Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Conyers: Water Shutoff Moratorium is an Important First Step in Safeguarding Detroiters’ Right to Access Water

Washington, D.C. — Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) issued the following statement regarding the decision by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to suspend its water shutoff policy for 15 days:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Access to water is a basic human right. I applaud today's decision to suspend water shutoffs for 15 days to enable residents to demonstrate financial hardship. This is a first step in preventing a regional public health crisis that could impact the most vulnerable among us, particularly infants and seniors.

The application of recent water shutoffs and threats have been arbitrary and inhumane, targeting many households with a clear inability to pay their bills. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department must use the moratorium period to reconsider its use of water shutoffs as a means of collection enforcement and to ensure that any future shutoffs do not proceed unless the Department has verified the accuracy of customers’ bills and confirmed their ability to pay.

I am committed to addressing the immediate crisis and ensuring Detroit residents' long-term access to clean water at affordable rates. I am working with Michigan's state government and the U.S. Treasury to ensure access to the state’s ‘Hardest Hit Fund,’ which can be used to provide funding for emergency water payments and infrastructure upgrades.

On July 17, I introduced H.R. 5132, legislation that would protect struggling families' access to essential utilities during bankruptcy.  On July 25, I will introduce new legislation to reinstate the successful ‘Build America Bonds’ program that enables cities, including Detroit, to affordably finance improvements to water systems and other infrastructure."

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Conyers & Scott Hail Sentencing Commission’s Vote Providing Retroactive Fairness for Low Level Offenders

Conyers & Scott Hail Sentencing Commission’s Vote Providing Retroactive Fairness for Low Level Offenders

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug inmates retroactively.  Unless Congress disapproves the amendment, beginning November 1, 2014, eligible inmates can ask courts to reduce their sentences.  Courts will review a number of individualized factors, including public safety, in consideration of whether to grant these reductions.  Inmates whose requests are granted by the courts can be released no earlier than a year later on November 1, 2015, to allow sufficient time for federal judges to closely review the facts and circumstances of each petition that is filed, for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide the necessary transitional services and opportunities to eligible inmates in support of successful reentry into society, and to the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services to prepare for the effective supervision of the releases.

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) had written to the United States Sentencing Commission on July 7, 2014 urging this action. The Commission acknowledged their letter, which was considered as the Commission deliberated on this proposal.

After the public announcements, Representatives Conyers and Scott issued the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“We commend the United States Sentencing Commission’s unanimous vote today that fixes a flaw inherent in the drug sentencing guidelines since 1987which has resulted in excessive sentences, and applies that fix retroactively to 46,290 currently incarcerated federal drug offenders.  Since 1987, the low end of the calculated guideline drug sentence has actually been higher than the mandatory minimum prison term.  As a direct result, as the Commission has recognized, the drug guidelines have been higher-than-necessary for many years.  This amendment would bring federal drug guidelines into line with the mandatory minimums Congress created and is consistent with the Commission’s long and commendable track record of applying fixes to flawed amendments retroactively as it did in 1993 (LSD), 1995 (marijuana), 2007 (crack cocaine), and 2011 (crack cocaine). Justice should not depend on something as arbitrary as the date a person was sentenced, especially when the flaw being corrected has been present since the guidelines’ creation in 1987.

“Just the retroactive application of this amendment is projected to save $2.3 billion.  Our federal prisons are at over 132% overcapacity (and increasing every year).  Drug offenders represent 50% of the current federal prison population and over 66% of the increase in the federal prison population.  While these figures are staggering, the human cost has been even greater.  For decades, the federal ‘War on Drugs’ has been the primary engine of mass incarceration.  Drug convictions alone comprise more than 66% of the increase in our federal prison population.  This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies have consistently shown---for decades---that people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than Whites.    While national data show that people of all races use drugs at about the same rate, Black and Hispanic men and women are sentenced and imprisoned for federal drug offenses at disproportionately high rates, for virtually every kind of drug. For example, in FY 2013, Blacks and Hispanics comprised almost 75 percent of all federal drug offenders and more than 80 percent of offenders sentenced for powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and heroin offenses. Currently, almost 40 percent of all federal inmates are Black; 35 percent are Hispanic.

