PROTECTING KIDS ONLINE
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the Kids Online Safety Act, comprehensive bipartisan legislation to protect children online and hold Big Tech accountable. The bill provides young people and parents with the tools, safeguards, and transparency they need to protect against online harms, requires social media platforms to put the well-being of children first by ensuring an environment that is safe by default, and requires independent audits by experts and academic researchers to ensure that social media platforms are taking meaningful steps to address risks to kids. Blumenthal and Blackburn announced the reintroduction at a virtual press conference with parents of children who died or were harmed because of social media, young people, and experts.
“Our bill provides specific tools to stop Big Tech companies from driving toxic content at kids and to hold them accountable for putting profits over safety,” said Blumenthal. “Record levels of hopelessness and despair—a national teen mental health crisis—have been fueled by black box algorithms featuring eating disorders, bullying, suicidal thoughts, and more. Kids and parents want to take back control over their online lives. They are demanding safeguards, means to disconnect, and a duty of care for social media. Our bill has strong bipartisan momentum. And it has growing support from young people who’ve seen Big Tech’s destruction, parents who’ve lost children, mental health experts, and public interest advocates. It’s an idea whose time has come.”
Blumenthal and Blackburn first introduced the Kids Online Safety Act in February 2022 following reporting and after spearheading a series of five subcommittee hearings with social media companies and advocates on the repeated failures by tech giants to protect kids on their platforms and about the dangers kids face online. In July 2022, the Kids Online Safety Act passed the Commerce Committee on a unanimous, 28-0 vote.
— Blumenthal and Blackburn penned an op-ed in The Hill laying out the case for their bipartisan legislation, which has the support of over 30 original Senate co-sponsors and hundreds of advocacy groups.
“We’ve seen states, school districts, and parents launch their own efforts to hold platforms accountable through new laws and litigation. These efforts reflect Americans’ growing frustration with the ongoing dangers the online world poses to kids and the urgent need to hold these companies accountable. Still, this persistent problem will only continue without comprehensive federal legislation like our Kids Online Safety Act to ensure all kids, no matter their ZIP code, are safe online,” Blumenthal and Blackburn wrote in the op-ed.
— Blumenthal and Blackburn appeared on CNN, CBS This Morning, CNBC, Fox News, and GMA3 on ABC to discuss the bipartisan legislation. Blumenthal also appeared on MSNBC.
“We want to protect kids and also put the burden on big tech, not on parents, to be the police force. Here we are in the midst of a mental health crisis and big tech is in effect, preying on the pain of teenagers having this repetitive, almost addictive content driven to them by the algorithms. And the default ought to be disabling the algorithms so that teens are better protected,” Blumenthal told CNN.
Referencing the growing support for the Kids Online Safety Act in the Senate, Blumenthal said, “It’s more than double the number during the last session, reflecting that increased momentum that we see and the diminished opposition.”
"Our partnership is based on giving these parents and children tools to disconnect from the black box algorithms that drive toxic content at them," said Blumenthal on CNBC.
— Earlier in the week, Blumenthal also held a roundtable with Hartford middle school students, clinicians, and advocates to discuss the dangers young people face online and urge the importance of passing the Kids Online Safety Act.
“E.B. Kennelly Middle School students shared with me harrowing stories about the harms they face on social media. We need to empower young people & parents with online tools & safeguards. We need to hold Big Tech accountable. We need the Kids Online Safety Act.”
“Social media platforms have brazenly failed children & betrayed our trust—driving toxic, harmful, & dangerous content to young people. Enough is enough. The time for stronger online safeguards & Big Tech accountability is now.”
“I have heard loud & clear from young people & what they want is to feel in control over their online experiences—not dragged down dark rabbit holes by black box algorithms—& that’s exactly what the Kids Online Safety Act will do.”
PREVENTING INFANT FORMULA SHORTAGES
— Blumenthal joined his colleagues in calling for $20 million for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support infant health programs and oversight of the baby formula industry to prevent another crisis, one year after the nationwide infant formula shortage left parents and caregivers struggling to find formula.
At the height of the crisis, Blumenthal wrote a letter to the FDA to demand concrete steps be taken to alleviate the shortage and to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) calling on the agency to investigate and take action against scams and fraud targeting families in search of formula. In response to the shortage, Congress passed the Access to Baby Formula Act of 2022 which gave the USDA permanent authority to respond in the event of a product recall or supply chain disruptions and provides WIC greater flexibilities in the event of shortages. Additional resources are needed to enable the FDA to inspect and monitor baby formula manufacturers to prevent future crises.
DEMANDING RECORDS ON SILICON VALLEY BANK, SIGNATURE BANK, & FIRST REPUBLIC BANK
— The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) demanded communications and records from accounting firm KPMG LLP regarding its audits of three failed banks—Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, and First Republic Bank. According to reports, KPMG issued clean audits for each bank in the weeks before the banks failed.
