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By: Nick Sibilla of Institute for Justice

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation that stops the Internal Revenue Service from raiding the bank accounts of small-business owners. The Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers RESPECT Act, passed as part of the Taxpayer First Act (H.R. 3151), is named after Institute for Justice clients Jeff Hirsch and Randy Sowers, two victims of the IRS’s aggressive seizures for so-called “structuring.” Through structuring laws, the IRS has routinely confiscated cash from ordinary Americans simply because they frequently deposited or withdrew cash in amounts under $10,000. And by using civil forfeiture, the IRS can keep that money without ever filing criminal charges.

The RESPECT Act was originally introduced by Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Doug Collins (R-GA) after Jeff and Randy testified before the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee about their experiences: Jeff had over $400,000 seized from his convenience store distribution business on Long Island while Randy, a Maryland dairy farmer, lost $29,500 to the IRS. Neither man was ever charged with a crime.

Both Jeff and Randy ultimately recovered their wrongfully taken money, but only after years of legal proceedings and high-profile media coverage—including a front-page article in The New York Times and an editorial in The Wall Street Journal.

“The IRS used civil forfeiture to take hard-earned money from innocent small-business owners,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Darpana Sheth, who heads IJ’s National Initiative to End Forfeiture Abuse. “With Congress so bitterly polarized, it’s encouraging to see hundreds of representatives stand together against this inherently abusive practice.”

The Taxpayer First Act previously passed the House by voice vote on June 10. It now heads to President Donald Trump for signature.

To rein in the IRS’ civil-forfeiture power, the Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers RESPECT Act would:

  • Limit forfeiture for currency “structuring” only when the funds in question are derived from an illegal source or used to conceal illegal activity. This would codify an IRS policy change from October 2014 prompted by lawsuits from the Institute for Justice and would prevent the agency from backtracking;
  • Allow property owners to challenge a seizure at a prompt, post-seizure hearing. Previously, property owners targeted for structuring had to wait months or even years to present their case to a judge.

Following a pathfinding petition effort by IJ, the IRS received 464 petitions from owners seeking to recover their money that had been seized for structuring. Out of 208 petitions that were within its jurisdiction, the IRS granted roughly 84 percent and returned over $9.9 million to property owners.

For the remaining 256 petitions under the Department of Justice’s jurisdiction, the IRS recommended that DOJ grant 194 of those petitions. Yet the Department only accepted 41 petitions—less than 1 in 6—and refused to return more than $22.2 million as of last summer.

“The Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers RESPECT Act is an important first step to address one type of forfeiture abuse by one federal agency,” Sheth noted. “But civil forfeitures by other agencies continue unabated. With today’s vote revealing a broad consensus, Congress should seize the opportunity to pass comprehensive reform of federal forfeiture laws and protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

Two forfeiture reform bills with broad, bipartisan support are currently active in Congress. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has reintroduced the DUE PROCESS Act (H.R. 2835), which would strengthen safeguards for innocent owners, including applying the reforms of the RESPECT Act to the DOJ. Similarly, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) has sponsored the FAIR Act (H.R. 1895) which would also ban federal agencies from retaining forfeiture proceeds and abolish the notorious “equitable sharing” program.

Forfeiture reform is the rare political issue that transcends party lines. The national platforms for both the Democratic and Republican Parties have endorsed forfeiture reform, as have the editorial boards for over 135 different newspapers. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state civil forfeiture cases are bound by the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “excessive fines.” And in the past five years, 33 states and the District of Columbia have enacted forfeiture reforms.

By: Madison.com

Deploying broadband is an issue that generates strong bipartisan support in our nation’s capital. In May, the entire Wisconsin congressional delegation came together seeking Federal Communications Commission action on better broadband mapping, which will lead to more efficient broadband investments.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, led the delegation in sending a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Sen. Johnson was joined by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls; Ron Kind, D-La Crosse; Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee; Sean Duffy, R-Wausau; Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth; Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah; Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay; and Bryan Steil, R-Janesville.

