Business & Economy
In Iowa’s Interest: 111th Congress Helped Strengthen Economy, Improve Lives of Working Families PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Sen. Tom Harkin   
Tuesday, 11 January 2011 08:00
By Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA)


As we begin 2011 and welcome the 112th Congress to Washington, it can be easy to focus on all the challenges we face and forget about all the important things we have accomplished in the past two years during the 111th Congress and President Obama’s first years in office.  In fact, this Congress has accomplished more legislatively than any other Congress since the 1960s.  I have been proud to work with others to fight for an unprecedented series of steps to restore the economy and improve the lives of Iowans in common-sense, concrete ways.  

For starters, as many Iowans are all too aware, flood recovery in Eastern Iowa is still ongoing, and will be for some time, but each federal dollar that has been allocated for that effort has been put to good use.  I was proud to play a lead role in securing and directing significant funds for ongoing flood recovery in addition to the bulk of dollars appropriated in 2008.

On the financial front, when the 111th Congress began, the nation was headed toward another Great Depression and to help stop this, we passed the stimulus bill, which helped preserve and create millions of jobs and prevented an economic disaster.  And to prevent a future financial meltdown and to protect consumers from abusive financial products and practices, Congress enacted the most sweeping Wall Street reform bill in decades.  This bill helped put our focus back where it should be - on protecting consumers, instead of vast financial institutions.  The consumer protections included in the bill mean that Iowans can have more confidence in their financial dealings.  There is still much more to be done to turn the economy around, but without these steps our financial situation would be far worse than it is today.

Later, as the recession racked our state budget, Iowa’s public schools faced the prospect of massive layoffs, which would have meant larger class sizes and a great risk to the state of our kids’ education.  The fight to pass the Keep Our Educators Working Act was sometimes a lonely one, but in the end the bill delivered $96 million to Iowa and helped keep thousands of teachers in the classroom.  

We also succeeded in enacting a health reform law that increases access to affordable, quality care.  Because of the bill, more Iowans can see a doctor than could before and children cannot be denied coverage because they have a pre-existing condition.  In addition, young adults can stay on their parents insurance until they are 26, and crucial preventive services such as mammograms and colonoscopies are now provided free of any copay or deductible.  The health reform bill is an important step that finally set us on the path to remaking America as a wellness society – one that focuses on keeping people well instead of patching them up after they get sick.

And I have been proud to be at the center of two critical efforts to improve food policy in this country.  Our long-standing effort to make our food safer and healthier, came to fruition with the passing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the most significant child nutrition reform bill in decades, as well as the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which updates and strengthens our nation’s outdated food safety laws for the first time in nearly a century.

The list of accomplishments over the past two years also includes the Children’s Health Insurance Program, funding for our troops, housing loan modification, the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, supporting national service programs, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a small business lending fund, student loan reform, tobacco regulations and so many more.

Overall, we made great progress towards restoring the economy and improving the lives of Iowans in very real ways.  I am proud of what we accomplished and look forward to working in the 112th Congress with members on both sides of the aisle to do what is best for Iowa, working families and our nation as a whole.

###

 
Wyden, Grassley, McCaskill, Collins Introduce Resolution to End Secret Holds PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Grassley Press   
Thursday, 06 January 2011 08:54
January 5, 2011                                                                       

Washington, D.C. – As the 112th Congress gavels in this afternoon, the bipartisan coalition fighting to end secret holds has introduced a resolution to eliminate the undemocratic practice and move the Senate closer to an up-or-down vote on their proposal.  U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Secret Holds Reform Resolution that forces all holds to be disclosed to the public after one day, eliminating the ability of one senator to hijack the legislative process without being held accountable.

“The first day of the new congress is the perfect time to begin making the Senate fairer and more accountable to the public,” Wyden said. “For too long, secret holds have given one senator the power to grind the legislative process to a halt without any accountability. The bipartisan group of senators standing up against this practice is growing. The tide of reform is moving with us and the Senate must be able to take an up-or-down vote on the merits of secret holds to show who the allies of transparency are and who are the allies of obstruction.”

