Apr 29 2021
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today introduced the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act in the wake of the Seacor Power tragedy, in which a commercial lift boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico with 19 crewmembers on board. Kennedy’s bill would require commercial vessels to provide timely notifications to the crew’s family members throughout search and rescue operations.
“The brave families of the Seacor Power crew have suffered more than we can imagine, and it’s appalling that they couldn’t even get straight answers about their loved ones. No Louisiana family should ever have to walk through tragedy with the added weight of the unknown just because of someone else’s poor planning. This bill would make sure that families get updates quickly, directly from the vessel’s owners, instead of being forced to sift through rumors in a time of pain. I’m incredibly sad that Louisiana has lost such faithful crewmembers, and I hope we can prevent others from bearing the burden that their loved ones have had to endure,” said Kennedy.
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) is the sponsor of the House companion bill.
“The Seacor tragedy exposed gaps in existing vessel response plan regulations, especially regarding the frequency and timeliness of updates for the crewmembers’ families. We want to ensure that professional, compassionate, and transparent communication is a component of every vessel response plan. Our legislation assists in that effort. Our prayers remain with the families of every crewmember and those still searching to bring their loved ones home,” said Higgins.
All commercial oil industry vessels are currently required to develop a detailed vessel response plan that the U.S. Coast Guard approves. Vessel owners follow these plans during emergencies such as oil spills or capsized boats.
Existing regulations for vessel response plans include no requirement that vessel owners provide the families of crewmembers with any timely updates in the event of search and rescue operations. The Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act would ensure that loved ones of crew members receive timely notice throughout any future emergencies.
This legislation would require vessel owners to develop a procedure for the immediate notification of next of kin in the event that search and rescue teams save or recover crewmembers following an emergency. Even in the absence of rescue or recovery developments, the bill would require vessel owners to update families at least two times each day while search and rescue efforts are ongoing.
The Coast Guard held briefings for family members of Seacor Power crewmen twice daily, and the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act would codify the practice as a requirement.
Text of the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act is here.
Video of Kennedy’s statement on efforts to support recovery work is here.
Kennedy’s letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is here.
Watch Kennedy’s comments here.
WASHINGTON – The Senate today passed Sen. John Kennedy’s (R-La.) amendment requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct an annual study on the prevalence of boil water advisories across the U.S. The EPA Administrator will have to submit a report to Congress describing the results of this study as part of the EPA’s annual budget request, and the report must include specific reasons boil water advisories were issued. The amendment is part of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, which the Senate passed after the adoption of Kennedy’s amendment.
“Boil water advisories affect Americans across the U.S., but they especially plague Louisiana. Louisianians have endured more than 9,600 boil water advisories since 2015, sometimes affecting whole communities. We need to understand the scope of this problem if we want to make sure Louisianians have confidence that their water is safe and clean at all times, and this amendment will make sure the EPA provides answers to our state and our country,” said Kennedy.
Public water systems issue boil water advisories when water distribution systems lose pressure, because that loss in pressure can lead to drinking water contamination. This problem occurs frequently in Louisiana, which has experienced almost 10,000 boil water in the last six years and 1,630 advisories in 2020 alone. Since 2015, more than 1,900 advisories have been system-wide, meaning they significantly impacted a large number of people, and often, entire communities. Last year, Louisiana experienced 1,630 boil water advisories, 341 of which were system-wide.
Text of the amendment is available here.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today urged Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Benjamin Freidman to relax regulations that are hurting recovery efforts for missing crewmen from the Seacor Power disaster. The letter comes after the Seacor Power, a commercial lift boat, capsized in the Gulf of Mexico on April 13 with 19 crewmembers on board.
“I write today to reiterate in the strongest possible terms the urgency facing these grieving Louisiana families. Mothers, fathers, wives, and children are desperately waiting for any shred of information that may shed light on their loved ones’ whereabouts. Yet, from the beginning, they have encountered incredible bureaucratic red tape from public and private organizations, which may have slowed search and rescue efforts and left these families without timely search reports,” Kennedy wrote.
