July 1, 2011
During this week's District Work Period I had the chance to spend some time at the William Carter School, a Boston public school located in the South End. The Carter School is open all year except the month of August. Staffers operate a full day educational program to meet the specific needs of the 25 special education students who attend. A team of educators, certified intensive special needs teachers, occupational and physical therapists, and behavioral therapists work with the students and their parents to plan a specific set of objectives designed to increase each student's abilities. Because different students may have different challenges, individualized programming is utilized. I had the opportunity to meet with staff to talk more about the unique educational experience at the Carter School as well as the funding challenges they are currently facing. I toured the school's outdoor sensory garden and open play space. It is really a remarkable facility and I appreciate the time that the staffers there gave me this week.
I met this week with Pam Stephenson, who is the new Regional Director of the Federal Highway Administration. We talked about the transportation challenges facing us, both at the local and federal level, including the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill. The current bill expired and Congress has passed a number of extensions, but it is not clear when a new reauthorization bill will be considered. The issue, as with everything the government does these days, is funding. The transportation bill is financed through the Highway Trust Fund which is where gas tax revenues are directed. There are always more worthy infrastructure projects than there is funding for them, there is little appetite in Congress and the White House for a gas tax increase, and fuel efficiency has reduced gas tax revenue. The House may take up a transportation reauthorization bill before the end of the year, but it will be a very difficult path to passage.
Communicating With My Office
As of June 30th my office had received 20,655 letters and e-mails, the most communication for that time period since I took office. By comparison, for the same time period last year, the number was 14,958. In 2009 it was 9,300 and in 2008 it was 13,084. Thank you for all of your contact with the office; it is important that we hear from you about the issues facing our country. I think that the big jump in communication has a lot to do with the very serious issues we are facing right now from the deficit to the wars we are involved in. I appreciate hearing from you as we work to address the challenges we face.
Black Box Bill
I recently re-filed legislation that would grant vehicle owners more control over the information collected through their car's "black box" event data recorder (EDR) by requiring manufacturers to provide customers with the option to enable or disable these devices. For me, this is a basic issue of privacy.
Event data recorders, or "black boxes," are installed in vehicles to collect information leading up to an accident. They record factors such as speed and brake application. Many consumers are not aware that this data has the potential to be used against them in civil or criminal proceedings, or by their insurer to increase rates. No federal law exists to clarify the rights of a vehicle owner with respect to this recorded data, although some states have created differed standards of ownership and rights.
All data collected by an EDR becomes the property of the vehicle owner under this legislation, which would make it illegal for anyone other than the vehicle owner to download or retrieve information without owner consent or a court order. The legislation also requires that all new cars equipped with EDRs feature an optional disabling function that cannot be reinstated without the owner's consent.
Many cars already have event data recorders, yet protections for consumers over the use of the data collected have not been addressed in a comprehensive way. My legislation makes it clear that the information gathered is the property of the vehicle's owner.
What's Up Next Week
The House is back in session on Wednesday July 6th and we are expected to continue consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill.