PROMOTING TRUTHFUL FOOD LABELING
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) joined health experts to urge passage of the Food Labeling Modernization Act, legislation which would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish a front-of-package food labeling system, implement updates to the ingredient list on packaged foods, and apply new guidelines for the use of “healthy” and other deceptive terms to market foods.
“This legislation will reform antiquated labeling rules that undercut efforts to buy healthy food. Consumers deserve straightforward, easily accessible information about the ingredients and nutritional value of products they want to buy. With front of package labels, clearly marked allergens, and clarified guidelines to deter misleading claims, our measure will bring transparency and simplicity to Americans’ shopping experience.”
Updating food labels and clarifying guidelines will help prevent misleading claims on packaging. For example, the legislation would require food packaging to include the percent of whole grains or fruits and vegetables in their products. The legislation would also require disclosure of potentially harmful ingredients such as gluten or caffeine which can cause issues for people who have certain health conditions.
The Food Labeling Modernization Act would also help consumers avoid serious food allergens by listing ingredients more clearly. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, roughly 20 million Americans have food allergies and a U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that these allergies result in 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations and 150 deaths each year.
COMPENSATING AIRLINE PASSENGERS FOR DELAYS & CANCELLATIONS
— Blumenthal, author of the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, released the following statement after the Biden Administration announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to initiate a rulemaking to require airlines to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations within an airline’s control and to cover certain expenses, including meals, hotels, and rebookings:
“Airline passenger protection is long overdue—which is why I’ve long advocated a statutory bill of rights—and I strongly support the Biden Administration’s step to require reimbursement for delays and cancellations. Equally important, airlines should compensate fliers for expenses like meals, hotels, and alternate transportation. As airline flight becomes more unpredictable and stressful, passengers deserve not only money back but also peace of mind. Clear rules are welcome, but enforcement is key to real results.”
Blumenthal’s comprehensive Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, which he introduced in January with U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), would ensure that airlines provide passengers with fair compensation, refunds, and recourse in the event of airline-caused flight delays and cancellations, require airlines to pay passengers denied boarding as a result of an oversold flight, and mandate airlines to immediately refund bag fees for damaged or lost bags.
Blumenthal has long supported strengthening airline passenger rights, including cosponsoring the FAIR Fees Act, encompassed in the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, which would prohibit airlines from charging unreasonably high fees for basic services like checked bags, seat selection, and ticket changes. Blumenthal joined Markey and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in submitting a comment to the DOT in November 2022, urging the agency to strengthen its proposed rule on airline refunds. Following Southwest Airlines’ cancellation of thousands of flights over the holiday season, Blumenthal joined Markey in calling for the company to provide cash payments to passengers and joined his colleagues in a letter to the company demanding answers about the cancellations.
OVERSEEING & ESTABLISHING SAFEGUARDS FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, announced they will convene a hearing on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 at 10:00 AM titled “Oversight of AI: Rules for Artificial Intelligence.”
“Artificial intelligence urgently needs rules and safeguards to address its immense promise and pitfalls,” said Blumenthal. “This hearing begins our Subcommittee’s work in overseeing and illuminating AI’s advanced algorithms and powerful technology. I look forward to working with my colleagues as we explore sensible standards and principles to help us navigate this uncharted territory.”
The hearing will include testimony from Sam Altman, Chief Executive Officer of OpenAI, Gary Marcus, Professor Emeritus at New York University, and Christina Montgomery, Vice President and Chief Privacy and Trust Officer at IBM.
ENDING TESLA’S FORCED ARBITRATION AGREEMENTS
— Blumenthal led a group of seven senators in a letter to Tesla questioning the company’s use of forced arbitration clauses in employee and consumer contracts. Tesla’s use of these agreements prevents workers and consumers from bringing discrimination claims and consumer safety complaints to court – effectively shielding the company from both accountability and public scrutiny. Joining Blumenthal in sending the letter were U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
“We are deeply concerned that the arbitration agreements you impose on your workers and consumers have kept these reportedly deplorable and discriminatory conditions and potential safety flaws from the public eye and limited regulatory authorities’ ability to protect Tesla customers and employees and hold Tesla publicly accountable,” the members wrote in the letter to Tesla Chief Executive Officer and Product Architect Elon Musk.
Numerous incidents of racial and sexual harassment have been reported at Tesla, including verbal slurs, graffiti in the workplace, Black employees being disproportionately disciplined and demoted, and female employees facing pervasive and egregious instances of sexual misconduct. At Tesla’s Fremont factory last year, workers brought five times the number of discrimination lawsuits than employees at comparable plants. The letter stresses that these reports “raise significant concerns about not only Tesla management’s complicity and participation in the discriminatory conditions, but also the untold number of other complaints that remain confidential” due to the arbitration agreements.
The letter also details the troubling history of safety complaints about Tesla’s vehicles and its Full Self-Driving Beta software, which caused the recall of over 360,000 vehicles recently. Because of various software and hardware issues with Tesla’s vehicles, drivers have reported instances of vehicles running yellow lights and stop signs, disobeying speed limits and lane markings, exhibiting unexpected “phantom” braking, and even steering wheels falling off during operation. The senators wrote that, “Consumer arbitration agreements have placed a black box around any concerns drivers may have on the safety of Tesla’s vehicles,” and that, “The public deserves the full record of safety complaints about Tesla vehicles.”
The lawmakers concluded their letter with a detailed list of questions about the company’s past, present, and future use of these harmful employee and consumer contracts.
“With limited visibility into the labor conditions at Tesla, the safety of Tesla’s vehicles, and the fairness of the arbitration proceedings, we – and the public – are restricted in our ability to ensure that American workers and consumers retain the ability to protect their rights and hold firms like Tesla accountable,” the letter concluded.
IMPROVING CONDITIONS FOR SAILORS & HONORING SEAMAN XAVIER SANDOR
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced legislation to improve living conditions and mental health support for junior U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to ships undergoing extended maintenance overhauls. The Seaman Xavier Sandor Support for Sailors Act would allow junior sailors to live in commercial housing when their assigned ship undergoes an extended maintenance overhaul in a shipyard and increase the number of mental health counselors that are assigned to large Navy ships.
The Seaman Xavier Sandor Support for Sailors Act addresses issues detailed in the Navy’s report on the April 2022 suicides of three crew members of the USS George Washington, including Connecticut’s Master of Arms Seaman Recruit Xavier Sandor. Their deaths occurred while the ship was undergoing a Refueling and Complex Overhaul, which created unlivable conditions for Sailors assigned to the ship, including 24/7 shipyard operations, frequent interruptions of electrical power, heating, air conditioning, and hot water for weeks at a time, and no access to welfare and recreation services. Sailors also experienced a two-month backlog for behavioral health appointments, and reported they were hesitant to seek treatment through Navy channels due to concerns it would affect future career opportunities.
“Our legislation will help spare other Sailors from the abhorrent conditions confronting Xavier Sandor— no mental health care, unacceptable housing, or access to relief. Xavier Sandor’s tragic death underscores the Navy’s failure to care for its Sailors, and the clear need for legislation. A Basic Allowance for Housing and enhanced mental health services are common sense measures to improve quality of life, and save lives,” said Blumenthal.
STRENGTHENING ETHICS STANDARDS FOR SUPREME COURT JUSTICES
— Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released the statement below on the letters sent by the Committee to Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow, the holding companies that own his private jet, private yacht, and Topridge Camp. The letters seek to identify the full extent of Mr. Crow’s and the corporations’ gifts to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, what other individuals were able to gain special access to Justice Thomas and any other Justices via the travel and lodging provided, and whether those individuals had interests before the Supreme Court.
“We’re taking solid, strong steps toward uncovering facts concealed too long. Surfacing these records relating to severe improprieties is a good beginning. The public as well as our Committee needs and deserves to see them — to assess action on a Code of Conduct and broader ethics reform for the Court,” Blumenthal said. “My hope is that these documents will be provided voluntarily, and that there will be cooperation in our next steps as well. I thank Chairman Durbin for his leadership.”
— Blumenthal also called on the Supreme Court Justices to support a Code of Conduct.
“Not just Justice Thomas, but the entire Supreme Court is caught in a tightening web of its own making. The clear answer is to support a Code of Conduct & come clean with the American people by cooperating with official inquiries.”
HOLDING ANIMAL ABUSERS ACCOUNTABLE
— Blumenthal announced two critical pieces of animal welfare legislation to strengthen oversight and enforcement of current federal law. The Better Collaboration, Accountability, and Regulatory Enforcement (CARE) for Animals Act aims to strengthen the U.S. Department of Justice’s enforcement capabilities under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Additionally, Goldie’s Act seeks to update AWA to ensure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces the law as intended to protect dogs in puppy mills, helping hold abusers accountable and rescue animals from unsafe conditions.
In 2019, Blumenthal led Senate passage of the bipartisan Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, which outlawed the torturing of animals and made violators eligible for felony charges, fines, and up to seven years in prison.
In Connecticut, according to the Office of Legislative Research, from 2011 through 2021, 3,348 cases were brought under animal cruelty statute. Approximately 80% of these cases were either dismissed or not prosecuted.
SUPPORTING CONNECTICUT’S SMALL BUSINESSES
— Blumenthal and the Small Business Administration Connecticut District Office visited the winners of the U.S. Small Business Exporter of the Year and the Connecticut Microenterprise of the Year.
Element 119, which produces ceramic coatings used in a variety of industries including the automotive, aircraft and military, was named the New England Small Business Exporter of the year.
Cheshire Equestrian, which produces apparel, accessories and equipment for equestrians, was named the Connecticut Microenterprise of the year. Microenterprises are businesses that employ five or fewer employees.
