Tag: Law

Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (H.R 1865)

Fighting sex trafficking is not a new endeavor. In the world’s dark history of slavery, sex trafficking has always been there.. As a nation, we have laws and penalties in place to prevent and punish such behavior but they are by no means foolproof. Enter into the law books, H.R. 1865, which will help close a glaring gap between old legislation and the fast-paced technological world we live in.

Way back in 1934, a law was passed in an attempt to protect mass media forms so they could flourish. For instance, a radio station couldn’t be held liable if they played a commercial that contained false advertising or if the product harmed others. From an industry standpoint, this makes perfect sense: media are in the business of spreading information, entertainment, etc. They are not in the business of verifying the products and services that pay them for advertising. In 1996, the Communications Act was amended to include websites so that they were also protected from liability for content that they published but was not actually created by them. As you can imagine, this protection was never meant to shield websites from publishing content which thereby facilitated in sex trafficking. And since you are legally responsible if you allow or facilitate underage-drinking in your home, no matter who supplied the alcohol, certainly we should hold websites liable for publishing content which facilitates criminal behavior. It’s just common sense.

H.R. 1865 will work to fix the current loophole by:

  1. Imposing a fine or up to 10 years in prison, or both
  2. For instances where 5 or more victims are involved and “reckless disregard” is shown, the prison term may be up to 25 years.
  3. Victims may be able to sue for damages and attorney fees in a U.S. district court
  4. Restitution will be ordered by the court when 5 or more victims are involved and this will be in addition to civil or criminal penalties.

As much as I hate to write it, there is a section which allows for an approved defense that the promotion or facilitation of sex trafficking is legal where it occurred. It makes me sick to my stomach that it’s legal ANYWHERE but that’s the globally connected world we live in.

This law is not meant to limit any charges brought under State law and the amendments will be apply to all violations of the law no matter if they happened before or after the enactment of this law. State Attorneys General also have the authority to bring civil action against violators of this law if they believe it has negatively affected the residents of their State.

In order to measure the success of this law, a report will be published 3 years after the law in enacted. This report will detail civil actions in which damages were awarded, actions in which damages were not awarded, all restitution ordered by the Court, and details regarding the status of every entity convicted of violating this law and whether or not they were ordered to pay restitution.

While this legislation is in regards to sex trafficking, not all human trafficking involves the sex trade. See below for possible indicators of trafficking victims. Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline1-888-373-7888 to report a tip or ask questions. Information is also available on state.gov.

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Service-Connected Veteran Disability Pay Increase

H.R. 1329, also known as: “Veteran’s Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2017” finally enacts what you would expect would happen… Veterans with service-connected disability will see an increase in their compensation payments for the purpose of offsetting inflation.  You can think of inflation as simply what happens when you blink and your regular $3.00 gallon of milk is suddenly $3.06. Six cents may not seem like a lot but when you consider the amount of goods purchased by each household, it will certainly add up over time. Your grandma wasn’t kidding when she said a dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to.

Nevertheless, this newly-enacted law requires that VA disability compensation increase by the same percentage each year as the Social Security old age and disability compensation increases. This rate increase not only affects the basic service-connected compensation, but also benefits for clothing allowance (if a Veteran’s prosthesis/medical device causes unusual wear and tear of clothing), and benefits for surviving spouses and children.  For 2018, the increase is 2% which is literally $2 for every $100 in compensation. Again, that may not seem like much but after hearing, reading, and witnessing the struggle of many Veterans and their surviving spouses and children, I can’t help but rejoice in those extra few dollars each month.

It is important to note that the rate of increase will not be the same each year. The 2% increase for this coming year is the highest in five years but also a far cry from the 14.3% cost-of-living adjustment in 1980. The Congressional Budget Office submitted their report on the cost of this bill in May 2017. Their estimate included a 2.5% increase, so adjusting for the lesser, actual increase, the cost of this bill will approximately in $1.44 billion in 2018. Inflation sucks (most of the time).

The Four Types of Legislation

Legislation is not only comprised of lengthy, confusing language, it is graced with titles and official classifications that can be just as confusing. There is rhyme and reason on the abbreviations and numbers to legislation, however. It actually gives the designation of the type and numerical order of introduction to a chamber of Congress.

The first type of legislation is the one that we most often think of, the bill. I bet that as soon as you read that, you got at least a flash of the Schoolhouse Rock video about Bill on Capitol Hill. Ahh, nostalgia. Perhaps that video is why we really only think of bills but it could also be because they have a wide variety of uses. They can create new laws, amend an existing one, or even nix one that is already on the books. Bills can be introduced in either house of Congress but must be passed by both in order to move on to be signed (hopefully) by the President. Bills can also be public or private. Public bills apply to everyone in the United States. Private bills only pertain to a group, person, or business. Bills are denoted by an “H.R.”  or an “S.” before the number.

Bill Title

The next three types of proposed legislation are resolutions but they are obviously all a little different. I pretty much have a hate relationship with most resolutions, but that is another post entirely.

First, you have the “Simple Resolution.” It is denoted as in the picture above but the abbreviations are “H. Res.” or “S. Res.” They essentially just express an opinion or sentiment of the House of Representatives or the Senate. The other chamber does not have to approve the simple resolution.

On the rare occasion that both chambers of Congress agree on an opinion, we will see the “Concurrent Resolution” which carries “H. Con. Res.” or “S. Con. Res” before the number.

Finally, the fourth type of legislation is a “Joint Resolution” and is denoted by “H. J. Res.” or “S. J. Res” depending on which chamber introduced the resolution. This type of resolution is similar to a bill because it will be passed by both chambers and signed into law by the President. The only exception is when it is used to propose a constitutional amendment and then each chamber must pass it with at least a two-thirds vote with no need to be signed by the President. Joint resolutions can also be used to allocate money for specific types of spending, appoint persons to certain positions, or even to disapprove rules that have been submitted by government agencies.

Knowing the differences between the four types of legislation may not seem important, but it is for anyone who wishes to understand what is being attempted and accomplished in Congress. On a side note, I mainly refer to Congress.gov for research on current legislative activity and I encourage you to browse the site as well if you find the time.

Senators Get Paid To Throw A Tantrum

In my daughter’s six years on this earth, she has thrown exactly two tantrums that I would consider EPIC. Strangely enough, they both occurred at the same restaurant as we were leaving. The first included a lot of screaming and the second including less screaming but a complete refusal to sit in her car seat so I could buckle her in. She arched her little body outward and it was tense like a rock! Fearing that I would hurt her if I forced her down, my husband and I were held hostage in the car for 45 mins while she screamed about the unfairness of a toddler’s life. It was loud, it was frustrating, and we just wanted to go home. It was that day that I declared a war on tantrums.

That war now extends beyond the reach of my family, I am talking about the tantrums thrown by United States Senators: grown men and women who give speeches so long that it makes me wonder if they wear adult diapers. Seriously, who talks for a dozen or more hours without a bathroom break!?! The purpose isn’t really even to convince other Senators to feel one way or the other about what is being voted on. The purpose is to keep the vote from happening. Do you see the similarity there? A toddler is just as capable of filibustering as a grown politician. My Mini had no other purpose in her tantrum than to keep us from leaving. She gained nothing unless she could outlast us. Thankfully, toddlers sleep more than politicians. One Senator’s filibuster can last up to 30 hours if they can last that long.

Is this what we want our elected officials doing? Do we want them to be sharing recipes, reading Shakespeare, singing, and rambling just because they want their way? Sure, there can be another vote to the end the filibuster, but that vote can be filibustered too. If our Senators cared about the American Taxpayer, then they wouldn’t spend time yammering on (or threatening it) just to see if they can get other people to leave and avoid a vote. Sometimes these Senate tantrums work and sometimes they don’t, but from this mom’s point of view, they are always a waste. Please locate your Senator’s contact information and let them know that you don’t get paid for speaking off-topic for hours on end and neither do they. Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever you are, you deserve more respect from the people on Capitol Hill.

What Is Your Computer Saying About You?

Clearly our computers and phones don’t speak (well, unless you count Siri, Cortana, and the like) but they do say an awful lot about us when we don’t even realize it. Have you ever gone through your browser history and deleted it because you didn’t want anyone to know what you were looking for? I have and I would be willing to bet you are in the same boat. I’m not saying anything immoral or criminal is going on but we don’t want others to accidentally see that we search for baby-making tips or a questionable rash when and if they borrow any of our devices.

The truth is, no matter how many times we delete our history, we have left digital footprints that we can’t erase. Cable and internet providers track what we do, even if the websites are encrypted. Granted, they see less when it’s encrypted, but it leaves a faint print anyway. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s helpful for law enforcement and service companies learn more about us which can, over time, help them tailor programming and services to our needs and likes. This can even help discover when someone has hacked into your service! A couple of months ago, my mother-in-law received a warning phone call from her internet provider that someone had illegally downloaded Dolly Parton’s song, 9 to 5. The irony of someone stealing a song about working your butt off is not lost on me. The important part was that she was able to explain that not only does she not have a desktop computer (and especially not the one with the IP address they had recorded) but this let her, and the company, know that she needed to change her passwords because someone was stealing the service she was paying for. Being a law-abiding citizen, this concerned my mother-in-law as to whether or not she would get in further trouble but I am happy to report that she, and Dolly Parton, have not been violated on her internet connection since!

But wait though… if the internet company can see all of that, is it a violation of my mother-in-law’s rights? We are in the information/digital/media/internet age, after all. Most of us are pretty aware that our internet use can be tracked, if for no other reason than you can’t even look for a warehouse-sized container of toilet paper on Amazon without suddenly seeing rolls of white, bears wiping their butts, and women knitting TP all over your screen. We can’t really call our internet use “intellectual property” although I tried REALLY hard to rationalize it so we could say it was protected by law. It could be argued that internet service providers (ISPs) have a right to see how their service is being used. If you loaned something to a neighbor, you would want to know where they were going with it and when they will give it back. The same is true for these companies.

That being said, is it okay for companies to sell the information of our hard internet-surfing work? It is a by-product of our own time and can say a lot about us; everything from political opinions to financial information can be gathered. The House and Senate have passed a bill that will revoke a rule passed in the last few months of the Obama administrations which prohibits service providers from selling the information they collect from you. This does NOT apply to Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Bing, etc. Let’s acknowledge that if they can sell our information, it is unfair to keep the service providers from doing it. The rule which will no longer be in effect wasn’t even in effect yet, so I suppose you could say we haven’t gained or lost anything.

I get that we don’t want our information to be used for monetary gain or criminal purposes. ID theft seems just as inevitable as death and taxes these days and we don’t want to make that easier either. Nevertheless, we need to seriously consider how much we are willing to fight for this one small area of information, when much more personal information is being bought and sold. I am much more concerned about my medical information being sold than I am about my internet traffic between Facebook and Congress.gov. (Seriously, my browsing history is uber boring.) When sold, all of this personal data is separated from your personal identifying information. I have had my medical and pay information compromised via government-controlled systems several times since becoming an adult but never have I been notified that any information that had been sold could be tracked back to me and used to steal my identity.

If the concern is that money is being made from our online searching, it might be more profitable to turn that frustration into a movement to reduce the insane prices we pay for these services. I don’t think there is a such thing as a manure farm… but it sure happens a lot and it gets sold too. The manure is just a by-product, but it commands a price and I’m pretty sure farmers who like to sell it are going to be fairly angry if you come and take it. If you are an internet farmer… demand that when they sell info on the crap we search, a reverse fee be paid back to us! It will certainly help offset the fees on the bill that make no sense.

Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act (H.R. 1181)

It’s no secret that the mental health of our Veterans is a hot topic; not only how to manage it, but also the consequences of it. As a Veteran and a caregiver to my Veteran husband who was injured in Iraq, I understand first-hand why it is so important that we study and improve on services for our men and women in the military. That being said, the rights of some Veterans are being taken away because the VA has determined they are “mentally incompetent” to manage their own finances. This determination could be for many different reasons but it results in the appointment of someone to oversee their VA compensation (often a loved one or friend) and the denial to own a firearm. You read that properly. A man or woman who has served our country honorably and fought to keep them safe could potentially lose the right to bear arms, a right afforded to them in the 2nd Amendment.

Enter H.R. 1181, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act. With a vote of 240-175, the bill was passed in the House today. The bill seeks to correct language about gun ownership that is too broad. The U.S. Code which outlines criminal acts, makes owning a gun a crime for anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective.” Under this new bill, if passed, a judge, magistrate, or someone “of judical authority” must determine that a Veteran is a danger to themself or others.

I am not going to slam the VA here. After five years in Army administration, I know how hard it can be to ensure that you are following regulation to the letter of the law (there is rarely room for “spirit of the law”). However, in an attempt to do so, the VA has reported thousands of names of Veterans to the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System which would prevent them from buying a gun. This may not seem like a bad idea, except a Veteran who can’t manage their bills properly are now kept from claiming a right that they, ironically, had to make use of during their service.  Some reports say that 167,000 Veterans are listed because of their inability to manage finances; still others list it at 257,000. Whatever the number, it is unfair to take away such a right under these circumstances. Forgetting that your cable bill is due every month does not equal being a danger to anyone.

I thoroughly support background checks and preventing those who are dangerous from owning a gun. I will add that where there is a will, there is, unfortunately sometimes, a way. We cannot prevent all gun violence, or violence using any weapon, however, laws are an important defense against it. Nevertheless, we have to give our Veterans a fair chance. Just because you are bruised, doesn’t mean you are broken.