“The Commission’s historic vote today also seeks to right this disproportionate racial impact.  According to the Commission’s own retroactivity impact analysis, almost 75% of the people eligible for retroactive application of the ‘drugs minus two’ amendment are Black or Hispanic.  This action builds on the progress that the Judiciary Committee began, in the 111th Congress, in passing the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the arbitrary disparity in drug sentencing.

“To be clear, retroactive application will not jeopardize public safety as there are no automatic sentence reductions.  Courts will review each motion for sentence reduction presented to it and, when merited, deny retroactive sentence reductions to offenders who pose a danger to public safety, as they have previously done for other drug amendments.  Moreover, an inmate’s criminal history is already included in the guidelines calculation and the judge’s consideration and imposition of the sentence, including any enhancement or upward departure or variance.  Thus, the sentence the offender is serving is already calibrated to reflect and account for prior criminal records.  A retroactive reduction without restriction would be a reduction from a sentence that has already been increased due to criminal history.

“We commend the United States Sentencing Commission for unanimously voting to apply  for taking this historic first step, but in doing so we also call on Congress to lead the way for the United States to see lasting criminal justice reform. While this retroactive amendment to the advisory sentence guidelines offers relief to 46,290 inmates and to those who will be sentenced in the future, this amendment does not help those whose sentences were statutorily increased by mandatory minimums, enhancements, and consecutive counts.  To put this into perspective, in fiscal year 2012, 60% of federal drug defendants were convicted of offenses carrying mandatory penalties of some kind---oftentimes with several mandatory penalties at once.  To repair the damage caused by the unjust system of mandatory sentencing---the primary engine of mass incarceration in the federal system----Congress must work to eliminate or greatly reduce mandatory sentencing provisions, and restore judge’s discretion to avoid disproportionate sentences when mandatory penalties are charged. Again and again studies show that mandatory sentences discriminate against minorities, are ineffective at preventing crime, are inefficient from a cost perspective, and often require judges to impose sentences that violate commonsense. For these reasons, we have a moral obligation to put an end to mandatory sentencing and pass laws with proportional penalties that make sense. Only then will justice truly be restored to an American criminal system gone awry.  Repealing or reducing mandatory penalties will not only provide the more proportionate sentences that eligible offenders---particularly those of color---should have received to begin with, but also restore these offenders to their communities and families sooner, strengthening communities---particularly those of color---and increasing the perception – and reality – that the justice in our system applies equally to everyone, irrespective of race.”

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Conyers Introduces Two Bills Safeguarding Public Employees, Retirees & Access to Utilities During Bankruptcy Proceedings

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) introduced H.R. 5133, the “Protecting Employees and Retirees in Municipal Bankruptcies Act of 2014,” along with Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), and Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (D-Ga.). Specifically, this legislation amends chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code to strengthen protections for public employees and retirees in municipal bankruptcy cases by: clarifying the criteria that a municipality must meet before it can obtain chapter 9 bankruptcy relief, ensuring that the interests of employees and retirees are represented in the chapter 9 case, and imposing heightened standards that a municipality must meet before it may modify any collective bargaining agreement or retiree benefit. The “Protecting Employees and Retirees in Municipal Bankruptcies Act of 2014” is supported by both the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Representative Conyers also introduced H.R. 5132, the “Preventing the Termination of Utility Service in Bankruptcy Act of 2014,” along with Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (D-Ga.), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). This legislation would ensure that a consumer who has filed for bankruptcy relief is not forced to pay security deposits to maintain water, electricity, and gas utility service simply because he or she has filed for bankruptcy. The “Preventing the Termination of Utility Service in Bankruptcy Act of 2014” is supported by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“As the City of Detroit continues to work through bankruptcy proceedings and recover from the aftershocks of the global financial crisis, I introduced today two pieces of legislation to safeguard the earned benefits of public employees as well as retirees, and to protect individuals’ access to vital utilities like water,” said Conyers.