— Blumenthal and the SBA also honored the Connecticut and New England Minority-Owned Small Business of the Year, FAD Mechanical of North Haven. Owned by Jay McLaurin and Henry Smith III, FAD Mechanical is a full-service plumbing, heating, and air conditioning contractor that specializes in construction and tenant improvements for commercial and industrial projects. The event took place at the Pierpont on City Crossing apartment complex, one of FAD Mechanical’s recently completed projects.
IMPROVING FOOD SECURITY & HEALTH OUTCOMES
— Blumenthal and Murphy joined representatives from the United Way of Western Connecticut and Nuvance Health to announce more than $1 million in congressionally-directed federal funding to support the ‘Greater Danbury Food Farmacy’ initiative. The Food Farmacy will be a grocery-style food pantry designed to increase access to healthy foods for low-income individuals with qualifying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Food Farmacy participants will have access to a dietitian and a community health worker to link them with other wraparound social service supports and monthly healthy meal preparation classes.
REPLACING THE NORWALK RIVER WALK BRIDGE
— Blumenthal and Murphy joined Governor Ned Lamont, U.S. Representative Jim Himes (D-CT), and state and local officials in announcing the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) is starting construction on the Norwalk River Railroad (Walk) Bridge Replacement Project in Norwalk.
Originally built in 1896, the Walk Bridge is a four-track railroad bridge that spans the Norwalk River and serves as a critical link on the Northeast Corridor, connecting major cities such as Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. It is one of the oldest movable bridges in the region, and in recent years it has shown its age, failing to close on several occasions and significantly disrupting travel on the New Haven Line, the busiest rail line in the country.
“Rebuilding the Walk Bridge is absolutely essential to rail travel all along the East Coast, but particularly in Connecticut. This new, state-of-the-art lift bridge will ensure safe and reliable rides. Bringing Connecticut’s transportation into the 21st century is vital to our economy and quality of life, and I am deeply proud to have fought for the funds that are making it possible,” said Blumenthal.
PROVIDING QUALITY REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE TO MILITARY FAMILIES
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and a group of their colleagues on bipartisan legislation – the Access to Contraception for Servicemembers and Dependents Act – to ensure military families receive the quality reproductive health care they deserve. Specifically, the bill would bring health care provided to servicemembers in line with current law for civilian populations by ensuring those who receive health care through the military have access to all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with no health insurance co-pay. The legislation would also guarantee access to emergency contraception for survivors of sexual assault upon their request and require the Department of Defense to develop a comprehensive family planning education program.
PROTECTING AMERICANS FROM EXORBITANT CREDIT CARD LATE FEES
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in sending a letter to ten of the largest credit card issuers – PNC, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, Citigroup, Discover, Bank of America, American Express, Wells Fargo, US Bancorp, and USAA – requesting information on their credit card late fee practices following the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) proposed rule to limit exorbitant late fees and the banking lobby’s strong pushback against this proposed rule.
“The CFPB has found that American families lose an estimated $12 billion a year to credit card late fees,” wrote the lawmakers. “Consumers, even those who may only be a few hours behind on a credit card payment, may be slapped with fees as high as $41.”
In February of this year, the CFPB proposed a new rule that would require credit card issuers to justify late fees in excess of $8. The rule would also terminate automatic annual inflation adjustments to late fees and cap late fees at 25% of the required minimum payment. Together, these actions could save American families up to $9 billion a year. The proposed rule has also prompted strong pushback from the bank lobby, which has claimed that the CFPB’s efforts would harm consumers.
“While the banking industry has opposed the proposed rule and argued that saddling Americans with excessive late fees is essential for teaching them ‘responsible credit management’ or ‘timely repayment,’ consumers have filed thousands of complaints related to credit card late fees with the CFPB,” wrote the lawmakers.
HELPING FIRST RESPONDERS & TEACHERS BECOME HOMEOWNERS
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in reintroducing the Homes for Every Local Protector Educator and Responder (HELPER) Act to create a first-time homebuyer loan program under the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) for teachers and first responders who have served at least four years in their respective role. Specifically, the legislation would eliminate a mortgage down payment requirement, eliminate a monthly mortgage insurance premium requirement, include an upfront mortgage insurance premium to help fund the program, and allow for a one-time use of the program by eligible individuals.
ENDING CHILD HUNGER IN SCHOOLS
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and U.S. Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Gwen Moore (D-WI) in introducing legislation that provides a permanent solution to end child hunger in schools by offering free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all students, preschool through high school, regardless of income, eliminating all school meal debt, and strengthening local economies by incentivizing local food procurement.
The Universal School Meals Program Act of 2023 builds on the highly successful universal free school meals program that Congress funded to combat the spike in child and youth hunger brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. While various efforts were made to bolster and extend the program since 2020, it expired in September 2022 leaving nearly 30 million children who rely on free or reduced-price lunch in a state of uncertainty and strain.