Senator Bill Nelson
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) filed legislation Thursday aimed at further protecting U.S. service members and their families from predatory lenders, including those who open up businesses outside the entrance to military bases and offer loans to members of the military at a much higher rate than those offered to members of the general public.
“Our military men and women have dedicated their lives to serving our country and we must help ensure they do not become the targets of unscrupulous lenders,” said Nelson, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This legislation will help provide our men and women in uniform with financial stability for their futures.”
If approved, Nelson’s measure would, among other things, set the maximum interest rate that a lender can charge a U.S. service member for most loans at 24 percent. It would also prohibit debt collectors from making abusive telephone calls to a service member’s commanding officer, and extend protections beyond active duty service members to also include recently discharged veterans – many of whom continue to serve in a reserve capacity.
The legislation, which Nelson introduced as an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, would amend a 2006 law that Nelson and others passed to protect members of the military from the predatory lending practices.
That bill, which capped the interest rate on most loans made to active duty service members and their families at 36 percent, has been hailed as a success in cracking down on the most egregious lending practices that military families face, but it didn’t go far enough to end the practice altogether.
To further protect service members and their families, the legislation Nelson introduced this week would:
- Reduce the interest rate ceiling from 36 to 24 percent to reduce incentives for aggressive lending.
- Extend the protections of the Military Lending Act to veterans who have been discharged from active duty military service for one year or less.
- Apply the Military Lending Act to auto loans and other secured loans for personal property.
- Prohibit debt collectors from making abusive telephone calls to a service member’s commanding officer or threatening that failure to cooperate with a debt collector will result in action from the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- Require the Department of Defense to review the data protection requirements for credit reporting agencies that use information on service members obtained from DOD databases.
- Prohibit the use of GPS trackers and “kill switches” in cars as a condition of an auto loan to service members, which could imperil service member readiness and privacy.
The Military Lending Improvement Act of 2018 is supported by Veterans of Foreign Wars.
A copy of the bill is available here.
Fewer than 450 North Atlantic right whales remaining in world
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) unveiled legislation today aimed at protecting the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The move coincides with World Oceans Day, which is observed internationally on June 8.
The SAVE Right Whales Act of 2018 (S. 3038) establishes a new grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations and members of the fishing and shipping industries to reduce the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales.
There are fewer than 450 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the world, with a population that has struggled to recover from overexploitation by the whaling industry.
“Right whales rely on Florida waters for their crucial breeding grounds, but we’re not seeing any new calves,” said Nelson, who serves as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees oceans policy. “This is a troubling development that requires quick action to find ways to protect the remaining whales and bring the population back to healthy levels.”
Despite protection from whaling since the 1930s, North Atlantic right whales are still vulnerable to ship collisions and entanglements with fishing gear, the two leading causes of injury and death to the whales today. The U.S. fishing and shipping industries have taken major steps to address these conflicts, and there are opportunities to develop improved solutions across both industries to tackle the ongoing challenge of protecting the whales. The past year was one of the worst years on record for the species, with 18 confirmed deaths between 2017 and 2018 and no new calves observed this year – the first time no calves were observed since surveys began nearly 30 years ago.
Nelson joined Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) as sponsors of the legislation. A pdf of the legislation can be found here.
The following groups have endorsed the SAVE Right Whales Act:
- Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance
- Center for Biological Diversity
- Conservation Law Foundation
- Defenders of Wildlife
- Humane Society of the United States
- Humane Society Legislative Fund
- International Fund for Animal Welfare
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- New England Aquarium
Nelson calls policy “inhumane,” files new legislation to
prohibit DHS from separating children from parents
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and several other federal lawmakers are taking action to try to stop the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents when they enter the U.S.
Nelson was one of approximately three dozen senators who cosigned a letter to President Trump Thursday calling for his administration to stop the “inhumane” practice of ripping families apart.
“Your decision to separate children from their parents at the border is cruel, unnecessary, ineffective, and goes against our values as Americans,” the lawmakers wrote. “There is no legitimate reason why these children need to be separated from their parents. … We ask that your Administration rescind this unethical, ineffective, and inhumane policy and instead prioritize approaches that align with our humanitarian American values.”
In addition to urging the president to take immediate action to end the administration’s policy, Nelson and a separate group of lawmakers also filed a bill late Thursday that would, by law, prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from separating a child from his or her parents at the border, except in extraordinary circumstances or when it’s in the child’s best interest.
