Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee's 2014 Year End Report
As the year 2014 comes to an end, I thought it might be helpful to provide you a brief summary of some of the many activities that I have been engaged in this year on behalf of the constituents of the 18th Congressional District of Texas. I am pleased to report that, working together, we have achieved a number of successes that have made, and are making, a positive difference in the lives of all persons residing in the congressional district in the following areas:
Protecting Medicare and Social Security.
Despite significant budgetary challenges and determined opposition, we were able to protect Social Security recipients from any cuts in their benefits. I also helped lead the effort in the Congress, working with the Administration, to provide needed funding to ensure that doctors are available to treat Medicare recipients. In addition, the Affordable Care Act, which I supported and fought to pass, closed the Medicare prescription drug “donut hole,” and is saving seniors in the district on average $866 per person.
Expanding Educational Opportunity.
Higher education is a key that opens doors to opportunity. Congress has a duty to help make it accessible and affordable for more Americans. That is why I strongly supported and advocated successfully for the legislation signed into law by the President that lowers interest rates for nearly 11 million borrowers this year and saves them $25 billion in the next five years. I am also a co-sponsor of the “Bank on Students Emergency Refinancing Act,” which would allow borrowers to refinance federal and private student loans to the lower rates that are currently available to new borrowers.
Protecting the Right to Vote.
The right to vote, free from discrimination, is the most precious of all our rights. That is the reason why, as a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, I helped lead the successful fight in 2006 to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for an additional 25 years. But a year ago, the Supreme Court dealt a severe blow to the Voting Rights Act when it decided the case of Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated a key section of the law and hampered the ability of the Justice Department to prevent violations of voting rights before they occur.
It is imperative that we remain vigilant and fight all efforts to abridge or suppress the voting rights of Americans. That is why I helped lead the effort to introduce and am one of 9 original co-sponsors of H.R. 3899, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, legislation that repairs the damage done by the Supreme Court decision. Ensuring that this legislation is brought up for a vote and passed this year is one of my highest legislative priorities.
Helping Children and Families.
A child that is hungry is a child that struggles to learn or stay healthy. That is why I strongly opposed the reckless efforts of some in Congress last year to make deep cuts in child nutrition, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Program. I am pleased to report that those efforts were abandoned this year and funding for these vital programs has received a significant increase.
The funding I supported and helped secure supports critical services like Houston’s Summer Food Service Program, which served nutritious packed lunches from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and afternoon snacks from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. daily to youth aged 1-18 at 470 local sites from June 2 through August 15.
Caring for Our Veterans.
The men and women of the Armed Forces who risked their lives to protect our freedoms deserve the thanks and appreciation of a grateful nation and that includes receiving the quality health care and benefits they have earned. They should not have to wait months for an appointment to see a doctor. That is why I strongly support H.R. 3230, the “Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014,'' which will enable veterans facing long delays for doctor appointments at VA facilities go elsewhere and hold accountable those VA officials responsible for trying to conceal patient wait times. I also held a press conference after visiting the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Medical Center to meet with patients and medical staff and was gratified to learn that the veterans treated at the facility have not experienced the problems plaguing other VA facilities around the nation.
In addition to long wait times at VA facilities, many veterans face a number of other challenges, including homelessness, coping with PTSD, and finding suitable employment in the civilian job market. To address these problems, I was successful in passing legislation providing additional funding and resources targeted to helping homeless veterans secure housing and treating veterans suffering from PTSD in underserved urban and rural areas. I also introduced H.R. 4110, the “Transitioning Heroes Act of 2014,” which provides strong tax incentives for employers to hire, retain, and employ veterans in positions that take maximum advantage of their skills and experience.
Jackson Lee Bill Establishing George Thomas 'Mickey' Leland Post Office Building" Signed Into Law by President Obama.
