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Speier calls for bipartisan probe of IRS scandal

Rep. Jackie Speier may be the first Bay Area House member to speak out for digging deeper into the IRS scandal that has dogged the White House for the past week.

Jackie SpeierSpeier, D-San Mateo, issued a statement today saying she agrees with President Obama that the IRS’ targeting of conservative organizations for special scrutiny of requests for tax-exempt status was “inexcusable,” with a level of wrong-doing that’s “particularly disturbing.”

The acting IRS commissioner’s resignation was “necessary, but insufficient,” she said. “It is clear that officials at many levels of the IRS were aware of these activities, and they must be held fully accountable.”

She wants to see all of the Treasury Department inspector general’s recommendations implemented immediately, but she also wants a bipartisan, independent commission “to examine what went wrong, who was involved, and why it was allowed to continue for so long.”

“That commission should also examine the dramatic increase in the number of organizations applying for tax exempt status as social welfare organizations following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and whether additional clarifications are needed on the use of tax exempt status by organizations engaging in political activities,” Speier said. “It is completely appropriate to examine whether organizations claiming exemption as exclusively social welfare “charitable” and “educational” are actually charitable and educational.”

Posted on Thursday, May 16th, 2013
Under: Jackie Speier, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

>100 cosponsors for House background-check bill

More than 100 House members from both sides of the aisle have signed on to co-sponsor a bill that would require background checks for all commercial gun sales.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, chairman of the House Democrats’ gun-violence task force, and Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., introduced H.R. 1565 on April 15, two days before the Senate rejected the identical Manchin-Toomey amendment.

“We won’t take ‘no’ for an answer when it comes to passing commonsense laws that keep guns from criminals, terrorist and the dangerously mentally ill,” Thompson and King said in a news release today. “This debate isn’t over. The American people deserve for this bill to be signed into law.”

The bill would expand the existing background check system to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those at gun shows, over the internet or in classified ads; it would not cover private, person-to-person sales, as California’s law does.

This widening of background checks is tempered by several nods to those concerned about Second Amendment rights: The bill bans the government from creating a federal registry and makes the misuse of records a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It also lets gun owners use a state concealed-carry permit issued within the last five years in lieu of a background check, and allows interstate handgun sales from licensed dealers.

And it improves the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by offering incentives to states to improve reporting of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill and by directing future grants toward better record-sharing systems; federal funds would be reduced to states that don’t comply.

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Veterans’ Affairs committees.

The King-Thompson bill’s original co-authors are Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.; Pat Meehan, R-Pa.; Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.; and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

From the greater Bay Area, co-sponsors include Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; John Garamendi, D-Fairfield; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton.

The locals who haven’t signed on are Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; and George Miller, D-Martinez. I’ve reached out to their offices to find out where they stand on the bill, and will update this item accordingly.

UPDATE @ 1 P.M. TUESDAY 5/7: McNerney and Miller both have signed on.

Posted on Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, gun control, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 10 Comments »

MoveOn targets Bay Area officials’ offices today

Activists are descending today upon the offices of federal officials across the Bay Area, and across the nation, to deliver petitions urging the protection of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits from cuts proposed by President Obama.

Organized by MoveOn.org, it appears there’ll be gatherings at noon at the offices of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in Oakland, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco, Rep. Eric Swalwell in Pleasanton, Rep. Jackie Speier in San Mateo, Rep. George Miller in Concord, Rep. Zoe Lofgren in San Jose, and Rep. Jared Huffman in San Rafael.

“I supported President Obama for reelection, but I won’t support him cutting Social Security,” said Frank Burton of Castro Valley, co-organizer of the event at Swalwell’s office. “Seniors depend on Social Security, and the cut in the cost-of-living adjustment is based on false logic. Seniors need the full cost-of-living adjustment because of huge increases in medical costs every year.”

Clark Sullivan of San Francisco said he helped organize the event at Pelosi’s office “because most people collecting Social Security are already starving for several days at the end of the month.

