Archive for the ‘Legislation’ Category

OPINION: Congressional Data Privacy Bill would unjustly enrich trial lawyers 

Tuesday, October 4th, 2022

By Timothy Lee

Several Members of Congress recently introduced legislation that aims to protect consumer data from misuse and abuse.

Unfortunately, the “American Data Privacy and Protection Act” (H.R.1852) contains significant defects unrelated to much-needed privacy protections for consumers or businesses.

Instead of simply safeguarding the personal information of ordinary Americans and simplifying legal obligations for companies, the bill would uncork a torrent of counterproductive lawsuits that would damage job creators and enrich trial lawyers.

There’s no question America needs a federal data privacy law. Due to the lack of a uniform federal standard, data privacy is governed by a patchwork of state laws and regulations. Consequently, American firms may needlessly spend up to $1 trillion over the next decade trying to navigate that legal maze and comply with the varying statutes — with $200 billion of that burden falling on small businesses.

A single, streamlined federal law would help reassure consumers that their data remains secure, regardless of where they live or where a company is located.

The legislation under consideration, however, contains two massive flaws that would unleash endless class-action litigation over minor or technical violations, allowing lawyers to reap millions while class members receive just a few dollars or, in many cases, nothing at all.

First, the proposed legislation includes a ban on class-action waivers in arbitration agreements, which could prohibit companies and consumers from having their disputes resolved on an individual basis. Arbitration offers a more efficient alternative to court litigation, relying on independent third parties to mediate conflicts. Essentially, the parties in dispute take their issues to a neutral party, present their respective arguments, and agree to abide by whatever the arbitrator decides.

Although trial lawyers are understandably loath to admit it, arbitration is generally better for consumers than traditional court litigation. It is typically cheaper, quicker, and less complicated than formal lawsuits. Consumers prevail 41% of the time in arbitration, versus 29% in court. Additionally, awards in cases decided by arbitration actually exceed courtroom awards — $80,000 versus $71,000, respectively. Arbitration cases are also resolved 27% more quickly on average, and there’s often no need to involve — and thus pay — a lawyer.

However, those benefits present big problems from trial lawyers’ perspective. They prefer huge, class-action lawsuits that, according to a 2015 study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, net consumers an average of $32 while lawyers earn close to $1 million.

The bill’s second massive flaw would create a “private right of action,” which allows individuals to sue to enforce the law no matter how trivial the violation. When numerous individuals can file the same complaint, plaintiffs’ lawyers try to lump them all together in one big lawsuit against a business — even if most of the people in the class are unaware they’re part of a lawsuit. It’s perfectly clear how that benefits lawyers. But it’s uncertain how it would advance consumer privacy and data protection.

Data security and privacy remain serious, complex issues, and Congress should absolutely pursue a uniform national policy. People who steal our data, and businesses that fail to adequately protect it, must be held accountable.

As currently drafted, however, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act contains unacceptable provisions that would enable rich trial lawyers to get even richer while delivering scant benefits to ordinary Americans whose interests they claim to represent.

Timothy H. Lee is senior vice president of legal and public affairs at the Center for Individual Freedom. This piece was originally published by Inside Sources.

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DeSaulnier announces House passage of Mental Health Matters Act

Saturday, October 1st, 2022

A comprehensive package to address concerns of students, families, educators

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D, CA-11), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, and Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) announced House passage of the Mental Health Matters Act (H.R. 7780), legislation they authored to help confront the mental health crisis by increasing access to support, services, and resources for children, students, workers, and families. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 220-to-205 with all Democrats and one Republican voting in favor.

From children and young adults experiencing an uptick in mental health challenges to educator burnout, our country is experiencing a mental health and substance abuse crisis. As someone who lost their father by suicide, I am proud to have led this comprehensive approach to strengthen mental health resources for students, educators, and workers with Chairman Scott,” said DeSaulnier. “I urge the Senate to pass this legislation so we can combat the mental health crisis in this county and ensure everyone has the resources they need to live happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the mental health crisis among students, workers, and families. As a result, educators have been forced to play an outsized role in supporting and responding to students’ mental health needs, leading to increased depression and trauma among educators. Moreover, nearly half of the U.S. workforce now suffers from mental health issues since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In response to the national mental health crisis, I am proud to stand in strong support of the Mental Health Matters Act led by Congressman Mark DeSaulnier. The Mental Health Matters Act delivers the resources that students, workers, and families need to improve their well-being,” said Chairman Scott.

The Mental Health Matters Act takes comprehensive steps to address our nation’s mental health and substance abuse crises by strengthening school-based behavioral health care, bolstering mental health parity protections, and ensuring access to mental health and substance use disorder benefits for workers and families.