Specifically, under the legislation, officials would be prohibited from separating a child from his or her parents unless a state court or welfare agency orders them to do so because they believe it would in the child’s best interest, or officials determine that the child is vulnerable to abuse or trafficking.
In addition to prohibiting most future separations, the legislation would require all Customs and Border Protections officers and agents to complete annual child welfare training, and, if a child is separated from his or her parents, it would require the agency to provide the parents with regular updates on the well-being of their children and information on how to find them.
It’s not the first time Nelson has taken action to try to stop the administration’s policy. Earlier this year, Nelson called for a federal investigation into the Department of Homeland Security’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border.
“We must return to our true American values by treating those seeking asylum with dignity and respect and keeping families together,” Nelson said last week, condemning the administration’s actions.
A .pdf of Nelson’s letter to Trump is available here.
Text of the legislation Nelson and others filed is available here.
Files new amendment to defense bill that would
maintain current moratorium for five additional years
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) filed legislation today to maintain the current moratorium on oil and gas activities in the eastern Gulf of Mexico – and prevent the administration from opening up any new areas closer to Florida’s coast to offshore drilling – until, at least, 2027.
The move comes amid reports that the oil industry – despite the Trump administration’s pledge that Florida would be “off the table” to new drilling – has launched a new campaign to try to open up additional areas in the eastern Gulf to offshore drilling.
“Here we go,” Nelson tweeted in response to the reports Wednesday. “Like us, Big Oil doesn’t believe Florida is really “off the table” to new drilling – despite what Scott and the Trump administration keep saying – and now they are making a new push to drill closer to Florida’s shores. We can’t let that happen!”
Nelson, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, filed the measure to maintain the current moratorium in the eastern gulf for an additional five years – until 2027, instead of 2022 – as an amendment to the annual defense bill that’s currently being considered in the Senate.
By filing the measure as an amendment to the defense bill – instead of as a standalone piece of legislation – it could need only 50 votes to be approved and added into the broader bill, instead of the 60 votes it typically takes to get a bill through the chamber.
Now filed, a decision on whether to allow a vote on Nelson’s amendment will be up to Senate leaders – while a decision on whether the amendment would need only 50 votes, instead of 60, will be up to the Senate Parliamentarian.
Nelson says, however, if they are successful in getting Senate leaders to allow a vote on the measure, the fact that it may only need 50 votes to pass as an amendment would drastically increase its chances of becoming law.
Full text of the amendment can be found here.
Image source: nelsonforsenate.com
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) met with a group of approximately 100 displaced Puerto Rican residents in Washington D.C. today.
The group of displaced Americans spent the day on Capitol Hill urging lawmakers to do more to help provide affordable housing to the thousands of displaced families who, like them, still cannot return home to Puerto Rico eight months after Hurricane Maria hit. [Read more…] about Nelson meets with displaced Puerto Rican families
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report yesterday showing that the entire continental U.S. experienced its warmest May ever on record. The report comes on the heels of a 2017 NOAA report that found the average high tide flooding in the U.S. last year was also the highest ever recorded.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said today he wasn’t surprised, and once again called on Congress act to combat the effects of climate change and sea-level rise.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that climate change and sea level rise are putting people’s lives and their property at risk,” Nelson said today on the Senate floor. “It’s reality.”
Nelson told his Senate colleagues of the real threat that Florida faces from rising seas, and invited all of them to come with him to Florida so he can show them firsthand the impacts that sea-level rise is having on the state.
“This is a sunny day in Miami Beach,” Nelson said, showing a picture of a flooded street in Miami Beach during king tide.
“What’s happened in Miami Beach is happening in the Los Olos area of Ft. Lauderdale,” Nelson continued. “St. Petersburg – which is on the opposite coast, the Gulf coast, where the city has designed its new pier out of floating docks to accommodate the rising seas as they rise up and down in Tampa Bay. Or how about St. Augustine, where the public works department is seeing nuisance flooding from high tides that overwhelms their storm water system.”
Nelson said the solution is twofold: the U.S. needs to increase its investment in new technologies such as “wind, solar, electric vehicles and more efficient buildings” and local governments need to “make our communities more resilient.”
Nelson filed legislation earlier this year to make federal financing available to communities who need to upgrade their infrastructure to address climate change-related events, such as tidal flooding, beach erosion or saltwater intrusion caused by sea level rise.
