Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Anniversary of Senate Immigration Reform Legislation, Conyers & Lofgren Highlight A Year of House Inaction

(WASHINGTON) – One year ago today, eight members of the U.S. Senate - Senators Schumer, Durbin, McCain, Rubio, Bennet, Menendez, Flake and Graham - introduced S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” This comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. immigration system would bring millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, strengthen American businesses, families, and communities, and spur much-needed economic growth. While the U.S. Senate passed S. 744 on a bipartisan vote of 68-32, the U.S. House of Representatives has failed to take any action on comprehensive immigration reform legislation. To mark the anniversary of the legislative introduction, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), the Ranking Member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, released the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich): “Exactly one year ago, eight Senators - four Republicans and four Democrats - came together and introduced legislation to reform our country’s immigration laws. This bipartisan spirit was animated by a singular reality: our immigration system is fundamentally broken and must be reformed in order to benefit American families, communities, and businesses. Yet, while the Senate worked in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion at every step of the legislative process - ultimately passing comprehensive immigration reform with the support of a supermajority of Senators - the path pursued by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has been unashamedly partisan. Congressional support exists to bring millions of individuals out of the shadows, reunite immigrant families, and boost the economy; all that is lacking is a sense of political courage. In marking the one year anniversary of the Senate’s legislative work, we are acknowledging a year of missed opportunities and inaction by House Republicans. To hold reform up any longer would be more than pure negligence, it would be an act of callousness.”

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.): "One year ago a bipartisan group of Senators stepped forward to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform proposal.  While not perfect, they had found common ground and their bill attracted broad support in the U.S. Senate.  Americans hoped it would start a process in Congress of examining, debating and giving immigration reform a fair vote to finally fix our broken immigration system.  That's because top-to-bottom immigration reform would grow our economy and create jobs, reduce the debt, make our country safer, energize innovation and competitiveness, and tame illegal immigration.  Even today a majority of Members of the House say that they favor immigration reform, which isn't surprising because reform is overwhelmingly supported by a majority of Americans from across the political spectrum.  That support is one of the reasons why a movement has started to give immigration reform a fair up or down vote in the House.  But the Republican-controlled House continues to stall on immigration reform, and as they continue to run out the clock, the window of opportunity to pass reform narrows."

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On Tax Day, Conyers Calls for a Fairer Tax Code for America’s Working Families

(DETROIT) – Today, on Tax Day, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) called on Congress to restore fairness to the nation’s tax code by reducing rates for working Americans, ensuring that the nation’s wealthiest pay their fair share, and eliminating incentives for corporations to move jobs overseas. On the filing deadline, Representative Conyers issued the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“For too long, our tax code has disproportionately benefited the wealthiest one-percent of Americans, while doing too little to promote job-creation. On this Tax Day, I urge my colleagues in Congress to close tax loopholes, end special interest tax breaks, and reform the tax code to support the creation and retention of high-wage jobs in the United States," said Conyers.

“Instead of promoting a fairer and simpler tax code, the Republicans’ Ryan budget threatens to increase taxes on working families with children by more than $2,000 per year in order to pay for additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and for large corporations. As a matter of social and economic fairness, this is simply unacceptable.

“I am proud to support the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget, which would create needed revenue for jobs programs by taxing income from investments the same as taxes from wages, while ending deductions for yachts, corporate jets, and business entertainment expenses. I am also proud of President Obama’s legacy in cutting taxes for working people and small businesses while allowing the fiscally-irresponsible Bush tax cuts to expire. By closing loopholes to ensure that corporations pay their fair share and stop shipping jobs overseas, we can responsibly invest in modernizing our infrastructure, ensuring that every child has access to high-quality pre-school, and strengthening our nation’s safety net. A fair tax code can help America get back to full employment.”

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Friday, April 11, 2014

House Members Seek Information on Expansion of TSA Behavior Detection Programs

(WASHINGTON) – Today, four House Committee and Subcommittee Ranking Members sent a letter to John S. Pistole, Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), questioning the expanded use of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) through the Targeted Conversation program, which is part of TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. Under the expanded program, passengers who refuse to answer intrusive questions posed by BDOs at airport security checkpoints will undergo secondary screening. The Ranking Members are concerned that TSA is expanding behavior detection programs despite a lack of scientific validation for these methods.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Subcommittee wrote Administrator Pistole that:

“This [Targeted Conversation Proof of Concept] represents an intrusion into the privacy of the flying public through a process TSA has not scientifically validated.”