The Wisconsin delegation agrees that creating broadband maps using validated data and standardized methods of granular reporting will be essential to ensuring resources go to the neediest communities, and that universal service is available throughout America. In the interest of effectively allocating federal resources to unserved communities, the delegation urged the FCC to take immediate action to improve its broadband maps.

Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association members sincerely appreciate the support of the entire Wisconsin delegation on this important issue. Wisconsin needs granular and accurate broadband maps to guarantee scarce public and private sector funds are efficiently targeting our remaining unserved residents. We need the FCC to take action toward this goal as soon as possible.

Bill Esbeck, Madison, WSTA executive director

By: Liz Beaulieu of HME News

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A new bill to create a separate benefit for complex rehab that’s “less prescriptive” than previous bills will improve the chances of Congress passing it and CMS embracing it, stakeholders say.

“The general idea was to give CMS, in essence, direction, but to leave them some flexibility,” said Don Clayback, executive director of NRRTS. “Congress (works on the assumption) that CMS can take care of issues like these, with some direction.”

Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., introduced the industry’s latest attempt to create a separate benefit, H.R. 2408, on April 30. At press time, it had 14 co-sponsors.

A good example of where the bill is less prescriptive: One provision requires CMS to establish an additional designation for providing complex rehab—above and beyond the ATP—within a year and implement it within two years, but it allows the agency to work with stakeholders on specifics.

“We’ve been having some discussions around this, in general,” Clayback said, “but nothing has been decided on yet. So this language acts as a place holder.”

Stakeholders also dropped a few provisions from this version of the bill entirely, like a provision that addresses the replacement of items and a provision that addresses the ability to provide CRT to patients in skilled nursing facilities.

“We’re saving those for phase 2,” Clayback said. “We need to get a separate benefit in place, then we can pick those things back up.”

Other provisions in the bill address CMS reviewing existing and new technologies on at least a yearly basis; the agency publishing an updated list of HCPCS codes that meet the definition of CRT on a yearly basis; and providers making available at least one qualified technician for service and repairs, and notifying patients in writing of those services.

“Providers should have that and they should have to inform consumers at the time of ordering,” Clayback said.

While the industry’s No. 1 priority is passing a bill to stop competitive bidding pricing for accessoriesfor complex rehab manual wheelchairs, stakeholders encourage providers not to lose sight of this bigger picture.

“If we had a separate benefit category, it could solve a lot of our issues,” said Weesie Walker, executive director of NRRTS. “So we’re encouraging people to push both issues.”

