Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sensenbrenner & Conyers Introduce Bipartisan Legislation Curbing Government Surveillance

H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, Ends Bulk Collection in the United States

(WASHINGTON) – Today, John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, joined former Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wisc.) and 79 other members of the House in introducing H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act: United and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet Collection, and Online Monitoring Act.  H.R. 3361 will end the bulk collection of Americans’ communications records, create an Office of the Special Advocate to represent privacy interests in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and increase government oversight and public scrutiny of the government’s domestic surveillance programs.  After the legislation was introduced, Rep. Conyers issued the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Over the course of the past six months, the public has come to learn about the sweeping nature of our government’s surveillance programs.  The picture drawn is one of a surveillance system run amuck. Our intelligence community has operated without proper congressional oversight or regard for Americans’ privacy and civil liberties,” said Conyers.

“One of the most troubling abuses that has come to light is the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of telephone records for virtually every phone call made within the United States.  Although the NSA has had every opportunity to make its case, it has not demonstrated that the telephone metadata collection program is of much value to its counterterrorism mission. Similarly, the government has failed to square its tortured reading of Section 215 the PATRIOT Act with the plain text of the statute, or with our clear intent when we authored that provision.

“Today, with the introduction of the USA FREEDOM Act, that all changes.

“Together with my colleague Congressman Sensenbrenner - the former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the current Chairman of our Crime Subcommittee, and the principal author of the USA PATRIOT Act - I have introduced a bill that will curb some of the worst excesses of the government’s domestic surveillance operations. Specifically, the USA FREEDOM Act will:

Ø  End the bulk collection of American’s communications records.

Ø  Preserve the responsible use of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act for cases that are actually relevant to an authorized counterterrorism investigation.

Ø  Strengthen the prohibition on ‘reverse targeting’ of Americans - that is, targeting a non-U.S. person with the goal of obtaining communications to or from an American citizen.

Ø  Create an Office of the Special Advocate to represent the public interest and privacy concerns before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Ø  Give private Internet and telecommunications companies the ability to publicly disclose certain information about their cooperation with the U.S. government.

Ø  Increase transparency by making significant FISA Court decisions available to the public.

“This legislation is principled, bipartisan, and reasonable.  It enjoys significant support in the House Judiciary Committee, the primary committee of jurisdiction for these matters.  It stops short of simply ending all government surveillance under Section 215.  It ends dragnet surveillance, and does so without compromising the intelligence community’s ability to keep us safe. 

“Our bipartisan coalition is growing both in numbers and resolve.  We must act now to restore our privacy, and to reject the false choice between security and civil liberties.”

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Conyers, Congressional Colleagues, and Advocates Call to Extend - Not Cut - SNAP Benefits

(WASHINGTON) Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) hosted a press conference with Congressional and outside advocates on the upcoming reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits this Friday, November 1st. On that day, the temporary benefit boost provided for in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 stimulus is scheduled to expire and households across the country participating in SNAP will see their monthly benefit sharply reduced. This substantial reduction on November 1st will leave many Americans unsure of how they will put food on the table, and will aggravate the problem of hunger in our nation, making it that much harder for millions of Americans—fathers and mothers, children, veterans and active duty military, to provide for their loved ones. At the press conference, Rep. Conyers delivered the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“It is with great urgency that my colleague Representative Barbara Lee and I join with fellow Democrats and representatives from Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Share Our Strength, Feeding America, and United Way for Southeastern Michigan to discuss an important concern.  On Friday, November 1st, households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will see their monthly benefit sharply reduced. The temporary benefit boost provided for in the 2009 Recovery Act is scheduled to expire, leaving many Americans unsure of how they will put food on the table.  This cut will severely aggravate the problem of both hunger and economic growth in our Nation.

“The SNAP benefit increase provided in the Recovery Act passed in the depths of the Great Recession to provide an increase in benefits through Fiscal Year 2016.  However, the funding increase was quickly reduced while a portion of it was used to cover the cost of education jobs and Medicaid and the reauthorization of Child Nutrition programs. As a result, beginning on November 1, 2013, SNAP funding will be reduced by approximately $5 billion for FY 2014.  Additionally, a family of four will lose up to $36 a month and an average benefit per person, per meal will drop to less than $1.40.  Instead of purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables parents will have to choose cheaper and less healthy food options that lack nutritional value. In my home state of Michigan, $183 Million will be cut from SNAP benefits causing 1,775,000 SNAP recipients to be impacted and parents wondering if they’ll have enough benefits left over near the end of the month for Thanksgiving. This is heartless! SNAP is designed to help eliminate hunger but this cut will only increase it.  