After many years of effort, on September 8, 2014, I was able to secure passage of a bill (H.R. 78) designating the United States Postal Service facility located at 4110 Almeda Road in Houston, Texas, as the "George Thomas 'Mickey' Leland Post Office Building." President Obama signed my legislation into law on December 16, 2014.
“Mickey” Leland was one of Houston’s favorite sons and one of America's most effective advocates in combating hunger in the United States and throughout the world. During his six terms in the Congress, Mickey Leland focused much needed attention on issues of health and hunger and rallied support that resulted in both public and private action.
Mickey Leland's sensitivity to the immediate needs of poor and hungry people made him a spokesman for hungry people at home and abroad and prompted then-House Speaker Tip O'Neil to ask him to lead a bipartisan Congressional delegation to sub-Saharan Africa to assess famine conditions and relief requirements. When he returned, he assembled a broad-based coalition in support of the Africa Famine Relief and Recovery Act of 1985, which provided $800 million in food and humanitarian relief supplies.
Mickey Leland also championed international human rights and was instrumental in securing passage of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which imposed economic sanctions against South Africa and led to the abolition of apartheid.
Mickey died in an airplane crash while leading another humanitarian relief mission in 1989, to an isolated refugee camp, Fugnido, in Ethiopia, which sheltered thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing the civil conflict in neighboring Sudan. Mickey Leland.
Naming this post office in honor of Mickey Leland -- a man who died as he had lived, on a mission seeking to help those most in need – is a fitting tribute to the extraordinary service rendered by an extraordinary public servant to the United States, the people of Texas, and the residents of the 18th Congressional District of Texas.
Reforming the Criminal Justice System.
No other country imprisons a larger percentage of its population, spends anywhere near the $6.5 billion that we spend annually on prison administration, or has sentencing policies that unfairly disadvantage African-American and Hispanic communities than the United States. Much of this overcrowding is the direct result of the unjust and discriminatory 100 to 1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine imposition of mandatory-minimum sentences in federal law. That is why I was pleased that my efforts to eliminate that disparity, beginning with the introduction of the “Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007,” led to the passage of the “Fair Sentencing Act of 2010” (P.L. 111-220), which finally ended the discriminatory 100:1 sentencing ratio.
To ensure that persons sentenced under the old unfair policies are treated fairly, I was successful in passing an amendment preserving the authority of President Obama and Attorney General Holder to grant petitions for executive clemency, or early release, for deserving inmates. To learn more about this program and its eligibility requirements, please contact my Houston office at (713) 655-0050 or visit my website at jacksonlee.house.gov/content/department-of-justices-announcement-on-clemency.
In recent months, the nation has been repeatedly shocked by the killings of unarmed African Americans, mainly young African American males, by persons claiming, despite substantial and credible evidence to the contrary, that the use of lethal force was justified.
We do not really know whether the recent deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers a new trend or merely a reflection of a long-standing status quo because the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports track justifiable police homicides but the statistics rely on voluntary reporting by local law-enforcement agencies and are incomplete. Circumstances of the deaths, and other information such as age and race, also are not required.
That is why I have authored the “Justifiable Homicide Accuracy in Reporting Act” or J-HAIR Act, which will enhance the collection and inclusion in the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) of data relating to law-enforcement involved justifiable homicides, including information relating to the facts and circumstances of each death, including the age, race, gender, religion, criminal history, if any, of the victim and demographic data relating to the officer involved in the homicide and other relevant information such as the number of prior officer involved shootings and uses of lethal force, number and disposition of citizen complaints (formal and informal) filed against the officer and the nature and description of any disciplinary actions taken against the officer.
Additionally, the events in Ferguson, Missouri has brought to light the troubling practice by many municipalities of using traffic fines and traffic court fees and costs as revenue generators. This practice has bred public cynicism and distrust of local law enforcement agencies in many areas and lessened public confidence that the laws are being enforced impartially and the criminal justice system is administered equally.