By: the Regulatory Review

IN THE NEWS

  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which prohibits the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from removing illegal immigrants who came to the country as minors. The Act also provides a pathway for minors to gain permanent status as citizens. Representative Bill Foster (D-Ill.) stated that “this legislation opens a door of opportunity” to immigrants who “have known no other home.” Representative Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), however, reportedly said that the Act “tells an entire generation of illegal immigrants that breaking our laws is rewarded.”
  • The U.S. House Judiciary Committee launched a bipartisan investigation into whether large technology companies such as Apple, Google and Facebook are engaging in anticompetitive conduct and whether existing antitrust laws are adequate to protect the public. Citing “growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications,” Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) statedthat “it is vital that we investigate the current state of competition in digital markets and the health of the antitrust laws.” Antitrust Subcommittee member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) expressed support for the investigation, but cautioned against “any predetermined conclusions.”
  • DOJ announced that it is opening an investigation into whether to keep, modify, or terminate the longstanding consent decrees that govern how ASCAP and BMI—the two largest performing rights organizations in the United States—license rights to perform musical works in public. The consent decrees, which have been in place for more than 75 years, require ASCAP andBMI to offer licenses to perform musical works on a non-exclusive and non-discriminatory basis and prohibit a range of potentially anticompetitive conduct. In a statement, BMI welcomed the move as “an opportunity to do what BMI has been advocating for years—modernize music licensing.”
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed a new pipeline safety authorization bill that would require replacement of aging pipeline infrastructure and would encourage pipeline operators to exceed federal safety standards. The bill’s critics, however, have taken issue with Section 18 of the proposal, which advocates increasing in criminal penalties—including prison sentences—for pipeline protestors. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) reportedly called the provision “a clear infringement on the basic right of speech and assembly and a poorly veiled effort to undermine the ability of Native and Indigenous communities to advocate for themselves and their tribal lands.”
  • The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a decision to prohibit hospitals from changing their formula for reimbursing hospitals through Medicaid without going through the proper procedures. Justice Neil Gorsuch held that substantive Medicaid policies cannot be enacted without allowing the public to have notice of and a chance to comment on the proposed changes. In dissent, Justice Breyer argued that the hospital’s Medicaid policy was an interpretative change, not a substantive one, which did not require a notice and comment period.
  • The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit filed by Democratic members of the House of Representatives against President Donald J. Trump for reallocating military funding to pay for a border wall. Judge Trevor McFadden emphasized separation of powers concerns before ultimately ruling that he lacked jurisdiction “to take sides in this fight between the House and the President.” He also argued that the House has alternatives to lawsuits, in particular the ability to override a presidential veto with a two-thirds vote.
  • The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced new restrictions on travel to Cuba. OFAC’s new regulations prohibit group educational travel to Cuba, and cruise ships, private ships, and private airplanes will no longer be able to dock or land on Cuban soil. Treasury Department Secretary Steven Mnuchin emphasized that the restrictions will “help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”
  • A leaked study from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration apparently found evidence of cancer-causing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in domestic meat and dairy products, produce, and packaged food. Reportedly called “forever chemicals,” PFAS apparently accumulate in the body and can also cause organ damage and hormone disruption. In response to the study, the Environmental Working Group called on regulators to expand PFAS monitoring and to ban inclusion of PFAS in food packaging.
  • The New York State Assembly passed a law that will prohibit declawing of domestic cats except to address a medical condition that “compromises the cat’s health.” “When we adopt pets they become valued members of our families that provide us with comfort, love and joy,” Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie (D) stated, and noted that “there are better alternatives to surgery.” The New York State Veterinary Medical Society had opposed the measure, arguing that declawing should be an option where the cat’s behavior poses a health risk to the owner or after attempts to discourage destructive clawing have failed.

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • In a policy paperRandal O’Toole of the Cato Institute argues that any new authorization for federal spending on transportation infrastructure must employ strategies to maximize efficiency. O’Toole suggested that Congress should limit infrastructure expenditures to actual transportation revenues so as to avoid increase of the federal debt. O’Toole also argued that state and local transportation authorities must play a more significant role in both revenue building through the levy of user fees and in determining how to spend allocated federal funds.
  • report from Business Roundtable identified regulatory overlap among federal agencies as a major driver of costs for American businesses. Regulatory overlap occurs when multiple agencies exercise regulatory oversight over the same policy area or market activity and can lead to duplicative, inconsistent, or conflicting rules that are difficult and costly for businesses to comply with, accordingto the report. To reduce inefficiency, the report recommended that agencies negotiate interagency agreements to clearly delineate roles and responsibilities. Where overlap is unavoidable, agencies should engage in joint rulemakings and improve communication with industry actors, the report suggested.
  • Thomas Fuller, Anjali Singhyi, Mika Gröndahl, and Derek Watkins, in an article published in The New York Times, calculate the economic damage the United States faces by not adopting more stringent building regulations to better protect against earthquakes. The article cites a federal study conducted by the National Institute of Building Sciences which estimates that each year the United States delays the adoption of stricter building codes, the economy incurs costs of an estimated $4.3 billion annually. Ron Hamburger, an American structural engineer, argues that truly damaging earthquakes occur “once every 100 to 200 years,” which discourages builders from incurring additional costs for construction projects.

