Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Conyers: GOP Needs to End Partisan Diversions and Get Back to Doing the Business of the American People


WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman John Conyers Jr. , Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made opening remarks at the full House Judiciary Committee legislative hearing on the “IRS Targeting Scandal: The Need for a Special Counsel.” Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Mr. Chairman, today is the last full working day before the August recess. 

“I am concerned, and deeply disappointed, by how we have chosen to spend it.

“Under federal regulations, and according to all available precedent, the appointment of special counsel is reserved for extraordinary circumstances—where a conflict of interest at the highest levels of government requires the Department of Justice to abandon its normal process of investigation and prosecution.

“Two separate congressional committees have sorted through more than half a million pages of documents, conducted 40 transcribed interviews, and held more than three-dozen hearings and markups to examine the criteria used by the IRS to screen applicants for tax-exempt status.

“The committees have not uncovered one shred of evidence to suggest that the involvement of senior officials at the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, or the White House.

“Without that evidence, calls for a special counsel are simply unwarranted.

“The Chairman has mentioned H. Res. 565, which demands that the Attorney General appoint special counsel in this matter.  Of course, as a matter of law, the Attorney General has absolute discretion to determine whether a special counsel is necessary.  Congress cannot compel him to do so.

“We might have explained this point had we maintained regular order, and discussed H. Res. 565 in this Committee prior to consideration on the House floor.

“What troubles me most about this resolution is its preamble: 8 pages of unsubstantiated claims, carefully tailored half-truths, and political innuendo.

“For example, the resolution references two anonymous sources in a January 13th Wall Street Journal article, who claim that the Department has concluded its investigation.  That claim ignores the testimony of both Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey, who assured this Committee that the investigation is ongoing.

“The resolution claims that the Department of Justice and the FBI “have refused to cooperate with congressional oversight.” 

“Of course, the Chairman knows that—under longstanding policy, applied consistently by Administrations of both parties—Congress is not entitled to materials related to an ongoing criminal investigation.  Otherwise, the Department’s attempt to accommodate our needs have been extraordinary.

“The resolution’s largest error is the same false premise underlying this hearing.  H. Res. 565 claims that the IRS “targeted conservative nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny in connection with applications for tax-exempt status.” 

“That is partly true.  But it is a deliberate half-truth, and one that leads to the wrong conclusion.

“The record is clear: overwhelmed with applications for tax-exempt status after the Citizens United decision, the IRS created a list of search terms in an attempt to sort legitimate applicants from mere political shells. 

“Those search terms applied across the political spectrum—to Tea Party groups, but also to groups with the words “progressive” and “Occupy” in their titles.  We all agree that this approach was poorly conceived, but not a single applicant was denied tax-exempt status because of it.

“The Majority knows that this is a case of bureaucratic ineptitude, and not so-called ‘political targeting.’ They only frame it as such because it is politically expedient to do so.

“This underscores my final point. Given the long list of urgent matters pending before us, this hearing is an unacceptable misuse of our time and resources.

“The 113th Congress has spent more than $18 million taxpayer dollars investigating the IRS.  The House has held more than three dozen hearings and markups on the topic.  We have already voted on the particular question of appointing special counsel.
           
“But we have held not one hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on comprehensive immigration reform.
“Not one hearing on legislation to update the Voting Rights Act.

“Not one hearing on much-needed reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.           

“Not one hearing on stemming the tide of gun violence in this country, a scourge that has claimed nearly 20,000 lives since this Congress began.

“Not one hearing on a range of local civil rights issues across the map: including police practices in New York, due process rights for minors at the Texas border, prison conditions in California, access to the ballot box in Florida, and access to drinking water and other basic utilities in Michigan.

“Any one of these topics would be appropriate for consideration today, our last full day of work before the break. 

“Instead, we will hold one more hearing—in the line of dozens of hearings—on a so-called “scandal” in which one office in the IRS bureaucracy denied zero applications for tax-exempt status.

“In terms of actually compelling the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel, this hearing stands about as much a chance of success as the Speaker’s woefully misguided lawsuit against the President.

“I hope that, after the break, cooler heads will prevail.  There is still time to correct this Committee’s priorities before the Congress ends. 

“I yield back.”

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BIPARTISAN COALITION OF HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MEMBERS INTRODUCE THE TRADE SECRETS PROTECTION ACT OF 2014


(WASHINGTON) – Today, a bipartisan coalition of six House Judiciary Committee members introduced, H.R. 5233, the “Trade Secrets Protection Act of 2014.”  The legislation creates a civil cause of action for companies to enforce their rights and safeguard trade secrets. 

The bipartisan coalition includes Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Rep. George Holding (R-NC), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Howard Coble (R-NC), and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH).  All are members of the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet.

Introduction of the “Trade Secrets Protection Act of 2014” follows a House Judiciary Committee hearing that established the need for a federal civil remedy for trade secret protection. The legislation is part of a bipartisan, bicameral legislative effort to amend the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. The bill will help create a federal civil cause of action for trade secret misappropriation within the Act’s definition of misappropriation and does not preempt state law.

Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers (D-MI): "Trade secrets are fundamental to the success of any business.  U.S. companies have struggled to protect trade secrets due to innovative technology.  To combat further economic damage of trade secret theft, my colleagues and I worked together to draft bipartisan legislation that will create a civil cause of action and allow companies to enforce their rights in federal court.”
Rep. George Holding (R-NC): “American businesses face relentless cyber security threats every day, costing our economy billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs each year. As a way to help create jobs, grow our economy and protect our businesses, I have introduced the Trade Secrets Protection Act of 2014. This bill will help supply American businesses, both large and small, with the tools needed to combat these destructive threats.”
Intellectual Property Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY): “The value of trade secrets to U.S. companies is matched only by their tremendous vulnerability to theft. Innovative technologies have made it easy to obtain information and transfer it across the globe with the click of a cell phone, tablet, or computer key. At the same time, U.S. companies are increasingly targeted for trade secret theft by competitors, with some foreign governments actively encouraging and facilitating the theft of U.S. trade secrets, In light of their value and vulnerability, it is essential that Congress provide robust protection for trade secrets and pass our bill.”
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH): “Trade secrets are extremely valuable and important to many American businesses, and, because they derive their value through their secrecy, trade secrets need strong protections to prevent their theft and disclosure,” said Chabot.  “Unfortunately, current law consists of a patchwork of federal and state provisions that are too often inadequate to prevent misappropriation of trade secrets, particularly in our ever-evolving digital world.  Our legislation will give American companies new tools to protect their trade secrets as well as seek damages when misappropriation occurs.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY): “American companies lose billions of dollars a year due to trade theft.  The FBI has worked diligently to address the threat presented to our economy, but additional tools are needed. The option of a federal civil cause of action is another arrow in the quiver to strike at the heart of trade secret theft. I am pleased to join with my Judiciary Committee colleagues today in co-sponsoring the Trade Secrets Protection Act of 2014.”

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HOUSE JUDICIARY DEMOCRATS LAUD SENATOR LEAHY’S INTRODUCTION OF THE USA FREEDOM ACT


(WASHINGTON) – Today, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a Senate version of H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, which ends domestic bulk collection and reforms the government’s surveillance of United States citizens.  On May 22, 2014, the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act by a vote of 302-121.  Senator Leahy’s version of the bill includes a new definition of “specific selection term” that addresses many of the concerns aimed at the House-passed compromise legislation.

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Senator Leahy’s introduction of the USA FREEDOM Act reinforces our commitment to protecting the civil liberties and rights of all Americans.  This critical legislation will end domestic bulk data collection and increase much-needed oversight of intelligence-gathering programs, while ensuring that our national security remains intact. Enactment of this legislation would constitute the first significant rollback of any aspect of government surveillance since passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The House passed its version of the bill in May. It is important that the Senate take the next step and pass this legislation without delay.”

Below are key provisions of H.R. 3361 as passed by the House of Representatives on May 22, 2014:

Prohibits Bulk Collection of Data: The bill protects Americans’ privacy by ending the bulk collection of Americans’ business records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, such as telephone and electronic communications records, among many others. The bill also prohibits bulk collection under other national security authorities.

New Process for Obtaining Call Records: The USA FREEDOM Act makes clear that the government cannot indiscriminately acquire Americans’ records and creates a new process for the collection of call detail records. Specifically, the bill requires that these call detail records can only be collected on an ongoing case-by-case basis after approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The FISC is authorized to allow up to two “hops.”

Protects Americans’ Privacy: The bill codifies current minimization procedures, requiring the government to minimize the acquisition and prohibit the retention and dissemination of information about Americans. Additionally, it prohibits the government from using unlawfully obtained information about Americans acquired outside the scope of court-approved procedures.

Ensures Robust Oversight of Intelligence-Gathering Programs: The bill increases oversight of our intelligence-gathering programs by providing for judicial review of minimization procedures for the production of business records.

Increases Transparency of Intelligence-Gathering Programs: The bill creates a panel of legal experts to help ensure the FISA court adequately considers privacy concerns and Constitutional rights of Americans and also requires the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to conduct a declassification review of each decision, order, or opinion of the FISA court that includes a significant construction or interpretation of the law. The bill requires the government to disclose the number of requests made for call detail records and requires the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to publicly report annually the number of FISA orders issued, modified, or denied by the FISC.

Allows American Tech Companies to Disclose FISA Orders: Last year’s national security leaks have also had a commercial and financial impact on American technology companies that have provided these records. They’ve experienced backlash from both American and foreign consumers and they’ve lost their competitive edge in the global marketplace. In January of this year, the Justice Department entered into a settlement with several companies to permit new ways to report data concerning requests for customer information under FISA. The USA FREEDOM Act builds upon this settlement, allowing tech companies to inform their American and foreign customers by publicly reporting national security requests.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Rep Conyers asks about overcriminalization and copyright penalties

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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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