STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS; Congressional Record Vol. 155, No. 72
(Senate - May 12, 2009)

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[Pages S5375-S5377]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




          STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

      By Mr. CARPER (for himself and Ms. Collins):
  S. 1025. A bill to prohibit termination of employment of volunteer 
firefighters and emergency medical personnel responding to emergencies 
or major disasters, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, 
Education, Labor, and Pensions.
  Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I am pleased to join Senator Carper in 
introducing a bill that would provide reasonable job protections for 
our Nation's volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel who 
save thousands of lives across this country every year.
  This bill is a matter of simple fairness. It recognizes that 
volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel not only serve 
their own towns and offer mutual assistance to other communities on a 
day-to-day basis, but also that they are a key component in State and 
Federal plans for responding to catastrophic natural disasters and 
terrorist attacks.
  Across the Nation, our emergency planning relies on the ready 
availability of these brave first responders. Indeed, volunteers are 
absolutely critical to mounting a response to disasters, both large and 
small. My home State of Maine, for example, has slightly more than 
10,000 firefighters in 492 departments. Because Maine is a mostly rural 
State, fully 88 percent of those firefighters are volunteers.
  Yet, even if they are called up in a major disaster or a 
Presidentially declared emergency under the Stafford Act, these 
volunteers have no official protection for their jobs while they are 
answering the call to duty.
  We should protect volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel who put 
their lives on the line.
  The current lack of job protection is troubling. If large numbers of 
volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel were terminated or demoted 
after being called away to a disaster or a series of disasters, 
recruitment and retention of volunteers could be devastated.
  The Volunteer Firefighter and EMS Personnel Job Protection Act would 
correct the injustice and mitigate the danger in a measured and 
responsible way. It would protect the volunteer first responders 
against termination or demotion by employers if they are called upon to 
respond to a Presidentially declared emergency or a major disaster for 
up to 14 work days.
  Most employers are strong supporters of our volunteer firefighters 
and EMS personnel, and this bill imposes no unreasonable burdens on 
employers. They are not obligated to pay the volunteers during their 
absence, and they are entitled to receive official documentation that 
an absent employee was in fact summoned to and served in a disaster 
response.
  Finally, I would note that the bill would facilitate the work of 
emergency managers. Having this job protection in force would allow 
them to make operational and contingency plans with greater confidence, 
knowing that volunteer responders would not be forced to withdraw in 
short order for fear of losing their jobs.
  By extending some peace of mind to these brave men and women, we can 
strengthen the protection and lifesaving response that they provide to 
many millions of Americans. I believe this bill merits the support of 
every Senator, and I am proud to be an original cosponsor.
                                 ______
                                 
      By Mr. CORNYN (for himself, Mr. Inhofe, Mr. Wyden, Mrs. 
        Hutchison, and Mr. Begich):
  S. 1026. A bill to amend the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee 
Voting Act to improve procedures for the collection and delivery of 
marked absentee ballots of absent overseas uniformed service voters, 
and for other purposes; to the Committee on Rules and Administration.
  Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, today I am reintroducing the Military 
Voting Protection Act--a bipartisan bill to support our troops and 
protect their right to vote. In every Federal election in recent 
memory, American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have 
encountered substantial roadblocks in the voting process, especially 
those who are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a national 
disgrace.
  Our military service members put their lives on the line to protect 
the rights and freedoms of all Americans. In return, it is our 
responsibility to do everything we can to support them. The nature of 
the Global War on Terror and the high tempo of U.S. military 
operations--including our surge into Afghanistan--will necessitate 
overseas service by our troops for the foreseeable future. It is 
imperative that we put in place a system to ensure that American 
service members serving abroad can participate in the democratic 
process even as they simultaneously fight to defend our democracy, its 
institutions, and the American way of life. Surely, these brave men and 
women have earned at least that much through their blood, sweat, and 
tears.
  Yet the country they defend has repeatedly denied our troops one of 
our most sacred rights--the right to vote. The U.S. Election Assistance 
Commission, in studying the 2006 election, found that only 47.6 percent 
of the military voters who requested absentee ballots were actually 
successful in casting those ballots. That means that less than half of 
those troops who wanted to vote were able to do so,