By: Cristiano Lima of Politico

Republicans are split over a new Democrat-led antitrust investigation of the tech industry, highlighting tensions between the GOP's growing criticism of companies like Google and Facebook and the party's traditional aversion to regulating business.

The House Judiciary Committee launched the probe Monday to look at whether Silicon Valley's tech titans have engaged in anti-competitive conduct — and some Republican lawmakers were quick to cheer their Democratic colleagues on.

“I'm all for it,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said of the House probe, while fellow Senate Judiciary member John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters that it's about time for Congress to examine how the online industry's growing power affects consumers.

“Look I’m very proud of the large social media companies," Kennedy told reporters. "They’re all American companies. They’ve been extraordinarily successful. That’s why they’re so big. But they’re not companies anymore — they’re countries.”

Other congressional Republicans tempered their enthusiasm, however. And others responded with distinct caution to the idea of Congress taking on an antitrust role that's normally in the hands of the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission — both of which have lately taken an interest in tech giants such as Google and Amazon.

“Antitrust is a highly technical inquiry, not something that lends itself to easy generalizations or blanket condemnations,” said a statement from Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who chairs the Senate Judiciary antitrust panel that would be in a prime position to oversee a probe. “This is why such investigations are best left to the antitrust agencies rather than Congress.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a leading critic of the tech industry, agreed that federal regulators would be “more effective” than Congress in policing the issue. He suggested that lawmakers should instead focus on issues like protecting consumers' data privacy.

The reactions underscore the dueling impulses of Republicans when it comes to tech in the Trump era. Many have railed against internet giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, particularly over what they see as an anti-conservative bias in the way the companies manage content. Some have dangled the prospect of taking away the industry's longtime liability protections. But most Republicans also hew to the party's instinctive distaste for anything that smacks of regulation — let alone trust-busting.

The GOP's more hawkish tech critics include Graham, who has complained about the unregulated “wild wild West” of social media companies and said he's "certainly willing to look into their business model" as well. Another is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has accused digital platforms of suppressing conservative speech.

“I was glad to see the House launch that investigation and I’d love to see Senate Judiciary Committee do the same,” Cruz said.

House Democrats have yet to lay out the full scope of the probe. But Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee that is spearheading the congressional investigation, specifically named Google, Facebook and Amazon as a “significant part” of it during his announcement Monday. He said he's prepared to issue subpoenas and compel witnesses to testify if needed.

House Judiciary's top Republican, Doug Collins of Georgia, and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the top Republican on its antitrust panel, initially praised the Democrats' probe, with Collins calling the effort a "bipartisan" opportunity to explore whether the tech industry remains competitive and “if necessary, to take action.”

But a GOP committee aide later sought to draw some boundaries around that support, suggesting the two Republican lawmakers are leery of some of the more aggressive tactics Cicilline mentioned.

Collins and Sensenbrenner have agreed to “less formal oversight activity to look into big tech," said the aide, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak on the record. The aide added that "there has not been bipartisan agreement to scrutinize, subpoena, compel testimony from or start a critical investigation” into specific companies.

That reluctance contrasts with some of the fiery rhetoric Republicans have brandished as they take aim at perceived bias on the part of Google, Facebook and Twitter, which deny any political favoritism in the way they manage their platforms.

Several GOP lawmakers, including Cruz and Hawley, have even floated the idea of revisiting a 1996 law that gives websites immunity from lawsuits over content their users have posted. It's a critical provision for the internet industry, shielding companies from expensive litigation if something libelous pops up in a search result, YouTube video or Facebook post, for example.

The tech antitrust issue isn't likely to dissipate for Republicans anytime soon, with the topic taking center stage in the Democratic presidential field. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has called for a breakup of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is backing calls to split up Facebook.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has opened the door to its own possible antitrust investigation of Google, although it has yet to say whether it will launch such a probe. People familiar with DOJ's activities confirmed to POLITICO and other news organizations last week that the department has taken jurisdiction over any potential Google probe as part of a recent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission.