Lack of public confidence in the system, particularly by residents of minority communities, exacerbates already tense relations between law enforcement and community residents by incentivizing unnecessary traffic stops by police officers which too often result in the use of lethal force by them against unarmed and innocent persons and lead to public confrontations.
To address this problem, I recently introduced H.R. 5858, the “Build TRUST Act,” which stands for “Building Bridges and Transforming Resentment and Unfairness to Support and Trust for Municipal Law Enforcement.” The Build TRUST Act aims to increase public confidence in local law enforcement by decreasing the excessive reliance by some local governments on traffic fines and court costs to generate revenue to fund government operations.
My Build TRUST Act addresses this problem by providing for a 75% reduction in the amount of DOJ grant funding that may be awarded to a unit of local government that funds an amount that is greater than 18 percent of its operating budget using revenue generated from collecting fines and other fees related to violations of traffic laws.
Additionally, the amount of the reduction would increase to 95 percent if, for the political subdivision involved, the variance in the racial composition of the local law enforcement agency and residents of the political subdivision exceeds 30 percent for any racial group.
The Build TRUST Act is not intended to punish or impose undue hardship on local governments but to discourage the adoption of practices that foster resentment and feed the perception that the law is being selectively enforced. For this reason, the Build Trust Act exempts any unit of local government serving a population of less than 15,000 persons and authorizes the Attorney General to grant requests for waivers to individual units of local government upon a showing of good cause.
Help for the Long-Term Unemployed.
It is immoral not to extend unemployment insurance for the 3.9 million unemployed jobhunters that rely upon these benefits to provide for their families. That is why I introduced legislation, H.R. 3773, “Unemployed Jobhunters Protection and Assistance Act,” which would have extended the program for an additional 12 months.
Providing quality healthcare that is affordable, accessible to all Americans.
Because of the Affordable Care Act that I strongly supported and defended, there are in the 18th Congressional District:
- 121,000 individuals – including 23,000 children and 50,000 women – who now have health insurance that covers preventive services without any co-pays, coinsurance, or deductible.
- 46,000 children with preexisting health conditions who can no longer be denied coverage by health insurers.
- 11,400 young adults who now have health insurance through their parents’ plan.
- 153,000 individuals who now have insurance that cannot place lifetime limits on their coverage and will not face annual limits on coverage starting in 2014.
- 4,100 seniors have now received prescription drug discounts worth $5.4 million, an average discount of $600 per person in 2011, $650 in 2012, and $1,040 thus far in 2013.
- 31,100 consumers have received rebates from insurance companies averaging $95 per family in 2012 and $187 per family in 2011.
- Health centers have received more than $2 million to provide primary care, establish new sites, and renovate existing centers to expand access to quality health care.
Breast Cancer Research.
I believe it is critical that we increase our investment in research to treat and cure breast cancer, one of the major threats to women’s health. That is why I am pleased to report that I was successful in adding an amendment to legislation passed by the House that increases funding for breast cancer research by $5 million.
While much more must be done, progress is being made to reform our broken immigration system to make it more humane and efficient. Legislation I sponsored to secure our borders, H.R. 1417, the Border Security Results Act, has earned critical bipartisan support and has been joined as the anchor legislation to H.R. 15, a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill providing a path to earned citizenship. I remain committed to working to secure passage of comprehensive immigration reform during the next session of Congress. I have also introduced the “Justice for Children Act,” legislation that will authorize the immediate appointment of 70 new immigration judges to help reduce the immigration backlog,
Transportation, Infrastructure, and Economic Development.
I worked to secure $31.8 in federal funding for dredging of the Houston Shipping Channel, which will make the Port of Houston even more competitive and create jobs for our people. I also helped secure a $9,880,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to the City of Houston for the George Bush International Airport to rehabilitate an apron which is needed in order to maintain structural integrity of the pavement surrounding the airport.
I also introduced and passed through the House, on a vote of 400-0, H.R. 3202, the Essential Transportation Worker Identification Credential Assessment Act (TWIC Act), which directs the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to submit to Congress a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of the transportation security card program at enhancing security or reducing security risks for maritime facilities and vessels.