“The most recent instance concerns reports that volunteers in the Cajun Navy and other organizations intend to use trawling nets to assist in recovery searches but have encountered strong opposition from NOAA related to federal regulations concerning sea turtles. If true, I urge you to immediately use your authority as Acting Administrator to assist volunteer recovery efforts and relax these regulations,” explained Kennedy.
According to reports, NOAA is refusing to allow volunteer shrimp boats to use nets with tied Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) for targeted recovery operations. Fishermen must remove these devices and find replacements, which would waste more time and cost more money, or use other methods that would hamper the search efforts.
“We simply do not have time for bureaucracy—the value of these crewmen and their grieving families demand that we prioritize their recovery above all else,” Kennedy continued.
“Again, I am respectfully requesting that you utilize any authority you may have as Acting Administrator of NOAA to waive regulations related to TEDs and permit Louisiana recovery volunteers to temporarily employ nets with tied TEDs. I also ask that you immediately review any other regulations that may still be hampering recovery efforts so that we can exhaust any and all solutions that would help us recover these seven missing crewmen,” he concluded.
The letter is available here.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today introduced three bills that would improve students’ access to mental health services, including the Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act, Youth Mental Health Services Act and Suicide Training and Awareness Nationally Delivered for University Protection (STAND UP) Act.
“The last year has been incredibly challenging for many young people. Kids need helping hands and listening ears as they face new social and societal pressures, and Congress can help give this to them. This legislation would provide students with easier access to mental health resources from primary school through college,” said Kennedy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four young Americans considered suicide in the summer of 2020. This is significantly higher than the one in 10 adults struggling with suicidal thoughts during that time. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students and among young people between the ages of 10 and 34.
The Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act would require colleges and universities to provide the contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line and a campus mental health center on student identification cards. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is an original co-sponsor of the legislation. This bill unanimously passed the Senate in the 116th Congress.
The Youth Mental Health Services Act would permit state and local education agencies to use Title IV funds authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act to invest in new and existing mental health resources. These services would follow a community-based model that reduces the stigma of receiving guidance in a school setting.
The STAND UP Act would require state, tribal and local education agencies that receive grant funding for priority mental health needs to establish and implement evidence-based training policies for suicide awareness and prevention.
Text of the Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act is available here.
Text of the Youth Mental Health Services Act is available here.
Text of the STAND UP Act is available here.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today joined Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and more than 20 Republican senators in introducing the Abortion Providers Loan Elimination Act, which would explicitly prohibit abortion providers, like Planned Parenthood, from receiving Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
“Planned Parenthood and its affiliates aren’t content to profit from snuffing out unborn lives. Their business model now involves leeching money from small businesses that actually need it. The Paycheck Protection Program is supposed to help small business owners keep their workers on payroll—not act as a slush fund for America’s largest abortion peddler. Congress is responsible for stewarding taxpayer dollars and protecting innocent lives. Since Planned Parenthood refuses to return its PPP loans—and has even applied for round two—it’s time to unequivocally prohibit these abortion providers from poaching another dime of this funding,” said Kennedy.
“The Paycheck Protection Program was created to provide struggling small businesses with much needed federal assistance at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Like most Americans, I was outraged to hear Planned Parenthood affiliates gamed the system and illegally obtained $80 million through the program. It’s clear to me that Americans don’t want their hard earned tax dollars to fund abortions, and to Planned Parenthood’s dismay, our bill claws back the money and investigates into how it ever was allowed to happen. As a physician who delivered thousands of babies in rural Kansas and now a U.S. Senator, I consider my efforts to protect the sanctity of life my most important work, and I’m pleased my colleagues joined me in this fight,” said Marshall.
The Abortion Providers Loan Elimination Act would ensure Planned Parenthood affiliates and other abortion providers are ineligible for future PPP funding and instructs the Small Business Administration (SBA) inspector general to investigate how this national organization was able to receive funds from the program in the first place.
When the global pandemic hit, the federal government instituted the PPP to aid small businesses. At the height of the pandemic, Planned Parenthood Federation of America applied for and received millions of dollars in PPP funds, even though it is a national organization with central control over its affiliates, over $2 billion in assets and 16,000 employees.
