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Cohen Joins Call for Constitutional Amendment to End Influence of Money in Politics

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 21, 2015:

Democracy for All Amendment Would Overturn Citizens United and Related Decisions

[WASHINGTON, DC] – On the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling inCitizens United v. FEC, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) joined U.S. Representatives Ted Deutch (FL-21), Donna F. Edwards (MD-04), and Jim McGovern (MA-02) to introduce theDemocracy for All Amendment. This proposed amendment to the United States Constitution would reverse highly controversial Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v. FEC andMcCutcheon v. FEC, which have given corporations and America’s wealthiest donors a right to buy unlimited influence in our elections.

“With decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon over the last five years, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates and made it easier for billionaires and corporations to completely drown middle-class Americans out of the political process,” said Congressman Cohen. “The far-reaching, democracy-damaging consequences of these misguided decisions have made it clear that something needs to change. I am proud to help introduce the Democracy for All Amendment to ensure that every citizen’s right to equally participate in our democracy.”

Sponsored by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the U.S. Senate and Reps. Deutch, McGovern, and Edwards in the House of Representatives, the Democracy for All Amendment would reverse Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United by enshrining in the Constitution the right of the American people to enact state and federal laws that regulate spending in public elections.

The Democracy for All Amendment is the end result of extensive collaboration between the House and Senate sponsors of previously proposed constitutional amendments and several grassroots advocacy organizations committed to getting big money out of politics, including Public Citizen, People for the American Way, Free Speech for People, and Common Cause. In addition to overturning recent rulings like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Democracy for All Amendment also reverses the Supreme Court’s controversial holding in Buckley v. Valeo that money spent in elections is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Background

In 2010, the Supreme Court’s highly controversial, 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC held that corporations and other private entities – including 501(C) organizations that do not have to disclose their donors – have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums of money influencing the outcome of public elections.  In his far-reaching opinion for the 5-4 majority, Justice Kennedy held that any election law that goes beyond preventing quid pro quo, bribery-style corruption between candidates and donors risks violating the First Amendment.

The result of the Citizens United decision has been elections dominated by record-breaking spending by Super PACs and unaccountable outside groups funded by corporations and a tiny, extraordinarily wealthy sliver of the American population. In 2012, the first presidential election cycle following the Citizens United decision, 93 percent of Super PAC funding came from 3,318 donors, amounting to less than .01 percent of the U.S. population. Likewise, the 2014 midterm election cycle was the most expensive in history, with record-shattering spending by outside groups emboldened by Citizens United.

In 2014, the Supreme Court awarded America’s wealthiest donors even more influence in our elections with its 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down caps limiting how much money a single donor can contribute in federal elections, allowing one individual to give up to $3.6 million to candidates and various fundraising committees per federal election cycle. In addition, Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the majority in McCutcheon went as far as to argue that the influence awarded to donors is not a corrupting quid pro quo transaction, but a First Amendment right.

With elected officials spending more and more of their time raising millions dollars to defend themselves from multimillion smear campaigns from outside groups, it has become harder for everyday Americans living on a budget to be heard in the post-Citizens United era. In addition to concluding that donors receive greater access to legislators than non-donors, several academic studies have now confirmed that elected officials’ growing reliance on large dollar donations have skewed the agenda in Washington towards special interests and away from the priorities of ordinary voters.

Text of the Democracy for All Amendment (H. J. Res. 22)

Section I.  To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

Section II.  Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

Section III.  Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.

Cohen Joins Opposition to GOP Proposal to Ban Abortions After 20 Weeks

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 21, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today joined U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Alma Adams (D-NC) at a rally this afternoon opposing yet another Republican attempt to subvert the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and undermine a woman’s constitutional right to make her own health care choices. NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Karen Finney also expressed their opposition to H.R. 36, which would ban abortions before the fetus is legally considered “viable” as determined by the Supreme Court, at today’s rally. Photos of the Congressman at today’s rally are availablehere, and video of the Congressman speaking out against this legislation on the House Floor earlier today is available here.

