January 6, 2009

Kohl introduces his 'priority' bills as Senate convenes

Sure, the U.S. Senate convened this morning, but all you saw on the teevee was its refusal to seat Burris (Roland, not Plaxico!) as the junior senator from Illinois. And jabber about the comedian Al Franken, elected -- if the recount holds -- from Minnesota. We're not kidding. Or laughing.

Not a single word passed the CNN anchors' lips about the bills introduced by Sen. Herb Kohl. Curse you, Mainstream Media!

Anyway, Wisconsin's senior senator (by four years) announced plans to immediately introduce bills related to his "priorities" for the new session of Congress, its 111th. Herb surprises us sometimes with his priorities; I mean, "protecting homeowners in foreclosure from financial predators" is important, sure, but a priority? Financial predators got them into this position in the first place, and Congress did nothing for decades -- until finally spending bailout billions that didn't give a penny to the homeowners at all. And then he's got something or other relating to freight railroads? What's wrong with FedEx?

In any case, here are Herb Kohl's priority bills, as enumerated in his press release:

Student Credit Card Protection Act: Kohl’s legislation will help curb abusive lending practices to our nation’s college student population. Credit card companies aggressively target credit cards to college students, often extending them open-ended lines of credit at high interest rates without considering their ability to repay. The legislation will require credit card companies to verify income of a college student prior to approving a line of credit and also prohibits companies from issuing multiple credit cards to students. If enacted, this will limit the amount of credit card debt a student can amass prior to graduation. (But will do nothing about the huge loans many college students have to take out to pay for tuition...)

Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Act: Kohl’s legislation will help protect homeowners in foreclosure from financial predators. These scams are becoming more prevalent as foreclosure rates rise across the country. Wisconsin’s foreclosure rate is up 22 percent from last year and the Federal Reserve is estimating that 2.5 million homeowners will file for foreclosure in 2009.

Generics First Act: Kohl’s bill requires the use of available generic drugs under the Medicare part D prescription drug program, unless the brand name drug is determined to be medically necessary by a physician. Modeled after similar provisions in many state-administered Medicaid programs, this measure would help reduce the high costs of the new prescription drug program and keep seniors from reaching the current “donut hole” in coverage by guiding beneficiaries toward cost-saving generic drug alternatives.

Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act: Kohl's bill will abolish the antitrust exemptions protecting freight railroads from obeying the same rules of fair competition as almost all other industries. These obsolete antitrust exemptions unfairly insulate railroads from competition and lead to railroad shippers -- vital industries such as power utilities relying on shipments of coal, farmers shipping grain, and chemical companies and other manufacturers -- paying higher prices for degraded service. These higher prices are passed on to consumers in the form of higher electricity rates, higher food prices, and higher prices for manufactured goods. This bill passed both the Senate Judiciary Committee without dissent last year, and the House counterpart passed the House Judiciary Committee.

Fast Track to College Act: Kohl’s bill will establish a grant initiative for “dual enrollment” programs and “early college high schools” to reduce high school dropout rates throughout Wisconsin and improve access to college for low-income students. These are programs in which high schools partner with a college to allow low-income students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and up to two years of college credit, including an associate’s degree –tuition free. The legislation is based on a model established by the Gates Foundation’s Early College High School Initiative, which since 2002 has started or redesigned almost 160 schools in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

Discount Pricing Consumer Protection Act: Kohl's bill will restore the ban under antitrust law against manufacturers setting a minimum retail price. This nearly century-old ban was overturned by a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court in the Leegin case in 2007. Permitting manufacturers to set minimum retail price significantly harms the ability of retailers to discount, leads to higher prices for consumer goods, and damages retail competition.

Retooling the Health Care Workforce for an Aging America Act: Kohl’s legislation will expand education and training opportunities in geriatrics and long-term care for licensed health professionals, direct care workers and family caregivers by incorporating major recommendations put forth in a 2008 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, titled “Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Healthcare Workforce.” The bill increases funding for grants in geriatrics at health professions schools and establishes a national demonstration to evaluate a set of training requirements for personal and home care aides. It also includes online training and information and referral services to family caregivers.

Weekend Voting Act: Kohl's bill will move federal elections to the first weekend in November. Having federal elections on a Tuesday -- a day inconvenient to most voters as it interferes with millions of citizens' work, school, or child care responsibilities -- is a historical anachronism that substantially depresses voter participation. Moving federal elections to both days of the weekend will remove this needless obstacle to voting and citizen participation in our democracy.

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