Iowa lawmakers introduced bills during Sunshine Week to shed more light on government. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Iowa’s legislators marked Sunshine Week, a weeklong celebration of transparency and accountability in government, by introducing bills to enable whistleblowers and shine more light on federal spending and the courts. Legislators also proposed legislation focused on biochar, beagles, biofuels and babies.
Grassley, Warren renew push for increased whistleblower protections
Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren reintroduced a bill that would strengthen protections for whistleblowers at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
“Whistleblowers bring sunshine to the corners of our government and the private sector where waste, fraud and abuse are taking place in the shadows,” Grassley said. “The American people have whistleblowers to thank for recovering billions of valuable taxpayer dollars.”
The SEC Whistleblower Reform Act of 2023 would protect whistleblowers from retaliation if they report violations to a direct superior, according to a press release. Currently, whistleblowers are only protected if they report directly to the SEC or “certain select officials.” The bill would also “ensure that claims and awards are processed in a timely manner” and “clarify that whistleblowers cannot waive their rights through a predispute arbitration agreement.”
Grassley helped create the SEC’s whistleblower program in 2010. The SEC reported receiving a record number of whistleblower tips in Fiscal Year 2022 and has collected billions in fines since the program was established, according to a press release.
Ernst introduces government spending transparency bill
Sen. Joni Ernst reintroduced a bill that would require all projects paid for with taxes to display the costs. The Cost Openness and Spending Transparency (COST) Act also would require the government to “regularly review projects to ensure compliance” and “allow taxpayers to report on projects that are not disclosing the required information,” according to a press release.
“Unexplainable expenditures like these really bug taxpayers, yet they keep popping up because no one really knows where the trillions of dollars being doled out every year by Washington are actually going,” Ernst said.
Grassley, Klobuchar, Durbin push for more sunshine in federal courts
Grassley and Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill that would allow television cameras in federal courtrooms.
The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2023 would give discretion to the presiding judge in all federal courts, including the Supreme Court, to allow cameras in the courtroom “while protecting the identities of witnesses and jurors when necessary or upon request,” according to a news release. The bill would not allow media coverage of private conversations between clients and counsel, between opposing attorneys, and between counsel and the presiding judge. It would automatically be repealed after three years if not extended.
Grassley also joined Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin in introducing the Cameras in the Courtroom Act, which would allow television coverage of all open sessions of the Supreme Court. The court could make an exception if a majority of justices believes television coverage would violate the due process rights of one or more of the parties before the court.
The bill would only apply to open sessions of the Supreme Court, where the public is already welcome to attend. The severe lack of unreserved seats in the chamber dramatically constricts the public’s observation.
“The judicial branch has a massive impact on our daily lives and the lives of generations to come, yet few Americans ever get the chance to see inside the legal process,” Grassley said. “Allowing cameras access to the federal and Supreme Courts would be a victory for transparency and would help the American people grow in confidence and understanding of the judiciary.”
Iowa’s senators, House members introduce bill for year-round E15 fuel availability
Grassley, along with Klobuchar and Republican Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer, reintroduced a bill to expand the market for ethanol. The Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act would permanently allow the year-round, nationwide sale of ethanol blends higher than 10%, which is currently restricted in the summer. It would increase the availability of biofuels like E15, according to a press release.
“E15 eases the cost for American consumers at the pump and is a valuable source of renewable energy. Allowing year-round sales of E15 just makes sense, both financially and environmentally,” Grassley said.
Reps. Randy Feenstra and Ashley Hinson also helped introduce a companion bill in the House with Democratic Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig and Republican Nebraska Rep. Adrian Smith.
“E-15 is a low-cost, low-carbon alternative to standard gasoline that can lower gas prices for Iowa families, support Iowa’s corn growers, and make our country energy independent again,” Feenstra said.
E-10, E-15 and E-85, the most common ethanol blends, are dispensed from the blue and yellow pumps at the typical gas station.
“Expanding access to biofuels will help restore our energy independence and lower costs at the pump, all while supporting Iowa’s ethanol industry and producers,” Hinson said.
