Friday, May 27, 2016

Blumenauer, Conyers Lead Letter Urging EPA to Protect Pollinators & Further Examine Impacts of Pesticides on Pollinators


Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Washington, DC – Representatives Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) and John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) led 38 members of the U.S. House of Representatives in sending a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy expressing concerns regarding the agency’s assessment of the impacts of the widely used insecticide, imidacloprid, on pollinators. Imidacloprid is a type of neonicotinoid, a class of pesticides that has been linked to declining pollinator populations.

In January, EPA released its Preliminary Pollinator Assessment to Support the Registration Review of Imidacloprid, which found that imidacloprid does pose a risk to honey bees. This assessment, however, failed to address many important issues necessary to reversing pollinator losses. In their letter, the lawmakers call on EPA to further examine the impacts of imidacloprid and other neonicotinoids by evaluating: their impacts on native bee species; the risks of other stressors on honey bees in conjunction with exposure to pesticides; and the effects when multiple pesticides are used together.

“Since beekeepers began reporting massive bee die-offs more than a decade ago, the health of our nation’s honey bees and other pollinators has been a continuing source of concern,” the lawmakers wrote. “In order to meet the goals of reversing pollinator losses and restoring healthy populations laid out in this strategy, EPA must strengthen and improve the scope of its risk assessment of neonicotinoids.”

Continued decline in bee populations will have serious implications to American food production and the economy. Approximately one in three bites of food benefits from bee pollination. Pollinators provide $24 billion a year to the economy, $15 billion of which is contributed by honey bees. Many crops, including almonds, cranberries, and apples, rely almost entirely on bees and other pollinators.

Representatives Blumenauer and Conyers have long championed efforts to protect our pollinators. Last year, they reintroduced Saving America’s Pollinators Act, legislation that requires EPA to take swift action to prevent mass bee die-offs and protect the health of honey bees and other critical pollinators by suspending the use of neonicotinoids. It also requires the Secretary of the Interior, in coordination with the Administrator of the EPA, to monitor the health of native bee populations and to identify and publicly report the likely causes of bee kills.
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Reps. Grayson, Conyers Introduce Voter Restoration Act


~5.8 million Americans cannot vote because of felony convictions ~

WASHINGTON D.C.  – Today, Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL09) and Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) introduced H.R. 5352, the No One Can Take Away Your Right to Vote Act of 2016. This legislation will reinstate voting rights to Americans who have been shut out of the political process as a result of criminal convictions. Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) also signed onto the bill as an original co-sponsor.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Denying voting rights to ex-offenders robs them of the opportunity to fully participate and contribute to their society,” said Congressman John Conyers.  “In the past two election cycles, flawed voter purges have deprived thousands of legitimate voters of their rights.  To continue denying them the ability to reclaim rights as citizens resurrects historic unenlightened practices of our society. Just like poll taxes and literacy tests, it is long past time that these restrictions be relegated to unenlightened history.”

“It’s a bill about redemption, about giving second chances and about closure,” said Congressman Grayson. “We can’t have first-class citizens and second-class citizens in America. Under our Constitution everyone, even convicted felons, are entitled to equal protection under the law.”

This legislation will amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, by prohibiting states from disqualifying individuals convicted of criminal offenses from voting in federal and local elections, and from registering to vote, with the exception of those convicted of murder, manslaughter, or sex crimes. Nationwide, 5.8 million Americans cannot vote because of felony convictions.

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HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE REPUBLICANS STRIKE DOWN AMENDMENT TO PROTECT SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC & SEXUAL VIOLENCE FROM ONLINE ABUSE




Washington, D.C. - Yesterday, House Judiciary Committee Republicans voted against Congresswoman Judy Chu’s (D-CA) amendment to H.R. 5203, the so called Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016. Representative Chu’s amendment would have required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish safeguards to protect survivors of domestic abuse in the social media screening process. These safeguards are necessary to prevent abusers from manipulating their victims’ social media accounts or using social media to cause further harm that could deny victims the opportunity to obtain humanitarian immigration relief. The amendment failed on a party line vote of 14 to 8.

“The Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016 leaves domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking survivors at risk for having their visas denied and being made more vulnerable to their abusers,” said Congressman Conyers. “Rep. Chu’s amendment to the bill would have ensured they receive the protections they deserve against harassment during the immigration review process. I’m appalled that my Republican colleagues blatantly overlooked the needs of this vulnerable population.”

