee fully fund the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety activities authorized by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) with $109.5 million in increased funding.

The contaminated Blue Bell Creameries products have triggered one of the most sweeping food recalls by a single brand in the history of the U.S. food supply. Tragically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked the outbreak to three deaths and multiple illnesses throughout the states of Kansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Texas.

FSMA was enacted to bring our nation’s food safety system into the 21st century by enabling our agencies to prevent food contamination rather than reacting once illnesses have occurred. Prevention is key given that food borne pathogens cause an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths annually.

FSMA’s Preventive Controls rule was specifically designed to reduce the impact of food borne pathogens. The rule, which has yet to be finalized, would require food manufacturers to identify and implement preventive control measures, such as increased factory testing, to help catch pathogens like Listeria before entering the supply chain. Having measures like this in place, and the funding to ensure their understanding and compliance, are absolutely necessary to prevent future life-threatening outbreaks and costly recalls.

Funding directly determines how quickly FDA can put these life-saving rules in place, and with major rules under FSMA scheduled to be finalized starting this summer, FDA needs significant additional resources. Providing the President’s requested increase of $109.5 million would enable FDA to retrain inspectors in the new prevention-based oversight system; hire technical experts to assist growers and food manufacturers to understand and comply with the new requirements; and build the new comprehensive food import oversight system provided for in the law.

We can prevent the foodborne illnesses that have compromised the public’s faith in the ability of industry and government to ensure the safety of our food. Our hope this that you will help restore that faith and help save lives by providing sufficient funding to effectively implement FSMA activities.

Thank you again for considering this request to fund these necessary food safety programs.

Sincerely,
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz

SCHATZ STATEMENT ON SUPREME COURT CONSIDERATION OF MARRIAGE EQUALITY

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) released the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments on same-sex marriage.

“Equality and fairness are basic principles we all can understand,” said Schatz. “Today, as the Supreme Court begins to hear arguments on marriage equality, I am confident it will rule that marriage equality is a constitutional right. Committed couples, whether they are gay or straight, deserve to be treated equally under the law. The Supreme Court has the opportunity to make history and do what is right.”

A strong, long-time supporter of marriage equality, Schatz signed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2013, urging the Court to strike down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that barred same-sex marriage.

SCHATZ, BOOKER, PETERS URGE POSTAL SERVICE TO IMPROVE SAFETY AND REDUCE EMISSIONS OF VEHICLE FLEET

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), all members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, sent a letter to United States Postal Service (USPS) Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan urging the agency to take steps to modernize their 190,000-strong fleet of vehicles by investing in technology solutions to improve safety and reduce emissions.

“We applaud the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) recent issuance of a Request for Information for Next Generation Delivery Vehicle Acquisition Program, and recognize that this is an important first step toward modernizing the USPS fleet. This transition provides USPS with a unique opportunity to lead the country in the use of safer, more fuel efficient vehicles, made in the United States. We urge you to invest in cutting-edge vehicle improvements that will reduce emissions, decrease accidents, and save lives in communities across the country,” the senators wrote.

The letter continues, “At a time when budgets are tight, it is in our best interest to find creative ways to make prudent investments that save taxpayers money. Investing in proven safety technologies to reduce the rate of expensive accidents in the USPS fleet should be a priority.”

Dear Postmaster General Brennan:

We applaud the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) recent issuance of a Request for Information for Next Generation Delivery Vehicle Acquisition Program, and recognize that this is an important first step toward modernizing the USPS fleet. This transition provides USPS with a unique opportunity to lead the country in the use of safer, more fuel efficient vehicles, made in the United States. We urge you to invest in cutting-edge vehicle improvements that will reduce emissions, decrease accidents, and save lives in communities across the country.