“I am urging my colleagues to avoid exacerbating hunger in our Nation and to join your colleagues in supporting H.R. 3353, the ‘Extend Not Cut SNAP Benefits Act.’ This bill provides for a one year extension of the 13% benefits increase contained in the Recovery Act through the 2014 Fiscal Year. Without an extension of the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to SNAP, our economy will be worse off and our children will face a hunger that they do not deserve.”Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Ranking Member Conyers Opening Statement at Full Committee Patent Reform Hearing

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing on, “H.R. 3309: Improving the Patent System to Promote American Innovation and Competitiveness.” This hearing comes on the heels of the introduction of H.R. 3349, the “Innovation Protection Act,” by Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Congressman Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, and Congressman Doug Collins (R-Ga.) This legislation ends future diversion of Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) fees, allowing the PTO to employ all of the user fees it receives. During his opening remarks, Rep. Conyers delivered the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.

“There are few economic issues our Committee or this Congress will face that are more important than whether and how to reform our patent laws.  Intellectual property – principally patents – are responsible for nearly one third of all jobs in the U.S. economy.  Our patent system, while not perfect, is the envy of the world and perhaps the most significant driver of growth in our economy. 

“As we consider patent legislation, I would like to offer three points for consideration.  First, I believe the issues of non- practicing entities or so-called patent ‘trolls’ present some unique problems that are worthy of congressional attention.  There is a disconnect when shell corporations -- with little or no assets -- can threaten thousands of small end users with ill-conceived patent litigation over ordinary business practices.  If we don’t know who these shell companies are; if the shell companies have no operating businesses or assets; and if they are given free license to engage in endless and costly discovery, we have a problem that requires legislation.

“But at the same time, we need to be careful in addressing these problems.  Our first rule should be to make sure we do no harm to our patent system or take any actions which unintentionally discourage innovation or increase litigation.  As the former Director of the Patent and Trademark Office David Kappos reminds us, ‘we are not just tinkering with any system here; we are reworking the greatest innovation engine the world has ever known, almost instantly after it has been significantly overhauled.  If there were ever a case where caution is called for, this is it.’

“In this regard, I don’t see any reason we should be considering amending the fee shifting statute when the Supreme Court has just agreed to take up this very issue.  Similarly, I see no rush to expand the use of ‘business method patents’ when the PTO and the courts are just now beginning to review cases brought under the law we just passed.

“Second, any changes we make must be carefully balanced and consistent with our principles and constitutional imperatives.   For 80 years we have asked our federal judges – the experts on litigation – to develop rules for their own court rooms.  That system has worked well and I see no reason to abrogate the principle of separation of powers now.

“And if we are going to consider crafting new rules on discovery, stays, and joinder, we should insist that the rules work the same for all parties – plaintiffs and defendants. Nor should we be crafting a series of special carve outs from the legislation for the pharmaceutical industry.  The last thing we need to do is create two systems of patent law – one for pharmaceuticals and one for everybody else.

“Third, we cannot lose sight of the single most important problem facing our patent system today – the continuing diversion of patent fees.   The most effective step we can take in responding to abusive patent litigation is making sure poor quality patents are not issued to begin with.  To do that we need to give our examiners the resources they need to review and analyze the hundreds of thousands of complex and interrelated patent applications they receive every year.   That is why yesterday, I along with Representatives Watt, Issa and Collins, introduced bipartisan legislation – the Innovation Protection Act – which does exactly that on a permanent, statutory basis.  This will apply regardless of the sequester or any future shut downs. 

“I stand ready, able and willing to work with members on both sides of aisle in tackling these problems.  But I would urge the Chairman to move cautiously, carefully and deliberately.”Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Conyers & Nadler Urge Supreme Court to Preserve Critical Legal Tool in the Fight Against Housing and Lending Discrimination

Members File Bipartisan Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Mt. Holly v. Mt. Holly Garden Citizens in Action

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc. At the heart of this case is whether disparate impact – a method of proving discrimination by showing that policies or practices are discriminatory in application even if neutral on their face – can be used to enforce the Fair Housing Act, federal legislation that prohibits housing and lending discrimination. In their amicus brief, Reps. Conyers and Nadler argue in favor of disparate impact, citing extensive legislative history demonstrating that Congress intended to reach all forms of discrimination and chose language to accomplish this goal.

