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Congress

Byrne: Democratic police reform bill “frustrating” and “disheartening”

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Thursday, which would federally regulate law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels.

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, voted against the bill, which he dismissed as partisan. Byrne said that the process has been “frustrating and incredibly disheartening.”

“It is frustrating and incredibly disheartening that Democrats refused Republicans’ offer to work together to achieve the bipartisan, meaningful reform Americans are calling for,” Byrne said in a statement. “Americans of all colors deserve our sincere efforts, not more partisan pandering. Instead of holding empty votes on legislation that has no chance of becoming law, Congress should seize this moment to move forward on the many areas of bipartisan agreement. It is not too late to do the right thing.”

Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, also voted against the bill.

“I opposed this bill because it would result in more crime and fewer people willing to serve in law enforcement.,” Palmer said. “The Democrat bill lowers the standard for mens rea and virtually eliminates qualified immunity for officers, meaning that an officer could potentially go to prison for breaking the law unintentionally. Few people want to serve in a job in which they are attacked, underpaid, and overworked, and even fewer want to serve in one in which they could be charged as a criminal besides. At the end of the day, more crime and fewer law enforcement officers to ensure our safety would be the results of this bill.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, introduced a Republican policing reform bill in the Senate, the JUSTICE Act. Byrne is an original cosponsor of the JUSTICE Act in the House. Byrne urged that the House pass a bipartisan police reform bill in a speech on the House floor on Wednesday.

“We in this House need to work together, not in parallel partisan efforts,” Byrne said. “This House came together to pass the CARES Act earlier this year. Surely, we can come together to pass meaningful and bipartisan law enforcement reform legislation that will actually go to the President and become law. I wish we would address more funding for community health centers so that poor people, and especially people of color, would have better access to primary care which should help equalize health outcomes. I also wish we would take up education choice legislation so that minority children have the same opportunities for quality education as their peers from families with the means to pay for better schools.”

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Both Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, and Doug Jones, D-Alabama, voted to advance the JUSTICE Act, but most Senate Democrats balked at the police reform bill, which they said did not go far enough.

Rather than pass the JUSTICE Act, House Democrats insisted on crafting their own bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. That bill passed the Democrat controlled U.S. House of Representatives, but at this point, appears to be dead on arrival in the Senate, where it is not expected to be voted on, in its current form.

Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. He is not seeking re-election.

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Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

Jones calls for more federal funding, support for state Departments of Labor

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-AL, today is urging Senate leadership for additional federal funding and support for the state Departments of Labor, which have been overwhelmed by the wave of unemployment insurance claims. This also comes as disturbing reports emerge out of Montgomery, where Alabamians have been camping out overnight outside of an unemployment claims center in search of help with their claims.

“As the nation continues to struggle with the health and economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress must do more to help those who are suffering from unemployment as a result. Alabama’s unemployment rate in May was 9.9 percent and my home state is facing a 70 percent increase in the evictions of renters,” Senator Jones, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, wrote. “This hardship is sadly not unique to Alabama, and Americans across the country are struggling to pay their bills, to keep the lights on, and to put food on their tables.

A recent article in the Montgomery Advertiser detailed a line of unemployed Alabamians that has formed for weeks in a parking lot outside an Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) claim processing center, with many sleeping outside overnight in the rain or participating in a “black market” system of selling spots in the line.

“While the ADOL has noted that an in-person presence is not required to file or resolve unemployment claims, technical glitches and difficulties reaching ADOL staff have so frustrated claimants that for many, traveling to Montgomery seems to be the only remaining option. These claimants seek such urgent relief that they have been camping out overnight in the hopes that their claims will be resolved.  To make matters worse, Alabama’s unemployment fund is on track to become insolvent within the next month or two,” Senator Jones continued.

“As we continue to observe the grave status of unemployment and its repercussions on our nation, I urge the leadership of the Senate to consider including language that addresses unemployment issues in the next pandemic relief legislation in July. I respectfully urge the inclusion of language providing greater availability of federal funds for state Departments of Labor, to ensure that hardworking Americans can rely on temporary monetary aid to help feed their families and keep a roof over their heads during these trying times,” the letter concluded.

