Senators Pryor, Kerry Propose Equal Internet Access For Disabled

On May 5, 2010, Senators Mark Pryor (AR) and John Kerry (MA) introduced the “Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act” (S. 3304).  Senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both from North Dakota, also co-sponsored the bill.

Hailed by equal access advocates as a major step forward for people with disabilities in ensuring accessible technology, the bill would modernize accessibility mandates in the Communications Act, bringing existing requirements up to date as television and phone services connect via the Internet and use new digital and broadband technologies.

Eric Bridges, Director of Advocacy & Government Affairs at the American Council of the Blind (ACB) said, “Much of S. 3304 would lead to greater accessibility for people with disabilities, such as more accessible video programming, including captioning and video description, regardless of distribution mode; and video programming equipment, such as televisions and other display devices, would also be accessible.”

However, some advocates have argued the Senate bill does not go as far as its companion measure in the House of Representatives – the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act” (H.R. 3101) – in reaching all the new technologies.  In particular, the National Association of the Deaf has been critical that the Senate bill is not as broad or well-defined as the House version.

Jenifer Simpson, Senior Director of Government Affairs at the American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD) said, “We are confident that these issues – scope of accessible communications and the standard for compliance – will be resolved.”

A copy of a press released just issued by COAT – the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology – is in the Box.  COAT has been active in getting the Senate bill introduced.

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Hypocrisy Alert! Senator Coburn Calls For Prayer; Hatch & Co. Say Health Care Bill Unconstitutional

With all the rancor swirling around Capitol Hill over the health care bill (or fiasco, if you prefer), it is not surprising that our elected representatives are saying and writing the most peculiar things.  Two Senators’ words, however, are just so hypocritical and, frankly, ridiculous that they deserve special attention as being CIVIL WRONGS:

The first of these Senators is Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.  On December 21, 2009, during floor debate in the Senate over the health care bill, Senator Coburn stated that Americans should pray that some of the Senators not be able to make the vote (referring to those Senators expected to vote for the health care bill).  Coburn did not specify what he meant, but at least one implication was that the other Senators suffer some mishap or setback.

This comment by Coburn drew the ire of Senator Durbin of Illinois, who called on Coburn to return to the Senate floor and explain his comments which Durbin stated “troubles me.”  Coburn did not respond.  I have downloaded a copy of the video exchange on the Senate floor for you in the Box.

Sen. Coburn is quite the loving, God-fearing soul.  Before he became a Senator, Dr. Coburn was a medical doctor in Oklahoma.  Approximately 13 years ago, a patient accused him of sterilizing her without her consent.  During Coburn’s hotly contested race for the Senate, the young woman, by that time 34, came forward to stand by her charges against Coburn.  You can link to an article discussing the medical malpractice case against Coburn here.  The article was written in the Washington Post, not exactly a bastion of the liberal media.

The other Senator worthy of mention is Orrin G. Hatch of Idaho.  Recently, in an op-ed piece he wrote to the Wall Street Journal, Hatch laid out his position as to why the health care bill is unconstitutional.  You can link to the op-ed piece here.

I have to admit that I can see the merit in some of Hatch’s arguments.  I am pissed off that the so-called “public option” is lost, that Joe Lieberman was allowed to play the self-appointed role of “super Senator,” and that Senator Nelson was bought off in a “cash for cloture” deal leaving the Feds obligated to pay Nebraska’s share of the Medicaid expansion into perpetuity.

Indeed, there are serious constitutional questions raised by the Nelson deal, which some states appear poised to pursue.  You can link to an article discussing the “cash for cloture” deal and its constitutional issue here.  Nelson’s vote was treated as being so important that he was referred to in a recent article as one of the four new “kings of the Hill” by CNN.  You can link to that article here.

I am also pissed off that President Obama appears poised to sign this garbage legislation instead of calling the bill (and the process that gave birth to it) exactly what it is – a dirty, money-infested joke!  My dream headline for 2010:  “Obama Vetoes Health Care Bill; Tells Senate To Pull Head Out Of Its [   ] And Get Back To Work!”

That being said, I simply cannot believe there is any real, genuine concern over constitutionality when the argument is offered by a Senator who voted for the P.A.T.R.I.O.T act with no concern about constitutionality.  Moreover, Hatch has little room to act “holier than thou” in the health care debate when he is so favored by big pharmaceutical companies.  In the early 1990s, Hatch created a foundation which has recently received about $172,000 in donations from 5 big pharmaceutical companies and an industry trade group known as Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.  By pure coincidence, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers also employs Hatch’s son, Scott Hatch.  You can link to an article discussing these facts here.

As a matter of fact, the pharmaceutical industry is Senator Hatch’s biggest contributor, donating more than $1.25 million to his campaigns since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

I agree with Mitchell Baird’s December 28, 2009 article in The Huffington Post, entitled:  “The Republicans’ Disdain For The American People Should Be The Story Of 2009.”  Baird points out that the Republicans in Congress care less about the American people than they do with scoring petty political victories, and it seems to me that both Coburn and Hatch exemplify that.

In Hatch’s case, another question came to my mind as I read his op-ed piece – Why now, Senator?  The health care bill has been through committee, conferences, and all manner of back-room shenanigans without any mention (to my knowledge) of any looming constitutional dilemma.  Granted, the Ben Nelson deal came up rather late in the day, but the gist of the health care bill – i.e., that the Feds would require individuals to purchase insurance – was known early on.

Why only after the bill passes do you make these important issues  known to the American people?  Is it the Constitution you are concerned about, or are you more concerned about scoring points with your political base and damaging Obama?  What solutions for the disastrous health care system have you produced other than the same failed policies of the Bush years?

It is also worth noting that Hatch’s co-author, Ken Blackwell, is best known as the Secretary of State in Ohio during the 2004 election.  At the same time as he was Ohio’s chief elections official, Blackwell was honorary co-chair of the “Committee to re-elect George W. Bush.”  Allegations of conflict of interest and voter disenfranchisement led to the filing of at least sixteen related lawsuits naming Blackwell.  Blackwell was again named as a defendant in a 2006 lawsuit related to his office’s public disclosure of the Social Security numbers of Ohio residents.  Far from being Mr. Constitution, Blackwell is an outspoken, staunch conservative who, for example, believes that abortion should be permitted only where necessary to save the life of the mother.  Blackwell’s understanding of the Constitution is about as tenuous as it gets.

You can link to a Wikipedia article discussing Mr. Blackwell here.

Lastly, Hatch’s other co-author, Kenneth Klukowski writes articles for a website, Human Events, calling itself the conservative underground.  Here is a sample of Mr. Klukowski’s one-sided writings from that website.

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