Saturday, March 31, 2012

Conyers: Proposed Consent Agreement Inconsistent With Our Values

(DETROIT) – Today, Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) released the following statement in response to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s new proposed consent agreement between the State of Michigan and the City of Detroit.  Last week, Representatives Conyers, Hansen Clarke, and Gary Peters sent a letter to Governor Snyder requesting his administration to explain its position and to provide documentation detailing the reasoning behind its position on several key legal provisions currently being considered as part of a proposed consent agreement between the state and the City of Detroit.  The letter requested the Snyder Administration to provide a response prior to taking any further legal action concerning the matters discussed in the letter.  The Governor’s office has yet to respond to the request.

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
                “I appreciate efforts to find common ground in terms of resolving Detroit’s financial crisis, but cannot support any approach which does not create a true and viable partnership between the State and its most important city,” said Rep. Conyers.  “I remain concerned that the State is forcing the City into a one-sided consent agreement that violates our values and principals and does not adequately respond to Detroit’s financial problems or lack of adequate services.  Based on the latest draft and reports, I would note the following initial concerns:

1.            No Response from Governor to Congressional Inquiries – On March 22, Hansen Clarke, Gary Peters and I wrote the Governor asking for important oversight information concerning voting rights act issues, collective bargaining rights, the Open Meetings Act, the impact of certification of the voter referendum on the EM law;  and the State’s ability to appropriately oversee emergency managers and consent agreements.  I would have hoped that with the State pressing for an agreement, they would have responded to our letter, but as of yet we have received nothing.

2.            Ignoring Voters’ Will – Thirty days after the more than 226,00 voters filed petitions on seeking a vote on the Emergency Manager Law in November, the Snyder Administration has not fully reviewed or certified the petitions.  If certified, this will suspend the EM Law.  The State should expeditiously review the petitions before forcing a one-sided consent decree on the City.

3.            Lack of Specific State Assistance – Although the proposed consent agreement provides for various forms of “technical assistance” and promised facilitation of refinancing, days away from a possible cash shortfall, we have yet to see any firm or tangible financial commitments from the State.  Even these incredibly modest suggestions are subject to further agreement by Lansing and the proposed consent agreement contains no enforcement mechanism for these provisions.  This is in contrast to the situation in virtually every other major city facing financial crisis, including New York City, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.  Given the more than $200 million in unmet revenue sharing promises, this is a glaring and harmful omission.

4.            Attack on Collective Bargaining Rights – The proposed Consent Agreement continues the Snyder Administration’s unlawful and unfair attempt to end collective bargaining rights for municipal employees.  Instead of allowing the City and its unions to negotiate in good faith, as they have done thus far, the proposed consent agreement continues to ask only one stakeholder – the unions – to reopen negotiations to make further sacrifice and to jettison their pension rights, their right to seek safe workplaces and to protect against outsourcing of public services, among other things.

5.            Preventing Outside Parties from Protecting Their Legal Rights in Court – Although the latest permutation of the consent agreement no longer contains the specific punitive actions that prior version did, section 6.1 of the draft continues to unfairly treat the City as being in possible default for actions by union employees, potentially including lawsuits challenging the EM Law or any consent agreement.”   

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Republicans argue detention reforms coddle criminals

Republicans argue detention reforms coddle criminals

Democrats say the serious issue of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ensuring detainees' safety and health is being belittled.

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress mocked the Obama administration's plans to improve conditions for immigrants held in county jails and detention facilities Wednesday, saying that a raft of reforms written byU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement amounts to coddling lawbreakers.

U.S. Judiciary Chairmen John Conyers, Jr. and Lamar Smith
In a hearing titled "Holiday on ICE," Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, took aim at recent administrative changes designed to improve medical care for detainees, reduce incidents of sexual abuse, and increase access to safe water and outdoor recreation, among other reforms.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement made the changes after coming under fire from news reports, human rights groups and internal investigations for putting immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes in detention facilities plagued by sexual assaults and inadequate medical care.

