July 23, 2019
Pennsylvania school district turns down local businessman’s offer to pay off student lunch debts
A Pennsylvania school district that recently came under fire after threatening parents that their kids could be recommended to be put in foster care if they didn’t pay off their school lunch debts has turned down an offer from a local businessman to clear the debts, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
According to the local paper, the Wyoming Valley West school board rejected an offer from Todd Carmichael, the CEO of La Colombe Coffee Roasters headquartered in Philadelphia, to pay off over $22,000 worth of debt for local students.
In an op-ed Carmichael wrote that was published in the Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice on Tuesday, the businessman said that he had worked with his team to “reach out to the school district to let them know we were eager to donate the full amount outstanding, reported as $22,467.”
“On Monday, we talked to School Board President Joseph Mazur to determine the best way to transfer the funds in order to wipe the slate clean and restore dignity to the 1,000 families who received these threatening letters,” he continued.
“Shockingly, Mr. Mazur turned us down. I can’t explain or justify his actions. Let me be clear: we offered over $22,000 with no strings attached. And he said ‘No,’” Carmichael went on to write.
“Mr. Mazur, I am offering to pay this debt in full. By saying no, you are not just shaming families who elected you, but you are placing this burden on WVW taxpayers, and that is completely unfair,” he added.
The op-ed comes days after a copy of a letter that the school district recently sent home to parents surfaced, in which parents were warned that their children could be recommended for foster care if they did not pay off their student lunch debts.
“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch,” the letter from July 9 states. “This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child’s right to food.”
“If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care,” the letter continues. “Please remit payment as soon as possible to avoid being reported to the proper authorities.”
The letter prompted a wave of backlash across the United States last week, including from Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D- Pa.), who called the letter “callous” on Twitter.
“No child should have to imagine the horror of being ripped away from their parents because their family is struggling economically. These letters were callous and should never have happened,” he tweeted last week.
“Moving forward, the School District has an obligation to find an appropriate way to collect these funds, instead of using threats,” he continued.
Mazur did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill on Tuesday. Source
May 16, 2019
Wendy Vitter, abortion foe, confirmed for lifetime federal judicial seat based in New Orleans
WASHINGTON — Wendy Vitter, the Louisiana native who set aside an ambitious legal career to stand by her husband through a scandal and an unsuccessful run for governor, is now a federal judge for life.
The U.S. Senate voted 52-45 on Thursday to confirm Vitter’s appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana based in New Orleans. President Donald Trump had nominated Vitter twice in the past 16 months.
“I am honored and truly humbled by this confirmation,” Vitter said in a statement. “I look forward to working hard at the job and serving with fairness, compassion, and integrity.“
No Democrats backed Vitter, and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, also voted against her. Democrats had criticized her anti-abortion views and reluctance to judge the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark segregation-busting Brown v. Board of Education decision during a committee hearing.
Louisiana’s U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, championed her nomination. Vitter’s husband, David, had previously served as a U.S. senator and lost a bid to become Louisiana governor in 2015.
“She is immensely qualified to serve, and I wish her success in upholding the Constitution on behalf of the good people of the Eastern District,” said Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.
He had said before the vote that it was “a shame the liberal left is using fabricated political smears to suppress the voice of a strong conservative woman.” Cassidy said David and Wendy Vitter aided him “from the very beginning” in his successful effort to defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014.
Kennedy, a Republican from Madisonville, replaced David Vitter in the Senate.
“Wendy is whip smart and articulate. She understands and appreciates the rule of law,” Kennedy said.
David Vitter is now a lobbyist with Mercury LLC.
The American Bar Association, which grades all potential appointees to lifetime federal judicial appointments, rated Wendy Vitter as “qualified” but noted the 15-member panel wasn’t unanimous.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, said before Thursday’s vote Vitter has “virtually no federal trial court experience.”
