Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) has urged the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require companies to disclose more information regarding their investment in workers, such as turnover rates, amounts spent on employee training opportunities, and whether workers are considered full-time employees or contractors. Sen. Warner’s letter comes as the SEC considers public comments regarding its proposed modernization of Regulation S-K, the set of SEC rules that establish disclosure requirements for public companies.  

“As our nation continues to evolve and our economy becomes more knowledge-based, workers are easily becoming the most valuable asset a company can have. Human capital can affect a company’s potential, and when properly cultivated, can boost its ability to adapt, innovate, and compete,” said Sen. Warner, regarding the letter he sent to the SEC. “I appreciate the SEC’s commitment to fostering a culture of increased investment in our workers, but urge it to take this effort a step further by requiring companies to disclose exactly how they’re investing in their labor force.”

The SEC’s current proposed rule would require that companies broadly disclose human capital resources, measures, and objectives, but not necessarily specific metrics, which can be valuable for potential investors across a variety of industries.

In the letter to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, Sen. Warner applauded the SEC’s efforts and urged the SEC to take additional steps, including requiring disclosure of specific metrics related to worker training, turnover rates, and full versus part-time workers. This kind of information can be easily compared across industries and companies, and can help shareholders better understand risks to company performance, and potential long-term systemic risks to the economy.

Sen. Warner has been an outspoken advocate of investing in our workers, and ensuring they are adequately equipped to participate in the 21st century labor force. Earlier this year, the SEC announced this proposed rule following advocacy by Sen. Warner, who last year urged the Commission to heed the calls of investors and utilize its rulemaking authority to require companies across the board to provide further details relating to human capital management.

The letter text can be found below and a PDF copy is available here.

 

The Honorable Jay Clayton

Chairman

Securities & Exchange Commission

100 F Street, N.E.

Washington, DC 20549

United States File Number S7-11-19

Dear Chairman Clayton,

I applaud the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (Commission’s) recent actions on the Modernization of Regulation S-K, particularly with regard to Item 101, and welcome the opportunity to comment on an issue that has long been a focus of mine. Human capital is among a company’s most valuable assets. It is critical to a firm’s ability to innovate, adapt, and compete as companies in the United States transition to a 21st-century knowledge-based economy. As the proposed rule notes, “intangible assets [including human capital] represent an essential resource for many companies.”

Beyond the value that human capital holds for a company itself, shareholders increasingly expect public companies to disclose material issues affecting a businesses’ financial performance – such as investments in human capital and worker training. These disclosures are relevant and important to shareholders, not only in order to better understand risks to company performance, but also to understand potential long-term systemic risks to the economy. You have also raised the issue of the importance of human capital disclosures to shareholders, most recently in May 2019 at the Investment Company Institute, stating, “If I am an investor looking at businesses today, I want to know what you are doing with your human talent, how you are growing your human talent, how you are accessing new talent, how you are retaining existing talent . . .”

The route that the Commission has taken with the proposed rule is encouraging, however, I believe the more appropriate route should be a principles-based approach that incorporates some prescriptive elements. As the Commission notes, the current human capital element in Item 101(c) “dates back to a time when companies relied significantly on plant, property, and equipment to drive value.” With regard to the Commission’s proposed amendments, I could not agree more that Item 101(c) should be modernized to include human capital resources, measures, and objectives as a disclosure topic. Further, I recognize the value that a principles-based approach holds for human capital management disclosures. Setting objectives and letting management judge what information best satisfies the disclosure requirements for the registrant is beneficial, but cannot be the entire picture. Human capital management, and the metrics used to measure it, differs from one industry to the next and even among companies within the same industry. A purely prescriptive approach may miss important subjective information, but a purely principles-based approach would fall short by losing the benefits of increased consistency and comparability for investors.

I understand that you have expressed concerns about the value of mandating certain metrics as disclosure items across all industries, but I encourage the Commission to consider the value of quantitative information that is of a high value to investors across a variety of industries. Specific disclosures make it easier to compare registrants, which is important to potential investors. You have commented on the importance of comparability yourself, for instance in February 2019 during a phone call with Investor Advisory Committee Members: “for human capital, I believe it is important that the metrics allow for period to period comparability for the company.” There are certain disclosure items, such as whether workers are full-time or contractors, turnover rates, and spending on employee training opportunities, that can provide universal value across all industries. I recognize the risk that prescriptive metrics can pose – that companies may “manage to the metric,” as the SEC Investment Advisory Committee put it. However, I encourage the Commission to engage with investors, registrants, and experts further to learn more about metrics that may serve useful purposes while minimizing unintended consequences.

With regard to the utility of non-exclusive examples, I believe that the Commission should provide these to registrants. Principles-based disclosure can lack direction. Examples will be especially useful for registrants when disclosing on new human capital management metrics.

I believe the addition of more human capital management disclosure requirements to Regulation S-K furthers the Commission’s mission to “protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.” Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) took to the Senate floor today to highlight a number of Virginians with preexisting conditions who will be affected if the Senate neglects to overturn a Trump Administration waiver rule that destabilizes our health insurance market, weakens protections for Americans with preexisting conditions, and increases costs for millions Americans with quality health plans.

Today’s floor speech comes in advance of a move by Sen. Warner, who will use a legislative maneuver to force an up-or-down vote in the Senate next week, putting every Senator on the record as to whether they stand with Americans with preexisting conditions, or with the Trump Administration in its effort to undermine our nation’s health care system.

“For the last three years, this President has used every tool at his disposal to try to undermine the ACA. He tried to repeal it twice through Congress. When that failed, the Administration joined a lawsuit that would strike down the ACA with no plan to replace it. The truth is, this Administration is unfortunately actively working to destabilize the insurance market,” Sen. Warner said on the Senate floor. “One way the Administration is attempting to undermine the ACA is with these so-called “short-term” plans. Thanks to this administration, these “junk” plans allow insurance companies to once again discriminate against Americans with preexisting conditions. Make no mistake: these plans are a threat to the stability of the insurance market and to every American with a preexisting condition.”

“Madam President, I fear some members of this body have forgotten what it was like before the Affordable Care Act when an unexpected surgery or a diagnosis of a chronic illness could mean a one-way ticket out of the middle class. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical. Recently one of my constituents, a man named Jesse, received a $230,000 medical bill for his back surgery. Unbeknownst to him he had purchased a plan that he thought would cover this, but this plan was unfortunately a junk plan that considered his back injury as a preexisting condition,” he continued. “Jesse is one of the more than 3 million Virginians with a preexisting medical condition. I’ve got 3 daughters. Two of my three daughters have preexisting medical conditions that would not be covered under these junk plans. And today I want to share some of those stories to remind my colleagues of what real people will face if we allow this Administration to continue dismantling these protections that folks count on.”

In his floor speech, Sen. Warner shared several stories from Linda in Warren County; Mindy in Henrico; Sharon in Norfolk; Justine in Loudoun County; Katherine in Blacksburg; Michael in Abingdon; James in Danville; and Lynn in Lynchburg.

In July, Sen. Warner led the entire Democratic caucus in introducing the Protect Pre Existing Conditions Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which, if approved, would roll back a Trump Administration waiver rule that undermines our nation’s health care law and threatens protections for Americans with preexisting conditions. Last month, Sen. Warner successfully filed a discharge petition to bring the CRA resolution to the floor for a vote.  

The Trump Administration’s waiver rule currently gives states the green light to use taxpayer dollars to push “junk plans” – bare-bones plans that don’t meet federal consumer protections and therefore raise premiums for quality insurance plans, increasing costs for older Americans and people with preexisting conditions who need comprehensive coverage. Additionally, under these junk plans, insurance companies can charge people more if they have a preexisting condition, or refuse to cover specific benefits or deny them coverage altogether.

Congressional Review Act resolutions exercise Congress’ authority to review and overturn rules implemented by the executive branch. Unlike other legislation on the Senate floor, a Congressional Review Act resolution only needs a simple majority to pass and can be brought to the Senate floor for a vote with 30 signatures.

 

Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:

Madam President, I’m here today because protections for Americans with preexisting medical conditions are under attack from this administration.

For the last three years, this President has used every tool at his disposal to try to undermine the ACA. He tried to repeal it twice through Congress. When that failed, the administration joined a lawsuit that would strike down the ACA — with no plan to replace it.

The truth is, this administration is actively working to destabilize the insurance market.

One way the administration is attempting to undermine the ACA is with these so-called “short-term” plans. Thanks to this administration, these “junk” plans allow insurance companies to once again discriminate against Americans with preexisting conditions.  

Make no mistake: these plans are a threat to the stability of the insurance market and to every American with a preexisting condition.

That’s why I’ve introduced a resolution that will force an up-or-down vote on the administration’s rule that pushes more of these junk plans on unsuspecting consumers and significantly increases costs for other Americans.

Madam President, I fear some members of this body have forgotten what it was like before the Affordable Care Act when an unexpected surgery or a diagnosis of a chronic illness could mean a one-way ticket out of the middle class.

Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical. Recently one of my constituents a man named Jesse received a $230,000 medical bill for his back surgery. Unbeknownst to him he had purchased a junk plan that considered his back injury as a preexisting condition.

Jesse is one of the more than 3 million Virginians with a preexisting medical condition.

And today I want to share some of their stories…to remind my colleagues of what real people will face… if we allow this administration to continue dismantling these protections that folks count on.

Recently I got an email from Linda in Warren County, VA. She is a cancer survivor with multiple preexisting conditions. She wrote:

“Due to the housing fallout in 2008, we lost our health coverage and I could no longer get health coverage because of my cancer diagnosis.”

Mindy from Henrico is also a cancer survivor. She writes:

“Even though my cancer is in partial remission, I remain on treatment for fear of the cancer returning again. As I prepare for retirement, it scares me to think that this cancer would be considered a preexisting condition and I could be denied health care or would be required to pay through the nose for insurance.”