In a letter to KPMG CEO Paul Knopp, PSI Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ranking Member Ron Johnson (R-WI) noted that, in the days leading up to these banks’ failures, KPMG had “issued these audits without qualification” and that later, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Federal Reserve issued reports that “identified ‘foundational and widespread’ weaknesses with SVB and Signature’s internal audit and risk management functions.”
Blumenthal and Johnson are seeking information regarding KPMG’s audits of Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, and First Republic Bank, and KPMG’s communications with state and federal regulators.
REFORMING THE SUPREME COURT’S ETHICS STANDARDS
— Blumenthal spoke at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on, “Supreme Court Ethics Reform.” The hearing followed recent reports raising concerns about the Court’s ethical standards, including Justice Clarence Thomas’ failure to disclose luxury gifts, travel, and a real estate deal with Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.
“The American public want action. The American public is disgusted. They are disgusted with what they see in public life as the degrading of standards and conduct that would never be tolerated in their own workplaces and in their own private lives,” said Blumenthal. “A lot of the American public are increasingly seeing the justices as politicians in robes.”
Blumenthal called for action to address these ethical shortcomings, saying, “I think we need a proper investigation. It should be done by the Department of Justice because there are allegations of criminal wrongdoing here, violations by Justice Thomas of the disclosure of laws, incomplete, inaccurate reporting as well as nondisclosure.”
Blumenthal also asked Jeremy Fogel, Executive Director of the Berkeley Judicial Institute and a former U.S. District Judge, about efforts he thought would strengthen the Court’s ethical standards.
“I think it would be good for public confidence, very good for public confidence and for the confidence of the judicial rank and file you were talking about, if the court were more assertive in standing for ethical compliance,” said Fogel.
— Blumenthal reacted to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ refusal to testify before Congress.
“Chief Justice Roberts dodging responsibility for the deepening Court crisis constitutes judicial malpractice. Judges on lower federal courts should be enraged by Justices tarring the American judiciary with their reprehensible ethical failings.”
“Federal trial & appellate judges—who have followed a mandatory Code of Ethics for years—should be angry & fearful (& many are) about the damage done by the nation’s highest court to all courts. Justices are squandering trust & credibility for all.”
“The Judicial Conference, including the Supreme Court, needs an Inspector General—an investigative office to get the facts about alleged impropriety. I’m working on a legislative proposal, modeled on offices in every other branch or major department of government.”
— Blumenthal reacted to reports that Republican megadonor Harlan Crow paid for the tuition of Justice Clarence Thomas’ grandnephew.
“School tuition can be added to the list of “gifts” Harlan Crow “gave” Justice Thomas. Outrageous, disgusting, & deeply degrading to the fabric of the Court. We need an investigation—now.”
“The misconduct seems to know no bounds. Each new revelation makes it abundantly clear that the Court needs a Code of Ethics. SCOTUS cannot continue to think it doesn’t have to answer to anyone. For the good of our country & judiciary we need accountability.”
— Blumenthal also reacted to reports that conservative activist Leonard Leo arranged for the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to be paid for consulting work, but that her name be left off billing documents.
“Sometimes the coverup is worse than the crime. To know the facts—whether there’s been a coverup or crime—requires an investigation. If DOJ or the Judiciary itself won’t do it, Congress must have a role.”
“Plenty of documents & witnesses have relevant evidence about Justice Thomas’ defiance of norms, ethical standards, & law. Americans need to know the full truth.”
NOMINATING VERNON OLIVER TO THE U.S. DISTRICT COURT
— Blumenthal applauded President Biden’s nomination of Vernon Oliver to fill a vacancy on the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.
“Vernon Oliver has all the qualities of a great judge – intellect, integrity, and unshakeable fairness,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “When I served as Attorney General, I saw firsthand his steadfast advocacy for children and tireless fight for justice. His experience as a judge and advocate, and passion for serving Connecticut make him ideally suited for this position of trust. I’m proud to have recommended his nomination to the White House and look forward to championing his confirmation.”
FIGHTING CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
— Blumenthal joined the Connecticut State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce and advocates to announce bipartisan legislation to fight child sexual abuse online. The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT), introduced by Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, allows state enforcers and survivors to hold tech companies accountable for the distribution of child sexual abuse material.
As shown in recent investigations, online platforms have fueled a horrifying proliferation of child sexual abuse material. The EARN IT Act would also establish a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention and require the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to develop and support innovative tools to combat online child exploitation.
PREVENTING ANIMAL CRUELTY
— Blumenthal joined an event with the CT Humane Society to speak out against animal cruelty.
“Animal cruelty is hideously inhumane & a significant signal of child abuse & domestic violence. Reporting & speaking out about this cruelty is absolutely crucial. Today at the CT Humane Society, we raised our voices & demanded that more must be done to protect children & animals.”