“Republicans know they can’t get past the Supreme Court’s ruling protecting a woman’s right to choose, so they are trying to go around it by creating an entirely new justification for banning abortion that has never been recognized before,” said Congressman Cohen. “This so-called ‘fetal pain ban’ proposal isn’t about fetal pain; it’s about outlawing abortions and repealing Roe v. Wade. Republicans have rushed this bill through the process without any opportunity to amend it, the legislation doesn’t have a meaningful exception even if the health of the mother is at risk and it would put victims of rape and incest in an impossible position. In timing this bill to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Republicans are transparently using drama messaging to appeal to their base at the expense women’s health and constitutional rights. Women’s rights shouldn’t be theater, they shouldn’t be taken lightly; we have to vote this bill down.”

President Barack Obama has stated that he will veto H.R. 36, which Republican leaders have rushed through the legislative process without an opportunity for amendments, if Congress sends it to his desk. Congressman Cohen decried the Republican effort to bypass regular order and rush the bill through the House at a hearing of the Rules Committee yesterday, video of which is available here. The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks with no meaningful exception to protect a woman’s health. It would would deny care to women in the most desperate of circumstances, force victims of rape and incest to file a police report in order to obtain care, and is a blatant attempt to chip away at a woman’s right to choose.

The bill runs flagrantly afoul of the clear constitutional rule on viability.  While many factors go into determining viability, and it can vary from case to case, it is generally acknowledged as not occurring until around 24 weeks.  The Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, struck down pre-viability abortion prohibitions. The Supreme Court has continued to uphold this holding in subsequent cases, but H.R. 36 would prohibit the procedure in many pre-viability situations.

Cohen Signs on to Bill to Lift Cuban Embargo

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 15, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) joined Congressman Charles B. Rangel (NY-13) and several other House Democrats today in introducing legislation aimed at allowing free trade between the two countries. The Free Trade with Cuba Act reflects President Barack Obama’s announcement in December of normalized relations with Cuba and the subsequent rules easing travel and trade restrictions. Joining Congressman Cohen as original co-sponsors of Congressman Rangel’s legislation are Reps. Karen Bass, William Lacy Clay, John Conyers, Keith Ellison, Chaka Fattah, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Henry C. Johnson Jr., Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee, Gregory Meeks, Rick Nolan, Collin Peterson, Jared Polis, Bennie G. Thompson, Jose E. Serrano, and Jan Schakowsky.

“I support the President’s efforts to improve our relationship with Cuba and am pleased to join Congressman Rangel in introducing the Free Trade with Cuba Act to lift the embargo. Our outdated policies toward Cuba have failed to help the Cuban people, and the Castros still rule the nation. The reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba and lifting our trade embargo are humane and logical steps forward that will enable the United States to more effectively promote change in the country, support the Cuban people while expanding economic opportunities for Memphis and the Mid-South, and end anti-American restrictions on our citizens’ rights to freely travel to Cuba,” said Congressman Steve Cohen.

“President Barack Obama has indicated to the world that now is the time to change the course of our outdated foreign policy towards Cuba,” Rangel said. “Allowing trade with Cuba will not only generate revenue for our economy, but will also enable us to exchange American culture and ideals that can help foster democratic principles in Cuba. Polls repeatedly indicate strong support among Americans–both Republicans and Democrats, nationally and among Cuban-Americans–for closer diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. I am very pleased to work with my colleagues in the House to fix a policy that has been broken for years. Given President Obama’s momentous and historic announcement, now is the time for Congress to catch up with the rest of America on this issue,” said Congressman Charles B. Rangel.

The Free Trade with Cuba Act would lift the long-standing embargo on trade with Cuba to give American companies their fair share. Cuba sits 90 miles off the U.S. coast and has a GDP of $60 billion.  The longer American businesses are locked out of Cuba, the longer they will lose a foothold for trade and investment in this expanding market. U.S. businesses are falling behind foreign competitors who are increasing their participation in the Cuban market.