The Members added: “The expanded use of BDOs subsequent to GAO’s recommendation that TSA limit funding for SPOT until it can provide scientifically validated evidence that behavioral indicators can be used to identify threats to aviation security raises serious concerns.”

Background on Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT):

Ø  Over $1 billion has been spent since 2007.
Ø  Zero terrorists have been identified, apprehended, referred to law enforcement or prevented from boarding an aircraft as a result of the program.
Ø  Known or suspected terrorists have passed through screening on 23 different occasions in airports where BDOs were present.
Ø  TSA has not provided any scientific validation for the program.

In 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended Congress consider whether to continue to fund SPOT after TSA disagreed with the recommendation that it limit future funding of the program.

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John Conyers: Children are not adults - don't sentence them to prison as if they were

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
By John Conyers 

The United States is the only country that still regularly sentences children to life without parole.

Children who are sentenced to life without parole grow up, grow older and then die behind bars.

We should not be treating children in the criminal justice system as if they were adults. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that irrespective of the severity of the crime, children simply do not have the same level of culpability as adults. Their physical, mental and emotional development is not the same. In addition, research shows that children possess a greater capacity for rehabilitation, change, and growth than adults.

For this reason, children require individualized treatment in the criminal justice system that is appropriate to their age and level of development. But mandatory life without parole prevents such an individualized approach — even if rehabilitation would have been feasible — and forces a child to spend his or her life and final moments behind bars.

In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Miller v. Alabama. It held that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and is unconstitutional.” In holding this practice unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court researched the laws of other countries in addition to international norms, treaties and conventions.

Regrettably, Michigan is among the states with the largest populations of inmates serving life sentences for crimes committed as children.

A recent study from Second Chances 4 Youth and the ACLU of Michigan shows that, overall in Michigan, youth of color comprise only 29% of the youth population but represent 73% of those serving juvenile life sentences without parole. In Wayne County, according to a 2007 study, they represent 94% of the juveniles serving life without parole.

To look at these figures as only a criminal justice issue ignores the fact that this is also a civil rights crisis based on racial injustice. This, along with other criminal laws, operates as a new system of Jim Crow in this country.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the news media painted the face of the upcoming wave of violent, depraved and dangerous “super-predator children” as that of children of color. In the wake of that hysteria, Michigan passed some of the toughest juvenile justice laws in the country, which it still has — and still applies.

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, the Michigan courts continue to refuse to grant retroactive relief to juvenile offenders living out mandatory life sentences without parole. This means that more than 360 juvenile offenders who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole are being denied a chance — even though that sentence would be illegal if imposed today. It also means that Michigan continues to violate the Eighth Amendment and international human rights standards.
I recognize that Michigan is not the only state facing this problem, but I believe that Michigan can lead the way to the solution.

Further, I call upon the Michigan Legislature to reexamine penalty provisions that allow for juvenile sentences of either discretionary life without parole or de-facto life without parole, that is, those numeric sentences that lock juveniles away for several decades of their life, effectively robbing them of their chance to be rehabilitated and get their young lives back on track.

Finally, I recommend that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette exercise considerable discretion with youth sentencing, to return a degree of flexibility, pragmatism and proportionality to each individual case. Specifically, I call upon Schuette to, as a policy matter, decline to seek discretionary life without parole or de facto life without parole sentences for juveniles. We can hold children accountable without warehousing them behind bars for the remainder of their lives.

For all of these proposals, I hope that other states follow Michigan’s lead in working to restore fairness to our juvenile justice system.

Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Even the Rich Should Reject the Ryan Budget

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.