Upon filing the amicus brief, Reps. Conyers and Nadler issued the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.

Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.): “As our country went through a turbulent period in the fight for civil rights, I championed and voted in favor of the landmark Fair Housing Act in 1968. We passed this historic law, which came on the heels of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, understanding that we needed to reach and prohibit decades of discriminatory policies and practices. That is why we outlawed both intentional acts of discrimination as well as practices that, while seemingly neutral on their face, have the same discriminatory effect.  In the forty-five years since its passage – including in the recent $335 million settlement of Countrywide Financial’s predatory lending practices during the housing boom – disparate impact standards, which account for practices that have a discriminatory effect, have been used to enforce the Fair Housing Act’s promise of equal opportunity for all. Disparate impact remains a key civil rights enforcement tool, and I hope that this vital standard emerges stronger from this legal challenge.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.): “Unfortunately, discrimination in housing and housing-related lending remains a major problem in this country.  During the recent housing boom and bust, companies like Countrywide Financial charged minority applicants with higher interest rates and steered them into costly subprime mortgages.  There, the Justice Department successfully used disparate impact theory – as it has for several decades, during both Republican and Democratic administrations – to challenge this unlawful practice.  The Mount Holly case jeopardizes this key enforcement tool and puts at risk the progress our nation has made regarding housing discrimination.  We urge the Court to preserve disparate impact theory, and help ensure that the promise of equal housing opportunity becomes a reality for all.”
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Monday, October 28, 2013

The Truth About CPS - Baby LK Report For October 27th 2013

Baby LK recaps the week in news for the child protective industry. Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Conyers Announces Extend - Don’t Cut - SNAP Benefits Press Conference

(WASHINGTON) – On November 1st, the temporary benefit boost provided for in the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act is scheduled to expire and households across the country participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will see their monthly benefit sharply reduced. This substantial reduction on November 1st will leave many Americans unsure of how they will put food on the table, and will aggravate the problem of hunger in our nation, making it that much harder for millions of Americans—fathers and mothers, children, veterans and active duty military, to provide for their loved ones.

In response to this upcoming cutback, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) will be holding a press conference at 1:00 pm this Tuesday, October 29th in the House Triangle. Rep. Conyers will be joined by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), and representatives from prominent anti-hunger groups including the Food Research Action Center and Share Our Strength.

Further information about the event is detailed below:

Extend – Don’t Cut – SNAP Benefits Press Conference
Ø  Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.)
Ø  Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)
Ø  Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) (Invited)
Ø  Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)
Ø  Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.)
Ø  Congressman Rush Holt (D- N.J.) (Invited)
Ø  Congressman Ted Deutch (D- Fl.) (Invited)

Ø  James Weill, President, Food Research Action Center (FRAC)
Ø  Thomas C. Neslon, President, Share Our Strength
Ø  John Sayles, CEO, Vermont Foodbank and Chair of the Feeding America Policy Engagement and Advocacy Committee
Ø  Constituent from United Way for Southeastern Michigan

Tuesday, October 29th, 1:00 p.m.
House Triangle

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Conyers Speaks On National Surveillance

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Conyers, Nadler, and Petri Reintroduce the Bipartisan State Secrets Protection Act

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Ranking Member on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, and Congressman Tom Petri (R-Wisc.), reintroduced legislation that would ensure meaningful judicial determination of the state secrets privilege. The bipartisan State Secrets Protection Act would curb abuse of the privilege while providing protection for valid state secrets. The state secrets privilege allows the government to withhold evidence in litigation if its disclosure would harm national security. The purpose of the privilege is to protect legitimate state secrets. However, if it is not properly policed by the courts, it can be abused to conceal embarrassing or unlawful conduct whose disclosure poses no genuine threat to national security.

