Winter 2006

Legislative Update

Before its holiday recess, Congress debated and voted on three controversial bills. The first to pass the Senate was a highly contentious bill to cut the budget, which required Vice President Cheney’s early return from the Middle East to cast his tie-breaking vote. The measure reduced federal spending growth by $40 billion over the next five years. Opponents argue that the cuts will negatively affect poor Americans in areas such as Medicaid, federal child support enforcement, welfare, and loans for education. Removed from the bill was legislation to allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge . After the original bill passed in the House earlier in the week, the slightly amended version of the bill returned to the House for a vote.

Also contentious was a vote to renew and make permanent the USA PATRIOT Act, which was set to expire on Dec. 31. Roving wiretaps and secret warrants for records from businesses, hospitals, libraries and organizations continued to be its most controversial provisions. After passing the House in mid-December, the bill went to the Senate for consideration where Democrats filibustered the measure, preventing several days. On Dec. 22, the Senate reached a compromise to extend the Act for six months. The House, however, with later Senate approval, agreed only to a one-month extension (to Feb. 3, 2006). The president signed the measure on Dec. 30, despite previous statements by White House spokesman Scott McClellan that "the president has made it very clear that he is not interested in signing any short-term renewal."

Among other noteworthy legislation was Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) anti-torture amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill. Although it initially faced stiff opposition from the White House, McCain gathered enough support in the House and Senate to override a potential presidential veto and negotiated language acceptable to the White House. The bill passed the House on Dec. 19 and the Senate on Dec. 21, specifying that the U.S. will not engage in interrogation practices that are cruel, inhuman, or degrading, whether in the U.S. or abroad. The President signed the bill on Jan. 6, 2006, and released a signing statement that explained the President’s interpretation of the bill. The phrase, “The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority,” left it unclear as to how much, if any, policy will change as a result of this legislation.

Other Congressional action included the following:

Civil Rights/Constitutional Law

On Sept. 27, Sen. Talent (R-MO) introduced S J Res 25, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to authorize the president to reduce or disapprove any appropriations in any bill presented by Congress. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. On Sept, 27, Sen. Dole (R-NC) introduced S J Res 26, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to the line item veto. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

On Sept. 14, Sen. Landrieu (D-LA) introduced S J Res 24, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States pertaining to the references to God found in the Pledge of Allegiance and on United States currency. The bill was sent to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

On Sept. 13, Rep. Hoyer (D-MD) introduced HR 3746, to prohibit certain abortions. The bill was sent to the House Committees on Energy and the Judiciary.

Criminal Justice

On Sept. 14, Rep. Gibbons (R-NV) introduced HR 3772, to prohibit states from issuing driver’s licenses or state identification cards to sex offenders who are not in compliance with applicable registration requirements. The bill was referred to the House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Judiciary.

Courts/Judiciary

On Sept. 27, Rep. Davis (D-CA) introduced HR 3920, to authorize the establishment of domestic violence court systems from amounts available for grants to combat violence against women. The bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

On Sept. 26, Sen. Specter (R-PA) introduced S 1768, to permit the televising of Supreme Court proceedings. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

On Sept. 21, the House passed S 1368, the United States Parole Commission Extension and Sentencing Commission Authority Act of 2005, clearing the measure for the president.

Death Penalty

On May 19, Sen. Kyl (R-AZ) introduced the Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005 (S 1088). Bill has not moved out of Committee. Parts of it are therefore expected to be attached to other bills by Sen. Kyl. The Act amends the federal judicial code to revise the law and procedures for habeas corpus petitions by denying or restricting the jurisdiction of federal courts to hear such petitions that: (1) have been procedurally barred in a state court; (2) are based upon errors in sentences or sentencing ruled as harmless error by a state court; (3) pertain to capital cases; or (4) challenge the exercise of a states' executive clemency or pardon power. Rep. Lungren (R-CA) is expected to introduce an amended version of the bill in January.

Disability Law

On Sept. 30, President Bush signed HR 3864, the Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Affected by Hurricane Katrina or Rita Act, providing vocational rehabilitation services to individuals with disabilities affected by the hurricanes.

Election Law

In September, two bills were introduced in the House regarding an amendment to the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Rep. Feeney (R-FL) introduced HR 3910, which would require individuals to present government-issued photo identification as a condition to voting in a federal election and would require individuals tabulating votes in a federal election to complete a criminal background check. Rep. Lewis (D-GA) introduced H Con Res 247, expressing the sense of the Congress that a requirement for photo identification would not ensure ballot integrity and would infringe upon the rights of citizens.

In the Senate, Sen. Obama (D-IL) introduced S Con Res 53, advising that Congress reject any effort to impose photo identification requirements for voting. The measure was sent to the Committees on Rules and Administration.

On Sept. 13, Rep. Davis (D-AL) introduced HR 3724 to give persons recently evacuated from their towns due to Hurricane Katrina the right to use absentee balloting from their home state under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. The bill was referred to the House Administration Committee. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Feingold (D-WI) on Oct. 7.

Elder Law

On Nov. 15, Sen. Hatch (R-UT) introduced S 2010, which would amend the Social Security Act to ensure adequate public-private infrastructure to prevent, detect, treat, intervene in, and prosecute elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

Homelessness/Housing

On Oct. 6, the House passed a number of bills to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina to obtain housing. Among them were HR 3894, to provide waivers under HUD programs to assist victims; HR 3895, to amend Title V of the Housing Act of 1949 to provide rural housing assistance; and HR 3896, to temporarily suspend certain requirements under the community development block grant program.

Immigration Law

On Sept. 22, Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced HR 3857 to simplify the process for admitting temporary alien agriculture workers under the Immigration and Nationality Act, and to increase access to such workers. The bill was sent to the House Committees on the Judiciary and Agriculture.

On Dec. 16, the House passed HR 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which includes measures to use military and local law enforcement agencies to stop immigrants from entering illegally, requires employers to verify social security numbers of employees through a national database to verify legal status, and authorizes a fence to be built along parts of the U.S./Mexico border. It also increases the penalties for smuggling and re-entry and changes the classification for unlawful presence in the U.S. from a civil offense to a felony. The House delayed consideration of a guest worker program. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill in February.

International Relations

On Nov. 1, Rep. McCollum (D-MN) introduced HR 4188, to improve voluntary family planning programs in developing countries. The bill was referred to the House Committee on International Relations.

Military Law

On Oct. 6, Rep. Harman (D-CA) introduced HR 3985, to provide standards for the treatment of persons under custody or control of the United States Government. The bill was referred to the House Committees on Armed Services and the Judiciary. 

Native Americans

On Oct. 20, Sen. McCain (R-AZ) introduced S 1899, to amend the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act. The bill seeks to identify and remove barriers to reducing child abuse and to provide for examinations of certain children. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. 

Science

On Sept. 28, Rep. Bono (R-CA) introduced HR 3932, to prohibit human cloning. The bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

Women

On Dec. 17, Congress authorized appropriations for the Department of Justice through FY 2009, including reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, clearing the measure for the president.

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