Polls indicate bipartisan and multigenerational support for reestablishing trade with Cuba. In an annual survey released this June, 68 percent of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County favor diplomatic relations with Cuba and 69 percent favor lifting travel restrictions to Cuba for all Americans. A separate poll shows that this support crosses party lines–52 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats favor more engagement with Cuba. Finally, support for a new policy is especially strong among young adults, with only 8 percent of Cuban-Americans ages 18 to 29 supporting the embargo.

“I am proud to join Congressman Rangel as an original co-sponsor of the Free Trade with Cuba Act. Cuba represents a growing market for U.S. products and services, especially agricultural and technology products, that has been closed off for far too long. Current U.S. policy towards Cuba has failed. It is time to normalize relations, open Cuba’s markets to U.S. goods and create good-paying jobs, right here in America,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).

“We are about to see better days when it comes to global diplomacy with the most significant changes in our Cuban policy in more than fifty years.  For nearly a half-century we have squabbled, leered at, and marginalized our Cuban neighbor with the overlay of Cuba’s ties to the old Soviet regime and Communism.  The Soviet Union is a relic of the past and capitalism and freedom have washed over the majority of the world.  The time has come to resume normal ties and allow the Cuban people to benefit from what American ingenuity offers, and hopefully we can learn from each other.  This action by Congressman Rangel once again demonstrates his leadership and his ability to change the political landscape in the best interest of the American people,” said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX).

“I’m very pleased to cosponsor the Free Trade With Cuba Act because ending the embargo is the best way to advance human rights and political freedom. The failed embargo has done nothing to advance freedom or strengthen our national security, but it has caused innocent people to suffer for generations. Lifting it would be in the best interests of the American and Cuban people,” said Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-MO).

“President Obama’s plan to establish and facilitate trade and commerce with Cuba is a major market opportunity for American business.  Support for this bill will promote investment and trade opportunities for U.S. businessmen and farmers and demonstrate our commitment to building new partnerships with Cuba,” said Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY).

“It is long past time for our nation to change course on our antiquated and failed policy of isolation toward Cuba,” said Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO). “President Obama’s announcement last month was a historic first step, but fully normalizing relations between our two nations will require action from Congress. I hope the House will act quickly to pass this important bill and resume the flow of commerce and the free exchange of ideas between the United States and Cuba that has been stymied for more than half a century.”

“I have traveled to Cuba on multiple occasions with constituents from my District. Upon each visit, I recognized the real potential for economic gain through trade with Cuba. The Free Trade with Cuba Act helps to not only boost our economy, but helps to normalize relations with Cuba and demonstrates America’s commitment to diplomacy. I applaud these efforts and am pleased to be an original co-sponsor,” said Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS).

“Promoting peace, democracy, and human rights requires engagement—not isolation. The United States isolated Cuba for 53 years in a failed attempt to promote democracy and freedom. Restarting diplomatic relations and establishing a new embassy was a great first step. Now Congress needs to follow the President’s lead and pass legislation that opens the pathway to economic engagement,” said Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN).

“We have a ready-made market in Cuba, just 90 miles off our coast, yet the current embargo gives this market away to other countries, putting American producers at a disadvantage. This legislation will significantly open the Cuban market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers, who have struggled to get their products to Cuba due to the cash in advance requirement and prohibition of direct transactions. I have long advocated for legislation to expand U.S. trade with Cuba and the Free Trade with Cuba Act does just that,” said Congressman Collin C. Peterson (D-MN).

“I commend Congressman Rangel for again introducing the Free Trade with Cuba Act. I recently traveled to Cuba where I saw firsthand the success of a therapeutic drug that they are using to prevent foot amputations in patients with diabetes. This is just one example of how lifting the embargo against Cuba will provide a direct benefit to Americans,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA)

“For more than half a century, our policy of isolation toward Cuba failed to promote democracy or prosperity for the Cuban people. While President Obama’s announcement last month was a historic step in the right direction, Congress should pass the Free Trade with Cuba Act to fully remove the counterproductive embargo against Cuba. Increasing trade with Cuba will both improve quality of life for Cubans and provide a boost for American agriculture and manufacturing, creating jobs here at home. I commend Congressman Rangel for his steady leadership on this critical issue,” said Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13).