Sharon in Norfolk told me about her struggle with behavioral health issues. She writes:

I am a functioning member of society, however that will not last long if I lose this access to medical help. I went off my medications in 2000 as I couldn't afford a doctor and medication and it was a very thin line between me and homelessness.

Justine from Loudoun County is worried she could lose coverage for her diabetes. Here’s her message for the members of this body:

What if you or a loved one was diagnosed with a “preexisting condition?” How would you feel being denied health coverage?

It’s a good question that we should all ask ourselves, Madam President. As a father, I’ve dealt with the scary reality of having a child with juvenile diabetes and a child with asthma. But I’m also an extraordinarily lucky individual. I knew that because of insurance and because I had the resources, they would be taken care of.

Katherine in Blacksburg, VA told me about her daughter who was diagnosed at age three with juvenile diabetes. She writes:

“Until there is a cure for diabetes, I cannot imagine how costly it will be for her to stay alive and manage her health if there are limitations on coverage for people with preexisting conditions.”

Madam President, Katherine’s daughter deserves access to care just as much as mine does.

I got a letter from a pharmacist in Abingdon named Michael. He treats diabetics every day, and he also knows what it’s like… because he’s lived with the disease for 38 years. He writes:

“Without insulin we will die…If coverage for preexisting conditions goes away, you will see a large decline in the health of type 1 diabetics, and more dependence upon Medicaid.”

I have far too many of these stories to share them all today.

James from Danville told me about his 10 separate preexisting conditions.

Lynn from Lynchburg is on three separate medications due to a brain tumor. She could die if her insurance didn’t cover them.

The list goes on.

In closing, Madam President, when we talk about preexisting conditions, we are talking about people’s lives.

That’s why we must pass the resolution I’ve introduced to reverse the Administration’s harmful rule changes…and defend protections for folks with preexisting conditions.

Next week, we will all have the opportunity to go on the record with an up-or-down vote to defend these protections and restore these critical guardrails.

My colleagues across the aisle insist that they actually support protections for folks with preexisting conditions – well this will be their chance to prove it.

Thank you, Madam President.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) will introduce the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act, bipartisan legislation that will encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose.

“Social media has enormous benefits. But, as we've seen, the tremendous dominance of a handful of large platforms also has major downsides – including few options for consumers who want to use social media to connect with friends, store their photos or just watch cat videos, but who face a marketplace with just a few major players and little in the way of real competition,” said Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist. “As a former cell phone guy, I saw what a game-changer number portability was for that industry. By making it easier for social media users to easily move their data or to continue to communicate with their friends after switching platforms, startups will be able to compete on equal terms with the biggest social media companies. And empowering trusted custodial companies to step in on behalf of users to better manage their accounts across different platforms will help balance the playing field between consumers and companies. In other words – by enabling portability, interoperability, and delegatability, this bill will help put consumers in the driver’s seat when it comes to how and where they use social media.”

“Your data is your property. Period. Consumers should have the flexibility to choose new online platforms without artificial barriers to entry. This bill creates long-overdue requirements that will boost competition and give consumers the power to move their data from one service to another,” said Sen. Hawley.

“The exclusive dominance of Facebook and Google have crowded out the meaningful competition that is needed to protect online privacy and promote technological innovation. As we learned in the Microsoft antitrust case, interoperability and portability are powerful tools to restrain anti-competitive behaviors and promote innovative new companies. The bipartisan ACCESS Act would empower consumers to finally stand up to Big Tech and move their data to services that respect their rights,” said Sen. Blumenthal.

Online communications platforms have become vital to the economic and social fabric of the nation, but network effects and consumer lock-in have entrenched a select number of companies’ dominance in the digital market and enhanced their control over consumer data. The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act would increase market competition, encourage innovation, and increase consumer choice by requiring large communications platforms (products or services with over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.) to:

  • Make their services interoperable with competing communications platforms.
  • Permit users to easily port their personal data in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
  • Allow users to delegate trusted custodial services, which are required to act in a user’s best interests through a strong duty of care, with the task of managing their account settings, content, and online interactions. 

“One very real nightmare scenario for the future of the internet is users facing a meaningless choice among a few fully-integrated silos of technology, and the end of independent innovation and creativity. We all need to prevent that from happening. This legislation could help us take a huge step forward towards a better internet future,” said Chris Riley, Director of Public Policy at the Mozilla Corporation.

“Markets work when consumers have a choice and know what's going on. The ACCESS Act is an important step toward reestablishing this dynamic in the market for tech services. We must get back to the conditions that make markets work: when consumers know what they give a firm and what they get in return; and if they don't like the deal, they can take their business elsewhere. By giving consumers the ability to delegate decisions to organizations working on their behalf, the ACCESS Act gives consumers some hope that they can understand what they are giving up and getting in the opaque world that the tech firms have created. By mandating portability, it also gives them a realistic option of switching to another provider,” said Paul Romer, New York University Professor of Economics and Nobel Prize winner in Economics.

“We’re thrilled to see a concrete legislative proposal to provide interoperability for consumers. Built on a solid foundation of privacy and security protections, interoperability enables users to communicate across networks promoting competition among social media platforms. Interoperability ensures that users benefit from increased competition, and it helps new competitors grow by reaching users that are locked-in to their current provider. Senator Warner’s interoperability bill lays out an excellent, practical framework for making interoperability a reality while preserving a role for states to go even further,” said Charlotte Slaiman, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge.

“All of us at USV believe in decentralized, emergent, market driven innovation. The shared communications infrastructure of the open Internet and a vibrant competitive market triggered the Cambrian explosion of new Web services we all now enjoy. But today, a small number of companies capitalize on their exclusive control over our data - the data we contribute as we interact with their services - to dominate markets, stifling competition and limiting consumer choice. While this is widely understood, most policy makers propose prescriptive regulation that would only further entrench the dominant platforms. The ACCESS Act targets the specific market failure - exclusive control over consumer data - that has led to the consolidation of market power on the Web. Ensuring that consumers have access to their data is an elegant way to restore competition without burdensome regulation,” said Brad Burnham, Partner and Co-Founder at Union Square Ventures.

Previously, Sens. Warner and Hawley have partnered on the DASHBOARD Act, legislation to require data harvesting companies such as social media platforms to disclose how they are monetizing consumer data, as well as the Do Not Track Act, which would allow users to opt out of non-essential data collection, modeled after the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “Do Not Call” list. 

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here. Bill text is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $593,056 in federal funding for a Virginia Tech project to increase the impact of the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition (ABFFC) by increasing membership and improving opportunities and capabilities among forest farmers. This funding follows a strong push by Sen. Warner, who has urged continued investment in this project by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The funding was awarded through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) at NIFA, which provides grants to support education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers or ranchers.

“Through the conversations I’ve had with forest farmers in Southwest Virginia, I know the importance of forest farming for both our economy and our ecosystems. That’s why I was glad to have been able to help secure this funding, which will foster leadership and further strengthen our forest farming industry,” said Sen. Warner.

“I’ve traveled across Virginia to hear from farmers about challenges they face and how I can support their work at the federal level. One big concern I heard was about barriers to entry for young people who want to farm. I’m excited that this federal funding will help train the next generation of forest farmers in Virginia,” said Sen. Kaine.

Forest farming is an agroforestry practice that cultivates herbal, edible, decorative, and handicraft non-timber forest products (NTFP) under a forest canopy modified or maintained to provide shade levels and habitats that favor growth and enhance production. Forest farming allows farmers to produce and sell raw material that is traceable, unadulterated, and sustainable. In 2016, consumers spent an estimated $7.45 billion on herbal supplements, an increase of approximately $530 million from 2013. 

ABFFC is a network of forestland owners, universities, and governmental and non-governmental organizations that share a common goal of improving agroforestry production opportunities and farming capabilities among forest farmers. The project, "Seeded and Growing: Sustaining Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Education and Engagement," aims to recruit 400 new and beginning Appalachian forest farmers to ABFFC, increasing membership to more than 1,400. It also seeks to provide advanced training and technical assistance to farmers, as well as promote mentorships, partnerships and networking for new and beginning forest farmers.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today introduced the Syrian Allies Protection Act, which would make U.S. visas available to Kurdish Syrians who worked directly with the U.S. armed forces in Syria and whose lives may now be in danger after President Trump abruptly withdrew American troops from northern Syria and allowed a Turkish military operation to move forward against Kurdish fighters who have been integral partners in the fight against ISIS. Since the Turkish offensive began last week, the UN has received reports of executions and human rights abuses against Kurdish fighters and civilians, and at least 160,000 civilians have been displaced.

“America has always stood by her allies. It’s shameful that as a result of President Trump’s reckless actions in Syria, the lives of our Kurdish allies are now in danger,” said Sen. Warner. “Our friends should not pay the price for the President’s irresponsible decision. This bill would establish a program, like those Congress has already established for Iraqi and Afghan nationals, that would allow Kurdish Syrians who worked directly with American troops in the fight against ISIS to come to safety here in the U.S.”

Similar to congressionally-directed programs that made select Iraqi and Afghan nationals who worked as interpreters or in other vital military support positions eligible for special immigrant visas, the Syrian Allies Protection Act would protect those Kurds in Syria who worked most closely with the United States, usually as translators, and whose lives are now threatened not only by the ongoing Turkish incursion, but by potential retaliation by freed ISIS fighters, regime forces, and other foreign interests in Syria now that the protection of American forces has been removed. The legislation would provide permanent American residence to Syrian nationals who worked for the U.S. armed forces for at least six months, have obtained a favorable recommendation from a general or flag officer in the chain of command, and have passed a background check and screening.

