Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced a package of ‘first-day’ bills to mark the beginning of the 111th Congress.

“Today marks the official start to the historic 111th Congress.  I am introducing a series of first-day bills that I believe will help bring about meaningful, positive change for our country. These bills include:

  • Closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and ending the abusive detention and interrogation practices that have tarnished America’s reputation abroad (Co-sponsored by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); 
  • Authorizing at least $25 billion from the government’s financial rescue program, the Troubled Assets Recovery Program (or TARP), to provide streamlined loan modifications to keep struggling families from losing their homes (Senate companion to a bill introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.);
  • Providing $10 billion in federal rescue funds (TARP) to ensure the solvency of local cities and counties that have lost investments from failed financial institutions like Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual;
  • Demanding accountability from financial institutions receiving federal rescue funds (TARP) funds (Cosponsored by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Joseph Lieberman (I-Ct.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.);
  • Banning the sale of Inaugural tickets;
  • Cracking down on criminal street gangs through a balanced approach of enforcement, prevention and intervention (Cosponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.); 
  • Implementing a settlement agreement to restore the San Joaquin River (Cosponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.);
  • Preventing identity theft and protecting the privacy of sensitive personal information; and
  • Establishing a dedicated funding source to clean up hazardous abandoned gold and silver mines on public lands.

It is my hope that this new Congress will mark a new era of cooperation -- where Democrats and Republicans put aside partisan differences to work together with President-Elect Obama to confront the serious challenges we face as a nation,” Senator Feinstein said. “The package of legislation that I am introducing today, I believe, can be an important part of that agenda for change."

Below is a series of detailed summaries outlining Senator Feinstein’s first-day bills. 

Ending Abusive Detention and Interrogation Practices:

Senator Feinstein today introduced new comprehensive legislation to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and impose broad reforms in America’s interrogation and detention practices. The legislation is cosponsored by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Specifically, the legislation, called the “Lawful Interrogation and Detention Act of 2009,” provides for a legal, effective, and humane system of gathering intelligence and holding suspected terrorists.  It ends the practices of indefinite and secret detention and coercive interrogations that have been used by the CIA and at Guantanamo since 2002. 

“Coercive interrogations and secret detentions have brought shame on our nation and made the war on terror harder to fight,” Senator Feinstein said. “They violate U.S. and international law, and our treaty obligations. We need to return to the national norms and values that have driven the United States to greatness since the days of its founding, but which have been tarnished badly during the past seven years. This legislation will do exactly that, and advances policies that I believe are consistent with the policies and intentions of President-elect Obama.”

The legislation has four key provisions:

  • Requires the closure of the detention facilities at Guantanamo within one year.  All individuals held at Guantanamo must be:
    • Charged with crimes and tried in the United States through the federal criminal justice or the military justice system;
    • Transferred to an international tribunal, if one has jurisdiction to hold trials for such individuals;
    • Transferred back to their native country or to the custody of another country; 
    • If the other options can’t be followed and the individual is determined to pose no security threat, released; or
    • Held in accordance with the law of armed conflict.
  • Requires the CIA and all other intelligence agencies to use only the 19 specific interrogation techniques that are authorized by the Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations.  This requirement would put intelligence interrogations under the same legal requirement for all Department of Defense agencies, thus creating a clear, single standard across the U.S. Government;
  • Prohibits the CIA from using private contractors to conduct interrogations of detainees; and
  • Requires the intelligence community to notify the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of any detainees being held, and to provide the ICRC with access to those detainees.

Providing Relief for Homeowners at Risk of Foreclosure:

Senator Feinstein today introduced new legislation to keep struggling families from losing their homes. The legislation would allocate at least $25 billion of federal funds from the Troubled Asset Recovery Program, or TARP, to help cover the costs of providing streamlined loan modifications for homeowners in need, as outlined in a proposal offered last fall by FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair.

“Six of the top ten high foreclosure metropolitan areas are in California, and communities are struggling to cope with the economic fallout,” said Senator Feinstein. “It is critical that a portion of federal rescue funds be immediately directed towards addressing the foreclosure crisis.  FDIC Chairman Bair has proposed a sound model to standardize procedures for mortgage workout agreements based upon an appropriate debt-to-income ratio for borrowers – which will ultimately help expedite to process of loan modifications to help struggling families keep their homes.”

