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Thompson co-authors ‘Crude-by-Rail Safety Act’

A Bay Area congressman is helping to lead the charge for new safety and security standards for transporting crude oil by rail.

Mike ThompsonRep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, co-authored and helped introduce Wednesday the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act, along with Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; Ron Kind, D-Wisc.; and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

“Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” Thompson said in a news release. “Railcars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed. The bill introduced today puts safety measures in place that will help make sure communities are secure, railcars are as strong as possible, and first responders are prepared in the event of an emergency.”

The recent, large growth in crude-by-rail transport has led to a rise in rail accidents. Four derailments in the United States and Canada in less than a month earlier this year underscored the need to review and improve safety rules, the lawmakers say.

Their bill sets a maximum volatility standard for crude oil and certain other potentially flammable and explosive substances moved by rail; prohibits use of DOT-111 tank cars, which would involve removing 37,700 from the rail network; sets strong new tank-car standards; requires comprehensive oil-spill response planning and studies; increases fines for violating standards; requires disclosure of train movement through communities; and requires railroads to create confidential close-call reporting systems.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15th, 2015
Under: Mike Thompson, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Bartender, a round of Cuba Libres for the House.

Bay Area House members are thrilled by President Obama’s decision today to remove Cuba from the government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism; Republicans, predictably less so.

From Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“Today, the President has taken an important step forward toward restored relations with Cuba. Taking Cuba off the state sponsors of terror list removes an outdated designation that no longer serves the security interests of the United States, nor the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people.

“This move continues the historic normalization of relations between our countries. It will facilitate the opening of new markets for American banks and businesses, and new opportunities for the people of Cuba.

“I hope we can continue to take our relations in a positive and constructive direction, and build on the historic progress we have made thus far.”

From Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“I am disappointed that the White House seems determined to reward the Castro regime, which has a clear record of repression at home and exporting violence throughout the region. Not even a week has passed since the brutal attacks on Cuban democracy protestors in Panama City during the Summit for the Americas. Those attacks – and the Castros’ long history of human rights violations – demonstrate the folly of revisiting diplomatic relations with this communist dictatorship and removing it from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror.

“Cozying up to the oppressive regime in Cuba is a blow to all who long for liberty and dignity. And it’s just one more example of this administration focusing more on befriending our enemies than helping our allies. The United States has a responsibility to stand strong for all those who struggle for freedom, and the House of Representatives is committed to doing its part.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“I am pleased that President Obama will be removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List. This action is long overdue and is an important step toward fully normalizing relations with Cuba.

“Along with many of my colleagues, I have long called for Cuba to be removed from this list. In December of 2013, I wrote a letter calling for de-list Cuba. I have reiterated that call in subsequent letters, including a December 2014 letter signed by 37 of my colleagues, which called for moves toward normalization ahead of the Summit of the Americas.

“The letter stated: ‘Over the years, reports by the State Department on the state sponsors of terrorism, have found no evidence or indication that Cuba provides weapons or training to terrorists. In fact, Cuba now meets global standards for fighting money-laundering and preventing terrorist finance, in addition to playing an active role in bringing Colombia’s civil war to an end.’

“By removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List, President Obama is signaling his strong commitment to building a more productive relationship with Cuba. As we continue to move forward, renewed ties will bring great benefits to the Cuban and American people. Given Cuba’s close proximity to the U.S., improved relations will open new trade opportunities that will allow U.S. businesses to expand and create jobs here at home. This will also expand existing education and cultural exchanges.

“Congress also has a critical role to play. It’s past time to end the failed embargo, lift the restrictive travel ban and formally normalize relations. I am glad to be co-leading The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 664) and Free Trade with Cuba Act (H.R. 403) to forge a new path between our two countries.”

From Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel:

Sam Farr“As Cuba moves to reintegrate itself into the international community, we must be willing to modernize our relations with them. This decision by the President moves us closer to normalized relations between our two countries. Decades of isolation have not worked so I am glad we are finally talking with our neighbor to push for new path forward in Cuba.

“I have been engaged in Latin American affairs since serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia. At the 2012 Summit in Cartagena, it was clear our position towards Cuba alienated us from the rest of the hemisphere. We must join the rest of the world by engaging with the island to help build a more open and democratic Cuba.”

Posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Rep. Jackie Speier rips federal pipeline watchdog

Rep. Jackie Speier went medieval on the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety during a House hearing Tuesday, calling it “not only a toothless tiger, but one that has overdosed on Quaaludes and is passed out on the job.”

