HUD Wants to Nullify Local Zoning Ordinances.

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WASHINGTON –  Senator Mike Lee announced his plans to offer an amendment that would block funding for a regulation that allows the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to dictate local zoning requirements in any community across the country.

“Even for our highly centralized federal government, this rule represents an extreme step in consolidating government decisions over distinctly local matters within the hands of distant, unaccountable bureaucrats,” said Lee. “Local authorities are far more attuned to the unique conditions and needs of their communities, and they have a personal stake in their success. In every state across the country, there is no doubt that a mayor and city council officials will be more personally invested and more effective in improving the lives of the people in their community than a federal official located in Washington, D.C.”

Senator Lee plans to offer his amendment to the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act should it be brought to the floor this week.

If funded, the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rule would empower federal officials to assert the authority to force any community that receives a Community Development Block Grant to comply with zoning plans written in Washington.  This rule effectively allows HUD to carve up the country, block by block, according to its own priorities and preferences.

Community Development Block Grants are allocations of federal tax dollars, issued to local governments by HUD, to address a variety of community development needs. One of the primary uses of these resources is to provide affordable public housing for individuals and families in need. Sadly, the inevitable consequence of federal management over how local officials spend this money will only make it harder for communities to provide adequate low-cost housing for their neighbors in need.

To protect the ability of local officials to serve low-income communities, Senator Lee’s amendment would prevent this egregious power grab by the federal government and would keep housing decisions closest to the people who are affected by them.

Rep. Paul Gosar is the original sponsor of a similar amendment in the House, which was successfully added to H.R. 4745, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015.

Will Working Families Survive Obama’s Brave New World?

The American Working Family -- on the Endangered List?
The American Working Family — on the Endangered List?

WASHINGTON – Tusday, Senator Mike Lee filed three amendments to a Senate bill being considered this week that would extend the time people have to collect unemployment insurance beyond six months.  The amendments continue Senator Lee’s push to enact solutions to problems in the Obama economy by focusing on job creation, accessibility of higher education and training, and improving work-life balance.

The first amendment is modeled after Sen. Lee’s Transportation Empowerment Act (S. 1702) and would significantly reduce the administrative and regulatory burdens the federal government places on states’ use of transportation funding.  Under this proposal, states could respond more quickly to the needs of citizens, start and finish projects sooner, and spend less money to complete them – all while creating and maintaining good jobs.

“Americans aren’t looking for unemployment insurance, they are looking for employment,” said Senator Lee. “The Democrats’ solution is to keep people tied to unemployment programs, rather than addressing the underlying problem.   My amendment would lift unnecessary burdens government imposes and give states and businesses the freedom to invest, grow, and hire more workers.”

The second amendment is built on Sen. Lee’s Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act (S. 1904), legislation that would open up new educational opportunities for many low-income and non-traditional students.  The bill allows states to set up a new and parallel system for accrediting educational institutions, curricula, apprenticeships, programs, and even individual courses, which are then available to receive federal student loan money.

“In today’s economy, employers need individuals with specialized skills,” said Senator Lee.  “But the current accreditation system – which drives up costs and leaves behind many non-traditional students, like working parents – acts as a barrier for millions of Americans who need the education and training to fill those jobs.  This amendment would make higher education and training more accessible and affordable to those who need it most.”

The third amendment is based on Sen. Lee’s Working Family Flexibility Act (S. 1623), which allows private-sector employees the same choice between comp time and overtime pay currently enjoyed by government employees.  Currently, federal law unfairly discriminates against these employees by prohibiting the use of comp time, forcing them to sacrifice family time for the family budget.

“For many families, especially with young children, their most precious commodity is time,” said Sen. Lee. “But today, federal labor laws restrict the way moms and dads and everyone else can use their time. This can lead to tough decisions about how many hours parents can work, or even if they’re able to work at all.  My amendment would make that choice easier and help working families achieve the right balance.”

America’s Infrastructure Being Ignored by Grabby Bureaucrats in Washington! Sen. Lee Says Our Transportation System is a Mess.

The TEA Act offers a fresh approach to transportation funding with better results

 

Travel Becoming Harder in America; whose fault is it?
Travel Becoming Harder in America; whose fault is it?