The Justice Department has also claimed jurisdiction over any antitrust claims involving Apple, while the FTC would handle any investigations of Facebook and Amazon, according to news reports and sources familiar with the cases. The two agencies periodically get together to divide up companies in industry groups and determine which agency will handle an investigation, should there be infractions that would warrant investigation, an FTC official has told POLITICO.

Whether any of these procedural moves will blossom into full-blown investigations, or result in fines or other penalties, is still unclear. But all four companies have faced complaints in both the U.S. and Europe from rivals who accuse them of abusing their dominant roles.

By: Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times

When lawmakers as ideologically divided as Republican Sen. Josh Hawley and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren agree that your industry has become too powerful, you could be in trouble, and that’s the problem facing Big Tech.

The House Judiciary Committee is drawing support from both sides of the aisle after announcing Monday that it planned to investigate “the market power held by giant tech platforms,” which coincided with reports that the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission would pursue their own probes.

The growing chorus of concerns about the muscle of the top tech companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — extends to Silicon Valley, said Mitch Stoltz, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“I’m here in San Francisco. There’s nary a person who doesn’t think there are problems, and that they are at least in part problems of monopoly,” Mr. Stoltz said. “Not entirely — this is not the cause of nor the solution to all of the problems with the internet today — but it’s a factor. Everyone here recognizes that, including some Google, Facebook, Amazon employees.”

Tech stocks rebounded after a drop Monday following the House Judiciary Committee’s announcement. The big four companies were quiet on the antitrust investigations with the exception of Apple CEO Tim Cook, who denied his company was a monopoly.

“If you look at any kind of measure about is Apple a monopoly or not, I don’t think anybody reasonable is going to come to the conclusion that Apple is a monopoly,” Mr. Cook told CBS News.

The moves to examine the tech companies for suspected antitrust violations come as a pivot from four decades of relative calm on the antitrust front. The last company to be broken up by the federal government was Bell telephone in 1982.

In Europe, however, Google has been slapped with billions of dollars in fines, most recently a $1.7 billion fine in March for antitrust violations stemming from its online advertising practices, which the company has appealed.

Similar concerns are growing in Congress, where alarms about privacy, ideological bias and anti-competitive practices are being sounded on the right and left and peeling off some of the tech industry’s political allies.

President Trump has raised antitrust concerns about the U.S. tech industry. So has one of his biggest critics, Ms. Warren, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nod.

She posted a billboard Monday in New York City that said, “Break Up Big Tech.” Mr. Hawley, Missouri Republican, said a Justice Department investigation was “big news, and overdue.”

“You’re not seeing a divide between conservatives and liberals,” said Maurice Stucke, professor at the University of Tennessee School of Law. “I think what you’re seeing on both sides is a distrust of the concentration of power.”

Rep. David N. Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat, said the investigation would be led by the antitrust subcommittee, which he chairs, and that it was not focused on a particular company but “on the marketplace.”

“It’s really to look at the behavior of these very big technology companies,” Mr. Cicilline said on CNN. “Are they engaged in anti-competitive behavior? Are they respecting the privacy of users? Are they discouraging innovation and entrepreneurship?”

Could a breakup be looming? Mr. Cicilline said such speculation was “much too early” and that “Congress doesn’t actually have the ability to break up a company, obviously.”

At the same time, he said, “Nothing’s off the table in terms of the final resolution.”

The Justice Department and FTC investigations could take years. The DOJ’s antitrust arm would investigate Google and Apple, while the FTC would have jurisdiction over Facebook and Amazon, according to multiple media outlets.

Sounding a note of caution was Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, who sits on the antitrust subcommittee and warned about jumping to conclusions.

“As the world becomes more dependent on a digital marketplace, we must discuss how the regulatory framework is built to ensure fairness and competition,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said in a statement. “I believe these hearings can be informative, but it is important for us to avoid any predetermined conclusions.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, whose constituency includes Apple, Google and Facebook, said she was pleased to see the hearings on issues such as privacy, criminal activity and hate speech but warned against targeting a handful of firms.