Specifically, this bill would:

  • Increase the number of mental health professionals serving in high-need schools and help to build a pipeline of school-based mental health services providers;
  • Help state educational agencies recruit and retain school-based mental health services providers at high-need public schools;
  • Require institutions of higher education to increase transparency around the accommodations process and allow incoming students with existing documentation of a disability to access disability accommodations;
  • Increase students’ access to evidence-based trauma support and mental health services through innovation by linking schools and districts with local trauma-informed support and mental health systems;
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services to identify evidence-based interventions to improve the health of children and staff in Head Start programs, and help Head Start agencies implement these interventions;
  • Strengthen the capacity of the Department of Labor to ensure that private, employer-sponsored group health plans provide mental health and substance use disorder benefits under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); and
  • Strengthen the ability of people with private, employer-sponsored health and retirement plans to hold plan sponsors accountable when they are improperly denied mental health and substance use disorder benefits.

DeSaulnier represents most of Contra Costa County in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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OPINION: Federal Speak Out Act ignores victims’ right to remain private

Thursday, August 18th, 2022

By Sally C. Pipes

A new proposal in Congress aims to allow victims of sexual misconduct to go public with their stories.

That goal is admirable. But as written, the legislation — the Speak Out Act HR8227, which was introduced in both the House and Senate in recent weeks — will force victims to go public, even if they don’t want to.

That’s hardly pro-women. Many victims prefer to settle claims out-of-court to avoid both the costs and inevitable publicity of litigation.

Supporters claim the measure targets pre-dispute non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements. These agreements are incredibly common when someone begins a new job – more than one in three U.S. workers are bound by such agreements. Supporters of the Speak Out Act applaud the bill for banning the enforcement of such agreements in instances of sexual harassment or assault.

Dig into the details of the Speak Out Act, however, and it becomes clear that the bill is written much more broadly than that.

The legislation defines the term “pre-dispute” as any agreement that is signed before a lawsuit is filed — even if that agreement is reached weeks, months, or years after the incident occurred.

That’s a problem because many out-of-court settlements involve their own non-disclosure agreements. The bill would effectively invalidate these NDAs. Only agreements reached after litigation has commenced — where the claims are publicized in court, complete with lawyers — could have enforceable NDAs.

In other words, the bill would make it virtually impossible for employees to settle sexual harassment or assault claims out of court. That hardly counts as progress — unless you’re a trial lawyer.

For one, lawsuits tend to be an expensive undertaking. Despite significant litigation costs and attorneys’ fees, they don’t always yield justice for the average person.

That’s not to mention the personal costs that litigation can exact on claimants. Many victims of sexual assault or harassment would rather not make their claims public — which a lawsuit requires. More than that, the discovery process in these lawsuits can be stressful — and may reveal embarrassing personal details the claimant would rather keep private.

For all these reasons, many victims of workplace sexual misconduct prefer to leave the courts out of it — and instead reach a private settlement with their employer. Under the Speak Out Act, this sort of approach will no longer be available. Any worker who wishes to resolve their claim for workplace sexual misconduct will need to hire a lawyer, file a lawsuit, and endure the uncertainties, stresses, and costs of litigation.

Add all these costs up, and it’s possible that the Speak Out Act could result in more women remaining silent.

Even if the Speak Out Act weren’t so poorly written, it would remain a troubling instance of congressional overreach. It’s far from clear that lawmakers have the authority to nullify private agreements signed between workers and their employers, even if their intent is to help victims of sexual assault and harassment.

Sexual assault and harassment victims deserve every opportunity to seek justice. But the Speak Out Act doesn’t advance that goal.

Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes. This piece originally appeared in Newsmax.

 

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Assemblywoman Bauer-Kahan, Supervisor Burgis introduce bill targeting illegal dumping

Thursday, February 17th, 2022

Supervisor Diane Burgis stand in front of a truck with nine yards of garbage illegally dumped on roads in the county during press conference in Antioch on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. Photo by Allen D. Payton

AB 2374 increases fines, adds teeth to state law on illegal dumping 

At a press conference today, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Antioch, Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (AD16-D-Orinda), District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis, the bill’s sponsor, and local county leaders announced the introduction of AB 2374. Entitled “Crimes against public health and safety: illegal dumping”, the bill was introduced in response to the rampant illegal dumping plaguing communities across California.

“The illegal dumping of trash, furniture, mattresses, appliances, and toxic materials is out of control in both our rural and urban areas – it isn’t just unsightly, it is putting the health of our communities and environment at risk,” said Bauer-Kahan. “Every Californian deserves the right to live in clean, garbage-free neighborhoods.”