Vitter, née Baldwin, graduated from the now-defunct Mercy Academy in New Orleans and holds a bachelor’s degree from Sam Houston State University in Texas. She earned her law degree from Tulane in 1986 and formerly worked as an Orleans Parish assistant district attorney and at a private firm. She has been general counsel to the Archdiocese of New Orleans since 2012.
Democrats this week renewed complaints about Vitter’s long history of anti-abortion activism, including remarks she made at a 2013 protest at the site of a proposed Planned Parenthood clinic in Uptown New Orleans accusing the group of killing “over 150,000 females a year,” and her participation in spreading false claims of links between birth control and cancer. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, warned that she and other Trump nominees will damage the country for generations.
“We understand the president and Republicans will want conservatives, but hard-right, narrow ideologues who show no understanding or sympathy for people who don’t look like them or pray like them or marry like them?” Schumer asked. “It’s not hard. If you need the benefit of hindsight to understand that Brown v. Board of Education, which brought an end to school segregation and led to the end of American apartheid, was correctly decided, you shouldn’t be a federal judge.”
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who follows the federal judiciary, said Vitter’s positions slowed the confirmation process.
“It did take a long time, partly because she was considered to be relatively controversial,” he said.
Louisiana residents would know Wendy Vitter as a tough-talking political spouse who proclaimed to reporters in 2000 — commenting about President Bill Clinton’s affair scandal while her husband was a congressman — that she would be “a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary,” referring to the Virginia woman who severed her husband’s penis in 1993.
Seven years later, Wendy Vitter would herself end up dragged into a salacious politically tinged extra-marital embarrassment when David Vitter was linked via phone records to the infamous “D.C. Madam.” His troubles prompted a defiant, highly publicized “stand by your man” moment for Wendy Vitter, who by that time had already settled into life as a stay-at-home mom and part-time campaign surrogate for her husband.
“I stand before you to tell you very proudly, I am proud to be Wendy Vitter,” she told reporters in 2007, her husband at her side. She subsequently appeared in an advertisement touting her husband’s political bona fides. Wendy Vitter asked for her family’s privacy without directly mentioning the prostitution allegations. The couple has not publicly addressed the episode in the years since, aside from a campaign ad in which David Vitter said he had “failed (his) family — but found forgiveness and love.”
The Vitters have four children: Sophie, twins Lise and Airey, and Jack.
During the 2007 spotlight, Wendy Vitter waved off comparisons between herself and Hillary Clinton, another lawyer who aided an ambitious husband’s political career, suffered through a public infidelity scandal and would eventually go on to seek her own political fortunes.
The Times-Picayune reported at the time that observers quickly dismissed the comparisons, “noting that Wendy Vitter did not have her own political ambitions in mind when she chose, as she put it, to recommit to the marriage.” Source
April 18, 2019
Casey, Toomey echo parties in Mueller report response
The highly anticipated report by special counsel Robert Muller indicating Russian interference in the 2016 election was released Thursday, but the findings don’t seem to have done much in the way of shifting partisan opinion.
By and large, congressional Republicans stood behind Attorney General William Barr’s “no collusion” summary of the report’s probe into President Donald Trump’s campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats demanded the release of redacted information and questioned Barr’s credibility.
Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators — Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey — mirrored the takes of their respective parties.
“While examining the Mueller report and the underlying evidence will be vital, it will not change what we already know: Russia attacked our election in 2016, President Trump and his closest aides and allies welcomed that attack and then, we know from the public record, that President Trump made a series of statements and appeared to engage in conduct that interfered with a fair and independent investigation,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said in a statement.
“The actions we know that President Trump, his aides and allies took may not violate criminal statutes, but they are fundamentally inconsistent with American values,” he said.
On Twitter, Casey also called Barr a “spin doctor and mouthpiece for the President.”
Toomey had a different take.
Toomey said on Twitter he had not yet read the report but “all Americans should be pleased that the Special Counsel concluded there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.”
