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DURING my 10 years in the Wisconsin State Legislature, I spent significant time in Milwaukee’s majority black neighborhoods. I listened as constituents described obstructions to their constitutional right to vote.

In those days I came to believe that we needed a strong Voting Rights Act. Our credibility as elected officials depends on the fairness of our elections. So after joining Congress, I supported the law’s reauthorization in 1982, and, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I led successful efforts to reauthorize it in 2006.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of this most recent authorization. If Congress doesn’t act soon, 2016 will be the first time since 1964 that the United States will elect a president without the full protections of the law. Modernizing the act to address the Supreme Court’s concerns should be one of Congress’s highest priorities.

Enacted in 1965, the Voting Rights Act began a healing process that ameliorated decades of discrimination. It is vital to this country’s commitment to never again permit racial prejudice to determine who has access to a ballot.

One of the law’s core protections is its preclearance system. Before the law’s passage, states and local governments would discriminate against minority voters, Congress or courts would ban the discriminatory practices, and states would find new ways to discriminate.

Preclearance sought to remedy that problem by requiring states and localities with a documented history of discrimination to allow the federal government to review certain changes to voting practices before they are implemented. There is no adequate remedy for voter discrimination after an election because there is no way to know who would have won absent discrimination. Preclearance prevents discrimination before it affects elections.

During the 2006 reauthorization, the Judiciary Committees held about 20 hearings. Congress amassed a legislative record of more than 15,000 pages in which it documented discrimination and demonstrated “the continued need for federal oversight.” Both the 1982 and 2006 reauthorizations, however, maintained the same 1965 criteria, later updated in the 1970s, for determining which states would be subject to preclearance.

In 2013, the Supreme Court held in Shelby County v. Holder that while preclearance was a constitutional response to voter discrimination, it was also unconstitutional to apply it to states based on a decades-old formula. A result is that very few jurisdictions are subject to preclearance today. The law’s strongest protections have been rendered meaningless.

I introduced the Voting Rights Act of 2015 as a response to that decision. When the justices handed down the ruling, nine states, mostly in the Deep South, as well as parts of six other states, had to preclear their voting changes with the government. My bill would modernize the act so that the preclearance rules applied equally to every state in the country.

Under the bill, a state or jurisdiction could be subject to preclearance if a court ruled that it had discriminated against voters on the basis of race five or more times in the most recent 15 years. States that stopped discriminating automatically would fall out of the bill’s protections; states that started discriminating would fall in.

In this way, the bill responds to the Supreme Court’s concerns about the dated formula and resurrects the protections of the law that have been a part of American elections for five decades.

The bill also includes important transparency provisions. One of the most effective ways to suppress voting is to change the rules. The proposed Voting Rights Act would require officials to give public notice within 48 hours of certain voting changes that are made 180 days before a federal election. Local governments may have valid reasons to change polling locations or the resources they spend on an election, but the public should be well informed about them before Election Day.

We watched this problem unfold recently in Arizona when thousands of people waited hours to vote in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. The culprit was fewer resources devoted to voting. Maricopa County in Arizona, for example, had just 60 polling stations. This was down from at least 200 stations four years ago, and 400 stations in 2008. The proposed bill would have ensured that meaningful debate over polling stations happened before the primary. More people might have voted. Would that have changed the results? We’ll never know.

The Voting Rights Act of 2015, which has more than 100 co-sponsors, 13 of them Republicans, has been introduced in the House and referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it awaits action. Some of my colleagues view the bill as unnecessary because of the progress we have made against voter discrimination. The bill’s structure, however, ensures that preclearance will apply only if in fact discrimination occurs.

Ensuring that every eligible voter can cast a ballot without fear, deterrence and prejudice is a basic American right. I would rather lose my job than suppress votes to keep it.

The Voting Rights Act not only stops discrimination but also strengthens the public’s faith that votes will be counted and elections remain fair.

The 2016 primary season has been marred by hateful rhetoric and ugly politics. Passing the Voting Rights Act of 2015 would be Congress’s most enlightened response.

View this piece online here.
Drug addiction is an ugly problem that has been pushed aside for far too long.

As recently as late last year, authorities estimated that there are currently between 435,000 and 1.5 million heroin users in the United States. Many of these users became addicted through the use of prescription drugs, and an alarming number of them are younger than 25 years old.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use more than doubled among young adults ages 18-25 in the past decade and 45 percent of all heroin users were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.