By John Conyers, Jr.
It's no secret that the House Republican budget being considered this week would hurt the livelihoods of low-income Americans. Since winning control of the House in 2010, GOP leaders and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan have used the federal budget process to slash funding for education, nutrition, and job-training in order to pay for tax breaks for a fortunate few. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates, 69 percent of the cuts in the new Ryan budget come from programs for the poor.
But here's a surprise about the Ryan budget: its drastic cuts would be painful even for the nation's wealthiest one percent. Here's why:
Businesses need well-trained workers. Successful CEOs understand that America will never be able to compete with China and India on the basis of low-wages. Rather, our nation needs to compete on the basis of world-class skills and technical expertise. To do so, we must ensure access to infant nutrition, universal pre-school, well-funded public schools with reasonably-sized classes, after-school enrichment programs, and affordable colleges and technical schools. While President Obama's budget and the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget strongly prioritize these investments, the Ryan budget would cut child nutrition, demolish Head Start, reduce funding to Pell Grants, slash grants for teacher training, and end nearly all federal funding for arts, humanities, and libraries.
Investors need greater consumer demand. With inflation-adjusted wages at historic lows and still more than three applicants for every single job opening, too few Americans are able to afford homes or cars or even to eat meals out at restaurants. This shortage of consumer demand is stifling economic growth, hurting housing market recovery, and denying businesses the customers they need in order to make payroll and turn a profit. By shifting Medicaid and food assistance programs into block grants, cutting funding for low-income heating programs, and slashing federal pensions, the Ryan budget would further diminish individual Americans' purchasing power. This is one reason why the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the GOP budget would cost at least a million jobs in its first year and up to 3.3 million in its second year, while the Progressive Caucus budget would create an estimated 8.8 million jobs by 2017.
The wealthy need medical research and environmental protection, too.As The Huffington Post's Sam Stein has documented, budget cuts since the GOP takeover have devastated scientific and medical research efforts that are indispensable to the development of American products as well as the discovery of life-saving cures. These cuts affect rich and poor alike. Budget cuts have likewise undercut efforts to combat climate change and related issues of drought, ecosystem damage, and extreme weather--phenomena that are not only destroying lives and property but also projected to significantly reduce global economic growth. Because the world is at a crossroads in history, with drastic climate change all but certain absent equally drastic preventative measures, these cuts do little more than exchange present conveniences for future hardship. By making drastic cuts to scientific research, clean energy development, environmental protection, and emergency management, the Ryan budget would make all Americans -- rich and poor alike -- more vulnerable.
In the decades following the Second World War, Congress passed budgets that invested in full employment, a reliable safety net and great public institutions. From the Eisenhower highway system to Medicare to the space program and public research universities, these investments paid dividends to workers and businesses alike. Workers earned the wages needed to buy American goods and services, and, in turn, businesses had the confidence needed to keep investing and hiring. I am supporting the Congressional Progressive Caucus's Better Off Budget, the Congressional Black Caucus budget, and the House Democratic budget because they represent a return to this tradition of shared gains.
As the House votes on a budget plan this week, the choice is not between serving the rich or the poor. It's a choice between investing in broad-based prosperity and continuing a failed experiment of austerity.

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Conyers Reintroduces Legislation Restoring Voting Rights to Ex-Offenders

(WASHINGTON) – Today, U.S. House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) reintroduced the “Democracy Restoration Act of 2014.” This legislation would reinstate the right to vote in federal elections for millions of Americans with a past conviction who are currently out of prison. In the United States today, there are more than 5.8 million individuals who are ineligible to vote due to a felony conviction, yet nearly 4 million of those citizens are no longer in prison and almost 3 million disenfranchised individuals have completed their entire sentence. After the legislation was introduced, Representative Conyers issued the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Gradually, through centuries of activism and relentless struggle, the right to vote was expanded to all Americans regardless of race, gender, religion, and national origin. Yet, today in the United States, millions of citizens are arbitrarily denied the right to vote in federal elections simply for having been formerly incarcerated. In essence, this damaging policy is a throwback to an earlier time when universal suffrage was deliberately blocked. As a matter of principle and electoral fairness, it is long past time to restore the right to vote to people with felony convictions living in the community,” said Conyers.

“Apart from being a fundamental democratic right, voting is essential to a formerly incarcerated citizen’s rehabilitation. Ex-felons who have been released from prison, and are living in our neighborhoods, are a part of our community. These individuals who have paid their societal debts are unduly barred from being fully re-integrated back into society by being denied the right to vote. These restrictions serve only to further alienate and isolate millions of Americans as they work to regain normality in their lives.

“Regrettably, there has been an increasing trend towards restricting the right to vote amongst certain states employing regressive practices. These states that are denying voting rights to ex-offenders represents a vestige from a time when suffrage was denied to whole classes of the American population. Just like literacy tests and poll taxes prevented an entire class of citizens - namely African Americans - from integrating into society after centuries of slavery, ex-felon disenfranchisement laws prevent people from reintegrating into society after they have served their time in prison. It is long overdue that these restrictions be relegated to the dustbin of history.”

Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Smithsonian celebrates April as Jazz Appreciation Month with John Conyers

Smithsonian celebrates April as Jazz Appreciation Month supported by the stalwart leadership of U.S. Representative John Conyers who has introduced a Bill to promote jazz preservation.
Rep. John Conyers, Hugh Masakela, members of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Quintet, and John Haase
Below, is the calendar of events.
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Conyers, Engel & 80 House Members Urge President to Stop Import of Military-Style Firearms

Enforcement of Import Ban Would Reduce Violence in U.S. and Illegal Firearms Trafficking to Mexico

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led an 82 member letter to President Barack Obama urging him to renew enforcement of the ban on imported military-style firearms that was previously enforced during the H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations. Enforcing this ban would serve the dual purpose of improving public safety in the U.S. and reducing drug-related violence in Mexico, where there have been approximately 70,000 organized-crime related deaths since December 2006. Imported military-style firearms have been used in recent mass shootings in the United States and are frequently trafficked into Mexico where they fall into the hands of the country’s brutal drug trafficking organizations.

Enforcing the import ban would require no congressional action as the President has very broad authority under the 1968 Gun Control Act to prohibit the importation of firearms and ammunition unless they are “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.”

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.): “We must do all we can to reduce the unacceptable level of daily gun violence in America, and I believe we can do more to address the problem of military-style assault weapons imported into this country. I ask that the President and the Administration take steps to update and reinvigorate this ban and help keep more of these weapons from getting to our streets.”

Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.):  “Military-style firearms should have no place in our communities. Restoring the import ban is a no-brainer that would require no legislative action, would make our nation safer and would support neighboring Mexico where drug violence is fueled by firearms flowing south from the United States.”   

The full text of the letter and signatories are below:


Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to renew enforcement of the ban on imported military-style firearms – including those that are fully manufactured abroad as well as those that are imported as parts – which was previously enforced during the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  Enforcing this ban would serve the dual purpose of improving public safety in the United States and reducing drug-related violence in Mexico where there have been approximately 70,000 organized-crime related deaths since December 2006.

The Administration has very broad authority under the 1968 Gun Control Act to prohibit the importation of firearms and ammunition unless they are “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes” (18 USC §925(d)(3)).  The George H.W. Bush Administration first used this provision to halt the importation of many foreign-made military-style rifles after Patrick Purdy used an imported AK-47 rifle to kill five children and wound 30 at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California in 1989.  The Clinton Administration reviewed and improved the ban in 1998 in response to gun industry efforts to evade it.  Unfortunately, the George W. Bush Administration abandoned enforcement of the import ban, and it remains unenforced.  We urge you to once again fully enforce a ban on the import of military-style firearms and to expand the ban to include newly developed AK-type pistols that combine the firepower of a rifle with the concealability of a pistol.   This new breed of pistol has absolutely no “sporting purpose” and presents a clear threat to public safety.

Acting to prohibit the import of military-style firearms would build on action already taken by your Administration to deny requests to import U.S. surplus military firearms, a step the Administration took to “help keep military-grade firearms off our streets.”  A broader import ban would significantly reduce the availability of military-style firearms smuggled to and used by Mexican drug traffickers.

Imported military-style rifles and AK-style pistols are top weapons of choice for international gun smugglers.  The Violence Policy Center analyzed 136 federal gun trafficking prosecutions involving illegal smuggling to Mexico and other Latin American countries.  There were more than 700 Romanian AK-47 variant rifles (representing just one make/model of imported military-style rifle).

In that same investigation, the Violence Policy Center found an increasing percentage of military-style firearms imported into the United States.  There were 2,214 firearms identified in prosecutions filed in the United States from 2008 through 2010.  Of those 406 or 18 percent were military-style firearms that were imported into the United States.  There were 2,528 firearms identified in prosecutions in the United States in 2011 and 2012.  Of those, 1,615 or 64 percent were military-style firearms that were imported into the United States.

As just one example, imported WASR-10s – which are AK-47 variants – have repeatedly been found in the arsenals of top drug kingpins and their associates and were used in May 2008 to kill eight police officers in Culiacan, Mexico.  An analysis conducted by the Center for Public Integrity found that, over the last four years, WASR-10 rifles comprised more than 17% of the firearms recovered at Mexican crime scenes and successfully traced back to the United States.  
Imported AK-47 variant firearms have been used in recent mass shootings in the United States, including:  outside an IHOP in Carson City, Nevada in 2011 in which four were killed and seven were injured (the semiautomatic MAK-90 used in the shooting had been illegally converted to fully automatic after import);  a workplace shooting at an ABB industrial plant in St. Louis, Missouri in 2010 where three were killed and five were wounded; and, a shooting at a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska in 2007 that left eight dead and five wounded.

