PASSING KIDS’ ONLINE SAFETY LEGISLATION
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, met with parents of children who died or were harmed because of social media harms to discuss the urgent need for passage of the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). The parents were in Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers and encourage the passage of the legislation before the end of the year.
“These stories are real life tragedies. They’ve lived through them and they are still living with them,” said Blumenthal. “And I can tell you, that grief is still raw and we’ve tried to tell this story in our hearings, but our colleagues are hearing it now directly from them. And they’ll get us across the finish line.”
Stressing the need to get KOSA passed in this Congress, Blumenthal and Blackburn along with the parents emphasized its strong bipartisan support from lawmakers and advocates.
“This bill is my personal priority,” said Blumenthal. “This bill is doable. Unanimous vote from the Commerce Committee. We need to do this bill.”
Asked what message not passing KOSA would send, one parent stated: “That Congress accepts children’s deaths and they are okay with it…How many more children have to die before we make them a priority? Now is the time. Let’s do it. Let’s pass it.”
The introduction of KOSA earlier this year followed reporting and a series of subcommittee hearings spearheaded by Blumenthal and Blackburn 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. KOSA awaits Senate Floor action after it passed the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously in July.
INVESTIGATING TWITTER’S POTENTIAL VIOLATIONS OF CONSUMER PROTECTION LAWS
— Following recent alarming developments at Twitter after Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, Blumenthal, along with U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to conduct vigorous oversight and enforcement of Twitter’s consent decree and to investigate potential violations of consumer protection laws.
“We write regarding Twitter’s serious, willful disregard for the safety and security of its users, and encourage the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate any breach of Twitter’s consent decree or other violations of our consumer protection laws,” wrote the senators in a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan.
Citing Musk’s actions that have “undermined the integrity and safety of the platform,” and announcements of “new features despite clear warnings those changes would be abused for fraud, scams, and dangerous impersonation,” including the problematic rollout of Twitter Blue, the senators urged the FTC to hold Twitter accountable. “Twitter knew in advance that there was high likelihood the Twitter Blue product could be used for fraud, and still it took no action to prevent consumers from being harmed until this rampant impersonation became a public relations crisis.”
According to recent reports, under Musk’s new leadership, the company has dismissed key staff, limited internal privacy reviews, and required engineers to take on legal liability for new changes, in an effort to prioritize profits and cut costs. Senior Twitter executives responsible for the platform’s privacy, cybersecurity, and integrity have also resigned last week, raising further alarm.
“We urge the Commission to vigorously oversee its consent decree with Twitter and to bring enforcement actions against any breaches or business practices that are unfair or deceptive, including bringing civil penalties and imposing liability on individual Twitter executives where appropriate,” emphasized the senators. “As you recently noted in Senate testimony, ‘no CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our consent decrees.’”
STOPPING TICKETMASTER’S ANTI-COMPETITIVE PRACTICES
— Following the release of tickets for Taylor Swift’s new tour, Blumenthal called for action to address Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s anticompetitive practices.
“Taylor Swift’s tour sale is a perfect example of how the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger harms consumers by creating a near-monopoly. I’ve long urged DOJ to investigate the state of competition in the ticketing industry. Consumers deserve better than this anti-hero behavior.”
“Ticketmaster—I knew you were trouble way back in 2009 when I asked questions about your ticketing practices as AG. Long story short, your anti-competitive behavior has been no love story for Taylor Swift concertgoers.”
“Consumers deserve more options, better prices, & fewer barriers to the music & artists we know & love. DOJ would've, could've, should've done (& still can do) so much more to investigate the state of competition in the live entertainment/ticketing industry.”
“Justice Department action is long overdue. Consumers need protection right away. Reports of an ongoing investigation are encouraging, but concertgoers deserve more than just a warm-up act.”
“Ticketmaster, with their profiteering, predatory practices, should look in the mirror & say: I’m the problem. It’s me. It’s time for DOJ to hold this bully accountable & enforce the terms of the Live Nation merger agreement to protect consumers or to break up this malign monopoly.”
“Ticketmaster’s majority owner says it’s Taylor Swift’s fault for failing to do more shows. Not Ticketmaster’s manipulative fees, price hikes, & black box algorithms. No one believes this bunk.”
In March, Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) called on DOJ to investigate the state of competition in the market for live entertainment, including potential violations of Ticketmaster-Live Nation’s updated consent decree. As live events continue to open up, American consumers are confronting skyrocketing ticket prices, opaque terms, and exorbitant fees. Yet live entertainment markets, especially ticket markets, are dominated by one corporation, Live Nation, which cemented its dominance through its 2010 merger with Ticketmaster.
