This past week I had the pleasure of meeting with several constituent groups and hearing their thoughts on a variety of pieces of legislation.
I also had the privilege of introducing my friend Lieutenant Warren Gosnell on the House floor Wednesday, January 23. Lt. Gosnell was recognized for receiving the Governor’s Transportation Safety Award for Law Enforcement last year. He also saved three lives by administering Narcan to individuals overdosing on opioids in our area and saved a fourth life by performing CPR to an unresponsive driver who suffered a heart attack behind the wheel. Lt. Gosnell is a dedicated officer to our community and honoring him was well deserved!
Here is his introduction on the House floor:
I am proud to say five pieces of legislation I carried were passed unanimously by the House and will now go to the Senate for consideration. The bills were HB2659, HB2464, HB2465, HB1935 and HB1622. HB2301 also passed in the House with little opposition.
Conforming the Tax Code of the Commonwealth to the Federal Tax law is a priority for both chambers of the Legislature. This past Monday, the House Finance Committee passed HB2533 and HB2529. HB2533 will immediately conform Virginia’s tax code to the federal tax code. It will also set aside all increased revenue from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into a special fund to ensure that those monies will be used for Commonwealth taxpayer relief. HB 2529 allows for itemization of state taxes regardless of how they file their federal return and increase the state standard deduction across the board. It is well understood that Commonwealth citizens are unable to file their taxes until the conformity occurs. I continue to support the process to complete this as soon as possible.
Interstate 81 and Tolls
I-81 and tolling is an issue that concerns everyone. There is little question that I-81 needs improvements in order to make the corridor safer. The House did not approve tolling on I-81 at its most recent Transportation Committee meeting. However, it did pass unanimously to create a committee of both Senators and Delegates to determine the best funding sources for Interstate 81.
Hands Free Driving Bill
HB1811, my Hands Free Driving Bill continues to gain momentum and support. On Thursday, January 31 I joined families and loved ones who have been affected by distracted driving incidents at a press conference. Their tearful stories should serve as a warning to drivers who use smart phones and mobile devices while behind the wheel. The Washington Post covered the event and the full article can be found here.
In summary, I encourage you to keep in touch with me and my office over the coming months. I value the feedback you provide on a continual basis as it helps me do a better job of representing you. You can email me at email@example.com or call my office in Richmond at (804) 698-1029.
I will provide you with weekly email updates during the 2019 General Assembly Session and will schedule my Coffee with Chris events after Session to report on important topics and take questions.
Thank you for your support and I look forward to serving you in 2019.
Sixth District Perspectives by Congressman Ben Cline: July 15, 2019
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 killed nearly 3,000 Americans in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. In addition, thousands of patriots gave their all in the effort to save lives, recover victims, and remove the debris of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93. At the time, first responders, construction crews, and residents around the World Trade Center were told by representatives from the Federal Government their air was clean to breathe. As we now know, the Government was wrong. The air in Lower Manhattan was toxic and has resulted in numerous illnesses that are prematurely taking the lives of first responders.
That is why I was honored to co-sponsor the permanent reauthorization of the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, which passed the House of Representatives on Friday. This bipartisan legislation provides funding to cover the costs of health care for individuals whose illnesses are tied to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Too many heroes have died because of the attacks and countless others of associated illnesses. Supporting this bill was the right thing to do, and I am proud to stand with the men and women who will benefit from permanent reauthorization of this program.
As the House of Representatives came together in bipartisan fashion to support legislation for our 9/11 heroes, I wish the same could have been said of legislation for our military. Unfortunately, the Democratic version of the National Defense Authorization Act brought to the floor this week was not the traditionally bipartisan bill that authorizes programs for our military. The bill that the Democrats brought to the floor this week fails to provide necessary levels of funding to ensure military readiness to deal with threats around the globe. Additionally, the measure cuts funding for key defense initiatives which are critical and necessary in our ability to deter advisories like Russia and China. This bill would slash funding for our military’s modernization efforts at time when Moscow is actively working to build its nuclear stockpile, and China is likely to double its own stockpile in the next decade.