[[Page S5376]]

which is appalling. Overall participation rates among military and 
overseas voters in the November 2006 election were also extremely low. 
Looking at the big picture, there were roughly 6 million eligible 
military and overseas U.S. voters at that time, but only 16.5 percent 
of them were able to request an absentee ballot for the election. 
According to a 2006 DoD Inspector General report, only 59 percent of 
surveyed service members even knew where to obtain voting information 
on their installation, and only 40 percent had actually received 
assistance from their designated Voting Assistance Officer. Though the 
official data from the 2008 election is not yet available, the 
preliminary evidence indicates that our military voters faced the same 
array of problems in trying to cast their ballots as in previous 
elections.
  Our troops report many procedural hurdles when trying to participate 
in federal, state, and local elections. States have inadequate 
processes and unreasonable timelines in place for transmitting blank 
absentee ballots to our troops, and the methods available to these 
service members for returning completed ballots to local election 
officials are both slow and antiquated. Moreover, there are a myriad of 
absentee voting rules and regulations that are extremely confusing and 
vary widely with each state. The process is clearly broken, and there 
is no excuse for not stepping up to challenge the status quo and 
streamline the process. We ask so much of our troops, and in return we 
have given them a voting system that is perplexing, frustrating, slow, 
and often dysfunctional. They deserve better.
  The bill I introduce today can help address some of these procedural 
hurdles. The Military Voting Protection, MVP, Act will give our troops 
a louder and clearer voice at the polls by ensuring their absentee 
ballots are delivered back home in time to be counted and do not get 
lost on the way. It will reduce delays in the absentee voting process 
by requiring the Department of Defense to take a more active role in 
the process. The MVP Act will require the DoD to be responsible for 
collecting completed absentee ballots from overseas troops and then 
express-shipping them back to the U.S. in time to be counted, allowing 
troops to track their ballots while they are in transit and confirm 
their delivery after they arrive at local election offices.
  I am pleased that Senators Wyden and Inhofe have joined me in this 
effort; it is a testament to their unwavering support for the members 
of our Armed Forces.
  We should pass this bipartisan bill quickly so that elections 
officials have time to prepare for the 2010 election cycle. Meaningful 
reform will not come overnight, but now is the time to take up the 
cause of military voters. There are 18 months until the next election, 
which is enough time to implement significant improvements. If we fail, 
further disenfranchisement of military voters will likely result. We 
must avoid a repeat of 2004, 2006, and 2008.
  This bill does not solve all the problems with our current military 
voting system, but it is an important first step. The Americans who 
answer the call to serve are a national treasure, and I remain in awe 
of their selfless sacrifice and commitment to the defense of freedom. 
In what is now the 8th year of the Global War on Terror, they continue 
to voluntarily step forward to defend our Nation and our freedom--often 
requiring immeasurable personal sacrifice by them and their loved ones. 
The members of this next ``greatest generation'' deserve nothing less 
than the same constitutional rights and individual liberties that they 
safeguard for their fellow citizens back home. It is the responsibility 
of Congress to ensure that they get them.
  Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be 
printed in the Record.
  There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be 
printed in the Record, as follows:

                                S. 1026

       Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of 
     the United States of America in Congress assembled,

     SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

       This Act may be cited as the ``Military Voting Protection 
     Act of 2009''.

     SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

       Congress makes the following findings:
       (1) In the defense of freedom, members of the United States 
     Armed Forces are routinely deployed to overseas theaters of 
     combat, assigned to overseas locations, and assigned to 
     ocean-going vessels far from home.
       (2) As the United States continues to fight the Global War 
     on Terror, the substantial need for overseas service by 
     members of the Armed Forces will continue, as we live in what 
     senior Army leaders have referred to as an ``era of 
     persistent conflict''.
       (3) The right to vote is one of the most basic and 
     fundamental rights enjoyed by Americans, and one which the 
     members of the Armed Forces bravely defend both at home in 
     the United States and overseas.
       (4) The decisions of elected officials of the United States 
     Government directly impact the members of the Armed Forces 
     who are often called to deploy or otherwise serve overseas as 
     a result of decisions made by such elected officials.
       (5) The ability of the members of the Armed Forces to vote 
     while serving overseas has been hampered by numerous factors, 
     including inadequate processes for ensuring their timely 
     receipt of absentee ballots, delivery methods that are 
     typically slow and antiquated, and a myriad of absentee 
     voting procedures that are often confusing and vary among the 
     several States.
       (6) The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting 
     Act, which requires the States to allow absentee voting for 
     members of the Armed Forces and other specified groups of 
     United States citizens, was intended to protect the voting 
     rights of members of the Armed Forces.
       (7) The current system of absentee voting for overseas 
     members of the Armed Forces could be greatly improved by 
     decreasing delays in the process, and certain steps by the 
     Department of Defense, including utilization of express mail 
     services for the delivery of completed absentee ballots, 
     would address the major sources of delay.