“We’ve heard countless stories from local government officials that if they could have invested before the natural catastrophe that hit them, if they could have invested before, they would have saved the federal government a lot of money by avoiding the enormous cost of the disaster response and relief itself, not to mention reducing the risk of human life,” Nelson said.
Following is a transcript of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor.
U.S. Sen Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
June 7, 2018
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I want to talk today about what’s happening to the coastal communities in Florida.
Now, the presiding officer represents the state that has the most coastline, Alaska, but next to Alaska, my state of Florida has more coastline than any other state, and I would venture to say that since Alaska has very few beaches, it ought to be very clear that the state of Florida has more beaches than any other state.
And that of course is an attraction that becomes an economic engine because people from all over the world want to come to enjoy the sands of Florida’s beaches and enjoy the bounty of nature that the Lord has provided but we better watch out because we’re starting to mess it up.
Yesterday, NOAA, that’s the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released data that the contiguous united States had the warmest May on record. The entire continental U.S., warmest May on record. The heat is having real world impacts.
Also, NOAA released its 2017 State of High Tide Flooding and 2018 Outlook. During 2017, the average high tide flooding in the U.S. was the highest ever recorded. And in 2018, NOAA predicts that high tide flooding will be 60% more frequent across U.S. coastlines than it was 18 years ago in 2000.
Primarily because of the local sea level rise. Now, doesn’t this suggest something? In the lower latitudes, our seas are rising. It should not surprise us.
It doesn’t surprise this senator. And we got a glimpse of this when four years ago, I took our Commerce Committee to Miami Beach and in fact had a hearing. One of the witnesses was a NASA scientist, Dr. Pierce Sellers, a very prestigious scientist and former astronaut who, unfortunately, we lost to cancer just recently. And this is what he said at the hearing. He said by the end of the century, the intensity of hurricanes will increase, but even if hurricane frequency and intensity were not to change, rising sea levels and coastal development will likely increase the impact of hurricanes and other coastal storms on the coastal communities. And the resulting effects on their infrastructure.
Well, Mr. President, I’d like you to take a peek at a picture. You know, a picture tells the real story. This is a sunny day in Miami Beach, a sunny day that the king tide is flooding Miami Beach.
Okay, that’s obvious. Look it here. But this happens frequently at high tide. So what has the city of Miami Beach had to do? Spend tens of millions of dollars on big, big pumps, raise the level of the road to try to alleviate this problem.
This is happening with some frequency in south Florida where Dr. Sellers had testified back in 2014 that projections, no, forecasts, no, measurements actually showed that the sea had risen over the last four decades 5 to 8 inches. All right.
Let’s take another look at another flooding. Now, this is Miami Beach. That’s down at the southeast part of the peninsula of Florida. But this is downtown Sarasota. Sarasota is on the gulf coast, and it’s up closer to the middle of the peninsula. In other words, about 150 miles north of the latitude that Miami Beach would be. This, the Vice Mayor brought me these pictures of Sarasota. Look at this car on the street. Pictures don’t seem to tell a false story. And then we held another field hearing in West Palm Beach a year ago, and the Broward County Resilience Officer came to Palm Beach County for that hearing and showed a video of a man biking along the city of Ft. Lauderdale sidewalk submerged in water.
In other words, what’s happened in Miami Beach is happening in the Los Olos area of Ft. Lauderdale. Then we took the committee to St. Petersburg which is on the opposite coast, the gulf coast, where the city has designed its new pier out of floating docks to accommodate the rising seas as they rise up and down in Tampa Bay.
Or how about St. Augustine, where the public works department is seeing nuisance flooding from high tides that overwhelms their storm water system. But all of these examples of how sea level rise affects coastal Florida on sunny days, not rainstorm days, and the NASA scientists at our hearing were talking about how climate could exacerbate damage from hurricanes.
Why? Because if the water is warmer, that’s the fuel for a hurricane. That’s what is sucked up into that vortex as the hurricane feeds itself. The hotter the water gets over, the more ferocious and likely frequency of those storms. Warmer ocean water fuels hurricanes, making them more intense. And the sea level rise compounds the storm surge and the rain-induced flooding.
So let me show you another image. Here’s an image that shows what Florida’s coastal communities face when the sun is not this is during a rainstorm. Here’s flooding in Jacksonville.