We urge the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to take the following steps to prevent the importation of non-sporting firearms into the United States and to close loopholes that have been exploited by importers in the past.  Specifically, we request that the Administration:

Ø  Prohibit importation of all non-sporting, semiautomatic rifles, regardless of caliber, that can accept or be readily converted to accept any large-capacity ammunition magazine of more than 10 rounds. The standard should not be dependent on the military pedigree of the gun nor should it make arbitrary distinctions based on the configuration of a specific gun’s magazine well.  Such a standard will prevent importers from making slight variations in a gun’s design that in the past would make it eligible for import.

Ø  Prohibit the import of non-sporting semiautomatic rifles with fixed magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds.  A new standard should anticipate the potential development of fixed-magazine rifles with high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Ø  Prohibit the import of the frame or receiver of any prohibited rifle whether or not the frame or receiver is incorporated into a fully manufactured firearm.  The “frame or receiver” of any firearm is its major working component and is defined by the Gun Control Act of 1968 as a “firearm.”

Ø  Prohibit the practice of importing military-style, non-sporting rifles in parts and then constructing them into fully functioning weapons once they are in the country by adding a requisite number of U.S.-made parts.  

Ø  Prohibit importers from circumventing any new restrictions by “sporterizing” their weapons (for example, making slight cosmetic changes to the guns while still retaining their firepower and capacity, such as incorporating “thumbhole stocks” in place of pistol grips on rifles).

Ø  Prohibit the import of AK-type pistols in addition to AK-type rifles, as they also fail the sporting-purposes test.

We urge you to take action to aggressively enforce the “sporting purposes” test to halt the importation of all military-style weapons.  By describing military-style weapons in terms of specific parts and components, one can lose the overall point that we continue to import powerful weapons which clearly have no sporting purpose.  This must end.  We must instead focus on the broader danger posed by these weapons.  By restoring these important restrictions, we will be able to help reduce violence in the United States and in neighboring Mexico.  Thank you for your attention to this urgent issue.

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Conyers: Congress Must Extend Unemployment Benefits Immediately

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) released the following statement after the U.S. Senate’s passage of a five-month extension of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits by a vote of 59-38:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
"By extending emergency unemployment insurance, the U.S. Senate has done what’s right for struggling Americans and the U.S. economy as a whole. House GOP leaders’ refusal to even allow a vote on UI is destroying lives and damaging our economic recovery. The House must renew UI immediately,” said Conyers.

“With tens of millions of Americans looking for full-time living-wage work and just one job opening for every three applicants, unemployment remains a national emergency. Failing to extend unemployment insurance means people losing their homes through foreclosure, going without food on the table, and suffering horrendous anxiety.

More than two million Americans have lost their UI benefits since they expired at the end of last year. This includes 106,200 people in Michigan. Until the House takes action, 72,000 people will lose benefits each week.

“Unemployment insurance is not a hand-out. Americans have purchased unemployment insurance through payroll taxes, but Republicans in Congress are denying them what is rightfully theirs.

“This is about helping struggling Americans and strengthening the overall economy.  An extension of unemployment insurance would boost consumer demand, leading to an estimated additional 200,000 jobs in the coming year.  When unemployed Americans receive income, they spend it. When they can go out and purchase their necessities, they boost the economy and promote job-creation. All this boosts tax revenue and reduces deficits. It should be no surprise that, for every $1 spent on safety net programs like UI, there’s an additional $2 in economic growth. The House must renew UI immediately.” 

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Ranking Member Conyers Statement at Department of Justice Oversight Hearing

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing entitled, “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice.” During his opening remarks, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) delivered the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Mr. Chairman, I would like to begin by asking you to join me in reminding our members that we must conduct ourselves in a manner that befits the House Judiciary Committee. The Attorney General of the United States is our guest.  No matter what our political differences may be, he is worthy of our full attention, our courtesy, and our respect. Attorney General Holder, welcome,” said Conyers.

“In the vast jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, there are many topics worthy of discussion today.

“First among them, your commitment to enforcing voting rights for all Americans in the wake of the Shelby County decision.  Voter discrimination of all kinds is alive and well in this country, and it ought to be this Committee’s overwhelming priority to take up H.R. 3899, the Voting Rights Amendment Act, without delay.

“Your work in sentencing reform is remarkable.  In a country where nearly half of all federal inmates are serving time for drug offenses, the harshest crimes should be reserved for violent offenders.  As you stated before the Sentencing Commission last month, our ‘focused reliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable - it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.’

