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Bay Area Congress members busy as bees

By Josh Richman
Friday, March 13th, 2009 at 12:58 pm in Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Edward Kennedy, Ellen Tauscher, George Miller, Global warming, Immigration, Transportation, U.S. House, U.S. Senate.

Your voices in Congress helped introduce a slew of legislation this week.

For example, Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee chairwoman Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, yesterday was an original co-sponsor of H.R. 1463 by Homeland Security Intelligence and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee chairwoman Jane Harman, D-Venice, which would condition U.S. military aid to Pakistan on whether U.S. officials have access to Pakistani nuclear arms expert A.Q. Khan and have assurances he’s being monitored.

“A.Q. Kahn is one of the most dangerous men in the world because he has done more to increase the threat of nuclear terror than anyone in history,” Tauscher said. “Now that a Pakistani court has all but freed him from house arrest, it is just common sense that our government, as well as the Pakistani government, does everything in its power to fully assess the damage he has caused to the international arms control regime.”

More on what some of your lawmakers were doing on Capitol Hill this week, after the jump…

U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., on Thursday introduced S.577 to make it a federal crime to misrepresent oneself as an attorney in order to defraud people – citizens and non-citizens alike – seeking immigration aid.

There have been a slew of bogus “immigration specialists” across the nation posing as attorneys qualified to practice immigration law. Clients often are promised permanent immigration status and charged exorbitant fees to file paperwork, yet they often permanently lose opportunities for work authorization or immigration relief because these “specialists” have damaged their cases. And there currently is no federal law to penalize and prevent immigration fraud; though these predators can pull down up to $200,000 a year, the few who’ve been caught rarely serve more than a few months in jail. This bill would authorize a prison term of up to five years.

“Many immigrants are preyed upon because of their fears of deportation. Fraudulent ‘immigration specialists’ charge exorbitant fees to file frivolous paperwork that clogs our immigration courts and keeps families and businesses waiting in limbo for years,” Feinstein said. “This bill would take an important step toward preventing the exploitation of both citizens and non-citizens who seek help navigating the complicated world of immigration law.”

This past Monday, House Education and Labor Committee chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, was among original cosponsors of a bill introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-NY, that they say would call generations of Americans to serve and volunteer in areas of national need that are deepening with the recession.

They say H.R. 1388, the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act, answers President Barack Obama’s call to national service, building on his blueprint and on a similar Senate bill. It would more than triple the number of AmeriCorps volunteers from 75,000 to 250,000, and increase the education reward they receive to $5,350 for next year, equal to the maximum Pell Grant scholarship award and linked to match future Pell Grant boosts in order to keep up with rising college costs. The bill also would create a new national Call to Service public awareness campaign; designate Sept. 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance; and offer middle and high school students a Summer of Service volunteerism program in which they could earn $500 toward college costs.

“With this legislation, Congress will help President Obama create a new legacy for service and volunteerism in the same way that President Kennedy first did fifty years ago,” Miller said. “President Obama understands that we can harness Americans’ desire to serve to build a green economy, prepare workers for jobs, provide opportunities for older Americans who have been laid off or need additional employment post-retirement, and help students get a good education. This bill will help make Americans a part of the solution to get our country through this economic crisis.”

Miller’s committee approved the bill Wednesday on a 34-3 vote; the full House could vote on it next week.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, on Wednesday was an original cosponsor of H.R. 1475, the Federal Prison Work Incentive Act introduced by Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. The bill would provide that federal prisoners serving less than life terms who follow all the rules be entitled to a deduction from the term sentence up to 15 days per month – in other words, almost half their sentences knocked off for good behavior, depending on things such as the length of the prisoner’s sentence and work assignment.

“If we are serious about the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals, we must provide an incentive for them to work towards that goal,” Lee said. “ ‘Good time’ credits are a sensible and inexpensive way to prevent prison overcrowding. Additionally, by rewarding the good behavior of prisoners, we can reinforce positive habits that will continue as they re-enter society, which will in turn reduce recidivism.”

And Tauscher this week was among original co-sponsors of the Clean Low-Emissions Affordable New Transportation Equity Act (CLEAN TEA). (As an aside, I’m mulling a story about the people who sit around thinking up clever acronym names for bills – did they take some special class for this?)

This bill relies upon passage of a comprehensive climate change bill such as that considered by the Senate earlier this year, which would generate revenue for the federal government. CLEAN TEA would grab 10 percent of that revenue to create a more efficient transportation system and lower greenhouse gas emissions through strategies such as funding new or expanded transit or passenger rail; supporting development around transit stops; and making neighborhoods safer for bikes and pedestrians.

“CLEAN TEA is a good benchmark to start the debate on climate change legislation. We cannot effectively address climate change without reducing the transportation sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions,” Tauscher said. “This bill follows in the wake of historic legislation in California to address climate change by linking it to land use and transportation policy.”

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