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Brown, lawmakers seek disaster declaration

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday requested a presidential major disaster declaration for California, as communities in Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties continue trying to recover from the South Napa earthquake on Aug. 24.

“Economic impacts of this event will be extensive. The earthquake caused significant damage throughout the region,” Brown wrote in a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday. “This incident is of such severity and magnitude that an effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments, and supplemental federal assistance is necessary.”

Such a declaration from the president would trigger the release of federal funds to help communities recover, and an executive order Brown signed Tuesday provides additional financial aid to local agencies and nonprofits so residents can replace important documents and access key services without footing added costs or other burdens.

The region’s voices in Congress, led by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, echoed Brown’s call with their own letter to President Obama. “It is clear to us and local authorities that a major disaster declaration is critical to helping our state recover and rebuild,” Thompson’s letter reads.

Also signing Thompson’s letter were senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield.

Federal relief funding might include Federal Emergency Management Agency money to help people to rebuild and repair housing, and for local communities to repair public infrastructure; and Small Business Administration loans for businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, inventory, and supplies. Homeowners and renters may also be eligible for SBA loans to repair or replace disaster-related damages to homes or personal property.

FEMA does not provide for assistance if there is another option in place, like insurance. Those affected by the quake should contact their insurance companies first to see what benefits, if any, their plan provides.

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
Under: Gov. Jerry Brown, Jared Huffman, Jerry Brown, John Garamendi, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers urge Obama to consult them on Iraq

Rep. Barbara Lee and a Virginia Republican have lead 78 other House members in urging President Obama to seek Congressional approval before taking any military action in Iraq.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee, D-Oakland, and Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., last summer led independent letters calling on Obama to consult Congress before taking military action in Syria. Now they’ve joined together on a letter sent to the president Thursday.

“We do not believe intervention could be either quick or easy,” they wrote. “And we doubt it would be effective in meeting either humanitarian or strategic goals, and that it could very well be counter-productive.”

The lawmakers called for a political settlement involving all segments of the Iraqi population.

“As you consider options for U.S. intervention, we write to urge respect for the constitutional requirements for using force abroad,” they wrote. “The Constitution vests in Congress the power and responsibility to authorize offensive military action abroad. The use of military force in Iraq is something the Congress should fully debate and authorize.”

Besides Rigell, other Republicans signing the letter included Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.; John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn.; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; Reid Ribble, R-Wisc.; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.;

Besides Lee, other Bay Area members signing the letter included Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

Posted on Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Iraq, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 4 Comments »

USA Freedom Act vote splits Bay Area reps

The Bay Area’s House delegation was somewhat split – and along surprising lines – as the House voted 303-121 on Thursday to pass a bill supporters say would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The USA Freedom Act, HR 3361, was amended after it arrived on the House floor, and some former supporters believed it had been watered down too much; for example, a requirement for an independent public advocate on the secret intelligence court that oversees the NSA was dropped from the bill.

Voting for the bill were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and representatives Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton.

From Thompson:

“Our government has a responsibility to protect people’s civil liberties and our national security, and this legislation does both. It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability of our intelligence community, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”

Voting against the bill were representatives Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

From Lofgren:

“Across the country, many people were surprised to learn that the privacy rights they believed were protected under the 4th Amendment did not apply to NSA surveillance of their communications.

“I originally cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act when it was introduced last yearbecause it was a small step toward reform and transparency. Unfortunately the bill was changed in key ways after committee action and will no longer provide the protections I sought.

“I voted against it today because it falls short of the Fourth Amendment protections Americans deserve.

“There is strong bipartisan concern that this bill makes it legal for the NSA to continue mass surveillance of U.S. citizens. Many civil liberties groups and leading tech companies share these concerns and felt compelled to withdraw their support.

“Without much needed improvements to the USA FREEDOM Act, Congress risks a continuation of mass surveillance in this extension of the Patriot Act.”

Posted on Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Lawmakers cheer tougher penalties for pot grows

Northern California House members from both sides of the aisle are cheering new, stiffer federal penalties for illegal marijuana grows on trespassed lands.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission announced last week it had adopted tougher punishments for high-level offenders who cultivate marijuana grows on public or private lands they don’t own. The amended guidelines will be submitted to Congress and reviewed for six months before officially taking effect Nov. 1.

