California Capitol Hill Bulletin
To expand communications between Washington and California, the California Institute provides periodic bulletins regarding current activity on Capitol Hill that affects our state. Bulletins are published weekly during sessions of Congress, and occasionally during other periods. To subscribe to the Bulletin or other California Institute announcements, visit this link.
CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE:
Immigration: Senate Judiciary Continues Markup ON Immigration; House Begins Hearings On Bills
The Senate Judiciary Committee held two more days of markup on S. 744, the Border Security Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, a comprehensive rewrite of U.S. immigration laws. The Committee met previously on May 9, 2013 and worked through over 30 amendments to Title I of the bill dealing with border security. Information on the May 9th markup can be found at: http://www.calinst.org/bul2/b2013.shtml#TOC1_2 . Information on the provisions in the bill as introduced can be found at: http://www.calinst.org/bul2/b2011.shtml#TOC1_1 .
On May 14th, the Committee completed action on Title I and took up Title IV dealing with non-immigrant visas, including those for high-skilled workers. A third day of markup was held on May 16th, where the panel considered Subpart A of Title III dealing with the E-Verify system.
During the May 14th session, the Committee again considered almost 30 amendments. Among them were the following:
– Feinstein 11 (substitute) – To prevent drones from being operated in the San Diego and El Centro border sectors, except within three miles of the Southern border. The amendment also makes clear that the maritime operations of Customs and Border Patrol not be affected. Accepted by voice vote.
– Sessions 4 – To require the use of a biometric entry and exit data system at ports of entry before the Secretary of Homeland Security may adjust the status of aliens who have been granted registered provisional immigrant status. The bill, as introduced, requires using biographic data; the bill’s sponsors believe that the cost of implementing a biometric system is prohibitive, and a functional system may not be achievable. Defeated by a vote of 6-12.
– Sessions 1 – To limit future immigration into the United States to 1.2 million immigrants, and eliminate the family-based immigrant system to a merit-based point system. Defeated 1-17.
– Hatch 9 – To increase the labor certification fee paid by employers applying for employment-based visas from $500 to $1,000 and use the fees generated to fund programs to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and training in the United States. Adopted by voice vote.
– Cruz 5 – To increase to 325,000 the number of H-1B visas available annually for highly-skilled workers. Current law allows 65,000 annually; the Senate bill increases the cap to 110,000. Defeated 4-14.
– Grassley 60 – To provide that the “good faith efforts” to recruit American workers apply to all employers in connection with the issuance of H–1B visas, not just to those who are deemed “H-1B dependent.” The amendment was defeated 2-15-1, however, several members indicated that they favored the purpose of the amendment and would work with Sen. Grassley to develop an acceptable compromise before the bill goes to the Senate floor.
– Grassley 70 – To delay the issuance of E–5 (investor/entrepreneur visas to South Korean nationals until that Korea lifts its import restrictions on beef from the United States. Defeated by voice vote.
During the May 16th markup, dealing with E-Verify, some of the over 20 amendments considered included:
– Schumer 5 – To require employers, who cannot fill a job vacancy with an American worker, to fill the vacancy with a current W visa immigrant, if possible, before they can bring another W visa worker in from a foreign country. Adopted by voice vote.
– Franken 2 – To require annual audits of the accuracy of the E-Verify system and if the error rate exceeds a certain limit to decrease the penalties assessed against an employer. Passed by voice vote.
– Grassley 29 – To replace the multi-year phased-in mandatory use of E-Verify in the bill as introduced with a requirement that all employers, regardless of size and industry, must be using the system within 18 months of enactment. Defeated 5-13.
– Grassley 35 – To delay the preemption of State and local laws relating to employment eligibility verification until all employers are required to use the Employment Verification System. Defeated 5-13.
Several amendments proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT) aimed at easing the burden on employers applying for H-1B visas for skilled workers are being held over while Sen. Hatch and the authors of the bill attempt to negotiate a compromise on them.
