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Last Thursday—before reports of a breach of 50 million Facebook users’ dataKlobuchar and Kennedy began calls for CEOs to come before the Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) today called on the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley (R-IA), to hold a hearing at which Senators can publicly question the CEOs of technology companies. The bipartisan letter follows reports that Cambridge Analytica misused the data of 50 million Facebook users. Last week—before the breach—Klobuchar and Kennedy began calls for the technology companies to come before the Judiciary Committee.

“Major social media platforms store an enormous amount of data and have a user base larger than all of the major broadcasting companies combined. The remarkable innovation that these companies have championed has changed how we share and collect information. In the process, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have amassed unprecedented amounts of personal data and use this data when selling advertising, including political advertisements. The lack of oversight on how data is stored and how political advertisements are sold raises concerns about the integrity of American elections as well as privacy rights,” the senators wrote.

“A hearing featuring testimony with CEOs would provide the Committee the opportunity to hear an update on the progress of these companies' voluntary measures to combat attempted foreign interference and what is being done to protect Americans’ data and limit abuse of the platforms, as well as to assess what measures should be taken before the next elections. It is for these reasons that we request that you announce a hearing of the Judiciary Committee at which Senators can publicly question the CEOs of technology companies.”

The letter can be read in its entirety below.

Dear Chairman Grassley:

We write to express serious concern regarding recent reports that data from millions of Americans was misused in order to influence voters, and to urge you to convene a hearing with the CEOs of major technology companies -- including Facebook, Google, and Twitter -- regarding the security of Americans’ data in light of this significant breach.

Reports indicate that private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users -- representing nearly a quarter of potential U.S. voters in 2016 -- was taken to conduct sophisticated psychological targeting for political ads in order to influence voters. The reports further indicate that Facebook knew about this breach more than two years ago and failed to acknowledge it and take swift and meaningful action. 

While Facebook has pledged to enforce its policies to protect people's information, questions remain as to whether those policies are sufficient and whether Congress should take action to protect people's private information. The Committee considered similar cybersecurity issues in an October hearing featuring testimony from the former chairman and CEO of Equifax. We believe that the Committee should revisit these issues in light of recent events and upcoming elections.

Important questions also remain unanswered about the role of these technology companies in our democracy. Major social media platforms store an enormous amount of data and have a user base larger than all of the major broadcasting companies combined. The remarkable innovation that these companies have championed has changed how we share and collect information. In the process, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have amassed unprecedented amounts of personal data and use this data when selling advertising, including political advertisements. The lack of oversight on how data is stored and how political advertisements are sold raises concerns about the integrity of American elections as well as privacy rights.

Senators from both parties have called for more transparency and accountability from social media platforms in their efforts to guard against interference by foreign actors. Testimony before this Committee and others from current Administration officials, as well as former officials from the Administrations of President George W. Bush and President Obama, has made clear that the threat of foreign interference continues to exist, and that these foreign powers will make similar attempts to interfere in future elections. 

It is our view that Senators on the Judiciary Committee should have the opportunity to question the CEOs of technology companies about these critical matters. While this Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism convened a hearing with witnesses representing Facebook, Twitter, and Google in October of 2017, we have yet to hear from the leaders of these companies directly. A hearing featuring testimony with CEOs would provide the Committee the opportunity to hear an update on the progress of these companies' voluntary measures to combat attempted foreign interference and what is being done to protect Americans’ data and limit abuse of the platforms, as well as to assess what measures should be taken before the next elections.

It is for these reasons that we request that you announce a hearing of the Judiciary Committee at which Senators can publicly question the CEOs of technology companies. We would be happy to discuss this matter with you further and we appreciate your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) issued the following statement today about the passing of Saints and Pelicans owner, Tom Benson:

“My prayers are with Tom’s wife, Gayle, and their family during this difficult time.  A true New Orleanian, Tom Benson ensured the survival of the Saints and the Pelicans through hard work, perseverance, and passion.  He’s left a lasting legacy.”

