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Today’s congressional odds and ends

HONDA’S INTERNATIONAL COALITION: Rep. Mike Honda joined five other lawmakers from around the world Monday in launching an International Parliamentary Coalition for Victims of Sexual Slavery.

Honda’s office said the coalition’s purpose will be to promote international cooperation in raising awareness about modern-day slavery and human-rights violations committed to force residents in conflicts zones and places struck by natural disasters into sexual slavery.

honda.jpg“Victims of sexual slavery are not collateral damage,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in a news release. “Sexual slavery, whether in times of conflict or natural disasters, is not a cultural phenomenon. It is violence against women. And this must change. We must hold everyone accountable. Eliminating violence against women is going to require a major change in our humanity. We can start by not treating this as an afterthought or a sidebar issue. Ending violence against women must be front and center.”

Besides Honda, the coalition’s founding co-chairs are Canadian Senator Yonah Martin; New Zealand Member of Parliament Melissa Lee; South Korean Representative Jasmine Lee; British Member of Parliament Fiona Bruce; and Canadian Advisory Council Chairwoman Joy Smith.

Honda earlier this year introduced HR 500, to establish an advisory council led by survivors of human trafficking to advise lawmakers on policies and initiatives. It became part of S.178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which President Obama signed into law in May.

FIGHTING FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Three California House members want the Justice Department to stop prosecuting California medical marijuana dispensaries that are following tougher new state laws.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa; and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, urging her to reconsider action against dispensaries like the Berkeley Patients Group and Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, “given the comprehensive and stringent regulations signed into law by CA Governor Jerry Brown last month.”

“As you know, the package of bills signed into law creates an enforceable framework for governing virtually every aspect of the medicinal cannabis industry – from licensing and taxation to quality control, shipping, packaging and pesticide standards,” they wrote.

Yet the Justice Department “continues to threaten individuals and businesses acting within the scope of states law on the medicinal use of marijuana despite formal guidance on exercising prosecutorial discretion and recent changes to federal law,” they continued. “It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward dispensaries. … The will of the both voters at the ballot box and in state legislatures across the country should be respected”

SPEIER GRILLED ON ISIS: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, who sits on both the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees, took some tough questions from MSNBC this week about how Congress, the Obama administration, the military, and presidential candidates have dealt with the so-called Islamic State.

Posted on Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, Jackie Speier, Mike Honda, Sam Farr, U.S. House | No Comments »

Brace for Dungeness crab disaster, lawmakers urge

Four of California’s coastal congressmembers are urging Gov. Jerry Brown to be ready to ask the federal government for an economic disaster declaration if the Dungeness crab fishery remains closed for the season.

Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, wrote to Brown on Tuesday asking him to closely monitor domoic acid levels in Dungeness crab.

Dungeness crabCrabs off the California coast have abnormally high levels of this toxic acid in their bodies due to an unusually big algae bloom, due in turn to abnormally high water temperatures in the Pacific. Officials have delayed the start of the recreational and commercial crab fishing seasons until the acid decreases to safe levels.

But every passing day is a blow not only to Californians craving the delicacy for their holiday tables, but to coastal communities relying on a commercial fishery valued at $60 million last year.

“The closure of the Dungeness crab fishery would not only make the holidays a little less bright, it would deal a hard blow for North coast fishermen, who have already been impacted by a poor year for salmon landings,” Huffman said in a news release. “While Californians’ Thanksgiving celebrations may not feature Dungeness crab this year, we can at least provide the assurance that federal disaster relief will be available to fishermen and affected communities and businesses if we lose the fishery.”

Huffman said the lawmakers are keeping their fingers crossed for better conditions next month, “ but in the meantime we will be working closely with our state and federal partners — from the Governor’s office to the White House — so that we can respond quickly in the event of a total closure.”

Speier noted some fisherman rely on the crab season for half their annual income, yet still must pay for licenses and boat maintenance. “If the season doesn’t open soon, these men and women deserve a financial lifeline. I urge the governor to start preparing for a disaster declaration now.”

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
Under: economy, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Bay Area House members laud FAA noise plan

Three Bay Area House members are praising the Federal Aviation Administration for launching an initiative to address concerns about noise from air traffic above San Francsico, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, released the FAA’s action plan to the public.

“My colleagues and I have worked tirelessly to engage the FAA’s leadership to take concrete steps to mitigate and address the noise from aircraft in our respective congressional districts,” Eshoo said in a news release. “As a result of our collaboration, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and FAA Regional Director Glen Martin met with local elected officials, community groups and individuals from our congressional districts to discuss the impacts of NextGen and additional issues prior to its implementation, including Surf Air at the San Carlos Airport.