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.): “In matters of national security, the federal government has a duty to protect sensitive information from being improperly disclosed. However, there have been incidents in the past where the federal government abused the state secrets privilege to protect information that, while posing no true harm to national security, proved embarrassing to the government. As recent revelations regarding the executive branch’s sweeping surveillance programs have confirmed, robust oversight and meaningful checks on executive branch authorities are critical to safeguarding our civil rights. This legislation, which provides long overdue guidance to the courts on how to handle executive branch assertions of secrecy in civil litigation, will protect citizens’ civil liberties from further abuse while maintaining the legitimate exercise of the state secrets privilege.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)“In recent years, the executive branch has used the state secret privilege aggressively, often seeking outright dismissal of entire cases based on the claim that the very subject matter of a case is too secret to be heard by a court. This troubling trend cannot continue.  The basic rights and freedoms that we cherish as a nation are meaningless without the means to enforce them. This important bill recognizes that protecting sensitive information is an important responsibility for any administration and requires that courts protect legitimate state secrets while preventing the premature and sweeping dismissal of entire cases.  The right to seek protection from the courts is fundamental to protecting basic civil liberties and it must not be sacrificed to overbroad claims of secrecy.”

Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-Wisc.): “Especially nowadays where recent revelations about intrusions on personal privacy have caused a growing distrust in government, it’s important that the law is clear and the executive branch is held accountable.  I’m sure there are cases where national security is truly at risk, and that information must be protected. But we shouldn’t have to simply take the executive branch’s word for it.  Shouldn’t an independent, responsible party apart from the executive branch review the material to determine when and how national security really necessitates restricting the use of sensitive material? The answer is, quite obviously, yes. We have a similar procedure for criminal cases, and we need one for civil cases as well.”

In 1953, the widows of three civilian engineers filed a civil case against the government for negligence in a military airplane crash that killed their husbands.  The government, citing national security concerns, refused to provide an accident report of the crash.  The Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Reynolds, upheld that refusal, without ever reviewing the accident report itself.  When the report was discovered through an internet search 50 years later, it did not reveal any secret military information but, instead, showed the government’s negligence in the crash.

More recently, the executive branch’s increased use of the privilege to dismiss cases challenging the most troubling aspects of the war on terror – including rendition, torture, warrantless wiretapping, and the lethal targeting of U.S. citizens – has highlighted the need to ensure that judges do not simply accept a government’s secrecy claim at face value.  Regardless of the administration in office, there is a continued need for clear guidance on proper court handling of executive branch secrecy claims.

The bipartisan State Secrets Protection Act is modeled on existing protections and procedures for handling secret evidence.  Specifically, the bill would require a court to make an independent assessment of the privilege claim, and would allow evidence to be withheld only if “public disclosure of the evidence that the government seeks to protect would be reasonably likely to cause significant harm to the national defense or diplomatic relations of the United States.”

Under the bill, when this standard is met, a judge must protect the evidence from harmful disclosure, and shall consider whether a non-privileged substitute can be created that would prevent an unnecessary dismissal of the claims.  Through these reasonable and uniform procedures and standards, the bill would strengthen national security and the rule of law, and would help restore checks and balances.

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Congressman John Conyers Jr will announce his endorsement of Benny Napoleon for Mayor

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.

The second longest serving United States Congressman, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D~Detroit), will endorse Benny N. Napoleon for Mayor ofthe city of Detroit. He will be joined at tomorrow’s announcement with Detroit clergy, leaders of labor and other Supporters.

Like Napoleon, Conyers strongly believes that Detroit citizens’ right to democracy has been challenged and he is concerned about continued disinvestment in urban centers across America, especially in his hometown of Detroit. Conyers specifically endorses Napoleon’s bold and comprehensive plan to economically revitalize Detroit’s neighborhoods.

The endorsement announcement will be Thursday, October 24 at 2 pm. at the Benny Napoleon for Mayor Campaign Headquarters, 2652 E. Jefferson, Detroit (in the Chene shopping plaza).

As a lifelong Detroit resident, Conyers has seen the rising crime and focus taken away from the
oity’s real core - its neighborhoods where most residents live. Napoleon’s Neighborhood Growîh
Strategy, coupled with his Five-Point 50-Percent Crime Reduction Plan, will aff'mn Detroit as a safe city; stabilize and revitalize the neighborhoods; develop economic anchors to create jobs, shopping and dining opportunities; build neighborhood public safety service centers and Fire/EMS superstations; and initiate other necessary resources.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Conyers Applauds Nomination of Jeh Johnson to Become Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

(WASHINGTON) – Today, President Obama announced the nomination of Jeh Johnson to become the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security following the retirement of Janet Napolitano. Mr. Johnson most recently served as the General Counsel for the Department of Defense.  After the nomination was announced, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) issued the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“I congratulate Jeh Johnson on his nomination to become the next secretary, and the first African-American secretary, of the Department of Homeland Security, and I applaud President Obama for this outstanding nomination,” said Conyers.