“Cutting benefits would increase the already unacceptable level of human misery for Americans who have paid a lifetime of taxes to support Social Security,” he said. “The Social Security Act has been one of the most successful federal programs ever enacted and is more solvent than it ever has been. There is no need to tamper with its current success.”

Posted on Thursday, April 25th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | 15 Comments »

Jackie Speier to co-host anti-prostitution training

A Bay Area congresswoman is working with local police to train hotel managers how to recognize and thwart human trafficking related to prostitution.

Rep. Jackie Speier will join with the Burlingame and South San Francisco police departments in hosting a training session tomorrow, Friday, April 19, at the Hilton San Francisco Bayfront in Burlingame.

“Hotels and motels are an essential component in the vicious network of human trafficking,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “The people working in hotels can help prevent sex trafficking if they know how to recognize signs that are not always obvious and contact the authorities when they do. For example, in a recent case on the Peninsula, a hotel worker contacted the police after noting that the same individual had rented two hotel rooms for four different young women two days in a row. Not only were the victims rescued, but their traffickers are facing lengthy sentences and fine.”

Managers at the training will hear from public officials and experts about the severity of human trafficking in the area, learn how to recognize victims and how to interfere. Speakers will include Burlingame Mayor Ann Keighran, Burlingame Police Chief Ed Wood, South San Francisco Police Sergeant Billy Schwartz and representatives from the Burlingame Hotel Manager’s Safety Association.

Speier’s office says sex trafficking is considered the third-largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world; it is estimated 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders, and an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 domestic minors are forced into sex work every year in the United States.

This will be the third hotel training Speier and law enforcement have held since she helped launch the Zero Tolerance Anti-Trafficking Initiative in San Mateo County.

Posted on Thursday, April 18th, 2013
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Speier bill would revamp military justice for rape

A Bay Area congresswoman today re-introduced a bipartisan bill to overhaul how the military handles rape and sexual-assault cases.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier said her Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act is necessary in part because a half million U.S. veterans are survivors of military sexual trauma and an estimated 19,000 rapes or sexual assaults occur in the armed services every year, yet only about 13.5 percent are ever reported.

“The epidemic of military rape and sexual assault is a damning indictment of the military judicial system’s treatment of these cases,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “True justice demands impartiality which is absent in a system that relies on individual commanders who have no legal expertise to determine which assailants get prosecuted and which go free. Instead of commanders making decisions about guilt or innocence, no matter how senior, an independent military office of trained experts should determine how these cases are treated.”

The STOP Act would take the prosecution, reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the normal chain of command and put it in the hands of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office, housed in the military and staffed by both civilian and military personnel.

“Victims of rape and sexual assault should not have to choose between career-ending retaliation and seeking judicial action against their attackers,” Speier said. “In 2011, only eight percent of sexual assailants were referred to courts martial, or military court, compared with 40 percent of similar offenders prosecuted in the civilian court system. If they believed that their perpetrator would be prosecuted, convicted, and punished, it would be worth it to come forward.”

“The STOP Act creates the fair judicial system that our service members deserve, one that relies on the facts of the case not the whims of a commander.”

The bill’s 83 original cosponsors include Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Mike Thompson, D-Napa.

It’s also supported by national advocacy groups including Protect Our Defenders, American Association of University Women, National Council of Jewish Women, Feminist Majority, and the makers and followers of the documentary “Service: When Women Come Marching Home.”

“We applaud Republicans and Democrats for coming together to protect our service men and women,” Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, said in a news release. “Fundamental changes are urgently needed. This crisis, this national embarrassment has gone on far too long.”

Posted on Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Swalwell raised big money in 2013′s first quarter

One of the Bay Area’s House freshmen was among the region’s top fundraisers in the first quarter of 2013, according to newly filed Federal Election Commission reports.

Eric SwalwellRep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, raised $262,810 in the first three months of the year, leaving him with $222,932 cash on hand as of March 31.

On its face, that’s more even than the $207,030 that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, collected in individual contributions to her campaign committee. But Pelosi also transferred in more than $136,000 from her Nancy Pelosi Victory Fund, which itself raised $671,400 in the first quarter. (Now THAT’s some serious scratch; don’t mess with the big dog, Congressman Swalwell.)

