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SOPA/PIPA Dead ...For Now.

January 20, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

Following a day of unprecedented online protest, the web censorship bills in Congress, SOPA and PIPA, have officially been tabled. “In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act (PIPA)," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this morning.

SOPA in the House was put on hold as well. "It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products," said Judiciary Committee Chairman and SOPA sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith. The SOPA mark-up was scheduled to resume on Feb. 18th, but it has now officially been postponed indefinitely.

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If you want to break the partisan divide and get Democrats and Republicans in Congress to agree on something, just give them a bill that makes it easier for the government to spy on U.S. citizens without judicial oversight. Yesterday, the Senate voted 74-8, with 18 senators abstaining, in favor of moving forward with legislation to extend three of the most controversial PATRIOT Act surveillance powers for four more years, without any modifications. By contrast, the Senate has had to pull a small business jobs bill and two of Obama's judicial nominees from the floor after the Republicans mounted successful filibusters.

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Senate Takes Up Controversial Patent Legislation

February 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate has begun debating a bill that would fundamentally alter an important area of U.S. intellectual property laws, and it's pitting small businesses and independent inventors against a broad coalition of powerful interests like drug companies, big software companies and some unions. The bill, known as the Patent Reform Act of 2011, would amend several areas of patent law, the most significant of which would be a change from the current application system that awards patents to the fist person to invent something to a new system that would award a patent to the first person to file an application.

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The House is back in session this week, and they're kicking off their return with a vote on a bill that seems to be popular with members of Congress, in both parties, but hugely unpopular with just about everyone else -- renewing the USA PATRIOT Act. That's right, the Republicans' bill to extend a few controversial surveillance programs that are set to expire at the end of this month (see below for explanation) has been rushed to the floor calendar without a single committee hearing or a proper mark-up. As you can see on the schedule below, they are trying to pass it under the suspension of the rules procedure, which means that there will only be 40 minutes of debate allowed and no amendments can be offered.

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There's not a whole lot these days that the Republican House of Representatives and the Democratic Senate are eager to work on together. But there is at least one thing. On February 28th, three controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act are scheduled to expire, and in the past couple of weeks Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have introduced several bills to reauthorize and extend them. In both chambers the committee chairmen who will be in charge of bringing the bills to the floor for votes have already signed on as supporters.

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Wyden Vows to Kill the Internet Censorship Bill

November 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act has all the qualities of a bill on the fast track for becoming law. Its chief sponsor is the chairman of the committee it was referred to, it has a long list of bipartisan cosponsors, including a mix of conservative and liberal senators, and it was reported out of committee by a unanimous 19-0 vote. But, last Friday, Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] threw a log in its path by announcing that he would do everything within his means to stop the bill if it is brought to the Senate floor.

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A strange thing happened in the Senate last week. After years of rejecting the House's attempt to pass the "Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act" that would force states to accept out-of-state notarizations of documents, including electronic notarizations, the bill was suddenly discharged from committee, called up on the Senate floor, and quickly passed under unanimous consent. Even the bill's sponsor, Rep. Robert Aderholt [R, AL-4], said that he was "surprised that it came through at the eleventh hour." Nobody expected the bill to come up for Senate passage, but since it seemed innocuous enough and because senators were itching to get out of D.C. and hit the campaign trails, they passed it without any debate or dissent.

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Senate Patches the SEC FOIA Loophole

September 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

About a week after the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill was signed into law, government transparency watchdogs found a heinous provision in the bill that seemed to allow the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to deny Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests for information pertaining to an "examination, surveillance, or risk assessment” of banks and other financial comapnies. A group of groups wrote to the bills' sponsors, Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] and Rep. Barney Frank [D, MA-4], saying that the provision was "undermining the bill’s overarching goals of more transparency and accountability" and asking that they pass another bill to remove it.

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Senate Considers Faster FOIA Act

April 20, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Federal agencies have a mixed record when it comes to processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in spite of a renewed, government-wide commitment to the law. And now, a move to reduce the amount of time the government takes to process FOIA requests has advanced in the Senate and is getting some high profile and bipartisan support.

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After initially faltering, the Senate last night approved a substitute amendment to the unemployment filing extension bill (H.R. 4851), which indicates that the votes are place and the bill should pass today (if Republicans agree to allow a vote) or early next week (if the Republicans demand more procedural votes).

Sen. George Voinovich [R, OH] provided the Democrats with the crucial GOP cross-over vote they needed to break a Republican filibuster of the amendment. He's expected to vote with the Democrats on the bill form here on out.

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