Senator Jones has been a strong advocate for support for working Alabamians throughout the COVID-19 crisis. He has introduced legislation to cover the wages and benthe efits of employees of affected businesses and non-profits until the economic and public health crisis is resolved, and during the negotiations for the CARES Act, he proposed the Small Business Lifeline fund to direct financial assistance to workers through payroll processing companies. Senator Jones has also called for the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration to allow payroll processing companies to disburse the CARES Act small business loans to reduce complications and expedite salaries to workers who have been impacted by the coronavirus.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

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Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

As the nation continues to struggle with the health and economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress must do more to help those who are suffering from unemployment as a result. Alabama’s unemployment rate in May was 9.9%, and my home state is facing a 70% increase in the evictions of renters.  This hardship is sadly not unique to Alabama, and Americans across the country are struggling to pay their bills, to keep the lights on, and to put food on their tables.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs during this pandemic, and have turned to the unemployment benefits provided by programs in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These newly created programs have created a much-needed lifeline for folks across the country. Most notably, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program were created to ensure states would be able to expand coverage of unemployment benefits given the outsized nature of the pandemic on employment.

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However, the majority of State Departments of Labor have been experiencing great difficulties in updating their technical systems to withstand the sudden influx of numerous claims, disbursing benefit payments efficiently to claimants, and effectively communicating with claimants who may be frustrated with the speed at which their claims are processed.

The Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) has disbursed nearly $2 billion in COVID-19 related unemployment compensation benefits under the PUA, FPUC, and PEUC programs. While ADOL has been working incredibly hard for Alabamians, phone call lines remain jammed, and benefits take significant time to process. ADOL has received 576,314 unemployment claims to date, and the Department is staffed enough to field less than 4% of the calls it receives per day. Since the crisis began, ADOL typically receives 210,000 calls per day; yet only 6,000 to 7,000 of those calls can be processed each day.

Put simply, ADOL is overwhelmed by the massive influx of claims. An article in the Montgomery Advertiser, enclosed with this letter, details the difficulties that Alabamians are experiencing.  In an effort to address claims more efficiently, ADOL opened an in-person claims center in Montgomery, Alabama, but it too was inundated by the unmanageable number of claimants.  While the ADOL has noted that an in-person presence is not required to file or resolve unemployment claims, technical glitches and difficulties reaching ADOL staff have so frustrated claimants that for many, traveling to Montgomery seems to be the only remaining option. These claimants seek such urgent relief that they have been camping out overnight in the hopes that their claims will be resolved.  To make matters worse, Alabama’s unemployment fund is on track to become insolvent within the next month or two.

This is not the first time in recent times that state unemployment funds were in need of aid from the federal government. During the Great Recession, states that exhausted unemployment benefit funds were able to borrow from the Treasury Department to strengthen their funds. Given these dire economic times for state and local governments, the ability to access federal funds should be available once again to cover the costs associated with unemployment benefits.

As we continue to observe the grave status of unemployment and its repercussions on our nation, I urge the leadership of the Senate to consider including language that addresses unemployment issues in the next pandemic relief legislation in July. I respectfully urge the inclusion of language providing greater availability of federal funds for state Departments of Labor, to ensure that hardworking Americans can rely on temporary monetary aid to help feed their families and keep a roof over their heads during these trying times.

Sincerely,

Senator Doug Jones

 

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Congress

Sewell votes in favor of $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, on Wednesday voted in favor of H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, a $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild American infrastructure.

“Our country is in serious need of bold and comprehensive infrastructure reform,” Sewell said. “This was true before the coronavirus pandemic and it has become increasingly urgent as we continue to grapple with the ongoing healthcare and economic crises resulting from the pandemic.”