Where is Jacksonville? It’s at the north end of the peninsula. It’s right next almost to the Georgia line. And you can see obviously a sign that says “No skateboarding” is almost completely engulfed by the rising water.
And then you think about what about a place further south on the latitudes, Puerto Rico? Hurricane Maria absolutely ravaged that island, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that climate change and sea level rise are putting people’s lives and their property at risk. It’s reality.
I am going to continue to extend an invitation to our colleagues — I want you to come with me to Florida and I want to show you these impacts. I’ve had the privilege of taking several of our colleagues to the Florida everglades to see this unusual ecosystem that we travel about in an airboat where alligators are plentiful. I want you to come and see what’s happening as a result of the rising water.
And the real question is, what are we going to do about it? There are two pieces to the solution. One is we’re going to have to stop putting so many gases into the air called greenhouse gases. CO2 carbon dioxide and methane are the two big culprits. And part of the solution is climate mitigation. It means we must invest in new technology in the economy of the future, things like wind, solar, electric vehicles, and more efficient buildings.
And we’re going to have to make our communities more resilient to the greenhouse gases and the warming that they already have done in the system. And this is called climate change adaptation. You don’t have to agree with climate science to know that it makes sense. It makes dollars and cents to do this. We’re talking about strengthening our building codes to withstand wind events. We’re talking about restoring the function of the floodplains so that when two to three feet of rainwater suddenly gets dumped in one place, it can absorb and gradually recede.
We’re talking about rebuilding natural flood protection, like sand dunes and beaches. And in the Commerce committee, we’ve heard countless stories from local government officials that if they could have invested before the natural catastrophe that hit them, if they could have invested before, they would have saved the federal government a lot of money by avoiding the enormous cost of the disaster response and relief itself, not to mention reducing the risk of human life.
Now, the proof is in front of our very eyes. The photos that we’ve shown — let’s show the rest of them here. The photos that we have shown, they don’t lie. And yet here we are upon another hurricane season. Of course, we hope the big storms don’t come, but the likelihood is that they are. And, remember, they don’t necessarily go just to Florida.
Remember Hurricane Sandy? Look what it did to the northeast. We hope we don’t see any more of these harrowing images, but as we hope, we’re going to have to act because what we’ve shown here in these photos today is not about projections. It’s about real-time observation. Let’s quit ignoring the obvious. Mr. President, I yield the floor.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) took to the Senate floor today to blast Facebook for failing to disclose that it had shared users’ personal information with at least 60 companies, including four Chinese electronics manufacturers.
According to reporting from the New York Times, among the companies with access to Facebook user data was Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which has close ties with the Chinese government and may pose a threat to U.S. national security. Other companies with Facebook data sharing arrangements included the likes of Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, Microsoft and Samsung. The companies had access to vast amounts of detailed Facebook user data, including the information of friends who may not have consented to having their personal information accessed and shared.
“The bottom line is these revelations are yet another example of questionable business practices by Facebook that could undermine basic consumer privacy,” Nelson said in a speech on the Senate floor today.
In April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared in front of a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees to answer questions in the wake of political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvesting private data from more than 87 million Facebook profiles. During the hearing Zuckerberg apologized for his company’s negligence and pledged to do better. He also asserted that consumers own their personal information and control it how it can be seen and used. But today’s reporting in the New York Times raised questions about the accuracy of Zuckerberg’s testimony.
On the Senate floor, Nelson pointed out that while Zuckerberg told lawmakers in April that app developers were prohibited from collecting friends’ information in 2014, he failed to mention that device manufacturers were still able to access the information and never revealed the data-sharing agreements.
“…it’s hard to know what’s true anymore,” Nelson implored. “What in the world is next and what in the world is going to protect Americans’ personally identifiable private information?”
Nelson’s remarks come just one day after he sent a letter to Zuckerberg demanding answers from Facebook in the wake of an earlier Times report that the company offered numerous device manufacturers special access to private user information. The letter gave Zuckerberg a June 18 deadline to answer.
The letter Nelson sent to Zuckerberg yesterday is available here.
Following is a transcript of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor.
Senator Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
June 6, 2018
Sen. Nelson: Madam President, it’s interesting that the majority whip just spoke about China and this senator wants to talk about Facebook and some of the things that are threatening national security and our personal privacy.
