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Department Of Labor, Health And Human Services, And Education, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (House of Representatives - July 19, 2007)

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Ms. BERKLEY. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim the time in opposition to the gentleman's amendment.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. The gentlewoman from Nevada is recognized for 5 minutes.

Ms. BERKLEY. Mr. Chairman, I rise in the strongest possible opposition to this amendment.

In his misguided zeal to identify a high-profile example of wasteful Federal spending, the author of this amendment has instead provided me with an opportunity to sing the praises of a member of my community who has used his personal and professional success to help those that are less fortunate.

In 2001 Andre Agassi opened a charter school in Las Vegas, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. It is in one of the most disadvantaged areas in my congressional district. Agassi Prep currently serves students in grades K-10, with grades 11 and 12 being added in the next 2 years, for a total of 630 students when enrollment is complete. The first class will graduate in 2009. The student body is 96 percent minority.

This earmark, which I thank the gentleman for highlighting, would go to the Andre Agassi Prep's Technology and Multimedia Initiative and will increase the use of computer technology in math, science, reading, and language instructions.

This is exactly the type of environment we should be encouraging for all of our students in all of our schools.

Andre Agassi has been a tireless advocate for this academy and for numerous other philanthropic endeavors, including the Boys and Girls Clubs in Las Vegas, raising more than $60 million and contributing a substantial amount of his own money to improve the lives of children, youth at risk in my community. There is nobody that has done more for people in this community, my community, than Andre Agassi.

The only reason we're talking about this project on the floor today is because a famous name is attached to it. But whereas my colleague on the other side hopes to find a celebrity asking for Federal handouts rather than digging into his own pocket, he has instead highlighted a model citizen and a leader who has tried to make a difference and convince others to do the same.

It is one of the fastest growing areas. This is a very important earmark. I am proud to take this earmark. I will defend it with all my strength and ability.

At this time, I would like to yield whatever time is remaining to my colleague from Nevada, Jon Porter.

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Ms. BERKLEY. Reclaiming my time, let me sum up.

I'm going to urge defeat of this amendment. And before I yield back the balance of my time, I want to reiterate that I represent one of the faster growing areas in the country. If we are forced to rely strictly on formula funding for Federal assistance, we will always be behind the eight ball. We depend and rely on these earmarks in order to keep up with the latest technology and importance of providing for the people that I represent. I'm sorry that I had to even come down here to defend this earmark. I'm proud of it.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Ms. BERKLEY. Madam Chairman, Congress created the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation program in the FY 2001 Defense Authorization Act. This program compensates workers who were exposed to nuclear radiation while on the job within the Department of Energy and who later developed cancer and other illnesses.

While the program was a step toward righting the wrongs that these hard-working Americans had to suffer, there have been many problems since the enactment of this program. Many DOE workers have had difficulty proving that their cancer was directly caused by the radiation they were exposed to in the line of duty. The years-long process that the program requires workers to go through to prove they deserve compensation is intrusive and drawn-out.

This is an issue that directly affects my constituents. The Nevada Test site is an area larger than the State of Rhode Island, located about 65 miles north of Las Vegas. After years of exposure to nuclear radiation, many DOE workers who were employed at the Nevada Test Site during Cold War nuclear testing are now battling several forms of cancer, and many have already passed away. Unfortunately, many of these workers have also been turned away from Federal compensation.

However, there is an alternative for workers to qualify for Federal compensation. Workers at other Energy Department facilities across the country have been designated as part of the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC). Workers at these locations qualify for EEOIC benefits without going through an arduous and bureaucratic process. Since the creation of the program, Nevada Test Site workers have petitioned to be included in the SEC, but have only succeeded in part. Currently, only NTS workers who worked at the site between 1951 and 1962 are part of the Cohort and therefore automatically qualify for benefits. This only accounts for one third of all NTS claimants, leaving a large group of former Federal employees who are awaiting the compensation they deserve.

Madam Chairman, I understand this appropriations bill is not the time to designate Special Exposure Cohorts. However, it is imperative that we as a Congress act on this issue before it's too late: before the victims of nuclear radiation are gone. Before their families are left behind without their loved ones. This is long overdue and we must act now.

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