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Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition (Public Draft Released August 19, 2014)

August 21, 2014 Comments off

Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition
Source: U.S. Copyright Office

Maria A. Pallante (Register of Copyrights and Director) has released a public draft of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition (the “Third Edition”). The first major revision in more than two decades, the draft presents more than 1200 pages of administrative practices and sets the stage for a number of long-term improvements in registration and recordation policy. It will remain in draft form for 120 days pending final review and implementation, taking effect on or around December 15, 2014.

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Ebola: 2014 Outbreak in West Africa – CRS In Focus (August 8, 2014)

August 20, 2014 Comments off

Ebola: 2014 Outbreak in West Africa – CRS In Focus (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

An ongoing outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), the largest, most persistent ever documented, and the first in West Africa, began in March 2014 in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia (the “affected countries”) and has spread to Nigeria. More people have contracted and died from EVD in this outbreak than in any single prior outbreak. In the current outbreak, the case fatality rate (the estimated percentage of infected persons dying) is about 55%; past outbreak rates have ranged between 41% and 88%.

Prior human EVD outbreaks had occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sudan, and Uganda, primarily in rural and forested areas (Figure 2). The current outbreak is more geographically extensive and cases are emerging in both urban and rural settings. Health experts are accelerating efforts to contain the outbreak, as transmission in densely populated urban areas may be far more difficult to control and lead to higher death tolls. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), from March through August 6, Ebola was known or suspected to have infected 1,779 persons and caused 961 deaths; of these, 1,134 cases had been confirmed in laboratories.

CRS — Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC08): Status of Benefits Prior to Expiration (August 11, 2014)

August 18, 2014 Comments off

Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC08): Status of Benefits Prior to Expiration (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Until its expiration at the end of December 2013, the temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC08) program provided additional federal unemployment insurance benefits to eligible individuals who had exhausted all available benefits from their state Unemployment Compensation (UC) programs. Congress created the EUC08 program in 2008 and amended the original, authorizing law (P.L. 110-252) 11 times. No EUC08 benefits are currently available.

The last extension of EUC08 under P.L. 112-240, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, authorized EUC08 benefits until the week ending on or before January 1, 2014 (i.e., December 28, 2013; or December 29, 2013, in New York State). Prior to program expiration, the potential duration of EUC08 benefits available to eligible individuals depended on state unemployment rates. Figure A-1 provides the sequence, availability, and total maximum duration of all unemployment benefits prior to the expiration of EUC08.

This report summarizes the structure of EUC08 benefits available prior to program expiration at the end of calendar year 2013. It also provides the legislative history of the EUC08 program.

CRS — Compensated Work Sharing Arrangements (Short-Time Compensation) as an Alternative to Layoffs (August 8, 2014)

August 18, 2014 Comments off

Compensated Work Sharing Arrangements (Short-Time Compensation) as an Alternative to Layoffs (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists

Short-time compensation (STC) is a program within the federal-state unemployment insurance system. In states that have STC programs, workers whose hours are reduced under a formal work sharing plan may be compensated with STC, which is a regular unemployment benefit that has been pro-rated for the partial work reduction.

Although the terms work sharing and short-time compensation are sometimes used interchangeably, work sharing refers to any arrangement under which workers’ hours are reduced in lieu of a layoff. Under a work sharing arrangement, a firm faced with the need to downsize temporarily chooses to reduce work hours across the board for all workers instead of laying off a smaller number of workers. For example, an employer might reduce the work hours of the entire workforce by 20%, from five to four days a week, in lieu of laying off 20% of the workforce.

CRS — Systemically Important or “Too Big to Fail” Financial Institutions (August 8, 2014)

August 18, 2014 Comments off

Systemically Important or “Too Big to Fail” Financial Institutions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Although “too big to fail” (TBTF) has been a perennial policy issue, it was highlighted by the near-collapse of several large financial firms in 2008. Financial firms are said to be TBTF when policy makers judge that their failure would cause unacceptable disruptions to the overall financial system, and they can be TBTF because of their size or interconnectedness. In addition to fairness issues, economic theory suggests that expectations that a firm will not be allowed to fail create moral hazard—if the creditors and counterparties of a TBTF firm believe that the government will protect them from losses, they have less incentive to monitor the firm’s riskiness because they are shielded from the negative consequences of those risks. If so, they could have a funding advantage compared with other banks, which some call an implicit subsidy. S.Con.Res. 8, passed by the Senate on March 22, 2013, and H.Con.Res. 25, as amended and passed by the Senate on October 16, 2013, create a non-binding budget reserve fund that allows for future legislation to address the TBTF funding advantage.