“Mr. Johnson has had a brilliant legal career in private practice, working as a civil and criminal trial lawyer on notable commercial cases, and was elected to be his firm’s first African American partner.  Following this work, Mr. Johnson went into public service, including working as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York prosecuting public corruption cases, serving as General Counsel of the Air Force during the Clinton Administration, and serving as General Counsel for the Department of Defense from 2009 through 2012.

“As a dedicated public servant, and a brilliant legal mind, I commend Jeh Johnson’s nomination, and I hope that the Senate promptly confirms him.”

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Congressman Conyers Argues to Extend, Not Cut, Nutrition Assistance Benefits

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) went to the House Floor to discuss his legislation H.R. 3108, the “Extend Not Cut SNAP Benefits Act.” This legislation comes on the heels of House Republicans voting to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program by $40 billion. He said:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“On November 1st, households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will see their monthly benefit sharply reduced.  The temporary benefit boost provided for in the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) is scheduled to expire next month, leaving many American’s unsure of how they will put food on the table.  The November 1st cut will aggravate the problem of hunger in our nation, and make it that much harder for millions of Americans—fathers and mothers, children, veterans and active duty military to provide for their loved ones.

“The benefit increase passed in the depths of the Great Recession has provided Americans—both directly and indirectly—with substantial benefits.  Low-income families who face unemployment and underemployment are provided a critical way to bridge the financial barriers they face.  Americans who are employed in adequate paying jobs are able to remain so because of the boost to the economy; $9 are added to the GDP for every $5 in SNAP benefits that the program provides.

“These cuts will come at a moment when Americans are ill-prepared to afford them.  The loss of SNAP will not just mean empty tables for Thanksgiving for millions; it will mean a weaker economy, even as the effects of our prolonged shutdown and debt ceiling brinksmanship continues to erode economic progress.  This cut in benefits simply pushes the American economy into a vicious cycle which we cannot afford at this time.

“I am urging my colleagues to avoid exacerbating the effects of this government shutdown and the potential default of government debts—by calling on them to support H.R. 3108, the ‘Extend Not Cut SNAP Benefits Act.’  H.R. 3108 provides for a one year extension of the 13% benefits increase contained in ARRA through the 2014 Fiscal Year.

“In 2011, SNAP lifted 4.7 million Americans above the poverty line, including 2.1 million children.  Without an extension of the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to SNAP, our economy will be worse off and our children will face hunger they certainly do not deserve.”

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What Price Justice?

By John Conyers, Jr.

As the government budget gridlock grinds on, there has been considerable attention concerning its financial impact, with the sequester calculated as costing the economy more than 1.5 million jobs and the government shutdown estimated as costing the economy more than $150 million per day. However, few commentators have focused on the effect the sequester and the government shutdown are having on our constitutional obligation to do justice.
U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
As the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, that was the question posed at a forum I convened this week with some of the nation's leading experts on law and justice -- including the president of the American Bar Association, a retired federal judge, former Congressional and Justice Department staff, and representatives of public and legal defenders and non-profits.
We learned that the cost of the sequester and shutdown on the Department of Justice and the federal courts is grave and growing each and every day. The Department of Justice's funding was reduced last year by more than $1.6 billion, which has hindered their efforts to combat violent crime, to fund critical grant programs like Community Oriented Policing Services and Violence Against Women, to pursue financial fraud, and to prevent terrorism. As Scott Lilly, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress told us, the sequester means it is a good time to be a terrorist, a foreign intelligence officer, or to engage in consumer fraud.
The FBI and Bureau of Prisons are being hit particularly hard. At the FBI, new agents are no longer being trained, many investigations are not being opened on a timely basis, and criminal cases are being closed prematurely. We've even been told that agents are not being reimbursed for putting gas in their cars. In the coming months, as the toll of sequester accumulates, critical functions at the Bureau of Prisons will be stretched well beyond their limits, with possible physical harm to guards and even prison riots on the horizon.
According to James Silkenat, the President of the American Bar Association, our independent court system is very close to collapse as a result of the cumulative impact of the sequester and shutdown. Because federal judicial salaries are exempt from reduction, the cut backs for the rest of the court system are even more onerous. Among other things, the federal judiciary has been forced to curtail critical programs that supervise individuals in the community awaiting trial and that monitor those who have served their time and subsequently are released from prison on parole, which potentially jeopardizes public safety.
Beyond the specific impacts on funding and caseload, the sequester and shutdown are having an even more insidious effect on some of our nation's most sacred legal obligations. It is a shocking irony that 50 years after the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright -- guaranteeing indigent criminal defendants the right to counsel -- we are shirking this core constitutional commitment.
Last fiscal year the public defenders program -- funded by the federal courts -- incurred a 10 percent cut in needed funding resulting in over 17,000 furlough days. This year will be even worse, with the likely result being more wrongful convictions. As A.J. Kramer, the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia reminded us, the sequester and shutdown will ultimately cost the federal government far more money in the long term as appeals and retrials are processed for these defendants.
At the same time, the needless shutdown is eviscerating our commitment to civil rights, with over 70 percent of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division staff currently furloughed. That means the laws that protect the right to vote, protect access to fair housing, and prevent discrimination against the disabled are being largely unenforced. The nation celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech this summer, but now we are ignoring Dr. King's basic teachings of fairness and equality by allowing the shutdown -- and its devastating consequences for civil rights enforcement -- to continue.