Finally, I was successful in amending legislation to keep up the pressure in favor of providing funding for Houston METRO to plan and execute public transit projects that will solve transportation problems, create jobs, and spur economic growth and development.
I organized and hosted on March 18, 2014, an event in Houston, entitled “When Women Succeed America Succeeds,” which brought together House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and hundreds of women business, civic, educational, community, and governmental leaders to discuss the economic issues facing today's women, and a comprehensive strategy designed to meet the unique needs of women and their families.
On September 16, 2014, I convened a summit meeting in Washington D.C. with many of the First Ladies of the Houston area’s prominent places of worship. The summit included important discussions on the subject of the Administration’s “My Brothers’ Keeper” Initiative and human trafficking, issues that impact and imperil our Houston community and included a meeting in the White House with Valarie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama.
Public Safety and Protection of Children.
The need for sensible measures to reduce the incidence and severity of gun violence remains as great as ever. I have introduced the “Child Gun Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act,” legislation requiring gun safety locks in any home where children are present. I have also introduced legislation (H.R. 2585) to help protect our children from bullying, whether in school on the playground, or on the internet. I also convened a Congressional District Commission on Youth Safety, which brought together civic, community, and faith leaders to develop local solutions and best practices to reduce violence and enhance the safety of our children.
Energy Independence and Jobs.
As the energy capital of America, a strong and vibrant energy industry is critical to the economy of Houston and our national security because and energy independent America is a safer America. And jobs in the energy sector pay well and support middle class families. For these reasons, I supported H.R. 4899, the “Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America that Works Act of 2014.”
To ensure that economic benefits and opportunities in the energy sector are distributed fairly, I was able to amend this legislation to establish an Interior Department Office of Energy Employment and Training charged with working with minority-serving educational institutions and other to expand the numbers and diversity of persons from across the country with the skills and qualifications needed to take advantage of the exciting and rewarding opportunities the American energy industry has to offer and to keep America the world leader in emerging energy technologies.
When fully implemented, the Jackson Lee Amendment will substantially increase the participation rates of veterans, women and minorities in the energy industry, particularly in the areas of senior management, contracting and procurement, and entrepreneurship.
Combating Human Trafficking.
Human trafficking in humans, especially domestic child trafficking, has no place in a civilized society and those who commit this crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In March of this year, I arranged for the House Homeland Security Committee to hold a field hearing in Houston at which local and federal law enforcement, victim’s rights advocates, and community leaders discussed solutions to reducing human trafficking crime. I also was successful in passing legislation providing additional funding to help law enforcement protect human trafficking victims and bring their captors to justice. In addition, I have introduced the Coordinated Assistance to “Catch Human Traffickers Act” (CATCH Act), legislation enabling local law enforcement agencies to share information and resources to catch more criminals.
Protecting Your Right of Privacy.
Americans value their personal privacy, whether it is in the home or on the internet. That is why I was an original co-sponsor and helped lead the fight to pass the USA FREEDOM Act, which ensures the government cannot collect and retain records of Americans’ telephone calls without authorization from a federal court. This law also includes my legislation, the Sunshine in the FISA Court Act, requiring the disclosure of any court decision affecting the right of privacy.
Gospel Heritage Month.
Since 2008, when legislation I introduced (H.Con. Res. 370) establishing Gospel Music Heritage Month, became law, each September has been devoted to the celebration of gospel music in the United States of America. The celebration has occurred at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. and in Houston for the past 5 years.
As you can see, the list of things that we have accomplished working together is quite long. But there is still much that remains to be done and I look forward to our continued partnership on issues of critical importance to the residents of the 18th Congressional District of Texas.
It is my honor to serve as your Congresswoman in Washington, D.C.
Very truly yours,
Sheila Jackson Lee
MEMBER OF CONGRESS