“Holds protect the rights of individual senators, but with this power must come public accountability.  Lack of transparency in the public policy process exacerbates cynicism and distrust.  Senator Wyden and I have advanced reforms to make holds public for more than 10 years, only to have them undermined by both parties.  If a senator has a legitimate reason to object to proceeding to a bill or nominee, then he or she ought to have the guts to do so publicly.  It’s time for each of us to stand up and be accountable to our constituents and our colleagues for any hold placed,” Grassley said.

“The American people don’t trust Washington, and secrecy is one of the reasons,” McCaskill said. “If someone is opposed to legislation or a nominee, they should be willing to say it publically.  We’re here to do the people’s business and they deserve this basic level of transparency.”

“We have a responsibility to assure the American people that the decisions we make are decisions of integrity, in which their interests are put first.  Placing a hold on a nominee is a legitimate use of Senate rules and can be used to provide additional time to seek answers to important questions and address concerns.  If Members of Congress are acting in the best interests of their constituents, then they should not hesitate to make public their reasons for placing a particular hold,” said Collins.

Wyden and Grassley have spent more than a decade working to eliminate secret holds and have introduced bills and amendments and secured pledges from both caucuses to no longer honor the practice. However, an amendment to an appropriations bill in 1997 was removed in conference with the House of Representatives and though a 2006 Wyden-Grassley amendment requiring that secret holds be publically disclosed after three legislative days passed the Senate in 2006, it was altered as part of the 2007 “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act” to require disclosure after six days only after a nomination or piece of legislation is called up on the floor.  Senator McCaskill brought renewed momentum to the effort last year by drawing attention to the continued abuse of secret holds and authored a letter signed by 68 senators calling for the elimination of the practice.

The three joined forces last summer to introduce the Secret Holds Elimination Act that formed the basis of the current resolution. The resolution will require that all holds on legislation and nominees be submitted in writing and automatically printed in the Congressional Record after one legislative day, whether the bill or nomination has been brought up for floor consideration or not. The latter provision will eliminate the all-too-common practice of secret holds being used to indefinitely prevent bills from reaching the Senate floor.

Here is the text of Grassley’s statement delivered on the Senate floor this afternoon.

Madam President, my colleagues as well as any of the public watching the debate today knows that there's a great partisan divide thus far.  Senator Wyden has already referred to the motion that he and I are putting before the Senate, and Senator Wyden being the Democrat and my being a Republican, and we're joined also by Senator McCaskill, the presiding officer right now, as well as Senator Collins in this effort, it is the only bipartisan issue before the Senate this particular day.  I emphasize that because I think the public ought to know that not everything in the Senate is partisan.

Senator Wyden and I have been chipping away at the informal backroom process known as “secret hold” in the Senate.  We've been working on this for well over ten years.  So it shouldn't surprise anyone that we're back again at the start of another Congress joined as I said by Senator McCaskill of Missouri who was very helpful in our pushing this issue to the forefront at the end of the last congress.  As I said, I'm also pleased that we have Senator Collins on board again.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the possibility of far reaching reforms to how the Senate does business that have been hastily conceived and could shift the traditional balance between the rights of the majority and rights of the minority parties. Now, in contrast, our resolution by Senator Wyden and this Senator is neither of those two things.  In other words, it does not shift any balance between the majority and the minority.

This resolution is a well-thought-out, bipartisan reform effort that has been the subject of two committee hearings and numerous careful revisions over several years.  In no way does it alter the balance of power between the minority and majority parties, nor does it change any rights of any individual senator.  This is simply about transparency, and with transparency I think you get a great deal of accountability.

I want to be very clear that I fully support the fundamental right of any individual Senator to withhold his consent when unanimous consent is requested.  In the old days, when senators conducted much of their daily business from their desk on the Senate floor and were on the Senate floor for most of the day, it was quite a simple matter for any Senator at that time to stand up and say, "I object" when necessary, if they really objected to a unanimous consent request.  And that was it. That stopped it.

