November 18, 2020 - Issue: Vol. 166, No. 196 — Daily Edition116th Congress (2019 - 2020) - 2nd Session
STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS; Congressional Record Vol. 166, No. 196
(Senate - November 18, 2020)
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[Pages S7078-S7079] 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, Mrs. Feinstein, Mr. Tester, Mr. Heinrich, and Ms. Warren): S. 4914. A bill to amend title 23, United States Code, to establish a grant program for transportation projects to improve Tribal health, well-being, and youth safety, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Indian Affairs. Mr. CARPER. Mr. President, I today I am introducing legislation that aims to reduce traffic-related pedestrian fatalities in Native American communities while also improving public health and quality of life. First, let's be clear. Everyone in this country deserves reliable options to travel safely from one place to another. Everyone deserves roads that connect us to each other and expand our horizons. But the sad truth is that not everyone in this country has safe, reliable roads that foster connections and expand horizons. That is especially true in Native American communities. The adverse statistics surrounding the safety and health of Indigenous peoples are staggering. Vehicle-related unintentional injury is the No. 1 cause of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives aged 1 through 44. It is also the third overall cause of death for all American Indians and Alaska Natives, of any age or gender. While unsafe roadways put lives at risk, inadequate or unreliable transportation options create obstacles for everyday life, making it more difficult to simply access healthy groceries, schools, quality health care, emergency services and economic opportunities. Immobility for individuals within Indian Country reinforces barriers to education, quality healthcare, and economic opportunity. Meanwhile, Native American communities face disproportionately higher prevalence of diabetes and other heart disease. In fact, American Indian and Alaska Natives are more than twice more likely than non- Hispanic White Americans to die from diabetes. Cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of mortalities for Native Americans under the age of 65. While exercise can help to lower the risks associated with chronic heart disease, throughout Indian Country, there are few safe options for walking, running and bicycling. The sad truth is that decades of Federal underinvestment in transportation infrastructure has contributed to disproportionately higher rates of road traffic fatalities and poor public health outcomes in Indian Country. Unsafe, unreliable and inadequate transportation infrastructure is exacerbating a public safety crisis, worsening public health, and degrading quality of life. Investments in infrastructure that improve safety and expand opportunity for nonmotorized forms of transportation--such as sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, and pedestrian and bicycle signals-- can help to prevent more road traffic fatalities and also combat the prevalence of chronic health disparities that exist throughout Native American communities. To that end, the Promoting Access to Tribal Health, Wellbeing and Youth Safety Act would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Transportation to dedicate new resources for pedestrian-related infrastructure and improve pedestrian infrastructure throughout Indian Country. The legislation will also authorize $25 million annually for these critical projects. By improving pedestrian infrastructure across Tribal communities, we can save lives while improving health outcomes and quality of life in Tribal communities. I would like to thank my colleagues, Senator Feinstein, Senator Tester, Senator Heinrich, and Senator Warren, for joining me to introduce this legislation. As we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, I look forward to working with my colleagues on this issue. Together we can improve the safety and health of Indigenous peoples across the Nation. ______ By Ms. HIRONO: S. 4915. A bill to establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary. Ms. HIRONO. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act. This legislation would formally establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative--or SVI-- within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, DOJ. While the SVI was created in 2015 as an initiative within the DOJ, this legislation is needed to give the initiative authorization to protect the legal interests of servicemembers, veterans, and their families. I thank Representative Escobar and Representative Taylor for introducing this important legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. Our Nation owes a tremendous debt to our servicemembers, veterans, and military families for the sacrifices they make to protect our freedoms. Deployment can seriously compromise a servicemember's ability to meet obligations back home and protect their legal interests. Servicemembers and [[Page S7079]] their families have been charged unlawful lease termination fees when they receive permanent change of station or deployment orders. While deployed overseas, some have been denied voting rights, while others have had their property unlawfully sold. Members of the Reserve forces and the National Guard have been unjustly discriminated against and denied employment because of their military service. Servicemembers, veterans, and their families continue to be targeted by financial scams and fraud schemes. They deserve better than this, and we must ensure that our government protects their civil rights during deployment, transition back home, and as they settle into their civilian lives. The DOJ recognized that, while there are laws on the books to protect servicemembers, veterans, and their families, more is needed to be done by the Federal Government to improve education about what those laws are and what rights they protect and to increase Federal enforcement actions to ensure those rights are protected. To that end, the DOJ announced the creation of the SVI to further its efforts to enforce statutes that protect the civil rights of servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The SVI works closely with the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Judge Advocate General offices at military installations to educate servicemembers, veterans, and military families about their rights and how to report abuse. It also serves as a resource for anyone looking to obtain legal assistance and legal practitioners seeking information. Through the work of the SVI, the Department of Justice has brought a number of successful claims, including one against the city and county of Honolulu in February 2018 for illegally auctioning cars belonging to servicemembers. DOJ launched an investigation into the city's actions after receiving information from a military legal assistance officer and two Navy legal assistance attorneys that Honolulu had on at least three occasions failed to obtain court orders before auctioning cars belonging to servicemembers while those servicemembers were deployed aboard U.S. Navy ships. The city had violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, SCRA, by denying these servicemembers their right to obtain a court's review of whether the auction of their vehicles should be delayed or adjusted to account for their military service. The settlement that DOJ reached with Honolulu mandated that the city ensure servicemembers receive notice that their car has been taken into custody and that the city obtain a court order or SCRA waiver prior to auctioning a car owned by an Active Duty servicemember. The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act recognizes the work this initiative has carried out on behalf of servicemembers, veterans, and military families in Hawaii and across the Nation by making it permanent within the DOJ. This bill also tasks the initiative with serving as legal and policy advisor to the Attorney General, and liaison between the DOJ and military departments. The SVI is further tasked with coordinating prosecution of fraud that targets servicemembers and their families and enforcing Federal laws to protect servicemembers and veterans. I call on my colleagues in the Senate to support the DOJ's efforts to defend the rights of those who protect our country by swiftly passing the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act during the 116th Congress. ____________________