January 28, 2008

January 28, 2008 - U.S. Representative Ramstad sponsors Mental Health Bill

A recent article in the Star Tribune Online discusses what is seen as Representative Jim Ramstad's legacy legislation, a mental health bill currently before Congress. The bill, H.R. 687, is entitled An act to amend the Public Health Service Act to establish a State family support grant program to end the practice of parents giving legal custody of their seriously emotionally disturbed children to State agencies for the purpose of obtaining mental health services for those children. A similar Senate bill, S. 382, was put forward by Senator Susan Collins of Maine. The House bill, introduced in January 2007, was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health where it has stayed for the past year.

Congressman Ramstad announced last September he would not be seeking re-election in 2008.

Article Source: Diaz, Kevin. "With mental health bill mired, Ramstad's legacy at stake." Star Tribune Online, January 28, 2008.

January 3, 2008

January 3, 2008 - The 49th State

Forty-nine years ago today, Alaska became the 49th state in the United States of America. Several resources related this event are available online, but the Government Publications Library has in its collection hearings and reports related to the passing of the Alaska Statehood Act. These documents provide a peek into the process of becoming a state. For instance hearing regarding bills H.R. 331 and S.2036 (Alaska Statehood) discuss agricultural possibilities in Alaska, comparisons of populations to previous territories seeking statehood, statements and memorandums regarding Alaskan Indians, and communications from Alaskan residents, cities governments, and organizations arguing for and against statehood. This document and others can be found in call number area of Y 4.IN 8/13:AL 1/.

Additional Online Resources:

Alaska Statehood Act

Creating Alaska - University of Alaska

Alaska 50 - Alaska Statehood Celebration Commission

December 26, 2007

December 26, 2007 - Appropriations Bill signed into Law

Today President Bush signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (originally entitled Making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes) into law.


* The original H.R. 2764 Appropriations Bill

* House Amendments to Senate Amendment to H.R. 2764 - State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2008 (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008)

* White House News Release

Of interest to Minnesotans, the law provides funding for rebuilding the I35W Bridge ($195 million) and adding the Central Corridor to the Light Rail system ($10.2 million).


December 3, 2007

December 3, 2007 - Congress back in Session

With Congress back in session for the next three weeks, several pieces of major legislation are on the agenda including:

* Appropriations
* War
* Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
* Terrorist surveillance House version Senate version
* Farm bill
* Energy

Check out the House of Representatives or Senate websites for additional information on debates and votes.

November 14, 2007

November 14, 2007 - Diminished Capacity and Red Meat

How fresh is that red meat in your refrigerator? Yesterday Congress looked into that question when the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held hearings on Diminished Capacity: Can the FDA Assure the Safety and Security of the Nation's Food Supply? – Part IV – Deception in Labeling. The controversy centers around companies using carbon monoxide gas to keep meat looking red longer. The technique was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004, but several groups question its use. Representatives from Minnesota's Cargill and Hormel companies testified as well as staff from the US Department of Agriculture and the FDA and staff from groups S.T.O.P. (Safe Tables Our Priority) and Food & Water Watch.

House Committee on Energy & Commerce
* Witness List
* Statement of David Acheson, FDA, Assistant Commissioner for Food Protection, November 13, 2007
* Testimony (not yet available)

November 1, 2007

November 1, 2007 - ...from the penitentiary to Congress

From 1933 to 1946, Illinois Representative Everett Dirksen sent weekly newsletters back to his constituents. These primary sources offer a glimpse into the daily workings of Congress during the Great Depression and World War II, and have been digitized by the Dirksen Confressional Center, a non-for-profit that seeks "to improve civic engagement by promoting a better understanding of Congress and its leaders through archival, research, and educational programs." The letters also offer insight into Dirksen's colleague as shown in his first newsletter describing a Representative from Minnesota.

From Minnesota comes a Member named Shoemaker, who in his Congressional biography stated, "from the penitentiary to Congress. Others often go from Congress to the penitentiary." His right to have the oath administered was challenged and after much debate, he was seated. Congressman Shoemaker is a newspaper editor. A few years ago, he learned that a crooked banker had attempted to pay what was due on a certain trust fund to a widow and her children, in spurious bonds and at once began a crusade in behalf of this family with the result that the banker was compelled to pay the family in proper money with 6% interest for the time he withheld it. The banker, in a letter, upbraided Shoemaker whereupon, he sent the banker a letter, and on the envelope below the banker,s name wrote, "Robber Of Wiidows And Orphans". This constitutes defamation under the Postal laws and on indictment and conviction Shoemaker was sentenced to Leavenworth for one year and one day. After his discharge from penitentiary, he immediately became a candidate for Congress and was elected. Under Minnesota law, anyone convicted of a felony has no civil rights unless they are restored by the legislature. Consequently, his right to a seat in Congress was challenged. But he was seated.

Representative Francis Henry Shoemaker served one term in Congress (1933-1935) and represented the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party. The Party merged with the Democratics in 1944 to from the Democratic Farmer Labor Party.

September 29, 2007

September 29, 2007 - National Security Letter Reform Act

The use of National Security Letters (NSL) has been around since 1978, but the topic has received renewed interest since the passing of the PATRIOT Act shortly after the September 11th attacks. Issued by the FBI and other government agencies, the leter requires organizations to turn over records and data pertaining to individuals with no probable cause or judicial oversight. In addition those service with NSLs are under a gag order and risk criminal charges if they talk.

Over the past couple years, opponents of the NSLs believe the federal government is overusing the letters to collect information without oversight, while proponents believe in the need for larger latitude in their use due to the current war on terror. The National Security Letter (NSL) Reform Act of 2007 seeks to establish reasonable procedural protections for the use of national security letters.

Additional Resource:

Federal Bureau of Investigation - FAQ National Security Letters

September 18, 2007

September 18, 2007 - Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act

Getting frustrated by dropped calls? Have you wondered why your cell phone has a signal one minute then no bars the next when driving down the interstate? Senator Amy Klobuchar has introduced legislation that would require cell phone companies to

* provide prorated rates for ending contracts,
* allow 30 days for consumers to test the service before signing a contract, and
* provide street level maps of the service's coverage.

Check out the text of the Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act for more information.

September 10, 2007

2001 - The War on Terror

Many people still remember where they were when news of President Kennedy's assassination reached them. The same is true of the September 11th attacks. In a few short months after President Bush declared a war on terror, the Department of Homeland Security was created to coordinate federal response and protection, the USA PATRIOT Act was passed to deter terrorist attacks and strengthen law enforcement investigation tools, and President Bush signed an executive order allowing military tribunals against any foreigners suspected of connections to US terrorist attacks.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission) was created in 2002 and charged with the duty to "prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks. The Commission is also mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks." Their report was released two years later.


September 7, 2007

1998 - Impeachment of President Clinton

On December 19, 1998 the U.S. House of Representatives issued House Resolution 611 - Articles of Impeachment against President Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. These charges were related to Independent Council Kenneth Starr's investigations related to Clintons relationships with former staff and an White House intern, Monical Lewinsky. Clinton was acquitted of all charges on February 12, 1999.


September 5, 2007

1996 - Communications Decency Act

Part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, also called the Communications Decency Act with reference to Title V of the law, was the first attempt by Congress to regulate pornograhic material on the Internet. Obscenity and indecency had long been regulated on television and the radio by the Federal Communications Commission, but the Internet, only a couple years old in 1996, had no such oversight. Within days of passage, the law was challenged based on the right of free speech. Challengers pointed out that Internet sites contained the written word as such should have the same rights to free speech as a written text in a book or magazine. In 1997 the United States Supreme Court agreed and the indecency clauses of Title V were declared unconstitutional.

September 3, 2007

1994 - North American Free Trade Agreement

On January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement went into affect, establishing a free trade zone between Canada, Mexico and the United States. Most tariffs for products traded between the three counties were eliminated, with all being phased out by 2008. As you might guess, NAFTA is a complicated document incorporating rules and regulations from all three countries. The FAQ section on the NAFTA Secretariat site answers many of the basic questions about the treaty, but its main objectives are:

* eliminate barriers to trade between the countries,
* promote fair competition,
* increase investment opportunities,
* protect and enforce intellectual property rights,
* create procedures for implementation, administration and dispute resolution, and
* establish a framework for future cooperation.


September 2, 2007

1993 - Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act

On November 30th, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Named after James Brady, former press secretary for Ronald Reagan, the law required gun purchasers wait up to five days for a backgroun check before purchasing a handgun. In 1998 the five day waining period was replaced by a computerized criminal background check. James Brady was shot during the attempted assassination of former President Reagan in 1981.

brady press briefing room.jpg

This photo of James Brady and President Clinton is from the dedication of the James Brady Press Briefing Room.

Additional information: Firearms and Crime Statistics - Bureau of Justice Statistics

September 1, 2007

1992 - 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

On September 25, 1789, then Representative James Madison presented to the House of Representatives an amendment that barred Congress from giving itself a midterm or retroactive pay raise. On May 5, 1992 it became the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. No that isn't a took over 200 years for this particular amendment to be ratified. Between 1789 and 1791, six states ratified the amendment (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Vermont, and Virginia). Three more states joined the ratification process between 1972 and 1982. The effort was rejuvenated in 1982 when a University of Texas at Austin Gregory Watson found the amendment text and began to research whether it was still an active amendment proposal. He contacted state legislatures and on May 5th, Alabama became the 38th state to ratify the amendment and meet the 3/4 states limit needed to make it law.


August 30, 2007

1990 - Americans with Disabilities Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, and sex. On July 26th, discrimination based on disability was added to the prohibited list. The Americans with Disabilities Act covered discrimination in

* employment,
* public services and public transportation,
* public accommodations, and
* telecommunications.


Extensive information about the law is available through the U.S. Department of Justice site,

August 25, 2007

1985 - Obscenity in rock music

Take one record, in this case Prince's Purple Rain, and throw in a Senator's wife, a couple rock musicians, and a Senate hearing. What do you get......record labeling. Tipper Gore, wife of then Senator Al Gore, purchased the Prince album for her daughter only to be outraged by some of the lyrics on it. Together with several Washington DC friends, she formed the Parents Music Resource Center to advocate for labels on music warning the consumer of the violent and sexual content of lyrics. The group made their way to Capitol Hill when on September 19, 1985, Gore testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Frank Zappa, Dee Snyder (of Twisted Sister) and John Denver represented the musicians side. Shortly after the hearing, the Recording Industry Association of America voluntarily began putting warning labels on music.


For more information, see Record labeling: hearing on contents of music and the lyrics of records (Gov Pubs fiche Y 4.C 73/7:S.hrg. 99-529).

August 15, 2007

The times they were a changin'.....

Some laws capture the feelings and attitudes of an entire decade. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is such a law. In the years before its passage, events such as Brown v. Board of Education, Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Little Rock Nine, the March on Washington (see photo), and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, all pointed to the need for legislative reform at the national level.

mlk2 - npr.jpg

Initially suggested by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 when he urged Americans to take action toward guaranteed equal treatment of all citizens, the act was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964. It "prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal."

Extensive resources into the Civil Rights movement can be found at the Historical Publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights site hosted by the University of Maryland Thurgood Marshall Law Library, and at the home page of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

June 28, 2007

Attack Upon Pearl Harbor by Japanese Armed Forces

77th Congress, 2d Session, Senate Document Number 159. 1942. 21 pages. Serial Set 10676
This report was prepared by the commission appointed by President Roosevelt to investigate the attack upon Pearl Harbor. the attack occurred on December 7, 1941, the commission was appointed on December 18, and the report was submitted on January 23, 1942.


June 14, 2007

Report of the Special Committee on Un-American Activities

76th Congress, 1st session. House Report Number 2. 1939. 124 pages. Serial Set 10296.
This is the first annual report of the Special Committee whose status later evolved into a standing House committee from 1945-1969. In the 1950s, the committee was chaired by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

June 1, 2007

Social Security Act of 1935

Statutes at Large. GS 4.111: 49. (49 Stat. 620. P.L. 74-271.)
On August 14, 1935, the Social Security Act established a system of old-age benefits for workers, benefits for victims of industrial accidents, unemployment insurance, aid for dependent mothers and children, the blind, and the physically handicapped. An unofficial transcription is available from the National Archives and Records Administration at Transcript of Social Security Act (1935).


May 10, 2007

Unemployment in the United States

Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce, U. S. Senate, 1930. Y 4.C 73/2: Un 2
Following the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, the government began to realize that this wasn't just a minor correction, but the beginning of an unprecedented recession.


April 26, 2007

"Titanic" Disaster Hearings

S.Doc. 62-726, Serial Set Volume 6167
Full Text

The Titanic wrecked on April 14, 1912. Within five days, hearings on the wreck had begun and they were published within two months of the sinking. Nearly 100 survivors and marine experts testified to produce over 1100 pages of testimony about the wreck. All of the accounts are riveting, starting with the owner of the shipbuilding company who was on the ship when she sank.