The Committee is scheduled to meet again on Monday, May 20th, to resume the markup. Chairman Leahy warned the Committee members that he expects late night sessions next week in order to complete the markup before the beginning of the Memorial Day recess on May 25th.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security began hearings on its immigration reform bills this week, as well. In lieu of one comprehensive bill, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA) has decided to consider separate bills dealing with the various aspects of immigration reform; eventually the individual bills may be combined into one or more larger bills. On May 16, 2013, the Subcommittee held a hearing on H.R. 1772, the “Legal Workforce Act” and on H.R. 1773, the “Agricultural Guestworker Act.” H.R. 1772 reforms and expands the E-Verify program; H.R. 1773 replaces the current H-2A agriculture guestworker program with a new H-2C program. Information on H.R. 1772, as well as the testimony of the witnesses at the hearing, can be found at: http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/113th/hear_05162013_2.html .
Information and the witness testimony for H.R. 1773 can be found at: http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/113th/hear_05162013_3.html
Appropriations: House Subcommittee Approves Homeland Security Funding
The House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee approved by voice vote the FY14 appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security on May 16, 2013.
The bill provides $38.9 billion in discretionary funding for DHS – a decrease of $617.6 million below FY13 and $34.9 million below the Administration’s budget request. The funding is approximately $981 million above the current, post-sequestration level for DHS.
Highlights of the bill include:
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – The bill contains $10.6 billion for CBP – an increase of $35 million above the President’s request. Adjusted for direct program comparisons, this amount is $255 million above the fiscal year 2013 enacted level, according to the Committee.
The funding will provide for 21,370 Border Patrol agents and nearly 22,800 CBP officers. The bill also includes $351 million for border security infrastructure and technology, and $12 million for trade enforcement and improvements at land ports of entry.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – The bill provides $5.4 billion for ICE – an increase of $387.6 million above the President’s request and $43.1 million below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.
The bill also includes a $10 million increase above the fiscal year 2013 enacted level to visa security and overstays enforcement programs. ICE would also receive $2.8 billion for detention programs, including funding to sustain 34,000 detention beds and $96.5 million for alternatives to detention. The bill also fully funds E-Verify, at $114.2 million.
Cybersecurity – The bill includes a total of $786 million for cybersecurity operations, $24 million below the President’s request and $30 million above the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.
FEMA– The bill fully funds FEMA’s stated requirement for disaster relief at $6.2 billion. The bill also provides a total of $2.5 billion for first responder grants, $36.4 million above the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $402 million above the President’s proposed level. This includes: $1.5 billion for State and Local grants, $675 million for Assistance to Firefighter Grants, and $350 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants.
For more information, go to: http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=333903
Agriculture: Senate and House Agriculture Committees Advance Farm Bills
The Senate Agriculture Committee – by a vote of 15-5 – on Tuesday, May 14, 2013, and the House Agriculture Committee – by a vote of 36-10 – on Wednesday, May 15, 2013, advanced five-year farm policy bills, S.954 and H.R.1947, respectively. The Senate bill would overhaul aid to farmers by ending direct payments and other subsidies and cut spending by $18 billion. Specifically, the estimated $955 billion bill would end direct and counter-cyclical payments to farmers, replacing them with a new Adverse Markets Payments program that would provide money to farmers when prices fall below a historic reference point. The program, which was not included in the farm measure approved by the committee last year, would set prices at 2008 levels for crops except rice and peanuts, which would see target price increases. Although the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimate is based on current law, savings under the measure could reach $24.4 billion if Congress repeals the budget sequester, Committee documents state.
The House bill would also end direct payments to farmers and cut food benefits, saving an estimated $33 billion. Specifically, the $940 billion measure would trim spending by about $20 billion more than the Senate version of the bill. The difference is almost entirely due to the larger cut the House bill would make in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Additionally, the House bill’s program to replace the revenue would use higher target prices than its Senate counterpart, which could mean subsidies would apply more often under the House legislation. The House committee says its bill would save nearly $40 billion over 10 years, compared to the $18 billion for the Senate measure. The House bill also would make a deeper cut to the Conservation Reserve Program, lowering its acreage cap to 24 million, compared to 25 million for the Senate bill. While both bills would eliminate the current system of direct payments to grain and cotton growers, cotton producers would continue getting the payments at a reduced rate in 2014 to 2015 under the House bill.
The current farm policy law (PL 112-24) expires Sept. 30.