Last year, the General Services Administration (GSA) and the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) formed a partnership to test and evaluate potential vehicle safety devices on GSA-leased vehicles in order to improve safety across the federal government’s vehicle fleet. Since USPS operates approximately 190,000 vehicles, new crash avoidance devices would have the potential to significantly reduce accidents, yielding serious cost savings as a result. For example, modern camera technology and radar can be used to warn drivers when a collision is imminent. Automatic braking can also help reduce accidents by cutting down on driver delays in response time. Borrowing on the success of the GSA-NHTSA partnership, we urge you to consider market ready collision avoidance technologies as well as collision avoidance technologies that will be available in the near term, in the proposals for a replacement USPS fleet.

At a time when budgets are tight, it is in our best interest to find creative ways to make prudent investments that save taxpayers money. Investing in proven safety technologies to reduce the rate of expensive accidents in the USPS fleet should be a priority. As you know, in recent years there have been over 20,000 motor vehicle accidents involving USPS vehicles annually. The United States is a world leader in innovation and we have an opportunity to integrate cutting edge technical solutions to improve service to the public, increase safety and ultimately savings. To that end, we seek your feedback on the following questions to help better inform us on how Congress might be helpful throughout this process:

1. What steps is the USPS taking to consider fleet safety improvements, including the use of market-ready crash avoidance technologies, as well as crash avoidance technologies that will be available in the near term?

2. What role can Congress play in helping to expedite the acquisition of a safe, efficient replacement fleet?

3. What role could a Public-Private Partnership play in implementing solutions-based transportation safety improvements in the replacement fleet?

4. What efforts are you making to ensure the new fleet will cut down on emissions and increase fuel efficiency?

Please keep us informed as the process moves forward. Again, we commend your efforts to modernize the USPS vehicle fleet, and we look forward to working with you on this important effort.

SCHATZ AND BROWN INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO MODERNIZE SCHOOLS

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Inspiring New STEM Professionals by Investing in Renovation of Education Spaces (INSPIRES) Act of 2015. The INSPIRES Act would provide school districts, community colleges, and other education institutions funding for modernizing, renovating, or repairing STEM and career and technical education (CTE) facilities.

“Over the past decade, we have seen STEM job growth outpace all others, but because of a lack of resources, our schools have not kept up with the demand,” said Schatz. “The federal government can do more to help states provide better learning environments to help students achieve their full potential. The INSPIRES Act would give educators more resources to modernize their facilities and expand access to STEM education so that our students have greater opportunities to succeed.”

“With our global competitors investing in STEM, we must ensure that American students have the resources they need to remain competitive,” said Brown. “This federal investment will ensure that all students – regardless of their zip code – have the modern educational facilities needed to prepare for high-demand careers. The INSPIRES Act would help give students across the nation the chance excel in STEM education and become the next generation of researchers, statisticians, and engineers.”

With the STEM job market expected to continue its rapid growth, the INSPIRES Act aims to improve the quality and availability of STEM and CTE instruction by providing grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) and community colleges for improvements to much-needed facilities. It would also require at least 25 percent of the funds available be directed to high-need LEAs or to community colleges that serve a significant number of rural students.

SCHATZ, SCHUMER, WARREN & REPS. GRIJALVA, ELLISON, CLARK INTRODUCE RESOLUTIONS TO SUPPORT STUDENT ACCESS TO DEBT-FREE COLLEGE

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) , and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs U.S. Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) introduced resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives supporting efforts to ensure that students have access to debt-free higher education. Over the last 30 years, the cost of college has increased by 300 percent, forcing some students to take on overwhelming student loan debt or putting a college degree entirely out of reach for others. Student loan debt is now the highest form of personal debt in the nation, reaching over $1.3 trillion for 38 million student loan borrowers across the country.

“A higher education is the best way for people to move up the economic ladder, but the rising cost of college in Hawaii and across the country has made it harder for students to earn a degree and get ahead,” said Schatz. “Our message is clear: we need to do more to make college more affordable for all students so that they can graduate without debt holding them back. The federal government, states, and schools all have a role to play in cutting the cost of college. This is a problem we can solve, and we can start by working to make sure institutions receiving federal funding are doing their part to make a degree more affordable and accessible for all students.”