“We started this out when we were trying to figure out how to handle it. That’s when we learned of the multiple agencies each responding,” said Burgis. “We formed a Think Tank of agencies in the county, plus East Bay Regional Park and our garbage haulers. And it’s expensive.”

“What people were doing was instead of taking it to the landfill or transfer station, they were just dumping it on the side of the road,” she stated. Pointing to the truck filled with items picked up along East County roads that was at the press conference Burgis said, “That’s nine yards, but they usually pick up 15 yards of large and small items in East County, each week.”

This bill builds upon previous legislative efforts of Bauer-Kahan and Contra Costa and Alameda Counties in 2019. These efforts provided funding to the counties of Alameda and Contra Costa to establish a pilot program for additional enforcement of illegal dumping laws in both counties. This program has been successful, but more tools in the arsenal to fight illegal dumping are necessary. Policies like increased enforcement, street lighting, and cameras throughout the East Bay region have also helped, however, California still lacks sufficient penalties to deter people from this harmful behavior.

AB 2374 raises fines on illegal dumping of commercial quantities up to $5,000 upon first conviction, up to $10,000 on a second conviction, and up to $20,000 on third or subsequent conviction. Additionally, this bill will give judges discretion to require the convicted to pay for the removal of their illegal dumping, suspend the business license of any individual convicted of dumping waste connected to their business, and allow for that person’s name and name of the business to be publicly displayed as convicted of illegal dumping.

“We want everyone to be doing the right thing, but there’s a limit to what we can do to educate and incentivize good behavior,” said Burgis. “It’s important for the public to understand that dumping has an impact on the quality of our drinking water, and that it disproportionately impacts marginalized communities. I applaud Bauer-Kahan for her efforts to empower us with the tools we need at the local level to start getting greater control of this problem.”

Contra Costa County District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover, who also serves on the County’s Illegal Dumping Ad Hoc Committee, added, “Residents deserve beautiful land and clean neighborhoods to live and work in. We want to be sure that everyone, including commercial businesses, hear loud and clear that they cannot illegally dump in our community without hefty fines, hence the need for this legislation.”

“Illegal dumping is a plague on our entire state – impacting our most urban, suburban, and rural communities. In a pilot project in my Supervisorial District alone we’ve removed nearly 1,200 tons of trash from our streets. This legislation provides needed enforcement authority to combat illegal dumping and blight in our neighborhoods, while alleviating the unfair burden of clean up from residents and local businesses,” said Alameda County Supervisor and Board Vice President Nate Miley.

“By upping the fines and providing tools for the courts to publicly hold violators accountable for committing these acts, we disincentivize actors and create public knowledge on who not to work with,” Bauer-Kahan added. “I want to thank Contra Costa County for bringing this bill idea to my attention and look forward to getting it implemented statewide.”

Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.

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CHP highlights changes to state’s traffic safety laws starting Jan. 1

Thursday, December 30th, 2021

Onnew law strengthens penalties for sideshow convictions

By Jaime Coffee, Information Officer II, CHP

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – As we head into the new year, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is educating the public on traffic safety laws that were passed during this year’s legislative season and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom.  The laws take effect January 1, 2022, unless otherwise noted.

Sideshow Definition and Penalties (Assembly Bill (AB) 3, Fong):  This new law strengthens penalties for those convicted of exhibition of speed if the violation occurred as part of a sideshow.

Beginning July 1, 2025, a court will be permitted to suspend a person’s driver’s license between 90 days and six months if the person is convicted of exhibition of speed and if the violation occurred as part of a “sideshow.”  Section 23109(c) of the California Vehicle Code (CVC) (exhibition of speed) will define sideshow as an event in which two or more persons block or impede traffic on a highway for the purpose of performing motor vehicle stunts, motor vehicle speed contests, motor vehicle exhibitions of speed, or reckless driving for spectators.

The courts will be required to consider a defendant’s medical, personal, or family hardship that requires a person to have a driver’s license before determining whether to suspend a person’s driver’s license.

Equestrian Safety Gear (AB 974, L. Rivas):  Requires a person under the age of 18 to wear a properly fitted and fastened helmet when riding an equestrian animal, such as a horse, mule, or donkey on a paved highway.  This bill also requires all riders or their equines to wear reflective gear or a lamp when riding after sundown.

A person riding an equestrian animal in a parade or festival, or crossing a paved highway from an unpaved highway, is exempt from all helmet, lighting, or reflective gear requirements.

Tribal Emergency Vehicles (AB 798, Ramos):  This bill provides that any vehicle owned or operated by a federally recognized Indian tribe is considered an authorized emergency vehicle as defined by Section 165 CVC when responding to an emergency, fire, ambulance, or lifesaving calls.