Democrats on the committee took aim at the sarcastic title of the hearing, saying it belittled the serious issue of the agency's poor track record of ensuring the safety and health of detainees in custody. To help make that point, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) displayed graphic photographs depicting immigrants with fatal wounds and medical conditions that went untreated in detention facilities.

The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee,John Conyers Jr.of Michigan, had asked Smith to reconsider the title of the hearing. "I hope we can agree that the manner in which we treat immigrants in our detention facilities is not a laughing matter," Conyers wrote in a letter sent Tuesday.

Smith was undeterred.

"ICE has decided to upgrade accommodations for detained illegal and criminal immigrants," he said during the opening minutes of the hearing. "While we would all like to be upgraded, we don't have the luxury of billing the American taxpayers or making federal law enforcement agents our concierge."

"Detention is no holiday," said Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Assn., who attended the hearing. "I think they should be embarrassed to describe people who are deprived of their liberty as if they were on vacation."

There are about 33,000 immigrants and asylum-seekers held in local and county jails and other detention facilities across the country, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Many are waiting for an immigration judge to decide whether they will be deported. The numbers have surged dramatically from the mid-1990s, when the average daily population of immigration detainees hovered about 7,500.

The increased detainee population is in part a result of an aggressive enforcement effort by the Obama administration. Last year, 396,906 people were deported, a record number for the third consecutive year.

"I would like to be clear that no member is against the humane treatment of detainees," said Rep.Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley). However, Gallegly portrayed the 400 pages of new detention standards made public in February as part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to put the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of American citizens and taxpayers.

The best way to help immigration detainees is to deport them more quickly, Gallegly said, "not to roll out the welcome mat at a posh detention facility."

John Conyers' Letter to Chairman Smith Re Title of ICE Hearing, March 27, 2012

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Michigan Governor Sees Hope for a Deal With Detroi

DETROIT — With time running out on this city’s dismal finances and tensions bubbling over, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan said Monday that he was hopeful a deal could still be worked out in the next few days to avoid appointing an outside emergency manager to run Detroit.

A loud, defiant crowd shouted and chanted lines like “No takeover!” during a meeting on Monday of a team appointed by the state to study the city’s financial circumstances, making it nearly impossible to hear the team’s somewhat unsurprising conclusions: that Detroit, Michigan’s most populous city, is in severe financial stress and that, so far, no plan has been adopted to fix it.
Representatives from the state and the city have been meeting around the clock in recent days and were expected to continue doing so on Tuesday. Though the most extreme option for handling the city’s financial distress — bringing in an outside manager — has been taken in other smaller Michigan cities, it is clear that no one, not even the state-appointed review team, wants to make that unpopular, symbolically fraught choice, even as city coffers are set to run out of money soon.
“I think we are on a path to see some real results here,” Mr. Snyder, a Republican, said Monday of the talks between state and city representatives. “My preference has always been to say let’s come up with some mutual agreement. I don’t want an emergency manager.” At another point, Mr. Snyder said, “My role is not to run the City of Detroit.”
But an agreement of some sort between the state and the city would require compromise — and fast. Under a controversial state statute that allows emergency managers broad powers over financially troubled cities, Mr. Snyder has 10 days to decide whether to approve such a deal with Detroit or call in an emergency manager.
Up until now, representatives of the city and the state have not even agreed on what such a deal should be called. The state suggested a “consent agreement” that would create a board to approve Detroit’s budgets, the sale of its assets and any changes to city contracts, including those of unionized workers. Detroit officials balked at the plan, then offered their own “financial stability agreement,” which they are not discussing publicly.
Complicating matters, Mayor Dave Bing of Detroit is in a hospital, recuperating from surgery on Saturday to repair a perforation of his intestines. He is expected to be released within days, and officials said aides were negotiating with the state on his behalf.
Late Monday, city officials, like the governor, sounded optimistic. “Our goal is to have an agreement by the end of the week,” said a statement from Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis and Charles Pugh, the City Council president. “As Governor Snyder and Mayor Bing have previously stated, they do not want an emergency manager in Detroit, and neither do the citizens and elected officials in the City of Detroit.”