“These bills to promote long overdue travel and trade between the United States and Cuba will help create good jobs here at home, improve the quality of life for the people of both nations and  demonstrate the success and prosperity that democracy brings to all people. This is good foreign policy, sound economic policy and old-fashioned common sense rolled into one,” said Congressman Rick Nolan (D-MN)

“The Free Trade with Cuba Act is a critically important effort to end the failed half-century embargo on Cuba. It is time for the United States to reshape our relations with Cuba to reflect current realities. Opening trade of goods and information will be a galvanizing force that will ultimately help bring democracy to the Cuban people,” said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA): “After more than 50 years of failed policy, I support President Obama’s initiative to engage our neighbor – Cuba. Trade between the U.S. and Cuba will create economic opportunity for both countries and through the free exchange of goods we will also promote openness that will help further our relationship. I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor of Rep. Rangel’s Free Trade with Cuba Act, and I look forward to the development and blossoming of this new relationship.”

“As a longtime supporter of lifting the failed Cuban embargo, I am proud to co-sponsor once again the Free Trade with Cuba Act. President Obama’s announcement last month took important steps in the right direction, towards greater engagement between the two nations. This legislation will help lift once and for the restrictions that prevent American companies from doing business with Cuba, which will generate economic opportunity for both Americans and Cubans,” said Congressman José E. Serrano (D-NY).

TN Congressional Delegation Statements on Vote to Defund Obama Executive Action on Immigration

Press release from U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. 01; January 14, 2015:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) released the following statement after voting to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the rest of the fiscal year. The bill specifically prohibits any funding from being used to carry out President Obama’s November 20 executive actions on immigration reform:

“I was proud to support this important bill which funds DHS operations for the rest of the fiscal year and blocks funding to implement the president’s executive amnesty. I hope the Senate moves swiftly to get legislation to the president’s desk.

“I am completely opposed to the president’s irresponsible and unconstitutional approach to immigration reform. It is extremely troubling and infuriating that we have a president who believes he can change laws without congressional approval, and it’s even more infuriating that the president himself is on record over a period of six years stating that he doesn’t have the authority to do what he is doing, at one point declaring, “I’m not a king.” We can’t accomplish anything meaningful if the president continues to try to ignore our laws and implement policies that haven’t been authorized by Congress. It’s up to the president. He can walk back his irresponsible governing tactics and work with Congress, or he can expect strong pushback from both chambers until the end of his presidency.”

Background:

This bill funds the Department of Homeland Security through September 30, 2015.

The legislation:

  • Prohibits funding to implement the President’s executive memos on immigration reform from November 20, 2014;
  • Ensures no illegal immigrant receives any federal benefit;
  • Stops the Administration from considering new, renewal or previously denied Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications, which is the president’s previously-announced policy allowing unaccompanied minors to stay in the country.

Press release from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. 03; January 14, 2015:

WASHINGTON− This morning, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 240, theDepartment of Homeland Security Appropriations Act. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, released the following statement after the vote.

“Today, the House put an end to President Obama’s unconstitutional actions by passing legislation to completely defund the President’s executive amnesty. The President has declared twenty-two times that he does not have the authority to bypass the legal immigration system and grant executive amnesty; yet, he did just that. When I entered Congress, I made an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and therefore, it is my duty to stop the President’s unlawful actions. This legislation further prioritizes our national security by strengthening border security, increasing government transparency, and enhancing immigration enforcement. We must protect our nation and end this executive overreach.”

