Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate were on recess from April 30 to May 4.
House Subcommittee Marks Up FY13 NDAA
On April 26, The American Legion legislative team attended the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel hearing on its portion of H.R. 4310, the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill was discussed, received no amendments, and was passed unanimously by the subcommittee to the full committee for debate.
Specific provisions of interest to The American Legion are that it:
(1) Authorizes a troop pay increase of 1.7% and extension of bonuses and special pay;
(2) Limits end strength cuts to no more than 15,000 active-duty soldiers and 5,000 active Marines per year for fiscal years 2014 through 2017;
(3) Provides new regulations and procedures for combating and prosecuting military sexual assault including a requirement that the most serious allegations of sexual assault be dealt with by a special court-martial convening authority of a rank no lower than colonel (captain in the Navy), and establishes a special victims team to investigate sexual assault and domestic abuse allegations;
(4) Extends access to family housing for six months and Commissary and Exchange benefits for two years for troops who are involuntarily separated;
(5) Extends some TRICARE benefits to members of the Selected Reserve who are involuntarily separated;
(6) Creates a unified medical command; and,
(7) Makes clear that non-monetary contributions to health care benefits made by our troops and their families through a career of military service to America represents pre-payment of health care premiums in retirement, but the bill does not specifically deny DoD the authority to raise TRICARE fees, deductibles, and co-pays.
The subcommittee also added a provision to award Purple Heart medals to troops injured in two fatal attacks within the United States in 2009, one at a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the other at Fort Hood, Texas.
The full committee is expected to vote on the bill in early May after Congress returns from next week’s recess. It should be noted, however, that many lawmakers have said publicly they doubt a final version of the NDAA will be passed by Congress before the presidential election.
House, Senate Approprations Committees Approve FY13 Justice Spending Bills
Both the House and Senate Appropriations committees have begun the long process of producing the necessary spending measures to fund federal government operations for fiscal year (FY) 2013. The Senate committee on April 19 approved S. 2323, a measure to fund the Departments of Commerce and Justice and Science programs. The vote for passage was 28-1. One week later, the House panel passed its draft bill by a voice vote.
Several of the accounts in the Department of Justice are of particular concern to The American Legion. Some of the funding amounts for selected accounts include:
• $8.3 billion for the FBI under the House measure, $8.2 billion in the Senate bill;
• $2.4 billion for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the House version, while the Senate bill would allocate $2 billion;
• $1.8 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance in the House measure, with $1.1 billion slated for this account in the Senate version;
• $1.2 billion for the U.S. Marshals Service in both bills;
• $1.1 billion for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in both measures; and,
• $278 million for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the Senate bill, while the House measure would allocate $210 million for this agency.
These measures are still in the preliminary stages of the legislative process. Both congressional chambers must approve these bills, before they are presented to the President for his signature.
HouseVA Panel Holds Markup on Pending Legislation
On the morning of Friday, April 27th the full House Committee on Veterans Affairs (HVAC) held a markup hearing to discuss amendments to pending legislation and vote on whether or not to favorably recommend the pending legislation to the floor of the House. Five bills were up for consideration, with varying levels of comment and amendment.
The first bill discussed also garnered the most discussion. H.R. 4072, the “Consolidating Veteran Employment Services for Improved Performance Act of 2012,” saw conflict over two amendments. The primary purpose of the legislation is to transfer the Veteran Employment and Training Services program from the Department of Labor (DOL) to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Rep. Corrine Brown (FL) offered an amendment that would provide for a study to take place regarding such a move, with no provision to ultimately move the program. This amendment was rejected by a 14-10 vote of the committee. Rep. Tim Walz (MN) offered an amendment that also included a study, but a study to take place after the move was made to measure whatever progress was made by such a move. This amendment passed by a vote of 21-3.
Further amendments added also included text of measures from previous legislation now being consolidated into the larger bill. An automatic annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for disabled veterans was added, in addition to additional support for the Missing in America Project’s efforts to identify and provide proper burial for unclaimed cremated remains of veterans. A study on Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines was added, and a requirement for residency within 50 miles of the “National Capitol Region” was added for judges serving on the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. A minor provision addressing internet forms used by the VA was also included. The bill as finally amended was voted on by the committee and by majority vote was recommended for passage to the floor of the House.