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lobbyists, Guns and Money

This New York Times opinion was submitted as testimony in the death of  Trayvon Martin in the Judiciary Forum on Racial Profiling, Federal Hate Crimes Enforcement and
“Stand Your Ground” Laws: Protecting a “Suspect” Community. March 26, 2012

Lobbyists, Guns and Money

Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy — and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Paul Krugman

Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.
What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.
Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.
What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.
And in case you were wondering, no, the kind of privatization ALEC promotes isn’t in the public interest; instead of success stories, what we’re getting is a series of scandals. Private charter schools, for example, appear to deliver a lot of profits but little in the way of educational achievement.
But where does the encouragement of vigilante (in)justice fit into this picture? In part it’s the same old story — the long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda. It’s neither an accident nor a surprise that the National Rifle Association and ALEC have been close allies all along.
And ALEC, even more than other movement-conservative organizations, is clearly playing a long game. Its legislative templates aren’t just about generating immediate benefits to the organization’s corporate sponsors; they’re about creating a political climate that will favor even more corporation-friendly legislation in the future.
Did I mention that ALEC has played a key role in promoting bills that make it hard for the poor and ethnic minorities to vote?
Yet that’s not all; you have to think about the interests of the penal-industrial complex — prison operators, bail-bond companies and more. (The American Bail Coalition has publicly described ALEC as its “life preserver.”) This complex has a financial stake in anything that sends more people into the courts and the prisons, whether it’s exaggerated fear of racial minorities or Arizona’s draconian immigration law, a law that followed an ALEC template almost verbatim.
Think about that: we seem to be turning into a country where crony capitalism doesn’t just waste taxpayer money but warps criminal justice, in which growing incarceration reflects not the need to protect law-abiding citizens but the profits corporations can reap from a larger prison population.
Now, ALEC isn’t single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause. But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters — a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda — is one good way to highlight what’s going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back

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Association of Prosecuting Attorneys Statement For Trayvon Martin Judiciary Hearing, March 26, 2012

Association of Prosecuting Attorneys Statement on Legislative Expansion of the Castle Doctrine. March 26, 2012
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Join Us for a Forum on Racial Profiling, Federal Hate Crimes Enforcement and “Stand Your Ground” Laws: Protecting a “Suspect” Community

Please join us for a forum on the Federal hate crimes enforcement authority and
racial profiling and “Stand Your Ground” laws on Tuesday, March 27, in Rayburn House
Office Building Room 2237, from 3 PM – 5 PM.  

Please note:  this is not a formal hearing and will not be broadcast on the Judiciary website.  Video will be posted as soon as available.
Join Us for a Forum on Racial Profiling, Federal Hate Crimes Enforcement and “Stand Your Ground” Laws: Pr...

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Fighting to Control the Meaning of ‘Obamacare’

On Monday, the Supreme Court will begin three days of arguments over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The act is often called “Obamacare,” primarily by Republicans, as a term of disdain. Democrats have tried to limit the term’s use to reshape perceptions, but that has been a tough sell. Grant Barrett, a vice president for the American Dialect Society, says it is almost impossible to persuade people to discontinue the use of a political word. “It’s an invitation to have your heart broken. You forbid it, and they start writing it on the bathroom stalls.” Now Democrats seem to be embracing the term, launching a Twitter campaign that seeks to build positive associations for it.

Fox News
MARCH Number of times “Obamacare” has been used from March 1 to 23, according to transcripts kept by ShadowTV.
JUNE 12 The Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty uses “Obamneycare” to link the plan to one Mr. Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts.
Number of times “Obamacare” was used each month by members of Congress as recorded in the Congressional Record.
Uses of “Obamacare” in debates, television interviews and major speeches from May 1, 2011, to March 11, 2012, (or until a candidate dropped out), as transcribed by Federal News Service.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL Republican candidates use “Obamacare” to fire up the base, promising to repeal the law.
JAN. 7 Representative Steve King of Iowa uses “Obamacare” more than 60 times in a speech. In the Congressional Record, Mr. King has used the word nearly five times as often as any other lawmaker.
JULY 8 Quoting an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, Roy Blunt of Missouri, then a congressman, and Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona enter the word into the Congressional Record for the first time.
MAY At a campaign speech in Iowa, Mitt Romney criticizes Democratic health care plans, saying, “The path of Europe is not the way to go. Socialized medicine. Hillarycare. Obamacare.”
APRIL 30 A spokesman for FreedomWorks, a group affiliated with the Tea Party movement, writes on the group’s blog: “Barack Obama is busy promoting his own version of HillaryCare. You can call it ObamaCare.”
FEB. 11 Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan says that while opponents use “Obamacare” in a derogatory sense, he also uses it because “it’s going to go down in history as a major accomplishment of the President’s.”