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Mike Lee released the following statement on the president’s transportation proposal:

“Today, the president has offered the country the same old idea: send more money to Washington where the special interests get their cut, the politicians get the credit, and future generations get the bill. Unfortunately, his proposal is more about preserving a dysfunctional system than improving our roads. It’s a top-down, DC-knows-best approach to do to our transportation infrastructure what Obamacare has done to our health care.

“Conservatives have a fresh approach that will save money, reduce commuting times, grow the economy and create jobs, and allow state and local officials, who are ultimately responsible for infrastructure projects, to respond more quickly to the transportation needs of each state.

“The Transportation Empowerment Act creates a new system where Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists siphon off precious resources before sending it back to the states with strings attached. Instead, under this proposal, states and cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more affordable projects.

“Some communities could choose to build more roads, while others might prefer to repair old ones. Some might build highways, others light-rail. And all would be free to experiment with innovative green technologies, and new ways to finance their projects, like congestion pricing and smart tolls.

“All states and localities should finally have the flexibility to develop the kind of transportation system they want, for less money, without politicians and special interests from other parts of the country telling them how, when, what, and where they should build.”

Lee Introduces Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act

Capitol Clown

 

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Mike Lee introduced a bill to address the deep problems in the federal government’s welfare programs that make it more difficult for low-income Americans to work their way into the middle class and stay there.  The “Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act” would get existing federal welfare programs under control and would help the working poor transition from poverty to opportunity and security.

“Poverty is not just the absence of money, but also the absence of opportunity,” said Sen. Lee. “Today’s poverty programs place artificial restraints on those who are trying to get ahead, build careers and provide better lives for themselves and their families. Successful welfare programs are those that make poverty more temporary, not more tolerable, and we need to move current policy in that direction.   The Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act will give all low-income Americans the opportunity to earn a good living and build a good life.”

The Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act corrects and strengthens current welfare programs by restoring work incentives for individuals and families, improving state administration of welfare programs, rewarding states that transition beneficiaries from welfare to work, and imposing greater transparency in means-tested welfare spending.

The bill has been cosponsored by Senators Cruz, Vitter, and Inhofe. Representative Jim Jordan is planning to introduce a companion version in the House.

The bill has been endorsed by the National Taxpayers Union, Heritage Action for America, the Association of Mature American Citizens, and the Concerned Women for America.

Why Are Democrats Blocking Access to Online University Education?

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WASHINGTON –  Senator Mike Lee outlined legislation that would greatly expand access to higher education for many working- and middle-class students, as well as many individuals seeking non-traditional forms of education.

In a speech at the Conservative Policy Summit, sponsored by Heritage Action for America, Lee argued that federal policy on higher education has not kept up with technology and, as a result, is leaving millions of students behind.

“Today, technology has made it possible for students to take classes from professors in another state; for academics to conduct research with colleagues across oceans; and for anyone with an iPad to carry a library around in their backpack,” said Lee.

“For the first time in history, students don’t have to go to college to go to college,” Lee added. “Unfortunately, this innovative, alternative market is being cordoned-off from the vast majority of students by increasingly outdated federal policy governing higher-education accreditation.”

He explained that the problem is the current federal accreditation policy, which only allows degree-issuing institutions to be accredited and, therefore, ensures only they can receive federal student loans.  Blocking out competition for education dollars drives up the cost of getting a degree.

“In effect, Washington’s offer to most Americans after high school is: go tens of thousands of dollars into non-dischargeable debt to pursue an over-priced degree there’s no guarantee you’ll receive, or spend the rest of your life locked out of the middle class,” said Lee.

To fix this, Lee has recently introduced the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act (S. 1904).  The bill would allow states to voluntarily create parallel accreditation systems that expand educational options eligible for federal student loan dollars.

“There are too many valuable opportunities and invaluable people current law excludes. It’s time to decouple Title IV eligibility and enrollment at degree-issuing institutions,” said Lee.

“In higher education, as in so many other areas, the greatest threats to equal opportunity are the unintended consequences of dysfunctional policies. The current system has helped a lot of people, but it has left many others behind.  Reform needs to circle back and make equal opportunity a reality foreveryone.”