“This outrageous bill is just the latest example of how House Republicans are trying to turn hate speech into policy,” said Congresswoman Chu. “This legislation would effectively halt all legal immigration and specifically target applicants from Middle Eastern countries. Imagine fleeing violence for safety in the U.S. only to be turned away because you can’t afford a DNA test.  Not only does this bill fail to strengthen national security, it further victimizes survivors of domestic abuse. Under this bill, a visa can be denied solely on the basis of social media activity. However, it does nothing to deal with situations where an abuser may impersonate a victim with a new social media profile or hijack a victim’s existing social media profile to make salacious posts. That is why I introduced my amendment to require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish procedural safeguards to protect victims of domestic abuse prior to conducting social media screening in the immigration process. These safeguards are necessary to prevent abusers from manipulating their victim’s social media accounts or deny victims the opportunity to obtain the humanitarian immigration relief that they deserve. This threat is real and if not dealt with properly, deserving immigrants may be denied their visas, and worse, remain vulnerable to their abusers.”

Congresswoman Chu continued, “This was a reasonable measure that would protect those seeking safety in the United States, and I’m disappointed that my Republican colleagues are more interested in keeping any and all immigrants out of our country and not in creating an immigration system that works for us.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than one in four stalking victims reported suffering some form of cyberstalking.  The majority of these victims identified the online stalker as a former intimate partner. As it stands, the Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016 does not prevent abusers from impersonating a victim with a new social media profile or hijacking a victim’s existing social media profile. This behavior can negatively impact an individual’s chances during the immigration review process.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016 on a party line vote of 14 to 10. This Republican legislation would create multiple new onerous requirements that could ultimately impair an already broken U.S. immigration system. 

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Markup of H.R. 5203, the ‘‘Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016”


Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Strengthening the security of the immigration and visa issuance process is a critical issue for all Americans. 
As one who believes our Nation should be a beacon of freedom and liberty, I very much appreciate the need to effectively combat terrorism, while maintaining our commitment to core values.
Unfortunately, H.R. 5203, the “Visa Integrity and Security Act,” fails to honor those core values.
This failing can largely be attributed to the fact that the bill reflects absolutely no input from Democratic Members of the Committee. Nor has this measure been the subject of any legislative hearing. 
Bereft of informed testimony and expert analysis, we have essentially no information about the bill's potential costs, both fiscal and social.  Yet, even a superficial review of H.R 5203 reveals its many flaws. 
To begin with, the bill – without any exception for age or any other factor -- singles out every national of Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen by requiring that the Department of State complete individualized security opinions for visa applicants from these countries. 
As a result, vast amounts of agency time and resources would be dedicated to completing security advisory reports on, for example, infants, toddlers, and others who clearly pose no security risk.
An even more troublesome aspect of this provision is that it singles out a handful of majority Muslim countries thereby dehumanizing entire populations by treating all of their nationals as potential terrorists. 
Clearly, the more we dehumanize entire populations based on religion, the less likely they will become our allies against the real threat, namely, terrorists who seek to do our Nation harm.
History has shown that arbitrary across the board judgments based on broad characteristics, such as nationality, do nothing to enhance our security and only cast a cloud of suspicion over entire communities here in our country. 
Another critical flaw of this bill is the serious privacy concerns it presents.  Although H.R. 5203 mandates DNA testing for biological family-based immigrant applications, the bill has no provisions safeguarding this massive new database of DNA, that would include the DNA of potentially millions of non-criminals and American citizens.
Finally, this bill would require significant costs to implement, yet offers no comprehensive fix to our broken immigration system.
Just one provision of this bill -- the Visa Security Program -- would come at the cost of $120 million without meaningfully targeting law enforcement and intelligence resources on actual threats.
An immigration reform bill – such as the measure that passed the Senate in 2013 or the bill that had 201 House cosponsors in the last Congress – would allow law-abiding immigrants to come out of the shadows and get right with the law. 
Measures such as those it would make us safer by enabling law enforcement and intelligence agencies to focus resources on the most pressing cases.
Rather than rushing to consider legislation absolutely devoid of deliberative process, we should devote our efforts to developing meaningful and informed solutions.
Accordingly, I urge my colleagues to oppose H.R. 5203, and I yield back the balance of my time.

Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Hearing on “The Federal Government on Autopilot: Delegation of Regulatory Authority to an Unaccountable Bureaucracy” Before the Executive Overreach Task Force


Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Today’s hearing is the 32nd anti-regulatory hearing that we have had since the beginning of the 112th Congress. The anti-regulatory fervor of some in Congress is no doubt passionate and heartfelt.

But, as I have noted repeatedly during the 31 previous hearings we have had on this topic, regulation is vital to protecting everyday Americans from a myriad of harms. And, broad agency authority is crucial to ensuring a well-run regulatory system that promotes public health and safety, while providing certainty for business.

So as we consider our witnesses’ testimony, we should keep the following in mind.

To begin with, the broad delegation of authority by Congress to administrative agencies is constitutional. During our first Task Force hearing, we heard testimony from some witnesses that called into constitutional doubt the entire notion of Congress delegating authority to an Executive Branch agency.

It is true that the Constitution provides that all legislative power is vested in the Congress and that Congress cannot completely delegate this power.

The Supreme Court, however, has recognized that the Constitution does not prevent Congress from obtaining the assistance of the other branches of government.

In fact, as the Court noted in Mistretta v. United States, its decisions in this area have “been driven by a practical understanding that, in our increasingly complex society, replete with ever-changing and more technical problems, Congress simply cannot do its job absent an ability to delegate power under broad general directives.”

That recognition, in turn, highlights the central role of regulation and of administrative agencies in addressing a broad spectrum of harms in our modern society.

Without question, regulations provide critical protections, such as ensuring the safety of the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the cars we drive, and the places where we work. These matters require highly technical expertise and sometimes years of study in order to address.

After all, how many House Members have the knowledge and time to determine exactly how many parts per million of carbon monoxide would be acceptable to ensure safe air to breathe?

How many Senators are equipped to determine the proper amount of air pressure that is necessary to ensure that a train’s braking system works properly? I would guess that the answer is “not too many.”

Finally, Congress already has at its disposal a number of tools to ensure due process and democratic accountability with respect to agency actions.

Most obviously, Congress can always rescind or limit the scope of delegation if it so chooses. Congress also has the power of the purse to limit an agency’s power or its ability to implement a rule.

The fact that congressional opponents of regulation often lack the political support to do these things does not mean that checks do not exist.
           
With these points in mind, I look forward to our witnesses’ testimony.

Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Hearing on “Examining the Allegations of Misconduct Against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, Part I”


In the history of the Republic, the House of Representatives has voted to impeach a federal official only 19 times. I served on this Committee to consider six of those 19 resolutions.  I voted in favor of five of them.  And I helped to draft articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon—and joined with 20 Democrats and six Republicans—to send three of those articles to the House floor. The lessons I draw from these experiences are hard earned.

To begin with, the power of impeachment is a solemn responsibility—entrusted to the House of Representatives by the Constitution, and to this Committee by our peers.  The formal impeachment process is not to be joined lightly.  We do not rush into impeachment for short term political gain.

Second, before we can approve any resolution of impeachment, it is our responsibility to prove the underlying allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Once the House authorizes us to do so, we must carefully and independently review the evidence—even if it has already been analyzed by our colleagues on other committees.  And we can only address allegations that are actually supported by the record.  We cannot infer wrongdoing from the facts.  We have to prove it.

Finally, a successful impeachment process must transcend party lines. The Framers knew this.  Article I of the Constitution requires two-thirds of the Senate to convict on each article of impeachment.

The public knows this too.  When this Committee comes together and decides unanimously to remove a federal officer, our constituents know that we take the job seriously. 

When a vote for impeachment is divided on party lines—as it was on one occasion in my service to this Committee—we undermine our credibility and make it all but impossible to secure conviction in the Senate.

Mr. Chairman, we are here today because a small group of members wants us to take up H. Res. 494, a resolution to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. This resolution fails by every measure.  It arises from the worst partisan instincts.  It is not based in the facts.  And it has virtually no chance of success in the Senate.

Commissioner Koskinen is a good and decent civil servant.  He took office months after the so-called “targeting scandal” had concluded.  He then undertook a massive effort to respond to each of the investigations into the matter.

We are here today to consider the allegation that the Commissioner deliberately misled Congress as part of those efforts. The claim is not that we disagree with his decisions, or that we question the speed and completeness with which his agency provided answers—but that he knowingly and intentionally supplied us with false information.