Press release from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, Re-Tenn. 04; January 14, 2015:

Congressman Scott DesJarlais, M.D. (TN-04) released the following statement after the House of Representatives passed HR 240, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which will fund DHS for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2015, while blocking President Obama’s unlawful executive amnesty:

“I was proud to join like-minded conservatives in the House in passing legislation to effectively stop President Obama’s dangerous and unlawful executive amnesty. For too long, the president has ignored the Constitution and violated our separation of powers. And he knows it. In fact, the president said on 22 separate occasions that the Constitution does not give him the authority to take unilateral action on immigration. Yet that is precisely what he did. Today, the House reasserts its power of the purse by cutting off funds for President Obama’s unconstitutional actions.”

Press release from U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. 06; January 14, 2015:

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06) spoke on the House floor to praise the House passage of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act. The legislation fully funds the Department of Homeland Security through the remainder of the fiscal year while ensuring that no funding is made available for President Obama’s executive amnesty. The bill additionally includes provisions of Rep. Black’s Immigration Compliance Enforcement Act, legislation she previously passed through the House Judiciary Committee and reintroduced this year to defund the position of “public advocate” or any similar position at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Below is a transcript of her remarks, or for a video click here.

Mister Speaker, last year I promised my constituents that in the new year we would bring the fight on illegal immigration and act to restore the separation of powers that was upended by President Obama’s lawless overreach – and I meant it.

That is why I proudly voted for the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act and the attached amendments.

This bill is simple – it fully funds DHS while ensuring that no dollars are made available for the President’s executive amnesty.

I’m especially pleased that this measure contained key provisions of my bill- the Immigration Compliance Enforcement Act – which will defund the Obama Administration’s “public advocate” to lobby on behalf of illegal immigrants.

Mister Speaker, we still have three co-equal branches of government. When the President oversteps his bounds, we are compelled to respond.

I yield back my time.

Background on President’s Executive Amnesty:
On November 20, 2014 President Obama announced a series of executive actions that would grant temporary legal status and work permits to some four million unlawful immigrants. TheDepartment of Homeland Security Appropriations Act as amended prevents any funds – whether they are appropriated funds or user fees collected by the agency – to be used to carry-out these executive actions. The legislation additionally freezes funding for the President’s Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which uses prosecutorial discretion to grant legal status to select undocumented immigrants.

Background on ICE Public Advocate:
On February 7, 2012, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the appointment of a public advocate to handle complaints and questions about the administration’s immigration enforcement policies.  This position serves as a point of contact for illegal and criminal immigrants in deportation proceedings as well as illegal alien advocacy and community groups. On June 7, 2012 the House of Representatives passed an amendment authored by Rep. Black to withhold funding for this position. That language was subsequently inserted into the Consolidated and Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 which was signed into law by President Obama in March 2013. (see Sec. 567 here)

Following the enactment of this measure, the Obama Administration rebranded the public advocate position as “Community Outreach,” allowing employees in this department to continue their activities as before. This prompted Rep. Black to introduce the Immigration Compliance Enforcement Act which would defund both positions at ICE or any other position “the functions of which are substantially the same.” This legislation passed the House Judiciary Committee in the 113th Congress and was re-introduced as H.R. 276 this year. Provisions of this bill are included in Section 551 of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act which passed the House today. This section reads, “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to provide funding for the position of Public Advocate, or a successor position, within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Press release from U. S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. 07; January 14, 2015:

Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) today continued her fight to stop President Obama’s lawless executive amnesty with House passage of her amendment to freeze the President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Blackburn’s amendment was approved 218-209 as part of H.R. 240, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act.

Blackburn’s amendment prohibits any Federal funding, fees, or resources from being used to consider or adjudicate any new, renewal, or previously denied application for any alien requesting consideration for deferred action.

“The American people have overwhelmingly rejected executive amnesty and spoke loud and clear last November when they sent Republicans to Congress to stop President Obama’s lawless actions, Blackburn said. “President Obama has circumvented Congress and unilaterally re-written immigration law from the oval office. I applaud the House for taking action today by approving my amendment to freeze the DACA program, which was unlawfully created by Executive Memo on June 15, 2012.