Our courts, as a co-equal branch of government and the crown jewel of our democracy, deserve better. Indigent defendants did nothing to create the sequester, yet they are at risk of having their constitutional rights violated each and every day that this manufactured political crisis is allowed to fester. The victims of rape and abuse may know little of the Tea Party and political ultimatums, but they are being victimized yet again by the mindless shutdown.
Sequestration, government shutdown, and default are not mere political games, but involve real people, with real costs -- both practical and constitutional.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Michigan offers free legal help to poor with child support cases

Michigan Third Judicial Court is reaching out during "Pro Bono" month to help those who cannot pay state owed child support arrearages.  

"State owed" means Medicaid costs of the birth, other Medicaid coverage of the child and any other state support funds.

Contact Person: Zenell B. Brown 
Name: Third Judicial Circuit Court 
Voice Phone Number: 313 224-6639 
FAX Number: 313 237 9270 
Email Address: Forourchildren@3rdcc.org 
Detroit, MI, September 30, 2013 - Free child support help is available for payers who cannot afford to pay state owed arrearages or have an unaffordable child support cycle. 
Volunteer attorneys from the Salvation Army William Booth Legal Clinic, The Legal Aid and Defender Office, and private firms will be at the main branch of the Detroit Public Library helping the attendees prepare motion packets to change child support and to reduce or waive state owed arrearages. 
This one day event is part of the Every Day Legal Issues Seminar hosted by the Detroit Public Library. The event is free and there is limited free parking at the Putnam Street lot behind the library. 
Save the date: October 26, 2013, 1 pm- 4pm at the Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202. For additional information please call (313) 224-5249. 

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Michigan lawmakers prepare for court ruling on same-sex marriage and adoption

The following are the Michigan Bar Association's positions on pending federal ruling on same-sex marriage and adoption.

Sections and Committees
The Family Law Section submitted public policy position reports on the following items:
Support and AmendHB 4881 Family law; marriage and divorce; name change upon solemnization of marriage; make gender-neutral. Creates new act.
SupportHB 4909 Family law; marriage and divorce; prohibition on same-sex marriage; remove. Amends secs. 2, 3 & 9 of 1846 RS 83 (MCL 551.2 et seq.) & repeals secs. 1 & 4 of 1846 RS 83 (MCL 551.1 & 551.4).
SupportHB 4910 Family law; marriage and divorce; prohibition of same-sex marriage; remove from foreign marriage act. Amends secs. 1 of 1939 PA 168 (MCL 551.271) & repeals sec. 2 of 1939 PA 168 (MCL 551.272).
SupportHJR V Family law; marriage and divorce; constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage and civil unions; repeal. Repeals sec. 25, art. I of the state constitution.
SupportSB 0405 Family law; marriage and divorce; prohibition on same-sex marriage; remove. Amends secs. 2, 3 & 9 of 1846 RS 83 (MCL 551.2 et seq.) & repeals sec. 1 & 4 of 1846 RS 84 (MCL 551.1 & 551.4).
SupportSB 0406 Family law; marriage and divorce; prohibition on same-sex marriage; remove from foreign marriage act. Amends sec.1 of 1939 PA 168 (MCL 551.271) & repeals sec. 2 of 1939 PA 168 (MCL 551.272).
SupportSB 0457 Children; adoption; second parent adoption; provide for. Amends secs. 24 & 51, ch. X of 1939 PA 288 (MCL 710.24 & 710.51).