Unlike the Senate version of the NDAA, which passed in bipartisan fashion by a vote of 88-8, the House version of the NDAA was a partisan bill that includes a backdoor provision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Additionally, it would block President Trump’s efforts to alleviate the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. I voted no on this bill for many reasons, but primarily because I believe we must provide our military men and women with the tools necessary to win on the battlefield and prevent conflict with our adversaries. It is my hope we will eventually take up a bipartisan version of this important bill so it can go to the President’s desk for his signature.
We also saw the continuation of House Democrats’ efforts to impeach the President. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been subpoenaed to testify in front of the Judiciary Committee, and as a member of the Committee, I am looking forward to asking him questions about his investigation and some of the decisions that were made prior to, during, and after his investigation was concluded. Unfortunately, in another example of the ineptitude of the House majority, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler informed members last week that only the 11 most senior committee members from each side would be able to question former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The portion of our time that would have been used by less senior members of the Committee would instead be given to the House Intelligence Committee. However, after Judiciary Committee members from both sides of the aisle expressed concerns about this arrangement, Chairman Nadler reversed course and will now allow all members of the Judiciary Committee to question Mueller when he appears on July 24.
Last week, dozens of constituents from across Augusta County discussed the Mueller Report and much more Tuesday at another town hall meeting, this time in Stuarts Draft. I have enjoyed the opportunity to engage with constituents across the Sixth District and discuss the issues facing our nation. Last week’s town hall gave me the opportunity to hear Augusta County residents’ views on immigration, transportation, education, and much more. I take these perspectives to Washington with me and consider them as I introduce legislation, work in committee, and vote on the floor. I look forward to hearing from you and will announce more town halls soon. Please continue to watch the “Events” page on my website at cline.house.gov/about/events to find a town hall or staff mobile office hour near you.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline: July 6, 2019
After a busy June in Washington, I was grateful to spend this past week traveling the Sixth District and meeting with constituents in every corner of the Shenandoah Valley. Fortunately, this week was filled less with politics and more with picnics as families celebrated Independence Day with friends and loved ones. While the Fourth of July is a time for fireworks, barbecues, and parades, it is also a time to remember the origins of this great country.
On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia and voted to officially sever ties with Great Britain. Pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, 56 brave men proclaimed to the world the sovereignty of the Thirteen Colonies. This statement has since become known as the Declaration of Independence, and its words are at the very core of the American Ideal.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I strive every day to uphold these values as your representative in Congress. I fight to ensure that the American Dream is never out of reach for any citizen in this country and that regardless of status, I will always work to preserve liberty, opportunity, and equality. It is important to take a moment this Independence Day weekend and remember that rather than Republicans or Democrats, on this day we are all Americans first.
Should you and your family wish to visit the National Archives to view the Declaration of Independence and other documents relating to American history, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington office. My staff is happy to assist in arranging tours of not only of the National Archives, but of the Capitol Building and White House as well. To request tours, please visit my website at cline.house.gov.
Augusta County Town Hall
I invite residents of Augusta County to a town hall event this coming Tuesday. This is an opportunity to engage on important issues in the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia, so I can take your views back to Washington. This is my second gathering in the area, having previously held a listening session with the residents of the City of Staunton in December.
The Augusta County town hall will take place Tuesday, July 9, 2019, from 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. at VFW Post 9339, 3251 Stuarts Draft Hwy, Stuarts Draft, VA 24477. Register on Eventbrite by clicking here.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If you have comments on legislation moving through the House, you may leave your comments with my Washington office by calling (202) 225-5431. If you need assistance with a federal agency, my district office may be reached at (540) 857-2672.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline: June 28, 2019
The crisis at the southern border is real and getting worse. Illegal immigration, asylum requests, and apprehension rates have reached staggering levels not seen in a decade or more. In May FY 2019 (the most recent month data was available), U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 132,887 apprehensions at the southern border. That is an increase of more than 160 percent since October when only 51,008 apprehensions were made.