“Last year, I had the opportunity to visit an unaccompanied alien children (UAC) facility at Fort Sill and also traveled to the southern border where I was briefed by U.S. Border Patrol agents. These visits confirmed what we have known all along — DACA is the magnet drawing Central American children here. UAC’s believe they will receive amnesty, as those before them have.”

The Office of Refugee Resettlement released 53, 518 UACs to sponsors within the U.S. in FY2014.As result, there is a strong correlation between the President’s amnesty and the surge of UACs coming to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol have also advised that at least 40% of UACs are abused on their journey here.

“President Obama is turning every state into a border state and every town into a border town, said Blackburn. “Unfortunately, his lawless amnesty has taken Democrats from the party of ‘YES WE CAN’ to the party of BECAUSE WE CAN.”

VIDEO: Blackburn Leads Fight to Stop Obama’s Lawless Amnesty

Duncan Reappointed Vice Chair of House Transportation Committee

Press release from U.S. Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn. 02; January 13, 2015:

WASHINGTON – Congressman John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.) was reappointed Vice Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Tuesday, a key position that will allow him to help write and pass major transportation legislation the 114th Congress.

“I believe deeply in the work of the Transportation Committee, as it affects every American on a daily basis. Major highway and aviation bills are being crafted this year, and I am excited to continue my work to bring more efficiency to transportation projects,” Duncan said.  “We now take on average three times as long and incur three times the cost of any other developed nation to complete transportation infrastructure projects because of excessive rules, red tape, and environmental regulations.”

“Last Congress, the Committee was able to work together to accomplish a number of our policy and legislative goals to help strengthen America’s infrastructure and bolster the Nation’s competitiveness,” Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) said.  “A great deal of our success was attributable to our committee’s excellent leadership team.  With the return of Congressman Duncan as Full Committee Vice Chairman, I am confident we will be able to continue effectively addressing the needs of our transportation system.”

Rep. Duncan has served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since 1989, serving in various leadership roles, including:  Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Economic Development (1993-1994); Chairman, Subcommittee on Aviation (1995-2000); Chairman, Water Resources Subcommittee (2001-2006); Ranking Member, Highways and Transit Subcommittee (2007-2010); Chairman, Highways and Transit Subcommittee (2011-2012); Vice Chairman, Full Committee (2013-present).

Rep. Duncan also serves as a Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Alexander, Kline Call on GAO to Study Dept of Ed ESEA Waiver Policies

Press release from the Office of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander; August 12, 2014: 

Washington, D.C., Aug. 12 – Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the senior Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) today requested a study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver policies.

In a letter to GAO, they wrote, “In 2011, the department began issuing waivers to states regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have received ESEA waivers. In order to receive waivers, these states were required to comply with a new set of requirements, not authorized by Congress, related to standards and assessments, school accountability, and teacher and principal evaluation systems.”

The lawmakers noted the supporting documentation required to obtain waivers in their home states, which ranged from more than 700 to more than 1,000 pages. “However, Congress has little information about how the department utilizes the data required of these and other states to grant, deny, renew, or revoke a state waiver,” they wrote. “Additionally, Congress has little insight into how states are impacted by the time and cost associated with applying for and implementing these waiver requirements.”

“Finally, the department has recently altered various requirements for certain states regarding implementation timelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems. At the same time, other states have had their waivers put on ‘high risk’ status, and Washington recently had its waiver revoked, over issues related to teacher and principal evaluation systems. The department has provided no justifications for these seemingly contradictory decisions.”

The full text of the letter is below:

August 12, 2014

The Honorable Gene Dodaro
Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

We are writing to request a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act(ESEA) waiver policies. In 2011, the department began issuing waivers to states regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have received ESEA waivers. In order to receive waivers, these states were required to comply with a new set of requirements, not authorized by Congress, related to standards and assessments, school accountability, and teacher and principal evaluation systems.