“Going to college is absolutely essential to getting into the middle class and getting ahead once you’re there, but far too often it ends up breaking students’ banks,” said Schumer. “When students graduate with loads of debt, the ripple effects are endless; they’re less likely to start a business, to buy a house, and to realize their full potential. When it comes to making college affordable, I’m hopeful that debt-free college is the next big idea.”

“A student at a public university today faces tuition prices that are more than 300 percent of what his or her parents faced just 30 years ago, and total outstanding student loan debt now stands at a staggering $1.3 trillion,” said Warren. “Our country should be investing in higher education and working with colleges and universities to bring down tuition costs so that students don’t have to take on crushing debt to get an education.”

“Education remains the single greatest avenue of upward mobility our society has ever known,” said Representative Grijalva. “But the mounting costs of higher education place it out of reach for too many Americans, holding them back from their full potential or burdening them with unimaginable debt for years to come. In the richest nation on earth, there is no excuse for erecting and maintaining these barriers to professional growth.”

“Americans—young and old—know continuing their education is the best path to a financially secure future. But students who go to college face mountains of debt, and too many face difficult choices about their careers and their families because of it,” said Representative Ellison. “The Debt Free College Resolution is critical because students shouldn’t be punished for investing in their own future—they should walk across the stage on graduation day and take their diploma into a brighter future.”

“Too many young people I’ve talked to are saddled with insurmountable debt just as they’re beginning their adult lives,” said Representative Clark. “Congress can and should ensure that students who are working hard to begin their careers, start a family, and contribute to our economy are able to graduate from public colleges debt-free so they can focus on pursuing their dreams rather than being held back by a lifetime of debt.”

“We all know a college education is important towards achieving long-term success. However, an entire generation is being weighed down by more than $1 trillion in student loan debt,” said Representative Pocan. “It’s time to end the reliance on debt as a way to finance a college education for many low- and middle-income students. I’m proud to stand with my progressive colleagues to fight for the goal of providing debt-free college at public institutions across the country. Debt free college is a big, bold way to ensure every student has a chance at success.”

“Crushing student loan debt is making it harder for graduates to save to buy a house, start their own business, or put money aside for a secure retirement,” said Representative Israel. “A college education is the most important investment that young people can make and should be viewed as a tool of opportunity rather than a financial burden. That is why I am proud to add my name to this initiative calling for a goal of debt-free college that will hopefully generate more conversation about how to alleviate that financial strain and empower graduates to achieve the American dream.”

“A highly educated workforce is key to the success of our nation. However, higher education has become increasingly inaccessible as costs have skyrocketed,” said Representative Rangel. “We must ensure that everyone can afford to attend college and become more competitive. Students should be spending more time focused on thriving at school and less time worrying about how they’ll pay for it. I look forward to working with my colleagues to reduce the burden of student loan debt and to help expand opportunities for our future generations.”

“We tell students that education opens the doors of opportunity. But when these students pursue higher education, even at public institutions, they too often graduate saddled with debt that takes decades to payback, keeps them from investing in their families, and suffocates our nation’s economic growth,” said Representative Watson Coleman. “Like a high school diploma in the past, a college degree has become a virtual prerequisite for a middle class job. We need to make affordable higher education a right for all, not just a privilege for the fortunate. Congress has the ability to make debt-free higher education a reality, supporting our students and continued American competitiveness.”

“A college education provides opportunities and breaks down inequalities,” said Representative McGovern. “As a nation, we should encourage and incentivize those who wish to pursue a higher education – not penalize them by saddling them with debt for years to come.”

The resolutions were introduced by the following: U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Alma Adams (D-N.C.), Peter Welch (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.).

SCHATZ MOTION ON SAME-SEX SPOUSAL BENEFITS PASSES SENATE

The Senate passed U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s (D-Hawaii) motion to instruct budget conferees to include in their final report language affirming the need for legislation to ensure that all legally married same-sex spouses have equal access to the Social Security and veterans’ benefits they have earned. The motion passed by voice vote.