     SEC. 3. PROCEDURES FOR COLLECTION AND DELIVERY OF MARKED 
                   ABSENTEE BALLOTS OF ABSENT OVERSEAS UNIFORMED 
                   SERVICES VOTERS.

       (a) In General.--The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens 
     Absentee Voting Act (42 U.S.C. 1973ff et seq.) is amended by 
     inserting after section 103 the following new section:

     ``SEC. 103A. PROCEDURES FOR COLLECTION AND DELIVERY OF MARKED 
                   ABSENTEE BALLOTS OF ABSENT OVERSEAS UNIFORMED 
                   SERVICES VOTERS.

       ``(a) Collection.--The Presidential designee shall 
     establish procedures for collecting marked absentee ballots 
     of absent overseas uniformed services voters in regularly 
     scheduled general elections for Federal office, including 
     absentee ballots prepared by States and the Federal write-in 
     absentee ballot prescribed under section 103, and for 
     delivering the ballots to the appropriate election officials.
       ``(b) Ensuring Delivery Prior to Closing of Polls.--
       ``(1) In general.--Under the procedures established under 
     this section, the Presidential designee shall ensure that any 
     marked absentee ballot for a regularly scheduled general 
     election for Federal office which is collected prior to the 
     deadline described in paragraph (3) is delivered to the 
     appropriate election official in a State prior to the time 
     established by the State for the closing of the polls on the 
     date of the election.
       ``(2) Utilization of express mail delivery services.--The 
     Presidential designee shall carry out this section by 
     utilizing the express mail delivery services of the United 
     States Postal Service.
       ``(3) Deadline described.--
       ``(A) In general.--Except as provided in subparagraph (B), 
     the deadline described in this paragraph is noon (in the 
     location in which the ballot is collected) on the fourth day 
     preceding the date of the election.
       ``(B) Authority to establish alternative deadline for 
     certain locations.--If the Presidential designee determines 
     that the deadline described in subparagraph (A) is not 
     sufficient to ensure timely delivery of the ballot under 
     paragraph (1) with respect to a particular location because 
     of remoteness or other factors, the Presidential designee may 
     establish as an alternative deadline for that location the 
     latest date occurring prior to the deadline described in 
     subparagraph (A) which is sufficient to ensure timely 
     delivery of the ballot under paragraph (1).
       ``(c) Tracking Mechanism.--Under the procedures established 
     under this section, the Presidential designee, working in 
     conjunction with the United States Postal Service, shall 
     implement procedures to enable any individual whose marked 
     absentee ballot for a regularly scheduled general election 
     for Federal office is collected by the Presidential designee 
     to determine whether the ballot has been delivered to the 
     appropriate election official, using the Internet, an 
     automated telephone system, or such other methods as the 
     Presidential designee may provide.
       ``(d) Outreach for Absent Overseas Uniformed Services 
     Voters on Procedures.--The Presidential designee shall take 
     appropriate actions to inform individuals who are anticipated 
     to be absent overseas uniformed services voters in a 
     regularly scheduled general election for Federal office to 
     which this section applies of the procedures for the 
     collection and delivery of marked absentee ballots 
     established pursuant to this section, including the manner in 
     which such voters may utilize such procedures for the 
     submittal of marked absentee ballots in the election.
       ``(e) Reports on Utilization of Procedures.--
       ``(1) Reports required.--Not later than 180 days after each 
     regularly scheduled general