For Tennessee, the supporting documentation required for its waiver request resulted in a binder that was more than one thousand pages thick. Minnesota’s approved application is more than 700 pages long. However, Congress has little information about how the department utilizes the data required of these and other states to grant, deny, renew, or revoke a state waiver. Additionally, Congress has little insight into how states are impacted by the time and cost associated with applying for and implementing these waiver requirements.

Finally, the department has recently altered various requirements for certain states regarding implementation timelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems. At the same time, other states have had their waivers put on “high risk” status, and Washington recently had its waiver revoked, over issues related to teacher and principal evaluation systems. The department has provided no justifications for these seemingly contradictory decisions.

Accordingly, key questions we would like GAO to explore include:

1. What processes and criteria does the Department of Education use to approve, deny, renew, and revoke states’ ESEA waiver applications? How does the department use the data it requires states to provide when applying for and renewing waivers?

2. What changes have states made in order to meet the department’s conditions for the approval and renewal of a waiver?

3. What issues have selected states, including states that have not applied for a waiver, had waiver applications rejected, and had approved waivers revoked, faced in deciding whether to apply for and implement an ESEA waiver, such as time and resources used to produce waiver and waiver renewal applications and the possible need for legislative changes?

4. To what extent are states able to implement accountability and evaluation systems consistent with existing state laws and policies? What barriers exist for states and districts in adapting accountability and evaluation systems to their unique needs?

Sincerely,

Lamar Alexander                                             John Kline

Ranking Member                                              Chairman

U.S. Senate Committee on Health,            U.S. House Committee on

Education, Labor and Pensions                 Education and the Workforce

Immigration Reform Called for by 16 TN Higher Ed Leaders

Press release from Partnership for a New American Economy; September 19, 2013:

Nashville, TN – Yesterday, sixteen college and university leaders in Tennessee sent a joint letter to the Tennessee U.S. House delegation calling for immigration reform to be passed this year.

These leaders in education understand immigration reform is an economic imperative, writing “Our educational institutions succeed when all of Tennessee’s industries succeed, and research shows that passing immigration reform will benefit all sectors of the state’s economy – especially our agricultural and housing sectors.”

The letter was signed by:

  • Robert C. Fisher, President, Belmont University
  • John Smarrelli, Jr., President, Christian Brothers University
  • Harvill C. Eaton, President, Cumberland University
  • Brian Noland, President, East Tennessee State University
  • Gregory D. Jordan, President, King College
  • Gary E. Weedman, President, Johnson University
  • B. James Dawson, President, Lincoln Memorial University
  • Randy Lowry, President, Lipscomb University
  • Kenneth L. Schwab, President, Middle Tennessee School for Anesthesia
  • Bill Greer, President, Milligan College
  • Gordon Bietz, President, Southern Adventist University
  • Richard W. Phillips, President, Southern College of Optometry
  • John Morgan, Chancellor, Tennessee Board of Regents
  • Philip B. Oldham, President, Tennessee Tech University
  • Nancy B. Moody, President, Tusculum College
  • Jimmy G. Cheek, Chancellor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The letter cites several reasons for the need to pass immigration reform legislation this year, including:

  • The prevalence of foreign-born students graduating with Master’s or PhDs in STEM fields
  • The high demand for STEM graduates by businesses
  • The potential impact to the economy from passage of the DREAM Act
  • The need of the agricultural industry for more low-skill visas

The letter also cites broad support for immigration reform in Tennessee, stating “Tennesseans know we should not wait to fix our immigration system. Recent polls show that 63 percent of Tennessee voters support the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, with 91 percent believing it is important we fix our immigration system this year.”

A copy of the full letter is included with this release.

ABOUT PARTNERSHIP FOR A NEW AMERICAN ECONOMY: The Partnership for a New American Economy brings together more than 500 Republican, Democratic and Independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today. The Partnership’s members include mayors of more than 35 million people nationwide and business leaders of companies that generate more than $1.5 trillion and employ more than 4 million people across all sectors of the economy, from Agriculture to Aerospace, Hospitality to High Tech and Media to Manufacturing. Partnership members understand that immigration is essential to maintaining the productive, diverse and flexible workforce that America needs to ensure prosperity over the coming generations. Learn more at www.RenewOurEconomy.org.