The rise of heroin abuse started in the mid-2000s.  We have heard stories of student athletes who were injured and prescribed painkillers and eventually became addicted.  As pills got harder and more expensive to buy and government rightfully cracked down on prescription abuse, the addiction took over their lives and these once promising young people went down the path toward heroin because it was a cheaper and widely available alternative. This story has been repeated over and over again by not just student athletes but by Americans of every socioeconomic stripe.  Heroin doesn’t discriminate; it is a potent and highly addictive drug that puts a user into situations of self-destruction.

Between 2002 and 2013, national heroin deaths nearly quadrupled, reaching more than 8,000 annually by 2013, and a 2001 report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the economic cost of heroin use in the United States was a staggering $21.9 billion.

There is simply no denying that heroin and opioid abuse has silently seized a devastating hold on this country. The moral, emotional, physical, and financial toll it has taken is tremendous, but not insurmountable.

The moment to reverse our current course and make a genuine and lasting impact in the fight against addiction is here. When it comes to heroin and opioid abuse, lawmakers have put aside political gamesmanship, departed from business as usual, and reached across the aisle in bipartisanship in order to serve the best interest of this nation.

Last week – on a 94 to 1 vote – the United States Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). This overwhelming show of bipartisan support is a testament to not only the seriousness of the problem, but also the urgency of the situation.

Between 2006 and 2011, Wisconsin experienced a 350 percent increase in heroin samples submitted to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory by law enforcement. In 2012, the number of heroin-related deaths jumped by nearly 50 percent and statewide data shows one quarter of Wisconsinites who abuse the drug began using when they were younger than 25 years old.

The statistics coming from Virginia are equally troubling. In Loudoun County, there were no heroin-related deaths in 2011, but since 2012 there have been 28 investigated by the Loudoun County Sherriff’s office – and that is just one county. In 2014, there were 728 deaths caused by heroin abuse throughout the Commonwealth, which is more than those caused by car accidents.

These challenges are not exclusive to Wisconsin or Virginia; they are shared nationwide by all socioeconomic groups.

All over the country, people are calling on Congress to find solutions. In town hall meetings, on the campaign trail, and through social media, lawmakers are hearing the heartbreaking stories of broken families, seeing the tragic aftermath of addiction in once-thriving communities, and personally feeling the poignant loss that often comes from those lost to addiction.

The Senate has taken action. The House must now do the same.

Key researchers, law enforcement agencies, and addiction treatment providers all agree that the most effective way to approach addiction is to pursue a comprehensive response, which must include a strict focus on prevention, law enforcement strategies to stop drug dealers and traffickers, a plan to address overdosing, and an expansion of evidence-based treatment options for those struggling with addiction.

Provisions within CARA, such as community-based anti-drug coalitions and a national education campaign, will help rebuild communities, deter young Americans from trying the drug, and stall the increase of addicts, overdoses and deaths.  This legislation will also establish alternative incarceration programs and outpatient treatment options for non-violent drug offenders, which would not only better serve individuals, but save significant taxpayer dollars.

The House of Representatives must move forward quickly in a bipartisan manner on the passage of CARA because the commonsense, bipartisan solutions in the bill offer a desperately needed lifeline to anyone suffering under the weight of addiction.

This issue touches the life of every American. It is imperative we pursue aggressive measures to stint its dangerous progression. Strong individuals make up strong families. Strong families make strong communities, and strong communities make for a stronger, more prosperous America. The time is now to end heroin and opioid addiction.

View this piece online here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement regarding President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The next Supreme Court justice could dramatically change the direction of the Court for generations to come, and the American people deserve to have a say. This process has always been about principle, and the Senate is within its Constitutional rights to defer confirmation until Americans have the opportunity to voice their opinions.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement on the Senate passage of the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA):

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “I introduced the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act in the House because the devastation caused by the dramatic rise in heroin and opioid addiction is ruining thousands of lives and destroying entire communities. The passage of its bipartisan companion bill by the full Senate delivers renewed hope to everyone affected by addiction and offers life-changing solutions as part of our ongoing efforts to reform America’s broken criminal justice system.” 
It's no secret that America's criminal justice system is broken. From overpopulated prisons to high incarceration recidivism rates, the past few decades have shown that efforts to improve the system have fallen short — both in effectiveness and cost savings. The issues we face are vast and all-encompassing, and — as is often the case with large, complex problems — they can be difficult to visualize.

Many people want to easily explain the breakdown of our criminal justice system as something that only affects urban neighborhoods and those whom society has let fall behind, but that could not be further from the truth. Drug addiction, high incarceration rates and the monetary burdens of both, affect the entirety of the American population, spanning across urban, suburban and rural communities.