Specifically, the bill, called the “Systematic Foreclosure Prevention and Mortgage Modification Act of 2009,” would allocate at least $25 billion for streamlined loan modifications for qualified homeowners through federal loan guarantees and standardized procedures for mortgage workout agreements. The bill is the Senate companion to a bill introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Under this approach, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would pay servicers $1,000 to cover expenses for each loan modification. In addition, the FDIC would share up to 50 percent of any losses incurred if a modified mortgage subsequently defaults. Mortgage workout agreements would be provided based upon debt-to-income ratio calculations.

Federal Rescue Funds for Local Cities and Counties:

Senator Feinstein has authored new legislation to provide relief to cities and counties that have lost investments due to the collapse of major financial institutions, like Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual.

Specifically, the bill, called the “TARP Assistance for Local Governments Act,” requires the Treasury Secretary to allocate $10 billion of funds from the Troubled Assets Recovery Program (or TARP) to local governments that have suffered losses as a result of investments with failed institutions.  Assistance is only limited to those that made highly-rated investments (as determined by the Treasury Secretary).

“The situation is urgent. Twenty-eight California cities and counties are in jeopardy of losing nearly $300 million as a result of investments with failed financial institutions. And dozens of others communities across the country face equally dire straits,” Senator Feinstein said. “This legislation would require the Secretary of the Treasury to dispense $10 billion in federal rescue funds to local governments so that communities remain solvent and taxpayers are protected. This will ensure that local governments can afford to continue critical public safety, education, public health, infrastructure and transit projects.”
 
The impact of Lehman Brothers investments on California’s cities, counties, and pension funds totals $978 million, according to the League of California Cities.  The breakdown is as follows:

  • $75.13 million in losses to California cities;
  • $228.4 million to counties (roughly $155 million held by San Mateo County); and,  
  • $675 million for State pension plans ($400 million in losses to CalPERS and $275 million to the State Teachers Retirement System).

The legislation has been endorsed by the League of California Cities.

Requiring Transparency of Firms Receiving Taxpayer Assistance:

The Troubled Asset Recovery Program Transparency Reporting Act, co-authored by Senators Feinstein, Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Joseph Lieberman (I-Ct.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) would ban companies receiving funds from the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) from using that money to lobby Congress, make political contributions, or pay for lavish or unnecessary expenses.  The increased accountability standards would also apply to companies that receive emergency loans from the Federal Reserve.

“The absence of transparency regarding the use of $350 billion in bailout funds by the firms participating in Treasury’s rescue program is unacceptable,” said Senator Feinstein. “At present, we don’t know whether these companies are using these funds to fly on private jets, attend lavish conferences or lobby Congress. This bill puts clear restrictions on how funds can be used and mandates public reporting requirements to allow taxpayers to find out how their money is being spent. I believe we need to pass it quickly and make it the law of the land.”

Specifically the legislation:

  • Prohibits firms receiving economic assistance from Treasury or emergency loans from the Federal Reserve from using such funds for lobbying expenditures or political contributions;
  • Requires that firms receiving assistance provide detailed, publically available quarterly reports to Treasury outlining how federal funds have been used;
  • Establishes corporate governance standards to ensure that firms receiving federal assistance do not waste money on unnecessary expenditures; and
  • Creates penalties of at least $100,000 per violation for firms that fail to meet the corporate governance standards established in the bill. 

The legislation has garnered the support of nearly 80 taxpayer advocacy and good government organizations, including the Center for Responsible Lending, the National Taxpayers Union, Common Cause, Citizens Against Government Waste, Public Citizen, OMB Watch, and the Center for Fiscal Accountability.  This legislation was previously introduced by Senators Feinstein, Snowe and Lieberman in the 110th Congress.

Banning the Sale of Inaugural Tickets:

Senator Feinstein has introduced legislation to prohibit the sale and counterfeiting of inaugural tickets. The bill would make it unlawful to sell or attempt to sell tickets to the presidential inaugural swearing-in ceremony. It also would be illegal to create a fraudulent ticket or forge a ticket to the inauguration. Those who violate the law would face fines of up to $100,000 and imprisonment up to one year.

“Tickets to the inauguration of the next President of the United States are not issues of commerce, they are free tickets to be given to the people,” Senator Feinstein said. “It is my hope that the House and Senate take up and quickly pass this legislation so that we can stop scam artists and profiteers from tarnishing this important event. We must ensure that the inauguration is granted all of the respect and dignity it deserves.”

Bill Highlights:

  • Prohibits knowingly and intentionally selling, facilitating the sale of, or transferring for a profit tickets to a Presidential inaugural ceremony;
  • Prohibits forging, counterfeiting, or falsely altering a ticket to a Presidential inaugural ceremony. 
  • Prohibits individuals from using, possessing, or exhibiting a ticket to a Presidential inaugural ceremony that they know if forged, counterfeited or falsely altered. 
  • Violators face fines of up to $100,000 and up to a year in jail. 
  • Exempts Presidential Inaugural Committees: These committees are traditionally used by both parties to organize and fund the public inaugural ceremonies. Donations made in return for inaugural tickets have long been used to fund inaugural festivities.

A similar bill was introduced by Senator Feinstein in the 110th Congress.

Combating Gang Violence:
 
Senator Feinstein, along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), today reintroduced a comprehensive bill – called the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act -- that would provide more than $1 billion in funding for gang enforcement, prevention and intervention programs over five years. It also would establish new crimes and tougher federal penalties to deter and punish members of illegal street gangs.

“Gang violence continues to plague our nation’s cities, suburbs and rural areas. The FBI estimates there are more than 1 million gang members nationwide. More than 20 percent of the homicides in California in 2007 were gang-related,” Senator Feinstein said. 

“This bill provides a balanced approach. It offers sensible federal penalties. It also addresses the root causes of gang violence by identifying and investing in successful community programs to prevent young people from joining gangs in the first place.”

 “We first introduced comprehensive gang legislation more than 10 years ago. It has passed the Senate but we’ve never been able to get this bill through the House of Representatives. Congress needs to act now and lend this much-needed and long-awaited assistance to local and state agencies battling gang violence.”

Bill Highlights:

  • Authorizes $1 billion over five years in a coordinated, balanced approach combining federal, state and local law enforcement efforts, expanded witness protection and services geared toward gang prevention;
  • Sets aside at least $411.5 million in funding for gang prevention and intervention by schools and civic groups focused on at-risk youth;
  • Increases funding for the Justice Department, prosecutors, FBI agents and others to increase investigations and prosecutions of gangs and other violent offenders;
  • Creates a new federal crime for the recruitment of criminal street gang members, with extra punishments for recruiting of minors, or recruiting from inside prison.

This legislation was previously introduced by Senator Feinstein and others in the 110th Congress.

Restoring the San Joaquin River:
 
Senators Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) today reintroduced a consensus measure to authorize and fund the historic San Joaquin River restoration settlement, which requires federal implementing legislation to become fully effective. 
 
“This legislation will authorize and help fund a settlement that restores California’s second longest river, while maintaining a stable water supply for the farmers who have made the San Joaquin Valley the richest agricultural area in the world,” Senator Feinstein said.  “We now have a bill that is agreed to by the Settling Parties and also by the third party affected water districts.  It is extremely important to all of the parties, and to the State of California, that this legislation be approved as quickly as possible – it is the only way to prevent a return to years of contentious court battles.”
 
California’s two Senators originally introduced the measure late in 2006 and then again in 2007, each time with broad bipartisan support.  Funding challenges posed by the congressional PAYGO rules required further revisions to the bill, which passed the Senate Energy Committee last May.  Finally, this fall, the parties to the settlement and affected third parties, such as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, agreed to certain additional changes to the implementing legislation, which is strongly supported by the Bush Administration and California’s Governor Schwarzenegger.
 
The legislation introduced today reflects an agreement reached in November 2008 to ensure that the implementing legislation is PAYGO neutral, which means that the restoration program allocates no more federal funds than it brings in. The agreement also explicitly protects the water rights of third parties and enhances implementation of the settlement’s “Water Management Goal” to reduce or avoid adverse water supply impacts to Friant Division long-term water contractors. 
 
The legislation limits direct spending on settlement implementation to $88 million during the first 10 years.  Together with $200 million committed by the State of California and other highly reliable funding, including pre-existing fees paid by water users, there is at least $380-390 million available for implementing the Settlement over the next 10 years, with additional dollars possible from additional federal appropriations.   After 2019, substantial additional funding will become directly available to continue implementing the settlement. 
 
The settling parties include the Friant Water Users Authority and a coalition of environment organizations led by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Negotiators for the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies participated fully in these negotiations.  The third parties include the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority, Westlands Water District and other San Joaquin Valley water agencies on the San Joaquin River and its tributaries.
 
Informing Consumers of Credit Risks:

Senator Feinstein today introduced legislation requiring credit card companies to warn American consumers of the financial dangers of making only minimum monthly payments on credit card debt.

“Most people would be surprised to know how much interest can pile up when paying the minimum monthly payment on their credit cards,” Senator Feinstein said. “This legislation is intended to ensure that consumers get the information they need – every month – to make intelligent financial decisions.”

The Credit Card Minimum Payment Notification Act would require credit card companies to:

  • Warn consumers that making only the minimum payment each month will increase the interest paid and the time needed to repay the debt; and
  • Provide an individualized notice to consumers that specifies clearly on their bill how much time it will take to repay their debt and the total amount they will pay if they only make the minimum payments.

Senator Feinstein previously introduced this legislation during the 110th Congress.

Protecting individuals from identity theft:

Senator Feinstein introduced two additional bills aimed at protecting consumers. One requires businesses to notify consumers in the event of a security breach. The other bill, which is cosponsored by Senators Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), prohibits the sale or display of an individual’s Social Security number without his or her consent.

“Victims of security breaches have the right to be informed promptly when their personal or financial information has been compromised so that they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves,” Senator Feinstein said. “Without that knowledge, consumers are left defenseless to identity thieves.”

“We also must ensure that government agencies and businesses do their utmost to protect Americans’ Social Security numbers,” Senator Feinstein added.

  • The Data Breach Notification Act would:
    • Require a federal agency or business entity to notify an individual of a security breach involving personal data without unreasonable delay;
    • Require notice to the Secret Service if records of more than 10,000 individuals are obtained or if the database breached contains more than 1 million entries, is owned by the federal government, or involves national security or law enforcement.
  • The Protecting the Privacy of Social Security Numbers Act (cosponsored by Senators Gregg and Snowe) would:
    • Prohibit federal, state and local governments from displaying Social Security numbers on public records posted on the Internet or from printing them on government checks;
    • Prevent inmates from employment that would give them access to Social Security numbers of other individuals;
    • Provide limits on when businesses can ask customers for their Social Security numbers.

Senator Feinstein had introduced similar legislation during the 110th Congress.

Establishing a Fund to Clean Up Hazardous Abandoned Mines:

Senator Feinstein today introduced a measure to establish a dedicated, permanent funding source to clean up abandoned gold and silver mines, which pose a threat to public safety and public health.

“The history of American mining is tarnished by the legacy of hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines – and these abandoned gold and silver mines pose a real threat to public health and public safety,” Senator Feinstein said. “The scope of the problem is enormous. There are as many as 500,000 abandoned mines strewn across the western states – 47,000 alone are found in California. And yet little is being done to clean up these hazardous mines. Congress needs to move swiftly to address this issue before more damage is done.”

Specifically, the “Abandoned Mines Reclamation Act of 2009,” reforms the 1872 Mining Law in the following ways:

  • Creates an Abandoned Mine Cleanup Fund. The fund will be used to clean up and restore land and water resources adversely affected by past hardrock mining activities.
  • Establishes spending priorities for the cleanup fund, based on the severity of the risk to public health, public safety, and the impact on natural resources. 
  • Directs the Secretary of Interior to create an inventory of abandoned mines on all Federal, State, tribal, local and private land.
  • Establishes three sources of revenue for the Abandoned Mine Cleanup Fund:
  1. Reclamation fee: Creates a 0.3 percent reclamation fee on all hardrock mineral mining, including mining on Federal, State, tribal, local and private lands. This reclamation fee is modeled after the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, which established a fee to finance restoration of land abandoned or inadequately restored by coal mining companies. This fund has raised billions of dollars for coal mine reclamation.
  2. Royalty payments: Requires mining companies that extract minerals from Federal land to pay a royalty – 4 percent gross royalty on existing operations and an 8 percent gross royalty on new mining operations. 
  3. Increased maintenance fees: Increases hardrock mining fees that are already in place, such as the maintenance fee and the transfer fee. BLM reports that approximately 67,000 mining claims have changed hands over the last few years.  The charge for transferring mining claims is currently $10 at the same time gold prices are near record levels of $900 an ounce. This bill will increase that fee to $100.

Senator Feinstein previously introduced this legislation during the 110th Congress.

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