Wednesday, March 25, 2015

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. Opening Statement on Net Neutrality

WASHINGTON - Today, during a full House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Wrecking the Internet to Save It? The FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules,” Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) delivered the following opening statement:

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“The Judiciary Committee has a central role in studying the issue of net neutrality and, more generally, competition on the Internet. As the Committee considers today the specific question of what impact the Federal Communications Commission’s latest Open Internet Order has on competition and innovation, we should keep several factors in mind.

“To begin with, whatever approach one uses to ensuring an open Internet, inaction is not an option.  There are real threats to net neutrality.
“As I have previously observed at hearings held on the issue of net neutrality in 2008, 2011, and 2014, there are many areas in the United States where consumers have the choice of only one or two broadband Internet service providers.  As a result, these broadband providers effectively function as monopolies or duopolies.  In turn, their control over the broadband access market can result in differential treatment of content depending on how much a content provider pays, whether the broadband provider also offers competing content, or if any other the financial incentives for discriminating for or against given content were present.

“The concerns that I have previously expressed have only become more problematic since then particularly in light of further acquisitions by broadband providers that may result in even less consumer choice, less innovation, higher costs, andmore power in the hands of fewer broadband providers.

“In light of this threat, I commend the Federal Communications Commission for its work in crafting a strong set of rules for ensuring an open Internet. Congress created the FCC to develop the specialized expertise to properly regulate the complex telecommunications industry in service of the public interest.  And, after a lengthy rulemaking period during which almost 4 million Americans and all industry stakeholders made their voices heard on this issue, the FCC has fulfilled that mandate with respect to preserving and promoting an open Internet. Rules to address net neutrality have the benefit of addressing potential threats to an open Internet before they fully materialize.

“Additionally, having a set of best practices enshrined in rules would provide certainty for industry.  The FCC’s net neutrality rules, therefore, must be given the opportunity to take root.

“I am particularly pleased that the FCC’s Open Internet Order contains key provisions that I and many others have long called for and that will help protect competition.  These include –

●          a rule preventing broadband providers from blocking or throttling Internet access or from imposing paid prioritization of Internet traffic;

●          a restriction prohibiting any other practices that unreasonably interfere with or disadvantage users’ ability to access broadband service or lawful content applications, or services; and

●          a requirement mandating disclosure to users of information concerning network management practices and any terms, conditions, or limitations on the broadband service.

“These measures are critical to protecting the virtuous cycle of innovation which net neutrality fosters, and which ensures both competition and innovation among broadband and content providers, to the ultimate benefit of consumers.

“Finally, enforcement of existing antitrust law as the exclusive or primary means of ensuring an open Internet would be insufficient. Under current antitrust law, there is relatively little that regulators can do outside the merger review context to address the conduct of a regulated industry such as broadband Internet service with respect to enforcing net neutrality principles.

“Through a series of decisions, the Supreme Court has limited the potential to successfully pursue claims under the Sherman Antitrust Act with respect to net neutrality.

“Moreover, exclusive reliance on antitrust enforcement is simply insufficient.  While having the benefit of a more nuanced and fact-specific approach to the problem, antitrust enforcement alone would also be a cumbersome, more limited, more resource-intensive, and after-the-fact way to develop a regulatory regime for net neutrality.

“Another potential approach would be for the Federal Trade Commission to use its authority under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act to stop “unfair methods of competition.”

“Although I hold an expansive view of Section 5, to the extent that this approach goes beyond the scope of the Sherman Act or other antitrust laws it would be very controversial, as my friends on the other side of the aisle would be the first to note.

“Moreover, antitrust law is not sufficiently broad in scope as it fails to address the non-economic goals of net neutrality, including the promotion of innovation and the protection of free speech and political debate. This is why Former Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Representative Zoe Lofgren and I introduced bipartisan legislation back in 2006 to strengthen antitrust law to address net neutrality, in part because the FCC was doing too little at that time, in my view.

“I do not have that concern with the FCC’s latest Open Internet Order.  Rather, I congratulate them on their good work and welcome the Order’s full implementation.”

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House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. Opening Statement on Patent Reform

WASHINGTON - Today, during a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet hearing on “Patent Reform: Protecting American Innovators and Job Creators from Abusive Patent Litigation,” Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) issued the following opening statement:

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Today’s hearing provides yet another opportunity to examine the issue of abusive patent litigation and why a targeted legislative approach is necessary.