The legislation would also direct the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, to develop and implement a framework to evacuate these eligible individuals to safety  – either in the United States or a third country – while vetting takes place, if their lives are at risk remaining in Syria.  

The text of the Syrian Allies Protection Act is available here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $504,450 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the Mount Rogers Health District in Southwest Virginia, which oversees eight localities at the epicenter of the addiction crisis. The funding will allow the district to partner with researchers across the country on solutions to address the addiction crisis in Southwest Virginia. 

“The drug addiction crisis has hurt every region of Virginia. We need to invest in more resources to better understand how to prevent and combat substance use disorders,” the Senators said. “This funding will help expand services for families impacted by addiction and support studies that explore how early exposure to substance abuse affects young people.”

The Mount Rogers Health District serves Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Smyth, Washington, and Wythe counties, and the cities of Bristol and Galax. The first round of this project will build capacity at partner sites. The second round will support a ten-year longitudinal study.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued a statement today on the passing of former state Del. Alan A. Diamonstein:

Alan Diamonstein was a powerful force in Virginia, national politics and his community. He was a major figure in making our Commonwealth a more inclusive, forward-looking and fairer place.

“I was proud to call him an adviser and a mentor, but most importantly – my dear friend.

“I will miss Alan very much, and will be thinking of Beverly and their children during this difficult time.”

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today joined Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) in cosponsoring legislation to address the pension crisis that is jeopardizing small businesses across the country and threatening the retirement of more than 1.1 million workers and retirees nationwide. The Butch Lewis Act would create a loan program to allow financially troubled pensions plans to borrow the funds they need to stabilize their finances and ensure they can meet their commitments to retirees and workers for decades to come.

“Right now, nearly two thousand workers and retirees in Virginia are under threat of seeing their pensions cut drastically as a result of the looming insolvency of the Central States Pension Fund – the largest troubled pension plan,” said Sen. Warner. “Workers shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the benefits they’ve earned over a lifetime of hard work will be there in retirement. That’s why I’m backing this legislation to lend a hand to the workers and businesses who are counting on these pension plans to succeed.”

Current projections estimate that of the more than ten million individuals who participate in multiemployer pension plans, over one million of them are currently in plans that will be unable to pay the full benefits they have promised. Among these plans is the Central States Pension Plan, one of the largest multiemployer pension plans in the country, which is projected to be insolvent by 2025, affecting nearly 370,000 individuals, including nearly 1,980 people in Virginia.

By providing low-interest 30-year loans, the Butch Lewis Act would put distressed multiemployer plans back on solid footing, thereby protecting small businesses from the threat of closing their doors if plans are allowed to fail. The bill would also would put safeguards in place to encourage pensions to remain strong so they can be there for workers when they retire.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) requested information from Virginia’s insurance commission on how the Trump Administration’s push for “junk” health insurance plans is affecting protections for Virginians with preexisting conditions. The “junk plans,” which are permitted to discriminate against Americans with preexisting conditions such as diabetes, asthma and cancer, are part of the Trump Administration’s overall effort to undermine the success of the Affordable Care Act and eviscerate protections for people with preexisting conditions. Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Warner, will force a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the month to overturn the Trump Administration’s rule on junk plans and protect people with preexisting conditions.

“We have heard concerning reports that individuals nationwide – particularly Americans with preexisting conditions – are unknowingly enrolling in these deceptively marketed junk plans that fail to cover many essential health care services,” wrote the Senators in today’s letter to the State Corporation Commission (SCC). “Just this month, Bloomberg reported Arizona resident David Diaz unknowingly purchased a short-term health plan that did not cover preexisting conditions and placed ambiguous limits on emergency room care and other essential health care services. His family has been left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. The Washington Post similarly reported on Jesse Lynn, who purchased a short-term health plan not realizing his back problem would be considered a preexisting condition. Jesse’s insurance company refused to cover his care – forcing his family into bankruptcy. No family should be forced into bankruptcy because of a pre-existing medical condition or obscure coverage limits on care.”

A rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Trump Administration allows states to ignore federal consumer protections and use taxpayer dollars to subsidize junk insurance plans that cover less and cost more. Additionally, under this rule, states can give insurance companies the green light to discriminate against Americans with preexisting conditions by increasing costs, limiting coverage, or denying coverage altogether.

The Senators continued, “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) established clear protections to prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with preexisting conditions and also required insurers to spend a minimum amount of their customer’s premium dollars on medical care. We are concerned the short-term health plans HHS has touted gut these protections and empower insurance companies to deny coverage to individuals with preexisting conditions, place arbitrary coverage limits on essential health care services and charge individuals more for services such as mental health care and maternity care.”

In their letter to SCC Commissioners Mark Christie, Judith Williams Jagdmann, and Patricia West, the Senators cited a study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners that found that junk plans spend only 39 percent of patient premiums on medical care, whereas insurance plans under the ACA are required to spend at least 80 percent of these premiums on medical care. They also requested answers to the following questions regarding the effect of junk plans on Virginians:

  1. How many Virginia residents are currently enrolled in short-term limited-duration insurance plans?
  2. Has the Commission received complaints from Virginia residents regarding the marketing practices of such plans? If so, summarize the substance of the complaints and the number of complaints the Commission has received. 
  3. How is the Commission working to ensure that individuals obtain quality, comprehensive coverage during the upcoming open enrollment period?
  4. Has the Commission taken any enforcement actions against companies that have mislead consumers as to what their plans will cover?
  5. How is the Commission collaborating with other states to limit the proliferation of junk plans and ensure that individuals have access to both the necessary information and comprehensive coverage they need?

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long fought against the Trump Administration’s efforts to dismantle our nation’s health care law. Two weeks ago, Sens. Warner and Kaine urged the HHS and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to limit the proliferation of junk plans. Additionally, they introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution led by Sen. Warner earlier this year to stop the Trump Administration from promoting junk plans, and Sen. Warner filed a discharge petition last month that will force the Senate to vote before November 12 on whether to roll back the rule allowing these harmful changes.

The letter text can be found below and a PDF copy is available here.

 

October 16, 2019

Mark C. Christie                                 

Commissioner                                    

State Corporation Commission          

P.O. Box 1197                                     

Richmond, Virginia 23218      

Judith Williams Jagdmann

Commissioner

State Corporation Commission

P.O. Box 1197

Richmond, Virginia 23218

Patricia L. West

Commissioner

State Corporation Commission

P.O. Box 1197

Richmond, Virginia 23218

Dear Commissioners Christie, Williams Jagdmann and West:

We write to express our concern with recent reports on the expanded use of short-term limited-duration insurance (STLDI) “junk plans” that weaken protections for Americans with preexisting conditions and increase costs for millions more. As you are likely aware, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has made a series of recent changes to increase enrollment in short-term health plans. We have heard concerning reports that individuals nationwide – particularly Americans with preexisting conditions – are unknowingly enrolling in these deceptively marketed junk plans that fail to cover many essential health care services.

Just this month, Bloomberg reported Arizona resident David Diaz unknowingly purchased a short-term health plan that did not cover preexisting conditions and placed ambiguous limits on emergency room care and other essential health care services. His family has been left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. The Washington Post similarly reported on Jesse Lynn who purchased a short-term health plan not realizing his back problem would be considered a preexisting condition. Jesse’s insurance company refused to cover his care – forcing his family into bankruptcy. No family should be forced into bankruptcy because of a preexisting medical condition or obscure coverage limits on care.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) established clear protections to prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with preexisting conditions and also required insurers to spend a minimum amount of their customer’s premium dollars on medical care. We are concerned the short-term health plans HHS has touted gut these protections and empower insurance companies to deny coverage to individuals with preexisting conditions, place arbitrary coverage limits on essential health care services and charge individuals more for services such as mental health care and maternity care. A recent study released by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that such plans spend just 39 percent of patient premiums on medical care. In contrast, insurance plans under the ACA are required to spend at least 80 percent of patient premiums on medical care.

Given the harmful effect these plans are having on families nationwide and broad agreement on their serious shortcomings we would like to gain a better understanding of how these plans are marketed and used in Virginia. To that end we would like to know:

1. How many Virginia residents are currently enrolled in short-term limited-duration insurance plans?
2. Has the Commission received complaints from Virginia residents regarding the marketing practices of such plans? If so, summarize the substance of the complaints and the number of complaints the Commission has received.
3. How is the Commission working to ensure that individuals obtain quality, comprehensive coverage during the upcoming open enrollment period?
4. Has the Commission taken any enforcement actions against companies that have misled consumers as to what their plans will cover?
5. How is the Commission collaborating with other states to limit the proliferation of junk plans and ensure that individuals have access to both the necessary information and comprehensive coverage they need?

Thank you for your consideration of this letter. We look forward to your responses to these questions and to working with you on this important issue.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded $23,979,453 in federal funding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand broadband to nearly 7,000 unserved homes and businesses in seven counties across Southwest Virginia.

 “The lack of broadband infrastructure continues to affect folks in rural Virginia, from business owners to students,” said the Senators. “In our evolving economy, broadband isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. That is why we’re glad to see these federal dollars go toward helping connect nearly 7,000 homes and businesses in Southwest Virginia.”

The funding will be distributed over ten years to support Sunset Digital Communications in providing minimum download speeds of 1 Gbps and minimum upload speeds of 500 Mbps. It will be awarded as listed below:

  • Buchanan County – $3,485,482 to serve 626 locations.
  • Dickenson County –$5,623,553 to serve 1617 locations.
  • Lee County – $3,351,835 to serve 1018 locations.
  • Russell County – $7,258,590 to serve 2556 locations.
  • Tazewell County – $2,900,697 to serve 714 locations.
  • Washington County – $57,143 to serve 9 locations.
  • Wise County – $1,302,153 to serve 404 locations.

