Afternoon Jolt

Today's Winner: U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1)

Washington state's Microsoft district congresswoman, Rep. DelBene, teamed up with Silicon Valley district U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) today on behalf of tech companies.

That might sound creepy, but the digital duo actually pushed the tech industry agenda in the original Google "Don't be Evil" way by adding an amendment to legislation known as the FREEDOM Act that would allow companies to disclose and detail NSA surveillance to the public.

U.S. Rep. DelBene was a co-sponsor on the original bill, authored by contrite Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), which prevents the government—as it's been doing willy-nilly under President Obama—from going on massive meta-data sweeps. (Rep. Sensnebrenner was the original sponsor of the Bush-era PATRIOT Act, and felt remorse about how it had been abused)

The bill got watered down a bit: No guarantee of an independent civil rights advocate on the special, secret court that vets government surveillance requests; and no limiting the requests to formal, ongoing investigations.

However, DelBene added an amendment today that would codify a deal tech companies struck with the DOJ earlier this year allowing companies to disclose to customers when the feds were using the companies (Google, Facebook, AT&T et al) for surveillance, specifically: Allowing the companies to disclose the total number of requests the company had received. More important, DelBene strengthened that agreement by empowering companies to release important additional details to customers about what the government is up to.

Initially, the disclosure only included the ability to tell customers the number of requests they'd gotten and the number of terms ("selectors") the feds wanted the company to use as a search filter. DelBene's amendment added the ability to let customers know how many personal accounts were affected by the request and what type of request—NSA, FISA, counterterrorism—each request was. 

After the house judiciary committee passed DelBene's amendment unanimously by voice vote—and then the bill in full 32-0—Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the judiciary committee, sent out a letter applauding the legislation and saying his senate committee would take up the bill next.

Rep. DelBene

"The secret government surveillance programs that involved the bulk collection of American communications records are nothing short of a violation of individual privacy and civil liberties," Rep. DelBene said after the vote.

"I especially appreciate their willingness to work with me to insert transparency provisions that will help inform the American public of when and how often the government is requesting their personal data from private companies."

Today's second winner: Mayor Ed Murray's convoluted, multi-tiered, phased-in $15 minimum wage proposal.

Representatives of nonprofit groups roundly praised Mayor Ed Murray's complicated minimum-wage proposal at a city council today; the proposal is complicated in part because it accounts for the needs of small non-profits, which likely fit in to Murray's third or fourth phase in schedule.

Schedules three and four phase in the $15 wage for smaller businesses (and non-profits) over a five and seven year period with an increasing base wage and increasing guaranteed total compensation along the way.  

Leaders at organizations including Casa Latina, the Downtown Emergency Services Center, the Arc of King County, and Catholic Community Services all said they believe their workers should make $15 an hour; several added that they did not believe the higher minimum should include any carve-outs for benefits like health care. 

"We'd like nothing more than to pay our employees wages commensurate with their skill and talent, and $10.50"—the current starting wage—"is not it," said Sylvia Fuerstenberg, executive director of the Arc of King County, which helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Nora Gibson, director of Full Life Care, which helps people with chronic or terminal illnesses and disabilities, added, "We feel very strongly that our employees deserve at least $15 an hour for the work that they do. ... It's been underfunded and undervalued by our society for years and years."

Their only concern, the nonprofit leaders said, was that the higher minimum doesn't lead to cuts in human services—which translates, of course, into more public funding for human services (an ask that could become a bigger issue than they let on at today's meeting, given that the state, at least, has been more inclined to cut funding for human-service agencies than add it.) 

"Our bottom line is that the minimum wage will be increasing as a matter of public policy, and we’re asking that the most vulnerable will not be impacted by this minimum wage increase," Steve Daschle, director of Southwest Youth and Family Services, said.


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