Other specific provisions in the Senate and House bills include the following:
– The Senate bill includes a revenue protection program to compensate for losses not covered by crop insurance of 12 percent to 22 percent from five-year price averages. The House bill would offer assistance to farmers when county revenue levels fall 15 to 25 percent below the five-year benchmark.
– The Senate bill would provide an end to commodity subsidies for farmers earning more than $750,000 and a cap on payments of $50,000 per farmer.
– Both bills would replace existing dairy rules with two new programs: a margin protection program designed to help milk producers with their production costs and a stabilization program to avoid surpluses. To assist smaller farms, the margin program would subject the first 4 million pounds of milk marketed to lower premiums. Specifically, the House bill creates a margin protection program that would provide payments when dairy margins fall below $4 for a two-month period, with supplemental coverage available when margins drop below $8. The House bill also would establish a market stabilization program to prevent an oversupply of milk, which would take effect when average margins fall below $6 for two months or $4 for one month.
– Like the 2012 measure, the Senate legislation would cut about $4 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It would also exclude college students from wealthy families and lottery winners from eligibility and allow the Department of Agriculture to exclude use of food-benefit funds for liquor and tobacco. The House bill cuts SNAP an additional $20 billion and, in addition to excluding the groups listed in the Senate bill, would prohibit the provision of food aid to undocumented immigrants. It would also require a higher Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program payment to qualify for SNAP benefits.
– While the Senate bill would trim direct subsidies, it would expand the crop insurance program by nearly $5 billion and create a supplemental option to allow farmers to purchase additional coverage. Cotton growers would get a separate insurance program, the Stacked Income Protection Plan, tailored to the industry and designed to resolve a World Trade Organization judgment against U.S. cotton’s support program. The House bill would expand crop insurance by $9 billion. Like the Senate plan, the House bill also includes a supplemental option to allow farmers to purchase additional coverage and the Stacked Income Protection Plan for cotton growers.
– The Senate bill would provide nearly $800 million in funding for a variety of energy programs, including subsidies for renewable-energy projects and biomass crop assistance. The House version would not include mandatory funding for rural renewable-energy and biofuel programs.
– The Senate measure would continue the Marketing Loan Program to provide financing and marketing assistance for wheat, rice, feed grains and other products.
– Both the House and Senate bills reauthorize funding for the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program through 2018.
The following House and Senate amendments were included in the respect advanced bills:
– Before advancing the Senate measure, the panel adopted a manager’s package of non-controversial en bloc amendments, including an amendment from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (ND) to strengthen protection for honeybees and a Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) amendment to ease inspections for apples exported to Canada.
– House members also adopted an amendment that would authorize a program that uses public money through loans and grants to attract private investment for farmers markets, cooperatives and other healthy food retailers.
– The House adopted an amendment that would block states such as California from imposing standards for how livestock are raised on farms in other states.
– The House panel also backed an amendment from Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR) that would authorize the Agriculture Department to establish an industry-funded research and promotion program for organic products similar to existing “checkoff” programs for milk, beef and many other foods.
For more information, go to:
– H.R.1947, Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.113hr1947
– S.954, An original bill to reauthorize agricultural programs through 2018, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.113s954
– Farm Bill Cost Estimates, Congressional Budget Office, http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/Agriculture%20Reform,%20Food,%20and%20Jobs%20Act%20of%202013%20-%20Ltr%20to%20Stabenow_0.pdf
Border Security: House Homeland Security Passes Border Security Bill
On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, the House Homeland Security Committee approved H.R. 1417, the Border Security Results Act of 2013. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop a comprehensive strategy to gain and maintain operational control of the international borders of the United States. DHS would have to determine how to gain operational control of high-traffic areas of the border within two years. Also, under an amendment offered by Rep. Lamar Smith (TX) and approved by voice vote, DHS would have to develop a plan to gain control over the entire southwest border within 5 years.
The Committee defeated an amendment offered by Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (MS) that would have authorized $3 billion over five years to implement the bill. The vote was 14-15 along party lines. Chairman Mike McCaul (TX) agreed that additional money would be needed, but argued that the authorization should wait until DHS had completed the plan and could provide an estimate of the cost of securing the border.