“As a member of the Rural Broadband Task Force and a representative of a district that lacks adequate and comprehensive internet access, I am pleased that H.R.2 includes our bill the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, comprehensive legislation which invests$100 billion for high-speed broadband infrastructure in underserved communities,” said Sewell. “This investment will go a long way toward helping people across my district have access to the high-speed, affordable internet services that are necessary in today’s economy. Additionally, the bill’s $40 billion investment in new wastewater infrastructure will be transformative for countless residents of Alabama’s 7th District who lack access to affordable and efficient wastewater services. If we fail to make these investments now, our Nation’s aging infrastructure will continue to collapse and millions of Americans will be left out of our hopeful economic recovery.”

As a member of the House Rural Broadband Task Force, Sewell co-led introduction of H.R. 7302, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which invests $100 billion to build high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved communities and ensures that internet service will be affordable. H.R. 7302 provided the framework for the broadband provisions in H.R. 2.

Two of Rep. Sewell’s bills are included as key provisions in H.R. 2. H.R. 1680, New Markets Tax Credit Extension Act of 2019 is designed to spur private investment in low-income rural communities and urban neighborhoods by providing tax credits for private investments made in underserved communities. H.R. 3967, the Municipal Bond Market Support Act of 2019, would help local governments, non-profits, schools, hospitals, universities and other entities reduce costs associated with infrastructure and development projects.

Sewell also co-led three amendments to H.R. 2 that passed this week. These amendments would expand the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in DOT research, support HBCU infrastructure development, and create a carbon capture, utilization, and storage technology commercialization program and direct an air capture technology program within the Department of Energy.

Sewell’s office said that in light of the pandemic and as schools consider how best to provide resources to students remotely, H.R.2 will provide critical access to both students and teleworkers across Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

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H.R. 2 would invest more than $1.5 trillion in roads, bridges, transit systems, schools, housing, broadband access and other essential infrastructure.

H.R. 2 now goes to the Senate, where Senate Republicans are likely to make a number of changes to the legislation. The Senate’s 60 votes to end a filibuster rule; however means that any infrastructure bill will have to have bipartisan support to pass the Senate.

Sewell is a member of the House leadership and is in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. Sewell had no primary challenger and no Republican is running against her in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Rep. Sewell leads 83 members of Congress to push for $86 billion for broadband expansion

Brandon Moseley

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via Office of U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, and David Trone, D-Maryland, led 82 of their colleagues in sending a letter Tuesday to leaders of the House and Senate urging them to include in any future COVID-19 relief package at least $86 billion for the deployment of high-speed broadband internet.

Sewell and Trone sent the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“The coronavirus has only further highlighted the importance of high-speed, affordable internet, as lack of access has made it more difficult for Alabamians to learn from home, access telehealth service and telework during the pandemic,” Sewell said. “It is beyond time that high-speed internet is treated as a basic utility and rolled out to every community across the country. The letter provides the framework for a future relief package that acknowledges just how critical broadband access is and calls on leadership to make a significant investment in its implementation.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown that swaths of this country are being left behind by insufficient broadband infrastructure,” Trone said. “It’s time to invest in digital highways to bring the entire country into the 21st century and global economy. I want to thank Congresswoman Sewell and Whip Clyburn for joining in the effort to ensure this critical infrastructure is included in the next Congressional stimulus package.”

According to Microsoft, about 25 million Americans lack access to reliable, high-speed internet and about 3.3 million Alabama residents do not have the minimum broadband speeds needed for video conferencing or streaming at home. The divide disproportionately impacts rural residents — with 19 million of the 25 million Americans without broadband living in rural areas.

“Future stimulus packages should support the deployment of secure and resilient broadband, provide hotspots for students to close the homework gap and allow for distance learning, and expand access and affordability for unserved and underserved communities with sufficient speed and data that reflects American families’ increased reliance on internet access,” they wrote in their letter. “We cannot wait to invest in high-speed broadband deployment necessary to reach every unserved and underserved American family, hospital, school and small business. … If we fail to invest now, millions of American will be disconnected from the economic recovery on the other side of this crisis.”