ENDING HOT CAR CHILD DEATHS
— Blumenthal joined grieving families, Kids and Car Safety, and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety to call for the child protection “hot cars” provision enacted in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to be advanced quickly and to ensure effective detection and alert technology is mandated.
More than 1,050 children have died from heatstroke in hot cars since 1990, and at least another 7,300 survived with varying types and severities of injuries, according to data collected by Kids and Car Safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is the agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation with the mission of saving lives, preventing injuries, and reducing economic costs, has already missed publishing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) self-imposed deadline. With children at unnecessary risk of death and injury every day, it is urgent that NHTSA meets the Congressionally mandated deadline for the final rule to be issued in November of this year.
“We’re approaching summer and very soon, cars will become death traps if kids are left inside them. Absent-mindedness is not a crime, but the systemic failure to protect children is reprehensible. Seatbelts, air bags, better construction of cars have already saved countless lives and this simple step – a detection sensor – will in fact save lives,” said Blumenthal. “The success that we’ve had in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a major accomplishment, but the U.S. Department of Transportation is lagging in promulgating this rule. We can and must do more.”
STOPPING CORPORATE BAKERS FROM UNNECCESSARILY ADDING SESAME TO BAKED GOODS
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and U.S. Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Patrick McHenry (R-NC) in a letter urging the American Bakers Association (ABA) to stop unnecessarily adding sesame to baked goods and protect consumers with sesame allergies. Sesame allergies impact more than 1.5 million Americans, half of which are children, and reactions can be serious and life threatening.
After the FASTER Act was signed into law in 2021, the ABA publicly agreed that it should not be a problem for bakers to make production changes to handle sesame as an allergen in their bakeries. Today, families are struggling to find products without sesame as previously trusted restaurants and brands have engaged in the dangerous practice of adding sesame. These actions undercut the purpose and intent of the FASTER Act and put the lives of consumers at risk.
“The dangerous practice of adding sesame to baked goods that have not previously contained the ingredient, often without notice, undermines the trust that people with food allergies place in the food industry,” the legislators wrote.
The legislators continued: “Instead of acting to protect consumers, manufacturers are adding trace amounts of sesame to their baking products since the passage of the FASTER Act. It appears that this is being done to avoid the costs associated with the processes and systems controls necessary to ensure safe baking practices.”
“It is imperative that the baking industry take immediate action to address this issue. The health and safety of consumers should always be a top priority. The baking industry has a responsibility to protect the public, especially those with food allergies, and the intentional new addition of a known allergen to products goes against this responsibility. It’s time to act to rectify the situation,” the legislators concluded.
WARNING AGAINST THE PREDATORY FOR-PROFIT UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough warning the agency leaders about the predatory for-profit college University of Phoenix’s latest tactics to recruit students using misleading advisements. The letter also asks the agency leaders to scrutinize Phoenix’s participation in federal student aid programs, including the Department of Education’s (ED) Title IV program, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) GI Bill, and the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Tuition Assistance program given the for-profit college’s history of scamming students.
“Phoenix is an unscrupulous and predatory for-profit college that has long preyed on veterans, low-income students, and students of color. A recent report found that Phoenix has launched a national advertising campaign that has run misleading advertisements suggesting Phoenix is a public university. These advertisements, including messages on its admissions website, tout statements such as ‘No out of state tuition’ and ‘Some state universities charge higher tuition to out-of-state students – but not University of Phoenix.’ Prospective students easily could interpret these misleading statements to mean that Phoenix is an affordable public university, when in reality it is neither,” the senators wrote.
The senators went on to emphasize that Phoenix has been pushing these ads even after it reached a $191 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as a consequence for previously running false ad campaigns. Despite the settlement also including an injunction on running deceptive ads, Phoenix is continuing to peddle these misleading advertisements to entice students to enroll.
“In 2019, Phoenix reached a $191 million settlement with the FTC for running deceptive advertisements that gave the false impression that Phoenix partnered with major employers like the American Red Cross, AT&T, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo. This was the largest financial settlement ever reached between the FTC and a for-profit college. The settlement also stipulated that Phoenix is banned permanently from running advertisements that promote a misleading benefit,” wrote the members.
STRENGTHENING MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FOR CLIMATE ANXIETY
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) in reintroducing the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act, legislation to establish a first-of-its-kind $36 million pilot grant program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide funding to local community-based mental wellness and resilience programs. These programs would be designed to address the compounding mental health crisis that frontline environmental justice communities face as they bear the brunt of the climate crisis, including extreme weather events, natural disasters, epidemics and rising temperatures.
— Blumenthal attended a Military Appreciation Breakfast hosted by the Eastern CT Chamber of Commerce.
“Proud to honor our extraordinary armed forces members at a Military Appreciation Breakfast hosted by the Eastern CT Chamber. A wonderful tribute to the men & women in uniform who keep the USA strong & free.”