“I welcome this important first step the FAA has developed. The FAA leadership will follow up with community meetings, coordinated through our offices, to explain in detail the FAA’s plan to address the noise problems being experienced in our region.”

Speier said her constituents long have been affected by noise from San Francisco International Airport and more recently from the San Carlos and Half Moon Bay airports. The FAA’s initiative “is a compilation of the ideas that were offered by the public regarding SFO at the FAA’s recent meetings in our three congressional districts, as well as requests made by the SFO Airport Community Roundtable. Some of these ideas may be deemed workable by the FAA and some may not.

“However, having previously been resistant to taking community suggestions, the FAA, for the first time in many years, has committed to studying ideas submitted by the affected communities,” Speier said. “I am gratified that the FAA is rolling up its sleeves to come up with solutions. The health of those who live under constant bombardment of airplane noise is being seriously compromised and the FAA has a responsibility to take action to address it.”

Farr said the action plan “is evidence the FAA is willing to consider the changes proposed by the community. For months, the commercial aircraft noise in Santa Cruz and the surrounding area has been terrible. From the beginning, I have told the FAA that they created this mess so it is up to them to fix it.”

“This is only a first step but it is a good one,” he said. “It shows everyone is committed to developing some real solutions. I hope the FAA will continue to listen to the communities it serves and work with them to solve any problems that arise from the switch to the NextGen flight plan.”

Posted on Monday, November 16th, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, Sam Farr, Transportation, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Speier named to committee on Planned Parenhood

Rep. Jackie Speier is one of six Democrats who’ll serve on the 13-member select committee that Republican House leaders have convened to investigate Planned Parenthood.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, picked Speier, D-San Mateo, and the other five Democrats for what she calls the “Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health.”

Speier, an outspoken defender of abortion rights, made headlines in 2011 when she disclosed her own decision to have an abortion during a House floor debate on a proposal to defund Planned Parenthood. On Wednesday, she issued a statement calling this new committee “part of an obsessive vendetta that Republicans have.”

Jackie Speier“On their first day in power as a majority in 2011, Republicans introduced H.R. 1, a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. They have introduced bills attacking women’s health with a vengeance ever since, and earlier this year they threatened to shut down the government unless we de-fund Planned Parenthood,” she said.

“Now they’ve set up a Select Committee with no apparent purpose but to spend millions of taxpayer dollars demonizing Planned Parenthood. We have to make sure the public gets the truth: That 2.7 million women and men a year use Planned Parenthood for health services like cancer screenings, pap smears, and STD tests, and those services save lives,” she continued. “Rest assured I will fight to make sure the needs of millions of people who use Planned Parenthood and are often ignored in this ideological debate — people whose lives will be deeply affected by the outcome — will be heard.”

Pelosi named Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., on Wednesday to be the select committee’s ranking member, and in addition to Speier, named Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.; Diana DeGette, D-Colo.; Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.; and Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., as members.

Former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, ordered the committee’s creation last month in the wake of a series of videos, filmed secretly and heavily edited by an anti-abortion group, in which Planned Parenthood officials discuss prices for procuring fetal tissue for research. It will be chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Posted on Wednesday, November 4th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Bay Area lawmakers offer tix for Pope’s visit

A few Bay Area House members are holding lotteries in which their constituents can win tickets to see Pope Francis during his U.S. visit later this month.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, is offering tickets for the pontiff’s address to a joint session of Congress on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 24, to residents of her 18th Congressional District; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is doing the same for her 14th District constituents; and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, is doing it in his 9th District. Ticket holders will be able to view the address from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol via televised broadcast.

“I’m excited to be able to extend an opportunity to my constituents to take part in this historic event,” Eshoo said in a news release. “While not all who wish to attend will be awarded a ticket, my office is working to ensure the lottery is conducted fairly and make the process a good one.”

Speier said Pope Francis “has become a focal point across the world for prioritizing peace over war, care of the planet over consumption, forgiveness over accusation, and neighbor over self. I’m excited that 50 of my constituents have the opportunity to be on the West Lawn of the Capitol to watch the broadcast of the Pope’s address to members of Congress. My only regret is that I can’t make these tickets available to everyone.”

McNerney said it’s “sure to be a momentous occasion. This is the first time that the Pope will deliver an address to Congress, and I look forward to hearing his message for the American people.”