Racial disparities also exist between which Americans have access to broadband and which do not. According to a 2017 Joint Economic Committee report, 82 percent of white households have access to high speed internet while just 70 percent of Black households do. Seventy-four percent of Hispanic households do and just 65 percent of Native American households do.

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“We believe that in the response to the COVID-19 crisis an overall investment of $86 billion is needed,” the letter continued. “This would expedite high-speed broadband deployment and expand funding to ensure that Americans who need broadband service can remain connected during this public health crisis and recovery. This includes expanded service for low-income consumers that meet the demands of telework, telehealth and telelearning. For instance, two tools ready to address these issues are the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) existing Lifeline and E-Rate educational connectivity programs.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly clear that having access to high speed broadband is a necessity,” the letter said. “We must invest in expanding affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access in the next emergency relief package. We thank you for your attention to this critical issue and looking forward to working in tandem to bring broadband to communities that are in desperate need of this essential tool for life in the 21st Century.”

There is wide bipartisan support for increasing broadband access.

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“COVID19 highlights the need for more broadband access in America,” Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said. “According to the Federal Communications Commission, 31 percent of rural Americans do not have broadband access at home. During the pandemic, school children without broadband access have been unable to attend classes digitally or complete online homework assignments. Adults have been similarly hamstrung in an increasingly digital economy.”

Sewell is in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

 

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Congress

Brooks to vote no on Democratic infrastructure bill

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said he will vote no this week on a Democratic infrastructure bill in the House, which he said was “socialism” cloaked in an infrastructure bill.

“Nancy Pelosi & her Socialist comrades are hellbent on destroying America,” Brooks claimed. “They won’t stop spending until America is bankrupt. They covet economic disaster so they can rebuild a Socialist America under the guise of providing economic relief. In this instance, Socialism comes cloaked as an infrastructure bill.”

Brooks cited as examples of excessive spending $29.3 billion in grants and subsidies to Amtrak’s intercity passenger rail service, $500 million a year to pay ports to replace their cargo handling equipment, hundreds of billions for public housing and “shifting funding from roads, streets, bridges and highways badly needed by red states like Alabama to subsidies of blue state inner-city mass transit programs.”

HR2, the Invest in America Act, is sponsored by Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon.

“The Socialists’ latest attempt to bankrupt America is a 2,300+ page bill, drafted behind closed doors by a select few, introduced just last week, that increases America’s debt and deficits by $1.5 trillion!” Brooks claimed. “That’s $1.5 trillion America doesn’t have, has to borrow to get, and cannot afford to pay back. America’s national debt blew through $23 trillion in November, $24 trillion in April, $25 trillion in May, and $26 trillion in June.”

“In April, the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) estimated a fiscal year 2020 $3.7 trillion deficit — without including this $1.5 trillion monstrosity,” Brooks said. “Both the CBO and America’s Comptroller General Gene Dodaro regularly describe America’s financial state as ‘unsustainable,’ accounting language for insolvency and bankruptcy.”

“Incredible as it may seem, even without this $1.5 trillion monstrosity, the federal government is on a course to spend roughly $50,000 per American household this year!” Brooks said. “Of course, that spending must first be taken from taxpayers in the form of higher taxes or greater debt. History proves you can’t spend and borrow your way to prosperity. America is no exception.”

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“Socialist Democrats call HR2 an infrastructure bill,” Brooks said. “The fact is, the bill contains more that would impede infrastructure projects than spur them. The bill is chock-full of new top-down, one size fits all Washington mandates and bureaucratic hurdles.”

Both President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats have been urging Congress to pass an infrastructure bill, but the two sides have been unable to agree on just what should be in the infrastructure bill. Republicans like Brooks have expressed concerns over growing the national debt on an infrastructure building spree paid for with growing budget deficits.

Brooks is serving in his fifth term representing Alabama’s 5th Congressional District.

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