National Association of Attorneys General

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Legislative Update

Blair Tinkle, NAAG Legislative Director

The NAAG Legislative Director, in conjunction with other NAAG Project Counsel, assists NAAG members by providing appropriate analysis and accurate status assessment of legislation pending in Congress that is relevant to state Attorneys General. In order for Attorneys General and their staff to make informed policy decisions on federal legislation, it is imperative that they have a full understanding of what is contained in bills, as well as a complete awareness of procedural, practical, and political issues surrounding legislation. Although the Legislative Director does not advocate policy positions to Attorneys General, nor do project counsel at NAAG, NAAG staff is here to facilitate all aspects of relaying NAAG positions on federal legislation to Congress as directed by the membership.

This month’s Legislative Update focuses on the most current issues in Congress deserving attention of state Attorneys General and is not intended to be an exhaustive overview of all bills affecting state Attorneys General. In effect, this regularly feature will inform NAAG members about “what’s hot” in Congress.

It should be noted that the current atmosphere in Congress has made it somewhat difficult to move individual bills. Although the Democratic majority in the House is large enough to carry a mandate at times and move certain bills, the Senate is clearly facing challenges advancing legislation, both procedurally and politically.

As most are aware, the Senate requires a vote of 60 Senators to end debate and force a vote on bills, effectively blocking the filibuster. In the previous 109th Congress, the 55-45 Senate Republican majority oftentimes found it difficult to find five Democrat Senators to join with their majority and move bills to a vote. Likewise, in the current 110th Congress, the 51-49 Senate Democrat majority is having similar difficulties garnering the necessary nine Republicans to move bills. In addition, Senate procedures allow for a single Senator to put an anonymous hold to halt a bill for any reason.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate look to resolve the ?subprime mortgage crisis? and epidemic of foreclosures, but an early start to the 2008 elections threatens to slow down movement of many legislative initiatives.

On the political front, the 2008 presidential election is already well underway and early-targeted House and Senate seats have created a difficult climate for advancing legislative initiatives. Nonetheless, there are issues of interest to state Attorneys General that are receiving enough media and public attention that Congress may be forced to act.

Both chambers of Congress are currently addressing the issue now known by most media as the “subprime mortgage crisis” and epidemic of foreclosures nationwide. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) has announced legislation toughening standards for mortgage underwriting and lending practices. It has been reported that the draft language is currently not being challenged by the lending industry (raising eyebrows in the consumer protection community), but the bill has yet to be introduced. The bill will be distributed to state Attorneys General by NAAG staff when it is available.

Similarly, it is likely that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) would introduce a bill addressing the subprime lending issue. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) have introduced bills addressing this issue and some action is anticipated this fall or early next year.

The issues of lead standards and lead tainted toys and other children’s products are also attracting significant media and public attention, and are therefore likely to generate a Congressional response. The Senate recently held hearings on the issue and a bill by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) has been reported as the most comprehensive bill addressing this initiative to date. The Pryor bill is most likely to be the vehicle in the Senate, but there are also bills in consideration by Senators Clinton, Obama, and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The House is also expected to address this issue and it seems likely that some legislation will move in the near future.

Regarding tobacco issues and Congressional action, President Bush recently vetoed a bill addressing SCHIP, a children’s health insurance measure for which the financing mechanism would have increased the federal tobacco excise tax (cigarette tax) from $0.39 a pack to $1.00. The House is scheduled to attempt to override the President’s veto in October 2007. House Democrats are hopeful to gain sufficient Republican support to sustain the two-thirds (or 290 votes) necessary to override the veto. However, the bill passed the House originally by a vote of 265-159. Depending upon the outcome of the veto override, the excise tax increase to fund SCHIP could likely be addressed again soon.

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) announced last summer that his FDA regulation of tobacco bill would be passed in Committee and moved to the Senate floor before the August break and would be heard by the full Senate this fall. The bill did pass committee before the August break, is pending full Senate consideration, and could see floor action at any time.

On another tobacco related note, a NAAG letter, signed by more than 50 Attorneys General, was sent to Congress in support of the PACT Act, a measure sponsored by Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME), to curtail the illegal online sales of tobacco products.

Another issue gaining momentum in the last several weeks is the restoration of federal funding of child support enforcement monies cut by the “Deficit Reduction Act of 2005” (DRA). Several measures are pending in Congress to restore child support incentive matching funds that were cut by the DRA. In early October 2007, a letter signed by more than 500 interested groups and jurisdictions was sent to the Hill in support of restoring these funds. This legislation, with 47 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House and 23 bi-partisan co-sponsors in the Senate, could see action in Congress soon, perhaps as part of the SCHIP veto override in October 2007.

Another topic currently of interest is the $20 billion College Cost Reduction and Access Act that was recently signed by President Bush. The Act contains provisions that offer loan forgiveness for those who have held public service jobs for more than ten years, potentially affecting state Assistant Attorneys General.

On other issues important to state Attorneys General, NAAG staff continue to track pending legislation addressing the following issues:

  • Data Security/Security Breach/Breach Notification/ID Theft
  • Do-Not-Call (particularly as it relates to the 5-year re-registration issue and recorded political campaign calls)
  • Auto Salvage
  • Household Goods Movers
  • Sale of Cell Phone Records
  • Anti-Pyramid Schemes
  • Rent-To-Own
  • Internet Pharmacies
  • Airline Passengers Rights
  • Health Records Information Technology/Privacy
  • Food Safety Labeling
  • Internet Gambling Regulation
  • Hate Crimes
  • Asbestos Fund
  • Free Trade/Fast Track
  • Nuclear Waste Storage
  • Bankruptcy
  • Grants

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Talauega Eleasalo V. Ale, American Samoa Attorney General

Talauega Eleasalo V. Ale (left) is the attorney general of American Samoa.