And while Casey pushed for public release of redacted grand jury information not protected because of intelligence concerns, Toomey said he was pleased the report does not have redactions based on executive privilege.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, said the previous conclusions of “no collusion, no obstruction, and nothing but complete cooperation from the president,” stand with regard to the Mueller report.
“We need to move on, stop the theater, and get back to the business of governing,” Perry said in a statement.
Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster County, did not return a request for comment.
In a news conference before the public release of the report, Barr renewed his earlier interpretation of Mueller’s findings that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russian interference.
According to Mueller’s report, the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” However, the report states that Russian interference did favor Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 election.
Mueller’s report also said the investigation found “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign.” Source
Lawmakers want passage of Combat Online Predators Act
HARRISBURG, Pa. – A bipartisan group of lawmakers came together Mnoday to introduce legislation to protect children from online predators.
Republican Senator Pat Toomey, Democratic Senator Bob Casey, and Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick are calling for the passage of the “Combat Online Predators Act.”
It would enhance criminal penalties by five years for stalkers who prey on children. It was inspired by the Zezzos family of Bucks County.
Their 13-year-old daughter, Madison, was cyber-stalked in 2013 by a friend’s father.
“Over the period of time he was stalking Madison he posted over 15,000 times about Madison online including horrendous doctored images of Madison,” Toomey said.
The suspect pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation and counseling.
Three years later, he resumed his stalking of Madison and was sentenced to up to seven years in prison. Source & Video
April 1, 2019
Senate moving on bill to increase criminal penalties for cyberstalking children
Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey supported bill.
BUCKS COUNTY, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A young woman from Bucks County and her family don’t want anyone else to go through what she did – because of a convicted cyberstalker. Now, the U.S. Senate is poised to act on a bill already passed in the House that provides for increased prison time for stalking minors.
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick authored the legislation in the House, after he heard the plight of Madison Zezzo, who was stalked as a 13-year-old by a friend’s father on social media.
“It allows judges who are sentencing criminal defendants in these cyberstalking cases to enhance that sentence by five years where that victim was a minor,” Fitzpatrick said.
Despite harassing Zezzo online by texting her sexually explicit messages, the then 51-year-old stalker pleaded guilty only to a misdemeanor stalking charge, and got probation and counseling. Three years later, in 2016, the same stalker resumed his pursuit of Zezzo. This time, he was caught in a sting and sentenced to 18 months to seven years in prison.
U.S. Republican Senator Pat Toomey says when he was stalking her, he posted over 15,000 times about her.
“Including horrendous, doctored images of Madison. The fact is, social media creates a new opportunity for monsters to engage in this kind of activity,” Toomey said.
Standing next to Toomey, Democrat Bob Casey agreed that they expect the Senate to pass the bill with bipartisan support.
Zezzo is now a 20-year-old sophomore in college.
“You question yourself. Was it something that I did? Was it something that I posted? Should I have done something differently? The answer is no,” Zezzo said.
She hopes it draws more attention to inadequacies of state and federal stalking laws and the protection of victims, especially children.
“I feel it’s crucial that victims’ rights be reevaluated. Often times, I felt that my stalker had more rights than I did at the criminal proceedings,” Zezzo said.
While the process has not been easy, Zezzo refuses to let it define her.
“I can say with confidence that choosing to stand up to my stalker, choosing to stand up for myself and my rights, and for the rights of others, has been the best decision that I ever made,” she said.
Her mother, Erin Zezzo, says people don’t think about stalking in context.
“You hear about the escalated crimes of violence – the rape, the sexual assault and the homicides. But the vehicle the criminal uses to get there, is often not spoke of, that’s stalking,” she said. Source
March 18, 2019
San Francisco Chronicle
Border wall could siphon aircraft, submarine project money
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Members of Congress say the Department of Defense tells them that congressionally approved money for four projects in Pennsylvania are at risk of being diverted by the Trump administration to help finance a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The offices of Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, both Democrats, said Monday that the department listed $71 million for a submarine propeller manufacturing facility in Philadelphia and almost $18 million to expand Pittsburgh’s Air Force Reserve station.