“When a city files for bankruptcy, its dedicated public employees - the policemen, firefighters, and workers who selflessly served their city for years - are at risk of having their hard-earned wages, pensions and health benefits reduced or even eliminated entirely. While the City of Detroit worked to limit the blow of bankruptcy-driven cuts to employee wages and retirees’ pensions, the financial security of Detroit’s public workers was placed in serious jeopardy, and the case set a potentially problematic precedent. Other cities facing these bankruptcy challenges may try to use current bankruptcy law to set aside collective bargaining agreements and worker protections. Today, I introduced the ‘Protecting Employees and Retirees in Municipal Bankruptcies Act of 2014’ to guard against this prospect, and provide guidelines on how to protect public employees in future bankruptcy cases. Specifically, my legislation requires a city to engage in meaningful, good faith negotiations with its employees and retirees before applying for chapter 9 bankruptcy relief, and ensures public employees and retirees have a say in any plan that would modify their benefits.

“In addition, I introduced legislation to defend the public’s right to utility services, and protect against unscrupulous demands from utility companies for water, gas and electricity. At times, individuals - through no fault of their own - struggle to pay for these services often in the face of devastating medical debt or job loss. Current law permits utility companies to force individuals going through bankruptcy, even if they are current on their bills, to pay hefty security deposits - typically two months or more of their average bill - in exchange for the utility continuing to supply service. I introduced the ‘Preventing Termination of Utility Services in Bankruptcy Act of 2014,’ to disallow this injustice. As water rates in some cities such as Detroit have skyrocketed in excess of 100% over the past decade, it is unconscionable to terminate a family’s access to such life-saving services that keeps the lights on, warms homes, and ensures families can bathe, hydrate and prepare meals.”

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Conyers: “Speaker Boehner’s Lawsuit Against President Obama is Unfounded & Unnecessary”

Lawsuit Simply Another Attempt to Undermine the Affordable Care Act’s Protections

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the U.S. House Rules Committee held a hearing on Speaker John Boehner’s resolution, “providing for authority to initiate litigation for actions by the President inconsistent with his duties under the Constitution of the United States.”  Specifically, House Republicans contend that President Obama overstepped his constitutional authority in delaying the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act through executive action. After the hearing concluded, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Members John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) delivered the following statement:

U.S Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Over the last several years, I have been disheartened by the priorities of my conservative colleagues - in the face of widespread unemployment and the lingering damage of the Great Recession - but Speaker Boehner’s lawsuit against President Obama marks a new low point in Congress. Simply put, Speaker Boehner’s lawsuit is little more than a taxpayer-funded, partisan ploy that most legal experts – and some conservative commentators – contend courts do not have the power to decide. Regrettably, this lawsuit is driven by two core motivations: to build on House Republicans’ efforts to further undermine the Affordable Care Act, and channel ultra-conservative Members’ energy into a frivolous lawsuit to avoid politically damaging talk of impeachment,” said Conyers.

“This lawsuit is particularly ironic, given Republicans propensity to rail against frivolous litigation. As the legal experts made abundantly clear today before the House Rules Committee, Congress has not suffered any injury that would allow them to have standing in a court of law. Further, this lawsuit would erode our system of checks and balances, while preventing President Obama from implementing a duly enacted legislative initiative - simply because of conservative opposition. Allowing flexibility in the implementation of a new program is neither unusual nor a constitutional violation; it is the reality of administering complex government programs and is part and parcel of the President’s duty to ‘take care’ that he ‘faithfully’ execute the laws.

“At a certain point we must say that enough is enough; it is long past time to discard the toxic rhetoric, end the partisan demagoguery, and recognize that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. The American people deserve more than a political circus from their elected officials.”
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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reps. Conyers, Wilson, Kaptur to Speak at National Jobs For All Coalition Forum - “Reaching Full Employment: A Strategy Discussion on Job Creation”, July 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM

(WASHINGTON) – Tomorrow - in Rayburn House Building Room 2226 the National Jobs For All Coalition will host a forum entitled “Reaching Full Employment: A Strategy Discussion on Job Creation” at 10:00 am- 12:30pm. Leading members of the Congressional Full Employment Caucus, including Rep. Conyers, Rep. Wilson, and Rep. Kaptur will be speaking at the forum. The event will focus on what national organizations and grassroots activists are doing to parallel efforts of Members of Congress to address the extended unemployment and underemployment crisis effecting millions of American.