There are a number of policy approaches—some complementary, some conflicting—to coping with the TBTF problem, including providing government assistance to prevent TBTF firms from failing or systemic risk from spreading; enforcing “market discipline” to ensure that investors, creditors, and counterparties curb excessive risk-taking at TBTF firms; enhancing regulation to hold TBTF firms to stricter prudential standards than other financial firms; curbing firms’ size and scope, by preventing mergers or compelling firms to divest assets, for example; minimizing spillover effects by limiting counterparty exposure; and instituting a special resolution regime for failing systemically important firms. A comprehensive policy is likely to incorporate more than one approach, as some approaches are aimed at preventing failures and some at containing fallout when a failure occurs.

CRS — The Legislative Process on the Senate Floor: An Introduction (August 13, 2014)

August 18, 2014 Comments off

The Legislative Process on the Senate Floor: An Introduction (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The standing rules of the Senate promote deliberation by permitting Senators to debate at length and by precluding a simple majority from ending debate when they are prepared to vote to approve a bill. This right of extended debate permits filibusters that can be brought to an end if the Senate invokes cloture, usually by a vote of three-fifths of all Senators. Even then, consideration can typically continue under cloture for an additional 30 hours. The possibility of filibusters encourages the Senate to seek consensus whenever possible and to conduct business under the terms of unanimous consent agreements that limit the time available for debate and amending.

CRS — Party Leaders in the House: Election, Duties, and Responsibilities (August 14, 2014)

August 18, 2014 Comments off

Party Leaders in the House: Election, Duties, and Responsibilities (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Each major party in the House has a leadership hierarchy. This report summarizes the election, duties, and responsibilities of the Speaker of the House, the majority and minority leaders, and the whips and whip system. For a listing of all past occupants of congressional party leadership positions, see CRS Report RL30567, Party Leaders in the United States Congress, 1789-2014, by Valerie Heitshusen.

CRS — Congressional Member Organizations: Their Purpose and Activities, History, and Formation (August 14, 2014)

August 18, 2014 Comments off

Congressional Member Organizations: Their Purpose and Activities, History, and Formation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

There are 737 informal Member organizations listed in the Congressional Yellow Book or registered with the Committee on House Administration. According to self-reported information contained in the Congressional Yellow Book, the House’s 650 informal Member organizations had from 1 to 315 members, with an average membership of 25, and the Senate’s 87 informal Member organizations had from 1 to 61 members, with an average membership of 14. On average, House Members report membership in 38 informal Member organizations and Senators report membership in 18. Of these 737 informal organizations, as of June 17, 2014, 322 were registered with the Committee on House Administration as congressional Member organizations (CMOs).

The term “congressional Member organization” refers to a group of Members who join together in pursuit of common legislative objectives and register the organization with the Committee on House Administration. In many instances, Members assign personal staff (including shared employees) under the Member’s control to assist the CMO in carrying out its legislative objectives. Any informal group of House Members who wish to use personal staff to work on behalf of an informal Member group, discuss their membership in the group in official communications, or mention their membership on their official House website must register the group with the Committee on House Administration as a CMO. There are no registration requirements in the Senate.

CRS — Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms: Economic, Program, and Policy Issues (August 4, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms: Economic, Program, and Policy Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) programs were authorized by Congress in the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to help workers and firms adjust to import competition and dislocation caused by trade liberalization. Trade liberalization, which is widely held to increase the economic welfare of all trade partners, can also cause adjustment problems for import-competing firms and workers. TAA has long been justified on grounds that TAA may be the least disruptive option for offsetting policy-driven trade liberalization. The TAA programs for workers, firms, and farmers represent an alternative to policies that would restrict imports, and so provides assistance while bolstering freer trade and diminishing prospects for potentially costly tension (retaliation) among trade partners.

