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The House of Representatives today passed H.R. 647, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, by a vote of 404-17. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) cosponsored and voted in favor of the measure. This bill allows individuals with disabilities to create a new tax-preferred account for short and long-term expenses.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: "As a steadfast advocate for the disabled, my wife Cheryl has long-fought to ensure all Americans with disabilities can lead normal and fulfilling lives. Disabled herself, her resolve inspired me to do everything in my power to help others with disabilities.

“The ABLE Act will expand opportunities for disabled individuals by enabling them to pursue higher education and gainful employment. It will empower them to be self-sufficient and reach their full potential. Cheryl has never let her disability hold her back, and with the passage of this bill, many others with disabilities will be able to do the same.

“I was proud to support this important legislation and urge the Senate to pass it expeditiously.”

“If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” President Obama promised. “Your premiums will go down.”

It’s been over four years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, was passed into law and in the midst of the second Open Enrollment Period, the President’s promises remain empty. I have heard from many of you in the Fifth District about sharp increases in premiums, drastic decreases in coverage and frustrating encounters with enrollment. A November Gallup survey reveals that only 37 percent of Americans approve of Obamacare at the start of the second enrollment period, while 56 percent disapprove of the law. Under the Affordable Care Act our health care system is nothing short of a disaster and coverage is far from “affordable.”

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research from September shows that Obamacare has caused insurance premiums to increase for individuals in 45 states, including Wisconsin. The study also reports that in the first half of 2014, premiums went up 24.4 percent more for individuals than they would have without the implementation of the ACA.

Thousands of Americans are being told they must switch doctors and providers to comply with coverage regulations, while hundreds of employers are worried about restricting hiring practices and lowering employees’ hours to comply with the pending employer mandate. As of September 2014, at least 10 employers with over 50 full-time employees in Wisconsin have already cut hours of part-time workers to avoid the 30-hour-per-week threshold that requires them to provide coverage under the employer mandate.

By reducing competition and limiting patient choice, insurance and health care providers have little incentive to lower costs or increase the quality of care under Obamacare. The American people end up paying more and getting less. Additionally, the Obama Administration has added tax hikes to the already expensive program, like the 2.3 percent medical device sales tax, and wasted taxpayer money on the disastrous healthcare.gov roll out.

The results of the election made it clear that the American people don’t approve of the Democrat agenda and are ready for real change.

House Republicans have passed over 20 bills to amend, defund and repeal the ACA since its enactment, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to let the Senate vote on many of them. I hope the President will work with the House and the Senate under Mitch McConnell’s leadership to fix our health care system with sensible reforms that reflect the will of the American people.

Please send a letter to my DC office (2449 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515-4905) or attend one of my Town Hall meetings in Wisconsin to share your experience with Obamacare. Watch for a complete list of meetings on my website (www.sensenbrenner.house.gov) when they begin again in January.

I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act in October, 2013. The House of Representatives passed an amended bill by a vote of 303-121. In July, Chairman Leahy introduced a revised USA FREEDOM Act that reclaimed lost provisions from the original bill and strengthened privacy protections. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed for cloture on the measure.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The USA FREEDOM Act has been heavily negotiated since Chairman Leahy and I introduced it over a year ago. The bipartisan bill before the Senate has my full support and has been endorsed by an eclectic coalition, ranging from tech giants and privacy advocates to the Administration and Intelligence Community.  There is no excuse not to pass this critical legislation during the lame duck. We have gone to great lengths to ensure our civil liberties are protected without compromising our national security. As the primary author of the Patriot Act, I know the importance of our intelligence gathering authorities, but the law must be used as Congress intended.  It’s time to get this done and restore Americans’ trust in their government.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), today sent the following letter to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) requesting a mark-up of H.R. 3465, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act:

Dear Chairman Goodlatte:
We write to respectfully request that the House Judiciary Committee schedule a mark-up of the Second Chance Reauthorization Act (H.R. 3465).