Now since most senators spend most of their time off the Senate floor because of the obligations for committee hearings, the obligations for meeting with constituents, and a lot of other obligations that we have, we now tend to rely upon our Majority Leader, in the case of the Democrats, or the Minority Leader in the case of the Republicans, to protect our rights and privileges by asking those leaders or their substitutes to object on our behalf.

Just as any Senator has the right to stand up on the Senate floor and publicly say "I object," it is perfectly legitimate to ask another Senator to object on our behalf if he cannot make it to the floor when unanimous consent is requested.  By the same token, senators have no inherent right to have others object on their behalf while at the same time keeping their identity secret, thus shielding their legislative actions from the public, because that's not transparency, and that's obviously not being accountable.

So, what I object to is not the use of the word "holds" or the process of holding up something in the Senate, but I object to what is called secret holds.   So the adjective "secret" is what we're fighting here.  If a senate then has a legitimate reason to object to proceedings to a bill or nominee, then he or she ought to have the guts to do so publicly.  A Senator may object because he does not agree to the substance of a bill and, therefore, cannot in good conscience grant consent or because a Senator has not had adequate opportunity to review the matter at hand.  Regardless, we should have no fear of being held accountable by our constituents if we're acting in their interests, as we're elected to do.

I have practiced publicly announcing my holds for many, many years, and it hasn't hurt one bit.  In fact, some of the senators that are most conscientious about protecting their prerogatives to review legislation before granting consent to its consideration or passage are also quite public about it.  In short, there is no legitimate reason for any Senator to ever have to, if they place a hold to have that hold be secret.

So, how does our proposal achieve transparency and the resultant accountability?  In our proposed standing order for the Majority Leader or Minority Leader to recognize a hold, the Senator placing the hold must get a statement in the record within one session day and must give permission to their leader at the time they place the hold to object in their name, not in the name of the leader.  Since the leader will automatically have permission to name the Senator on whose behalf they're objecting, there will no longer be any expectation or pressure on the leader to keep the hold secret.  Further, if a Senator objects to a unanimous consent request and does not name another Senator as having the objection, then the objecting Senator will be listed as having the hold.  This will end entirely, once and for all, the situation where one Senator objects but is able to remain very, very coy about whether it is their own objection or some unnamed Senator.  All objections will have to be owned up to.

Again, our proposal protects the rights of individual senators to withhold their consent while ensuring transparency and public accountability.  And, you know, here in the Congress as well as almost any place in the federal government, except maybe national security issues, the public's business always ought to be public, and the people who are involved in the public's business ought to stand behind their actions.  As I have repeatedly said, the Senate's business ought to be done more in the public than it is, and most of it is public.  But, this secret hold puts a mystery about things going on in Washington that hurts the credibility of the institution.  This principle of accountability and transparency, this is a principle that I think the vast majority, if not all, senators can get behind.

I think the time has come for this simple, commonsense reform.

 

-30-

 
Lafarge Wins Grand Prize Award from MSHA for its Eye Glass Safety Awareness Video PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Joëlle Lipski-Rockwood   
Thursday, 06 January 2011 08:39


Davenport, Iowa – January 5, 2011- Lafarge North America recently was recognized by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) at its annual “Training Resources Applied to Mining” (TRAM) Conference held at the MSHA training academy in Beckley, WV.  Lafarge, not only received the first place prize in the Best CD's & DVD's Training for Industry award for their "Safety Glasses Save Lives – The Adam Oliver Story" video, but that same video captured the highest level of recognition by winning the Grand Prize for the best overall resource.  The video described the story and the lessons learned from a real-life incident that happened to Adam Oliver, a Lafarge employee, at its Davenport, Iowa Cement Plant.

“The video did well for the simple reason that it hits close to home.  All incidents are preventable. And, as this video portrays, wearing your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can save your life,” said Dan Thompson, Regional Safety Director for Lafarge’s River Business Unit.  “People can relate to this because it’s not a hypothetical situation.  It is a real life story told by one of our own,” continued Thompson.