Nowhere is this more apparent than right here in Wisconsin.

Data released from a 2013 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health report showed 4.3% of Wisconsin adults reported using heroin or other opioids that year — a dramatic increase from a decade earlier. What's more alarming is that statewide data reveals one-quarter of people who began using heroin were under the age of 25.

According to a 2014 report released by the Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, "between 2006 and 2011, Wisconsin experienced a 350% increase in heroin samples submitted to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory by law enforcement. Further, according to the 2011 Milwaukee High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Drug Trafficking Trends Survey of law enforcement agencies across the state, many agencies reported that heroin is an increasing problem within their jurisdiction, or in many instances, 'the number one drug problem in their jurisdiction.'"

In addition to the devastation addiction has on individuals and families, the monetary consequences of abuse are overwhelming for society. A 2001 report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the economic cost of heroin use in the United States was a staggering $21.9 billion — Wisconsin accounted for approximately $220 million of that total. Among the factors contributing to this burdensome price tag are increased health care and judicial costs, criminal activity and unemployment.

In response to this growing epidemic, I introduced the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) in the House of Representatives. Companion legislation was recently passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits a full Senate vote. A multifaceted approach to solving the problems of addiction, CARA identifies solutions for every stage of addiction.

Unfortunately, opioid and heroin addiction is only one piece of the complex criminal justice crisis we face nationally, as well as on the state level.

Over the past three decades, America's prison population has more than quadrupled — from 500,000 in 1980 to more than 2.3 million today. Here in Wisconsin, an astounding one in 39 adults is under state correctional control.

Along with increased prison populations, is increased spending on both the national and state level. Research released by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that between 1980 and 2013, national prison spending has increased by 595%, a staggering figure that is both irresponsible and unsustainable.

Currently, the federal prison system consumes more than 25% of the entire Department of Justice budget. In Wisconsin, lawmakers appropriated $2.5 billion to the state Department of Corrections in the 2011-2013 budget, an amount that is expected to rise before 2020. In fact, according to a 2012 article posted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that budget allotted more taxpayer dollars to state prisons and correctional facilities than to the University of Wisconsin System.

As a nation, we face nearly $20 trillion in debt. And although we fare better in Wisconsin thanks to the common sense policies enacted by Gov. Scott Walker and our Republican Legislature, we cannot afford the continuing financial burdens placed on us by our broken criminal justice system.

Last year, I introduced targeted legislation that tackles these issues based on proven fixes developed by states around the country. I have worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find solutions that will reduce the taxpayer burden, heal fractured families and communities and save thousands of lives. There is more work to be done to achieve comprehensive criminal justice reform, but congressional lawmakers are making progress, and I believe many of the proposals made on the federal level can be just as effective on the state level.

Criminal justice reform can be achieved through cooperation, thoughtful legislating and the belief that some issues are bigger than party lines and partisan politics.

View this piece online here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner sent a letter to Secretary of the United States Navy Raymond Mabus, asking for his support in the naming of an SSN-774 Virginia-class attack submarine in honor of the State of Wisconsin:

Dear Mr. Secretary: 

I write to seek your support for naming a SSN-774 Virginia-class attack submarine in honor of the State of Wisconsin.

As you know, Virginia-class submarines are generally named after U.S. states.  So far, only two United States Navy ships have been named in honor of Wisconsin, most recently an Iowa-class battleship, the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) last served in the Gulf War.  After it’s decommissioning in September 1991, Wisconsin is no longer represented in the U.S. Navy fleet.  

The State of Wisconsin deserves a place in the fleet.  Wisconsin has a long and storied history in building and supplying U.S. Navy ships.  In fact, one of the country’s largest shipbuilders, Marinette Marine Corporation, was founded in Wisconsin in 1942 to help aid the allied war effort.  Having started small, it has now built hundreds of vessels for service in the U.S. Navy.  Many other Wisconsin companies are also involved in the production of U.S. Navy vessels; there is not a single congressional district in Wisconsin not involved in the shipbuilding industry.  Predictably, many of the parts and technology in the Virginia-class are manufactured in Wisconsin, including bearings, composites, computer products, valves, and generators.  