Class C Drivers Allowed to Tow Trailer (Senate Bill (SB) 287, Grove):  Effective January 1, 2027, drivers with a class C driver’s license may operate a vehicle towing a trailer between 10,001 pounds and 15,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating, or gross vehicle weight with a fifth-wheel and kingpin or bed mounted gooseneck connection, provided that the trailer is used exclusively for recreational purposes for the transportation of property, living space, or both.

The driver will be required to pass a specialized written examination demonstrating the knowledge of the CVC and other safety aspects relating to the towing of recreational vehicles on the highway and possess an endorsement on their class C driver’s license.

Currently, this exemption is in place for drivers towing a fifth-wheel travel trailer provided the driver passes a specialized written exam and obtains a recreational trailer endorsement.

As a reminder, the following law took effect on July 1, 2021:

License Points for Distracted Driving (AB 47, Daly; 2019):  Using a handheld cell phone while driving is currently punishable by a fine.  As of July 1, 2021, violating the hands-free law for a second time within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense will result in a point being added to a driver’s record.  This applies to the violations of talking or texting while driving (except for hands-free use) and to any use of these devices while driving by a person under 18 years of age.

The mission of the CHP is to provide the highest level of Safety, Service, and Security.

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DeSaulnier introduces legislative package to support and preserve local journalism

Friday, December 3rd, 2021

But doesn’t consult with four local media publishers whose publications and websites serve his district; bill allows media companies to become non-profits

12/6/21 UPDATE: Congressman to meet with four local publishers in January to discuss his legislation

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), along with his colleagues Congressman Ed Perlmutter (CO-07), Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), and Congressman David Cicilline (RI-01) introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at supporting and protecting local journalism, and honoring its role in bolstering our democracy, holding government accountable, and informing the electorate. The Saving Local News Act (H.R. 6068) would make it easier for newspapers to become non-profits, allowing them the flexibility to focus less on maximizing profits and more on producing quality content. The local news resolution (H.Res. 821) recognizes the importance of local media outlets to society and expresses the urgent need for Congress to help stop the decline of local media outlets.

Both the bill and resolution were introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 23 and referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

“Local journalism has been the bedrock of American democracy for centuries. I have seen firsthand how journalists for local newspapers have kept our community informed, educated voters, and held power to account,” said DeSaulnier. “As local newspapers are being bought up and taken over by large corporations, it is incumbent on Congress to act to protect this public good. My legislation would do just that and ensure newspapers in every community can continue to provide high-quality local coverage that millions of Americans rely on and deserve.”

H.R. 6068 is entitled the Saving Local News Act, and its purpose is “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to include publication of written news articles as a tax-exempt purpose for organizations, and for other purposes.” However, as of 12/03/2021 the text has not been published on Congress.gov. But DeSaulnier’s staff provided a copy: BILL – Saving Local News Act – 21.11.23

H.Res.821 reads:

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

November 23, 2021

Mr. DeSaulnier (for himself, Mr. Raskin, Mr. Cicilline, and Mr. Perlmutter) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Reform

RESOLUTION

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the importance of local print and digital journalism to the continued welfare, transparency, and prosperity of government at every level and the continuation and freedom of the United States as it is known today.

Whereas local print and digital journalism is disappearing at a record rate;

Whereas trust in journalists is at an all-time low nationally, while many local reporters retain the good will and trust of their communities;

Whereas subscriptions to local news have decreased steadily since the spread of the internet;

Whereas nonjournalistic digital media has been falsely labeled and marketed as news;

Whereas corporations are buying local news outlets and cutting budgets and staff, leading to less local coverage;

Whereas local print and digital journalism are essential to promoting good governance at the local and State level; and

Whereas a lack of local news will allow for greater local and statewide political corruption: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that—

(1) it is in the best interests of Federal, State, and local governments to make all possible efforts to ensure the continuation of robust local digital and print news sources; and

(2) Congress should work with news outlets and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that local digital and print news continues to operate in a robust manner for years to come.”

Question for DeSaulnier’s Staff, Congressman Responds

DeSaulnier’s staff was asked if he had consulted with any local media publishers in his district.

The congressman responded, “I’ve been doing this work since I got here seven years ago. I’ve had dozens and dozens of conversations on this, including with people in the Bay Area and in Contra Costa. If you have ideas, as always, I’d be happy to talk with you.”