This had been the aim of a bill introduced last summer and a letter sent to the commission in November by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, as well as by senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

“Illegal marijuana grow sites that threaten lives, destroy public lands and devastate wildlife have become far too common,” Thompson said in a news release Monday. “These new sentencing guidelines will serve as a strong deterrent against these illegal grow sites, and they will help make sure criminals who wreck our public and private lands are held fully responsible for the harm they cause.”

Huffman said toxic and illegal chemicals used at such sites, plus the potential for violence, make such grows unsafe on many levels. Also, “California is in the midst of a devastating drought, and many of these grow operations illegally divert streams and tap groundwater with untold impacts on downstream water users and wildlife,” he noted.

Both he and Farr noted the nation seems to be moving toward what they consider to be more reasonable laws on marijuana use, but these illegal grows can’t be tolerated. “With these new guidelines in place, we can make public and private lands safer while protecting the environment for everyone to enjoy,” Farr said.

LaMalfa said property owners and local government often are stuck paying thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. “The Sentencing Commission’s recognition of these impacts will go a long way toward ensuring that those who disregard our nation’s laws are held responsible.”

Posted on Monday, April 14th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Jared Huffman, marijuana, Mike Thompson, Sam Farr, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »

Activists seek ‘Robin Hood tax’ upon Wall Street

Activists organized in part by the California Nurses Association rallied Friday at congressional offices in 22 cities – including four in Northern California – to call for a tax on Wall Street speculation to relieve economic inequality and address basic needs.

The Oakland-based union scheduled the events for Friday because it’s the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who at the time of his death was amid a campaign for economic justice that included anti-poverty and worker-rights issues.

Supporters of HR 1579 – authored by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and cosponsored by local lawmakers including Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Garamendi, D-Fairfield – sometimes call it the “Robin Hood tax.”

The bill would levy a tax of 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades and smaller amounts on transactions of bonds and derivatives. Its goal to reduce harmful financial market speculation; discourage high-volume, high-speed trading; and slow down proliferation of complex derivatives while raising hundreds of billions of dollars per year for jobs, health care, education, the fights against HIV/AIDS and climate change, and more.

Several dozen countries have similar taxes, and the United States had one until 1966. Business leaders including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Pollin, and Larry Summers have recommended adopting a financial transaction tax, and after Wall Street’s crash 1987, such a tax was endorsed by President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. And former Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, carried a similar bill in 2010.

There’s no chance the Republican-led House will ever advance this bill.

Still, Northern California activists rallied Friday at the offices of congressmen George Miller in Concord, Mike Honda in San Jose, Ami Bera in Rancho Cordova and Jeff Denham in Modesto – three Democrats and a Republican, respectively.

“My patients are trying to heal from an illness or surgery and when they go home they are forced to make a decision between buying medication or food,” California Nurses Association co-president Malinda Markowitz, an RN at San Jose’s Good Samaritan Hospital, said in a news release. “That’s why I want Rep. Mike Honda to support the people of this community by supporting the Robin Hood Tax.”

The nurses’ union notes King once said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have nots. The question is whether America will do it.”

Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014
Under: Ami Bera, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jared Huffman, Jeff Denham, John Garamendi, Mike Honda, Pete Stark, Sam Farr, taxes, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Obama to add Stornetta Lands to monument

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will expand the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a White House official said Saturday.

Stornetta mapCalifornia’s U.S. Senators and two congressmen have been pushing hard for this, and wrote to the president a year ago to urge his action. The White House said Obama will make the move as part of his State of the Union pledge to “use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”

President Bill Clinton established the California Coastal National Monument in 2000 to protect the area’s scientifically valuable coastal resources, including geologic formations that offer unique habitats for breeding seabirds, marine mammals, and other native species.

Obama will be adding about 1,665 acres of federal lands located on California’s Mendocino County coast, just north of the Point Arena.

The area is an economic engine for the local community, driving tourism and offering outdoor recreation opportunities; a Bureau of Land Management report estimates that outdoor recreation on public lands in California contributed nearly $900 million to the economy in 2012. But it also will offer scientific opportunities for geologists, archeologists, historians, and biologists, as well as recreational opportunities.

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein as well as Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Mike Thompson, D-Napa, have championed adding this land to the monument, and offered legislation that would’ve done so.