The funding will be awarded as part of the Connect America Fund (CAF)’s Phase II – the second phase of an FCC program that seeks to expand access to voice and broadband services. CAF provides funding to providers to subsidize the cost of building new network infrastructure or performing network upgrades to expand voice and broadband service in areas where it is lacking. Across the Commonwealth, the FCC has authorized more than $108.5 million to expand broadband to 39,658 rural homes and businesses. 

Under this subsidy, providers are required to build out to 40 percent of the assigned homes and businesses within three years. Buildout must increase by 20 percent in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reached at the end of the sixth year of support.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of expanding broadband access in Virginia as Governors and Senators, and have encouraged President Trump to include broadband as part of any bipartisan infrastructure initiative.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $375,000 in federal assistance to help advance an initiative in Charlottesville, Va. by the Charlottesville Food Justice Network to expand food access for youth and families, cultivate local food equity, and fuel and sustain economic empowerment through increased community-led urban agriculture. This funding, from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), was awarded through the Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program (CFPCGP), a program designed to fight food insecurity by supporting the development of community food projects that promote self-sufficiency for low-income communities.

“With more than 1 million Virginians living in low-income areas with little or no access to healthy foods, it’s clear that food equity remains a critical issue in our Commonwealth,” said the Senators. “We are thrilled to announce that the Charlottesville Food Justice Network will be receiving federal support to build long-lasting solutions to expand food security in Charlottesville.”

Led by Charlottesville Food Justice Network, the Just Food for US (United Society) initiative aims to create an equitable food system through citizen-led urban agriculture, market development, youth leadership, and cross-sectorial action for local food policy. This grant will support a multifaceted effort to employ food insecure adults and youth as food justice leaders, increase racial equity practices in 30+ local food system organizations, and expand resident-led urban food production, distribution, and market participation at 16 urban sites for 50,000 lbs. of produce. The initiative will also develop food policy recommendations and help enact these changes.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been advocates for providing better resources to low-income, rural and urban communities who have limited or no access to nutritious foods. In March, Sen. Warner introduced the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act (HFAAA) – legislation to incentivize food service providers like grocers, retailers, and nonprofits to expand access to nutritious foods in underserved communities. Earlier this year, Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with a group of 45 other Senators, urged the Trump administration to rescind a proposed rule that would take away nutrition benefits from Americans struggling to find stable employment.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released a new report titled, “Russia’s Use of Social Media.” It is the second volume released in the Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election.

The new report examines Russia’s efforts to use social media to sow societal discord and influence the outcome of the 2016 election, led by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA). The analysis draws on data provided to the Committee by social media companies and input from a Technical Advisory Group comprising experts in social media network analysis, disinformation campaigns, and the technical analysis of complex data sets and images to discern the dissemination of disinformation across social media platforms.

Statement from Chairman Burr:

“Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election. Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government. By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russia is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans. While Russia may have been the first to hone the modern disinformation tactics outlined in this report, other adversaries, including China, North Korea, and Iran, are following suit.

“Any solution has to balance America’s national security interests with our constitutionally-protected right to free speech. Social media companies, federal agencies, law enforcement, and Congress must work together to address these challenges, and I am grateful for the cooperation our Committee has gotten from both the Intelligence Community and the tech industry. My hope is that by continuing to shine a light on this issue, we will encourage more Americans to use social media responsibly, as discerning and informed consumers.”

Statement from Vice Chairman Warner:

“The bipartisan work that this Committee has done to uncover and detail the extent of that effort has significantly advanced the public’s understanding of how, in 2016, Russia took advantage of our openness and innovation, exploiting American-bred social media platforms to spread disinformation, divide the public, and undermine our democracy. Now, with the 2020 elections on the horizon, there’s no doubt that bad actors will continue to try to weaponize the scale and reach of social media platforms to erode public confidence and foster chaos. The Russian playbook is out in the open for other foreign and domestic adversaries to expand upon – and their techniques will only get more sophisticated.

“As was made clear in 2016, we cannot expect social media companies to take adequate precautions on their own. Congress must step up and establish guardrails to protect the integrity of our democracy. At minimum, we need to demand transparency around social media to prevent our adversaries from hiding in its shadows. We also need to give Americans more control over their data and how it’s used, and make sure that they know who’s really bankrolling the political ads coming across their screens. Additionally, we need to take measures to guarantee that companies are identifying inauthentic user accounts and pages, and appropriately handling defamatory or synthetic content. It’s our responsibility to listen to the warnings of our Intelligence Community and take steps to prevent future attacks from being waged on our own social media platforms.”

The Committee has held five open hearings on Russia’s use of social media, including a September 2018 open hearing with Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey. In December 2018, the Committee released two independent analyses of IRA activity, produced by New Knowledge and Graphika and the University of Oxford

The Committee released the first volume of its Russia investigation in July 2019. You can read, “Volume I: Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure,” here.

You can read, “Volume II: Russia’s Use of Social Media,here.

Key Findings and Recommendations:

  • The Committee found that the IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.  The Committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.  
  • The Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) targeting of the 2016 U.S. election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society. While the IRA exploited election-related content, the majority of its operations focused on exacerbating existing tensions on socially divisive issues, including race, immigration, and Second Amendment rights.
  • The Committee found the IRA targeted African-Americans more than any other group or demographic. Through individual posts, location targeting, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and Twitter trends, the IRA focused much of its efforts on stoking divisions around hot-button issues with racial undertones. 
  • The IRA engaged with unwitting Americans to further its reach beyond the digital realm and into real-world activities. For example, IRA operatives targeting African-Americans convinced individuals to sign petitions, share personal information, and teach self-defense courses. Posing as U.S. political activists, operatives sought help from the Trump Campaign to procure campaign materials and to organize and promote rallies.
  • The Committee found IRA activity increased, rather than decreased, after Election Day 2016. Analysis of IRA-associated accounts shows a significant spike in activity after the election, increasing across Instagram (238 percent), Facebook (59 percent), Twitter (52 percent), and YouTube (84 percent). Researchers continue to uncover IRA-associated accounts that spread malicious content.
  • The Committee recommends social media companies work to facilitate greater information sharing between the public and private sector. Because information warfare campaigns are waged across a variety of platforms, communication between individual companies, government authorities, and law enforcement is essential for fully assessing and responding to them. Additionally, social media companies do not consistently provide a notification or guidance to users who have been exposed to inauthentic accounts.
  • The Committee recommends Congress consider ways to facilitate productive coordination and cooperation between social media companies and relevant government agencies. Congress should consider whether any existing laws may hinder cooperation and whether information sharing should be formalized. The Committee also recommends Congress consider legislation to ensure Americans know the source behind online political advertisements, similar to existing requirements for television, radio, and satellite ads.
  • The Committee recommends the Executive Branch publicly reinforce the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election. The Executive Branch should establish an interagency task force to monitor foreign nations’ use of social media platforms for democratic interference and develop a deterrence framework. A public initiative to increase media literacy and a public service announcement (PSA) campaign could also help inform voters. 
  • The Committee recommends candidates, campaigns, and other public figures scrutinize sourcing before sharing or promoting new content within their social media network. All Americans should approach social media responsibly to prevent giving “greater reach to those who seek to do our country harm.” The Committee recommends that media organizations establish clear guidelines for using social media accounts as sources to prevent the spread of state-sponsored disinformation.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded $4,849,792 in federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) through its Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative for communities in the Appalachian region of Virginia.

“We’re excited to support these investments to strengthen Virginia’s economy,” the Senators said. “This funding will help promote job growth, allow more people to access job training, and support rural businesses.”

The funding will be awarded as follows:

  • The Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board in Lebanon, VA will receive $1,500,000 for the Recovery Opportunities and Pathways to Employment Success (ROPES) project. The ROPES program combines recovery and treatment from substance abuse with reemployment opportunities and workforce development to create a recovery-to-employment pathway.
  • Appalachian Community Capital (ACC) in Christiansburg, VA will receive $1,039,500 for the Opportunity Appalachia project. ACC has worked with five organizations, including the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, to develop a program that helps bring investment funding to federally designated Opportunity Zones in Central Appalachia. The initiative is estimated to bring in approximately $7.5 million in new investment in Central Appalachian coal communities, and will invest in 15 businesses and create 720 jobs, 70 of which are estimated to be for people recovering from substance abuse.
  • Appalachian Headwaters will receive $622,280 for the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective Diversification and Expansion project. Appalachian Headwaters aims to expand its programs focused on the apiculture (honey and bee products) industry to five counties in the Appalachian region of Virginia and 17 counties in southern West Virginia. The project will develop a training and marketing program for new bee products and services as well as create a new processing and training hub in Southwest Virginia.
  • The BARC Electric Cooperative in Millboro, VA will receive $1,000,000 for the BARC Rural Economic Development via Broadband project. The project will bring broadband access to 8 businesses and 301 households in Goshen.
  • Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC) in Cedar Bluff, VA will receive $588,072 for the SWCC Automotive Service Excellence Center. The project will create a fast-track curriculum to prepare students for entry-level automobile technician positions.
  • The LENOWISCO Planning District Commission in Duffield, VA will receive $50,000 for the Technology Innovation Ecosystem for Rural Water Systems project. The project will identify innovative and emerging technologies that can be used to address potential leaks in small, rural public water systems.
  • Appalachian Voices will receive $49,940 for the Taking a Proven Energy Model to Scale project. The project will provide technical assistance to grow the emerging solar energy cluster in Central Appalachia. This funding will support a program in Southwest Virginia that helps building owners who want to use solar energy navigate the process of a commercial-scale solar installation. The program also pools purchasers together to reduce their costs.

