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Yesterday, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner introduced H.R. 3228, legislation that requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit the volume of cellulosic biofuel to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply to what is commercially available until a comprehensive study from the National Academy of Sciences is completed. 

The Renewable Fuel Standard requires increasing amounts of cellulosic biofuel to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, but manufacturers have never produced enough fuel to meet the required standard.  The EPA has lowered the mandate, but not to the actual level of production.  Refiners have therefore paid millions of dollars in fines for failing to purchase an EPA-mandated product that doesn’t actually exist in the quantities the EPA demands.  

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The EPA sets unachievable standards for our nation’s refiners and the cost of the EPA’s fines are passed on to consumers at the pump.  This legislation will ensure any mandates moving forward are fair, attainable, and evidence-based.”
 


                                                                          
 
Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, along with more than 130 House Members, sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging an immediate and thorough investigation by the Department of Justice into the practices of Planned Parenthood regarding the sale of fetal body parts.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The atrocious practice of selling fetal tissue acquired by performing an abortion is a travesty that heinously disregards the sanctity of human life. It raises moral, ethical, and legal questions that simply must be addressed with the utmost urgency. That is why I’m joining many of my colleagues in Congress in imploring Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the Department of Justice to conduct a serious and immediate investigation into these despicable practices.”
 
 
 


 

House Speaker John Boehner’s statement last Thursday calling for criminal justice reform was a welcome cap to a week of bipartisan and inter-branch voices calling for reform of our federal prison system. The Speaker is the latest in a long list of conservatives championing an approach to sentencing and corrections policymaking that is not just “tough on crime” but Right on Crime.

In just one week, the Speaker announced that he supports criminal justice reform moving forward in the House of Representatives, The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a two-day hearing on federal criminal justice reform, and Barack Obama became the first President in modern history to tour a federal prison.

The President gave passing credit to the states for leading the charge on criminal justice reform, but this credit should not go understated. Over the last decade, states like Texas, Utah, Georgia, and my home state of Ohio have been leaders in criminal justice reform, embracing policies that focus prison beds on serious and violent offenders. The results of these initiatives are staggering: lower costs for taxpayers alongside declining rates of incarceration, recidivism, arrest, and crime rates have continued to fall to decade lows.

As we saw in many states, political leaders from the left and right joined together to enact reform that reduced crime, lowered costs, and kept families intact. The President has consistently spoken about the left and the right coming together to stop the gridlock in Washington but has surprisingly not been outspoken on such a major political topic that crosses political lines until the 7th year of his presidency.

Although dragging behind, the federal government could soon be getting much needed criminal justice reform. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, and Representative Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia have proposed the “SAFE Justice Act,” a bipartisan and broad-based criminal justice reform bill that will address a litany of issues that have support from both sides of the aisle. In addition to Speaker Boehner’s support for the bill, it currently has the support of more than 30 cosponsors. The SAFE Justice Act focuses incarceration on violent and high-level criminals, while expanding diversionary programs, such as drug courts for lower-level offenders. By placing an emphasis on alternatives to incarceration for lower-level offenders, the federal criminal justice system can save millions in taxpayer dollars, while reducing recidivism and making our neighborhoods safer.

This week, I had the honor of attending a bipartisan summit on Fair Justice in Washington, D.C. The summit focused on discussing solutions to the federal criminal justice system. Many prominent leaders from both parties were in attendance, including Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Rand Paul, and Representative Bob Goodlatte. Speaking on behalf of the “SAFE Justice Act” were the authors, Representative Sensenbrenner and Representative Scott, who received support from both the Republican and Democrat attendees for their reform efforts.

Normally, a “don’t hold your breath” mentality should be taken with any major comprehensive reform the federal government attempts to tackles. However, no issue has had the broad-based support and the robust research base to back it up such as the “SAFE Justice Act.” Act. It is time to seize this bipartisan momentum and get criminal justice reform to the President’s desk in the near future.

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Twenty-five years ago this month, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law protects people with disabilities from discrimination, including many kids with learning and attention issues.

No matter where your child goes, from school to work, the ADA will protect her. It’s just as important as the laws for IEPs and 504 plans.

In honor of the anniversary, we interviewed Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). He supported the ADA when it was first signed into law on July 26, 1990. Then, in 2008, he sponsored and helped pass the ADA Amendments Act to strengthen the law.

Here, he shares his thoughts on the importance of the ADA.

You’ve been a champion of the ADA for years. Why is the 25th anniversary of this law so important?

The 25th anniversary of the ADA is a huge milestone in the ongoing fight for the rights of the disabled. Before 1990, disabled Americans were subject to false stereotypes and second-class citizenship.