 

Senator Mike Lee Says Religious Intolerance Rampant in the U.S. Military.

bigot

 

“Reports of religious intolerance, ranging from harassment like Handman experienced, to the removal of a menorah and nativity scenes from a California Air Force Base in December 2011, are part of what motivated Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to write legislation to protect the religious freedom of those serving in the military….

“As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Lee says he became informed about conflicts over religious freedom in the military, and he became determined to do something about it.

“‘We had been getting reports that a lot of religious individuals within the military were being threatened or having action taken against them as a result of their very basic expression of religious belief,’ Lee said recently. ‘In some instances, people were being affirmatively cautioned against expressing any kind of religious belief by commanding officers.’”

 

New legislation seeks to affirm religious freedom in military

Deseret News

Michael Handman had been at basic training in Georgia for less than a month when he sent a letter home to his parents with a frightening message. Handman, who was 20 at the time, said he was being persecuted because he is Jewish.

“I have just never been so discriminated against, humiliated about my religion,” he wrote his parents in the 2008 letter, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I just feel like I’m always looking over my shoulder. Maybe your dad was right … the Army is not the place for a Jew.”

Reports of religious intolerance, ranging from harassment like Handman experienced, to the removal of a menorah and nativity scenes from a California Air Force Base in December 2011, are part of what motivated Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to write legislation to protect the religious freedom of those serving in the military.

The National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law Dec. 26, 2013, by President Obama, calls on the U.S. military to accommodate “individual expressions of belief,” a step further than the previous version of the act, which was interpreted by some to stop short of allowing soldiers to speak freely about his or her faith without recrimination.

The new act aims to require the Department of Defense to ensure soldiers more religious freedom in word and deed, but as conflicts over faith in the military rise, and a long-abiding history of conflict when subordinates complain about their supervisors for unjust treatment persists, experts say only time will tell if the legislation will make an impact.

For Handman, the new NDAA law comes too late. Five years ago, the private was called derogatory names because of his faith, ordered to remove his yarmulke and rebuked for reading Jewish canon. Then, a few days after his letter home, on Sept. 24, 2008, Handman was lured into a laundry room and beaten to the point of unconsciousness, an Associated Press story says.

Handman was later transferred to another unit for his own protection, and the soldier who attacked him was discharged, but some say the conditions of the incident — a ritualistic military culture that favors Evangelical Christianity — never changed, and similar discrimination continues today.

Religious freedom

In 2012, another Jewish soldier was harassed on the job.

Since he joined the U.S. Army as an active duty soldier in 1989, he’s experienced some level of discrimination, he says, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, but in the last 18 months, the treatment has become intolerable.

“I’ve served in combat. I’m an outstanding officer, and all of a sudden I can’t do my job,” the solder said of negative treatment he received after he complained that his supervisor had ordered him to read the Bible in 24 hours and accept Jesus after the supervisor found out he was Jewish. “I was ready to quit the Army and leave and never come back. I couldn’t wear my yarmulke, I wasn’t allowed to have Kosher (meals). … I was told, ‘We don’t want you around.’ ”

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Lee says he became informed about conflicts over religious freedom in the military, and he became determined to do something about it.

“We had been getting reports that a lot of religious individuals within the military were being threatened or having action taken against them as a result of their very basic expression of religious belief,” Lee said recently. “In some instances, people were being affirmatively cautioned against expressing any kind of religious belief by commanding officers.”

In 2013, the Armed Services Committee attempted to address the issue by adding language to the NDAA that called for the military to “accommodate the beliefs” of its soldiers. But the language stopped short of including actions and speech associated with belief, Lee said, so resulting changes were stunted.

For example, the Family Research Council, a conservative nonprofit Christian lobbyist organization, points to a 2012 memo from Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz that commands leaders to “avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs” as evidence of curtailing religious speech among military commanders.

“Rather than erring on the side of restraining religious speech, we need to encourage our military to live in accordance to their faith,” said Leanna Baumer, senior legislative assistant for government affairs with the Family Research Council.

As part of legislation, the Department of Defense has 90 days from the day the law was passed to issue regulations on how the law should be applied. The Department of Defense issued its first directive on Jan. 22, which declares that sincerely held beliefs (religious or nonreligious) cannot be used as the basis of adverse personnel action or discrimination. The regulations also make accommodations for grooming and appearance. For example, soldiers might get permission to grow a beard or wear a yarmulke because of a religious belief.