“It’s important, however, that the focus be broader than just a few companies,” she said. “We should examine industrywide practices and enforcement improvements that benefit the American public as a whole. I look forward to that process moving forward.”

The digital communications industry spent a record $77.9 million on lobbying in 2018, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Others, including Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat, have raised questions about whether breaking up U.S. tech companies would empower Chinese digital giants such as Alibaba.

“I have some concern, as somebody who is very concerned about the rise of China, that if we were to kind of chop off the legs of Facebook and Google, that they might be replaced by Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent — companies that are totally enmeshed with the Chinese government in their global economic plan, ” Mr. Warner told CNBC in April.

By: Vivian Ho of The Guardian

Congress is launching a bipartisan investigation into digital markets and the tech industry, looking into giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon for “competition problems” and “anti-competitive conduct”.

“The open internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online,” House judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement. “But there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”

In addition to “documenting competition problems” and looking into “anti-competitive conduct,” the committee will assess “whether existing antitrust laws, competition policies and current enforcement levels are adequate to address these issues,” lawmakers said in a joint statement.

“Technology has become a crucial part of Americans’ everyday lives,” said Jim Sensenbrenner, antitrust subcommittee ranking member, in a statement. “As the world becomes more dependent on a digital marketplace, we must discuss how the regulatory framework is built to ensure fairness and competition.”

The announcement comes as US regulators, too, are moving to tighten scrutiny over the tech giants.

Earlier on Monday, US tech stocks dropped after reports that US antitrust officials were preparing to investigate companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet.

Under an agreement with the US justice department, officials from the Federal Trade Commission are reportedly preparing to investigate any practices at Facebook that may harm competition in the digital market.

Separately, Reuters reported that the justice department had taken jurisdiction for a potential investigation of Apple, as part of a broader review of whether technology giants use their size to act in an anti-competitive manner.

And last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the department of justice was looking into opening an anti-trust investigation into practices at Google.

The power and control over the market that these tech companies hold has become a hot-button issue , with presidential hopefuls weighing in on the question of whether it’s time to break up these companies in the way that the US government once broke up the railroad, oil and steel monopolies.

Democratic senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has long argued the tech companies should face more scrutiny. “Today’s big tech companies have too much power – too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy,” Warren said in a blogpost. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.”

“I want a government that makes sure everybody – even the biggest and most powerful companies in America – plays by the rules,” she added.

Senator Kamala Harris, a 2020 hopeful from California, where the tech industry has boomed, has expressed that she thinks “we have to seriously take a look” at whether Facebook should be broken up.

I think that Facebook has experienced massive growth and has prioritised its growth over the best interests of its consumers,” Harris said, “especially on the issue of privacy. There is no question in my mind that there needs to be serious regulation, and that that has not been happening.”

Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, issued a more tempered statement advocating for “strong antitrust enforcement” that won’t hinder the promotion of “innovation and growth”.

“The House judiciary committee should hold tech accountable to strong antitrust enforcement,” he said. “But any investigation needs to be fact-based and lead to well-crafted regulatory outcomes. We should prevent anticompetitive platform privilege while promoting innovation and growth.”

By: Rebecca Kanable of the Milton Courier

Following press conferences in Racine and Janesville, Bryan Steil announced the introduction of his first bill. H.R. 2149, the Exposing the Financing of Human Trafficking Act. H.R. 2149 has 17 bipartisan co-sponsors.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to human trafficking. My bill is a commonsense solution to hold countries accountable. Understanding where this money comes from and where it’s going gives countries the ability to crack down on these crimes. Addressing this gap in current law will have a major impact on global efforts to fight human trafficking,” said Steil.

Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, is the Democratic co-sponsor of Steil’s bipartisan bill. Cosponsors of H.R. 2149 include Congressman Mark Pocan (WI-02), Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-04), Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05), Congressman Glenn Grothman (WI-06), Congressman Sean Duffy (WI-07), and Congressman Mike Gallagher (WI-08).