Congress passed the ADA to break down the physical and societal barriers that kept disabled Americans from fully participating in the American Dream.

Like all the most impactful legislation, the ADA’s legal protection has helped spark important cultural changes. Twenty-five years later, we can appreciate how much better things are.

Fewer citizens are judged by their physical and mental impairments. More and more are evaluated according to their character and qualifications.

What are you most proud about when it comes to the ADA?

From creating standards for wheelchair accessibility in places open to the public to requiring 911 phone lines to be equipped to respond to hearing-impaired callers, the ADA has transformed the lives of millions of Americans. But, like all major civil rights bills, passing the ADA required time, hard work and a broad range of support.

I’m most proud about how the ADA has brought together people from across the country with different backgrounds and diverse political beliefs. Our nation is stronger when all of its citizens are given the opportunity to succeed.

The ADA remains a powerful reminder of the good work we can do in government when we put aside our differences to achieve a common goal.

Your wife was hurt in a car crash when she was 22 and uses a wheelchair. What has the ADA meant to your family?

My wife Cheryl has been a tireless advocate for the disabled and served as a board member of the American Association of People with Disabilities. I know the daily pain she lives with, but she has never let those challenges slow her down.

Twenty-five years ago, she asked me to do what I could to help pass the ADA. I should have known then that the bill’s passage wouldn’t be the end of her advocacy. She has pushed me every day since to continue to fight for the disabled.

Even today, I’m working to pass the Ensuring Access to Quality Complex Rehabilitation Technology Act to make it easier for patients with disabilities to get medical equipment.

Championing the fight for the rights of the disabled in Congress is one of my proudest accomplishments. My wife and my family have been given countless opportunities that may not have been possible without the ADA.

Despite the ADA, many parents still struggle to get the right help at school for their kids. What would you say to them?

Our students are our most precious resource. As technologies and teaching methods change, new challenges arise for disabled students, leaving some ADA standards outdated and insufficient.

I would encourage parents to voice their concerns and share their stories with state, local and federal representatives. As elected officials, we rely on input from our constituents to help identify problems so we can find meaningful, commonsense solutions.

Some disabilities are easy to spot, but some, like learning and attention issues, are “invisible.” Do you think we need a different approach for them?

When Congress passed the ADA and President George H. W. Bush signed it into law, it was done with the intent that the law would be broadly interpreted. But a series of Supreme Court rulings chipped away at the law’s expansive protections for the disabled.

I introduced the ADA Restoration Act of 2007, and later sponsored the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which George W. Bush signed into law.

These bills instruct courts to focus on the discrimination a person has experienced rather than requiring that person to prove the extent of his or her disability. That can be especially difficult with learning and attention issues.

I will continue to promote a broad interpretation of the ADA to protect all those with disabilities—visible and invisible—from discrimination.

Some states have passed laws that require teacher training and acknowledgement of dyslexia. What do you think about laws that focus on a particular issue or disability?

The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 identify and provide protections for disabled Americans on the federal level. That is necessary for ensuring all citizens have equal opportunity to pursue their American Dream.

In our system of dual federalism, states are given the power to draft additional and more targeted laws to meet the needs of their constituents. Often, states will learn from legislative successes in other states and follow suit.

There’s been so much progress since the ADA was passed. But what do you think is our biggest challenge right now?

The progress we’ve made in the past 25 years is remarkable, and I’m proud to have been part of these efforts. But we need to keep working to ensure that Americans have access to the latest life-changing technologies.

That’s why I’m currently promoting the Ensuring Access to Quality Complex Rehabilitation Technology Act. The best technology in the world is useless if the people who need it can’t afford it.

As our nation evolves, the fight for civil rights continues and challenges us to take a close look at how our laws promote or prevent our citizens from achieving their full potential. Twenty-five years from now, it is my hope that disabled Americans are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and seen as equal under the law.

View this article online here.
Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner sent the following letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy regarding her response to his May 12 request for the EPA’s position on numerous inquiries, including E15 labels, misfueling, and Clean Air Act enforcement:

Dear Administrator McCarthy:

Thank you for appearing before the House Science Committee on July 9 and the EPA’s reply to my letter on July 2. I appreciate your willingness to listen to my concerns and address them.

Acting Assistant Administrator McCabe’s response to my letter regarding Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) and the Clean Air Act (CAA) left some questions unanswered and raised new ones.

I would like you to address the following questions.

• Is it legal to relabel E-15 as flex fuel?
• Is it legal to sell E-15 as flex fuel?
• If it is illegal to sell or label E-15 as flex fuel, how and when will the EPA inform retailers that it is illegal?
• How will the EPA enforce the E-15 Misfueling Mitigation Rule, RVP violations and related CAA provisions?