MARCH 23 The Obama campaign posts on Twitter, “If you’re proud of Obamacare and tired of the other side using it as a dirty word, complete this sentence: #ILikeObamacare because ...”
OCTOBER Democrats object to the use of the term “Obamacare” in mailings paid for with Congressional funds, saying that it violates a rule against using the mailings for political reasons.
FEB. 18 Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida argues against the use of “Obamacare” on the House floor. “It is meant as a disparaging reference to the president of the United States, and it is clearly in violation of the House rules against that.”
AUG. 15 Mr. Obama uses the word in a speech, adding, “I have no problem with people saying ‘Obama cares.’ I do care. If the other side wants to be the folks who don’t care? That’s fine with me.”

DECEMBER The Department of Health and Human Services buys advertising on Google so that a link to its web site,, appears at the top of searches for “Obamacare.” An official tells Politico that this is part of an effort to “get accurate information to people about the new law.”
MARCH Jeanne Schulte Scott, a lobbyist, writes in the journal Healthcare Financial Management: “We will soon see a ‘Giuliani-care’ and ‘Obama-care’ to go along with ‘McCain-care,’ ‘Edwards-care,’ and a totally revamped and remodeled ‘Hillary-care’ from the 1990s.”
MARCH 23 Mr. Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

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Trayvon Martin killing puts Sanford, Florida on edge

Trayvon Martin killing puts Sanford, Florida on edge

(Bloomberg) -- This isn’t the Florida retirement Becky Drumheller imagined back home in Pennsylvania.

She and her husband arrived March 24 in Sanford, a city about 20 miles north of Orlando consumed by the killing of Trayvon Martin, a black, unarmed 17-year-old Miami Gardens resident who was shot Feb. 26 in his father’s gated community by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman, whose mother is Hispanic and father is white, has claimed self- defense and has not been arrested, a decision that has prompted rallies across the nation, and that residents say has fractured this city of 54,000.

“There is so much negativity,” Drumheller, 63, said as a driver honked and motioned her out of the way in a shopping-mall parking lot. “It’s overwhelming.”

The Sanford City Council will hold a special meeting this afternoon at which Martin’s parents are expected to speak. In addition to the 1,200 seats at the Civic Center, where the meeting will be held, an overflow viewing area with a video screen has been set up at a nearby park.

Martin’s parents will lead an eight-block march to the Civic Center.

“The events that have recently occurred here in the city of Sanford have certainly taken a toll on everyone,” acting police Chief Darren Scott said at a news conference. Scott was appointed to the position today by City Manager Norton Bonaparte after former Chief Bill Lee stepped aside last week.

Florida to Washington

The U.S. Justice Department last week opened a civil rights inquiry into the incident. Fourteen Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking that as part of it he “explore the applicability” of the federal hate-crime statute and other federal laws.

Tomorrow, Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee will hold an unofficial hearing on Capitol Hill seeking to bring attention to the Justice Department probe of the shooting.

The forum starts at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Matt Morgan, a spokesman for Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the panel, said in an e-mail today. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, will testify, said Ryan Julison, a family spokesman.

Force Meets Force

The Congressional Black Caucus, which has been calling for formal hearings to probe the shooting, will hold briefings this week to “raise the level of awareness around the country about hate crimes and racial profiling,” Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat and former caucus chairwoman, said today in a statement.