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Conyers Urges Boehner to Call for Immediate Vote on Lifting the Debt Ceiling

New Analysis Shows Default’s Cost on Michigan Families

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) called for protecting American families from the cost of a dangerous Republican default by taking long-term action on the debt limit.  The need for action is highlighted by a new analysis by Ways and Means Committee Democrats that shows the consequences families in Michigan would face under a Republican default. Republican members of Congress have increasingly voiced skepticism that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be harmful for the American economy, despite warnings from economists and financial leaders throughout the world as the U.S. draws closer to the date a default might occur. The new analysis shows the damaging consequences of default on mortgage rates, retirement savings, Social Security, veterans’ disability and pensions, student loans and Medicare. A debt limit increase simply allows Treasury to pay the bills for spending Congress has already approved and does not add one cent to the debt. Republicans must stop holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States.

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Defaulting would put an enormous financial strain on American families, from higher interest rates for mortgages and credit cards to lost retirement savings to delayed Social Security payments, particularly here in Michigan,” said Conyers.

“Economists of all political stripes are warning about the potential consequences of default. With just days left, I call on Republicans in the House and Senate to start taking that prospect seriously and stop playing political games with the full faith and credit of the United States and the livelihoods of American families.”

The new analysis shows that mortgage rates could rise dramatically during a default, pushing up overall home loan costs. Retirement savings are expected to fall significantly, potentially costing the average person in Michigan a drop of $15,000 in 401(k) assets and almost $23,000 in IRA assets just as they did in July and August 2011, when Republicans pushed the U.S. to the brink of default. 2,061,941 Social Security recipients here in Michigan may not get their monthly checks and 77,675 disabled veterans may not get their pensions as the Treasury Department is unable to borrow. Student loans will cost significantly more. And doctors and hospitals may not get paid for treating patients with Medicare.

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Michigan will continue to ignore any federal court ruling on child welfare

Here is my question to the court:  "If a gay couple cannot adopt a child, does it mean a gay child cannot be adopted by a straight couple?"

It does not matter what the courts rule on same-sex marriages because when it comes to dealing with adoption from a Michigan public adoption agency, Michigan Children's Institute Superintendent, Bill Johnson, will continue to ignore the constitutionalities of state and federal law.

A judicial ruling on the issue of same-sex marriages, in essence, will intensely jeopardize in the finances of private charities as they stem to loose benefactors and may not be eligible for federal funding.

Michigan must aggressively challenge the potential of its ban on same-sex marriages being lifted because if it is, it will reek havoc on the secrecy of the omnipotence of Michigan Children's Institute.

Dozens of Michigan same-sex couples hope for federal judge to give go-ahead for marriage

Robin Miner-Swartz and Betsy Miner-Swartz will be glued to their phones on Wednesday afternoon as they wait for news on what could be a historic day for the state.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman is expected to issue a ruling, perhaps that afternoon, on whether Michigan’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution. He also may decide whether the state’s ban on same-sex adoption should be tossed.

Should he lift the ban on same-sex marriage and decline to issue a stay while it’s being appealed, same-sex marriage would be legal in Michigan until a higher court overturned it.
Dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of same-sex couples are preparing to tie the knot Wednesday afternoon, according to organizers in the gay and lesbian communities.

Ingham and Washtenaw counties are among those offering to waive waiting times for marriage licenses, and 44 clergy members statewide will be on call to perform ceremonies, according to Randy Block of the Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network, who has compiled a list of available county clerks and clergy.

Robin Miner-Swartz, 42, and Betsy Miner-Swartz, 49, of Lansing have been together for 10 years and celebrated a commitment ceremony in 2008 with friends and family. Now, they’re hoping for a chance to make it legal.

“We want this to happen in Michigan,” Robin Miner-Swartz said. “It’s just another hoop. But on the other hand, this is a very big deal.”

Bishop Jerry Brohl of the Blessed John XXII Community Church in Wyandotte will have his robes on Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of couples seeking a wedding ceremony.

“I don’t think God makes the kind of distinctions that we do,” he said. “Love is love. We’re an interfaith Christian church, and we welcome all people.”

In the case before Friedman, April DeBoer, 42, and Jayne Rowse, 48, of Hazel Park are asking the court to overturn a 2004 law that prohibits same-sex couples from marrying in the state and to declare unconstitutional Michigan’s Adoption Code, which prohibits joint adoption by gay or lesbian couples.
“This is the defining civil rights issue of our era,” said attorney Kenneth Mogill, representing the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit filed in January 2012.

Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette will argue to uphold the marriage ban before Friedman on Wednesday.

“The United States Supreme Court has ruled that states retain the constitutional authority to define marriage,” said Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Schuette. “We will continue to defend the Michigan Constitution in this case.”

Friedman could issue his opinion from the bench. Should he lift the ban on same-sex marriage, Schuette’s office would likely ask him to issue a stay while the decision was being appealed to a higher court.

If Friedman declines, same-sex marriage would be legal in the state immediately.

“What I’m telling people is: If you want to do it, now’s the time,” said attorney Dana Nessel, who represents same-sex couples. “If you want to file your taxes as a couple, if you want to file a petition for adoption, you will be legally married until a court of higher jurisdiction overturns it, if that should happen.”

Schuette’s office said Friday that “it wouldn’t be proper to prejudge the ruling at this time, and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

The case has captured the attention of the gay and lesbian community nationwide.

DeBoer and Rowse, registered nurses, have three adopted children, all with special needs. Rowse adopted Nolan, 4, and Jacob, 3, shortly after birth. DeBoer adopted Ryanne, 3, as a newborn.

Under Michigan law, because the two cannot legally marry, Rowse has no legal standing with Ryanne, and DeBoer is not recognized as a parent to Nolan and Jacob. As a result, they argue in their lawsuit, they and their children are denied the same rights as heterosexual couples, such as authorizing medical care and accessing educational records. Should one woman die, the other would have no legal claim to her partner’s children.

Schuette, in fighting the case, has argued that it is up to states to determine their marriage laws. He argues that when it comes to same-sex couples and adoption, “traditional marriages” ensure that “children receive proper role models of each gender ... that the state may conclude that it is better for children to be reared with both a mother and a father.”

Attorneys representing DeBoer and Rowse point to numerous studies showing children who are raised by same-sex parents are no different from those raised by heterosexual parents, including a statement by the American Psychiatric Association, which is now part of the court record.

“Numerous studies over the last three decades consistently demonstrate that children raised by gay or lesbian parents exhibit the same level of emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functions as those raised by heterosexual parents,” the association says. “The research shows that the optimal development for children is based not on the sexual orientation of the parents but on stable attachments to committed and nurturing adults.”

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The Epic Quest To Find Mom - Baby LK Report For October 13th 2013

Baby LK recaps the week in news for the child protection industry. Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Conyers Signs Petition to Reopen the Government, Calls on Republicans to Sign On

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) announced that he signed on to a petition to reopen the government. This special congressional procedure, known as a discharge petition, allows a majority of members to bypass Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and force an up or down vote on a bill to reopen the government. The federal government has been closed since October 1, 2013, and Republican leaders have repeatedly refused requests from Democrats and some Republicans to pass a funding resolution without controversial items and reopen the federal government. After signing on to the discharge petition, Rep. Conyers issued the following statement: 

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“With no end in sight to this government shutdown that is harming citizens across the country, I joined with my colleagues to sign onto the discharge petition that will allow a vote on a bill to immediately reopen the government,” said Conyers.

“This shutdown is hurting my constituents in Michigan and threatening our economic recovery. I urge my Republican colleagues to come together in the spirit of bipartisanship to end this crisis by signing onto the discharge petition.”

The government shutdown has hurt the middle class and our economy, and will get worse as it continues.  Costing taxpayers up to $300 million a day, it has stopped critical loans to small businesses and slowed the processing of veterans disability claims. The shutdown has prevented NIH from taking new patients and halted life-saving medical research and stalled much-needed housing loans for American families.

The discharge petition for H. Res. 372 would allow an up or down vote on a clean continuing resolution, providing funding through November 15 at a compromise level requested by Speaker Boehner. This discharge petition only needs a majority of House members to sign on and does not require any action by the Republican leadership.

Discharge petitions have been proven successful in the past in bringing up legislation for consideration.  

·         According to a Congressional Research Service study, seven discharge petitions have received 218 signatures over the last 30 years. And in all seven cases, the majority party agreed to bring the measure to the House floor.

·         12 measures were allowed to be brought to the House floor even before the discharge petition reached the full 218 signatures. 

You can see which Members of Congress have signed onto the discharge petition in real time by visiting the House Clerk’s office here: http://clerk.house.gov/113/lrc/pd/petitions/DisPet0005.xml

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