CURBING UNHEALTHY FOOD & BEVERAGE MARKETING TARGETING KIDS
— Blumenthal, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced bicameral legislation to prevent the aggressive marketing of junk food and sugary beverages directed at children. In the last thirty years, obesity rates have doubled among children and tripled among adolescents. The Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act of 2022 would end the federal tax subsidy that allows companies to deduct expenses for marketing and advertising goods of poor nutritional value. The legislation would also use the revenue generated from eliminating the subsidy to provide healthy snacks for children at low-income schools through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
“This legislation will prevent the multi-billion dollar junk food industry from profiting off children and contributing to our nation’s obesity epidemic,” said Blumenthal. “For too long, companies have harmed the diets, development, and health of our kids by bombarding them with advertisements for unhealthy products. Our measure will stop subsidizing a practice that harms American children and fuels health disparities. I’m proud to join Representative DeLauro and Senator Booker in this important effort to hold junk food marketers accountable while simultaneously investing in healthy school meals.”
According to the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, food, beverage, and restaurant companies spend nearly $14 billion a year on food marketing through television, movies, video games, toys and other means, and more than 80 percent were for products that are high in fat, sugar, and salt. A report from the National Academy of Medicine showed that exposure to this advertising, which is often seen by children, impacted their food choices, purchase requests, diets, and health. Communities of color have been especially impacted, with Black and Hispanic youth having higher rates of obesity.
SUPPORTING RENEWABLE ENERGY INVESTMENTS IN PUERTO RICO
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) joined nearly a dozen colleagues in a letter urging Senate leadership to include $5 billion in any future emergency supplemental appropriations bill to aid Puerto Rico as the island continues to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona earlier this fall. This effort, led by U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would require the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to assist with installing rooftop solar and storage projects for low-income households and households with people with disabilities in Puerto Rico.
“For too long, the people of Puerto Rico have been deprived of a reliable, resilient, and sustainable energy utility. The urgent need for this resource has been made exceptionally clear after multiple natural disasters that have recently impacted Puerto Rico, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, several earthquakes in 2020, and now Hurricane Fiona. Each of these disasters caused a devastating loss of life, extensive structural damage, and the total failure of the territory’s centralized power grid,” wrote the Senators. “…Without power, businesses cannot operate, hospitals lack the resources to treat patients, schools must shut down, and residents are unable to carry out basic tasks for survival, such as keeping food and medication cool, powering essential medical equipment, or boiling water to remove contaminants when access to safe drinking water is scarce. Dependable energy undergirds a functioning economy. Low-income households and those with disabilities feel the impacts first and worst.”
A preliminary study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) PR100 program suggests that Puerto Rico’s high exposure to sunlight could potentially provide energy well in excess of current needs from rooftop solar power. The record of reliability of solar power in Puerto Rico, especially during a crisis is excellent and growing. Amidst island-wide blackouts caused by Hurricane Fiona, households and businesses equipped for solar-powered generation and storage fared much better than those who were reliant on the centralized grid.
“Nonprofit organizations, which have largely led and subsidized projects to install rooftop solar and battery storage systems in Puerto Rico, continue to share that their efforts have allowed critical services like hospitals and fire stations to continue operating and have provided residents with access to power while the island’s grid continues to be repaired,” concluded the Senators. “Nonprofits cannot bear the responsibility of developing Puerto Rico’s solar energy generation capacity alone. We respectfully request your support in asking that Congress provide $5 billion to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through emergency supplemental appropriations to provide rooftop solar and battery storage systems for low-income households and households with individuals with disabilities throughout Puerto Rico.”
WARNING PARENTS ABOUT DANGEROUS TOYS AHEAD OF THE HOLIDAYS
— Blumenthal, Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, joined the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s virtual press conference to discuss the organization’s new 37th annual Trouble in Toyland report and how to protect children from dangerous toys.
During his remarks, Blumenthal discussed the wide availability of dangerous and potentially deadly recalled toys on online marketplaces. In March, Blumenthal called on Facebook Marketplace to ensure these products, such as the deadly Fisher-Price Rock ‛n Play Sleeper, are not listed and sold on the platform.
“I am just astonished and appalled at the numbers of recalled products freely available on Facebook Marketplace and eBay. I am just flabbergasted at the absence of any real responsibility on the part of these platforms for what they are selling,” said Blumenthal. “These platforms have a moral and a legal responsibility in my view to do better…More and more legislation should be necessary to impose on them liability and legal responsibility if they fail to provide sufficient notice of a recalled product.”
Blumenthal highlighted legislative steps that have been taken, and still need to be taken, to protect children from dangerous toys. The Blumenthal-led Reese’s Law, signed into law by President Biden in August, strengthens safety standards for battery packaging and products with small batteries frequently found in everyday items. The legislation was named after Reese Hamsmith, an 18 month old, who died tragically after ingesting a button battery from a remote control.
“The numbers of toys available, the kinds of potential dangers, I think merit more serious attention,” said Blumenthal. “Reese’s Law shows we can pass measures that will improve safety…But we need to move forward with the Sunshine in Product Safety Act.”
