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Cohen Praises FBI Director’s Support for Requiring Reports on Police Shootings

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 12, 2015:

Congressman introduced legislation in January that would accomplish goals set forth by FBI Director James Comey this morning

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) applauded FBI Director James Comey for stating in a speech this morning that it is “ridiculous that [he] can’t tell you how many people were shot by the police last week, last month, last year.” In the same speech, Director Comey suggested that police departments nationwide should be required to report shootings that involve police officers so that these numbers can be tracked. Congressman Cohen introduced his National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act (H.R.306) last month to do just and more. His legislation would close a loophole in federal law that prevents adequate collection of comprehensive national data regarding justified and unjustified fatal interactions with police.

“FBI Director Comey is exactly right: it is ridiculous that we can’t tell the American people how many lives were ended by police officers this year, or any year,” said Congressman Cohen. “Before we can truly address the problem of excessive force used by law enforcement we have to understand the nature of the problem and that begins with accurate data. That is why I introduced the National Statistics on Deadly Force Act; so that our country can do a better job of honestly assessing racial disparities and other problems in our justice system and begin to fix them. It is a step in the right direction and a critical component of the healing process, I look forward to working with Director Comey to bring accountability and transparency to policing in America, and I commend him for addressing this issue.”

Without accurate and comprehensive data, racial disparities, abuses, and instances of excessive use of force are difficult to identify and unlikely to be fixed. The 1994 Crime Bill requires the Attorney General to collect statistics on the use of excessive force, but the law does not provide any enforcement mechanism nor does it adequately define what “excessive force” is. As a result, the federal government has been unable to gather data from many local police departments and there are no reliable statistics on how often law enforcement uses deadly force. Congressman Cohen’s legislation, which has 8 cosponsors, would incentivize states to require local law enforcement agencies to provide data to the Attorney General on:

  • The date of each instance when deadly force was used;
  • The identifying characteristics of the victim and officer involved, including the race, gender, ethnicity, religion and approximate age of the victim;
  • Any alleged criminal behavior by the victim;
  • An explanation, if any, by the relevant law enforcement agency of why deadly force was used;
  • A copy of any use of deadly force guidelines in effect at the time at the law enforcement agency;
  • The nature of the deadly force used, including whether it involved a firearm; and
  • A description of any non-lethal efforts that were taken before deadly force was used.

This data would be made publicly available, but would not disclose any personally identifying information. Congressman Cohen also plans to introduce legislation this year that would require incidents of deadly force used by police to be investigated and, if need be, prosecuted, by an independent actor. Currently, these cases are rarely prosecuted effectively due to an obvious conflict of interest between local police and the prosecuting District Attorney, who relies on a close working relationship with those same police officers to carry out other prosecutorial duties.

Alexander to Propose Bill Requiring Weekly ACA Exchange Reports

Press release from the office of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn; October 22, 2013:

Bill would require administration to reveal data on exchange enrollment and website problems to public, Congress, and states

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KNOXVILLE, Oct. 22 – The senior Republican on the Senate health committee today announced on a Knoxville radio show that he will introduce a bill requiring the administration to provide weekly reports to Congress and to states with data about Obamacare enrollment, efforts to resolve the site’s technological problems, and information about organizations contracted as navigators.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said of his legislation: “As millions of Americans have sat frustrated at their computers and on their phones, wasting hours trying to fulfill the Obamacare mandate and enroll in the exchanges, the administration has refused to provide critical information about what’s going wrong, or has dribbled out news through anonymous statements to reporters. This bill will require the administration to be honest and transparent with the public, governors overseeing state exchanges, state consumer protection regulators, and decisionmakers in Congress. No more hiding the damage of the train wreck—Americans are on this train.”

The bill would require the Obama administration to provide weekly reports to Congress, states, and the public about the 36 federally run exchanges, including easily tracked data such as the number of individuals who have visited the site and the number who have successfully enrolled, their zip code, and the level of coverage they’ve obtained. The reports would also be required to contain information on the department’s efforts to resolve the site’s widespread technical problems.

Recent analysis by an outside firm found that traffic to the HealthCare.gov website fell 88 percent between Oct.1 and Oct. 13, as users were scared off by problems with the site, the Washington Post reported. Less than half of 1 percent of Americans who tried to use the site in the first week were able to successfully enroll, according to the Post.

Yet, as technological problems with the site prevent Americans from being able to satisfy the Obamacare individual mandate and purchase insurance, the administration has provided little to no information about the cause of the site’s problems and its efforts to resolve them, and has provided no information about who has successfully enrolled.

Senator Alexander recently called on the Obama administration to improve the way it provides information to Americans about Obamacare, saying, “This law is about as clear as mud, and instead of helping Americans understand their new obligations, the Obama administration has been burying important changes—not announcing them boldly as you’d expect an administration that’s proud of its new health care law to do. Americans deserve better from the officials who are so committed to implementing this train wreck of a law.”

He noted the requirement that Americans sign up for health insurance by mid-February to avoid the tax penalty was confirmed by an anonymous administration official to an AP reporter on October 9 and the revelation that problems with the federal exchange website were also due to a design failure that needed to be fixed was made to a Wall Street Journal reporter on Sunday, after the administration repeatedly told Americans that the problems were due to volume.

Alexander announced his legislation on the Knoxville area’s Hallerin Hilton Hill Morning Show.