Wisconsin’s own submarine also serves as a tribute to all current and former Wisconsin sailors, many of whom have received some of the highest honors bestowed on sailors.  Because of the Virginia-class’s close combat and littoral capabilities, one veteran of particular note is Delafield’s Commander William Barker Cushing.  Commander Cushing gained notoriety for a nighttime raid in the littorals of the Roanoke River in October 1864 when he sunk the CSS Albemarle with a close-range torpedoing, helping turn control of the harbor back to Union and stopping the threat to the blockade.  He received a Thanks of Congress for his actions, and has had five ships named in his honor, including the first torpedo boat ever launched for the Navy.  But Cdr. Cushing is just one of the many men and women from Wisconsin who have served admirably in the U.S. Navy, and all would be honored to have a ship bear the name of their home state.

As the Secretary of the Navy, I understand that your office receives hundreds of letters and suggestions each year from citizens, military retirees, and members of Congress.  I thank you for your time and consideration of this request, and I look forward to your favorable reply.


F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Member of Congress
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement regarding Obamacare’s special enrollment periods:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “From the conception of the Affordable Care Act, I – along with my fellow Republican lawmakers – warned that it presented individuals ample opportunity to avoid paying for health insurance until they became ill. We’re now seeing evidence that through special enrollment periods, this is happening at great expense to the taxpayers. Obamacare has been a disaster from the start, and Congress needs to repeal and replace this irresponsible and fundamentally flawed law.”
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement on President Obama signing the Judicial Redress Act into law: 

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The President’s signing of the Judicial Redress Act shows America’s commitment to rebuilding trust between allies and demonstrates our nation’s willingness to act in good faith with our European allies to secure open lines of communication between law enforcement agencies. This is a significant achievement for our country, our allies, and for the safety and security of the United States.”  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)  sent a letter to Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Director James B. Comey regarding the use of cell-site simulators, known as Stingrays, on both the state and federal levels. Of particular interest is the use of nondisclosure agreements (NDA) to prohibit law enforcement from discussing use of Stingray technology. 

Congressman Sensenbrenner: 
“While Stingray technology is a powerful tool that helps intelligence agencies and law enforcement find wrongdoers, it should not have been deployed on our streets under a veil of secrecy.  The public has a right to debate the merits of the technology, and criminal defendants have a right to challenge the evidence against them.  The FBI’s use of nondisclosure agreements with state and local law enforcement is completely unacceptable.”

Congresswoman Jackson Lee:
 “The use of cell-site simulators, also known as Stingrays, in the United States is not at all transparent and it needs to be. We cannot put gag orders on our nation’s law enforcement.  While the FBI should have the authority to investigate crimes that already have occurred along with imminent criminal activity or threats to the homeland as well, stealth investigations using Stingrays should have safeguards. The FBI should immediately withdraw the non-disclosure agreements and replace them with guidance mandating that local police get probable cause warrants and directing them to begin disclosing accurate information to the public and the courts.”

Full text provided below:

Dear Director Comey:

A February 1, 2016, article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlighted the Milwaukee Police Department’s use of cell-site simulators, also known as Stingrays.  The Fourth Amendment implications of this technology are currently being debated by state legislatures, and courts are weighing the legal arguments.  We will watch closely as those debates unfold, but in the meantime, we are writing to raise serious reservations regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) use of nondisclosure agreements (NDA) to prevent state and local police from discussing the use of Stingray technology.  

The NDA the Milwaukee Police Department signed reads:

In order to ensure that such wireless collection equipment/technology continues to be available for use by the law enforcement community, the equipment/technology and any information related to its functions, operation, and use shall be protected from potential compromise by precluding disclosure of this information to the public in any manner including but not limited to: in press releases, in court documents, during judicial hearings, or during other public forums or proceedings. 

The FBI’s stated reason for secrecy was that disclosing the existence of the capabilities may allow “the subject of investigation wherein this equipment/technology is used to employ countermeasures to avoid detection by law enforcement.”  But certainly not lost on the FBI was the fact that secrecy shields the technology from debate and inevitable controversy.  Courts could not review its constitutionality.  The public could not debate the merits and costs of the technology and what limitations might be appropriate.  While this type of secrecy may be appropriate in the national security context, it is entirely inappropriate in the context of law enforcement where citizens have the constitutional right to challenge the government’s evidence against them

We are not prejudging the outcome of the debate over the use of Stingray technology, but we categorically denounce the use of nondisclosure agreements that limit the ability of the public and of courts to debate the merits of the technology and to implement limits they may deem appropriate.