Representative Xavier Becerra of California, a member of the Democratic leadership, said it was “incomprehensible” how long it took for Florida leaders to act after the shooting.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson, the civil rights activist, has advocated a voter-registration drive with the aim of electing officials who would repeal Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Local officials said the law, which relieves a citizen of responsibility to retreat when he feels threatened in a public place and gives him the right to “meet force with force,” prevented them from making an arrest after Zimmerman killed Martin. The teenager was walking to his father’s home after buying Skittles candy and an iced tea from a convenience store.

Suspended From School

The Orlando Sentinel, citing “authorities” whom it didn’t name, reported today that Martin attacked Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk. That matches the account that Zimmerman gave police and was corroborated by eyewitnesses, the newspaper reported.

Julison, the Martin family spokesman, said today that the teenager was in Sanford because he was suspended from school last month for having a baggie that contained marijuana residue in his book bag. The family believes the suspension had nothing to do with the killing, he said.

Scott today urged patience for residents who want a “quick and positive resolution in this tragic event.”

“We do have a system in place, a legal system,” he said. “It may not be perfect, but it’s the only one we have.”

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Conyers Marks Anniversary of Historic Health Care Reform Law’s Passage

John Conyers,Jr.
Two years later, Data Shows the Affordable Care Act is Benefiting the People of Michigan’s 14th Congressional District
(DETROIT) – Today, Representative John Conyers, Jr. (M-14) marked the Affordable Care Act’s two-year anniversary by announcing results of a new analysis that shows that thousands of people in Michigan’s 14thCongressional  District are already benefiting from the health care reform law.   The analysis prepared by the Minority staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee provides estimates by congressional district of the number of people benefiting from the new law.      

“Two years ago today, President Obama signed the historic Affordable Care Act into law to the benefit of hundreds of thousands of people here in the 14th Congressional District and millions of Americans across the country,” said Conyers.  “Whether you are parent of a young child with a pre-existing condition, a young adult starting out on your own, or a senior citizen living on a fixed income, data shows the Affordable Care Act has already begun providing critical benefits. 

“Conservative lawmakers want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and put insurance companies back in charge.  As a result, millions of Americans will face higher costs and reduced benefits.   I will continue to fight the Republican Majority’s efforts to repeal this historic piece of legislation that puts Americans’ health care needs ahead of corporate bottom lines.”

“And as the Affordable Care Act continues to be implemented, the term ‘Obamacare’ will continue to grow as a rallying cry for those who proudly supported President Obama’s historic actions in securing meaningful health care reform to the benefit of all Americans.”  
The new analysis shows that the new health care law has already provided:

·         Protection for 290,000 individuals in the 14th Congressional District from arbitrarily being dropped from coverage if they get sick.  The new health care law prohibits insurers from arbitrarily rescinding an individual’s coverage because they become ill.  Because of this provision, 290,000 individuals in the 14thCongressional District are now protected from these rescissions. 

·         Elimination of the lifetime limits on their health care coverage for 140,000 individuals in the 14thCongressional District. The new health care law prohibits insurers from placing a lifetime limit on coverage.  It is estimated that 140,000 individuals in the 14th  Congressional District had lifetime limits on their coverage before health reform, and now no longer do.  In the past, in some cases, lifetime limits on coverage have forced some families to declare personal bankruptcy.

·         Coverage for 3,300 additional young adults in the 14th Congressional District.  The new health care law requires health insurers to permit parents to retain coverage for their children until their 26th birthday.  Because of this provision, 3,300 young adults in the  14th Congressional District have already gained health care coverage.

·         Lower drug costs for 2,500 seniors in the 14th Congressional District.  The new health care law provides a 50 percent discount for brand-name drugs for seniors in the Medicare Part D “donut hole” coverage gap.   Because of this provision, 2,500 seniors in the 14th Congressional District have already received prescription drug discounts worth $1.5 million, an average discount of $580 per senior.

·         Free key preventive services for 58,000 seniors in the 14th Congressional District.  The new health care law provides free Medicare coverage of key preventive services, such as mammograms,
colonoscopies, and annual wellness visits. 

