Legislative updates from the office of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson on issues involving the senator that range from protecting children from liquid poisoning, to requesting the Justice Department examine new evidence about the deaths of youth at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
Funding Highway-Rail Grade Crossings
On February 23, Senator Nelson, who serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, became a co-sponsor of S. 532, legislation that would authorize additional funding for states and cities to improve highway-rail grade crossings. Highway-rail grade crossings are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths. This legislation follows two grade crossing accidents in recent weeks, including a commuter rail accident in New York which resulted in several fatalities. Florida has over 3,500 at-grade highway-rail crossings on public roads.
Protecting Children from Liquid Nicotine Poisoning
On February 26, Senator Nelson’s Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act of 2015 was unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. This bipartisan legislation requires “child-proof” packaging for liquid nicotine containers. In recent years, reports to local poison control centers of child exposures to liquid nicotine have skyrocketed. Last December, a young child in New York State died from a liquid nicotine overdose. The bill now awaits action by the full Senate.
Protecting Auto-Industry Whistleblowers
On February 26, the Senate Commerce Committee approved S. 304, the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act. Introduced by Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson, the legislation would create financial incentives for people in the automobile industry to report safety defects. The bill comes on the heels of reports that manufacturers such as General Motors and Takata may have known about deadly defects in their products years before notifying the public and federal regulators. The bill was amended by Senators Thune and Nelson to create incentives for internal reporting while preserving protections for whistleblowers directly reporting to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Limiting Iran’s Nuclear Program
On February 27, Senator Nelson joined a bi-partisan effort of 12 Senators to introduce S. 615, The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. This bipartisan bill gives Congress a say on a potential agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program and allows Congress to quickly re-impose sanctions if Iran violates an agreement to limit its nuclear program.
Bringing Terrorists to Justice
On February 25, Senator Nelson signed on as an original co-sponsor to S. 555, the Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2015. This bipartisan bill, introduced by Senator Rubio, would offer a reward of up to $5 million for information regarding the kidnapping and murder of Americans by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or any other foreign terrorist organization.
On February 25, Senator Nelson became an original cosponsor to S. Res. 87, a resolution urging the greater cooperation with European states and the European Union in preventing and responding to anti-Semitism. The resolution was offered in the aftermath of the February 2015 murder of Jews in the Copenhagen and Paris shootings.
Ensuring the Stability of the Internet
On February 25, Senator Nelson asserted that he supports the longstanding U.S. position of a bottom-up, consensus-based, multi-stakeholder model of international Internet governance. Making his comments at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing about international Internet governance, Senator Nelson also made clear that he favors current U.S. government efforts to finalize the transition of certain ministerial functions related to the Internet domain name system from the U.S. to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Senator Nelson cautioned that this transition, which has been planned for almost two decades, must not impact the security and stability of the Internet.
Streamlining Government Reports
On February 26, Senator Nelson joined a unanimous vote of the Senate Commerce Committee to advance legislation to ease Federal Communication Commission (FCC) requirements for certain yearly reports. Instead, should the legislation pass the full Senate, the FCC would be required to provide a more comprehensive report about the communications marketplace every other year, allowing the FCC to put more resources toward protecting consumers and promoting competition, rather than on statutory reporting requirements. Senator Nelson negotiated key changes to the legislation to preserve consumer information about the cost of cable service and the availability and deployment of broadband.
Requesting Justice Department Investigate Dozier
On February 24, Senator Nelson sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) examine new evidence about the deaths of youth at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys as part of DOJ’s ongoing probe of recent inmate deaths in the State prison system. In early February, researchers at the University of South Florida reported that they found the remains of 51 individuals buried on the grounds of the now defunct reform school. In contrast, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement 2009 investigation concluded that 31 individuals were buried on the school grounds. On February 24, Senator Nelson provided a copy of the letter to Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, who will become the next Attorney General, pending Senate confirmation.
Extending the Deadline for Positive Train Control Implementation
On March 4, Senator Nelson, as Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee joined Chairman Thune as an original cosponsor of S. 650, the Railroad Safety and Positive Train Control Extension Act. The bipartisan bill would extend the implementation deadline for Positive Train Control (PTC) from December 2015 to December 2020. PTC is a technology that enables a train to automatically stop in order to prevent rail accidents caused by human error. The freight rail industry has invested over $5 billion to date on PTC, with CSX alone spending in excess of $1.2 billion. Several obstacles have prevented the successful implementation of PTC. In conjunction with co-sponsoring the legislation, Senator Nelson also wrote the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asking for a study of the railroads’ progress in implementing PTC.
Demanding Federal Investigations into Formaldehyde Levels in Lumber Liquidators’ Flooring
On March 4, Senator Nelson asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate media reports that the retailer Lumber Liquidators has been selling Chinese-made laminate wood flooring with high levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Earlier in the week, 60 Minutes aired a report finding formaldehyde in the company’s Chinese-made laminate flooring that far exceeded California’s formaldehyde standard. Congress passed a law in 2010 federalizing the California standard, but inaction by the Environmental Protection Agency has delayed its implementation.
Honoring Civil Rights Activist Georgia Jones-Ayers
On February 25, Senator Nelson joined as an original cosponsor of S. Res. 85, a resolution introduced by Senator Rubio honoring the life and legacy of Georgia Jones-Ayers, who passed away on February 17. A prominent civil rights activist in South Florida, Ms. Jones-Ayers founded and served as the Executive Director of Alternative Programs, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to preventing first-time offenders from going back to crime.
Protecting Constitutional Rights
On March 6, Senator Nelson joined with 43 members of the Senate and 167 members of the House of Representatives on an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the same-sex marriage case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The brief urges the Supreme Court to “make the Constitution’s promise of equality a reality for gay and lesbian couples throughout the nation….” The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on same-sex marriage on April 28th with a decision expected in June.
Calling for a Vote on Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General
On March 5, Senator Nelson joined several colleagues requesting that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell schedule a Senate vote for Loretta Lynch, who was nominated for Attorney General in November 2014.
Reauthorizing Veteran Student Centers
On February 26, Senator Nelson became an original co-sponsor of S.604, a bi-partisan bill which reauthorizes temporary grants for universities and colleges to establish Veterans Student Centers. These centers help veterans succeed in higher education, by connecting them with services that help veterans navigate both routine college issues like studying and enrolling for classes, and issues unique to veterans, such as G.I. bill applications and, if necessary, mental health counseling. Veterans at both the University of Central Florida and St. Petersburg College have benefitted from this program.