The ARC’s POWER Initiative provides grants to communities that have been affected by severe job losses in the coal industry and the changing dynamics of America’s energy production. ARC's mission is to innovate, partner, and invest in the growth of new industries in Appalachia to diversify the region’s economy. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for a fully funded ARC so that it can continue to increase employment and economic opportunities for those living in Appalachia.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $6 million in federal funding to expand broadband access in Southwest Virginia. The investments are expected to expand job and economic opportunities in a region where average household incomes continue to lag behind both the national average and other places in Virginia.

“In the 21st century, high-speed internet access is essential,” said the Senators. “We are pleased to announce this federal investment that will increase opportunities for employment, education and services in Southwest Virginia.”

In Buchanan County, iGo Technology Inc. will receive $3 million to extend broadband access to an additional 820 homes and businesses.

The Scott County Telephone Cooperative will also receive a grant of $3 million to upgrade its current broadband infrastructure in the Dungannon area of Scott County where there is not 10/1 Mbps (10/1) service available. The proposed project upgrade will provide 592 customers more robust broadband infrastructure with greater reliability and higher networking speeds of up to one (1) Gig to each location.

The funds were awarded through the Community Connect Grant Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that helps fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private sector providers to deliver service. The grants were announced today along with USDA funding for 17 other projects in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Virginia received more federal grant funding to expand rural broadband service than any other state. 

Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of expanding broadband access in Virginia as Governors and Senators, and have encouraged President Trump to include broadband as part of any bipartisan infrastructure initiative.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $1,003,327 in federal funding for Rockingham County and the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program. These grants aim to improve responses and outcomes for individuals with mental illnesses or co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders who have come into contact with the criminal justice system.

“We’re pleased to announce this funding to help reduce recidivism among individuals struggling with mental illness and substance abuse,” said the Senators. “For too long, our country has failed people with mental illnesses who often end up in jail without getting the treatment they need. By creating partnerships between law enforcement officers and mental health professionals, we can improve our criminal justice system’s response to those in need of mental or behavioral health services.”

The following will receive funding:

  • The Richmond Behavioral Health Authority will receive $253,327.
  • Rockingham County will receive $750,000.

DOJ’s Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program is a cross-system collaboration among criminal justice, mental health, and substance abuse treatment systems. The program supports increased training for law enforcement and public safety officials to better prepare them for their interactions with high-risk individuals with mental illnesses or co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders. It does this by providing social services and activities including: training for criminal justice, mental health, and substance use disorders treatment personnel; information sharing within and across criminal justice and behavioral health treatment agencies; and specialized caseloads for people on community supervision with more significant mental health needs and higher risk of reoffending.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed his frustration today over repeated delays and inaction by the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act, which was signed into law more than nine months ago, after passing through Congress in a bipartisan fashion. In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Sen. Warner demanded a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system, and called the DOJ’s inaction and lack of communication “unacceptable.”

“The delayed implementation of this critical public safety program is costing lives,” wrote Sen. Warner. “In our meeting, Ms. Sullivan had shared with me a number of concrete steps she would be taking to speed up implementation, and relayed she understood the importance of getting this alert system up and running in each state. However, in the two months since that meeting, there has been little progress on any of the items we spoke about. As well, the Department has subsequently failed to provide my office with any tangible updates or information in follow up emails.”

“One of my major concerns is that despite my urging, there has been no outreach to relevant officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia, who successfully helped implement a Virginia Ashanti Alert system in only three months. Delaying these key conversations regarding best practices will only slow implementation of this life-saving system,” Sen. Warner continued. “The lack of movement on implementing this critical alert system, and the lack of communication with my office is unacceptable.”

The Ashanti Alert Law is named after Ashanti Billie – a 19-year-old whose body was discovered in North Carolina, 11 days after she was first reported missing in Norfolk, Va. At the time of Ashanti’s abduction, she was too old for an AMBER Alert and too young for a Silver Alert. Once implemented, the Ashanti Alert would notify the public about missing or endangered adults, ages 18-64, and assist law enforcement in the search by way of a national communications network.

In the letter, Sen. Warner cited his numerous unanswered requests for updates and called on the DOJ to provide any further information on Ashanti Alert implementation efforts by October 11, 2019. He also requested a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system.

Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this bill through the Senate on December 6, 2018, has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert. In August, he reiterated the need for the alert’s swift implementation, following a meeting with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sullivan. He has also previously demanded in-person meetings with the DOJ, requested implementation updates, and urged congressional appropriators to provide full funding for the timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert.

Text of this letter can be found below and a PDF is available here.

 

October 4, 2019

The Honorable William P. Barr

The Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C., 20530

Dear Attorney General Barr:

Over nine months ago, President Trump signed the Ashanti Alert Act (P.L.115-401) into law. I write to you for a third time about delayed efforts by the Department of Justice to get this crucial system implemented in a timely manner. This week marks two years since 19-year-old Ashanti Billie was found murdered – 11 days after she was initially reported missing.  Because of Ashanti’s age, she did not qualify for AMBER or Silver Alerts and thus critical resources were not used to locate her whereabouts. This bipartisan bill passed with support from numerous organizations including the National Association of Police Organizations and the National Association to PROTECT Children. The delayed implementation of this critical public safety program is costing lives.    

On July 29th, I met with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katherine Sullivan, who is also serving as the Ashanti Alert Coordinator, to express my concern about the delay and talk to her about next steps. I sent her a follow-up letter in early August memorializing our conversation, and agreed upon next steps. In our meeting, Ms. Sullivan had shared with me a number of concrete steps she would be taking to speed up implementation, and relayed she understood the importance of getting this alert system up and running in each state. However, in the two months since that meeting, there has been little progress on any of the items we spoke about. As well, the Department has subsequently failed to provide my office with any tangible updates or information in follow up emails.

One of my major concerns is that despite my urging, there has been no outreach to relevant officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia, who successfully helped implement a Virginia Ashanti Alert system in only three months. Delaying these key conversations regarding best practices will only slow implementation of this life-saving system. Below, for your information is a short timeline of the follow-up my staff has done, and the relevant responses my staff has received:

  • On August 6, 2019, my staff emailed the Department to share contacts with the Virginia State Police who would be happy to talk with the Department about how to best work with states to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. My staff also requested an update on a meeting with the CTIA The Wireless Association, and asked if there had been further conversations with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Both are topics about which Ms. Sullivan and I spoke.
  • On August 22, 2019, my staff once again asked for updates on the CTIA and COPS meetings, as well as whether the Department had spoken with the Virginia State Police to utilize its expertise. Additionally, we asked for a contact at the Department to share with another state interested in setting up a system similar to the Ashanti Alert.
  • On August 29, 2019, my staffed asked yet again for the above information.
  • On September 10, 2019, more than one month after my meeting with Ms. Sullivan, my staff asked a fourth time for the above items about which Ms. Sullivan and I spoke. We also requested an update on the Ashanti Alert implementation status.
  • On September 24, 2019 and September 30, 2019, my staff requested these answers for a fifth and sixth time. We have since received the Department contacts as well as information that the CTIA meeting was replaced with a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The lack of movement on implementing this critical alert system, and the lack of communication with my office is unacceptable. Thus, I am asking for a response from the Department regarding next steps. Please respond to my office no later than Thursday, October 11, 2019 with details on the following questions:

  • Are there any further updates on the Ashanti Alert implementation efforts? If so, please provide a detailed update on these efforts.
  • Has the Department contacted relevant Virginia officials to discuss how the Commonwealth successfully implemented an Ashanti Act system? If so, please provide a detailed update on these conversations. If not, please explain the delay.
  • Are there any further updates regarding the Ashanti Act implementation meeting(s) between the Department and the FCC? If so, please provide a detailed update on these meetings.

Finally, I would like a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system. Further delay of this critical public safety program will only cost lives. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your expeditious response.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led 39 Senators today in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to protect individuals with preexisting conditions by limiting the proliferation of “junk plans” – short-term insurance plans that can exclude coverage for essential benefits and provide no protections for Americans with preexisting conditions.

“We have heard from patients, physicians, independent experts, and other health care stakeholders that individuals with preexisting conditions are being negatively impacted by your Administration’s actions. More recently, we have seen the real world negative impact on individuals who have unknowingly enrolled in these deceptively marketed junk plans,” wrote the Senators. “Just this month, Bloomberg reported Arizona resident David Diaz unknowingly purchased a short-term health plan that did not cover preexisting conditions and placed ambiguous limits on emergency room care and other essential health care services. His family has been left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. The Washington Post similarly reported on Jesse Lynn, who purchased a short-term health plan not realizing his back problem would be considered a preexisting condition. Jesse’s insurance company refused to cover his care – forcing his family into bankruptcy.”

They continued, “The Administration’s rule on state waivers allows taxpayer dollars to go to these junk plans, accelerating the problems we are already seeing with junk plans and leaving fewer resources for people who purchase high quality insurance. Additionally, the Administration’s new rule weakens coverage by allowing waivers that increase premiums and out-of-pocket costs for those who need health care most. We have worked tirelessly to protect individuals with preexisting conditions from barriers to coverage. We urge you to do the same, including by limiting the proliferation of short-term junk plans and ensuring that consumers in every state are protected by federal consumer protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

The Trump Administration recently issued a rule that allows states to ignore federal consumer protections and use taxpayer dollars to subsidize junk insurance plans that cover less and cost more. These junk plans can exclude coverage of essential benefits like prescription drugs, emergency room visits, maternity care, or mental health care. Additionally, under this rule, states can give insurance companies the green light to discriminate against Americans with preexisting conditions by increasing costs, limiting coverage, or denying coverage altogether.

In their letter, the Senators urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma to limit the spread of short-term junk plans and safeguard Affordable Care Act (ACA) protections that increase access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance, and forbid insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with preexisting conditions.