As you know, the Over-Criminalization Task Force’s hearings have revealed several problems facing the criminal justice system.  While many of these issues are complex and require novel legislative reforms that may be impracticable to introduce and move this session, the Judiciary Committee can and should use the remaining days left in session to ensure that initiatives with proven outcomes, like Second Chance, continue to protect public safety. 

Since the Second Chance Act was signed into law by President Bush in 2008, over 90,000 men, women, and youth returning home from prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities have benefited from Second Chance grants providing career training, mentoring, family-based substance abuse treatment, and other evidence-based reentry programs. 

This investment has paid off in public safety dividends.  The enclosed reports from the National Reentry Resource Center highlight how numerous states have experienced drastic reductions in statewide recidivism rates as a result of robust reentry services made possible in part through Second Chance.  

The outcomes are impressive, but state and local governments as well as non-profit organizations are in dire need of resources in order to ensure that the millions of individuals returning from prison, jail, and juvenile facilities each year continue to receive coordinated evidence-based reentry services. 

As you know, we have made several improvements to the legislation.  Underutilized or redundant programs have been cut, additional accountability measures have been added for grantees, the authorization level has been reduced from $160 million to $100 million per year, and the types of grants available to community and faith-based non-profits have been expanded.     As a result, we have garnered significant bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and as evidenced in the enclosed letter, nearly 482 law enforcement, faith-based and other community organizations from across the country have endorsed the bill. 
Our constituents understand that successful reentry means safer communities and are eager for Congress to take action to reauthorize this critical program. 

Thank you for your leadership on this Committee and for your commitment to protect public safety through recidivism reduction programs.  We look forward to working with you to advance this vital legislation.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act in October, 2013. Last May, the House Judiciary Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence approved an amended version of the legislation unanimously. The House of Representatives then passed a further amended bill by a vote of 303-121.

In July, Chairman Leahy introduced a revised USA FREEDOM Act that reclaimed lost provisions from the original bill and strengthened privacy protections. It is endorsed by the Intelligence Community, the Administration and numerous technology companies and privacy groups.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tonight filed for cloture on the measure. A vote is possible as early as next week.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Although far too many good bills continue to collect dust on Senator Reid’s desk, I am pleased he has finally decided to move the USA FREEDOM Act. There is no excuse not to pass this fundamental piece of legislation during the lame duck. Once the Senate acts, I encourage my colleagues in the House and the President to be prepared to promptly enact it into law.  Senator Leahy and I introduced the USA FREEDOM Act over a year ago. It is past time for Washington to ensure Americans’ civil liberties are protected while preserving important intelligence gathering authorities that are vital to our national security.”

On the eve of Veterans Day, it is important to take time to thank the brave Americans who have risked their lives for our country. Last Thursday I was honored to join President Obama, Congressman Ron Kind (D-Wis.), distinguished guests and family members of Lt. Alonzo Cushing as he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House.

This award comes 151 years after Lt. Cushing, a native of Delafield, made the ultimate sacrifice to help secure a victory for the Union during the Battle of Gettysburg. Lt. Cushing courageously led 110 men in battle as they faced the numerically superior Confederate forces during Pickett’s Charge in 1863, securing his place in history as a Civil War hero.

Not only does the award honor Lt. Cushing, it also culminates the hard work of Wisconsin residents, including Margaret Zerwekh, a historian from Delafield who initiated the effort, and more than two decades of bipartisan work in Congress. The Medal of Honor is the highest military honor, awarded for acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. It typically must be awarded within three years of the heroic act. Congressman Kind and I sponsored legislation to waive the three-year limit and allow Lt. Cushing the recognition he deserves.

Lt. Cushing’s Medal of Honor is a testament to the positive work we can do when we reach across the aisle and further proof that the sacrifices made by our veterans are never forgotten.

Full video of White House ceremony, here.


Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.), leaders of the Congressional effort to award Lt. Alonzo Cushing with a posthumous Medal of Honor, will attend a White House ceremony on November 6 to pay tribute to this Wisconsin-born Civil War hero. Lt. Cushing played a key role in securing a victory for the Union in the Battle of Gettysburg.
 
Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Before going off to fight, Lt. Cushing reportedly told a cousin that, while he knew he was unlikely to return, he would make a name for himself in the war. One-hundred and fifty-one years after he stared down General Pickett’s charge, I am thrilled to join Lt. Cushing’s family and esteemed guests at the White House to honor the sacrifice that secured his place in history. This award culminates tireless efforts by constituents who recognized Lt. Cushing’s bravery and more than two decades of bipartisan work in Congress.”

Congressman Kind: “It’s been a long and challenging journey to get Lt. Cushing the recognition he deserves, but as I always say, it’s never too late to do the right thing for our war heroes. It will be a tremendous honor to join with the President, military leaders, and some of Lt. Cushing’s descendants to witness this occasion 151 years after Lt. Cushing bravely gave his life at the Battle of Gettysburg.”
 
A native of Delafield, WI, Alonzo Cushing’s actions on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg helped turn the tide during Pickett’s Charge. Three days into the battle on July 3, 1863, Cushing and the 110 men under his command received the full force of Confederate artillery and Pickett’s Charge of 13,000 infantry. Over the course of just a few hours, all of his officers had been killed and Cushing himself was badly injured. Continuing to fight, he sustained two more wounds before succumbing to his wounds on the field of battle.

The legislation passed by Congress made it possible to waive the requirement that recommendations for the Medal of Honor be made within two years of the heroic action, and awarded within three years.  Lt. Cushing’s medal can now be awarded, having received the recommendation of the Department of Defense and the approval of the President. Earlier this year, Reps. Sensenbrenner and Kind sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel requesting his prompt attention to Lt. Cushing’s record.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today continued his oversight of civil asset forfeiture, sending the below letter to Attorney General Eric Holder regarding federal adoption.

On October 16, Congressman Sensenbrenner sent oversight letters to the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Acting Director of the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency requesting information on each agency’s participation in the Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture program, specifically their processes for administrative review of property seizures. 

Dear Attorney General Holder:

    Federal adoption occurs when a federal agency adopts a seizure from a state or local law enforcement agency and proceeds with federal forfeiture.  Numerous Department of Justice (DOJ or Department) entities are authorized to adopt state and local seizures.  Under the Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, DOJ will share up to 80 percent of forfeited funds with the seizing agency.

    Federal adoptions have grown exponentially in recent years.  From 2001 to 2013, state and local law enforcement made nearly 62,000 cash seizures without a warrant or criminal indictment through the Equitable Sharing Program.  State and local authorities have received over $1.7 billion from these seizures while federal agencies have kept $800 million.

    The Equitable Sharing Program is frequently criticized because it allows state and local police to ignore restrictions on civil asset forfeiture in their home states.  In some cases, it gives them a direct financial incentive to do so.  A 2011 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice found that local and state police are in fact more likely to rely on the federal Equitable Sharing Program if they work in a state where civil forfeiture is more difficult or less rewarding.  The disturbing conclusion is that local agency’s rely on the Equitable Sharing Program to circumvent state law.  

    The implications on civil liberties are dire.  The right to own property is a fundamental right implicitly recognized in the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.  I also believe that it is a human right. 

    Daniel Webster warned that “[g]ood intentions will be pleaded for every assumption of power.”  With federal adoption, the federal government gives DOJ’s imprimatur to state cases and then shares proceeds of the forfeiture with the very law enforcement agency that seized the property.  The conflict of interest for these state and local agencies is so stark, over a right so critical, that it screams for protections and redundancies of protections against abuse.  It is therefore critical that the Department maintain clear standards regarding how its entities weigh and ultimately adopt state and local cases.

    To help further understanding of the Department’s policies regarding federal adoption, please respond to the following questions by November 14, 2014.

