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Congressman Capuano's
E-UPDATE
An update from the office of U.S. Representative Michael E. Capuano
7th Congressional District of Massachusetts


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December 4, 2015

San Bernardino

I don’t know what to write or say anymore to express my sorrow, shock and outrage at the loss of more innocent lives as a result of violence. Words really are inadequate at times like this. I am keeping the families who lost their precious loved ones in my heart. I will renew my efforts to push Congress to finally take some action to address the crisis of gun violence — prohibit people on the terrorist watch list from being allowed to purchase guns, close the gun show loophole, require all purchasers to go through background checks. Today is the Dec 4, 2015 — the 338th day of the year. San Bernardino is the 355th mass shooting this year (where 4 or more people have been killed or injured in a single incident of gun violence). In 2014 there were 336 mass shootings, in 2013 there were 365. It’s long past time to stop talking and start taking action.

Transportation

Yesterday the House approved the conference report for H.R. 22, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act which authorizes $305 billion for surface transportation programs over five years. This funding will support vital investments in highways, transit, Amtrak, and intercity passenger rail across the country. Of that amount, Massachusetts is expected to receive more than $5 billion for highways and transit, an increase of more than $447 million or 9.7% over current funding levels.

As the only New England member of the conference committee negotiating the differences between the House and Senate transportation bills, my primary focus was on ensuring that we received our fair share of available federal dollars. No legislation is perfect but in a climate where virtually every federal program is at risk of steep cuts, I am very encouraged over the amount of federal transportation dollars designated for Massachusetts.

Every Member of Congress represents communities facing transportation infrastructure needs ranging from repairing aging bridges to improving public transit. Transportation dollars not only improve the overall infrastructure, they create jobs and benefit the economy. The White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) has estimated that for every $1 billion in federal funds spent on highways and transit, 13,000 jobs are supported for a year, so this bill can be fairly expected to support over 4 million jobs during the next five years.

H.R. 22 provides some much needed stability for states and municipalities. Transportation funding has been subject to dozens of short term extensions over the past several years, creating uncertainty in long-term planning. With passage of the conference report, Massachusetts and other states will now know how much federal money they can expect over the next five years.

The conference report also includes some new Federal Transit Authority competitive grant programs that Massachusetts will be eligible to pursue. A $303 million per year bus discretionary program and a $20 million per year research program are being established. This gives Massachusetts and other states new funding streams they can use to advance their transportation priorities.

The conference report includes several provisions under the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, on which I serve as ranking member. $10.2 billion is authorized for passenger rail, including $8 billion for Amtrak and $2.2 billion for new state-of-good repair grant programs, rail safety and infrastructure, and commuter railroads. It’s a constant struggle to authorize Amtrak funding on time so I am pleased it is included in this larger transportation measure, which will help ensure Amtrak gets needed attention.

The bill also provides $22 million a year for planning and firefighter training grants for hazmat accidents, and $1 million a year for train-the-trainer firefighter grants. It includes some important safety measures such as requiring railroads to provide real time electronic access to first responders for train cars carrying hazardous materials and strengthens the oil train rule, requiring the retrofit of 40,000 additional tank cars. The conference report increases funding for railway-highway grade crossing work from $220 million under current law to $245 million by FY 2020.

This legislation contains some of the recommendations of the House Transportation Committee’s Panel on Public Private Partnerships. I served as Ranking Member on the panel in 2014. The bill creates a National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau and requires them to share best practices. It also requires the new bureau to standardize language used when developing and monitoring a public private partnership (P3) because great diversity was found in the models states use to evaluate these projects. H.R. 22 also requires the Department of Transportation’s credit programs to undergo a value for money or comparable analysis and make the results public. The panel found that every P3 required significant federal assistance. To increase transparency, all public/private transportation projects must provide a publicly available summary of all federal assistance.

The conference report passed the Senate last night and is expected to be signed by the President today. I voted YES. The conference report passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

178

65

0

2

DEMOCRAT

181

0

0

7

TOTAL

359

65

0

9

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

9

0

0

0

Telephone Community Meetings

On Tuesday December 8th and Wednesday December 9th from 7:10-8:10 PM I am hosting telephone community meetings. Anyone interested in participating may dial 877-229-8493 and use PIN 114976 at the scheduled time to participate. If you would like to ask me a question, just press *3 after joining the meeting. I hope you have some time to join us next week. We’ll post an audio file of the meetings on my website at capuano.house.gov when they are available.

South Sudan

I recently traveled to South Sudan with representatives from the United Nations Foundation as well as several of my colleagues — Reps. Karen Bass (CA-37), Lois Capps (CA-24) and Brian Higgins (NY-26). As co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Sudan and South Sudan, I served as head of the Congressional delegation. The purpose of the trip was to learn more about the work of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, and the role other humanitarian agencies are playing in the region. The U.N. Foundation is a non-profit organization that educates policymakers and the public about the U.N.’s work around the world.

I have been troubled by the horrors of Sudan since 2002 when the Boston Anti-Slavery Society introduced me to a man who had been sold and enslaved for many years before escaping to freedom. In 2003, my resolution condemning slavery in Sudan was approved by the House. In 2005, I co-founded the Sudan Caucus, after Congress declared the atrocities being committed by the Sudanese government constituted genocide. The Sudan Caucus became the Congressional Caucus on Sudan and South Sudan in 2011.