The Committee adopted several other amendments during the markup, including one that prohibits DHS from considering imposing border crossing fees on pedestrians and passenger vehicles at both the northern and southern borders.
More information on the bill and amendments can be found at: http://homeland.house.gov/markup/markup-hr-1417-border-security-results-act-2013
Resources: Senate Passes Water Resources Development Act of 2013
The Senate passed S. 601, the Waters Resources Development Act of 2013 (WRDA), on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 by a vote of 83 to 14 after considering several amendments. The bill would authorize construction of Army Corps of Engineers water projects that have completed Chief of Engineers’ reports and which the head of the Corps has recommended to Congress. It also would ramp up money available from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for dredging and other harbor projects until 2020, when all money deposited into the fund for a given year would need to be available for such projects. The legislation also contains provisions designed to speed up the environmental permitting process. Lastly, it would create a national levee safety program, establish a program to provide loans for flood control, drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects, and create a commission to deauthorize Army Corps of Engineers water projects.
The Senate previously adopted by unanimous consent a package of 20 amendments and teed up votes on several other proposals, which started Tuesday evening. Some of the adopted amendments included the following:
– A modified proposal by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (MD), that would set a 10-year sunset date on a section of the bill designed to expedite the environmental permitting process for water projects. Also, the amendment would modify a provision dealing with the matters for which agencies can initiate an issue resolution process.
– Sens. Ron Wyden (OR) and Carl Levin (MI) authored an amendment that would modify the prioritization of projects funded by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund in order to equalize opportunities for projects in low-maintenance ports and for facilities on the Great Lakes.
– Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (AK) offered an amendment that would allow the Corps to provide technical assistance to state, local and tribal governments to build and operate infrastructure associated with deep draft ports to deal with Arctic development and security.
– Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN) sponsored an amendment that allows the closing of locks at St. Anthony Falls on the Upper Mississippi River if Asian carp are found in the area.
On Wednesday, the Senate adopted, 60-36, an amendment by Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR) that would require projects financed by a program that provides loans and loan guarantees for flood control, drinking water and wastewater projects to use domestically produced goods, iron and steel. Exemptions would be provided if using these domestic products would: not be in the public interest, increase the project’s cost by more than 25 percent, or if the quality or quantity of the domestic products are not sufficient.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate adopted a modified proposal by Sen. John Hoeven (ND) that would bar the Corps from charging fees for certain surplus water. Finally, the Senate adopted an amendment by voice vote by Sen. John Boozman (AR) that would let the Corps participate in a recreational pass program.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has not yet introduced WRDA legislation.
For more information, go to:
Summary of WRDA, California Capitol Hill Bulletin, May 9, 2013, http://www.calinst.org/bul2/b2013.shtml#TOC1_3
S.601 Water Resources Development Act of 2013, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.113s601
S.407 Reinvesting In Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways Act of 2013, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.113s407
Congressional Budget Office, Cost Estimate for S.601 Water Resources Development Act of 2013, April 9, 2013, http://www.cbo.gov/publication/44068
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Bill Summary: S.601 Water Resources Development Act of 2013, http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=1515a270-fa20-47db-9f43-b98b5d20fdf2
White House Office of Management and Budget, Statement of Administration Policy, S.601 Water Resources Development Act of 2013, May 6, 2013, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/113/saps601s_20130506.pdf
Health: Senate Finance Considers Medicare Physicians Payments Reform
The Senate Committee on Finance met on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 to examine the method Medicare uses to determine physician payments, the sustainable growth rate (SGR). For the past ten years, this formula has dictated drastic reductions in Medicare physician payments. Two significant questions remain: what a replacement payment system should look like, and how to pay for putting it in place. The Congressional Budget Office has lowered its estimate of the 10-year cost of replacing the formula with a freeze on physician payments to $139 billion, but witnesses warned that low cost might not last. And there is still no agreement among lawmakers on how to offset that cost. If Congress does not act, Medicare physician rates will be cut 25 percent starting Jan. 1, 2014.
Witnesses at the hearing included: Mark E. Miller, Ph.D., Executive Director, Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, Washington, DC; A. Bruce Steinwald, MBA, President, Bruce Steinwald Consulting, Washington, DC; and Kavita K. Patel, MD, MSHS, Fellow and Managing Director, The Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC.
Witnesses said providers seem more involved in offering replacement ideas now than they have in the past. Mr. Steinwald, a former health executive with the Government Accountability Office, noted that providers used to ask for the SGR to be replaced, and say replacement could happen later, but now they understand both need to happen at the same time.
Panelists advocated for switching to a payment system that rewards value over volume and moves away from Medicare’s current fee-for-service system. Mr. Miller focused on accountable care organizations, which encourage providers to work together, coordinate care, and share in potential cost savings. Chairman Max Baucus (MT), however, said those models and others tested by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation are not yet ready to replace the formula.
MedPAC’s plan, Miller explained, involves repealing the SGR and replacing it with a set of legislative updates for the next 10 years. The group also recommends bringing down payments for procedural or specialty services so they are more in line with payments for primary care services. Miller said that specialty societies will oppose that idea, but noted that aggregate provider payments will still increase because more patients will be coming into Medicare and using more services.
Sen. Baucus and Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), Ranking Member of the Committee, agreed that they want to replace the current formula, the SGR, this year. However, Committee members did not discuss an outline from House GOP leadership that involves a three-part system to replace the payments, which has broad agreement from stakeholders. They also did not outline their own plan for replacing the system.
For more information, go to: http://www.finance.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=06b346d3-5056-a032-52da-c6028dd585ea
Intellectual Property: House Small Business Reviews Patent Reform Implementation
The House Committee on Small Business met on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 to examine the changing landscape of patent law and its effects on small firms. Moreover, the hearing addressed how recent procedural changes to the patent award system, as enacted by the American Invents Act (AIA) in September 2011, affects the ability of small businesses to obtain patents. Additionally, the hearing examined how patent assertion entities (PAEs) affect small firms and whether additional patent procedures changes are needed to ameliorate the adverse consequences of PAEs.
Witnesses included: Mr. Dennis D. Crouch, Associate Professor of Law, University of Missouri School of Law; Mr. Jeff Grainger, Managing Partner, The Foundry, LLC, Menlo Park, CA, Testifying on Behalf of the Medical Device Manufacturers Association; Mr. John R. Thomas, Professor of Law, Georgetown University; and Mr. Mark Grady, Founder and President, Indigital Fort Wayne, IN.
Mr. Grainger put forth the following recommendations to protect and encourage innovation in the patent system: (1) streamline and accelerate the examination process; (2) improve the quality of patents; (3) discourage frivolous challenges of patents; and (4) impose serious consequences on infringers. In order to attain these goals, he advocated fully funding the Patent Office and ending the diversion of PTO fees, so it can build an organization equipped to handle the changing and expanding landscape of inventions. Finally, in order to solve the problem of PAEs, he demanded avoiding the dilution of patent rights and improving the quality and rigor of the patent process.
Mr. Thomas identified several remaining issues for small businesses, including: (1) the impact of sequestration on fee payments to the PTO, which could result in loss of substantial revenues and, therefore, a decreased ability to protect the environment for innovation; (2) the high cost to small firms and independent inventors of certain PTO post-grant procedures; (3) patent trolling issues and concerns about the effectiveness of the SHIELD Act fee-shifting provisions; and (4) potential unforeseen consequences of the sunset provision in the Patent Quality Improvement Act of 2013 and the post-grant proceeding expansion.
Mr. Crouch echoed the other panelists’ concerns regarding patent trolls and suggested that the PTO facilitate increased transparency, accountability, and clarity with respect to the party patent’s interest and patent rights. He also proposed focusing on adding security for small business owners by (1) ensuring the availability of private insurance to guard against claims of innocent patent infringement and (2) better standardizing and publicizing contractual indemnification for downstream users and retailers.
For more information, go to: http://smallbusiness.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=326571
Technology: Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Examines Advanced Vehicle Technology
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation met on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 to examine the safety benefits, potential risks, and policy implications from the development and implementation of advanced vehicle technologies. Specifically, the hearing explored advanced driver assistance systems, such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping systems, partially and fully self-driving vehicles, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, as well as communications and entertainment devices for drivers.
