August 4, 2017
Even though the House is not in session, the work continues, the issues remain and there are some matters for us to catch up on.
New England Community Services
I spent time this week in Dorchester at New England Community Services (NECS), meeting with the organization’s founder and staffers. We talked about the rewards and challenges of their work. This nonprofit organization acts as a resource for young people and their families through clinical assessments, comprehensive family support programs and targeted initiatives. The Mentoring at Risk Kids (MARK) Program is available for young people who are experiencing difficulties in their daily lives. Additional services help children and their families connect with community resources. NECS also offers programming designed specifically for young women, immigrant children and the LGBTQ community. Fitness and sports programs are offered as well as parental support programs. I was impressed with the broad range of services offered and appreciated the time staffers took to share some of their experiences with me.
St. Mary’s Center
I also visited the St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children in Dorchester. The center offers care and supportive services to hundreds of women and children. Clients have access to emergency housing, educational programming and job training as well as help securing employment and finding affordable housing. Staff operates the Crossroads Family Center, where housing is available for homeless families. The center also operates a food pantry. Additional supportive services are available through St. Mary’s Home, a residential facility designed specifically for pregnant teenagers and young women with small children. The GRLZradio.org initiative is also administered by St. Mary’s Center staff. It gives young women the opportunity to learn about everything that goes into running a radio station. Most importantly, it gives them a powerful outlet for expressing themselves and speaking out on the issues they are most passionate about. St Mary’s Center staffers are working to expand the services currently offered and I talked with them about those efforts. They do important work that helps many needy families and I was impressed by their commitment to giving more people access to their programming.
Madison Park Development Corporation
Thanks to the Madison Park Development Corporation staff for spending some time with me this week. We talked about the current climate in Washington and its impact on the legislative agenda. I also received an update from officials about economic development projects either underway or in the planning stages. Work is ongoing on a project in Dudley Square that will result in additional affordable housing, retail and commercial space. Madison Park Development Corporation operates Hibernian Hall, sponsoring arts and cultural programming. It’s a vibrant community space. Development is not the only mission of the corporation. Staffers also oversee a variety of programming for young adults. I enjoyed my time, learning about new initiatives and getting updates on established programming.
Black Box Bill
Last week I re-filed the “Black Box Privacy Protection Act” with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) to give vehicle owners more control over the information collected through their car or motorcycle’s "black box" event data recorder (EDR). The legislation requires manufacturers to notify consumers if an event data recorder is installed in their vehicle, disclose the data collection capabilities, and provide information on how data collected may be used. The legislation also requires manufacturers to give consumers the option of controlling the recording function in future automobiles or motorcycles that are equipped with event data recorders.
Previous versions of this bill placed ownership of the data in the hands of the vehicle owner and required owner permission before the information could be accessed. Those provisions became law as part of the last transportation authorization bill known as the FAST Act (P.L. 114–94). While that was a great first step, this makes it clear more consumer disclosure is needed.
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 of being used against them in civil or criminal proceedings, or by their insurer to increase rates.
You may have heard about the tragic auto accident involving tennis great Venus Williams. The information from her black box seems to be playing into reconstructing the accident. No one is sure how that will end up and the information may well be very helpful in revealing the truth — but shouldn’t YOU know what information your car is recording about you and what control you have over that information?
Under this legislation, all new cars equipped with EDRs would have an option allowing the owner to control the recording function that cannot be restarted without the owner’s consent. For me this is a basic issue of privacy. Consumers should have control of the information collected in their own vehicles.
Officer Sean Collier Campus Police Recognition Act
I also re-introduced the “Officer Sean Collier Campus Police Recognition Act of 2017” in memory of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was murdered on April 18, 2013, by those responsible for the tragic bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I first filed this legislation in 2013.
My legislation would add campus police officers to the Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program. This federal program provides financial assistance to police officers, firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) who are catastrophically injured in the line of duty. If they are killed, the program provides benefits to eligible family members. The legislation adds campus police officers to the list of public safety personnel eligible to receive benefits under this existing federal program. The change would be retroactive to April 15, 2013 – the day of the marathon bombings.
Officer Collier was a hero who lost his life while doing a job he loved, serving and protecting the MIT community as a member of campus law enforcement. This bill is a small way to honor his memory.
Behind the Curtain — More House and Trump Administration Actions You Don’t Want to Miss
Here are this week’s additions. If you need to catch up or share with friends, you can find the full list here.
- According to July 25, 2017 news reports, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross rejected an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) recommendation protecting summer flounder stocks. The commission concluded that New Jersey was in violation of a conservation plan for summer flounder (fluke) that was approved by all other impacted states. Now that the Commerce Secretary has overruled the ASMFC, overfishing of summer flounder is a real concern. This will have an impact on many other Atlantic cod species up and down the east coast. That stock has fallen 25% since 2010. If the stock falls another 14% then ASMFC would have to reduce fishing quotas drastically and could institute a moratorium on the fluke stock. If the fishing stock did fall another 14%, rebuilding it will not be easy.
- On August 1, 2017, the New York Times reported on a Department of Justice (DOJ) memo recruiting attorneys for a new project that will seemingly be added to the DOJ front office portfolio. This is the office where political appointees are usually assigned. According to the memo, the new project involves “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions”. Staffers will have the authority to investigate institutions of higher learning for evidence that their affirmative action policies discriminate against white applicants. If evidence exists, the DOJ could take action against them. This undermines the real need for diversity on college campuses and in fact may cause university leaders to reduce efforts to increase diversity. The suggestion that this project will be placed in the hands of political appointees freezes out the DOJ’s Educational Opportunities Section where career staffers are responsible for issues involving educational institutions. By pursuing this path, the DOJ is effectively abdicating its responsibility to actually defend affirmative action policies.
- As of the end of July 2017, more than $21 million taxpayer dollars were spent on President Trump’s travel. To put it in perspective, if this pace continues, Trump will spend more on travel in one year than President Obama did in 8 years. The Coast Guard also spent almost $18 million between October of 2016 and March of 2017 due to the President’s travel schedule. The Coast Guard is one of the many federal agencies that the Trump Administration thinks is overfunded. His current budget proposal cuts Coast Guard funding by 14%. The President is already provided with taxpayer funded lodging at the White House, a facility he recently described as a “real dump” according to a Sports Illustrated report on his golfing. Despite this unfortunate characterization of the White House, it certainly seems unfair for taxpayers to cover these duplicate costs at non-federal properties.
A Note to Readers
We hope you are finding Behind the Curtain useful. We are working hard to keep up with all actions taking place in Washington — but we know there will plenty of items we miss. That becomes truer every day as the Trump Administration takes more control of our government and gets even better at distracting tactics like “Hey, pay attention to my inflammatory Tweet while my administration quietly eviscerates the Consumer Financial Protection Board — it won’t hurt a bit if you miss it.”
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