Introduced by Blumenthal last year, the Sunshine in Product Safety Act would strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) ability to communicate vital health and safety information about potentially dangerous products to consumers without risking retaliation by the manufacturer. Current regulations give manufacturers an effective veto over the CPSC’s release of company-related information to the public, leading to delays of warnings, no warnings, or releases of generic information about dangerous and recalled products.
“For the CPSC, for this agency to do better, we need to give it the money that it needs, the resources that are necessary,” said Blumenthal. “The Sunshine in Product Safety Act essentially would remove the restrictions that now straightjacket the agency in providing warnings and notices of recall…It puts the wolf in charge of the hen house. It means that the Commission is in effect handcuffed in the kinds of warnings it can provide.”
HONORING OUR VETERANS
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), senior members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced legislation to hold unaccredited entities that target men and women who served in uniform accountable for their predatory practices. The Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act would reinstate criminal penalties for unaccredited claim representatives who charge unauthorized fees while helping file a disability claim.
Current law prohibits unaccredited individuals and businesses from charging a fee for assisting a veteran in the preparation, presentation or prosecution of a VA benefit claim. However, the VA and other federal agencies are limited in their ability to enforce the law because criminal penalties were eliminated from the statute nearly 20 years ago.
“This measure ensures veterans can access their rightfully-earned benefits free of charge,” said Blumenthal. “Stronger safeguards are needed to protect those who served our country from wrongdoers hoping to cash in on the onerous claims process. Holding profiteers accountable through criminal penalties is an important step that will support our heroes. I’m proud to join Senator Boozman in this effort to prevent our veterans from being exploited.”
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and U.S. Representatives Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI), veterans of the United States Marine Corps, introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation authorizing the U.S. Department of the Treasury to mint commemorative coins in celebration of the Marine Corps’ upcoming 250th anniversary in 2025. The coins would be produced at no extra cost to taxpayers, and proceeds from coin sales would support efforts to preserve and share the branch’s history and tradition of service to our nation.
“This bipartisan legislation honors the Marine Corps’ tradition of unwavering bravery and selfless service,” said Blumenthal. “For nearly 250 years, countless men and women have proudly donned the eagle, globe, and anchor while defending freedom around the world. Issuing this commemorative coin will properly recognize the branch’s landmark anniversary and fund efforts to highlight the Corps’ history and sacrifices. I’m proud to join my fellow Marines in introducing this historic measure.”
The 250th Anniversary of the United States Marine Corps Commemorative Coin Act would instruct the U.S. Mint to issue 50,000 limited edition five dollar coins, 400,000 one dollar coins, and 750,000 half-dollar coins. Revenue from the sale of the coins would reimburse the U.S. Mint for designing and issuing expenses, with the remaining proceeds going to support the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, a charitable organization that funds the National Museum of the Marine Corps and hosts educational, historical, and cultural programs.
ADDRESSING FOOD INSECURITY
— Blumenthal joined Connecticut Foodshare to highlight the urgent need for food donations and new federal legislation that would make it easier for grocery stores and restaurants to donate to individuals in need.
Blumenthal is a lead sponsor of the Food Donation Improvement Act which would encourage food donation efforts by extending liability protections to large food donors, such as grocers, wholesalers, and restaurants. With millions of Americans facing food insecurity, ambiguous, outdated, and limited liability protections often discourage many businesses and organizations from donating food.
According to Feeding America, nearly 400,000 people in Connecticut face hunger, equating to one in every 10 residents. Connecticut Foodshare has set a goal to help more than 50,000 families this holiday season.
INVESTING IN A CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE
— Blumenthal, co-chair of the Congressional Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Caucus, visited Nel Hydrogen, a world leader in manufacturing clean hydrogen energy systems, to highlight significant federal investments in the clean energy sector. Nel Hydrogen’s Wallingford factory produces electrolyzers, a machine that helps produce clean hydrogen energy.
Both the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law make significant investments in hydrogen production, including $8 billion for regional hydrogen hubs and clean hydrogen production credits to incentive production.
STRENGTHENING THE NORTHEAST CORRIDOR
— Blumenthal issued the following statement on the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) submission of projects for the Northeast Corridor (NEC) Inventory. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year provided more than $20 billion in funding for a sequence of projects aimed at modernizing NEC service. This initial group of projects will reduce the backlog of repairs for existing rail lines, improve performance, and expand or establish new intercity passenger rail service along the Northeast Corridor.
“The Northeast Corridor is the engine that moves our state’s economy. The Federal Railroad Administration has taken one step further towards unlocking access to $24 billion in infrastructure funding that could be used to bring faster, safer rail services to Connecticut residents,” Blumenthal said.