Four Local Publishers Not Consulted

However, four local publishers, whose online and/or print publications cover portions or all of DeSaulnier’s district, including Greg Robinson of The Press Newspapers which covers Antioch, Clayton and Concord Pioneer publisher Tamara Steiner, eastcountytoday.net publisher Mike Burkholder and the publisher of the Contra Costa Herald and Antioch Herald, Allen Payton each said they were not contacted by the congressman nor anyone on his staff about the legislation. When asked, Steiner responded, “No. I have a call in to his office.” Burkholder responded, “Nope nothing. Didn’t hear from DeSaulnier. It’s a shame they’re focused on the media conglomerates and not on the little guys.” Robinson responded, “I was not. I don’t understand what he is proposing to do.”

More Questions for DeSaulnier

Additional questions were sent to the congressman via email on Thursday, asking with which local publishers he had communicated about his legislation and if a media company becomes a non-profit what impact it would have on their ability to publish their own editorials as well as endorse or oppose candidates and ballot measures. A copy of the legislation was also requested. But no response was received and attempts to reach him or his staff, on Friday, were unsuccessful prior to publication time.

12/6/21 UPDATE: In an email to all four local publishers on Monday, Dec. 6, the congressman invited them to a Zoom meeting in January to discuss his bills and offer their input.

“As you know, saving local news has been an area of interest of mine for many years. I have been publicly discussing my thoughts and ideas, including at town halls. Through that process, I have been happy to hear and incorporate input from many organizations on the legislation over the years,” DeSaulnier wrote. “In that spirit, I’d like to invite you to meet with me on Wednesday, January 5th at 11:00 am PT for a one hour conversation via Zoom to discuss these bills and your thoughts on them.

Co-Sponsors, Media Organizations Support Bill

The co-sponsors of the legislation expressed their support.

“Local and accurate sources of news are becoming more and more important for our community and our country. I believe Congress has a role to play to ensure legitimate media outlets are able to better adapt to the changing media landscape and continue to inform Americans in every community,” Perlmutter said.

“An informed American public is essential to strong democracy,” said Raskin. “We cannot allow worldwide propaganda and conspiracy theories to replace hard local news based on local reportage. I’m proud to join Rep. DeSaulnier in introducing this important legislation that will give local news the flexibility it needs to thrive in a dangerously toxic media environment.”

“Over the past 15 years, one in five newspapers have closed, and the number of journalists working for newspapers has been slashed in half. We now live in a country in which at least 200 counties have no local newspapers at all,” said Cicilline. “This crisis in American journalism has led to the crises we are seeing today in our democracy and civic life. We cannot let this trend continue because if it does, we risk permanently compromising the news organizations that are essential to our communities, holding the government and powerful corporations accountable, and sustaining our democracy. I’m proud to support this resolution and the Saving Local News Act and thank Congressman DeSaulnier for his leadership and partnership in this work.”

DeSaulnier’s bill and resolution are also supported by a variety of media organizations, including News Media Alliance, National Newspaper Association, News Leaders Association, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, California News Publishers Association, Free Press Action, Faculty of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University, Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, Save Journalism Project, PEN America, Center for Journalism and Liberty at the Open Markets Institute, and NewsGuild-CWA.

“We commend Congressman DeSaulnier for introducing this important piece of legislation that recognizes the importance of nonprofit journalism to the American society. At a time when news deserts are a growing concern, we must ensure that we support all newsrooms in their efforts to provide high-quality journalism to their local communities,” said David Chavern, President and CEO, News Media Alliance. “This journalism bill that would allow non-profit newsrooms to treat advertising revenue as nontaxable income could be helpful to a number of publishers.”

“Community newspapers are exploring many new models for sustainability. Our newsrooms realize that without us, whole communities will lose their center of gravity. A nonprofit model is one that can work in some communities, but just establishing this status isn’t enough to keep the doors open and journalists at work,” said Brett Wesner, Chair, National Newspaper Association and Publisher, Wesner Publications, Cordell, OK. “The need for revenue from a variety of sources, including local advertisers, remains acute. NNA supports the Saving Local News Act and thanks Congressman DeSaulnier for his work on behalf of local communities.”

“Honest, truthful reporting is essential to informing our democracy at all levels. Without it, we won’t remain a nation of the people, by the people, for the people. Bills that help sustain local reporting that informs people about what their government representatives are up to, will help keep the citizens in charge of our country,” said George Stanley, President of the News Leaders Association.

“News organizations are looking at multiple ways to fund their organizations while continuing to deliver local journalism that is fundamental to a thriving Democracy. If news organizations want to pursue the nonprofit business model; it should be as accessible for established organizations as it is for news startups. Our members are known and trusted in the communities they serve and removing the hurdles to find philanthropic support would allow newsrooms to focus on serving their communities,” said Brandi Rivera, Publisher, Santa Barbara Independent and Board Member, Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

“Community newspapers are woven into the fabric of American society and provide accurate and trusted information that improves the lives of individuals in the communities they serve. It is no secret that newspapers face an increasing number of existential threats from online competitors which have left them with a decreasing number of revenue opportunities,” said Jim Ewert, General Counsel, California News Publishers Association. “This measure would provide news organizations with the means to better rise to these challenges and continue to play a vital role in their communities by holding the feet of the powerful to the fire and giving voice to the powerless.”