Witnesses included: The Honorable David Strickland, Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); Mr. Mitch Bainwol, President and CEO, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; Dr. Peter Sweatman, Director, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute; Dr. John D. Lee, Emerson Electric Quality & Productivity Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Mr. Jeffrey J. Owens, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Delphi Automotive.
Mr. Strickland discussed numerous advanced safety technologies and potential improvements, crash avoidance research, vehicle-to-vehicle communications research, efforts to improve vehicle cybersecurity, and automated vehicles. Additionally, NHTSA has proposed definitions for five levels of automation to allow for clarity in discussing this topic with manufacturers, policymakers, and other stakeholders. The definitions cover the complete range of vehicle automation, ranging from vehicles that do not have any of their control systems automated (level 0) through fully automated vehicles (level 4).
Mr. Bainwol proposed five pillars of policy in order to maximize safety through technology: (1) protecting the radio frequency spectrum for auto communication technologies; (2) investing in the vehicle to infrastructure connectivity; (3) ensuring consumer acceptance by addressing potential public concerns regarding connected vehicle technology; (4) maintaining vehicle affordability by leveraging market forces and utilizing a data-driven approach to regulation; and (5) preserving technology neutrality.
Dr. Sweatman discussed ways to prepare for the move to automated vehicles, including: (1) utilizing human-machine interface (HMI) technology to focus the driver’s attention; (2) developing mandatory safety standards and voluntary performance standards; (3) changes in the roadway infrastructure that are amenable to automated vehicles; and (4) national policy positions on data ownership, access, and privacy.
For more information, go to: http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Hearings&ContentRecord_id=f228343f-36b3-4517-b01f-9f15624eb05d&ContentType_id=14f995b9-dfa5-407a-9d35-56cc7152a7ed&Group_id=b06c39af-e033-4cba-9221-de668ca1978a
Technology: Senate HELP Committee Examines Accessibility To Entertainment Technologies Under the ADA
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions met on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 to discuss accessibility under the Americans With Disabilities Act in the face of rapidly advancing entertainment technologies. Witnesses included: Ms. Eve Hill, Senior Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division; Ms. Karen Peltz Strauss, Deputy Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Federal Communications Commission; Mr. John Fithian, President and CEO, National Association of Theatre Owners, Washington, DC; Ms. Betsy Beaumon, Vice President and General Manager, Literacy Program, The Benetech Initiative, Palo Alto, CA; Mr. Brian Charlson, Chair, Information Access Committee, American Council of the Blind, Watertown, MA; and Mr. Andrew Phillips, Policy Counsel, Law & Advocacy Center, National Association of the Deaf, Silver Spring, MD.
Panelists unanimously called for faster and more expansive adaptation of entertainment technologies to the reasonable needs of the disabled.
Ms. Hill discussed the potential of cutting-edge technological advances to alienate people with disabilities if the entities that develop, manufacture, and offer that technology do not make their products and services accessible. Ms. Hill specifically discussed the Justice Department’s position with respect to accessibility in websites, movie captioning, electronic books, electronic and information technology equipment, and ticket sales. She believes that all of these forms of entertainment should be subject to reasonable accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Ms. Strauss stressed incorporating accessibility policies into emerging technologies during the design and development stage, which reduces the risk of expensive and burdensome retrofits later on.
Mr. Fithian discussed local theater efforts to expand movie captioning, resulting in at least 53 percent of America’s digital cinema screens currently providing a closed captioning service. While supportive of increased accessibility, Mr. Fithian expressed his strong opposition to new legislation and Department of Justice rulemaking due to concerns about unnecessary litigation.
Ms. Beaumon described her organization’s projects to assist people with disabilities with reading. Some of her projects include: Bookshare, the world’s largest accessible digital library; Route 66 Literacy, a literacy teaching tool; and the DIAGRAM Center, a research and development center focusing on the accessibility of images. She noted two factors that will assist companies in adapting emerging technologies to the needs of the disabled, including forming partnerships built on trust and understanding and leveraging existing commercial tools.
For more information, go to: http://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=0a89258a-5056-a032-5276-85441c3431e8