Perhaps more staggering than the total number of people apprehended is the number of unaccompanied minors who are taken into custody at the southern border. In May FY 2019, 11,507 unaccompanied minors were apprehended compared to only 4,966 in October, an increase of more than 130 percent.
President Donald Trump has identified this problem and called for action. House and Senate Republicans agree with the President. Even former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has said the situation at the border is a crisis. But for months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic Caucus have played politics and refused any attempt at considering bipartisan legislation to improve security at the border and help illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in need of humanitarian aid.
On Wednesday of this week, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation 84-8 which authorizes $4.5 billion to combat the humanitarian crisis along the southern border. While Speaker Pelosi initially refused to consider this legislation in the House, it became clear that the Senate passed bill was the best way to quickly get aid to those most in need and begin taking the important steps necessary to improve security at the border. I was proud to stand with my colleagues to vote for this critical legislation that addresses both the security and humanitarian crises at the border.
In addition to the action regarding the southern border, the House also took up a second “minibus” package. If you remember from the Sixth District Perspective two weeks ago, a minibus is a collection of appropriation bills usually debated and voted on as standalone bills. This week’s minibus dealt with military construction and the VA, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as Agriculture. As stated before, the process for appropriations is broken. The House has not yet passed a budget but is appropriating funds at levels that bust through the spending caps put in place by the Budget Control Act. This minibus package overspends by roughly $29.8 billion above FY19 levels and would raise discretionary spending by $350 billion in FY20 and FY21.
Overspending is a detriment to all Americans. The increased debt will be passed to our children and could damage economic growth. And for what? This particular spending package prioritizes spending money on items such as paying for lawyers for illegal aliens who cross the border and preventing the Department of Housing and Urban Development from finalizing a rule to require immigration status verification in order to access public housing benefits. The measure would also omit long-standing 2nd Amendment protections previously supported on a bipartisan basis. The bill is a wish list of liberal spending priorities that should not become law. It is my hope that Leader McConnell stands with House Republicans who have voted against these measures and blocks it from passing the Senate.
Busy as it was, the week was not all about legislation. This week also brought the opportunity to meet with the newest citizens of the United States on Friday at a ceremony in Roanoke. I have attended several of these events across the Sixth District since January and I am always moved by the stories shared by my fellow Americans. The journey to immigrate legally and the process of earning citizenship is not easy, but I encouraged everyone to enjoy their new freedoms, including the right to vote and run for office. It is important to make your voice heard and there is no better way to get involved than to be a part of the process.
I want to hear from you. If you have a thought about legislation moving through Congress, please call my Washington office at (202) 225-5431. If you need assistance with a federal agency, please call my Roanoke office at (540) 857-2672.
Warner & Kaine request funding for I-81 upgrades
WASHINGTON – On June 24th, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) requested additional funding for vital improvements to Interstate 81 (I-81) that would enhance safety and reduce traffic congestion.
In a pair of letters to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Senators emphasized I-81’s crucial role in commerce along the East Coast and stressed the need for federal dollars to tackle necessary repairs to the highway. The Senators also encouraged DOT to approve an application from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for federal grant funding to improve I-81, reduce congestion, and address safety problems along the route.
“While improvements have been made in past years to keep up with the growth, I-81 continues to experience heavy congestion and dangerous conditions, which have degraded the corridor,” the Senators wrote in the letter of support to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao. “The proposal put forth by VDOT will undoubtedly transform and improve the lives of many Virginians who travel the interstate every day. Furthermore, upgrades and repairs will improve the safety of those traveling through the Commonwealth.”
The Senators also encouraged the leaders of the EPW Committee to include robust funding for high-priority interstate improvement projects such as I-81 in the next surface transportation bill.
“As you continue to draft the surface transportation reauthorization bill, we urge you to include as much funding as possible for major, high priority interstate improvements projects such as I-81 in Virginia,” the Senators wrote to the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Robust funding through formula programs, as well as additional competitive grant programs like BUILD and INFRA, will be necessary to achieve funding goals for this, and other major projects that involve improvements to hundreds of miles of major interstate arteries.”