There’s also $8 million for facilities at Fort Indiantown Gap, the National Guard training center near Harrisburg, and $5 million for road improvements at Conneaut Lake Army Reserve Center.
Casey and Houlahan had asked for the information last month. The White House has said the border project would receive $3.6 billion that Congress originally provided for military construction projects. Source
March 7, 2019
Medical device tax repeal bill reintroduced in U.S. Senate
U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) reintroduced a bill to permanently repeal the 2.3% federal excise tax on medical device sales, with a new co-sponsor. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) has signed on to co-sponsor, replacing Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who did not run for re-election last fall.
The medical device tax went into effect in 2013 and has been suspended twice. One two-year pause ended in January 2018 and the second moratorium is due to expire at the end of 2019. The tax on the sale of most medical technologies was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act and applies to medtech companies’ revenues, not profits. In 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the tax 283-132, but the Senate failed to act.
In February, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) inked a letter to colleagues in the House of Representatives seeking support for a new bill to repeal the tax. The House version of the Protect Medical Innovation act of 2019 already has backing from Jacki Walorski (R-Ind.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Jason Smith (R-Mo.).
Kind would be stepping in as lead sponsor for former Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), a longtime champion of the legislation who lost his re-election bid to Democratic newcomer Dean Philips.
In his letter to colleagues, Kind called the 2.3% excise tax “extremely punitive to medical technology investors,” and said that since its inception there has been “growing bipartisan support” to end it.
The Senate bill has attracted nine senators each from both the Democratic and Republican parties. They include Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Dick Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).
Medtech trade group AdvaMed continues to drum up support for a permanent repeal of the tax, saying that short-term suspensions limit the ability of companies to make longer-term investments in new technologies and treatments.
“Unless Congress acts quickly, America’s medical technology companies face a $20 billion tax hike at the end of 2019 when the device excise tax returns,” said AdvaMed president and CEO Scott Whitaker in a prepared statement. “If not stopped, this tax will put future patient innovations and good-paying U.S. jobs at risk.”
AdvaMed, the Medical Device Manufacturers Association (MDMA) and Minnesota-based trade group Medical Alley each thanked the Senate bill’s lead sponsors for taking it up again.
“We are grateful to Senator Klobuchar for her bill to once and for all repeal the medical device tax,” said Medical Alley president & CEO Shaye Mandle. “Medical device companies have been subject to great uncertainty because of this tax, limiting their ability to invest in the life-saving research they’re capable of producing.”
“When the medical device tax was in place, billions of dollars were sent to the I.R.S. instead of being invested in the next generation of cures and therapies for patients. We simply cannot allow this to happen again, and today’s introduction of the ‘Protect Medical Innovation Act’ shows that a broad, bipartisan coalition in the Senate agrees,” added MDMA president & CEO Mark Leahey. “MDMA thanks Senators Toomey and Klobuchar and all the original cosponsors for their ongoing leadership on this crucial issue for medical innovation and patient care, and we remain committed to working with them and all of the stakeholders who recognize how destructive the medical device tax is.” Source
February 25, 2019
Senate defeats anti-abortion bill, as GOP tries to jam Dems
The Senate on Monday rejected a bill making it a felony for a doctor to harm or neglect an infant who survives an “attempted abortion,” part of a Republican effort to squeeze Democrats ahead of the 2020 campaign.
The vote split mainly along party lines, 53-44. Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia crossed the aisle to vote for it; no Republicans broke ranks. Sixty votes are required for the bill to advance.
“Evidently the far left is no longer convinced that all babies are created equal,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Ahead of the vote, the bill’s Republican sponsors and outside anti-abortion groups lobbying for its passage made it clear that the intent of Monday’s vote was to undermine the growing pool of Senate Democrats running for president.
In a speech just before the vote, bill author Sen. Ben Sasse quoted campaign stump speeches by Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and independent Bernie Sanders vowing to look out for society’s “voiceless and vulnerable” and accused them of hypocrisy for opposing his bill’s regulations for the care of newborns.