At Tuesday's press conferences, Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson, Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, and Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling gave remarks in support of Steil’s bill. 

Background on H.R. 2149:

Human trafficking is a horrendous crime that presents a real threat to people all over the world. This crime has become increasingly perpetrated by organized, sophisticated, criminal enterprises and profits from trafficking contribute to the expansion of organized crime and terrorism in the United States and worldwide.

Unfortunately, human trafficking is common because it is profitable. The International Labor Organization estimates that more than $150 billion in illegal profit is made from forced labor each year, making human trafficking the third most valuable criminal operation in the world.

The U.S. currently uses the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report issued by the Department of State to engage foreign governments to combat human trafficking. The TIP report places countries into one of three tiers based on the extent of their government’s efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” A country’s tier designation is then used to condition aid. The TIP report looks at several criteria, but it does not currently cover efforts to disrupt illicit finance.

This bill requires the existing Trafficking in Persons Report to evaluate foreign countries’ efforts to investigate, prevent, and prosecute financial criminal activities associated with the facilitation of human trafficking.

By: Door County Pulse

Governor Tony Evers

Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee on Tuesday approved two of the five scientist positions Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed to restore science in environmental policy, but they cut millions of dollars from plans to reduce pollution from farms and industry.

Under questioning by Democratic committee members, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the Republican majority had cut about $43 million from Evers’ Year of Clean Drinking Water programs aimed at reducing pollution that fouls state lakes, streams and drinking water.

“This is ignoring manure coming out of people’s taps,” said Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison). “They cannot drink the water. What would you do if you could not drink the water in your homes?”

Committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said water quality is better than it was in the 1970s, a time “when you couldn’t see the bottom of the lake.”

“Some of the biggest manure production comes in this building,” Nygren said.

But Taylor pointed to fiscal bureau statistics showing that Department of Natural Resources regulators have been overwhelmed by the growth of the dairy feedlot industry and that a record 101 manure spills were reported in 2018, bringing the total to more than 10 million gallons spilled in the last 12 years.

Committee Republicans postponed a vote on Evers’ proposal to increase fees on large animal feedlots to help pay for five more DNR regulators to enforce water pollution laws.

Source: wiscnews.com

Congressman Mike Gallagher

Three Republican congressmen who served in the military are relaunching a PAC to help recruit more GOP veterans like themselves to run for Congress. Reps. Dan Crenshaw (Texas), Mike Gallagherand Michael Waltz (Florida) announced they are forming the War Veterans Fund PAC this cycle, which aims to recruit Republican veterans of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to run in their home districts and assist them with funding.

Veterans are “natural leaders, problem solvers and patriots,” Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, said at a joint press conference for the PAC.

Source: rollcall.com

Senator Tammy Baldwin

Sen. Baldwin demanded answers from President Trump after media reports revealed that more than $62.4 million in U.S. taxpayer-funded aid meant for American farmers was given to a meat-packing company owned by two Brazilian billionaires who are currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The payment is for pork.

Wisconsin has lost 1,480 dairy farms since President Trump took office. In April alone, Wisconsin lost 90 dairy farms.

“Allowing taxpayer funds to support foreign agricultural companies, particularly corrupt foreign companies, at a time when farmers in Wisconsin and across the country are suffering from pain caused by your trade wars is outrageous, and I’m calling on you to explain how you allowed this to happen,” Baldwin wrote in her letter.

News reports recently revealed that more than $62 million of U.S. trade-war aid that was intended to support American farmers has been awarded to JBS, a Brazilian-based multinational meat-packing company owned by two brothers who have admitted to bribing officials in Brazil. JBS USA, the U.S. branch of the firm, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating its federal discharge permit by dumping slaughterhouse waste for years at its plant. The company was fined $50,000 last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violating livestock sales laws by failing to give U.S. pork farmers a full accounting of transactions.