CRS — The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (Post-9/11 GI Bill): Primer and Issues (July 28, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (Post-9/11 GI Bill): Primer and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (Post-9/11 GI Bill®)—enacted as Title V of the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-252) on June 30, 2008—is the newest GI Bill and went into effect on August 1, 2009. There were four main drivers for the Post-9/11 GI Bill: (1) providing parity of benefits for reservists and members of the regular Armed Forces, (2) ensuring comprehensive educational benefits, (3) meeting military recruiting goals, and (4) improving military retention through transferability of benefits. By FY2010, the program had the largest numbers of participants and the highest total obligations compared to the other GI Bills.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides benefits to veterans and servicemembers who serve on active duty after September 10, 2001. Participants may be eligible for payments to cover tuition and fees, housing, books and supplies, tutorial and relocation assistance, and testing and certification fees. Individuals who serve on active duty for 36 months after September 10, 2001, may receive a tuition and fees benefit of up to the amount of in-state tuition and fees charged when enrolled in public institutions of higher learning (IHLs), or up to $19,198.31 when enrolled in private IHLs in academic year 2013-2014. Benefit payments vary depending on the participant’s active duty status, length of qualifying active duty, rate of pursuit, and program of education.

CRS — The Effectiveness of the Community Reinvestment Act (July 25, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

The Effectiveness of the Community Reinvestment Act (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) addresses how banking institutions meet credit needs in low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods. The federal banking regulatory agencies— the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency—currently implement CRA. The regulators conduct examinations to evaluate how banks are fulfilling the objectives of the CRA and issue performance ratings. Having a satisfactory or better CRA rating is desirable when banks request to merge with other banking institutions.

The CRA, which was enacted in 1977, was subsequently revised in 1989 to require public disclosure of bank CRA ratings and for the CRA examination to have a four-tiered system of descriptive performance levels (i.e., Outstanding, Satisfactory, Needs to Improve, or Substantial Noncompliance). In 1995, the CRA examination was customized to account for differences in bank sizes and business models. In 2005, the bank size definitions were revised and indexed to the Consumer Price Index. The definition of community development was also modified to expand CRA opportunities for public welfare investments. In addition, the CRA has evolved to include consumer and business lending, community investments, and low-cost services that would benefit LMI areas and entities.

Congressional concerns regarding the CRA stem from various perceptions of its effectiveness. There are concerns that the CRA creates incentives for banks to make loans to unqualified borrowers likely to have repayment problems, which can translate into losses for lenders. On the other hand, there are concerns that the CRA is not generating sufficient incentives to increase credit availability to qualified LMI borrowers, which may impede economic recovery for some following the 2007-2009 recession.

This report informs the congressional debate concerning the CRA’s effectiveness to incentivize bank lending and investment activity to LMI borrowers.

CRS — Iraq Crisis and U.S. Policy (August 8, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

Iraq Crisis and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The offensive in northern and central Iraq led by the Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS) has raised significant concerns for the United States and precipitated new U.S. military action in Iraq. U.S. concerns include a possible breakup of Iraq’s political and territorial order; the establishment of a potential base for terrorist attacks in the region or even against the U.S. homeland; the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe; and direct threats to the approximately 5,000 U.S. personnel in Iraq.

The crisis has raised several questions for U.S. policy because it represents the apparent unraveling of a seemingly stable and secure Iraq that was in place when U.S. combat troops departed Iraq at the end of 2011. The Islamic State offensive into Kurdish-controlled territory in early August has caused the United States to become reengaged militarily in Iraq. The Administration has said its intervention will remain limited and will not result in a deployment of U.S. ground troops back into Iraq. The Administration also has engaged in humanitarian air drops to members of minority communities in northern Iraq that fled the IS onslaught.

EPA’s Proposed CO2 Rule for Existing Power Plants: How Would It Affect Nuclear Energy? — CRS Insights (August 4, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

EPA’s Proposed CO2 Rule for Existing Power Plants: How Would It Affect Nuclear Energy? — CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule on June 18, 2014, to address CO2 emissions from existing power plants. Because nuclear power plants directly emit little or no CO2, a significant policy question is whether EPA’s proposed regulations would encourage the growth of nuclear energy or at least the continued operation of existing reactors. The formula in the proposed rule for setting CO2 goals explicitly accounts for some existing nuclear capacity and reactors under construction, providing a potential incentive for states to try to keep those plants operating. However, EPA’s proposed rule allows states to develop their own plans for meeting the CO2 emission rate goals, making it difficult to predict how nuclear energy might ultimately fare.