“We should note the Department’s efforts to engage state and local agencies, juvenile justice systems, and community leaders to end the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure that every young person has the opportunity to reach his full potential, regardless of the color of his skin.

“And we should celebrate the Department’s commitment to marriage equality, as more and more of this country makes progress in what you have called one of ‘the defining civil rights challenges of our time.’

“Mr. Attorney General, your leadership on these and other issues has been invaluable. Of course, throughout your tenure, you have been asked to do all this and more with fewer and fewer resources. If you can give us any guidance as to the effect of the draconian Ryan budget proposal on the Department of Justice, we would like to engage with you on that topic as well.

“I would like to focus the balance of my time on one overriding issue: our collective effort to roll back government surveillance of U.S. persons. Much of our recent debate has focused on how to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Ending that program, and correcting the deeply troubling legal argument at its foundation, are of paramount importance. But the President’s proposal, and the proposal advanced by some on the House Intelligence Committee deal only with Section 215. In other words, they focus on one program used to access one database collected under one legal authority. The problem is far more complicated than that narrow lens implies - and in his January 17th speech, President Obama committed to much more.

“First, the President instructed you, Mr. Attorney General, to ‘institute reforms that place additional restrictions on the government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases’ the content of communications intercepted under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. On March 28, in a letter to Senator Wyden, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that the government mines this data for information about U.S. persons. Section 702 implicates content, not metadata. Under any other circumstance, the government would require individualized suspicion and probable cause to seize these communications. The FISA Amendments Act was never intended to authorize backdoor surveillance of U.S. persons, and the Department of Justice should work with this Committee to correct any impression to the contrary.

“Second, the President asked the Attorney General to ‘amend how we use National Security Letters’ so that gag orders ‘will not be indefinite, and will terminate within a fixed time.’ I view this modest amendment as the bare minimum change necessary to the NSL regime in light of what the public now knows about government surveillance. And yet, this Committee has received no indication that this reform is underway at the Department of Justice.  Mr. Attorney General, I hope we will hear news of this development in your testimony today.

“Third, President Obama recognized that there is ‘an inevitable bias within the intelligence community… to collect more information about the world, not less.’ That bias is consistent with their mission to maintain national security - but national security is not the only value we hold dear. We must also be vigilant against government overreach, and protect our constitutional rights to privacy and free association. In the Congress, this Committee has always been the proper forum for a discussion about civil rights, especially in the national security context. In the executive branch, that role falls to the Department of Justice - and specifically, Mr. Attorney General, to you.  This country would be well served by your leadership on this issue. In years past, the Department of Justice and the House Judiciary Committee have worked together to draft, pass, and implement the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the USA PATRIOT Act, and the FISA Amendments Act. We should renew that partnership without delay, Attorney General Holder, and move the USA FREEDOM Act through this Committee with all necessary speed.

“I look forward to your testimony, Mr. Attorney General, and I yield back.

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Conyers Decries Senseless Beating of Steve Utash, Calls for Full Investigation

(WASHINGTON) – Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) issued the following statement in response to press accounts of the beating of Steve Utash:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
"The tragic beating of Steve Utash has left Detroiters asking how such a senseless act could occur, let alone in one of our neighborhoods. I have full confidence that the Detroit Police Department and Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office will conduct a comprehensive investigation to resolve this deeply troubling case and determine whether state or federal hate crime laws are implicated by the incident. My heart goes out to the family of Mr. Utash, and I will be in touch with them in the coming days.”

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National Healthcare Leaders Honor U.S. Representative John Conyers For Leadership in Healthcare Innovation

WASHINGTON – The Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC), a coalition of leaders of the nation’s premier health care companies and organizations, last week honored U.S. Representative John Conyers as a “Champion of Healthcare Innovation” at an award ceremony in Washington, DC.

Representative Conyers was honored at the Council’s annual Healthcare Innovations Expo on Capitol Hill. The day-long event is dedicated to showcasing new developments in health care technologies, treatments and practices.  This year’s event featured, among other exhibits, new transcatheter heart valve technologies, medication to treat hypertension in newborns and improved transmission and uses of healthcare data to improve patient care.

“Innovation is a necessity, not an option, in addressing the challenges facing our healthcare system.  To increase accessibility to high-quality care, improve patient outcomes and strengthen cost-efficiency requires constant improvement in the tools, technologies, medicines and approaches used to prevent and treat disease and elevate wellness,” said HLC president Mary R. Grealy.  “We applaud Representative Conyers’ leadership, dedication and vision in advancing the quality and cost-effectiveness of American healthcare.”

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