Mr. Chairman, the record simply does not support this charge.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration investigated these allegations.  He concluded: “No evidence was uncovered that any IRS employees had been directed to destroy or hide information from Congress, the DOJ, or the Inspector General.”

In addition, career investigators at the Department of Justice also looked into these claims. They also found “no evidence that any official involved in the handling of the tax-exempt applications or IRS leadership attempted to obstruct justice.” It is no wonder, then, that we have read reports of Speaker Ryan doing his best to make certain this measure never reaches the floor of the House—as Speaker Boehner did before him. It is also not a surprise that many in the Republican conference have been critical of the strong-arm tactics that forced this hearing.

Representative Boustany, Chairman for the Subcommittee on Tax Policy, has argued that this hearing is a waste of time and potentially damaging to our priorities.  He told reporters last week: “If we do this, it’s going to further delay the investigation.  I think it’s time to move on.” Senator Orrin Hatch, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has said that there is simply no interest in impeachment in the Senate—where a two-thirds vote would be required for conviction. When asked about Commissioner Koskinen, Senator Hatch said: “We have a very different experience with him.  We can have our disagreements with him, but that doesn’t mean that there’s an impeachable offense.”  He added: “[F]or the most part, he’s been very cooperative with us.”

To summarize, Mr. Chairman: the proposed articles of impeachment have been debunked by independent investigators.  The resolution faces stiff, bipartisan opposition in the House, and even worse odds in the Senate. There are precious few working days left in this Congress, Mr. Chairman.  I am disappointed that we plan to spend, not just today, but an additional day in June discussing these unsubstantiated claims.

If at all possible, Mr. Chairman, please consider returning that second day to the substantive work of this Committee.  In any event, I urge you to lead us past this distraction quickly, and back to work of some actual benefit to the American people. I yield back the balance of my time.    

Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Saturday, May 21, 2016

CONYERS, Kildee & Lawrence Urge Governor Snyder To Ensure Local Taxpayers Don't Foot The Bill For Emergency Managers' Mistakes


Washington, D.C. – Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, today led a letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, urging him to strongly reconsider requirements that local governments operating under Emergency Management, pay the legal fees and judgements against their Emergency Managers.  In addition to Congressman John Conyers, Jr., the letter to Governor Snyder is signed by Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-5) and Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (MI-14). 

Currently, Michigan’s Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, MCL § 141.1560, requires local governments to cover the costs associated with appointed emergency managers who are sued in that capacity. However, legal fees incurred during Congressional investigations by former Emergency Manager for Detroit Public Schools and the City of Flint, Darnell Earley, have been voluntarily paid by the state. Congressman Conyers, Congressman Kildee, and Congresswoman Lawrence are calling on Governor Snyder to ensure all of Earley’s legal fees are covered by the state, not local taxpayers; and to ensure local governments are not required to pay legal fees associated with emergency managers’ mistakes.

“The exception made in the case of Darnell Earley, should be the rule moving forward,” said Congressman Conyers. “Local taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for mistakes made by state appointed officials who they didn’t elect. Governor Snyder must ensure the burden of legal fees incurred by emergency managers falls on the state, not local governments.”

“Michigan families should not have to pay the legal bills for state-appointed emergency financial managers. Unelected emergency financial managers are accountable only to the Governor and the state should have to pay for their mistakes,” Congressman Kildee 
Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
said.

“I find it unreasonable to place the burden of legal fees incurred by emergency managers on local taxpayers,” said Congresswoman Lawrence. “Michiganders should not be on the hook for the mistakes of the Governor’s appointed emergency managers. The State’s emergency manager law disenfranchises voters and takes away local control. Local taxpayers should not be required to foot the bill of fraud and abuse committed by Snyder’s appointees. The State should absorb the financial burden imposed by such crimes and Governor Snyder should ensure that taxpayers are protected from the misuse of their hard earned dollars.”

In their letter, the Members wrote, “…we find it deeply troubling that the former Emergency Manager of the Detroit Public Schools and the City of Flint, Darnell Earley, requested that Flint reimburse more than $75,000 in legal fees that he incurred while under investigation by Congress regarding his role in causing the City’s water crisis…By diverting local taxes from crucial priorities to pay for unelected officials’ legal fees representation and damages, this law places a burden on local taxpayers even as it removes their control of that burden.”