“Was that all just clap track for the campaign trail and for soundbites? Or do people mean the stuff that they say around here?” he said of his colleagues with White House aspirations.
Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group closely allied with Hill Republicans and the Trump administration, said Monday that it was “watching this vote closely to see whether leading Democratic candidates for president in 2020 will go on the record for or against infanticide.”
“This bill is important in itself but it‘s also important as a setup for the coming election, where there will be a stark contrast between the president of the United States and any one of the Democratic nominees,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in an interview. She stood just outside the Senate chamber lobbying senators as they entered to cast their votes.
Sanders, Harris, Warren, Booker and Gillibrand all voted against the measure. Sherrod Brown, another Democratic senator exploring a White House bid, complained to POLITICO that the vote was held in bad faith.
“This is pure Mitch McConnell. It’s all aimed at keeping his base in line, while the president grows increasingly unpopular,” the Ohio Democrat said. “We’re not doing infrastructure, we’re not doing health care. We’re not doing anything that matters to help our country. It’s just votes on abortion and other kinds of divisive votes he’s going to bring.”
Democrats and reproductive rights advocates blasted the bill, saying it’s already a felony to harm or neglect an infant and that the “medically irresponsible” bill would restricts doctors from making case-by-case decisions about what is best for infants and mothers.
“This bill is not about protecting infants, as Republicans have claimed — because that is not up for debate and it is already the law,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “This bill is government interference in women’s health care, in families’ lives, and in medicine on steroids.”
The bill was previously introduced in the House by now-Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Sasse first tried to force a vote on it earlier this month, capitalizing on a wave of outrage among conservatives after New York loosened its restrictions on third-trimester abortions and embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gave an interview defending similar efforts in his state.
Democrats led by Murray objected to that fast-track procedure and blocked a floor vote, prompting Republicans to vow to try again.
Susan B. Anthony list said earlier this month that even though the Senate lacks the votes to pass abortion restrictions, it should continue to hold votes to put pressure on Democrats and divide the caucus. The move is part of a larger strategy designed to maintain current abortion restrictions while revving up the GOP’s conservative base ahead of 2020 and courting independents who may be turned off by Democrats’ position on abortion rights.
“We’re seeing a gradual movement to hammer a wedge right into the middle of the Democratic Party, and at some point soon here, they’re just going to have to cry mercy,” Dannenfelser said.
February 4, 2019
State of the Union guests reflect issues of interest
Two local members of Congress have invited victims of gun violence
Members of Congress usually get just one seat for a special guest to attend the president’s State of the Union address. Guests often are related to issues under discussion or they are symbolic of an agenda item individual members wish to promote.
Michelle Roberson of West Chester will be the guest of U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Chester County Democrat. She is the mother of Bianca Roberson, who was fatally shot in a 2017 road rage incident in Chester County. Bianca had just graduated from high school and was set to attend college on a full scholarship when she was killed.
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Montgomery County Democrat, will be joined by Jami Amo, a Willow Grove resident, gun safety activist and survivor of the 1999 Columbine school shooting.
Since being sworn in a month ago, the Democratic House majority has introduced a range of firearms legislation, including a universal background check bill.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a Scranton Democrat, has invited Monica Hughes of Pittsburgh, an Army reservist and a Transportation Security Administration officer who missed pay but kept working during the recent government shutdown.
During the shutdown, her family had to draw from savings, apply for food stamps and accept donations from friends and family to stay afloat, Casey’s office said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh County Republican, has asked a personal friend, John Malloy, to attend. Malloy is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Victaulic, a growing Easton-based manufacturer of mechanical joints for piping systems. He has served in key roles at several other manufacturing businesses and also has earned the Distinguished Citizen’s Award from the Boy Scouts of America.
U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser a Luzerne County Republican, has invited his wife, Shelley Meuser, as his guest. Source