May 12, 2009 - Issue: Vol. 155, No. 72 — Daily Edition111th Congress (2009 - 2010) - 1st Session
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.''. ____________________