“Further, it would appear to frustrate several federal statutes designed to protect the civil and constitutional rights of our citizens.  And, it permits the State of Michigan to shift responsibility for its actions to localities by dipping into the local taxpayers’ pocketbooks, even in cases where those taxpayers are injured by an Emergency Manager’s conduct…,” the Members continued.

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CONYERS Sensenbrenner, Goodlatte, Jackson Lee, Walberg, Roskam Unveil Bill to Protect Americans’ Property Rights


Civil asset forfeiture reform is part of the House Judiciary Committee’s criminal justice reform initiative

Washington, D.C. – As part of the House Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative, Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Representative Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), and Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) today introduced bipartisan legislation to protect Americans’ property rights through civil asset forfeiture reform. 

In order to strengthen protections for Americans’ property, H.R. 5283, the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act of 2016 (Due Process Act),provides much needed reforms to federal civil asset forfeiture programs, increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeitures, and strengthens protections for Americans whose property has been seized by law enforcement agencies.

Ranking Member Conyers, Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner, Chairman Goodlatte, and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackson Lee praised the introduction of the Due Process Act in the statements below.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member Conyers: “It has increasingly become apparent that the procedures in federal law governing civil forfeiture are inadequate and unfair, and therefore I am proud to cosponsor the Due Process Act.  We must change federal law so that the burden is on the government to prove that a property owner is not innocent, to raise the burden of proof, to afford initial hearings to property owners to determine whether a seizure is legal or would pose an undue hardship, and to make other improvements consistent with due process. There will be more to consider in the future, but this bill is a significant step toward rebalancing the scales with regard to a process that is too-often abused.” 

Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner: “Forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime, but it is also vulnerable to abuse. The Due Process Act, among other things, will increase transparency and add protections for innocent property owners, including the opportunity to contest seizures and regain illegally seized property immediately. Reform to the current federal forfeiture laws is necessary to curb abuse, restore confidence in law enforcement, and help citizens protect their property rights.”

Chairman Goodlatte: “In recent years, there have been several incidents in which innocent Americans have had their property or money improperly seized by law enforcement. While asset forfeiture is a useful law enforcement tool, abuses of it clearly show that reform is needed now to better protect Americans from having their property wrongfully seized.

“The Due Process Act rightfully reforms civil asset forfeiture to prevent incentives to wrongly seize Americans’ property. The bipartisan bill also strengthens protections for Americans who have had their property confiscated by law enforcement and increases the accountability and transparency of this law enforcement tool. I look forward to taking this bill up in Committee soon and thank the many members, including Representatives Sensenbrenner and Walberg, who have worked on and championed this important issue.” 

Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackson Lee: “I am pleased to join with the Crime Subcommittee Chairman, Jim Sensenbrenner, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, and our Committee’s Ranking Member, John Conyers, Jr., in introducing bipartisan legislation to reform our federal civil forfeiture laws.  We must make important changes to the procedures and standards that determine when the government may take property from those not charged with a crime.  For instance, it is critical that we give greater opportunity to innocent property owners to successfully challenge unwarranted forfeiture and the burden should not be on them to prove their innocence.”

Key Components of the Due Process Act:

Reforms federal civil asset forfeiture programs
·         Enhances procedural protections of forfeiture proceedings in both civil and administrative settings and prevents government overreach
·         Increases the government’s burden of proof in civil asset forfeiture cases to help protect innocent victims

Strengthens protections for claimants
·         Creates a right to counsel for Americans in all civil asset forfeiture proceedings
·         Provides that a claimant may recover attorney’s fees in victorious cases against a government forfeiture
·         Speeds up the process for the government to notify the property owner of a seizure
·         Expands protections to innocent owners by requiring the government to prove the connection between the property and the offense and that the property was used intentionally in order to seize it

Increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeitures
·         Requires the Inspector General to conduct a yearly audit on a representative sample of federal civil forfeitures to ensure they are being conducted within the letter and spirit of the law
·         Requires the creation of two federal databases on forfeitures in order to make information more readily available to the public, including a catalog of federal forfeitures to assist those whose property has been seized and to provide broad details on the types of forfeiture, agencies involved, and the conduct that lead to forfeited property

Original cosponsors of the bill are Representatives Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), David Trott (R-Mich.), Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), and Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
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