The overlap between intelligence and law enforcement also raises national security concerns.  If the technology is so important for national security that it must be kept secret, then its use for routine law enforcement was inappropriate.  Either the technology should have been kept secret as a vital national security tool or it should have been made public so that it could be used by law enforcement.  Instead, the Bureau tried to have it both ways and the foreseeable result was exactly what happened – the secrecy of the technology has been compromised, serious privacy questions have been raised, and countless criminal convictions are in jeopardy.  

Worse, local jurisdictions are now subject to increasing litigation over the secretive use of the cell-site simulators. The lawsuits will inevitably divert time and resources that could have been spent protecting and serving our communities to legal battles that could have been averted.  It could also put in jeopardy hard fought convictions.

We are aware that the FBI has, to some degree, retreated from its use of NDAs regarding cell-site simulators.  The Bureau even argued that the agreements do not prevent police from disclosing to courts that they used such equipment:

The NDA should not be construed to prevent a law enforcement officer from disclosing to the court or a prosecutor the fact that this technology was used in a particular case. Defendants have a legal right to challenge the use of electronic surveillance devices, and not disclosing their use could inappropriately and adversely affect a defendant’s right to challenge the use of the equipment.

This, however, is at odds with the explicit language of the NDA which precludes disclosure to the public in any manner “including but not limited to: in press releases, in court documents, during judicial hearings, or during other public forums or proceedings.”  The agreement, in fact, goes much further and states that the Milwaukee Police Department should seek FBI permission before responding to court ordered disclosures and should be prepared to dismiss cases at the FBI’s request if necessary to protect against disclosure.

We are also aware that the Department of Justice has issued new guidance on federal use of cell-site simulators.  It is not, however, clear that the FBI has rescinded the NDAs it signed with state and local police around the country. The FBI’s failure to do so subverts justice and subjects state and local law enforcement to needless litigation.

We appreciate a prompt response to the following questions: 

• Does the FBI consider state and local law enforcement to be bound by the NDAs related to the use of cell-site simulators?
• Has the FBI ever requested that a law enforcement agency dismiss a case to maintain the secrecy of law enforcement technology? 
• How many NDAs has the FBI signed with state and local law enforcement agencies regarding cell-site simulators?
• Are there other technologies for which the FBI demands state and local law enforcement sign an NDA?  
• Does the FBI continue to believe that NDAs are appropriate?
• Would the FBI ever condone perjury to Congress or judges to protect the existence of technology?

Please respond to the above questions by March 25, 2016.  


F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Member of Congress

Sheila Jackson Lee
Member of Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner sent the following letter to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Charles F. Bolden regarding the response his agency sent regarding previous questions into NASA’s contracting practices, and alarming new information about the ongoing investigation:

Dear Administrator Bolden:

Thank you for responding to my November 18 letter regarding NASA’s Integrated Communications Service contract.  

In the response, your staff stated that NASA has conducted a thorough review of the issues that I raised, and if subcontractors have concerns then they should be addressed to SAIC.  The issues I raised are very serious and should not be dismissed as contracting disputes between vendors.  In fact, my office has received detailed information from a whistleblower about this investigation.  I have provided this information to Inspector General Paul Martin. 

The whistleblower raises serious concerns about illegal expenditures and unethical activity.  I would like you to address the following questions and document requests.  

     • Did NASA’s CSO Deputy Director direct project manager to single source a product called CISCO Identify Service Engine (CISCO ISE)?
          o If yes, why?
          o Did SAIC recommend and/or encourage the CSO in anyway regarding CISCO ISE?
     • Does NASA Policy Directive 7120.99 require NASA, or its contractors, to evaluate all market options, fully and fairly, for its procurements?
          o Are there waivers for Directive 7120.99? 
          o Was there a waiver provided relative to the procurement of CISCO ISE?
          o If yes, why?
          o Please provide me with a copy of any document or waiver that would authorize SAIC to disregard standard project management processes and procurement policies.
     • Are you aware of a $600,000 fee, or any fee, being paid to CISCO? 
          o If yes, why was this fee paid?
          o If yes, who paid the fee?
          o Was it paid from the EIB-NAC budget?
     • Please provide me with a copy of the EIB-NAC formulation authorization document. 
     • Is the SAIC manager aware of a $600,000 fee paid to CISCO?
          o Has he sent or received e-mails referencing $600,000?
          o If he corresponded via e-mail with a government official about this fee, please provide the relevant e-mails to me. 

Please respond to this letter and provide me with the requested documents by March 9, 2016.

Thank you for your prompt attention.


Chairman Emeritus
House Science, Space and Technology Committee