Speier, D-San Mateo, whose district includes the San Bruno neighborhood where eight people died and 38 homes were leveled in a 2010 Pacific Gas & Electric natural-gas pipeline explosion, uncorked her ire at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. She wants more accountability from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“It is clear to me that PHMSA does not have the teeth—or the will—to enforce pipeline safety in this country,” said Speier. “As we’ve seen in California, it is often powerless over state regulators. Even when it has crystal-clear authority, it still refuses to act.”

The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 eliminated the “grandfather clause” that had given operators a pass on gas transmission pipelines installed before adequate testing was required. This law required PHMSA to close the loophole within 18 months, but instead the agency basically has disregarded the statute, Speier said.

Speier demanded that PHMSA increase its oversight over state pipeline inspection agencies – in our case, the California Public Utilities Commission – and enact the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations to overhaul its policies. She plans to introduce a bill to further tighten pipeline safety requirements and increase PHMSA’s ability to ensure that state pipeline safety agencies are held accountable for enforcing safety rules.

Posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | No Comments »

Speier to offer ‘gay conversion therapy’ ban effort

A Bay Area congresswoman will introduce a resolution next week urging states to ban “gay conversion therapy,” as President Obama called for in recent days.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier plans to introduce the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) resolution next Tuesday morning. The resolution calls on states to ban licensed mental health professionals from engaging in therapy to try to change minors’ sexual orientations.

“Conversion therapy is quackery — you can’t ‘cure’ or ‘treat’ sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “I applaud the president for his strong stance against it. I look forward to working with the White House when I reintroduce the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) Resolution. What LGBT youth need is love and support, not discredited pseudoscience.”

Speier first introduced the SHOK resolution in late 2012, soon after California enacted such a ban. California’s law took effect in 2014 after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear challenges to it.

Reacting to a public petition, the White House this week announced the Obama administration’s support of efforts to ban the practice.

The American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association have rejected gay conversion therapy as a scientifically invalid practice, finding it can cause serious harm.

Posted on Thursday, April 9th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

House members tell DOJ to back off on marijuana

A bipartisan pair of California House members are insisting that the Justice Department back off from prosecutions of medical marijuana patients and providers in states with medical marijuana laws – as Congress mandated in a recent spending bill.

Reps. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday, reminding him in no uncertain terms that the amendment they co-authored to the “cromnibus” federal spending bill – approved by Congress and signed by President Obama in December – bars the Justice Department from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws.

The lawmakers cited a recent Los Angeles Times article in which a department spokesman said the amendment doesn’t apply to cases against individuals or organizations, but merely stops the department from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.”

“We write to inform you that this interpretation of our amendment is emphatically wrong,” Farr and Rohrabacher wrote to Holder. “Rest assured, the purpose of our amendment was to prevent the Department from wasting its limited law enforcement resources on prosecutions and asset forfeiture actions against medical marijuana patients and providers, including businesses that operate legally under state law.”

State law enforcement agencies are better equipped to determine whether people and businesses are abiding by state laws, they wrote.

“We respectfully insist that you bring your Department back into compliance with federal law by ceasing marijuana prosecutions and forfeiture actions against those acting in accordance with state medical marijuana laws,” their letter concludes.

Posted on Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
Under: marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

Rep. Eric Swalwell visited troops, officials in Iraq

Rep. Eric Swalwell returned Wednesday from a bipartisan congressional trip to Iraq.

Swalwell, D-Dublin, is a House Intelligence Committee member and was briefed in Iraq by senior military officials involved with Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission to roll back the self-proclaimed Islamic State. He also met with Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, and he attended Easter Sunday service and brunch with enlisted troops.

Swalwell Easter brunch with troops in Iraq

“This trip gave me the opportunity to see up close the damage the Iraqi-led, U.S.-supported coalition is having on ISIL,” Swalwell said in a news release. “Because of the enduring work of our troops and intelligence community, we have ISIL on the ropes and are well-positioned to deliver a knockout blow. The real challenge, however, is what does Iraq look like post-ISIL? The United States can provide limited, short-term military aid to Iraq, but a longstanding peaceful future requires Iraqi leadership that puts an end to sectarian violence.”

“It was an honor to spend Easter Sunday in Iraq with my heroes, the brave men and women of our Armed Services and intelligence community,” he added. “I was moved by the commitment of our troops, who were spending Easter away from their loved ones, to serve our country.”

Posted on Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
Under: Eric Swalwell, Iraq, U.S. House | No Comments »

Speier raises alarm on spoofed ‘constituent’ emails

A Bay Area congresswoman raised an alarm this week that emails that were intended to look like they came from district constituents might instead have come from big-money special interest groups.

POLITICO reported that some “constituent” messages to lawmakers urging opposition to the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules had identical wording as those organized by American Commitment, a group led by a former top aide at the Koch-brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity.

Jackie SpeierAnd Rep. Jackie Speier’s staff determined some of the messages came from constituents who didn’t recall sending them. Her staff produced a memo sent out by Lockheed Martin, which runs the technology powering some House members’ contact web pages, which said “a vast majority of the emails do not appear to have a valid in-district address.” The Lockheed memo also questioned whether the email addresses on the messages were even legitimate at all.

Speier posted a statement on Facebook on Thursday saying she’s “deeply concerned by this suspicious activity, and rest assured I will never, ever tolerate an attempt to subvert the democratic rights of my constituents.”

“This is identity theft, pure and simple,” she wrote. “But instead of impersonating for financial gain, the originators of this theft are striking at the heart of our representative democracy. The idea that an outside group could use consumer data to impersonate constituents suggests an attempt to hijack the important feedback members of Congress need to truly represent their districts. You can’t buy or steal hearts and minds.”

She said she’s pressing for a full investigation and developing a bill to criminalize this activity.

Phil Kerpen, who runs American Commitment, told POLITICO his group didn’t impersonate anyone, but other groups mounting similar campaigns had borrowed the text from his web site.

Posted on Friday, April 3rd, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Reactions for and against the Iran nuclear deal

Members of Congress are weighing in for or against the framework for a final agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, reached by a group of world powers including the United States and announced today by the White House.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a Foreign Relations Committee member:

Barbara Boxer“Now that all parties have agreed to a framework, Congress has a choice: support these negotiations or disrupt them and potentially jeopardize this historic opportunity to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“We don’t yet know the details of a final deal, but initial reports are promising, and if the U.S. had prematurely ended talks on nuclear issues in the past, we would never have had historic and critical international agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the New START Treaty.

“The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to reach this point and I will work to ensure that Congress has the patience to support this diplomatic effort because the risks of walking away from the table are simply too high.”

From U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who led 46 other senators in writing to Iran to undermine the negotiations:

Tom Cotton“There is no nuclear deal or framework with Iran; there is only a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons. Iran will keep a stockpile of enriched uranium and thousands of centrifuges—including centrifuges at a fortified, underground military bunker at Fordow. Iran will also modernize its plutonium reactor at Arak. Iran won’t have to disclose the past military dimensions of its nuclear program, despite longstanding UN demands. In addition, Iran will get massive sanctions relief up front, making potential “snap-back” sanctions for inevitable Iranian violations virtually impossible.

“Contrary to President Obama’s insistence, the former deputy director of the UN’s nuclear watchdog has said terms such as these will allow Iran to achieve nuclear breakout in just a few months, if not weeks. But in any case, even these dangerous terms will expire in just 10-15 years, even though it only took North Korea 12 years to get the bomb after it signed a similar agreement in 1994.

“These concessions also do nothing to stop or challenge Iran’s outlaw behavior. Iran remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. Iranian aggression is destabilizing the Middle East. And Iran continues to hold multiple Americans hostage.

“I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to protect America from this very dangerous proposal and to stop a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“If fully implemented, today’s framework agreement would prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, enhance our national security and show that diplomacy works.

“This is a major step forward for diplomacy, national security and global peace. This type of smart, strategic diplomacy brings us closer to a more peaceful and secure world while promoting U.S. national security.

“I applaud President Obama, Secretary Kerry and his diplomatic team for negotiating this framework agreement that promotes regional and global security.

“Today’s announcement is an important achievement for diplomacy, non-proliferation and President Obama.”

From House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“The president says negotiators have cleared the basic threshold needed to continue talks, but the parameters for a final deal represent an alarming departure from the White House’s initial goals. My longtime concerns about the parameters of this potential agreement remain, but my immediate concern is the administration signaling it will provide near-term sanctions relief. Congress must be allowed to fully review the details of any agreement before any sanctions are lifted.

“After visiting with our partners on the ground in the Middle East this week, my concerns about Iran’s efforts to foment unrest, brutal violence and terror have only grown. It would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region.

“In the weeks ahead, Republicans and Democrats in Congress will continue to press this administration on the details of these parameters and the tough questions that remain unanswered. We will stand strong on behalf of the American people and everyone in the Middle East who values freedom, security, and peace.”

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

Posted on Thursday, April 2nd, 2015
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Iran, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 3 Comments »

Mike Honda introduces the ACRONYM Act

Rep. Mike Honda, annoyed by what he calls “an avalanche of verbiage in the name of every bill,” announced his introduction Wednesday, April 1 of the Accountability and Congressional Responsibility On Naming Your Motions (ACRONYM) Act of 2015.

The bill will prohibit the addition of words to the title of any bill just to create an acronym.

