NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009 -- (Senate - September 12, 2008)
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AMENDMENT NO. 5296
Mr. ALLARD. Mr. President, I am rising to speak in regard to the Defense authorization bill, which is now being considered on the floor of the Senate. I am delighted that we are moving forward with this piece of legislation. It is something that gets passed every year. It is important that we get this kind of legislation passed because, with the challenges the country is facing, we need to deal with some very vital issues in the defense of this country and also take care of the families and the men and women in the armed services.
I want to mention a few things about a couple of amendments I plan on introducing at some point in time for consideration by the Senate. One of them has to do with Fort Carson, which is located in Colorado Springs, CO. It is an attractive place, if you are in the Army, to be assigned. It is one of the bases where we are looking at some expansion possibilities.
One of the key points with the new personnel we are bringing is that they need more training space. So I have been working with the Colorado Springs community and the commander at Fort Carson, as well as the Army, to facilitate this so it can move forward and everybody would be comfortable with what is being done. Earlier in our discussions, when I visited with the commander, he assured me that in the process of acquiring property he would protect private property rights. That is extremely important to the people of Colorado, particularly in the rural areas. This expanded training area is in a very rural area in southern Colorado. With the assurance that they would protect private property rights, I began to say that now you need to talk to the members of the communities and elected officials and see if you cannot work out some agreement. The Army has put forth considerable efforts up to this particular point in time. I have been asked to begin to propound an amendment that would support the Army's position on protecting property rights.
Last year, as part of the fiscal year 2008 Defense Authorization Act, I included language that would require the Army to submit to Congress an outline of their justification for the expansion of the Pinon Canyon maneuver site. I was pleased with the Army's findings and am convinced there is a critical need for additional training space for the new troops that are set to arrive at Fort Carson in the near future.
Although the Army identified a need of 418,577 acres, they have decided that just over 100,000 acres will be adequate to meet their immediate needs. These 100,000 acres will still provide the necessary space for enhanced training but will have less of an impact on the surrounding community.
In reading the Army's report, I believe they have shown their willingness to work with the community on a variety of issues: land, cultural resources, and historic preservation concerns in the area. For example, Otero County, one of the neighboring counties to Pinon Canyon, has asked that the footprint of the expansion not invade the Comanche National Grassland, and the Army's new plan leaves that area untouched. Additional community leaders suggested that the expansion site not cross Interstate 350, which the Army has also agreed to.
I also want to draw attention to the economic impact data that signals significant increases in revenue for the surrounding area. The expansion would generate more than 100 full-time civilian and contractor positions, equalling as much as $5 million in payroll. These would be civilian jobs and would yield increased property and tax sale revenue for the area.
Now, that is important, because if you have Federal facilities in your county, the Federal Government doesn't pay taxes. They make payments in lieu of taxes. Many times, the complaints we have from local governments in Colorado say it doesn't measure up to the lost revenue if that had been a facility in the private sector. This is an important part of that, so this part of Colorado wants and needs economic development. They need ways to be able to expand their property tax base so they can support their schools and support their community infrastructure in that area and in the country. So this is a very important provision, as far as the elected officials in that area.
Most importantly, the Army has again reiterated their commitment to acquire the land from willing sellers only.
In spite of the Army's continued commitment to acquire the land for expansion only from willing sellers, there is still apprehension among the landowners, and I want to help ease that concern. That is why I will be proposing later on this amendment to the Defense authorization bill. It is an amendment which will take the possibility of eminent domain completely off the table.
As I said time and again, we must remember that property rights go both ways. Landowners should have the right to keep or sell their land if they so choose. If there are willing sellers in the area of the proposed expansion, then I see a very win-win solution.
Again, property owners don't want to have the Army come in and begin to condemn their property. Many of the farmers and ranchers have property in their families that date clear back to the Mexican land grant era in Colorado. They are very established in those areas and have no desire to move and want to be a part of the community and do not want to be forced out of the area.
I have said time and again, we must be very sensitive about property rights. The Army now has issued this comprehensive plan which shows the critical need for expansion. The Army has completed everything Congress has asked of them in the previous legislation. They continue to work with community leaders and landowners to find a win-win situation.