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University Leader Letter:

September 18, 2013

The Honorable Diane Black 1531 Longworth HOB Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Marsha Blackburn 217 Cannon House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Steve Cohen 2404 Rayburn HOB Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Jim Cooper 1536 Longworth HOB Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Scott Desjarlais 413 Cannon HOB Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable John J. Duncan, Jr. 2207 Rayburn HOB Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Stephen Fincher 1118 Longworth HOB Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Chuck Fleischmann 230 Cannon HOB Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Phil Roe 407 Cannon House Office Bldg Washington, DC 20515

Dear Tennessee Delegation:

As leaders of Tennessee’s colleges and universities, we are writing to encourage you to address a critical threat to America’s preeminence as the center of innovation and prosperity: our inability under current United States immigration policy to help Tennessee retain and capitalize on many of the talented individuals we are educating on our campuses.

Foreign-born students help create jobs for Tennessee and often provide the technological innovations that help drive economic growth. Many will serve as the next generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, and leaders in our state.

A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign-born graduates from a U.S. Master’s or PhD program who stay in America working in a STEM field, 262 additional jobs are created for American workers.

In Tennessee, that can translate into a significant new growth — since our share of foreign-born advance STEM degree holders working in STEM fields grew by 85 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Yet, in 2009, 37 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhDs in STEM fields from Tennessee’s research universities were temporary residents, a group with no clear path to stay in America after graduation. And more than half of all students earning engineering PhDs in recent years have been non-citizens. We need reform to keep these graduates.

Studies also show immigrants are twice as likely to start new companies to support our communities and to create new jobs. Immigrant-owned businesses in Tennessee already generate about $851 million in income for the state each year.

But many of our future students came to this country as children and have been unable to take advantage of an American education and contribute to our economy because of their status. A recent study found that incentivizing these children to pursue a college education by passing the DREAM Act would add 1.4 million jobs and generate $329 billion in economic activity over the next 20 years.

Our educational institutions succeed when all of Tennessee’s industries succeed, and research shows that passing immigration reform will benefit all sectors of the state’s economy – especially our agricultural and housing sectors.

But our current immigration system creates real obstacles to growth. Low limits on high-skilled visas leave immigrants with no way to stay after earning a diploma, or they face untenable delays waiting for a permanent visa. At the same time, low limits on low-skilled visas leave farmers struggling to find the workers they need to produce and grow.

Meanwhile, too many people are living in the shadows unable to join our workforce, gain an education, and contribute to the economy they live in, while we face real worker shortages and slow economic growth.

Creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants will have a positive effect for Tennessee’s economy. According to a study by Regional Economic Models, Inc., for every person who enrolls, an estimated $6,916 will be added to our Gross State Product by 2020.

Tennesseans know we should not wait to fix our immigration system. Recent polls show that 63 percent of Tennessee voters support the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, with 91 percent believing it is important we fix our immigration system this year.

We call on you to work together to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan solution on immigration reform. From education to agriculture — to housing to business – Tennessee’s economy needs your support on this important issue at this critical time.

Thank you for your consideration and for your continued leadership.

Sincerely,

Robert C. Fisher President Belmont University

John Smarrelli, Jr. President Christian Brothers University

Harvill C. Eaton President Cumberland University

Brian Noland President East Tennessee State University

Gregory D. Jordan President King College

Gary E. Weedman President Johnson University

B. James Dawson President Lincoln Memorial University

Randy Lowry President Lipscomb University

Kenneth L. Schwab President Middle Tennessee School for Anesthesia

Bill Greer President Milligan College

Gordon Bietz President Southern Adventist University

Richard W. Phillips President Southern College of Optometry

John Morgan Chancellor Tennessee Board of Regents

Philip B. Oldham President Tennessee Tech University

Nancy B. Moody President Tusculum College

Jimmy G. Cheek Chancellor University of Tennessee, Knoxville