• Please describe the federal adoption process from the time a state applies for adoption through a final decision.
• What percentage of state requests are ultimately adopted?  What is the breakdown of adoptions among the Department’s law enforcement entities?
• To apply for federal adoption, a state or local agency must fill out Form Dag-71.  The form requires an “immediate probable cause review” if certain specified conditions are not met.  What does this review involve?  Is the review always conducted prior to adoption when the specified conditions are not met? 
• Seizures must be based on probable cause. What evidence does the Department require to ensure that the standard of proof has been met prior to adopting a seizure?
• Does a federal adoption represent a DOJ determination that there was probable cause to support the state or local seizure?
• What officials are authorized to approve a request for adoption?   

With your response, please provide 25 samples of closed DEA and ATF case files.  Please ensure that the files contain all the documents originally contained therein.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this important issue. 

A leading House lawmaker on Friday asked U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to provide an array of documents and data relating to the Justice Department’s role in tens of thousands of cash and property seizures made in recent years by state and local police under federal civil asset forfeiture laws.

The request by Rep. F. James “Jim” Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, is part of an inquiry into the billions of dollars in seizures made through Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program, the federal government’s largest asset forfeiture initiative.

“While we must ensure law enforcement is properly equipped, they should not be funded by slush funds accrued by violating Americans’ civil liberties,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement Friday.

Sensenbrenner asked Holder for details about the policies governing such seizures and the standard of proof necessary before the federal government “adopts” a state or local seizure into the Equitable Sharing Program. Federal civil seizures can occur when police say they believe property is tied to crime through a preponderance of the evidence.

Sensenbrenner said he is concerned that local authorities turn to the Justice program when state civil asset forfeiture laws are stricter than the federal standards. He said he worries that police have sometimes trampled individual rights when making cash and property seizures without filing criminal charges.

“The implications on civil liberties are dire,” he said in the Oct. 24 letter. “The right to own property is a fundamental right implicitly recognized in the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. I also believe that it is a human right.”
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Sensenbrenner’s request follows a Washington Post investigation that found that 61,998 cash seizures have been made on U.S. highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through Equitable Sharing, totaling more than $2.5 billion.

Justice, Homeland Security and other federal agencies received $800 million of that total, and the rest went to states and localities.

Friday’s letter follows similar requests for documents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In those letters, Sensenbrenner sought details about how challenges from cash and property owners are handled.

Though owners can seek to get their property back through the federal courts, the cost is often prohibitive. Sensenbrenner noted that there is an administrative process for property owners but agency decisions there are “not subject to subsequent challenge.”

The Post investigation found that only about a sixth of the seizures were challenged. But in 41 percent of the challenged cases — more than 4,000 — the government agreed to return all or part of the money. The appeals process often took more than a year and required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures.

“Given these inherent conflicts, what procedures and protections exist to ensure fair adjudications of the claims and to protect against conflicts of interest?” Sensenbrenner wrote.

He told The Post in a statement that the asset forfeiture system “raises serious Constitutional and ethical red flags. I strongly believe this deserves scrutiny and aggressive Congressional oversight.”

View online, here

This is a crucial time in America. So much is going on in the world that the 24/7 news cycle can’t even keep up. And as a result of the partisan gridlock plaguing Washington, too few of the problems facing our nation have been adequately addressed. But as the world’s sole superpower and the greatest country in the history of mankind we have a responsibility to rise above the chaos, come together and act. Congress can’t allow important issues to simply fall by the wayside.

As our economy fights to get back on stable ground, millions of Americans are still struggling to find jobs and provide for their family.  Washington must put an end to reckless, out-of-control spending, encourage confidence in our markets and pursue pro-growth policies that foster the advancement of the private sector.  

Congress can begin by reforming our tax code and replacing it with a growth oriented tax system to encourage investments. I support lower marginal rates, investment tax credits to stimulate jobs and a corporate tax structure that prevents US multinationals from sending money abroad to avoid paying higher taxes at home.

We must curtail government spending, starting with irresponsible grant and "stimulus" programs. Government agencies should be put under a microscope to uncover waste, duplication and fraud.