“Free Press Action supports this important legislation and applauds Congressman DeSaulnier for recognizing the importance of building, supporting and sustaining local nonprofit news operations,” said Craig Aaron, President and co-CEO of Free Press Action. “In too many places, corporate media have shrunk newsrooms or abandoned communities entirely. Nonprofit news has emerged as the future of local journalism, and it’s our best hope for keeping reporters on the beat focused on the needs of local communities, serving communities of color, and reaching so many people who have never been well served by the media. This bill will remove obstacles to nonprofit journalism, help launch more of these outlets, encourage more existing outlets to go nonprofit, and create more of the kind of high-quality journalism we need to inform our communities and keep our democracy thriving.”

“The hollowing-out and disappearance of local news organizations imperils journalism, communities and our democracy,” said Professor Jonathan Kaufman, Director of the Northeastern University School of Journalism. “These measures provide a financial lifeline and tools for the next generation of journalists to pursue new models and innovation that bring more local news to communities.”

“The health of the news industry is so precarious, all efforts to strengthen an industry so instrumental to democracy are well received. Thanks to Rep. DeSaulnier for stepping up,” said Jody Brannon, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Journalism and Liberty at the Open Markets Institute.

“The U.S. tax code needs this important update to make it easier for nonprofit news organizations to grow across our country. We’ve lost tens of thousands of local journalists over the last decade. That’s meant fewer journalists covering local government meetings, local business and even high school sports,” said Jon Schleuss, President of NewsGuild-CWA. “Journalists are essential to holding power to account, watching over our democracy and providing a voice to the voiceless. We applaud Rep. DeSaulnier’s support of journalism. Our country was founded under the principle that a free press was the best way to make sure we have a robust democracy by having an informed electorate. We all have to fight now to save local news.”

“The newspaper business model is broken,” said the Save Journalism Project. “At a time when local journalism has never been more essential, journalists are losing their jobs across the country, leaving important stories untold. Compelling, original journalism does continue to drive significant advertising revenue—just not for newspapers. Big Tech giants, like Google and Facebook, have used their monopoly power to capture huge swaths of the digital advertising market, making it nearly impossible for many papers to chart a path forward in the digital age. This has allowed hedge fund vulture capitalists to scoop up scores of newspapers across the country—all of whom have been reduced to shadows of their former glory by a short-sighted cut, cut, cut approach. We welcome and applaud efforts to help news outlets continue to cover of the communities they serve. This legislation will create a path that communities can use to save their local papers. Local news is a key piece of American democracy, and while addressing the underlying problems Big Tech has created for journalists is complex, we have to do everything we can to allow for news to thrive.”

“PEN America applauds the introduction of the Saving Local News Act – and the accompanying resolution on the importance of local news – as a welcome and needed step to support America’s journalism ecosystem,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, Washington director of PEN America. “By making it easier for news organizations to become nonprofits, Congressman DeSaulnier’s legislation will open up a sustainable financial pathway for quality local journalism, recognizing its value as a public good. Enacting this bill will strengthen a fundamental pillar of our democracy, encouraging diverse reporting, civic engagement, and access to essential community information.”

Since 2017, estimated daily newspaper circulation fell 11 percent from the previous year (Pew Research Center). Congressman DeSaulnier established a working group of dedicated Members of Congress from areas affected by a drought of high-quality journalism. Together they have been working to highlight this crisis and bring attention to the need to promote local journalism, including by holding a Special Order on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and introducing the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (H.R. 1735), the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021, a bill to create a temporary safe harbor from anti-trust laws to allow news organizations to join together and negotiate with dominant online platforms to get a fair share of advertising profits.

Please check back later for any updates.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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House passes Biden’s $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act spending bill, see what’s in it

Sunday, November 21st, 2021

Source: U.S. House of Representatives.

All five Contra Costa Congressmen vote in favor; DeSaulnier praises passage calling it historic investment in American families; likely to be changed in the Senate, where support of all 50 Democrats is needed; CBO says it will increase deficit by almost $800 billion over next five years

By Allen Payton

The U.S. House of Representatives passed President Biden’s $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act, H.R. 5376, also known as the budget reconciliation package, on Friday, on a mainly partisan vote of 220-213 with all Republican members and only one Democrat voting no. It now moves on to the Senate.

