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Wednesday
Jun152016

View from Washington: Legislative Highlights

From Karin Shuey, EANC Washington DC Director:

As this remarkable election cycle continues, some may find it difficult to keep track of policy issues that aren’t making the news.  Gleaning the substance from a sea of distraction can be a challenge.  Whoever wins the presidential election, many members of Congress will retain their positions and be in a position to help ensure consistent support for issues that affect European security.  It’s important to keep our message on their radar and let them know there is legislation in process that matters to us.

Your action is important!

To that end, JBANC and EANC are looking for Estonian-Americans throughout the U.S. who are interested in letting our legislators know that we value security and stability in Europe.  If you feel drawn to engage in the legislative process in support of Estonia, please let us know!  Here is a link to a very short survey where you can indicate what actions you would be willing to take:  https://s.zoomerang.com/r/EANCpoliticalaction.

We’ve learned during our meetings with staffers that phone calls and visits to local district offices are the most effective and noticed means of communication.  E-mails tend to get lost in overstuffed inboxes, and letters must go through thorough screening and often take weeks to reach their destinations.  That said, we appreciate your efforts in whatever form they take.   If you let us know you’re on board to act, we’ll send you the background info and talking points to help you take the next steps.  The next section will get you better acquainted with the issues that need support.

Relevant legislation currently in process

Several legislative efforts currently under consideration in Congress are relevant to European security and address Russia’s recent aggressive behavior.  Passage of the bills prior to the November elections would solidify their status.  Below are some quick highlights of the main ones, in priority order based on need for support:

Countering Information Warfare Act (S.2692) – Introduced by Senators Portman (R-OH) and Murphy (D-CT) in March. This bill targets deliberate disinformation campaigns by several countries, including Russia and China, to undermine U.S. interests and Western values here and overseas.  It seems to be getting some internal resistance in the Senate and may particularly benefit from constituent attention, especially among members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s European subcommittee.  The list of current cosponsors is posted on the www.congress.gov website.  If your Senators aren’t listed, please consider contacting them.  The Atlantic Council hosted an event where the sponsoring Senators introduced the new legislation and posted a write-up with details of the bill on the Atlantic Council's website.

Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016 (H.R. 5181) – Representatives Kinzinger (R-IL) and Lieu (D-CA) introduced this companion bill to S.2692 in early May, along with 10 additional cosponsors.  This legislation centers on a comprehensive strategy to fight disinformation through an interagency approach.  Congressman Kinzinger issued a press release with more information on his website at kinzinger.house.gov.

Stability and Democracy (STAND) for Ukraine Act (H.R. 5094) – Introduced in April by Representatives Engel (D-NY) and Kinzinger (R-IL), and supported by a bipartisan group of 28 additional members, this bill clarifies the U.S. position of non-recognition of Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, tightens sanctions on Russia, and promotes new support for Ukraine.  European, Baltic and Estonian security are closely tied to events and progress in Ukraine.  The press release with more information is available at the foreignaffairs.house.gov website.

Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (S.284/H.R.624) – This bill was introduced in the Senate by Senators Cardin (D-MD) and McCain (R-AZ) and was passed in December 2015.  The original Magnitsky Act, which became law in 2012, was aimed specifically at the Russian officials responsible for the death of Kremlin critic Sergei Magnitsky.  The global bill broadens its scope to target human rights violators from any country by restricting their financial assets and freedom of movement to the U.S.  The press release issued upon its passage is on the SFRC website at www.foreign.senate.gov/press/.

The House introduced a companion bill that is still in process.  This is the one that could benefit from constituent support and that JBANC and EANC routinely follow on the Hill.  The official summary and status can be followed at www.congress.gov

House Baltic Caucus (HBC) – While this isn’t legislation, joining the HBC is an important step your Representative can take to show support for Baltic and European security.  It was formed in 1997 as a registered caucus of the House of Representatives and has been instrumental in the passage of key legislation, from supporting membership for the Baltic States in NATO to commemorating Black Ribbon Day to remember victims of Soviet and Nazi terror.  You can learn more and check the list for your Representative’s name at the HBC website.  If yours isn’t listed, a call or e-mail from you asking him or her to join could be all it takes to strengthen the HBC’s numbers.

European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) – This funding is part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4909), which is currently in process.  It requests $3.4 for increasing U.S. military presence in Europe, largely to deter aggression from Russia.  It passed in the House on 5/18/2016 and should complete Senate consideration in the next couple of weeks.  While NDAA generally receives broad bipartisan support and is expected to pass over the summer, JBANC and EANC continue to reinforce its importance when we meet with staffers.

What to do

The bills that need attention the most are the two on information warfare, the STAND for Ukraine Act and the House Magnitsky bill.  If you want to focus your action on just one or two of the bills above, the Senate bill on countering information warfare is the best place to start.  We’ll provide a sample letter and talking points that you can use when contacting your Senator’s office.  If you contact your Representative on one of the House bills, it’s also always a good idea to ask them to join the HBC, or express thanks if they’re already a member.  Remember, it’s their job to listen to you; they want to know what you think is important.  It’s that simple!

You will likely see more about these issues and more survey questions in various contexts as we cast a wide net to learn more about our nationwide EANC community.  We want to hear your voice and facilitate your participation in the political process as much as we can if you’re willing to take action.  Please reach out to us via our website (www.estosite.org) and/or participate in our upcoming questionnaire that will appear on our website and in our newsletter.  We look forward to hearing from you!