The deadline to enter McNerney’s lottery is tomorrow, Friday, Sept. 4; the deadline to enter Eshoo’s lottery is noon Pacific Time next Tuesday, Sept. 8; and the deadline to enter Speier’s lottery is midnight next Thursday, Sept. 10. Only constituents of those districts may enter, only one entry is allowed per person, and each winner will receive two tickets.

Posted on Thursday, September 3rd, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Where Bay Area lawmakers stand on the Iran deal

As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues rolling out Democratic supporters one by one, almost half of the Bay Area’s House delegation has not yet committed to support or oppose the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have said they’ll vote for the agreement, as have Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and representatives Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

Most recently on the bandwagon are Swalwell and Farr, both Wednesday, and then Speier on Friday. Speier said in her statement that this is “one of the most important votes I will ever cast.

Jackie Speier“To come to this decision I attended scores of hearings, classified briefings, and met with U.S. allies, my Republican and Democratic colleagues, foreign policy experts, nongovernmental groups, the military and intelligence communities, and my constituents. I also met with the President for over two hours to discuss this deal,” she said.

“As President Kennedy once urged, we must pursue ‘a more practical, more attainable peace, based… on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned.’ This deal, like those Kennedy pursued with the Soviet Union, is a first step away from catastrophe,” Speier said. “So as he said, ‘Let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable and war need not be inevitable.’ ”

No Bay Area members of Congress have come out against the deal, but five still aren’t ready to say where they stand: Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

“It’s my first big, consequential foreign policy vote, so I wanted to avail myself to learn as much as I could,” DeSaulnier said Friday, adding that while he sees no need to rush the decision during this month-long recess, “I’m leaning very much to support the president’s agreement.”

Mark DeSaulnierHe said has met both with President Obama in Washington, and then with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent trip to Israel with other Democratic House freshmen. “I promised both sides I would listen to them.”

And he said he’s reserving final judgment until after he completes five town-hall meetings he has scheduled for constituents over the next few weeks. In fact, he’s dedicating the second half of his first such meeting – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18 in the community room at Pleasant Hill Middle School, 1 Santa Barbara Road in Pleasant Hill – to this issue.

Honda spokeswoman Lauren Smith said Thursday her boss “is continuing to meet with people and get input and feedback, as well as fully considering all of the details of the deal. He will make a decision once he has collected all pertinent information.”

Lofgren’s chief of staff, Stacey Leavandosky, said Thursday her boss “is currently studying the agreement, meeting with constituents about it as well as hearing from Administration officials.”

McNerney spokesman Mike Naple said Thursday his boss “is still reviewing the agreement and hasn’t made a decision yet.”

And Huffman spokesman Paul Arden referred to his boss’s July 15 statement, in which he had said that “while I will vote based on the merits of the agreement, Iran’s credibility and trustworthiness are also considerations.”

UPDATE @ 1 P.M. THURSDAY 8/20: Mike Honda has just announced that he supports the deal.

UPDATE @ 2:55 P.M. THURSDAY 8/20: And now Jerry McNerney is on board, too.

UPDATE @ 5:30 P.M. FRIDAY 8/21: Lofgren now says she will vote in favor of the deal.

Posted on Friday, August 14th, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Eric Swalwell, Iran, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mark DeSaulnier, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | 12 Comments »

Speier offers bill to allow alcohol via U.S. Mail

A Bay Area congresswoman wants to lift the ban on shipping alcohol through the U.S. Mail.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said she’s joined by 24 original cosponsors in introducing the bipartisan USPS Shipping Equity Act, which would change the Prohibition-era law preventing shipping of beer, wine, distilled spirits and other alcoholic drinks to consumers by mail.

Jackie Speier“Prohibition is history, and this ban should be too,” Speier said in a news release “It’s ridiculous that we’re allowing UPS, FedEx, and other companies to ship spirits, wine, and beer to consumers, while banning the U.S. Postal Service from doing the exact same thing. As more states allow direct to consumer delivery, we need to lift this dated ban on so-called ‘spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors,’ to give consumers more shipping choices when they check out.”

Speier said the ban puts the Postal Service at a competitive disadvantage and limits shipping options for manufacturers and customers. Her H.R. 3412 would let the Postal Service ship alcoholic beverages directly from licensed producers and retailers to consumers over the age of 21. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would provide the Postal Service with an additional $50 million per year.

This bill is endorsed by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, WineAmerica, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, the National Association of Postmasters of the United States, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Posted on Thursday, July 30th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Speier & Sanchez seek equality for female athletes

Two California congresswomen introduced a resolution Wednesday urging the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to provide the same pay for female soccer athletes as it does for male athletes.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Lakewood, were joined by 33 original cosponsors, while U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the resolution in the Senate.