In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, ending the long conflict between the government in Khartoum in the north and southern regions of Sudan. Residents were given the opportunity to vote on whether Sudan would remain a unified country. The South voted overwhelmingly to secede, and in 2011 South Sudan became the nation’s newest country. The fact that South Sudan immediately embraced democratic government was cause for rejoicing. Tragically, internal rivalries soon undermined much of the progress and the country fell into civil war. Today, violence continues, lives are still being lost and people displaced from their homes. Many people of good will are working hard to restore peace and return the country to the path of true and peaceful democracy.

The delegation was briefed on the work that the United Nations, the United States and dozens of humanitarian organizations are doing to stabilize South Sudan and protect civilians. We also met with key officials in the U.N. and U.S. government and visited refugee camps where we spoke with survivors of the conflict.

The U.N. is currently maintaining 6 peacekeeping bases where almost 200,000 civilians have sought shelter. We visited two of those camps, one in Juba and one in Bentiu. We heard stories from residents of those camps about the murder and rape of loved ones, destruction of homes and whole villages, and their dangerous journeys to reach the safety of a U.N. camp.

We met also with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir. He assured us that he was committed to implementing the peace agreement and holding human rights violators accountable. We urged him to do everything he could to achieve peace.

We also received a great deal of information about the role various U.N. agencies are playing to protect civilians and advance the peace agreement. Because of the ongoing violence, U.N. personnel have had to focus on safety issues, rather than assisting with reconstruction and development. U.N. personnel are providing food and shelter, clean water, health care and vaccines for children. While the U.N. workers are so clearly making a difference, it is troubling that they must devote so much time to protecting civilians from violence.

It was a heartbreaking and troubling trip on many levels. The suffering and death of innocents in South Sudan continues despite the signing of the peace agreement. Although I saw too much on my visit that saddened and discouraged me, I also saw heroic efforts from U.N. personnel and humanitarian workers. I was inspired too by the courage of the South Sudanese people I spoke with who had not given up hope of one day being truly free and safe. Overall, I got a clearer picture of what needs to be done. All parties must come together to end the suffering and put the world’s newest democracy on the path to peace. I’d like to share with you an op-ed I wrote with Rep. Higgins about our experiences in South Sudan: http://thehill.com/opinion/op-ed/261140-narrow-window-to-advance-south-sudan-peace

We have also posted some photographs from the trip on our Facebook page.

Education

The House this week also considered the Conference Report for S. 1177, the Student Success Act. This legislation reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for four years and essentially replaces No Child Left Behind. You may recall I voted against No Child Left Behind because of the emphasis on testing and because I did not believe there would be enough federal funding to support the requirements the law placed on states and school districts. This conference report is a bipartisan compromise that increases funding for education. The legislation specifically directs resources to some important priorities such as STEM education, teacher quality and afterschool programming. It eliminates the overly broad “adequate yearly progress” federal measurement and replaces it with a system that gives states the flexibility to design accountability systems that best reflect the needs of their school districts. It also gives states the ability to consider more than just test scores when measuring progress, such as the degree of difficulty of a student’s coursework. I voted YES. The Conference Report for S. 1177 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

178

64

0

3

DEMOCRAT

181

0

0

7

TOTAL

359

64

0

10

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

9

0

0

0

Energy

Yesterday the House considered H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015. This legislation streamlines the process for approving pipeline applications. It requires the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to reach decisions on pipeline applications within 90 days regardless of their length or level of detail. H.R. 8 also mandates that FERC use environmental data gathered remotely or via aerial inspection if it is part of a pipeline application. This will give pipeline companies the opportunity to submit an application (that must be considered within 90 days) without actually visiting the site in question. H.R. 8 ends the process of Congressional review that has been required for pipelines proposed for National Parks. The President has stated he will veto this bill. I voted NO. H.R. 8 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

240

3

0

2

DEMOCRAT

9

171

0

8

TOTAL

249

174

0

10

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

9

0

0

Environmental votes

On Tuesday the House considered two resolutions of disapproval relating to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They represent nothing more than efforts to weaken the EPA by preventing the agency from implementing rules reducing carbon pollution from existing and new power plants. A vote to support these resolutions would prohibit the EPA from taking any action to advance rules reducing carbon emissions. The President has stated he will veto both of these measures.

The first was S.J.Res.24, providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of a rule submitted by the EPA relating to “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units”. I voted NO. S.J.Res.24 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

238

2

0

5

DEMOCRAT

4

178

0

6

TOTAL

242

180

0

11

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

9

0

0

The second was S.J.Res.23, Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of a rule submitted by the EPA relating to “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units”. I voted NO. S.J.Res.23 passed and the entire vote was recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

231

10

0

4

DEMOCRAT

4

178

0

6

TOTAL

235

188

0

10

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

9

0

0

What’s Up Next

The next votes will occur on Tuesday December 8th. The House is scheduled to consider legislation to fund the federal government beyond December 11th.

Mike


Congressman Mike Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts
Committee on Ethics
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Financial Services

P.S. I welcome your feedback on our e-Updates. Please let me and my staff know what you think of this service by e-mailing our office.


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