Sing it, Mike!“It’s gotten ridiculous,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in a news release. “We’re getting bills that have over 10 words in the title just so they can spell something that’s supposed to be clever. The last straw was The Pension And Social Security Measuring Equivalence Permanent Linking of Everyone’s Actual Savings Environment (PASS ME PLEASE) Act, which only corrected a typo on Page 346 of the tax code.” The bill failed along party lines.

The ACRONYM Act was immediately endorsed by the Association of House Reading Clerks, the House Transcription Guild, the Association of Print Journalists, and the Teachers and Educators Resource Society of Editing (TERSE). The bill was condemned, however, by the Venerable Enclave of Repetitive But Official Stylistic Engineers (VERBOSE).

“My goal is to rid this Congress, and all those after it, of bills with names like the Utility and Nuclear Defensive Energy Rehabilitated Facility Upkeep and Notification Determination for Every Democracy (UNDERFUNDED) Act; the National Environmental Versus Economy, Reflection, and OUTcome OF Congressional Outlays, Minus Military Information Technology Terminology, Electricity Enhancement (NEVER OUT OF COMMITTEE) Act, and the People Are Ready To Inhabit Saturn And Neptune (PARTISAN) Act,” Honda added.

Honda said that as an educator for more than 30 years, it offends him to see the language so brutally abused. “And I was a science teacher! We wrote the book on adding unnecessary words and phrases to make things sound more important. But this has gotten out of hand.”

Honda has high hopes for the bill passing out of the Nation’s Operational and Clerical Habits Application and Notification for Congressional Excellence (NO CHANCE) House subcommittee.

(Yes, we get it. And a very happy April Fool’s Day to you too, congressman.)

Posted on Wednesday, April 1st, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

California politicos praise Harry Reid

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Friday he won’t seek re-election in 2016.

As jockeying begins to see who’ll replace him as Senate Democrats’ leader (Chuck Schumer? Dick Durbin? Elizabeth Warren?) and as Nevada’s senator (Brian Sandoval? Joe Heck? Ross Miller?), California Democrats were effusive in their praise of Reid.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“There’s no one I’d rather have on my side in a legislative battle than Harry Reid. His leadership, friendship and passion will be missed when he leaves the Senate.

“I’ve known Harry and Landra for more than 20 years and have enjoyed their friendship. Together, Harry and I have taken on a host of issues on behalf of our neighboring states. It’s especially been a pleasure working with Harry on the preservation of Lake Tahoe and other issues that bring out the best in us.

“I’m particularly thankful for Harry’s support during the process of releasing the CIA torture report. Harry knows what it’s like to be in a dogfight. He knows what it’s like to be attacked from all sides. I always knew that after a particularly bad week I’d get a call from Harry offering his support, telling me he was behind me all the way.

“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together, and I look forward to two more years of working side-by-side to do even more. The nation is better off because of Harry Reid.”

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

Barbara Boxer“I have known Harry Reid for more than thirty years and since the day I met him, Harry has given every bit of his energy and every bit of his devotion to his job and his loving family. Harry is a fearless leader who listens to all sides before taking a stand. He has known heartache in many forms, but he never let it get in the way of his hopes and dreams and dedication to every family in America. Harry is one of a kind and I am grateful that we worked together for so many years for the good of Nevada, California and the country we love.”

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

Nancy Pelosi“With Harry Reid’s decision to retire, Congress and our country will lose a patriot, pioneer, and one of the greatest leaders the Senate has ever known. Senator Reid is a master of the Senate, a reliable fighter for America’s hard-working families, a legislator whose leadership stretches back more than three decades.

“From his earliest days in the House to his tenure as Democratic Leader in the Senate, Harry Reid never forgot the hard-working families of Nevada he is so proud to represent. He has brought their values, their pioneer spirit and their determination to the Congress, and he has been an unsurpassed champion for the rights and opportunities of every American.

“It has been my great honor to call Senator Reid a dear and trusted friend for so many years. More so, I have been privileged to work with him in enacting historic and consequential legislation for our country.

“In the darkest days of the financial calamity, we worked together to pass the legislation that rescued our economy. We worked to pass the landmark Dodd-Frank consumer Wall Street reform bill, the most significant consumer financial reforms in a generation. We passed the Affordable Care Act and ensured that, in the United States of America, affordable, quality health care is the right of every American, not the privilege of the few.

“Senator Reid leaves a historic legacy of strength and achievement on behalf of the American people. He has helped to dramatically expand American investments in clean energy, passed bold and comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate, championed the Violence Against Women Act, and welcomed a record-breaking generation of new women Senators.

“His leadership and ability command respect on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress. Without question, Senator Reid’s departure is an irreplaceable loss for our entire country. But as he announces his hard-earned, well-deserved retirement, I wish him, his wife Landra, and the entire Reid family all the best in happy years ahead.”

Posted on Friday, March 27th, 2015
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 3 Comments »