“I am so pleased that President Obama is taking action to permanently protect this majestic piece of California’s coast for future generations to enjoy,” Boxer said in a statement issued Saturday. “Expanding this monument will not only help preserve this sensitive coastal area and protect marine life along the coast, it will also boost the tourism economy in Mendocino County, which supports 5,000 jobs.”

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell held a public listening session in November in Point Arena to hear from the community about its vision for conserving the lands; Jewell will return to the area Wednesday to celebrate the president’s action.

Posted on Saturday, March 8th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Environment, Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 9 Comments »

Lawmakers urge Obama to reclassify marijuana

Eighteen House members, including six from the Bay Area, wrote to President Obama today urging him to use his authority to move marijuana off the federal government’s list of most-restricted drugs.

Marijuana currently is listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a list for drugs deemed to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States and a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision. The lawmakers’ letter says this “makes no sense” for marijuana, and calls on the president to instruct Attorney General Eric Holder to reclassify the drug.

“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system,” the letter says. “Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana.”

The letter comes days after Obama told the New Yorker magazine that he believes marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, a comment that has brought criticism from anti-drug activists.

Among those signing the letter were Reps. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton. The only Republican among the 18 signers was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach.

The Controlled Substances Act gives authority for rescheduling controlled substances to Congress, but it also grants executive branch authority to the U.S. Attorney General and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Several rescheduling bills have gone nowhere in recent years.

“President Obama just told the nation during his State of the Union address that because Congress has been unable to act, he would take executive action where he could on behalf of helping the American people,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access. “The president has the authority to reclassify marijuana and could exercise that authority at any time.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
Under: Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Jared Huffman, marijuana, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

House passes GOP water/drought bill

The House voted 229-191 on Wednesday to pass the controversial water bill put forth by Republicans as a necessity for dealing with California’s drought, but described by Democrats as a water grab and political ploy.

“While Californians are dealing with the brunt of the water shortage, this issue affects the entire country,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, the bill’s author, said in a news release. “I am proud the House of Representatives was able to come together to pass this common-sense legislation to provide a long-term solution for families and farmers suffering from this water crisis. It is now up to the Senators from California to ensure their Chamber acts upon our proposal quickly.”

Said House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, “It is unacceptable that vital water supplies are being forced out to the ocean instead of going to our cities. The issue demands immediate attention and today’s vote represents House Republicans’ commitment to putting California families over fish.”

But though sponsored by all the rest of California’s House Republicans, Valadao’s H.R. 3964 is as good as dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer plan to introduce a bill of their own in the next few days.

Feinstein said their bill will “offer relief for California and other drought-stricken states and to streamline federal projects and operations. We have worked with federal and state agencies, rural irrigation districts and urban water districts to draft legislation that will minimize controversy yet still maximize water supplies during this drought period. California is facing a 500-year drought, and the time to act is now.”

Said Boxer, “While House Republicans are pursuing divisive and discredited policies, we will be proposing solutions that will help bring relief to the communities hardest hit by this unprecedented drought.”

Fourteen California House Democrats – including the greater Bay Area’s George Miller, D-Martinez; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael – issued a joint statement after the bill was passed:

All of California is in drought, but instead of working together on a long-term, bipartisan solution, our Republican colleagues have brought a bill to the floor today without any markup or hearing, which bypasses any public input. If enacted into law, this water grab would hurt California’s economy, damage our environment, and set a dangerous precedent of Congress imposing mandates on the water supplies of the states. This bill benefits a small group of Californians and creates no new water in the region. We have received letters from our home state’s Governor, Natural Resources Secretary, and Attorney General in strong opposition to H.R. 3964. The Western States Water Council opposed last Congress’ version of this bill (H.R. 1837) for its preemption of states’ rights, and the Obama Administration opposes the bill because it fails to alleviate the effects of California’s current drought and threatens water agreements in the west. 80 California sportsmen’s groups, commercial fishing industry groups, national conservation organizations, and Indian tribes also oppose this bill. This bill has no chance of enactment, and it would create more litigation over water if it were to pass, but even as a failed bill it hinders collaborative efforts being made throughout the State. It is time for real solutions; H.R. 3964 is not it.