“This is not an ideological proposal. This is about treating veterans, disabled Americans, and our seniors equally – no matter where they live or what their sexual orientation may be,” said Schatz.

Earlier, Schatz spoke on the Senate floor to call for the passage of his motion.

Full text of remarks follow:

Three weeks ago, the Senate held an important vote on an amendment to the budget resolution. Fifty-six of my colleagues, including eleven Republicans, joined me in affirming the need for legislation to ensure that all legally married spouses, including gay couples, have access to Social Security and VA benefits that their families have earned.

This amendment passed with bipartisan support because it is fundamentally about fairness.

Imagine a veteran who served his country for decades, fighting for equality and freedom around the world. He gets married in a state that allows gay marriage. If he is permanently disabled from his service, his spouse is eligible for veteran spousal benefits. They have earned these benefits.

But if they move – if they drive over the border from Florida into Georgia, for example, they lose those benefits.

The same scenario applies to our seniors and their right to Social Security spousal benefits.

Why does this happen? Simply because the federal right to these benefits happens to be defined in law with respect to the state of residence, rather than the state of celebration of the marriage.

In other words, eligibility for these benefits is based on where you live, not where you got married.

So, we have one federal right and two unequal outcomes based on the person’s residence. This is the definition of unequal treatment under the law.

No one is denying that Americans earn their Social Security and veteran’s benefits regardless of whether they are gay or straight.

And, since the Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, no one can deny that the federal government is required to recognize all legal marriages.

For almost all federal agencies, this went into effect right away. Gay married couples can now file joint taxes. In legal proceedings before the federal government, same-sex spouses are given the same legal rights as all other spouses. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, an employee can now take leave to care for a same-sex spouse.

These are just a few of the ways that the federal government brought its policies into line with the law.

The Social Security Administration and the VA, however, are tripped up by old wording in their authorizing statutes.

Working together, we can fix this. We can pass legislation to ensure that all legally married couples receive equal treatment under the law regardless of where they live. The amendment that the Senate voted to include in the budget affirms the need for this legislation.

Allowing unequal treatment under the law goes against American values and our Constitution. Equality under federal laws shouldn’t end when you cross state lines.

We are not debating whether gay marriage should be legal in all fifty states – that question is currently before the Supreme Court. We are debating whether a federal right should be afforded to all Americans regardless of where they live.

For those who are concerned about preserving states’ rights, I understand that perspective, but you should support fixing the statutes governing Social Security and veterans benefits.

Fixing these statutes does not impact state law whatsoever. In contrast, by not fixing these statutes, the federal government is ignoring the laws of states that allow gay marriage. It actually does harm to states’ rights to allow this situation to continue.

This is not an ideological proposal, and I should point out that the Senator from Washington, Sen. Patty Murray and the Senator from New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen, this was really their idea originally. First, on the Social Security side, Sen. Murray provided this as a piece of legislation. And Jeanne Shaheen, likewise on the VA side. And we worked together during the so-called “vote-a-rama” to kind of merge these proposals into one, because the same principle applies for both benefits, which is that equal protection under the law should not depend on which of the fifty states you reside in.

This is about treating veterans, disabled Americans, and our seniors equally – no matter where they live or what their sexual orientation may be.

Thank you.

SCHATZ STATEMENT ON THE IRAN NUCLEAR AGREEMENT REVIEW ACT

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) issued the following statement after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Iran Nuclear Review Act by a vote of 19-0.

“I am supportive of the bipartisan legislation that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved today. I am satisfied that this legislation will not interfere with the Administration’s ability to negotiate a diplomatic solution while clarifying the congressional prerogative and obligation to weigh in at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner. After reviewing the framework announced by President Obama and Secretary Kerry, I am inclined to support it. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and I believe that our best chance for success in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program is through diplomacy.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 

 

Become a fan on facebook

 

 

Quantcast
%d bloggers like this: