July 19, 2013




The U.S. House on Thursday began considering the Student Success Act, H.R. 5 sponsored by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. The bill would rewrite the nation's 12-year-old national education law and return control of schools to local parents and school boards. The current law known as No Child Left Behind, which contains 'Adequate Yearly Progress' measures that were difficult to understand, does not allow innovation. It also limits states and school districts and some say that standardized No Child Left Behind regulations do not allow teachers to be creative.


According to the House Education and Workforce Committee chaired by Kline, "The Student Success Act will restore local control, reduce the federal footprint in the nation's classrooms, support more effective teachers, and empower parents." Among its features, Kline's bill would allow parents to enroll their children in local magnet schools and charter schools to increase parental involvement.


The Business Council of Alabama supports innovation in education including legislation to allow public charter schools in Alabama and increased flexibility from state mandates for traditional public schools. U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said she supports the Student Success Act because it will allow more effective teaching by limiting the federal government's role in local education. She said parents are frustrated by rules and red tape and need relief from rigid rules. "Politicians have tried for decades to fix our schools with a 'Washington-knows-best approach'," Roby said. "But this top-down scheme hasn't improved student achievement, and our schools are bogged down in more federal mandates and red tape than ever before." Roby also spoke out in support of high academic standards. "I believe we should have the highest standards for our schools. As a mother of a child in public school, I'm glad my state of Alabama has made an effort to raise its standards in recent years."  



Alabama's seven members of Congress cast votes along party lines Wednesday in the U.S. House to delay parts of the President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The state's six Republicans voted with the majority to extend the business mandate deadline that would have taken effect Jan. 1, a deadline that Obama already said he would delay. The state's sole Democrat in the U.S. House, Rep. Terri Sewell of Birmingham, voted against delaying the deadline. The vote to delay the employer mandate was 264-161. The second vote of 251-174 was to delay the health insurance individual mandate from Jan. 1 to Jan. 1, 2015.


Generally the votes followed party lines but 35 Democrats voted to postpone the employer requirement and 22 voted to delay the individual mandate. Voting was largely symbolic because the U.S. Senate is dominated by Democrats who are unlikely to go along with the House and because Obama said he would veto any attempt to change the deadlines. The House has now voted more than three dozen times to repeal or delay the CCA but to no avail. Curiously, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed into law and signed by Obama in 2010 did not give him the authority to arbitrarily extend deadlines set by the law.


Obama said he would delay the employer mandate because businesses said they were not ready to meet the requirements. Some observers said the postponement was over the political concern that Obamacare as the new health law is called would hurt Democrats in the November 2014 elections.



Alabama is one of a dozen states involved in a federal lawsuit filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking documents that could prove the agency's cozy legal relationship with anti-business environmental groups. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange joined Republican attorneys general for 11 other states suing over whether the EPA is in cahoots with groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club that use "sue and settle" tactics. The tactic occurs when an organization files a lawsuit against a federal agency over environmental rules and the agency capitulates as a way to impose regulations without a state's input.


Industry and some Republicans allege that the EPA acts in concert with green groups. Environmental groups maintain that the lawsuits are designed to hold regulators to their rule commitments, The Hill said. "EPA has no input or control over what parties sue the agency or what issues they focus on," EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said. "Furthermore, an outside entity cannot compel EPA to take an action that it was not already required to take by law."


States pointed to instances in which the EPA filed consent decrees setting regulations in motion on the same day lawsuits were filed. The EPA previously denied the states a Freedom of Information Act request, and also rejected a request for a fee waiver, The Hill reported. The lawsuit was filed in Oklahoma federal court by Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Wyoming, and Texas.


U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the lawsuit alleges that the EPA is biased. "Looking at FOIA fee waivers, it's clear that EPA favors far-left environmentalist groups over conservative think tanks, but today's lawsuit is just another example demonstrating EPA's discrimination extends toward States, as well," he said in a statement.


Senate confirms Perez as Labor secretary      

The Hill (Cox 7/18) "The Senate on Thursday voted 54-46 to confirm Tom Perez as secretary of Labor.


It was a party-line vote, with no Republicans supporting President Obama's nominee. Several GOP senators have charged that Perez had engaged in 'ethically questionable' actions while heading the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice. Republicans agreed to hold an up-or-down vote on the nomination as part of a deal to avoid the 'nuclear option' to end filibusters, but they made clear their strong disapproval of Perez on Thursday.


"Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused the new Labor secretary of making 'misleading' statements to Congress as an inspector general during his service in the administration. 'Tom Perez is more than just some left-wing ideologue, he's a left-wing ideologue who appears perfectly willing to bend the rules to achieve his ends,' McConnell said.


"Democrats defended Perez and hailed the end of the months-long Senate battle over his confirmation. 'Filling the position of Labor secretary couldn't be more important,' Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said ahead of the vote. 'The president has nominated someone who will bring passion, integrity and a lifetime of experience to this important position."


(Editor's Note: Alabama's Republican U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, voted against Perez's nomination.)

Senate confirms McCarthy as EPA administrator        

The Hill (Cox, Geman 7/18) "The Senate voted 59-40 on Thursday to confirm the controversial nomination of Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). McCarthy will formally take the reins at EPA at a time when the Obama administration is stepping up work on controversial greenhouse gas regulations. The agency is crafting emissions rules for new power plants.


"McCarthy will also oversee development of a more far-reaching plan: Carbon rules of the nation's existing power plants, which create about a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, largely from burning coal. As a result of the proposed regulations, some Republicans said they wouldn't support McCarthy, who is currently the agency's top air quality regulator.


"Democrats pointed out that McCarthy's work on air quality has saved lives and that she is a bipartisan choice because she (formally) worked for then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.). She was Romney's under-secretary of policy at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, and deputy secretary of operations for the cross-cutting Office for Commonwealth Development that Romney created, work that included development of policies on smart growth and climate change. Republicans agreed to hold an up-or-down vote on her nomination as part of a deal to avoid Senate rule changes limiting the minority's right to filibuster executive branch nominees."


(Editor's Note: Alabama's Republican U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, voted against McCarthy's nomination)


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