[[Page S5377]]

     election for Federal office to which this section applies, 
     the Presidential designee shall submit to the relevant 
     committees of Congress a report on the utilization of the 
     procedures for the collection and delivery of marked absentee 
     ballots established pursuant to this section during such 
     general election.
       ``(2) Elements.--Each report under paragraph (1) shall 
     include, for the general election covered by such report, a 
     description of the utilization of the procedures described in 
     that paragraph during such general election, including the 
     number of marked absentee ballots collected and delivered 
     under such procedures and the number of such ballots which 
     were not delivered by the time of the closing of the polls on 
     the date of the election (and the reasons therefor).
       ``(3) Relevant committees of congress defined.--In this 
     subsection, the term `relevant committees of Congress' 
     means--
       ``(A) the Committees on Appropriations, Armed Services, and 
     Rules and Administration of the Senate; and
       ``(B) the Committees on Appropriations, Armed Services, and 
     House Administration of the House of Representatives.
       ``(f) Absent Overseas Uniformed Services Voter Defined.--In 
     this section, the term `absent overseas uniformed services 
     voter' means an overseas voter described in section 
     107(5)(A).
       ``(g) Authorization of Appropriations.--There are 
     authorized to be appropriated to the Presidential designee 
     such sums as may be necessary to carry out this section.
       ``(h) Effective Date.--This section shall apply with 
     respect to the regularly scheduled general election for 
     Federal office held in November 2010 and each succeeding 
     election for Federal office.''.
       (b) Conforming Amendments.--
       (1) Federal responsibilities.--Section 101(b) of such Act 
     (42 U.S.C. 1973ff(b)) is amended--
       (A) by striking ``and'' at the end of paragraph (6);
       (B) by striking the period at the end of paragraph (7) and 
     inserting ``; and''; and
       (C) by adding at the end the following new paragraph:
       ``(8) carry out section 103A with respect to the collection 
     and delivery of marked absentee ballots of absent overseas 
     uniformed services voters in elections for Federal office.''.
       (2) State responsibilities.--Section 102(a) of such Act (42 
     U.S.C. 1973ff-1(a)) is amended--
       (A) by striking ``and'' at the end of paragraph (4);
       (B) by striking the period at the end of paragraph (5) and 
     inserting ``; and''; and
       (C) by adding at the end the following new paragraph:
       ``(6) carry out section 103A(b)(2) with respect to the 
     processing and acceptance of marked absentee ballots of 
     absent overseas uniformed services voters.''.
       (c) Report on Status of Implementation.--
       (1) Report required.--Not later than 180 days after the 
     date of the enactment of this Act, the Presidential designee 
     under section 101(a) of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens 
     Absentee Voting Act shall submit to the relevant committees 
     of Congress a report on the status of the implementation of 
     the program for the collection and delivery of marked 
     absentee ballots established pursuant to section 103A of such 
     Act, as added by subsection (a).
       (2) Elements.--The report under paragraph (1) shall include 
     a status of the implementation of the program and a detailed 
     description of the specific steps taken towards its 
     implementation for November 2010.
       (3) Relevant committees of congress defined.--In this 
     subsection, the term ``relevant committees of Congress'' has 
     the meaning given such term in section 103A(e)(3) of the 
     Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, as added 
     by subsection (a).

     SEC. 4. PROTECTING VOTER PRIVACY AND SECRECY OF ABSENTEE 
                   BALLOTS.

       Section 101(b) of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens 
     Absentee Voting Act (42 U.S.C. 1973ff(b)), as amended by 
     section 3(b), is amended--
       (1) by striking ``and'' at the end of paragraph (7);
       (2) by striking the period at the end of paragraph (8) and 
     inserting ``; and''; and
       (3) by adding at the end the following new paragraph:
       ``(9) to the greatest extent practicable, take such actions 
     as may be required to ensure that absent uniformed services 
     voters who cast absentee ballots at locations or facilities 
     under the Presidential designee's jurisdiction are able to do 
     so in a private and independent manner, and take such actions 
     as may be required to protect the privacy of the contents of 
     absentee ballots cast by absent uniformed services voters and 
     overseas voters while such ballots are in the Presidential 
     designee's possession or control.''.

                          ____________________