COMBATTING CHILD EXPLOITATION
— Blumenthal issued the following statement after the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2022, which would reauthorize the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program to combat child exploitation across the country, passed the Senate earlier this week. The legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Charles Grassley (R-IA), John Kennedy (R-LA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).
“Today’s vote is an important step in the fight to protect victims of online child exploitation,” Blumenthal said. “With our bipartisan measure, law enforcement will be given the resources needed to investigate these unspeakable crimes and hold criminals accountable. Reauthorization of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program cannot wait. I look forward to swift action on the PROTECT Our Children Act by the House and President Biden.”
HONORING SPEAKER PELOSI’S SERVICE
— Blumenthal posted the following tweet after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she will be stepping down from House leadership.
“Thank you, Speaker Pelosi. I will always be eternally grateful for your strong, steadfast leadership. Through thick & thin you've been a fearless force working to improve Americans’ lives. A profile in courage & commitment to our country, your service will be forever remembered.”
SUPPORTING OUR ALLIES IN UKRAINE
— Blumenthal attended an awards ceremony hosted by the Ukrainian National Information Service.
“Last night’s awards ceremony by Ukrainian National Information Service showed dramatically that support for scaled up, robust aid to Ukraine continues strong & bipartisan in this Congress. A consistent theme: aid for the fiercely brave Ukrainians is vital to our national security.”
“Recipients of awards—incoming House Foreign Relations Chairman McCaul as well as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Risch, Senator Portman, & myself—all endorsed providing expanded military & humanitarian assistance to repel Putin’s genocidal invasion.”
URGING NHTSA TO IMPLEMENT CRITICAL SAFETY PROVISIONS
— On the first anniversary of the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) led a group of their colleagues in a letter to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requesting an update on NHTSA’s implementation of critical safety provisions in the law. With deadly motor vehicle crashes in the United States reaching a sixteen-year high in 2021, the lawmakers urged NHTSA to move expeditiously to issue safety regulations and reverse this alarming trend.
“Nearly 43,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, the highest number in sixteen years, and according to preliminary numbers, 2022 has been equally, if not more, deadly,” wrote the Senators in their letter. “Fortunately, the IIJA required NHTSA to take much-needed action to ensure this road safety crisis comes to a dead end. We, therefore, urge NHTSA to swiftly implement key safety provisions in the law and reverse this frightening trend in motor vehicle fatalities.”
“When issuing new safety measures, regulators have too often crawled through yellow lights or stalled at red lights. By passing a historic, bipartisan infrastructure law, Congress gave NHTSA the green light to put its pedal to the metal to reduce motor vehicle fatalities,” they concluded.
PROTECTING CONSUMERS FROM PREDATORY PAYDAY LOAN PRACTICES
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) in introducing the Stopping Abuse and Fraud in Electronic (SAFE) Lending Act. The SAFE Lending Act will protect consumers from deceptive and predatory practices that strip wealth from working families by cracking down on some of the worst abuses stemming from the payday lending industry, particularly in online payday lending.
Under the direction of the Trump Administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reversed course on national rules protecting consumers from payday loan predators. Without strong CFPB protections at a national level, state laws protecting consumers will be all the more important.
ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS AMONG CHILDREN & YOUTH
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), and 11 of their colleagues in introducing a bipartisan resolution to designate November 2022 as National Homeless Children and Youth Awareness Month to bring attention to the children and youth experiencing homelessness across the country. In the United States, more than 1,100,000 students experienced homelessness during the 2020-2021 school year.
— Blumenthal joined LGBTQ+ advocates to urge passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, a bipartisan measure which would enshrine marriage equality in federal law and repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.
“This Supreme Court has put marriage equality on the chopping block. Urgent, real action is needed to codify same-sex marriage because love is love. I joined fierce advocates calling on Congress to protect LGBTQ+ rights & pass the Respect for Marriage Act.”
“The threat to marriage equality is real & urgent. Americans in same-sex & interracial marriages deserve to know that their marriage is—& will always be—recognized. I will be voting YES on the #RespectForMarriageAct to protect loving couples’ rights & freedoms.”
The push for passage comes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, eliminating the right to an abortion and signaling that other rights, like the right to same-sex marriage, are under threat. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Respect for Marriage Act, and Blumenthal will call for the Senate to vote on the bill before the end of the year.
— Blumenthal visited Beekley Medical to congratulate employees on being recognized with the President’s E Star Award.
“Proud to visit Beekley Medical in Bristol today to honor their achievement of earning the 2022 President’s E Star Award for the expansion of U.S. exports. Their work is key to improving patient experience & expertly distributing medical devices.”
— Blumenthal posted the following tweet after a Naugatuck police officer was shot during an undercover operation.
“Our thoughts are with the Naugatuck police offer shot during a Waterbury undercover operation. Another reminder of the courage & strength shown every day by countless law enforcement public servants as they work in harm’s way to keep us safe. We owe them gratitude & more.”