I would also like more information regarding the “industry-funded surveys conducted by an independent party to monitor compliance with EPA E-15 labeling requirements.”

• Have industry-funded surveys found retailers relabeling E-15 as flex fuel?
• How long has EPA used industry-funded surveys to monitor compliance the E-15 Misfueling Mitigation Rule and pump labeling requirements?
o Please provide all survey results to me with your reply to this letter.
• Which independent party, or parties, monitored compliance with the EPA E-15 labeling requirements for each year the EPA used the industry-funded surveys?

I request that you respond to this letter and document request by August 19, 2015. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, JR.
Member of Congress
 
Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner introduced legislation to prohibit the sale of fetal tissue acquired by performing an abortion in response to the shocking revelation that abortion clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, are profiting from harvesting the unborn and selling them to the highest bidder. 

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Due to a poorly drafted section of federal law, Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics throughout the country are legally able to sell fetal tissue to research institutions. This despicable practice is morally bankrupt, victimizes the defenseless, and increases profits for reprehensible organizations that have no regard for human life. This legislation is an important step forward in the ongoing efforts to protect innocent lives and fight on behalf of the unborn.
 
Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner denounced the Iran deal in his speech to the Watertown Rotary. He joins a growing number of Congressional leaders in denouncing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which puts America, and her allies, at increased risk of attack by Iran, a known state sponsor of terrorism. Below is an excerpt from his remarks:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “By allowing key restraints on Iran’s nuclear program to expire and lifting military arms and ballistic missile restrictions, President Obama has placed a target on the backs of all Americans. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and giving them billions of dollars in sanctions relief will help them fund their proxy wars on America and our allies. It’s imperative we prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and terror financing capabilities, and I, along with many of my colleagues in Congress, are committed to reversing this egregious deal brokered by the Obama Administration”   
 
 

PRESIDENT OBAMA went somewhere Thursday that, according to the White House, no other sitting president ever has: a federal prison. His point was that no advanced society should be comfortable with the way this country punishes crime. The nation locks up too many people for too long, and it too often treats them poorly behind bars. In part because of Mr. Obama — but also because of a strong left-right alliance that includes the Koch brothers, the American Civil Liberties Union and others in between — change could come very soon. If, that is, Congress acts.

The case for reform starts with the eye-popping fact that the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners, in large part because of drug crime sentences. The country’s federal imprisonment rate is up more than five times from 1980, multiplying federal prison costs by nearly six times, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. “Up to a certain point, tougher prosecutors and stiffer sentences for these violent offenders contributed to the decline in violent crime over the last few decades,” Mr. Obama conceded this week. But, he added, “the science also indicates that you get a point of diminishing returns,” particularly when non-violent and low-level offenders get hit with harsh sentences.

Mass incarceration also seems plainly impractical because there are a variety of more appealing options that many states have been experimenting with. The state prison population dropped between 2003 and 2013, while the federal prison population increased. While many states are looking at innovative ways to treat people more fairly and save money, the Justice Department is seeing an ever-larger percentage of its budget go to prison spending.

Mr. Obama and a bipartisan gaggle of federal lawmakers want to apply the states’ insights to the federal system. The most significant bill on the table — the House’s Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act — would reserve drug trafficking life sentences and other major penalties for drug bosses rather than low-level dealers, give more sentencing flexibility to judges and focus federal resources away from drug possession enforcement. It would create specialized courts for drug crimes and the mentally ill. It would also put a much greater emphasis on prison programming — job training, mental-health care, substance-abuse treatment — and better post-release supervision.

The bill isn’t perfect. It wouldn’t give felons who have served their time the right to vote in federal elections, for example. Nor would it do enough to cut back on the rampant overuse of solitary confinement. “Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years at a time?” Mr. Obama asked this week. States such as Colorado, Maine and Mississippi are drastically reducing their use of solitary. Mr. Obama has ordered a Justice Department review. But Congress doesn’t need to wait for the results; the horrifying scandal of America’s overuse of solitary confinement is already well-known.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) promised Thursday to give floor time to criminal justice reform. Lawmakers should take the opportunity to be as comprehensive as possible. A smarter justice system less focused on long prison terms and more focused on fitting punishments to crimes and preventing recidivism would be truer to the country’s commitment to individual liberty and almost certainly better for government finances and community cohesion.

View this article online here.
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement regarding President Obama’s politically-motivated decision to commute the federal prison sentences of 46 drug offenders instead of approaching criminal justice reform in its entirety: 

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Rather than taking a serious look at criminal justice reform, today President Obama chose to engage in publicity stunts and political pandering. Commuting the sentences of a few drug offenders is a move designed to spur headlines, not meaningful reform. While we in Congress are working on the SAFE Justice Act – targeted, evidence-based legislation, the President is focusing on sound bites instead of sound policy. The American people deserve leadership, not showmanship.”