According to Roll Call, “Two key holdouts —West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — have yet to offer a public endorsement of the package. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, (D-N.Y.), set a Christmas deadline for final passage.”

The 2,702-page bill passed following a record-breaking, 8 1/2-hour filibuster speech by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, (R-Bakersfield). He said, “it’s the most irresponsible spending bill in the history of America.”

According to the Summary of Cost Estimate by the Congressional Budget Office the legislation will increase the deficit by almost $800 billion through Fiscal Year 2026. However, “The CBO estimates that enacting this legislation would result in a net increase in the deficit totaling $367 billion over the 2022-2031 period, not counting any additional revenue that may be generated by additional funding for tax enforcement.”

However, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the legislation could result in a net deficit increase of $2.2 to $2.7 trillion if temporary provisions are made permanent without offsets.

DeSaulnier’s Statement on Passage

On Friday, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D, CA-11), who  represents portions of Antioch, issued the following statement upon passage of the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 220-to-213.

“Today’s passage of the Build Back Better Act is a victory for families across the country and in Contra Costa. Through its historic investments in early, primary, and secondary education and childcare, we are finally ensuring that all children have the opportunity to thrive both in and out of the classroom, no matter where they live or how much their parents earn. From free preschool for three- and four-year-olds to lowering the cost of high-quality childcare, this bill would give over 90% of parents with young children the opportunity to reenter the workforce knowing their children are safe, cared for, and learning.

By finally calling on the wealthiest Americans and big corporations to pay their fair share, every provision in this bill is paid for and we are making a statement that our children are our priority. I urge the Senate to pass the Build Back Better Act without delay to deliver this much needed relief to families as quickly as possible. American families are counting on it.”

In addition, Build Back Better would:

  • Provide monthly payments of $300 per child under 6 and $250 per child ages 6 to 17 for more than 35 million families under the Child Tax Credit;
  • Devote the necessary resources to combat the climate crisis through expanded tax credits for clean energy and programs to drive down pollution;
  • Lower the cost of prescription drugs and expanding Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act;
  • Bring down costs of long-term care and supporting care workers;
  • Expand opportunities for workforce development programs; and
  • Create affordable housing.

Unpopular Provisions in Bill

According to polling, only 39% of battleground voters support “Build Back Better” while 46% oppose it.

Some of the most unpopular items in the bill include:

  • A natural gas tax that will increase home heating costs, electricity rates, and raise gas prices.
  • An eighty-thousand-dollar tax break to wealthy homeowners in New York, New Jersey, and California.
  • A $3,600 a year child tax credit to illegal immigrants for every child they bring into America or give birth to after arriving.
  • 87,000 new IRS agents to increase audits of taxpayers that will look through the bank accounts of every American earning or spending more than $600 per year to make sure they are paying enough taxes, disproportionally affecting small business owners.

What’s In the Bill

According to the National Review, the legislation includes:

$555 billion in subsidies to move America from one source of energy to another, including up to $12,500 per new electric car purchase;

$220 billion for clean energy & climate resilience;

$190 billion to establish or expand clean energy & electric tax credits;

$60 billion to establish or expand clean fuel & vehicle tax credits;

$75 billion to establish or expand other climate-related tax benefits; and

$10 billion to enact infrastructure & related tax breaks;

$400 billion for universal pre-school and day care, including $18 billion in the first three years to create universal pre-kindergarten. Then, the program would be funded by a mixture of federal and state funds;

$300 billion for restoration of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction eliminated in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. According to CNBC the bill, “raises the cap on the state and local tax deduction from $10,000 to $80,00 in 2021, which will benefit the richest households in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.”

$200 billion to extend and expand both the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, for four weeks of paid parental, sick or caregiving leave;

$90 billion for what the White House describes as “Equity and Other Investments”;

$38 billion in new energy taxes;

$9 billion to higher-learning institutions for “qualified environmental justice programs”;

$7 billion for service groups for projects related to “climate resilience and mitigation”;

$3.5 billion for ports to purchase “zero-emission” equipment;

$3 billion to fund pandemic preparedness;

$3 billion for better records and hospitals for veterans;

$3 billion in “climate justice block grants” that go into projects in disadvantaged communities. The criterion for grants is based on the race of the projects’ sponsors;

$450 million for nontraditional climate apprenticeship programs;

$350 million to “rebuild” the National Labor Relations Board and $321 million to “rebuild” the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission;

$275 million to upgrade the health-care system in Hawaii which also gets $5 million to save endangered plants;

$200 million to preserve Native American languages;

$150–$250 million (estimated) as tax credits to “local” news organizations, excluding government entities, except NPR and PBS. Note: “Local” is broadly defined, and appears to include almost all news organizations, including the New York Times and Washington Post. The bill also contains a rich new deduction for trial lawyers;

$124 million to combat substance abuse;

$85 million for studying the risks of climate change for “pregnant, lactating or post-partum individuals”;

$50 million to train and certify more doulas; and

$5 million to save desert fish.