Still, Swalwell’s first-quarter fundraising outstripped that of every other Bay Area House member including Mike Honda, D-San Jose, who raised $214,000 while already in full campaign mode due to the challenge posed by fellow Democrat Ro Khanna.

Swalwell might also face a fellow Democrat in 2014: state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, who like Swalwell had hoped to succeed Pete Stark in the 15th Congressional District but chose not to run against him last year. Corbett, who’s favored by many of the same local Democrats who had backed Stark in 2012, raised $16,201 in the first quarter of this year and had $114,963 cash on hand as of March 31.

Here’s a readout of the rest of the greater Bay Area delegation’s first-quarter haul, looking only at their principal campaign committees:

    Barbara Lee, D-Oakland: $69,482 raised, $29,804 cash on hand
    George Miller, D-Martinez: $79,253 raised, $215,537 cash on hand
    Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose: $45,240 raised, $571,704 cash on hand
    Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz: $32,650 raised, $70,731 cash on hand
    Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto: $50,186 raised, $319,929 cash on hand
    Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo: $34,728 raised, $976,878 cash on hand
    Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael: $95,152 raised, $116,503 cash on hand

Posted on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
Under: 2014 primary, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, campaign finance, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 2 Comments »

Reactions to Boston Marathon bomb explosions

The Bay Area is reacting to horrific news of a bombing near the Boston Marathon’s finish line today that killed at least two people and injured at least 100.

Oakland Police said that although they have no reason to believe there’s any threat here, they’re keeping officers apprised of the situation in Boston and will have a more visible presence at tonight’s Oakland A’s and Golden State Warriors games in collaboration with BART Police, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies.

Elected officials are weighing in, too.

From President Barack Obama’s live press briefing at the White House:

“We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But make no mistake – we will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this; we’ll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.

“Today is a holiday in Massachusetts – Patriots’ Day. It’s a day that celebrates the free and fiercely independent spirit that this great American city of Boston has reflected from the earliest days of our nation. And it’s a day that draws the world to Boston’s streets in a spirit of friendly competition. Boston is a tough and resilient town. So are its people. I’m supremely confident that Bostonians will pull together, take care of each other, and move forward as one proud city. And as they do, the American people will be with them every single step of the way.”

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones in these horrific explosions in Boston, and I am praying for the recovery of all those who were injured.”

From House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

“Words cannot begin to express our sorrow for the families who are grieving so suddenly right now. The House of Representatives offers its prayers to the victims and the city of Boston. We also give thanks for the professionals and Good Samaritans who prevented further loss of life. This is a terrible day for all Americans, but we will carry on in the American spirit, and come together with grace and strength.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston today and with the families of all of the victims of this brutal attack. We pray for the health and recovery of those injured, for the witnesses to the explosions, and for the first responders who arrived on the scene to tend to the wounded and secure the area.

“Words are inadequate to console the loved ones of those lost at the Boston Marathon. But we will do what we can to care for them. We will ensure that justice will be done.

“Members of Congress stand ready to assist our partners in Boston and Massachusetts as they respond to this unspeakable tragedy. The entire nation will stand as a source of support and comfort to this community in the days to come.”

From Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (who is California’s acting governor during Gov. Jerry Brown’s ongoing trip to China):

Jennifer and I are deeply saddened by the tragic events in Boston today and our hearts go out to the victims’ families and their communities. There’s no indication of any threats to California or our local communities at this time. However, these events are a reminder to remain vigilant and always report anything unusual to your local law enforcement agency.

More, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, April 15th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, Gavin Newsom, Jackie Speier, John Boehner, John Perez, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, Terrorism, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Events planned Saturday against gun violence

As President Obama steps up the pressure on Congress to enact gun policy reforms, Bay Area officials and residents are planning to speak and act on the issue this Saturday, April 13.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and South San Francisco, Daly City, San Bruno, Pacifica, Burlingame, Colma, Millbrae, Brisbane and Broadmoor police departments will hold a gun buyback from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the South San Francisco Courthouse, 1050 Mission Road. Any resident of those cities and towns can surrender weapons, no questions asked, and receive up to $100 cash for a handgun, shotgun or rifle, and up to $200 cash for an assault weapon.