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) introduced the Consolidating Losses Associated to Severe Storms Act of 2018 (CLASS Act) to relieve the financial stress that Louisiana school districts are suffering because of the 2016 floods.  Joining as co-sponsor is U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.).

At issue is a penalty that threatens to drastically reduce school districts’ flood recovery funding.  FEMA requires school districts to carry flood insurance on buildings that are in a special flood hazard area.  Penalties are deducted from recovery funds for uninsured buildings that flood.  At least some of the school districts impacted by the 2016 flooding did have flood insurance for buildings located in what they considered to be high-risk areas.  Their recovery funding stands to be slashed multiple times for every single uninsured building that flooded.

The CLASS Act strikes a compromise by applying the penalty deduction to an entire campus instead of to every single building.  This should spare school districts from millions of dollars in penalties.

“School districts incurred huge costs because of the historic 2016 floods,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “Not only did campuses flood, but new campuses had to quickly be created.  These school districts are under tremendous financial stress.  This legislation will ensure that they are not unfairly penalized for every single structure that flooded.  Instead, they’ll get a one-time penalty.  They’ll take a lick and be able to move on and rebuild.”

“The NFIP penalty will financially cripple the Livingston Parish school district,” said Livingston Parish Schools Supt. Rick Wentzel.  “Without some type of relief from this terrible interpretation of the Stafford Act, Livingston Parish stands to lose approximately $20 million that would normally be used for educating our students.  Denham Springs High School alone has over twenty buildings that each would be subject to this $500,000 penalty.”

“We continue to be appreciative of efforts being made to consider relief for critical facilities as it pertains to penalties imposed by the National Flood Insurance Program,” said Ascension Public Schools Supt. David Alexander.  “We know that the relaxing of these penalties occurred in recent past disasters for similar school systems.  Our mission is to provide high-quality educational experiences for children and anytime we can allocate funding towards that mission rather than repairing buildings from disasters is a win for everyone in our community.”

“Almost all of our schools that were impacted by the Historic Flood of 2016 had more than one disaster-damaged building on-site, so the CLASS Act will be a tremendous help to our schools that reside in special flood hazard areas,” said Superintendent Warren Drake. “This legislation will allow us to maximize the use of the remaining funds in a way that will benefit our students the most.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) filed the Welfare of Our Furry Friends Act (WOOFF) today to explicitly prohibit airlines from putting animals in danger by placing them in overhead baggage compartments.  This bill directs the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to create regulations to prohibit the storing of a live animal in any overhead compartment of any flight in air transportation and establish civil fines for violations.

A French bulldog died Monday after a United Airlines flight attendant instructed the dog’s owner to place the dog in an overhead baggage compartment during a flight from Houston to New York.  Sen. Kennedy sent a letter to United Airlines Wednesday demanding an official explanation.  

“Pets are members of the family.  Unfortunately, for our pets, they are at the mercy of human beings showing some common sense,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “United Airlines is promising to put special tags on pet carriers to help flight attendants in the future.  I’d rather make it the law that animals aren’t to be treated like an old piece of luggage.”

“Too many animals have died as a result of human neglect and carelessness,” said Sen. Cortez Masto.  “The Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act is designed to protect the well-being of our beloved family members—our pets – when traveling.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that 24 animals died last year while in the care of major U.S. airlines.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) issued the following statement today after the Louisiana Committee on Parole rejected a medical treatment furlough for convicted murderer Clyde Y. Giddens:

“I am thankful that common sense prevailed and that the Louisiana Committee on Parole prioritized public safety and the victim’s suffering.  Mr. Giddens needs to remain in prison until he dies despite Gov. Edwards’ efforts to free dangerous inmates through his criminal justice reform package” said Sen. Kennedy.  “My prayers are with Earline Bamburg’s family.  I’m sorry that they had to relive this.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) sent the following letter to the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole regarding convicted murderer Clyde Y. Giddens:

 

March 14, 2018

 

 

Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole

P.O. Box 94304

Baton Rouge, La. 70802

 

Dear Board Members:

I write to oppose the early release of convicted murderer Clyde Y. Giddens.  It is my understanding that Mr. Giddens will come before the Committee on Parole Thursday from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where he is serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of Mrs. Earline Bamburg. 