According to CNBC, “To pay for the bill, House Dems are proposing increasing some taxes on businesses and the wealthiest Americans. It includes a 5% surtax on adjusted gross income (AGI) over $10 million for individuals and an additional 3% on AGI over $25 million.”

See more details on the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget website.

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Federal Infrastructure bill brings major investment to California Rail Network

Friday, November 19th, 2021

Funding package supports several capital projects for ACE Rail and Amtrak San Joaquins which serves Antioch station; provides up to $102 billion in total spending for passenger railroad infrastructure including $28.5 billion for Amtrak

By Harlo Pippenger, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority

The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission and San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority are applauding the passage of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021 and highlighting the bill’s series of investments in California rail projects.

The transportation reauthorization package passed out of the House on November 5th and President Biden signed the measure this past Monday. It provides up to $1.2 trillion in infrastructure spending, including nearly $550 billion in new spending to address the nation’s aging transportation networks. Specifically, the bill provides up to $102 billion in total spending for passenger railroad infrastructure.

“This bill brings meaningful investments to our rail system in the Central Valley and Northern California,” said Stacey Mortenson, Executive Director of both the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC), which runs Altamont Corridor Express (ACE Rail), and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA), which runs Amtrak San Joaquins. “We have capital projects underway throughout our service territories, and this new federal funding package comes at the right time to support route improvements, station buildout, and equipment modernization.”

ACE Rail, a commuter service that runs between the Bay Area and Stockton, and Amtrak San Joaquins, an intercity service that runs through the Central Valley and connects to the Bay Area, will benefit from several funding streams in the legislation:

  • The infrastructure package includes a 43% increase to Federal Transit Administration formula funds, which directly support ACE’s capital program on a yearly basis.
  • The legislation provides up to $28.5 billion for Amtrak’s National Network – these funds will support routes like the San Joaquinsand help the system acquire modern rolling stock, enhance station accessibility and amenities, and address backlogged capital projects.
  • The package provides up to $10 billion for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grants, which is a competitive grant program. The funding will expand eligibilities for the CRISI grants to allow state-supported routes like the San Joaquinsto acquire and develop clean energy locomotives.
  • The IIJA creates a new railroad grade-crossing elimination program – with up to $5.5 billion in funding – to improve railroad safety across the nation and our state. In FY 2020, California experienced the second most highway-rail grade crossing incidents in the nation.

“These investments will not only transform our transportation system, but will also help transform our communities,” said Christina Fugazi, SJRRC Chair. “It is essential that local, state and federal governments make it a priority to enhance and modernize our rail networks. Improving access and increasing rail service are key strategies for reducing congestion, supporting environmental and climate change goals, and strengthening our economy.”

“California is unique in how it manages passenger rail systems,” said Patrick Hume, SJJPA Chair.“So, we appreciate how this funding package will allow our state-supported San Joaquins route service to compete for new grant dollars, while also positioning us to work together with the Federal Railroad Administration and CalSTA to use this funding to modernize equipment and pursue key capital projects.”

On a local and regional level, advocacy efforts are also accelerating on behalf of a series of projects aimed at expanding passenger rail service throughout the “megaregion.”  The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG), and Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) have come together in a Working Group and jointly identified the “MegaRegion Dozen,” which are a variety of multi-modal transportation projects that would benefit the connected Northern California and Central Valley region. The MegaRegion Dozen plan calls for more than $400 million in additional funding priorities for Amtrak San Joaquins and ACE Rail; it will help organize how the different agencies and local governments pursue different grant or funding opportunities.

“We see a lot of momentum right now in support of a strong, reliable, accessible passenger rail network in California,” Fugazi added. “We appreciate the dedication of Senator Padilla, Senator Feinstein, and our congressional representatives from Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley who helped push through the IIJA legislation that brings tangible benefits for our programs, and we are ready to put the new funds to good use immediately.”

President Biden also signed an Executive Order for implementing the bill on Monday, in which he wrote, “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a once-in-a-generation investment in our Nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness. It will help rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and rails; expand access to clean drinking water; work to ensure access to high-speed Internet throughout the Nation; tackle the climate crisis; advance environmental justice; and invest in communities that have too often been left behind. It will accomplish all of this while driving the creation of good-paying union jobs and growing the economy sustainably and equitably for decades to come.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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