Fort Carson is growing fast and will soon have an additional brigade combat team. The United States has a responsibility to ensure our service men and women who have so courageously chosen to serve this great country receive the best training possible. I believe this expansion will help them do so.
I hope this amendment I will be offering will ease the concerns of our ranchers in the area, and we can soon move forward with a decision from the Army and from the locally elected officials and ranchers involved in the area.
AMENDMENT NO. 5298
Mr. President, another amendment I have been working on is an amendment to bring attention to the fact that our military service members are faced with an ineffective process and unnecessary hurdles when attempting to exercise their right to vote.
Military absentee voting gained attention in the 2000 Presidential election. The Government Accountability Office reported that military ballots during the 2000 election were disqualified five times as often as civilian ballots. Despite numerous attempts by the Congress, our military continued to face voting problems in the 2002, 2004, and 2006 elections.
In 2006, Active-Duty military voted at a rate of 42 percent lower than the general population. It reported 47 percent of service members who wanted to vote never got the chance to do so. This amounts to over 110,000 of our Nation's bravest and most patriotic men and women who were denied the right to vote.
Of those who were able to cast a vote, only 20 percent of them were even counted. This is simply unacceptable. These men and women risk their lives for democracy and freedom and voting rights all over the world. As we did over 60 years ago during World War II, the voting process still depends on a single soldier in the field reading a large number of pages in a guide--I am told up to 466--and being informed on how each individual soldier is to vote under specific precinct guidelines. If a soldier is able to complete this step in the process, the mail system must still track down a moving target in order to get the ballot to a soldier who has the intention of voting. Warfighting and technology have come a long way since World War II, and in my view it is unconscionable that our voting capabilities have failed to keep up for our men and women in the military.
In recent years, there have been several voting ballot programs that would allow the soldier to request, receive, download, and print their absentee ballots no matter where they are deployed. We now have the capability to use electronic signatures. These are effective programs and would remove most, if not all, major hurdles facing our men and women in uniform who would like to exercise their right to vote. Despite these attempted advancements, none have been universally put into place. Our military men and women remain disenfranchised at the polling place.
It is time the United States ensures their right to vote. We have deployed these men and women to all corners of the world. We have sent them to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight for our security and freedom. They help to ensure the rights of others to have a voice in their Government. As we approach November and arguably the most monumental election of our time, I call on our colleagues to ensure that our men and women in uniform are given the opportunity to have their votes heard.
I will be offering an amendment at some point to the Defense authorization bill, and the amendment will basically do two things: First, it will eliminate the notary requirement on both the Federal postcard application to request absentee ballots, as well as the notary requirement on voted ballots. This is unnecessary as civilians in most States are not required to even do this.
Second, this amendment will permit electronic submission of the Federal postcard application. The Federal postcard application is an application needed to request an absentee ballot. By allowing electronic submission of this document, it will not just allow greater accessibility in a timely manner but will also allow service members to request their absentee ballots closer to the election date, hopefully granting them additional time to know where they may be stationed in November.
Additionally, this amendment expresses the sense of Congress to encourage the States to permit members of the Armed Forces to apply for, receive, and submit absentee ballots for elections for Federal office by electronic means and to encourage the Department of Defense to implement and maintain programs that permit the secure submittal by members of the Armed Forces of absentee ballots for election for Federal office by electronic means.
It is simply time for Congress to ensure our military men and women the accessibility and right to vote, particularly at a time when we have the technology to provide the reliability and integrity of the system. I call on my colleagues to support me in this amendment.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record letters from the Colorado Secretary of State, the American Legion, Vets for Freedom, and the National Vietnam & Gulf War Veterans Coalition.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
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Mr. ALLARD. Mr. President, I am glad to see we are able to move forward with the Armed Services bill. I have taken some time and talked about a couple of amendments that I will offer that I think are important. I fully intend to call them up as we proceed with the debate on this important bill, important not only to our men and women in the Armed Forces but to the process, and important to the country as a whole.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.