Sen. Warner has been a fierce leader in the fight to protect health care from the Trump Administration’s efforts to dismantle our nation’s health care law. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution to stop the Trump Administration from promoting junk plans, and last month, he filed a discharge petition that will force the Senate to vote before November 12 on whether to roll back the waiver rule allowing these harmful changes.

Joining Sen. Warner in writing this letter are Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Christopher A. Coons (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), Joe Manchin III (D-WV), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary C. Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Text of the letter can be found below and a PDF is available here.

 

October 3, 2019

The Honorable Alex Azar

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20201

The Honorable Seema Verma

Administrator

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

7500 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, MD 21244

Dear Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma:

We write to express our concern with the Administration’s repeated efforts to weaken protections for Americans with preexisting conditions and increase costs for millions, including through a new rule  which allows for harmful waivers that weaken protections for vulnerable populations and exacerbate the damage already being caused by the expansion of short-term, limited-duration insurance, or “junk” plans. We have heard from patients, physicians, independent experts, and other health care stakeholders that individuals with preexisting conditions are being negatively impacted by your Administration’s actions. More recently, we have seen the real world negative impact on individuals who have unknowingly enrolled in these deceptively marketed junk plans.

We have heard directly from individuals with preexisting conditions and other Americans who are being negatively impacted by junk plans. Just this month, Bloomberg reported Arizona resident David Diaz unknowingly purchased a short-term health plan that did not cover preexisting conditions and placed ambiguous limits on emergency room care and other essential health care services. His family has been left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. The Washington Post similarly reported on Jesse Lynn, who purchased a short-term health plan not realizing his back problem would be considered a preexisting condition. Jesse’s insurance company refused to cover his care – forcing his family into bankruptcy. No family should be forced into bankruptcy because of a preexisting medical condition or obscure coverage limits on care.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) established clear protections to prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with preexisting conditions, and ensure that more Americans have access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance. The junk plans your Administration has sought to expand and promote provide none of these protections and can legally increase premiums, exclude benefits, and deny coverage altogether to individuals with preexisting conditions. These plans place arbitrary coverage limits and many don’t cover essential health benefits, such as mental health care and maternity care.

The Administration’s rule on state waivers allows taxpayer dollars to go to these junk plans, accelerating the problems we are already seeing with junk plans and leaving fewer resources for people who purchase high quality insurance.

Additionally, the Administration’s new rule weakens coverage by allowing waivers that increase premiums and out-of-pocket costs for those who need health care most.

We have worked tirelessly to protect individuals with preexisting conditions from barriers to coverage. We urge you to do the same, including by limiting the proliferation of short-term junk plans and ensuring that consumers in every state are protected by federal consumer protections for people with preexisting conditions. Thank you and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Marco Rubio (R-FL), member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have expressed concern over the growing threat posed by deepfakes – sophisticated audio and video technologies that allow users to create fake audio and/or video files that falsely depict someone saying or doing something. In letters to 11 social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Sens. Warner and Rubio urged the platforms to develop industry standards for sharing, removing, archiving, and confronting the sharing of synthetic content as soon as possible, in light of foreign threats to the upcoming U.S. election. The letters also encouraged the platforms to develop clear policies to ensure their platforms are not exploited to spread disinformation or misinformation, including through authenticating media, labeling and archiving synthetic media content, and providing access to qualified outside researchers.

“As concerning as deepfakes and other multimedia manipulation techniques are for the subjects whose actions are falsely portrayed, deepfakes pose an especially grave threat to the public’s trust in the information it consumes; particularly images, and video and audio recordings posted online,” wrote the Senators. “If the public can no longer trust recorded events or images, it will have a corrosive impact on our democracy.”

“Despite numerous conversations, meetings, and public testimony acknowledging your responsibilities to the public, there has been limited progress in creating industry-wide standards on the pressing issue of deepfakes and synthetic media,” they continued. “Having a clear strategy and policy in place for authenticating media, and slowing the pace at which disinformation spreads, can help blunt some of these risks.  Similarly, establishing clear policies for the labeling and archiving of synthetic media can aid digital media literacy efforts and assist researchers in tracking disinformation campaigns, particularly from foreign entities and governments seeking to undermine our democracy.”

Deepfake technologies allow users to superimpose existing images and videos onto unrelated images or videos, essentially giving users the ability to create false and defamatory content that can be easily spread on social media.

In their letters to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Snapchat, Imgur, TikTok, Pinterest, and Twitch, the Senators emphasized that more than two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media sites, and stressed that online media platforms must assume a heightened responsibility for safeguarding public confidence. They also posed the following series of questions about each company’s ability to prevent, detect, and address deepfakes and other synthetic media:

  1. What is your company’s current policy regarding whether users can post intentionally misleading, synthetic or fabricated media?
  2. Does your company currently have the technical ability to detect intentionally misleading or fabricated media, such as deepfakes? If so, how do you archive this problematic content for better re-identification in the future?
  3. Will your company make available archived fabricated media to qualified outside researchers working to develop new methods of tracking and identifying such content?  If so, what partnerships does your company currently have in place?  Will your company maintain a separate, publicly accessible archive for this content?
  4. If the victim of a possible deepfake informs you that a recording is intentionally misleading or fabricated, how will your company adjudicate those claims or notify other potential victims?
  5. If your company determines that a media file hosted by your company is intentionally misleading or fabricated, how will you make clear to users that you have either removed or replaced that problematic content?
  6. Given that deepfakes may attract views that could drive algorithmic promotion, how will your company and its algorithms respond to, and downplay, deepfakes posted on your platform?
  7. What is your company’s policy for dealing with the posting and promotion of media content that is wholly fabricated, such as untrue articles posing as real news, in an effort to mislead the public? 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement:

“It is deeply disturbing that the president went on national television and told the American people that he’s trying to find out the whistleblower’s identity. The president’s comments about ‘spies and treason’ and ‘what we used to do in the old days’ are downright dangerous and will do serious damage to our national security long after this news cycle is over. That kind of rhetoric can only serve one purpose: intimidation of this whistleblower and anyone else within the intelligence community who is considering stepping forward to report wrongdoing.

“It is incumbent upon the Acting Director of National Intelligence and other intelligence leaders to publicly pledge that they will protect and stand by this whistleblower, and any other individual within the intelligence community who steps forward to lawfully report illegal or unethical behavior within the federal government, anonymously or otherwise.”

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the County of Wise will receive $500,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to install a new sewer system outside Coeburn.

“We are pleased to announce these funds to improve wastewater infrastructure in Wise County,” said the Senators. “The new sewer system will improve health and water quality by reducing runoff and contamination.”

Residents in the Banner community outside of the Town of Coeburn are not served by a public wastewater treatment system. Most residents rely on conventional onsite sewage disposal systems, nearly 80 percent of which have been in operation for more than 30 years, exceeding the typical life cycle of these systems. The new sewer system, which will be installed in two phases, will collect waste and transport it to the Coeburn-Norton-Wise Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant for processing, eliminating the need for residents to maintain costly private septic systems in a community where 65 percent of the population is low- and moderate-income. The project is also expected to improve local ecosystems and water quality and reduce health risks associated with sewage runoff and discharges.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), member of the Senate Finance Committee, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) have introduced legislation to provide financial relief to the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund to help Virginia Beach shooting victims get the financial assistance they need. The Virginia Beach Strong Act would ensure that any donations made to the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund on behalf of the families of the dead or wounded victims of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach are tax-deductible.

“There is nothing we can do to undo this tragedy or bring back the individuals we lost in this senseless act of violence, but we can try to make it as easy as possible for families and those injured to get the relief they need,” said the Senators. “This legislation will further incentivize donations to the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund by making sure that contributions to victims and families are permitted to be treated as charitable contributions.”

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives that is supported by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Denver Riggleman (R-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA).

“On May 31st, our Virginia Beach community experienced an unspeakable tragedy that led to the loss of 12 wonderful people,” Rep. Luria said. “In the wake of our community’s darkest day, we saw countless selfless people donate to provide relief for grieving families. I am introducing the Virginia Beach Strong Act to make it easier to help bring more urgently-needed support to grieving families.”

On May 31, 2019, a gunman opened fire at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, killing 12 people and injuring four. Soon after, the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund was created to support the wounded victims and the families of those killed. However, because the fund was set up exclusively for the benefit of those affected by the tragedy, it violates a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable tax rule that prohibits charitable funds from being earmarked for specific individuals. As a result, donations to the fund are not currently tax-deductible for those making the contributions.

The Virginia Beach Strong Act would clarify that any contribution made for the relief of the families of the dead or wounded victims is treated as a tax-deductible contribution. This legislation would also apply retroactively, classifying any such contribution made on or after May 31, 2019 as tax-deductible.

Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with Rep. Luria have been fierce advocates for the victims and families affected by this mass shooting. In August, they successfully passed bicameral legislation to rename a Virginia Beach post office after Ryan “Keith” Cox, a longtime public utilities employee who, alongside other victims, sacrificed his own life to save others during the shooting. In June, Sens. Warner and Kaine wrote to the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to verify that victims and families were not being taxed on the contributions they were receiving. Additionally, the Senators secured unanimous passage earlier this year of a Senate resolution honoring the 12 victims of the Virginia Beach shooting.

The full text of the bill is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with U.S. Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Denver Riggleman (R-VA), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) today secured Virginia’s inclusion in a pilot program by AgriLogic Consulting, a private company developing a Federal Yield-Based Industrial Hemp Crop Insurance Program on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“We are thrilled to have been able to secure Virginia’s place in this critical pilot program,” said the members of Congress. “The Commonwealth has a long history of industrial hemp research and development and Virginia’s inclusion in this pilot program will allow producers to better protect their crops in the event of a natural disaster. Additionally, the data collected from our producers will help provide a stronger and more robust insurance product, benefitting growers, processors, consumers, and taxpayers across the U.S.”