Thompson gave of the more pointed floor speeches, saying “it would be more productive for this body to join in a rain dance on the floor today than to pass this bill.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
Under: David Valadao, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, U.S. House, water | 1 Comment »

Bay Area House members offer Postal Service bills

Two Bay Area House members went postal Wednesday, introducing legislation to protect and update the U.S. Postal Service’s assets.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, introduced H.Res. 466, which would urge the Postal Service to halt all sales of historic postal buildings across the nation and permanently preserve them.

Berkeley Post Office“These historic post offices are an irreplaceable part of our nation’s history. They belong to the American people, and shouldn’t be sold without community input,” Lee said in a news release. “Historic post office buildings are an integral part of our cultural heritage and should not be used as a bargaining chip in resolving the Postal Service’s financial woes.”

In the bipartisan omnibus Appropriations bill passed this month, lawmakers called upon the USPS to halt sales of historic post offices until the Office of the Inspector General publishes its investigation on the processes and plans used for the sale and preservation of historic properties. Lee’s resolution expands upon that effort to ensure that these national landmarks are permanently preserved for their communities.

“The East Bay values and cherishes the Berkeley Post Office,” she said. “This bill would ensure that historic post offices across the country, including the Berkeley Post office, remain as a cornerstone of our community.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, joined with Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., to introduce a bill requiring modernization of the Postal Service’s outdated vehicle fleet.

Grumman LLVThe Postal Service owns and operates the world’s largest civilian vehicle fleet: 192,000 mail delivery vehicles that are driven 4.3 million miles per day. More than 141,000 are aging Grumman LLVs, which average only 10 miles per gallon; this vehicle first went into service in 1987, and most have reached the end of their 24-year operational lifespan.

HR 3963, the Federal Leadership in Energy Efficient Transportation (FLEET) Act of 2014, would require the USPS to reduce its petroleum consumption by 2 percent each year for the next 10 years. The aim is to reduce fuel spending while increasing efficiency; the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates the bill would save the Postal Service an estimated 150 million gallons of fuel over the next ten years, worth about $400 million, Huffman’s office said.

“The Postal Service is crippled by an inefficient, outdated fleet, and the vast majority of these vehicles are reaching the end of their operational lives,” Huffman said in a news release. “The FLEET Act will help us invest in a modern, efficient Postal Service fleet. Our nation’s largest civilian fleet should serve as a global leader in efficiency and innovation.”

Shirley ChisholmIn other postal news, Lee is scheduled to be joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, on Saturday at Mills College in Oakland for the rollout of the Shirley Chisholm Forever® stamp.

This 37th stamp in the Black Heritage Series honors Chisholm, who was the first African American woman elected to Congress and who ran for president in 1972. She was the first African American and the second woman ever to seek a major party’s presidential nomination.

Lee first met Chisholm at Mills College in 1972, and organized Chisholm’s Northern California primary campaign that year. She first introduced legislation in 2005 expressing Congress’s sense that a commemorative stamp should be issued in Chisholm’s honor. The stamp image – designed by art director Ethel Kessler and featuring a color portrait of Chisholm by artist Robert Shetterly – will be unveiled Saturday.

The unveiling ceremony will be followed by panel discussion on House Democrats’ “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds” economic agenda, just like one that Pelosi, Speier and Lee did last week in San Francisco.

Posted on Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
Under: Barbara Lee, Jared Huffman, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Huffman: Haiyan a climate change ‘wake-up call’

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, took to the House floor today to say the world should hear Typhoon Haiyan – which devastated part of the Philippines this week – as a “wake-up call on climate change.”

“Thank you Madam Speaker.

“I rise today to once again speak about the issue of climate change, which is affecting every country, but as the World Bank has found, the impacts are not distributed equally. It is likely that the poorest nations on earth will be the hardest hit. The UN ranks the Philippines as the country that is third most vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of its geography, its poverty, and the state of its infrastructure.

“As all of my colleagues know, one of the most powerful storms on record tore through Asia this past week and the Philippines in particular. In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan many thousands are dead and hundreds of thousands more are homeless and desperate for help.

“As we learn more about the devastation there I ask my colleagues to pay careful attention to the words of Yeb Sano who is the head of the Philippines delegation to the United Nations climate talks.

“He says, and I quote, ‘What my country is going through, as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action.’

“He’s right. The Philippines tragedy is the latest wake-up call on climate change, so let’s wake up. I yield back.”

Posted on Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Under: Global warming, Jared Huffman, U.S. House | 2 Comments »