Ernst pushes for more Beagle Brigade support
Ernst and Democratic Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock introduced the Beagle Brigade Act this week. The bill aims to provide more support to the canine detection units at airports and ports of entry, made up of primarily beagles, that detect diseases in animals and plants entering the U.S.
The bill “provides backing for the USDA’s National Detector Dog Training Center, where the beagles and other dogs in the unit are trained,” according to a press release.
“Iowa farmers know that viruses like avian influenza and African Swine Fever have the power to devastate our agriculture industry, so we must do everything in our power to keep these diseases out of our farms and fields,” Ernst said. “The Beagle Brigade is a major tool we use to sniff out these harmful diseases before they even enter our country, and this bipartisan bill will help ensure they can continue doing this important work.”
Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Democratic Reps. Sanford Bishop of Georgia and Dan Kildee of Michigan and Republican Reps. Drew Ferguson of Georgia and Adrian Smith of Nebraska.
Ernst leads Senate GOP opposition to DOD abortion policy
Ernst introduced a bill this week that would stop the Pentagon from paying for travel expenses to receive an abortion for service members and their dependents.
The bill would reverse a 2022 Department of Defense memorandum issued after the U.S. SupremeCourt overturned Roe v. Wade and state abortion bans began to take effect.
The bill would “prohibit the use of travel and transportation allowances, medical convalescent leave, and administrative absences to travel to obtain abortions, and for other purposes.”
“The Pentagon should not be mobilized against the unborn,” Ernst said. “The Department of Defense exists to defend life, not destroy it.”
Feenstra introduces bill to create precision ag tech loan program
Feenstra and Democratic California Rep. Jimmy Panetta introduced a bill that would “establish the first-ever federal precision agriculture loan program in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency,” according to a press release.
The Precision Agriculture Loan Program Act (PAL) of 2023 would offer low-interest loans up to $500,000 between 3-12 years and create a list of “acceptable precision agriculture technologies” approved by the Farm Service Agency and covered by the USDA. It would allow farmers to retrofit existing equipment with new technologies.
“Thanks to cutting-edge research at our nation’s top universities like Iowa State and other scientific advancements, precision agriculture technology has become an important component of modern farming,” Feenstra said. “From sustainability efforts to improved yields, precision agriculture simultaneously helps Iowa farmers be profitable and successful, protects our environment, and powers our rural economy.”
Fischer and Klobuchar have introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.
Miller-Meeks introduces companion biochar research legislation
Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, joined by Democratic Reps. Kim Schrier of Washington and Chellie Pingree of Maine, introduced the Biochar Research Network Act in the House as companion legislation to Grassley’s bill introduced in the Senate last week.
Biochar is black carbon produced from biomass sources such as wood chips, plant residues, manure or other agricultural waste products, according to the USDA’s website.
“Our agricultural sector in Iowa is vital to our economy and biochar sits at the intersection of smart agriculture, environment, and energy practices,” Miller-Meeks said. “Biochar has the incredible potential to help sequester carbon in our agriculture communities and we must ensure that we are using every resource at our fingertips to promote this innovative tool.”
The bill would create a National Biochar Research Network to “test biochar’s ability to absorb carbon on a variety of soil types and to increase crop production,” according to a press release.
Miller-Meeks wrote a letter to the USDA and EPA last May discussing biochar and its benefits. The letter asks the departments to “address the rule-making processes that threaten the creation of the developing biochar industry.”
Nunn introduces bill lengthening lobbying ban for former members of Congress
Rep. Zach Nunn introduced a bill in the House this week that would increase the amount of time members of Congress are barred from lobbying after leaving office.
“The bottom line is that Members of Congress should not be going to D.C. to enrich themselves,” Nunn said in a press release. “A longer ban between public service and lobbying will help ensure that Members are always acting in the best interest of their current employer — their constituents — instead of a potential future employer.”
Under the Ban Members from Becoming Lobbyists Act , representatives would be barred for three years and senators would be barred for six. Currently, representatives must wait one year and senators must wait two years.
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