Last year, Congress approved the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the “Farm Bill,” which legalized and clearly defined hemp as an agricultural commodity, removing it from the federal list of controlled substances and making it eligible for crop insurance. According to recent VDACS data, there are now over 1,000 registered industrial hemp growers across the Commonwealth.

Crop insurance is often critical for farmers to guard against unforeseen disasters. AgriLogic has been working with hemp growers and processors across the country to gather data as it develops a Federal Yield-Based Industrial Hemp Crop Insurance Program on behalf of USDA. Drafts of this pilot program initially did not include Virginia, potentially giving growers in other states an unfair advantage in the new market. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) was not even notified of an opportunity to participate until after initial pilot states had already been selected. 

Yesterday, the members sent a letter to AgriLogic, urging it to include Virginia in the hemp crop insurance program, which could begin as early as the 2020 growing season, if approved later this year by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) Board of Directors. Today, AgriLogic announced that it will include Virginia in the plans it will submit to the USDA next week.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of hemp as an agricultural commodity. The Farm Bill included a provision sponsored by both Senators, that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as a commodity for use in agriculture, textile, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverage, paper, personal care, and construction products.

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WASHINGTON – Senate Banking Committee members, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Doug Jones (D-AL), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), John Kennedy (R-LA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) today introduced bipartisan legislation to improve corporate transparency, strengthen national security, and help law enforcement combat illicit financial activity being carried out by terrorists, drug and human traffickers, and other criminals. 

The Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act would, for the first time, require shell companies – often used as fronts for criminal activity – to disclose their true owners to the U.S. Department of Treasury. It would also update decades-old anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) policies, by giving Treasury and law enforcement the tools they need to fight criminal networks. This includes improving overall communication between law enforcement, financial institutions, and regulators, and facilitating the adoption of critical 21st century technologies. 

“Transparency is the best weapon we have against the misuse of our financial system by those who would harm the United States and our allies,” said Sen. Warner. “As bad actors use ever more sophisticated techniques, we need to make sure federal agencies have the tools they need to prevent this abuse of our financial system and protect our national security. That starts with making sure we have a full usable record of who actually owns these shell companies.”

“Right now, criminals and terrorists are exploiting our financial system using shell companies that hide their identities. This legislation will allow law enforcement to track ill-gotten gains while at the same time protecting small businesses from unnecessary regulation. I’m proud that we’ve delivered a product that respects the needs of Arkansas small businesses, from startups to steel companies,” said Sen. Cotton.

“It is simply too easy in the United States for criminals to hide behind anonymous shell companies. Our bipartisan bill gives the American law enforcement and national security officials the tools they need to fight back against the criminals that seek to exploit our financial system and fund their illegal activities,” said Sen. Jones.

“Our legislation protects Americans by depriving criminals and terrorists of tools they use to finance illicit activity. Developed through months of hard work and consensus-building, the ILLICIT CASH Act gives the Treasury Department and law enforcement the tools they need to combat illegal financial activity without burdening legitimate businesses. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to advance this important issue – the first serious overhaul of our anti-money laundering system in decades,” said Sen. Rounds.

“It’s still far too easy for rogue regimes, corrupt oligarchs, human traffickers and drug cartels to use American shell companies to launder money through the United States,” said Sen. Menendez. “Our bill gives our national security and law enforcement professionals new tools to make sure our financial system can no longer be a safe haven for illegal actors.”

“Transparency is a powerful tool to use against criminal activity because it makes it impossible to hide.  Criminals know it’s easier to set up a shell company than it is to get a library card in the U.S.  This bill will help dismantle criminal networks by ensuring that we know who truly owns shell companies,” said Sen. Kennedy.

“From money laundering to funding terrorism and sex trafficking, it’s outrageous that in the United States it is still incredibly easy for criminals to set up shell companies to hide their illicit financial activity,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. “I’m proud to cosponsor comprehensive legislation that gives the Treasury Department and law enforcement the modern-day tools they need to track down these criminals, prevent abuse of our financial system and keep Americans safe.” 

According to research from the University of Texas and Brigham Young University, the U.S. remains one of the easiest places in the world to set up an anonymous shell company. A recent report by Global Financial Integrity demonstrates that, in all 50 U.S. states, more information is currently required to obtain a library card than to register a company. Human traffickers, terrorist groups, arms dealers, transnational criminal organizations, kleptocrats, drug cartels, and rogue regimes have all used U.S.-registered shell companies to hide their identities and facilitate illicit activities. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies find it increasingly difficult to investigate these illicit financial networks without access to information about the beneficial ownership of corporate entities involved.

At the same time, U.S. AML-CFT laws have not kept pace with the growing exploitation of the global financial system to facilitate criminal activity. According to a United Nations Report, money laundering activity and illicit cross-border financial flows have generated upwards of $300 billion annually in criminal proceeds. While tracking these growing sums is increasingly difficult, U.S. laws have also failed to adequately address the small dollar financing of global terrorist groups. 

“Our own research and data have shown that the criminals behind trafficking operations use secrecy to hide both their identity and the proceeds of their crimes.  Secrecy allows them to profit with impunity.  By ending the ability of traffickers and others to use anonymous companies, the ILLICIT CASH Act will, for the first time, provide critical information to the police and prosecutors with whom we work to follow the money.  We applaud the bill sponsors for working across party lines to take these effective steps to address the deep, lasting and unimaginable harms caused by human trafficking,” said Bradley Myles, CEO, Polaris.

“As end users of evidence collected throughout the investigative process, it is imperative that prosecutors have as much information as possible in order to determine the best course of action for prosecuting an individual or entity that has committed a crime. Beneficial ownership data collection is vital to this effort, and law enforcement and prosecutors must have lawful access to that information. NDAA is excited to support the Illicit Cash Act and looks forward to working with Senators Warner, Jones, Cotton, Rounds, Kennedy, Menendez, Cortez Masto & Moran in moving this legislation through Congress,” said Nelson Bunn, Executive Director, National District Attorneys Association.

“We appreciate Senators Warner, Cotton, Jones, Rounds, Menendez, Kennedy, Cortez Masto and Moran’s hard work in building additional bipartisan support and pushing this legislation forward. Their legislation would both modernize our antiquated AML regime and help law enforcement and national security officials by closing the anonymous shell company loophole exploited by human traffickers, drug smugglers, and terrorists,” said Greg Baer, President and CEO, Bank Policy Institute.

“The ease with which bad actors can hide illicit cash in the U.S. undermines our national security, props up rogue leaders and renegade regimes, and destroys lives — both here and abroad. The ILLICIT CASH Act is a direct and effective response to the dangers and devastation that result from the lack of safeguards to protect our financial system from abuse,” said Gary Kalman, Executive Director, Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition.

“When we are able to expose the link between shell companies and drug trafficking, corruption, organized crime and terrorist finance, law enforcement will be able to bring these criminals to justice and make our citizens and our nation safer. This legislation will help law enforcement by removing the mask that hides these illicit actors,” said Pat Yoes, President, Fraternal Order of Police.

Given the critical importance of cracking down on criminal shell companies and the need to combat money laundering and terrorism, the ILLICIT CASH Act envisions a more transparent corporate ownership system and an updated, effective and efficient AML-CFT regime designed for the 21st century. Specifically, this legislation would:

  • Establish federal reporting requirements mandating that all beneficial ownership information be maintained in a comprehensive federal database, with strict privacy protections, accessible by federal and local law enforcement.
  • Help recruit and retain top talent at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) by putting employees on a pay scale comparable to that of federal financial regulators.
  • Create a hub of financial expert investigators at FinCEN to investigate potential AML-CFT activity in collaboration with federal government agencies.
  • Facilitate communications between the Treasury and financial institutions by establishing a Treasury financial institution liaison to seek and receive comments regarding AML-CFT rules, regulations, and examinations.
  • Require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide the Treasury Department with metrics on the usefulness of AML-CFT data from financial institutions for law enforcement purposes, as well as data on the past and current trends identified by DOJ in the AML-CFT landscape.
  • Require law enforcement to coordinate with financial regulators to provide periodic feedback to financial institutions on their suspicious activity reports.
  • Prioritize the protection of personally identifying information while establishing a clear path for financial institutions to share AML-CFT information for the purposes of identifying suspicious activity.
  • Prevent foreign banks from obstructing money laundering or terrorist financing investigations by requiring these banks to produce records in a manner that establishes their authenticity and reliability for evidentiary purposes, and compelling them to comply with subpoenas. This legislation would also authorize contempt sanctions for banks that fail to comply and increase penalties on repeat BSA violators. 
  • Ensure the inclusion of current and future payment systems in the AML-CFT regime by updating the definition of “coins and currency” to include digital currency.

A section-by-section analysis of this bill is available here. A one-pager is available here. The full text of the bill is available here.  

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WASHINGTON - Today at the U.S. Capitol a bipartisan, bicameral Congressional delegation, leading national advocacy groups, and the families of Heather Heyer and Khalid Jabara called for swift passage of the NO HATE Act. The NO HATE Act seeks to address the underreporting of hate crimes and improve police response to hate crimes. Jabara and Heyer were both killed by men who were prosecuted for hate crimes, but those murders were not reported by state and local law enforcement to the FBI.

“Until all hate crimes are accurately reported and tracked, and an effective response mounted, lives like Khalid’s and Heather’s will continue to be cut short, and families like ours and Susan’s will continue to live with the pain,” said Victoria and Rami Jabara, sister and brother of Khalid Jabara.

