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Congressman Capuano's E-Update - June 24, 2013

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Privacy and Your Vehicle

Last week I filed the "Black Box Privacy Protection Act" with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) to give vehicle owners more control over the information collected through their car or motorcycle's "black box" event data recorder (EDR). The legislation requires manufacturers to notify consumers if an event data recorder is installed in their vehicle, to disclose the data collection capabilities of such a device, and provide information on how data collected may be used. The bill places ownership of the data in the hands of the vehicle owner and requires owner permission before the information can be accessed. The legislation also requires manufacturers to give consumers the option of controlling the recording function in future automobiles or motorcycles that are equipped with EDRs. I first filed this bill in 2004.

For me, this is a basic issue of privacy. Consumers should have control over the information collected by event data recorders in their own vehicles and they should be able to exercise control over the recording function. Many consumers aren't even aware that this technology is already in most vehicles.

The purpose of event data recorders, or "black boxes," is to collect information leading up to an accident. They record factors such as speed and brake application. Many consumers are not aware that this data has the potential of being used against them in civil or criminal proceedings, or by their insurer to increase rates. No federal law exists to clarify the rights of a vehicle owner with respect to this recorded data.

Recent Votes

On Tuesday, June 19, the House considered H.R. 1797: District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This bill is nothing more than a fruitless effort to challenge a woman's right to choose. It bans abortions after 20 weeks and does not include an exception to protect the health of the mother. Numerous medical organizations, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have pointed out that dangerous medical conditions that may threaten a woman's health are not always apparent before 20 weeks. H.R. 1797 would force women to continue the pregnancy under these circumstances, with potentially dire consequences. Even some religious groups, such as the United Church of Christ, oppose this bill because of the lack of compassion it shows for families confronted with the heartbreaking news that continuing the pregnancy would be dangerous.

The bill is also unquestionably unconstitutional because the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade established that an exception to protect the health of the mother must be in place even after viability. H.R. 1797 also shows a shocking lack of compassion for victims of rape and incest. While it does include an exception for victims of rape or incest, it only applies if the crime is reported to law enforcement. An estimated 54% of rapes are never reported. All of those victims would be left out of this bill's exception. President Obama has already stated that he will veto H.R. 1797. The legislation passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

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Last week on June 20, the House completed consideration of H.R. 1947: the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. This legislation extends a number of farm, nutrition, rural development and agriculture programs through Fiscal Year 2018. The cuts in H.R. 1947 to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were just too steep and I could not support this bill. SNAP is the federal program that provides food assistance to needy families. H.R. 1947 cuts SNAP by more than $20 billion. With a cut this drastic, almost two million people will lose assistance and more than 200,000 children will lose access to the free school breakfast and lunch program. The Senate bill also reduces funding for SNAP, but by approximately $4 billion. I voted NO. Surprisingly, H.R. 1947 did not pass. Many Democrats shared my concern about the deep SNAP cuts. Many Republicans who voted no thought the bill didn't contain enough cuts. The failure of this bill really illustrates the deep divide that exists in Congress right now and the commitment that some Republicans have to slashing programs that directly benefit people. The entire vote is recorded below:

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Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Last week I introduced H.R. 2435: "Let the GSEs Pay Us Back" Act to give Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are Government Sponsored Entities (GSEs), a mechanism to repay the money that they owe Treasury. During the 2008 financial crisis, they received $187.5 billion in taxpayer funds to stabilize their operations. Now, fees paid by middle-class homeowners to the GSEs are turned over to Treasury to pay down this debt. By the end of this month, Fannie and Freddie will have returned almost $132 billion to Treasury. While this represents 70% of their total debt, NONE of it is counted towards the money owed to taxpayers for the bailout. Unless something changes, average homeowners will continue to be forced to make payments toward a debt that never budges.

Originally, the two entities were required to pay quarterly dividends to Treasury on the borrowed funds. In some quarters, Fannie and Freddie didn't have sufficient funds and had to borrow from Treasury in order to make their dividend payments to Treasury. Last year, Treasury changed the agreement to fix this. Instead, Fannie and Freddie are now required to return any and all quarterly profits to Treasury. But if all of their profits are turned over to Treasury and counted as dividends, they can't accumulate enough funds to pay down their debt.

Not counting the GSEs' payments towards the principal that they owe represents outrageous usury on homeowners. If any other creditor refused to reduce the balance of a paying consumer, we would never tolerate it. AIG, GM and others were given the opportunity to pay back their debt from the financial crisis -- and the U.S. has profited from these loans. Fannie and Freddie, and by extension homeowners, should have the same chance.

The GSEs' payments should also not go towards reducing the national debt as this is a burden to be borne by all Americans. Homeowners should not be forced to pay more than their fair share in the process of national debt reduction.

My legislation requires a new agreement to allow payments that Fannie and Freddie make to Treasury to count towards paying down their debt. It will help make taxpayers whole on the money borrowed and will stop homeowners from being treated as piggy banks. Instead, I hope this bill will provide incentive to hasten reform of Fannie and Freddie. America needs affordable mortgages for average people and strong, safe agencies to provide them.

What's Up Next

Next votes are scheduled for Tuesday June 25th. The House is expected to consider H.R. 2231: The Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, H.R. 1613: The Outer Continental Shelf Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreements Authorization Act, and H.R. 2410: The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

Congressman Mike Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Financial Services

P.S. I welcome your feedback on our e-Updates. Please let me and my staff know what you think of this service by e-mailing our office.


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