I rise to speak on the recent press reports on Facebook and how the social media giant partnered with at least 60 mobile device manufacturers and shared user information with the likes of Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, Microsoft and Samsung.
And just today on the subject of China, the New York Times is reporting that Facebook also partnered with four Chinese electronic manufacturers, including Huawei which is known to have close ties with the Chinese government and may pose a national security threat to the U.S. According to the Times, these companies had access to vast amount of Facebook’s user data, including the information of friends who may not have provided proper consent to access and share personal and their personally identifiable information.
Madam President, we don’t know all the facts yet, but it’s clear what Facebook claims and what the New York Times is reporting, it doesn’t end up squaring up. As a result, the chairman of the Commerce Committee, Senator Thune, and I as ranking member wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg asking that he answer a number of questions about the New York Times reporting.
Specifically, Senator Thune and I want to know who exactly these business partners are and what are the nature of these agreements. We want to know what safeguards are in place and whether Facebook conducted adequate oversight to protect user customer information from unauthorized use and storage.
And we also ask whether Facebook users and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) were aware of these business agreements. Currently, Facebook is operating under a 2011 consent order as part of a settlement with the FTC. And it’s not clear whether their data sharing agreements are in violation of that order.
The bottom line is these revelations are yet another example of questionable business practices by Facebook that could undermine basic consumer privacy . Remember, less than two months ago, Mr. Zuckerberg appeared in front of our committee and a joint committee hearing with the Judiciary Committee to answer questions in the face of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.
In that hearing Mr. Zuckerberg apologized for his company’s negligence and pledged to do better. He also asserted that consumers own their personal information and control it how it can be seen and used. I want to repeat what I said. He — this is Zuckerberg — asserted that consumers, their users, own their personal information and control how it can be seen and used. That’s what Zuckerberg told our committee. But the reporting in the New York Times suggests that’s not accurate.
While Mr. Zuckerberg asserted that developers were prohibited from collecting friends’ information in 2014, he failed to mention that device manufacturers were still able to access the information. He never revealed these data-sharing agreements in our hearing in April.
As a result, it’s hard to know what’s true anymore. And now we learn that Facebook gave Chinese companies believed to be national security risks access to user data. What in the world is next and what in the world is going to protect Americans’ personally identifiable private information?
Madam President, Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the world with over two billion users. And in the U.S., over 200 million users. And those users interact with each other and post sensitive personal information. The company has a unique responsibility to its users to be vigilant caretakers of their personally identifiable information.
They also have a responsibility to be transparent. I look forward to Mr. Zuckerberg’s response to the letter that Senator Thune and I had sent to him just recently. And it’s high time that Congress act to provide all American consumers with the basic privacy protections that they expect and that they deserve to be protected. And they’re counting on us to do Madam President, I yield the floor.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) today announced the allocation of $22.8 million to 15 public transit systems across Florida impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The funding, sought by U.S Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), will help the agencies pay for hurricane response costs, including replacing and repairing damaged equipment and facilities and projects designed to reduce the risk of future storms.
“This is welcome news for a number of transit systems in Florida,” said Nelson. “For months they’ve had to struggle to find ways to pay for damages caused by last year’s devastating hurricanes. Thankfully, they’re finally getting some relief.”
Congress approved $330 million for the FTA’s Emergency Relief Program in February. In addition to Florida, the FTA today also announced transit agency allocations of $223.5 million for Puerto Rico, $23.3 million for Texas, $6.7 million for the U.S. Virgin Islands and $187,000 for Georgia.
Below are the Florida agencies receiving funding. Click here for the FTA’s funding announcement in today’s Federal Register.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority
Jacksonville Transportation Authority
City of Key West
Lynx/Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority
Manatee County Board of County Commissioners
Miami-Dade Department of Transportation and Public Works
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
South Florida Regional Transportation Authority
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) renewed his call today for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to explain exactly what he meant when he said that Florida would be “off the table” to new offshore oil drilling.
The move comes in response to comments made last week by a spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott who said the governor “supports a 125-mile barrier around Florida,” a move that would allow oil rigs to drill 110 miles closer to Tampa Bay than they are currently allowed under federal law. Nelson says despite a Jan. 9 news conference where both Scott and Zinke announced that they had reached a deal to keep Florida “off the table” to new drilling, more recent comments made by both men suggest that “off the table” may not necessarily mean maintaining the current moratorium.