While some government regulations are beneficial, there are far too many that are unnecessary and excessive.  Federal agencies are preventing Wisconsin businesses from hiring. Complying with the myriad of rules and red tape requires time and costs, which negatively impacts companies’ bottom lines and stifles growth.  

Safety nets, such as Social Security and Medicare, were established to protect Americans in their greatest times of need. But they will soon be insolvent without significant reform.

I am profoundly concerned by the government’s abuse of its intelligence gathering authorities. The fact that agencies such as the NSA have been secretly collecting the communication records of American citizens is inexcusable and unlawful. While provisions in the PATRIOT Act have been important in identifying terrorists, bulk collection of millions of innocent Americans’ data goes too far. The USA FREEDOM Act would protect privacy without compromising our national security. It was passed by the House and I hope the Senate works expeditiously to send it to the President’s desk.

It is now abundantly clear that ISIL is far more than a JV-level threat. It is a highly-structured terrorist network that has taken over large areas of Iraq and Syria and holds important cities and border crossings in the region.  Not only has its murderous rampage left a wake of death and destruction that is holding innocent civilians in complete fear, but if it succeeds in creating an Islamic state it will provide a safe haven for terrorists who would be able to launch attacks on Americans and our allies.  ISIL is well-funded and much better equipped with high tech weaponry than Al-Qaeda was 13 years ago. We cannot simply watch from the sidelines.  Therefore, I am pleased that the U.S. has been building a coalition of partners to combat this threat.

The longer we take to destroy ISIL, the more America and its allies are at risk. But, while Iraqi security forces and Syrian opposition are incapable of neutralizing this threat, we must have a defined goal and an end-game to prevent "mission creep" before we put our brave men and women in harm’s way. The President should present Congress with a comprehensive plan that forces ISIL from the cities and villages that it controls and brings its leaders to justice. I cannot support a response that relies on shaky alliances with rebel forces that are fighting the Assad regime and each other for control of Syria.

In the same corner of the world, rockets have been fired into Israeli towns by terrorist organizations hiding in the Gaza Strip and Israel has retaliated to protect its sovereign territory and civilian population. Israel, like every other sovereign country, has a right to defend its territory and citizens from terrorist attacks.  And as our most important ally in the region, we must ensure their confidence in our commitment to them.   

The Ebola crisis has already claimed thousands of lives.  And while the fight against this disease must be led by the countries most affected and international organizations, I am pleased that President Obama has provided American assistance.  Although I am apprehensive about spending taxpayer money on aid to other countries, helping fight the Ebola virus to prevent it from spreading is crucial, as it has already reached America.  We must prevent it from infecting people across our country and across the globe.  

While Obamacare can't be fixed, healthcare in America can be improved. But first, the President’s healthcare law must be repealed so we can create a plan that doesn't hurt patients and health care providers, diminish the quality of care and cause premiums to skyrocket.

The United States is quickly approaching energy independence because of increased oil and natural gas production.  I am hopeful that one day we will no longer be reliant on energy from the Middle East, Venezuela, Nigeria and other countries.  

Wisconsin’s economy directly benefits from fracking because the special sands available in the state are used in the process.  As the US continues to produce natural gas, I will support efforts to increase liquefied natural gas exports to American allies and friends.  Exporting American products increases the number of American jobs, and as the leader of the free world we can confront hostile countries who use their energy reserves to hold America’s allies and friends hostage.  

The President’s weak-kneed response to the influx of illegal immigrants at our southern border is troubling. It is time to secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws. We’ve tried amnesty in the past, and it failed because it only encourages further illegal immigration. We must turn off the magnet to enter our country illegally by utilizing the E-verify program and protect our national security by ensuring our borders are not a welcome sign to those who wish us harm.

We can’t let any of these crucial matters, or the many not mentioned here, be lost in the clutter. I would like to know what issues are most important to you and how you feel about them. After all, I am here to represent you and all the residents of the Fifth District of Wisconsin. Please go to my website (www.sensenbrenner.house.gov) or send a letter to my DC office (2449 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515-4905) to share your thoughts.