The USA Women’s Soccer team clinched its third World Cup victory July 5 – the most-viewed soccer series in U.S. history, attracting more viewers than the NBA finals, the World Series and the men’s World Cup, the lawmakers note. Yet women’s soccer players still make 40 times less than their male counterparts, and the USA Women’s World Cup team received four times less for winning than the men’s World Cup team was paid for losing in the 2014 tournament’s first elimination round.

“Whether you’re a soccer mom or a starter on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, women in our country deserve equal pay,” Speier said in a news release. “I’m proud to introduce this resolution demanding that FIFA ensure our champion women’s team is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. This is the 21st century and we need to stop shortchanging women’s sports worldwide.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Bay Area lawmakers OK medical device tax repeal

Three Bay Area House members were among the 46 Democrats who joined with Republicans on Thursday to approve repealing the medical-device tax enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act.

As the Associated Press reports, the tax took effect two years ago and was designed to help pay for expanded coverage for millions of people. It’s levied on equipment like artificial hearts and X-ray machines but not on items used by individuals, like eye glasses. Foes of its repeal say that this and other taxes the law imposed on the health care industry were outweighed by added customers the law has created, and that repealing it means paying that $24 billion, 10-year cost with bigger federal deficits.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which passed on a 280-140 vote. Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton voted for it, while the rest of the Bay Area delegation was opposed.

“I support the Affordable Care Act and policies that improve our ability to conquer illnesses and diseases before they conquer us,” Swalwell said in a statement emailed later Thursday. “Today’s vote will help more start-up bio-innovation companies create devices that have the potential to make us healthier.”

McNerney emailed a statement saying that “medical research and technology contribute significantly to California’s economy with more than 75,000 jobs, and advancements in the field are resulting in new treatments and cures that improve the lives of people across the country.

“We should be doing everything to encourage further innovation by removing unnecessary barriers that hinder new research and job growth – especially in California, the home to more medical device companies than any other state in the nation,” he said. “As I’ve said before, this law is not perfect and we should continue to look at ways to improve it. Doing so will not only benefit medical innovation, but lower costs and improve care for individuals and families as well.”

Speier’s office said she was on a plane Thursday afternoon and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2015
Under: Eric Swalwell, healthcare reform, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, taxes, U.S. House | No Comments »

Speier touts 15 amendments to Pentagon budget

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is touting 15 amendments she successfully attached to the Pentagon’s budget during an Armed Services Committee markup session Wednesday, 11 of which deal with sexual assaults in the military.

Jackie SpeierSpeier’s amendments would make it easier to track military sex offenders after they leave the service; make more records public from courts-martial; require that military sex-offense victims be advised a special counsel is available to them before they’re interviewed by investigators; make those special counsels available to former dependents of current and former servicemembers; and ensure those special counsels can represent the victims if they face retaliation for reporting crimes.

Other amendments would give military sexual assault victims access to hearing officers’ case analyses at the same time they’re delivered to the alleged offenders; require the Defense Department to prepare a complete trial record for all courts-martial, regardless of the verdict or sentence; require retention of investigators’ case notes for at least 50 years; and require the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office‘s annual report to include statistics on sexual harassment, sexual assaults related to domestic violence, and retaliations against those reporting sexual assaults.

Still others would let victims take part in proceedings where their attackers are non-judicial punishment or administrative separation, with access to those proceedings’ records; and would direct the Defense Department Inspector General to review cases in which those who’ve reported sexual assaults leave military service.

“This collection of reforms will make the Uniform Code of Military Justice more fair and responsive to victims of military sexual assault,” Speier said in a news release. “We are nowhere near eliminating this epidemic, but today we have made concrete progress toward adopting a modern military code that treats victims with the respect they deserve.”

Speier also successfully amended the military spending bill to let veterans who change their gender identity after leaving the service update their discharge papers to reflect their new name, so the documents are easier to use for official purposes such as job, college and loan applications. Other amendments would guarantee that servicewomen deployed for long periods of time are dispensed enough of whatever contraception their doctor prescribes to cover their full deployment; and would make reduce the burden of proof for whistleblowers to show that they suffered retaliation for their actions, bringing it in line with civilian court standards.

Speier didn’t win on everything, however. The committee killed her amendment to shift $589 million (out of a proposed $1 billion) away from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and into an equipment account for the National Guard and Reserves.

Posted on Thursday, April 30th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 1 Comment »