·         Free key preventive services for 80,000 individuals under age 65 in the 14th Congressional District.  The new health care law also provides, for those enrolled in new private plans, free coverage of key preventive services.  Because of this provision, 80,000 individuals under age 65 in the 14th Congressional District have already received free preventive services, such as mammograms and check-ups.

·         Protection for up to 38,000 children with pre-existing conditions in the 14th Congressional District.  The new health care law prohibits insurers from denying coverage to children for having a “pre-existing” condition.  Because of this provision, up to 38,000 children with pre-existing conditions in the 14thCongressional District are now protected against insurer denials.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

House Judiciary Democrats Encourage Department of Justice to Review Trayvon Martin Shooting Under Federal Hate Crime Laws

U.S. Democratic House Judiciary Letter to Attorney General requesting investigation of hate crime in the murder of Trayvon Martin.
Chairman Conyers' Judiciary Letter to Holder Re Trayvon Martin March 22, 2012

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Conyers Letter to Snyder Requesting Position On Detroit Consent Agreement

U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr. and
Michigan Govwernor Rick Snyder on U.S. Judiciary floor

Letter from Representatives John Conyers, Jr., Hansen Clarke, and Gary Peters requesting Governor Snyder to explain his administration’s position and to provide documentation detailing the reasoning behind their position on several key legal provisions currently being considered as part of a proposed consent agreement between the state and the City of Detroit.  The letter requests the Snyder Administration to provide a response prior to taking any further legal action concerning the matters discussed in the letter.  

U.S. Representative Conyers' Letter to Snyder Re Proposed Consent Agreement,March 12, 2012Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Monday, March 19, 2012

House Passes Chabot-Conyers Bill Encouraging Foreign Countries to Lend Cultural Works to American Museums

U.S. Representative
John Conyers,Jr.
(WASHINGTON) – Today, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote H.R. 4086, the “Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act.”  The bill is a necessary legislative fix in the wake of the decision in Malewicz v. City of Amsterdam, in which U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia broadened the scope of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) expropriation exception to the point where it undermined exchange between American historical and cultural institutions and their foreign counterparts.  H.R. 4086  immunizes foreign states from lawsuits that seek damages for artwork that is already immune from seizure pursuant to a Presidential determination when the work is in the U.S. for temporary exhibition and makes FSIA consistent with the aims of the Immunity From Seizure Act (IFSA).  In February, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote.

Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), an original cosponsor, released this statement following the House’s action:

“One of the most important forms of diplomatic contact occurs not in embassies in Washington, but in museums all across the country,” said Conyers.  “Cultural exchanges of artwork and other cultural property creates understanding between Americans and the rest of the world, decreases xenophobia and prejudice, and fosters mutual respect between the United States and other nations.  The recent decision in Malewicz v. City of Amsterdam undermined this form of cultural diplomacy by creating so much uncertainty that foreign institutions became afraid to loan their cultural property.  For example, in my district, the Russian and Czech governments refused to lend works of art to the Detroit Institute of Arts for fear that their works might be seized or their cultural institutions be held liable under U.S. law.

“But H.R. 4086 is also a narrowly tailored bill that fosters cultural exchange but still preserves important legal prerogatives.  The bill does not cover every possible claim concerning the ownership of artwork owned by a foreign government.  For instance, the expropriation exception could be available for any claim concerning works that have not received immunity from seizure under IFSA.  Similarly, the expropriation exception remains available for a work that is not in the United States on temporary exhibit or display pursuant to an agreement. H.R. 4086 also makes an exception for Nazi-era claims.  This carve-out is consonant with another longstanding American policy, which is to seek restitution when possible for victims of the Nazi government, its allied governments, and its affiliated governments.

“H.R. 4086 is an important and necessary bill that reaffirms the original goals of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and Immunity From Seizure Act by clarifying inconsistency in U.S. law created by the Maelwiczdecision. We have worked closely with the Obama Administration to make certain the bill incorporates input from the Department of State.  This bill will once again make U.S. law inviting to exchanges between American historical and cultural institutions and their foreign counterparts to the educational benefit of our Nation’s public.”            

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