“One of the first issues we must consider is how legislative proposals to stop abusive patent litigation can impact small businesses, the start-up ecosystem, and innovators. Small businesses and others who rely on patents require strong intellectual property protections. We must not weaken those rights.

“Our innovators – whether they create their inventions in their garages or basements or as a group in an incubation hub – recognize that their patents and the ability to protect them through enforcement in the courts is a critical factor in whether their businesses will be a success or a failure. Indeed, some angel investors and venture capitalists require ideas to be patented before investing.  But, they may very well be dissuaded from investing if there is a risk that a court will not uphold the validity of those patents or, at a minimum, there will be substantial litigation costs entailed.

“This means that fledgling entrepreneurs will never get off the ground and become a flourishing business employing thousands of Americans, such as Overstock, which is one of our witnesses today.

“Overly broad legislation could engender more rather than less litigation and weaken patent enforcement protections, thus discouraging investments in innovation.

“Instead, we should take a cautious approach and not push solutions – such as H.R. 9, the ‘Innovation Act’ – that may end up doing more harm than good to our start-up ecosystem. One way to stop abusive patent litigation is to address the problem of the extortionist use of demand letters.  So, I want the witnesses to discuss how we can curb the abusive problem of demand letters.

“Patent litigation opportunists exploit the patent process and patent litigation system.  In particular, they attack patents of weak quality in order to obtain quick settlements or to bleed the alleged infringers. Individual inventors and small businesses have to decide whether to risk incurring potentially overwhelming costs of litigation or enter into a settlement which could make them liable to attack by other abusive patent litigants.  We must find a way to stop this insidious problem that threatens the strong culture of innovation in our Nation.

“Finally, the Committee needs to conduct further hearings on the changing landscape affecting patents before we take any congressional action.

“While I applaud the Chair for holding a hearing last month on recent Supreme Court decisions in the patent arena, the Committee should also hold additional hearings on what actions other government stakeholders are taking in the patent arena.

“For instance, we should hear from Michelle Lee, the newly appointed Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to hear her views about how we should address abusive patent litigation. In addition, Director Lee could enlighten us about the conclusions from the Patent Quality Summit that her Office is hosting today and tomorrow. The Director could also update us on how her Office is implementing the America Invents Act.

“We should also hear an update from the Federal Trade Commission about its efforts to combat abusive patent litigation behavior.

“Further, the Judicial Conference could share its expertise at a hearing on the effectiveness of lower courts recently adopting model discovery orders or discovery guidelines that limit discovery in patent lawsuits.  The Conference could also inform us of the actions the Supreme Court is taking to eliminate Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 84 and its Form 18, which will lead to the higher pleading requirements of Twombly and Iqbal. It could also update us on other proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure aimed at achieving proportionality in discovery and promoting early and active judicial case management.

“These efforts may better address abusive patent litigation in a more targeted approach than the overly broad approach taken by the Innovation Act. Congress must respond to the problem of abusive patent litigation, but it should do so in a more balanced and effective approach that protects our Nation’s entrepreneurs and innovators.”
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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Conyers: Five Years Later, The Affordable Care Act is Saving Lives and Taxpayer Dollars

Washington, D.C. – Congressman John Conyers, Jr. issued the following statement on the fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act:

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Five years ago, President Obama signed into law one of the most important pieces of legislation in a generation: the Affordable Care Act.  Along with some of our most historic legislative achievements, including Social Security and Medicare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) stands as a central pillar of America’s social safety net and a key step toward realizing the universal right to health care.  

“Thanks to the ACA, more than 16 million previously uninsured Americans now have access to affordable high-quality coverage.  At least 105 million Americans have been relieved of the threat of an annual or lifetime limit on care.  More than 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage and women can no longer be charged higher premiums than men for the same plan.

“The ACA has not only been essential for Americans’ health—it’s also been crucial for slowing the growth of healthcare costs.  After more than a decade of runaway cost increases, the growth in health care costs has slowed to the lowest level in 50 years.  The Medicare Trust Fund is more solvent than it has been in a decade. 

“The evidence is clear: the ACA works.  It means greater coverage, better care, stronger consumer protections, and lower overall costs.  I am proud to salute this landmark legislative achievement and look forward to the additional progress that will come of it.”