The regulations are a step in the right direction, Baumer said, but only time will tell if the regulations go further, or if the new law is enforced.

“This amendment sent a message, loudly and clearly, that religious freedom means much more than accommodation of one’s religious belief,” Lee said. “It requires more of the government than the government allows people to think religious thoughts. They must also be able to engage in religious activity and speech.”

Changing religious intolerance

The anonymous Jewish soldier wrestling with discrimination doesn’t take much comfort in the Department of Defense’s regulations.

“They’re saying now I might be able to start wearing my beard, but I think that is going to make us bigger targets,” he said, voicing his disillusionment. “I don’t think the Army is addressing anything. I think they are trying to appear like they are, but in reality, it will make it more difficult for us.”

When the soldier was at his lowest point of discouragement, he contacted Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Weinstein, former legal counsel in the White House under Ronald Reagan, a registered Republican and retired Air Force officer, replied to the soldier’s email within 20 minutes.

Weinstein is a controversial advocate for religious freedom for members of the armed forces. His organization has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize six times, but groups like the Family Research Council refer to Weinstein as anti-Christian.

When Weinstein’s foundation became involved, a nativity scene was removed from the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station this Christmas, a painting with a Bible verse was removed from an Air Force Base in Idaho and the anonymous soldier’s superiors were fired.

Weinstein blames religious intolerance in the military on a “Christian Taliban” of “fundamentalist Christians” run amok.

“They’re now saying, ‘We are the ones being victimized, we are now the prey,’ when they were the predators,” Weinstein recently said from his office in New Mexico. “We see (that religious persecution) is more vicious, more violent, more stealthy and more pronounced.”

Weinstein advocates that commanders not place Bibles on their desktops because it might intimidate their subordinates. But while coercion and bullying are not the solution to greater religious freedom, neither is wiping away all traces of religion from the military, said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Individuals in the military should respect one another, even if their religious views differ, Blomberg says. Those who are offended by differing religions shouldn’t need to get the government involved to resolve their differences, he said, “Religious liberty means we agree to disagree and treat people in a respectful way.”

“A good test is, at the end of the day, are you creating more liberty for other people, or are you trying to shut down liberty for other people?” Blomberg said. “If you are creating more liberty, you’re going in the right direction.”

 

Lee: Farm Bill is a Monument to Washington Dysfunction

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WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Mike Lee blasted the Agriculture Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill, as a “Beltway marriage of convenience between welfare and corporate welfare,” and criticized the use of PILT payments, critical funding for Utah’s small, rural communities, as a political football.

“This Farm Bill is a monument to every dysfunction Washington indulges to bend our politics and twist our economy to benefit itself at the expense of the American people,” said Sen. Lee.  He added that the Farm Bill is “collusion between both parties against the American people; it benefits the special interests at the expense of the national interest.”

Lee outlined several offensive provisions included in the bill, such as sugar industry subsidies and the Christmas-tree tax, but reserved his greatest criticism for holding PILT payments hostage in order to facilitate passage of this deeply flawed legislation.  Lee called it a “bullying, disenfranchising shake-down of the American West.”

“To compensate local governments for the tax revenue Washington unfairly denies them, Congress created – as only Congress could – the PILT program, which stands for Payment In Lieu of Taxes,” explained Lee.  “Under PILT, Congress sends a few cents on the dollar out west every year to make up for lost property taxes. There is no guaranteed amount. Washington just sends what it feels like.”

“I have been on the phone with county commissioners for weeks, who feel they have no choice but to support a policy they know doesn’t work. This bill takes away their ability to plan and budget with certainty, and forces them to come back to Congress, hat in hand, every year. County commissioners know this is no way to run a community. I share their frustration, and I applaud their commitment to their neighbors and communities.”

Lee argued the best way to help the small rural communities that depend on PILT payments is to make the program permanent, rather than forcing Congress to authorize it each year.

“I’m convinced that in the long run, the best way to protect these communities is to find a real, permanent solution that gives them the certainty and equality they deserve.  My vote against the Farm Bill will be a vote to rescue Utahns from second-class citizenship, and local communities in my state from permanent dependence on the whims of faraway politicians.”