“My experience was life changing. I decided to do this video to let my experience become life changing for others, without having them get hurt,” said Adam Oliver, Raw Mix Coordinator at the Davenport Cement plant.  “I am excited the video won these awards, but I am more proud of the fact the video is reaching out and potentially preventing the next incident. Safety is such a big part of the culture at Lafarge. I know it is the top priority and we must continue to instill this culture into everyone in the industry, in order to prevent future incidents from happening,” added Oliver.

MSHA’s 15th annual conference gathers representatives from the mining community, including participants from academia, states programs, and coal, metal and non-metal mining industries, to share ideas and training around health and safety.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The Lafarge Group is the world leader in building materials, with top-ranking positions in all of its businesses: Cement, Aggregates & Concrete and Gypsum. With 78,000 employees in 78 countries, the Group posted sales of 15.9 billion Euros in 2009. Lafarge North America Inc. (“Lafarge North America” or "Lafarge"), a Lafarge Group company, is the largest diversified supplier of construction materials in the United States and Canada.

In 2010 and for the sixth year in a row, the Lafarge Group was listed in the “Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World”. With the world’s leading building materials research facility, the Lafarge Group places innovation at the heart of its priorities, working for sustainable construction and architectural creativity.

For more information about Lafarge North America, go to www.lafarge-na.com

 
Governor Quinn Signs Legislation to Continue Pension System Reforms PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Andrew Mason   
Monday, 03 January 2011 08:25
New Laws will Help Preserve Benefits, Save Taxpayer Dollars
CHICAGO - December 30, 2010. Governor Pat Quinn today signed legislation that will help further stabilize pension systems for law enforcement officers and firefighters throughout Illinois, while protecting their retirement benefits.
“Firefighters and police officers put their lives on the line each and every day to keep us safe,” said Governor Quinn. “These men and women who serve so selflessly must continue to have access to quality pension benefits that are also affordable for municipalities throughout the state. I would like to thank the Illinois General Assembly for their broad bi-partisan support in passing this critical legislation.”
Senate Bill 3538, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park), is an important step toward stabilizing pension systems for police officers, sheriffs’ employees and firefighters. The new law makes changes to pension requirements for individuals hired on or after Jan. 1, 2011.
Some reforms under the law include: a normal retirement age of 55 with 10 or more years of service; and an early retirement age of 50 with 10 or more years of service and with a 0.5 percent reduction for each month the pensioner’s age is under 55. Other changes include: the maximum pension of 75 percent of an individual’s average salary; the pensionable salary maximum will be capped at $106,800, with annual increases as outlined in the law; and monthly cost-of-living adjustments will begin at age 60 for retirees and survivors, and will be either 3 percent or one-half of the urban consumer price index, whichever is less.
As cities and towns throughout the state struggle to recover from the effects of the nation’s economic recession, municipalities face the increased challenge of funding pensions. The changes made under Senate Bill 3538 will help ease that burden. The legislation will stabilize municipal pension systems, protect current municipal employees and provide attractive pension benefits to future police, sheriff’s employees and firefighters.
Today Governor Quinn also signed Senate Bill 550, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Rep. McCarthy. The technical law will enable public employee retirement systems to administer the two-tier pension system Governor Quinn signed into law during the spring.
This past spring, Governor Quinn signed Senate Bill 1946 into law. The law was a historic pension reform which will help save Illinois taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars while preserving public employee pension benefits.
Senate Bill 3538 and Senate Bill 550 both go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.

 
Grassley Disappointed by Lack of Progress on Trade Agenda PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Sen Chuck Grassley   
Thursday, 23 December 2010 08:53
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 

Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Committee on Finance, with jurisdiction over international trade, made the following comment about today’s passage of legislation to extend by six weeks the Andean Trade Preference Act and the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

“This is a modest but welcome step that will preserve important benefits for U.S. workers and our allies in Colombia.  I regret that this Congress didn’t do more.  We’re ending the session with much unfinished business on the trade agenda.  I hope the 112th Congress will do a better job addressing these many items, beginning with the implementation of our three pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.”

 
<< Start < Prev 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 Next > End >>

Page 239 of 276