People interested in participating in the gun buyback can call 650-829-3700 for more information. Participants must transport firearms unloaded and in their vehicles’ trunks.

“Fewer guns mean fewer accidents and fewer chances for guns to fall into the wrong hands,” Speier said in a news release.

At the same time, the Silicon Valley North chapter of Organizing for Action – the successor organization to the president’s 2012 campaign – plans a rally against gun violence at 11 a.m. in Centennial Plaza, next to the Mountain View Caltrain station. OFA activists from across the Bay Area will be joined by volunteers and speakers from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Safety Action, Silicon Valley Community Against Gun Violence, and Parents Against Gun Violence.

I’ll be at a different kind of gun-violence vigil this Saturday: the memorial service for my former colleague Lionel Fluker, who was killed by a stray bullet last Friday night as he drove near his Oakland home. The public service will be at noon in the CP Bannon Mortuary, 6800 International Blvd. in Oakland.

Lionel – a freelance photographer for the Oakland Tribune from 1995 to 2007 – was a man of immense professional talent but even greater cheer and charm. He was among the most upbeat, pleasant people I’ve met in this industry, and his ever-present smile will be sorely missed by all those who knew him. He was 54, and is survived by family members including a 20-year-old daughter, Dominique.

Posted on Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
Under: gun control, Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 9 Comments »

Speier launches Congressional Watchdog Caucus

Rep. Jackie Speier has founded a Congressional Watchdog Caucus to oversee federal programs so that they’re run properly, taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and employees are treated fairly.

Um, isn’t that one of Congress’ main functions anyway? So true, says Speier, D-San Mateo – but the usual channels are getting clogged with politics.

“Oversight is all about responsible governance, not about scoring political points or shaming public officials. Taxpayers rely on us to be good stewards of public funds. They can’t afford wasteful expenditures and neither can the government,” Speier said in a news release. “As Members of Congress, we are the watchdogs entrusted to investigate waste, fraud, and abuse, and we have the authority to hold leaders accountable for misconduct. The Congressional Watchdog Caucus will support Members and staff in oversight actions and work together to develop strategies for effective investigations.”

Speier is the caucus’ founder and chair, but lest you think this is just more partisan rhetoric, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., will be its co-chair.

“There are many people and organizations interested in good government; this caucus will allow us to coordinate and leverage efforts, across the country, to monitor, report on, and conduct oversight of federal spending and federal activities,” Coffman said. “It’s our responsibility to watch over the federal government and make sure the money our citizens send to Washington isn’t wasted. Our families need to know their taxes are being wisely spent.”

Posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Speier readies bill to reform military justice

Hot on the heels of stinging comments about military sex crimes made by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at two Santa Cruz police officers’ funeral Thursday, a Bay Area congresswoman will introduce a bill she says would help reform the system.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, will introduce her Military Judicial Reform Act to strip military commanders of their power to overturn legal decisions or lessen sentences handed down by judges and juries at courts martial. It’s inspired by the recent case of a lieutenant general at Aviano Air Base overturning the sexual-assault conviction of an officer who had been sentenced by a jury of his peers to a year in prison and dismissal from the service.

Speier’s office says a written statement from the Aviano victim will be read at her Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday by Nancy Parrish, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders. Also scheduled to speak are Susan Burke, an attorney who has filed lawsuits on behalf of dozens of victims of military rape or sexual assault, and Kirby Dick, the director of the Academy-Award-nominated documentary “The Invisible War.”

Speier last year carried a bill to create a Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Council, composed mainly of civilians, as an independent entity outside the Defense Department’s chain of command. This council would appoint and advise an office responsible for investigating, preventing and reducing sexual assaults, and a director responsible for overseeing prosecution of all sex offenses in the military. Though it had 133 cosponsors, the bill never made it out of committee.

Posted on Friday, March 8th, 2013
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 5 Comments »