Priorities for next session include job creation, education, health care and law enforcement
WASHINGTON – As the U.S. Senate convenes for the 112th Congress this week, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl announced plans to immediately introduce several bills related to his priorities for the new session of Congress. Kohl will continue serving on the Appropriations, Judiciary and Banking Committees and will remain Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging; he will also continue chairing the Agriculture Appropriations panel and the Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights panel.
“There is much work to be done and I am excited for the new Congress and the opportunity for a fresh start,” Kohl said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to move Wisconsin forward and do what is best for the country.”
Among the first bills Kohl will introduce in the 112th Congress:
Domestic Jobs Innovation Bonus Act: The bill incentivizes keeping jobs in the US by increasing the existing Research & Development tax credit for companies that produce most of their goods domestically. The bonus R&D Credit would increase incrementally to reward a higher percentage of domestic production – an additional 2 percentage points for 50 percent to 60 percent of sales from domestically-produced goods; up to a 10 percentage point increase for companies with 90 percent to 100 percent of their receipts from domestic production. For example, a company with 100 percent domestic production that would normally receive a 20 percent R&D tax credit would receive a 30 percent credit under this proposal.
Fast Track to College Act: Kohl’s bill will establish a grant initiative for “dual enrollment” programs and “early college high schools” to reduce high school drop out rates throughout Wisconsin and improve access to college for students. These are programs in which high schools partner with a college to allow students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and up to two years of college credit, including an associate’s degree –tuition free. The legislation is based on a model established by the Gates Foundation’s Early College High School Initiative, which since 2002 has started or redesigned almost 160 schools in 24 states and the District of Columbia.
COPS Improvement Act: Kohl’s bill reauthorizes the Department of Justice’s community policing grant program. Created in the 1994 Crime Bill, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has funded more than 120,000 community police officers in over 12,900 law enforcement agencies. The COPS program has been credited by many criminologists as an important factor in driving down crime, and it directly creates jobs and helps local governments weather the economic downturn. The bill will authorize $500 million per year in Police Hiring Grants, which is enough to hire up to 50,000 officers for general community policing as well as $150 million per year in Community Prosecutor Grants to help local district attorneys hire community prosecutors that are trained to work in neighborhoods to prevent crime, build relationships in the community, and use the authority of the prosecutor’s office to improve the quality of life in the area.
Preserve Access to Affordable Generic Drugs Act: Kohl’s bipartisan legislation combats pay-for-delay settlements used to keep lowercost generic drugs off pharmacy shelves. Under these pay-off agreements, brand name drug companies settle patent disputes by paying the generic drug manufacturer in exchange for a promise that it will keep its generic version of the drug off the market. This bill will help to stop this anti-consumer practice by deeming these deals illegal, and give the FTC the authority to stop them and save the federal government $2.68 billion over 10 years.
Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act: Kohl’s bill will abolish the antitrust exemptions protecting freight railroads from obeying the same rules of fair competition as almost all other industries. These obsolete antitrust exemptions unfairly insulate railroads from competition and lead to railroad shippers — vital industries such as power utilities relying on shipments of coal, farmers shipping grain, and chemical companies and other manufacturers — paying higher prices for degraded service. These higher prices are passed on to consumers in the form of higher electricity rates, higher food prices, and higher prices for manufactured goods.
Discount Pricing Consumer Protection Act: Kohl’s bill will restore the ban under antitrust law against manufacturers setting a minimum retail price. This nearly century-old ban was overturned by a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court in the Leegin case in 2007. Permitting manufacturers to set minimum retail price significantly harms the ability of retailers to discount, leads to higher prices for consumer goods, and damages retail competition.
The Older Worker Opportunity Act: Many older workers seek workplace flexibility in order to pursue hobbies or visit the grandkids, and many need flexibility to care for a loved one. Kohl’s bill would diminish the barriers to parttime work for older workers, such as loss of health coverage and decreased pension benefits, by providing a tax credit for employers that employ older workers (age 62+) in flexible work programs. The credit equals 25 percent of an older worker’s wages, and expires after 2014. To be eligible, employers must (1) provide a qualified pension plan and (2) provide health insurance coverage and pay at least 60 percent of its cost. A “flexible work program” provides a full- or part- time flexible work schedule and full pension and health care benefits. This arrangement must be available to an older worker for at least one year and must be widely available to rank and file employees.
The Confidence in Long- Term Care Insurance Act : Private long-term care insurance (LTCI) is designed to provide financial protection against the high cost of longterm care services. However, concerns have grown that in many states, LTCI policies can be difficult to understand and lack sufficient consumer protections. Kohl’s legislation, which has been endorsed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and many other organizations, will strengthen consumer protections with respect to premium rate stability, marketing disclosures, and adequate training and certification of agents. It is designed to make it easier for consumers to accurately compare policies from different insurance carriers, particularly with regard to what benefits are covered and whether the plan offers inflation protection. Additionally, the bill requires reciprocity across states for hybrid private-public Long-Term Care Partnership plans.
The Health Care and Training for Older Workers Act – Kohl’s legislation would extend COBRA health insurance coverage from the time of retirement (ages 62 and up) until seniors become eligible for Medicare at age 65 (this provision would be in effect until 2014). The bill also improves access for seniors to federally-funded job training programs. Finally, the bill would establish through the Department of Labor a clearinghouse of best practices in the private and public sectors for hiring and retaining older workers, as suggested by the GAO’s report on the Comptroller General’s Forum on Engaging and Retaining Older Workers, released in February 2007.