More than one-third of all trucks that drive through Virginia and approximately half of the Commonwealth’s value of goods are transported along I-81. In the last decade, I-81 has experienced significant traffic growth, with travel expected to continue increasing along the interstate. Increased I-81 traffic causes severe travel delays and puts travelers at risk, including the drivers involved in the more than 2,000 crashes that happen annually along the route.
A recent study by VDOT that found an unmet need of about $4 billion in improvements along the interstate – only half of which is expected to be covered by the increased truck registration fees and gas tax increases approved by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.
Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates of robust financing for the Commonwealth’s infrastructure. In May, the Senators introduced legislation to provide critical safety reforms and strengthen oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Additionally, earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, create jobs, and generate economic stimulus.
Warner & Hawley introduce bill to force social media companies to disclose how they are monetizing user data
WASHINGTON – On June 25th, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act, bipartisan legislation that will require data harvesting companies such as social media platforms to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers, and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit.
“For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user. But that’s not true – you are paying with your data instead of your wallet,” said Sen. Warner. “But the overall lack of transparency and disclosure in this market have made it impossible for users to know what they’re giving up, who else their data is being shared with, or what it’s worth to the platform. Our bipartisan bill will allow consumers to understand the true value of the data they are providing to the platforms, which will encourage competition and allow antitrust enforcers to identify potentially anticompetitive practices.”
“When a big tech company says its product is free, consumers are the ones being sold. These ‘free’ products track everything we do so tech companies can sell our information to the highest bidder and use it to target us with creepy ads,” said Sen. Hawley. “Even worse, tech companies do their best to hide how much consumer data is worth and to whom it is sold. This bipartisan legislation gives consumers control of their data and will show them how much these ‘free’ services actually cost.”
As user data increasingly represents one of the most valuable, albeit intangible, assets held by technology firms, shining light on how this data is collected, retained, monetized, and protected, is critical. The DASHBOARD Act will:
• Require commercial data operators (defined as services with over 100 million monthly active users) to disclose types of data collected as well as regularly provide their users with an assessment of the value of that data.
• Require commercial data operators to file an annual report on the aggregate value of user data they’ve collected, as well as contracts with third parties involving data collection.
• Require commercial data operators to allow users to delete all, or individual fields, of data collected – and disclose to users all the ways in which their data is being used. including any uses not directly related to the online service for which the data was originally collected.
• Empower the SEC to develop methodologies for calculating data value, while encouraging the agency to facilitate flexibility to enable businesses to adopt methodologies that reflect the different uses, sectors, and business models.
The DASHBOARD Act is the second tech-focused bill Hawley and Warner have partnered on. The first was Hawley’s Do Not Track Act, which would be modeled after the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “Do Not Call” list and allow users to opt out of non-essential data collection.
Roanoke student named Congressional Art Competition Winner
WASHINGTON – Congressman Ben Cline is proud to announce Midora Firebaugh of Roanoke as the winner of the Sixth District’s 2019 Congressional Art Competition. Firebaugh is a rising senior at North Cross School in Roanoke.
On Monday, June 25, Cline welcomed Firebaugh and her parents, Wayne and Lisa, to Washington to view her piece on display.
“I am impressed with Midora’s talent and proud to see her original piece on display in the Capitol,” Cline said. “Competitions like the Congressional Art Competition are a wonderful way to highlight the skills students in the Sixth Congressional District possess. I commend all who entered this year’s competition and look forward to even more entries in 2020 and beyond.”
Firebaugh’s piece entitled “Salt of the Earth” was a charcoal drawing of her grandfather, a Charlotte County tobacco farmer. Her drawing was one of 11 entries submitted to this year’s Sixth District competition. Each House member hosts a similar competition, with all winners on display in the Capitol by alphabetical order of state or territory and numerical order of district.