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Monday, March 23, 2015


Report Finds Significant Loss Of Federal Grant Funding Due To Reduced Personnel Levels

DETROIT –On March 20, 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in response to a request from Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) to analyze the impact of financial distress on the ability of municipalities, such as Detroit, to obtain and manage federal grant programs.  The study focused multiple cities undergoing bankruptcy, including Detroit and Flint in Michigan, as well as Camden, NJ and Stockton, CA.  The GAO found that budget cuts forced reductions in personnel which led to loss of skilled and experienced staff in Detroit.  In turn, this significantly undermined the City’s ability to effectively obtain and manage federal grants and “caused some [federal] grant funds to remain unspent.”  

Federal grant programs are used by cities across the United States to fund vital services, such as public health and safety, police and firefighting services, education, health care, job training and environmental protection.  These programs, however, are typically subject to extensive accountability requirements that must be satisfied prior to funding distribution to municipalities. 

Among its other findings, the GAO cited a “decrease in state revenue” as one of the “key” sources of Detroit’s fiscal crisis.  As Rep. Conyers previously observed, the failure of the State of Michigan to honor its revenue sharing commitment with municipalities caused cities such as Detroit and Flint to lose millions of dollars in state funding that they could have used to retain critical personnel necessary to manage federal funding programs for the benefit of our citizens. 

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representaties
John Conyers, Jr.
The GAO also found that the White House Working Group on Detroit, an interagency group comprised of staff from multiple federal agencies, provided important assistance to Detroit.  The Working Group helped to facilitate better coordination between federal agencies and Detroit officials to enable the city to address its fiscal issues by meeting with senior city leaders to learn their priorities and then connecting these officials with available resources and experts.  For example, the Working Group helped to redirect $100 million in federal grant funds to address urban blight in the City of Detroit.

“I applaud the invaluable assistance that the White House Working Group on Detroit provided to the City.  And, it is my hope, that the Administration will document good practices derived from these efforts so other municipalities that encounter fiscal distress in the future will benefit from lessons learned, as recommended by the Government Accountability Office in the report it issued today,” said Rep. Conyers.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Rep. Conyers & Sen. Cardin Reintroduce Legislation To Restore Ex-Offenders’ Voting Rights

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) reintroduced H.R. 1459, the “Democracy Restoration Act of 2015.”  Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) yesterday introduced its Senate companion, S. 772.  The bill would create uniform federal standards for returning the voting rights of ex-offenders to vote in federal elections.  The legislation could result in returning the right to vote for millions of Americans with a prior conviction who served their time and paid their debt to society. 
The Democracy Restoration Act is a narrowly crafted effort to expand voting rights for people with felony convictions, while protecting state prerogatives to generally establish voting qualifications.  The legislation would only apply to persons who are not in prison, and would only apply to federal elections.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“The denial of voting rights by many states to ex-offenders represents a vestige from a time when suffrage was denied to whole classes of our population based on race, gender, religion, national origin and property.  This goes against the very fundamental principles of our Democracy,” said Rep. John Conyers.  “Just as poll taxes and literacy tests prevented an entire class of citizens, namely African Americans, from integrating into society after centuries of slavery, ex-offender disenfranchisement laws prevent people from reintegrating into society after they have paid their debt by serving time in prison.  Disenfranchisement laws isolate and alienate ex-offenders, and serve as one more obstacle in their attempt to successfully reintegrate into society.”

According to The Sentencing Project, since 1997, 23 states have amended felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility.  These reforms have resulted in an estimated 800,000 citizens regaining their voting rights.  Despite these reforms, over 5.8 million citizens continue to be ineligible to vote in Federal elections.  More than 4 million of the disqualified voters are not in prison, but are on probation, parole, or have completed their sentence.  Nearly 3 million of the disenfranchised have completed their entire sentence, including probation and parole. 

“The United States is one of the few Western democracies that allows the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions.  State disenfranchisement laws deny citizens participation in our democracy and the patchwork of laws leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation in Federal elections based solely on where an individual lives, in addition to the racial disparities inherent in our judicial system,” said Senator Cardin.  “Congress has a responsibility to remedy these problems and enact a nationwide standard for the restoration of voting rights.”

The current patchwork of state laws creates widespread confusion among election officials throughout the country.  For example, in Ohio, an erroneous interpretation of state law deprived thousands of people with felony convictions of the opportunity to register.  Only federal law can conclusively resolve the ambiguities in this area plaguing our voting system.