“We need a basic accounting of what is happening with hate crimes, and this bill will go a long way to doing that,” said Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer. “You don't take your child to the doctor or your car to the mechanic without analyzing symptoms, and we don't even know all the symptoms of hate crimes. We don't know how many occur; there are huge gaps as illustrated by Khalid's death and Heather's death not being reported.”

“The loss of Heather Heyer and Khalid Jabara cannot be undone, but we can honor their lives by passing legislation like the NO HATE Act to help prevent future tragedies,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). “When I introduced the NO HATE Act in 2016 we had small a handful of cosponsors and supporting groups behind it; now the bill is much better, it’s bipartisan and bicameral, and the support is much stronger. But the problem of hate and extremist violence has also gotten much worse. We need our colleagues to get behind this bipartisan legislation to help law enforcement track, respond, and prevent hate crimes.”

“Hate crimes shatter lives – they shred people’s sense of trust and wellbeing,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). “I admire so much, so deeply the courage and strength of Susan Bro and Rami and Victoria Jabara in being here. Since the deaths of Heather Heyer and Khalid Jabara, hate crimes continue to take their toll in America. Americans are saying enough is enough. We are going to fight as long and hard as necessary to make sure that hate crimes reporting is improved, that state prosecutions are aided with grants, and that the provisions of our NO HATE Act are fully implemented.”

"When Congressman Beyer asked me to be an original sponsor of the NO HATE Act my answer was an immediate yes. This bill is bipartisan — it has the support of Republicans and Democrats; the hotline it creates will be a lifeline to help those targeted with violence just for being who they are; and the bill allows us to capture important data on hate crimes so we can better stop them before they happen. America was founded on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our bill is an important step in helping all Americans realize that promise," said Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX).

“We must come together to combat the rise of hate crimes in America,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “I’m encouraged that the NO HATE Act has bipartisan support in the House, and numerous cosponsors in the Senate, but much more work lies ahead. Events like today’s play an important role in educating lawmakers and the public about the scourge of hate crimes and the need to eradicate them. I thank Susan Bro and all who joined us today in this fight. I’m determined to honor the legacy of Heather Heyer, Khalid Jabara, and the victims of hate crimes everywhere with enactment of the NO HATE Act.”

“All Americans should be able to live in peace in their own communities – regardless of their skin color, how they worship, or where they come from,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA). “That’s why Congress needs to vote on this commonsense bill, which will make it easier to keep an accurate record of hate crimes in this country.”

“The DOJ, the FBI, the nation’s law enforcement agencies, and policy makers all know there is a massive underreporting of hate crimes,” said AAI Executive Director Maya Berry. “It is possible that FBI statistics capture as little as one percent of the hate crimes that occur annually, meaning hundreds of thousands of hate crimes go unreported each year. Behind every missing datapoint is a name, a family, a community. We must say the names, support the families, and elevate the communities of those targeted by hate. Improving our method of hate crime reporting and data collection is the necessary first step. We are indebted to the families of Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer, the members of Congress leading this effort, and our civil rights partners. We have collectively worked hard in support of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act because it will get us closer to what Congress set out to do in passing the Hate Crime Statistics Act three decades ago. Now as then, our elected officials—both Democrats and Republicans—must come together to pass the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act.”

“To fight hate, we must first understand it,” said Anjali Thakur-Mittal, Director, Communities Against Hate Initiative, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “In order to minimize violence against our most vulnerable communities, we must first achieve the reliable collection of accurate data. The bicameral, bipartisan Jabara Heyer NO HATE Act will get us closer to that end by improving our government’s approach to addressing hate. To honor Khalid Jabara, Heather Heyer, and all victims of hate, Congress must pass the Jabara Heyer NO HATE Act now.”

"We have seen an increase in violent hate crimes in this country over the past three years, particularly against LGBTQ people,” said David Stacy, HRC Director of Government Affairs. “This epidemic of fatal violence has led to the deaths of at least 18 trans people of whom have been killed in 2019, nearly all of them Black trans women. It is critical to understand the entire scope of violence and discrimination facing communities across the country. The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act would promote better data collection on these crimes, giving us a fuller picture of the scope of this problem to help us end the violence. We thank Senators Blumenthal, Warner and Kaine and Representatives  Beyer and Olson for introducing this critical legislation."

“The Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer Hate Crime Reporting Act is a crucial step forward in addressing the rise in hate crimes over the last several years,” said Manar Waheed, Senior Legislative and Advocacy Counsel of ACLU. “Khalid and Heather were killed exactly one year apart—Khalid at the hands of someone with a long history of harassment and attacks against him and his family in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Heather during the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the summer of 2017. Although their cases were prosecuted as hate crimes, law enforcement did not report either Khalid’s or Heather’s deaths in federal hate crimes statistics, a failure for which there is no greater indication of the need to improve our hate crimes reporting. This bill as an important step towards understanding the scope of this violence and honoring the legacy of those that have been lost. Without an understanding of the problem, we cannot begin to address it or improve the safety of all communities.”

“As religious minorities, as people of faith, and as Americans, Muslims and Jews know that hate is like a fire set in the woods; when one tree is targeted all are in danger of setting ablaze. To extinguish the conflagration of hate crimes in this country each victim must count and all must be counted—the NO HATE Act gets us there,” said Dr. Ari Gordon of AJC and the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.   

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, and Haifa Jabara, mother of Khalid Jabara recently made the case in the New York Times for passage of this legislation named after their children. The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act would help close enormous gaps in hate crime statistics and improve the response to hate crimes by local, state, and federal law enforcement.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today filed paperwork that will force a Senate vote to protect people with pre-existing conditions from another attempt by the Trump Administration to gut the Affordable Care Act. 

“Under the pretext of so-called ‘short-term’ plans, the Trump administration is pushing healthcare plans that once again allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans based on their medical history. These skinny plans, or how I refer to them as ‘junk plans,’ also undermine the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that insurance cover things like emergency room visits, maternity care, and other essential benefits,” said Sen. Warner on the Senate floor. “Let me be clear, the reason that this market has suddenly been flooded with these junk plans, many cases advertising in low-income markets that these are ACA, or Obamacare plans, is not because Congress passed any law. The President tried and failed twice to pass legislation ending these protections for folks with pre-existing conditions. And since they couldn’t get their way in Congress, now they’re using executive action to try to undermine the Affordable Care Act.”

Today, Sen. Warner filed a discharge petition on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would roll back the 1332 waiver rule, another Trump Administration effort to sabotage Americans’ health care and undermine the critical pre-existing condition protections that 130 million Americans rely on. The rule gives states the green light to use taxpayer dollars to push junk health insurance plans that cost more and cover less. Under these plans, insurance companies can charge people more if they have a pre-existing condition, can deny specific benefits – or they can deny them coverage altogether.

“In Virginia alone – more than one million people live with a pre-existing condition. Before the Affordable Care Act, an insurance company had every right to deny these individuals coverage, charge them unaffordable premiums, or when they got that condition, terminate their plan. I think we all agree we cannot go back to those days. The Administration knows perfectly well that these ‘junk plans’ don’t offer real benefits. They’ve been warned repeatedly by hundreds of patient groups, physicians, hospitals, and insurers including the American Heart Association, AARP, The American Academy of Pediatrics, just to name few of the organizations who have come out against these plans,” Sen. Warner continued. “My Republican colleagues insist that they actually support protections for folks with pre-existing conditions. Ok, with this CRA I think there’s a chance to prove it. This resolution we are introducing today will force an up-or-down vote on these junk plans that explicitly undermine protections for pre-existing conditions. If my Republican colleagues truly support these protections, they should vote yes. It’s that simple.” 

Congressional Review Act resolutions exercise Congress’ authority to review and overturn rules implemented by the executive branch. Once a rule is finalized, the Congressional Review Act provides Congress 60 legislative days to vote on it. Unlike other legislation on the Senate floor, a Congressional Review Act resolution only needs a simple majority to pass and can be brought to the Senate floor for a vote with 30 signatures. As a result of the petition filed by Sen. Warner today, Senators must vote on overturning the rule by November 12.

 

Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:

Mr. President, I want to turn now to protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, because these protections are under threat by this President.

Under the pretext of “short-term” plans, the Trump administration is pushing healthcare plans that once again allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans based on their medical history.

These “junk plans” would also undermine the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that insurance cover things like emergency room visits, maternity care, and other essential benefits.

Let me be clear, this is not a law passed by Congress. The President tried and failed twice to pass legislation ending these protections.

Since they couldn’t get their way in Congress, now they’re using executive action to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. President, I’ve introduced a resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which would stop this deliberate effort to destabilize the health insurance market, and weaken protections that Americans count on.

And today I’m filing a discharge petition to that will bring this resolution to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote.

The truth is, every member of this body knows someone with a pre-existing condition – if we don’t have one ourselves.

In Virginia alone – more than one million people live with a pre-existing condition. Before the Affordable Care Act, an insurance company had every right to deny those individuals coverage, charge them unaffordable premiums, or terminate their plan.

We cannot go back to those days.

The Administration knows perfectly well that these “junk plans” don’t offer real benefits.

They’ve been warned repeatedly by hundreds of patient groups, physicians, hospitals, and insurers — The American Heart Association, AARP, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the list goes on.

All of these stakeholders are telling us the same thing: the Trump Administration’s plan will weaken consumer protections and disproportionately hurt sick and older Americans.

My Republican colleagues insist that they actually support protections for folks with pre-existing conditions.

Ok, then. Here’s their chance to prove it.

This resolution we are introducing today will force an up-or-down vote on these junk plans that explicitly undermine protections for pre-existing conditions.

If my Republican colleagues truly support these protections, they should vote yes. It’s that simple.

Instead of undermining the stability of the healthcare market, let’s focus on targeted, bipartisan fixes that will bring down costs and expand access to affordable health care coverage.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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