This event will be moderated by Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, Chair of the National Jobs For All Coalition, and will feature Members of the Congressional Full Employment Caucus; Rev. Rodney S. Sadler, Jr. Ph.D, a leader in North Carolina’s MoralMonday Movement; Debby Szerdey, Executive Vice President of  the American Postal Workers Union; Josh Nassar, Legislative Director of the United Auto Workers; Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs; George H. Lambert, Jr., President & CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League; Professor Philip Harvey, Professor of Law & Economics at Rutgers School of Law; Kevin Bradshaw, President of the Bakery, Confectioners, Tobacco, Workers & Grain Millers Union, Local 252G; and Chris Horton, Worcester Unemployment Action Group.  

This meeting will kick off two days of dialogue among national and grassroots job creation advocates for the purpose of developing a coordinated national strategy for job creation. For further information about the Congressional Full Employment Caucus, or its members’ participation in this forum, please contact Erik Sperling (Conyers) at 202-225-5126 orerik.sperling@mail.house.gov or Jenny Perrino (Kaptur) at 202-225-4146 or jenny.perrino@mail.house.gov .

If you are unable to attend in person, the event will be live-streamed at  the following link: Jobs For All: Building a Movement for Full Employment .

“Reaching Full Employment: A Strategy Discussion on Job Creation”

Ø  Sponsor - The National Jobs for All Coalition and other nonprofit organizations
Ø  Moderator Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg – Chair, National Jobs For All Coalition

Ø  Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.)
Ø  Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.)
Ø  Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio)
Ø  Featuring Additional Members of the Congressional Full Employment Caucus

Ø  RevRodney S. Sadler, Jr. Ph.D. – Leader in NC Moral Monday Movement
Ø  Debby Szerdey – Executive Vice President, American Postal  Workers Union
Ø  Josh Nassar – Legislative Director, United Auto Workers
Ø  Deborah Weinstein – Executive Director, Coalition on Human Needs
Ø  George HLambert, Jr. – President & CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League
Ø  Philip Harvey – Professor of Law & Economics at Rutgers School of Law
Ø  Kevin Bradshaw – President, Bakery, Confectioners, Tobacco, Workers & Grain Millers Union, Local 252G
Ø  Chris Horton – Worcester Unemployment Action Group

TOMORROW - Wednesday – July  9th at 10:00 am- 12:30 pm
2226 Rayburn House Office Building
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Conyers Continues Campaign Against Water Shutoffs

Veteran Congressman Stands in Solidarity with Detroit Water Brigade & Shutoff Victims

(DETROIT) – As part of an ongoing effort to stop Detroit’s recent water shutoffs, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) today joined members of the Detroit Water Brigade for a news conference to highlight stories of those affected by the emergency and to call for urgent local, state, and federal action to bring the crisis to an end. Congressman Conyers applauded the Detroit Water Brigade, a volunteer-led citizens’ alliance, for its efforts to provide thousands of gallons of water to areas most affected by the shutoffs.

Over the past two weeks, Congressman Conyers has taken a series of actions, including: (1) calling on President Obama to make available some of the $200 million still apportioned for Michigan from the Hardest Hit Fund, a reserve made available for relief from impacts of the Great Recession, for water service relief, (2) requesting that US Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell formally designate the water crisis a public health emergency eligible for federal relief, and (3) directly urging an immediate end to the shutoffs by the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. 

Since March, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department has been threatening to cut off water service for up to 3,000 customers per week. Water rates have skyrocketed 119 percent over the past decade, leaving upwards of 90,000 low-income households in arrears and in danger of termination.

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Now is the time for action,” said Congressman Conyers.  “In the 21st Century, in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one should ever go without safe, clean water.  These steps are just the beginning.  We will ensure that this public health crisis is resolved and never repeated.”

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch added: “We applaud Representative Conyers for taking action to demand that water service is restored to all Detroit residents. When 45 percent of the city struggles to pay for water at home, it is clear that the problems go far beyond delinquent payments. It’s indicative of broader, systemic issues resulting from decades of policies that have culminated in profits before people. Governor Snyder should act to ensure that all residents have their water restored--access to safe, clean, affordable water is a human right.”
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Monday, July 7, 2014

Congressman John Conyers addresses Detroit water shutoffs

U.S. Congressman John Conyers said that water was a human right and the recent rash of shutoffs has led to an “emergency.” He pledged to make ending the shutoffs a top priority.
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