The only reason Mr. Giddens is even afforded the possibility of freedom is because of the early release measures within Gov. John Bel Edwards’ criminal justice reform program.  He has not earned a second chance.

Mr. Giddens pleaded guilty in 1964 to Mrs. Bamburg’s murder.  Mr. Giddens assaulted Mrs. Bamburg, stabbed her, burned her corpse and hacked off her arms and leg with a saw.  Later, he told a law enforcement officer that he laughed as he used the saw and fed her body parts to a stray dog.  Mr. Giddens said he got a thrill from watching the dog eat the body parts like they were “hamburger meat.”

At the time of her brutal death, Mrs. Bamburg was 36 years old.  Her family generously opted against pursuing the death penalty because they believed a life sentence was for life.  Mr. Giddens has repaid their kindness by seeking parole eligibility more than a dozen times.

Gov. Edwards’ so-called criminal justice reform package gave Mr. Giddens an undeserved gift by making limited-mobility offenders eligible for medical treatment furloughs.  According to news reports, Louisiana Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc has recommended that Mr. Giddens receive a medical furlough.  Mr. Giddens apparently uses a wheelchair.  However, he is well enough to grant news interviews and lie about why he is behind bars.  Just last year, he told The Washington Post that he was in prison for killing a man during a fight.

A life sentence should be a life sentence, especially when the murder victim suffered the type of indignity that Mrs. Bamburg did.  Her family continues to mourn her loss.  They suffer further every time Mr. Giddens makes another grasp for freedom.  They fervently want him to remain in prison.  Their wishes should trump releasing Mr. Giddens purely to save a few nickels on medical expenses.

Thank you for your attention to this issue.

                                                                       

Sincerely,

 

                                                                       

 

John Kennedy

                                                                        U.S. Senate

 

 

 

cc: Gov. John Bel Edwards

      Louisiana Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc

 

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) sent the following letter to the president of United Airlines, J. Scott Kirby, demanding an immediate explanation for the number of animals who have died recently in United Airlines’ care:

 

March 14, 2018

J. Scott Kirby
President
United Airlines
233 South Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL. 60606

By email, fax, and U.S. mail

Dear Mr. Kirby:

            I write to demand an immediate explanation for the number of animals who have died recently in United Airlines’ care.  The most recent death involved a French bulldog who was placed in an overhead bin at a United flight attendant’s direction.  The animal subsequently died.

            According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 18 of the 24 animals who died in major U.S. airlines’ care last year were in the care of United.  Another 13 animals in United’s care suffered injuries last year.  For comparison, Delta and American each reported two animal deaths.

            This pattern of animal deaths and injuries is simply inexcusable.  For many people, pets are members of the family.  They should not be treated like insignificant cargo.  Frankly, they shouldn’t be placed in the cargo hold much less an overhead bin.

Thank you, Mr. Kirby, for your prompt attention to this request.  I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Sincerely,

 

John Kennedy

United States Senator

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced the Military Residence Choice Act today to make the frequent relocations required of military families a little easier.  The bill will free the spouses of active duty service members from having to establish new legal residency every time they move for a military reassignment.  Sens. Kennedy and Klobuchar are joined by original co-sponsors Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

 “One of the toughest things for military families is the constant relocation for new assignments.  They usually have to move every few years,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “We can make that upheaval easier and remove a burden spouses of service members currently face by not forcing them to constantly change their legal residency.  This will make everything from filing taxes to buying a car much simpler.”