 
 
The White House is preparing to seize advantage of bipartisan concern over the burgeoning U.S. prison population and push for legislation that would reduce federal sentences for nonviolent crimes.

President Barack Obama is expected to argue for revamping U.S. sentencing guidelines during a speech to the NAACP annual convention on Tuesday in Philadelphia. Top officials from the Justice Department, including Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, have recently met with members of Congress to express support for sentencing reform legislation. Key lawmakers from both parties have been invited to the White House next week to discuss strategy.

“Engagement with the president has been lacking for the past six years, but this is one topic where it has been refreshingly bipartisan,” Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who heads the House Oversight Committee, said in a phone interview.

Obama came to office promising to reduce the number of Americans imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses, and in 2010 signed a law reducing disparities in sentences for possession of crack and powder cocaine. Some Republicans and police organizations criticized the moves as too lenient, but now a bipartisan coalition that includes Obama’s chief political antagonists, billionaires Charles and David Koch, have joined him to support relaxing federal sentencing guidelines.

Mass Incarceration

More than 2.2 million adults are imprisoned in the U.S., the most in the world, and the incarceration rate is between five and 10 times higher than in Western European countries, according to the National Research Council. Lawmakers in both parties have been raising alarms about the cost of mass incarceration to taxpayers and to minority communities that are disproportionately the source of prisoners.

About 60 percent of all prisoners are black or Hispanic, and black men under age 35 who did not finish high school are more likely to be behind bars than to hold a job, according to the research council. More than 100,000 people are currently in federal prison for drug-related crimes, at a cost of about $30,000 per person each year, the United States Sentencing Commission said in a May report.

That price tag has drawn a cadre of fiscally-conservative Republicans to join with Democrats in a bid to overhaul sentencing. Success would mean a rare bipartisan legislative victory for Obama and a concrete policy achievement to match recent speeches urging the nation to focus on racial and criminal-justice issues.

Unusual Allies

Chaffetz said he was optimistic that a package of bills would advance because of a diverse coalition of supporters lined up behind it. The president dubbed the legislation “a big sack of potatoes” in a meeting with lawmakers in February, Chaffetz said. The composition of the legislation isn’t final.

The Koch brothers, billionaire Republican donors, support a bill introduced last month by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, and Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, that would encourage probation rather than imprisonment for relatively minor, non-violent offenses and improve parole programs in order to reduce recidivism.

The Sensenbrenner-Scott bill is modeled on state efforts to reduce incarceration. While the federal prison population has grown 15 percent in the last decade, state prisons hold 4 percent fewer people, according to Sensenbrenner’s office. Thirty-two states have saved a cumulative $4.6 billion in the past five years from reduced crime and imprisonment, his office said in a report.

Studying Sentencing

The legislation “is the result of years of efforts to identify, compile and bring to the national level the best, evidence-based practices in criminal justice reform,” Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat said in a statement.

Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, held a meeting in late June to listen to proposals from lawmakers in both parties. And Chaffetz, who described Republican leadership in the House as “very optimistic and encouraging,” scheduled hearings on the issue by his committee for July 14 and 15.

“I don’t normally do two days of hearings, we’re giving it that much attention,” Chaffetz said. “So it has more momentum than anybody realizes.”

There is a significant obstacle on the other side of the Capitol: Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs his chamber’s Judiciary Committee.

Winning Grassley

An effort in February to advance legislation that included across-the-board reductions in minimum mandatory sentences met with resistance from Grassley, who wouldn’t put it to a vote in his committee. But supporters of the House legislation have reason for optimism: last month, Grassley announced he would work on a compromise in the Senate.

While Grassley has indicated a willingness to reduce penalties for some crimes, he wants to increase mandatory minimum sentences for other offenses, a Senate Republican aide said. The person requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

That could make sentencing changes an easier sell to tough-on-crime voters, but endanger the support of lawmakers who see mandatory minimums as bad policy.

“There does appear hope for a bipartisan compromise,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday. “We obviously welcome that opportunity.”

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who has long championed criminal justice reform, is leading negotiations with Grassley. He’s backed by Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on Grassley’s committee, and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

The talks remain sensitive. During a Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Leahy -- admitting he already knew the answer -- asked Yates, who was testifying before the panel, to restate her support for sentencing reform.

“I was born at night, but not last night,” Grassley interjected. “And I know that question was in reference to me, and I want everybody to know that we’re working hard on getting a sentencing reform compromise that we can introduce. And if we don’t get one pretty soon, I’ll probably have my own ideas to put forward.”

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