In May of 2020, the SBA notified 39 Planned Parenthood affiliates that they had wrongfully applied for tens of millions of dollars in PPP loans. The SBA determined that these affiliates were ineligible for the loans under the applicable affiliation rules and that the loans they received should be returned. According to the most recently available data, a few affiliates did so, but the remaining 31 affiliates kept this money despite receiving notice that they had acquired these funds illegally. As of this March, three of the 31 Planned Parenthood affiliates again applied for and received second draw loans for a combined $4.8 million in additional funding.
Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) introduced companion legislation in the House, where more than 60 representatives have co-sponsored it.
Text of the Abortion Providers Loan Elimination Act is available here.
Kennedy, Cruz condemn Democrats’ unwillingness to prevent Asian American discrimination in higher education
Apr 22 2021
WASHINGTON – Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today issued the following statement after Senate Democrats blocked their amendment to prohibit federal funding for any institution of higher education that discriminates against Asian Americans in recruitment, applicant review or admissions:
“In an unbelievably cynical move, Senate Democrats blocked efforts to stop discrimination against Asian Americans in higher education, where racial bias has become all too common. This amendment would bar funds from institutions that discriminate against Asian American students.
“Despite their calls to end racism, it is clear Democrats are only paying lip service to fighting discrimination against Asian Americans and will allow targeted discrimination against them to continue at America’s universities and colleges.”
Kennedy also advocated for top universities to end their discrimination against Asian Americans in this recent op ed.
Watch Kennedy’s comments here.
WASHINGTON – The Senate today passed Sen. John Kennedy’s (R-La.) Dispose Unused Medications and Prescription Opioids (DUMP Opioids) Act, which would streamline the disposal of unused controlled substance prescription medications at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers.
Sens. John Tester (D-Mont.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) co-sponsored the legislation.
“Many opioid users rely on unused prescription medications that belong to family and friends, and Americans can help fight opioid addiction simply by clearing out their medicine cabinets. We can reduce access to addictive and dangerous substances by making it easy for every American to get rid of unused medicine at drop boxes that sit on VA medical centers. The DUMP Opioids Act is a smart way to save lives, and you don’t have to wait until Take Back Day,” said Kennedy.
Almost 50,000 Americans died from opioid-involved overdoses in 2019.
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) 20th Take Back Day is scheduled for April 24, 2021. On Take Back Day, individuals can dispose of unused prescription medication at DEA drop sites.
Beginning in 2022, certain VA medical centers will be approved to have drop boxes that veterans can use every day to drop off unused medications, and the DUMP Opioids Act would allow everyone in a community to use these drop boxes for medicine disposal. The bill instructs the VA Secretary to designate times that the public can dispose of prescriptions at the drop boxes and allows the secretary to carry out public information campaigns to highlight those times.
Text of the DUMP Opioids Act is available here.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, joined Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and other Republican committee members in urging Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry to stop pressuring banks to make energy-related lending commitments. The letter comes ahead of President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate.
“We are concerned by reports you have been pressuring banks to make extralegal commitments regarding energy-related lending and investment activities. These commitments would result in discrimination against lawful U.S. energy companies and their employees, higher energy costs for American consumers, and slower economic growth,” the senators wrote.
“In addition, we are equally concerned by the Biden administration’s related effort to create and impose new global warming disclosure requirements on companies without any explicit statutory authorization from Congress. Regardless of the policy merits, such requirements misuse financial regulators to achieve environmental goals and harm investors by undermining the quality and reliability of both accounting standards and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) existing corporate disclosure framework,” explained the senators.
“As marginal funding costs rise, energy companies will have two choices: raise the cost of their products or cut expenses, including by laying off employees. Eventually, they may be forced to do both. Unsurprisingly, these effects are likely to be borne by working class Americans. . . . Perhaps most disconcertingly, this self-harm will diminish America’s strategic advantage in fossil energy over adversaries but not meaningfully reduce global carbon emissions given that 90 percent of total emissions come from outside of U.S. borders, as you have recognized yourself,” they continued.
The senators also expressed concern that Biden will soon sign an executive order setting in motion a new mandate forcing publicly-traded companies to disclose non-material information on global warming:
“The apparent objective of this effort is not to protect investors, but to punish lawful energy companies by deterring lending to, and investment in, such firms,” the senators wrote.
Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) also signed the letter.
The letter is available here.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today introduced the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act of 2021, which would increase the legal penalties for fentanyl traffickers in proportion to the drug’s potency and make it harder for drug dealers to circulate the substance.
“The opioid epidemic has devastated American families and communities, in large part because of fentanyl. Even a small amount of this dangerous opioid can kill someone’s son or daughter, so why doesn’t the punishment for trafficking fentanyl match the severity of the crime? It’s time to close the gap between fentanyl’s deadliness and the punishments for trafficking it, and that is what the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act would do,” said Kennedy.
Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) are original co-sponsors of the bill.
Opioid overdoses have killed almost half-a-million Americans since 1999. In 2018, 50,000 Americans died from opioid use, surpassing the number of firearm-related deaths that year. Fentanyl and its analogues, which narcotics dealers often mix into other drugs, have made the threat drugs pose to communities worse.
The existing legal penalties for fentanyl trafficking do not reflect the drug’s potency, and current mandatory minimum sentences only apply when a trafficker possesses 40 grams or more of fentanyl or 10 grams or more of a fentanyl analogue.
The Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act of 2021 reduces the threshold of possession for minimum prison sentences to two grams of fentanyl or 0.5 grams of a fentanyl analogue and equips the U.S. Postal Service with resources to help combat fentanyl trafficking.
Text of the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act of 2021 is available here.
Kennedy, Barrasso, Tillis introduce legislation to bring accountability, transparency to CFPB salaries
Apr 20 2021
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today introduced the CFPB Pay Fairness Act of 2021, which would increase accountability at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by requiring the agency to pay its employees according to the same standards that apply to their fellow federal employees.
“The CFPB is supposed to protect consumers, but it looks like the agency is using federal funds to pad its employees’ wallets instead. CFPB salaries eclipse those of other public servants, and we don’t even know why because the CFPB doesn’t follow the standards of the federal pay scale. The CFPB Pay Fairness Act would require the CFPB to pay its employees with transparency and integrity, ending this chapter of bloated bureaucracy,” said Kennedy.
The CFPB Pay Fairness Act of 2021 would give the CFPB 90 days to bring its employee salaries in line with the General Schedule (GS) pay scale for federal employees. Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) are original co-sponsors of the legislation.
“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is arguably the least accountable government bureaucracy in our nation’s history,” said Barrasso. “This is abundantly clear when you look at the unjustifiably high salaries paid to the employees at the bureau. Taxpayers should demand that the unelected, unaccountable, and heavy-handed bureaucrats at the CFPB receive compensation in the same manner as virtually all other public servants. I’m proud to join Senator Kennedy in this effort to force this unchecked government agency to bring its employee salaries in line with the federal pay scale.”
“The CFPB is long-overdue for more accountability and oversight from Congress, and allowing their federal bureaucrats to make significantly more money than other federal workers should end immediately,” said Tillis. “This legislation would rightfully end this senseless waste and ensure CFPB employees are under the federal pay scale like every other government agency.”
Unlike other financial regulators, the CFPB has operated outside of the regular appropriations process since it was created because the Federal Reserve funds the CFPB directly. The CFPB currently pays its employees significantly more than other federal agencies do, in part because it is not bound to the GS pay scale.
Roughly half of the employees at the CFPB receive more than $170,000 per year. CFPB salaries are capped at $259,500, while cabinet secretaries make $221,400. As a result, as many as 32 CFPB employees receive salaries larger than what a cabinet secretary earns.
The GS pay scale offers the public guidance on what credentials, like education and professional experience, are associated with each federal salary grade. The CFPB, however, does not provide qualification standards to justify its employees’ salaries.
Text of the CFPB Pay Fairness Act of 2021 is available here.