H.R. 1459 was introduced with the support of the following original cosponsors: Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Cummings (D-MD), Rep. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL), Rep. Kaptur (D-OH), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Moore (D-WI), Rep. Serrano (D-NY), Rep. Wilson (D-FL), Rep. McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Sewell (D-AL), Rep. Chu (D-CA), Rep. Richmond (D-LA), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Rep. Honda (D-CA).
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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Progressive Answer to the GOP's Regressive Budget

By John Conyers, Jr.
Dean of teh U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr/

A federal budget is a statement about our society's values.
If you believe in this notion as I do, there's a conclusion we can't help but reach: The GOP's new House budget proposal makes some troubling assertions about what's right and wrong.
In a time of unprecedented retirement income insecurity and student debt, the GOP budget cuts funding for the elderly, the ill, and students in order to boost bloated Pentagon budgets, offer tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans, and protect corporate welfare for multinational firms that ship American jobs overseas.
While this troubling budget plan will likely win approval in the GOP-led House of Representatives, the regressive proposals it contains have little chance of making it past President Obama's desk.
But we have a bigger task than blocking the conservatives' backward march. Our task is to present and implement our own positive progressive vision that elevates the interests of jobs, justice, and peace.
This week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) presented just such an actionable vision.
By strengthening the safety net and investing in 21st-century infrastructure, manufacturing, education, and environmental protection, the CPC's "People's Budget"will create 8.4 million new jobs and give low- and moderate-income Americans a much-needed raise.
The CPC budget focuses like a laser on achieving full employment. This is essential because, though the official headline unemployment statistics show the jobless rate at 5.5 percent, more than 20 million Americans are either unemployed, underemployed, or unwillingly out of the labor force. Taking all these factors into account, the real unemployment rate is closer to 13 percent. In both rural and urban pockets of the country, including my hometown of Detroit, the rate is closer to 25 percent. The investments in the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget will boost employment while addressing the most pressing challenges of our time: repairing America's rapidly aging roads and bridges, upgrading our energy systems to address climate change and adapt to its impacts, keeping our communities safe, and preparing our young people to thrive as citizens and workers.
By restoring full employment, the People's Budget addresses the persistent problem of stagnant wages, ensuring that working people have the purchasing power needed to sustain balanced economic growth. The last time our country achieved full employment -- under the Clinton administration in the late 1990s -- workers across the country gained the power to bargain for higher wages, and working families' share of the nation's income rose precipitously.
It's important to note that the Progressive Caucus budget achieves all this without breaking the bank. By cutting excessive Pentagon spending, enacting fair marginal tax rates for millionaires and billionaires, equalizing the tax treatment of capital income and labor income, making the estate tax more progressive, abolishing inefficient corporate tax loopholes, putting a fee on too-big-to-fail banks, and enacting a tax on Wall Street transactions, our proposal expands safety net programs like Medicare while reducing the nation's deficits. The budget's tax proposals are sound ways to not only raise revenue but restore fairness in our economy. It's unconscionable that, in the 21st century, a major multinational firm like GE could pay no federal tax, or that a billionaire like Warren Buffett could enjoy a lower marginal tax rate than his secretary.
If we believe that budgets are "moral documents," then the dueling budgets released this week present a remarkable contrast in values. Having served in Congress for the past half-century, I can say with authority that the values that define this country are not "survival of the fittest" and "winner takes all."
The values our budget should reflect are the values that the Reverend Martin Luther King spoke of 50 years ago and that the People's Budget reflects today: jobs, justice, and peace.
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Reps. Conyers and Sensenbrenner Introduce The Judicial Redress Act

WASHINGTON – Today, House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Sensenbrenner (R- Wis.) introduced the Judicial Redress Act of 2015, which:
·        Extends citizens of major U.S. allies the core benefits that Americans enjoy under the Privacy Act with regard to information shared with the United States for law enforcement purposes. 
·        Serves as an important show of support for our allies and is critical to ensure continued sharing of information that is crucial to law enforcement efforts and to national security. 
·        Has the support of the Department of Justice, federal law enforcement agencies and key European politicians.   
Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Congressman Conyers:  “For more than a decade, our allies in Europe have worked with federal law enforcement to ensure that our recordkeeping is both accurate and complete.  In support of that vital relationship, this legislation offers our allies a limited set of privacy protections.  This bill is a measure of basic fairness—our friends abroad should have some course of redress with respect to information that they provided to the U.S. government in the first place.  The Obama Administration fully backs this proposal, and I look forward to its speedy passage.”

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The fight against terror spans the globe. Coordinating our efforts with friendly nations is vital to our national security and the security of our European allies.  Extending certain rights to their citizens will also help foster a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship for American and European businesses.  In short, this legislation will bolster our intelligence gathering capabilities and protect civil liberties at home and abroad.”

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