Other bills considered by the markup committee included:
• H.R. 4114 – The “Veterans Compensation Cost of Living Adjustment Act of 2012,” an annual measure passed by Congress to provide for a one year only increase in COLA for veterans if the Consumer Price Index deems such an increase is warranted. This bill was recommended for passage by the committee;
• H.R. 4201 – The Service-member Family Protection Act, which provides protections in custody arrangements for service members facing deployment was also passed favorably out of the committee;
• H.R. 4482 – The Adjustable Rate Mortgage/Hybrid ARM Permanent Authorization would make permanent authorization currently in place for veterans utilizing VA home loans to use these types of loans. This measure was recommended favorably for passage; and,
• H.R. 3670 – Applying USERRA Protections to Certain TSA Employees seeks to ensure that in the future TSA will not be exempted from extending USERRA protections for employment to Guard and Reserve component service members working for that agency. It was also favorably recommended for passage.
LEGISLATIVE DIVISION ACTIONS
Update on Flag Amendment Bills
Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (UT) office continues to solicit additional cosponsors for Senate Joint Resolution (S.J. Res.) 19, a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration. Its text states simply: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” The cosponsor total for the Senate legislation stands at 33. To date, H.J. Res. 13 – the House companion to the Senate measure – has accumulated 84 cosponsors, with the addition last week of Reps. Scott Rigell (VA) and Paul Gosar (AZ).
Please contact your representatives’ and senators’ offices, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. If they are already cosponsors, be sure to thank them for their support.
On March 8 the President signed H.R. 347, the ‘Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011,’ now Public Law 112-98. This bill… restricts the ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘right of citizens to demonstrate.’ It leaves the restrictions to the Secret Service and attaches felony charges to violations, attaching a one year-plus imprisonment as a penalty. “While we must protect the President of the U.S., we must also ensure that our rights as citizens to protest or demonstrate are not trampled on by the government, at the whim of his protectors. “Although this has nothing to do with the VA or DOD, I am surprised that you guys did not pick up on this bill. I was told that it was even signed in secret. I realize that we cannot keep tabs on every bill that comes forward, but something as important as this just seemed to fall through the cracks.
Answer:Thanks for taking the time to bring a bill up that didn’t get publicized in any of our material. Although we were familiar as a division with this legislation, initial analysis didn’t call for a dramatic rush to act. Depending on how it’s implemented, we still believe this law will not stretch to the level of 1st amendment infringement you allege. Allow us to explain based on our analysis. Since October, the “Occupy Movement” has dramatically changed the landscape of our cities and communities nationwide. Perhaps the greatest and longest-lasting effort by this movement was their inhabitation of Freedom Park and McPherson Square here in D.C. Yet, when the visitors come to our city, they are awed that somehow the Occupy movement didn’t take up closer positions in parks near the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court. They were able to temporarily visit those locations, but not occupy them as they had elsewhere. In some ways, this was limited by laws already on the book. Yet those laws aren’t perfect. P.L. 112-98 is an attempt to address one of those weaknesses. Yet it’s important to note, contrary to some email rumors, this law does not create any new crimes. This law amends a 1971 statute that deals with trespass in areas subject to Secret Service security measures. This bill specifically addresses buildings, grounds, and events which are secured by the Secret Service. In the case of the White House, this area is clear. It’s a bit vaguer when it becomes apparent that the law allows for similar protections in the vicinity of people under protection of the Secret Service (e.g. Vice President, Speaker of the House, etc.). The original law, unchanged by P.L. 112-98, makes certain types of conduct within these areas a crime. These actions include simple trespass, blocking entrances or exits to the restricted area, and any conduct which “disrupt(s) the orderly conduct of Government.” Yet under the 1971 law, you had to act “willfully and knowingly” when committing the crime. You had to know your conduct was illegal. Now, the new law changes this to where you must act knowingly. This could be implied by judges and police to mean you know you’re in a restricted area. Under this revision, you don’t need to know you were committing a crime. So the Government would only have the obligation to notify you of your place in a restricted area in some way or manner. Albeit, a weakening on the intent of the protestor could be construed by civil rights advocates as an eradication of civil rights. Most of the civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, are not concerned with the law, only the possibility for abuse, a problem that exists with every law passed in this land. As noted above, implementation will be key to the law’s success. Finally, as for the signing of the bill, it’s not unheard of for bills to be signed in private. As for the 106 public laws passed in the 112th Congress thus far, only a handful were signed in public ceremonies. The law that changed our charter is one such example. A recent Roll Call article contends this is a political ploy by the White House to further contend that Congress remains a “do-nothing” entity. The fact they have only passed 106 laws is more demonstrative of that fact. Signing ceremonies are left for the bigger laws and issues like the health care law, education reform, and other broad front-page measures. Again, we appreciate your efforts in bringing this to our attention. We rely upon you and members throughout the nation as our check on legislation pending before Congress. A great majority of the time, we’ve seen the bill, but there are occasions, when something slips by. Keep up the great effort you make on behalf of veterans and The American Legion.