Source: Baldwin release

Senator Ron Johnson

Sen. Johnson was joined by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in introducing the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act: legislation to give law enforcement enhanced tools to combat the opioid epidemic and close a loophole in current law that makes it difficult to prosecute crimes involving some synthetic opioids.

“Communities across Wisconsin and America have been devastated by the epidemic of opioid overdoses,” Johnson said. “The SOFA Act will close a loophole in current law that is being exploited by illegal drug manufacturers. The bill will also give law enforcement the tools to quickly schedule fentanyl analogues as they are identified, preventing these drugs from sneaking around the law.”

“Way too many Wisconsin families have been forever changed by a surge in overdose deaths stemming from fentanyl and its analogues,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced the companion legislation in the House. “Congress must act as the opioid epidemic continues to grow. The SOFA Act will give law enforcement the necessary tools to fight back against the proliferation of fentanyl analogues in our communities, permanently closing loopholes in the law. I thank Sen. Johnson, Lauri Badura and Dr. Timothy Westlake for working tirelessly with me on this issue.”

Source: Johnson release

President Donald Trump

President Trump and his team on Wednesday sought to downplay the significance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s first public comments about his investigation and the reason he did not draw a conclusion on whether Trump committed a crime.

In a remarkable statement, Mueller made clear he would have exonerated Trump if he was confident the president did not commit a crime while also noting that the Constitution offers another avenue – impeachment – to accuse a sitting president of a crime.

“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed!” Trump tweeted. “Thank you.”

The responses from the president and his team ignored Mueller’s most damning comments from a lectern at the Justice Department, where he made clear that he did not charge Trump with a crime in large part because the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel guidelines prevented him from doing so.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

Washington, D.C.— Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI-05) and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) reintroduced companion versions of the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act. This legislation would help to curb the opioid epidemic by outlawing new fentanyl variants—known as analogues—as they are discovered.

Rep. Sensenbrenner“Way too many Wisconsin families have been forever changed by a surge in overdose deaths stemming from fentanyl and its analogues. Congress must act as the opioid epidemic continues to grow. The SOFA Act will give law enforcement the necessary tools to fight back against the proliferation of fentanyl analogues in our communities, permanently closing loopholes in the law. I thank Senator Johnson, Lauri Badura, and Dr. Timothy Westlake for working tirelessly with me on this issue.” 

Senator Johnson“Communities across Wisconsin and America have been devastated by the epidemic of opioid overdoses. The SOFA Act will close a loophole in current law that is being exploited by illegal drug manufacturers. The bill will also give law enforcement the tools to quickly schedule fentanyl analogues as they are identified, preventing these drugs from sneaking around the law.” 

Background on the SOFA Act:
Fentanyl is currently classified as a Schedule II controlled substance used to treat cancer patients. However, it is dangerous and can be lethal outside of the careful supervision of a doctor. Fentanyl abuse is one of the leading contributors to the opioid epidemic.

A new chemical compound, known as an analogue, is created by modifying one small piece of the chemical structure of fentanyl. These compounds fall into a legal loophole and contribute to the alarming rate of opioid-related deaths in the U.S. The DEA has temporary scheduling authority that will expire in February 2020 absent congressional action.

Analogue producers will continue developing new variations, and law enforcement agencies must have the tools to adapt to these changes. Under current law, DEA scheduling practices are reactive in nature. Typically, fentanyl analogues are only scheduled after they have resulted in deaths across multiple states.

The SOFA Act permanently closes the legal loophole by adding nineteen known fentanyl analogues to the Schedule I list. It also gives the DEA the authority to immediately schedule new fentanyl analogues as they are discovered, making enforcement and scheduling procedures more proactive.

The bill shares the acronym of an organization started by Oconomowoc, WI resident Lauri Badura, who lost her son Archie to an overdose in 2014. Shortly after, she founded the faith-based non-profit Saving Others for Archie, Inc. to raise awareness and fight the opioid epidemic.