“Military families give so much to our country and ask for so little in return,” Sen. Klobuchar said.  “This legislation will help cut red tape and ease the burdens associated with the frequent moves military families must make for their service. It would make everything from voting to finding employment easier.”

“Military spouses make many sacrifices alongside the service of their loved ones, including the difficulties that come from continual relocation,” Sen. Cornyn said.  “This legislation would help alleviate stress by making it easier for them to establish residency for employment and voter registration so they can continue to provide for their families and cast their ballot during elections.”

“Behind so many of our brave servicemembers are loving spouses who support them.  The sacrifice military spouses make for this great country often go unnoticed and we owe it to them to do anything we can to make life a little easier,” Sen. Manchin said. “I am proud to be a part of this commonsense, bipartisan bill and look forward to its passage.”

“Frequent moves can present challenges for military families who already sacrifice so much,” Sen. Kaine said.  “This is the latest bipartisan piece of legislation that would help relieve some of that stress by giving military spouses the option to keep their residency after a move to help ease the transition for their families.”

The 2017 Blue Star Families Lifestyle Survey reported 72 percent of military families lived in their communities for two years or less, and a majority of families indicated they are experiencing high levels of stress associated with moving for the military.  In 2009, the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act (MSRRA) gave military spouses the right to retain their state of legal residence after a military reassignment if the couple has established the same residence at the time of their marriage.  The Support our Military Spouses Act will allow military spouses to use the same residence as their spouse after a military reassignment regardless of the couple’s residency at the time of the marriage.  By allowing spouses to select and keep the same state of residency as their partner, the Support our Military Spouses Act will reduce confusion and ease transitions from year to year for these families.    

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today introduced the Opioid Quota Reform Act of 2018.  This bipartisan legislation will enhance the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) existing opioid quota-setting authority by improving transparency and enabling the DEA to adjust quotas to prevent opioid diversion and abuse.

The DEA is responsible for establishing annual quotas determining the exact amount of each opioid drug that is permitted to be produced in the U.S. each year.  The DEA approved significant increases in aggregate opioid production quotas between 1993 and 2015, including a 39-fold increase for oxycodone and a 12-fold increase for hydrocodone.  Such increases occurred largely because current law directs the DEA to only consider certain factors when setting quotas — like past sales and estimated demand — but not other factors such as the impact of such opioid production on diversion, abuse rates or overdose deaths.  As a result, more than 14 billion opioid pills are put on the market each year — far more than necessary under current medical guidelines and enough for every adult American to have a one month’s prescription of addictive painkillers. 

Recognizing this problem, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked the DEA to evaluate whether changes are needed to its production quota process to address the disproportionate volume of opioid prescriptions issued each year in the United States.  

“Drug overdose deaths have nearly tripled since 1999, and the opioid epidemic costs Louisiana alone about $296 million annually.  Addiction is ripping apart families in every town across Louisiana.  It’s impacting people in every income bracket and stealing lives,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “We have to strike a balance between providing painkillers to people who need them while ensuring that doctors and patients understand how dangerously addictive these drugs are.  All it takes is a simple fall from a ladder to create a lifelong battle with painkiller addiction.  This is an epidemic that requires a battle plan if it’s going to be defeated.”

“Every day, more than 100 Americans die from an opioid overdose.  While we know that there are legitimate uses for opioid painkillers, we also know that these dangerous pills are being over-produced, over-prescribed, and over-dispensed,” said Sen. Durbin.  “The DEA plays an important gatekeeper role over the volume of opioids that can be produced each year.  And while the DEA has taken recent steps to lower opioid quotas, their ability to do so is limited.  Opioid quota reform is needed so the DEA can take important factors like diversion and abuse into account when setting quotas, rather than chasing the downstream consequences of this crisis.  And this bipartisan legislation will allow the DEA to do just that.  But our work is not done.  These quotas should continue to come down, doctors must be more judicious in their prescribing, drug companies must stop misleading the public about their products and we simply must do more to help those who are currently addicted get treatment.”

“We have a responsibility to better address the opioid epidemic, which took the lives of more than 42,000 Americans in 2016, by stopping addiction before it starts,” said Sen. Feinstein.  “I believe this bill strikes the right balance in maintaining access to medications for legitimate medical use and reducing the supply of opioids available to be diverted and abused.  I am confident that this bill can help reduce the astonishing number of drug overdose deaths in our country, and am pleased to be a cosponsor.”

“The opioid crisis will only be beat back if we use every tool possible to fight against it. This legislation is one of those tools,” Sen. Grassley said.  “Improving transparency in setting opioid quotas is critical to curbing opioid abuse while ensuring those who need opioids to treat illnesses and manage pain will still have lawful access to their medicine.  As Chairman of Judiciary Committee and the Narcotics Control Caucus, I care deeply about finding a solution to the opioid epidemic, and this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

In 2016 — after years of dramatic increases to the volume of opioids allowed to come to the market — the DEA heeded calls to address America’s opioid epidemic by reducing nearly all opioid quotas by 25% or more.  This was the first reduction of its kind in over 20 years.  And in November 2017, the DEA again reduced production quotas for nearly all Schedule II prescription opioids by 20% for 2018.  This meant that three powerful, addictive painkillers would see a significant reduction from what was allowed on the market just two years prior.  For example, the reduction resulted in a 31% cut to oxycodone over two years; a 43% cut to hydrocodone over two years; and a 42% cut to fentanyl over two years.  But more work must be done to rein in this epidemic, and the DEA needs more statutory tools to effectively do its job.   

The bipartisan Durbin-Kennedy Opioid Quota Reform Act of 2018 would:

  • Direct the DEA to consider the additional factors of opioid diversion, abuse, overdose deaths and public health impacts when establishing annual opioid production quotas, in addition to the existing statutory considerations such as prior-year sales and research needs;
  • Require the DEA, if it approves any annual increase in opioid quotas, to explain publicly why the public health benefits of the increase outweigh the potential harmful consequences;
  • Reveal trends in manufacturer-level quota increases by having the DEA report anonymized data to Congress on the number of manufacturers that the DEA authorizes to produce opioids each year and how many of those manufacturers’ quotas have increased from the previous year;
  • Enable the DEA to issue more granular quota levels by removing a current provision that blocks the DEA from considering variations in dosage forms when setting quotas; and
  • Require the DEA to identify strategies to better incorporate data collection and changes in accepted medical practice (such as updated CDC Opioid Prescriber Guidelines) in its quota-setting process.

The Opioid Quota Reform Act of 2018 is supported by the National Association of City and County Health Officials, National Association of Counties, Trust for America’s Health, Safe States Alliance and National Safety Council.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) filed the Open Internet Preservation Act today to protect consumers by preventing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from slowing down and controlling web content.  The legislation also creates transparency by requiring ISPs to make public their terms of service.  The House companion of this bill was introduced last year by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

“Some cable companies and content providers aren’t going to be happy with this bill because it prohibits them from blocking and throttling web content.  They won’t be able to micromanage your web surfing or punish you for downloading 50 movies each month.  This bill strikes a compromise that benefits the consumer,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “If the Democrats are serious about this issue and finding a permanent solution, then they should come to the table and work with me and Rep. Blackburn on these bills.  Does this bill resolve every issue in the net neutrality debate?  No, it doesn’t.  It's not a silver bullet.  But it's a good start.”

“Sen. Kennedy brings leadership and focus to this discussion of preserving a free and open internet.  I appreciate his work and his attention to this issue.  Title II 1930s era regulation was a heavy handed approach that would stifle innovation and investment.  This legislation will go a long way toward achieving the goal of protecting consumers,” said Rep. Blackburn.

 

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