The proposed EPA standards would set state-specific goals for the amount of CO2 that could be emitted in 2030 for each megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated. EPA projects that, under those proposed emissions rates, U.S. power plants would produce 30% less CO2 by 2030 than they did in 2005 (the base year in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan).

CRS — Telemarketing Regulation: National and State Do Not Call Registries (August 14, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

Telemarketing Regulation: National and State Do Not Call Registries (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Today, it is axiomatic that telemarketers in the United States generally are not permitted to place outgoing telemarketing calls to phone numbers on the national do not call list, unless an exception applies. This was not always the case, however. The National Do Not Call Registry was implemented by Congress and by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in response to widespread frustration on the part of citizens with what was perceived to be abusive telemarketing practices. Particularly irritating and invasive were the numerous calls to residences on the part of telemarketers during dinner hours. In an attempt to address these complaints, Congress granted the FTC and the FCC the authority to regulate telemarketing practices. From these initial grants of regulatory authority grew the National Do Not Call Registry.

The development and implementation of the national do not call list was not straightforward. No single law creates the list. Instead, it developed from a combination of statutes and regulations over time, as Congress and the federal agencies tasked with the responsibility of regulating telemarketing developed strategies to better alleviate perceived consumer harm. This report will outline the laws underpinning the national do not call list; describe the regulations implementing the list; answer some of the most frequently asked questions related to the list; and discuss the possible penalties for violating the rules. The report will also briefly discuss some of the ways the various states have implemented their own do not call lists.

CRS — Missing and Exploited Children: Background, Policies, and Issues (August 1, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

Missing and Exploited Children: Background, Policies, and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Beginning in the late 1970s, highly publicized cases of children abducted, sexually abused, and sometimes murdered prompted policy makers and child advocates to declare a missing children problem. At that time, about 1.5 million children were reported missing annually. Though dated, survey data from 1999 provide the most recent and comprehensive information on missing children. The data show that approximately 1.3 million children went missing from their caretakers that year due to a family or nonfamily abduction, running away or being forced to leave home, becoming lost or injured, or for benign reasons, such as a miscommunication about schedules. Nearly half of all missing children ran away or were forced to leave home, and nearly all missing children were returned to their homes. The number of children who are sexually exploited is unknown because of the secrecy surrounding exploitation; however, in the 1999 study, researchers found that over 300,000 children were victims of rape; unwanted sexual contact; forceful actions taken as part of a sex-related crime; and other sex-related crimes that do not involve physical contact with the child, including those committed on the Internet.

CRS — Primer on Disability Benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (August 1, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

Primer on Disability Benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In general, the goal of disability insurance is to replace a portion of a worker’s income should illness or disability prevent him or her from working. Individuals may receive disability benefits from either federal or state governments, or from private insurers. This report presents information on two types of disability programs provided through the federal government: the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. SSDI is an insurance program that provides benefits to individuals who have paid into the system and meet certain minimum work requirements. In contrast, SSI is a means-tested program that does not have work or contribution requirements, but restricts benefits to those who meet certain financial eligibility criteria.

CRS — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): Size and Characteristics of the Cash Assistance Caseload (August 5, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): Size and Characteristics of the Cash Assistance Caseload (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant provides states, territories, and Indian tribes with federal grants for benefits and services intended to ameliorate the effects, and address the root causes, of child poverty. It was created in the 1996 welfare reform law, and is most associated with policies such as time limits and work requirements that sought to address concerns about “welfare dependency” of single mothers who received cash assistance. This report examines the characteristics of the TANF cash assistance caseload in FY2011, and compares it with selected post-welfare reform years (FY2001 and FY2006) and pre-welfare reform years (FY1988 and FY1994). The size of the caseload first increased, from 3.7 million families per month in FY1988 to 5.0 million families per month in FY1994, and then declined dramatically to 2.2 million families in FY2001 and 1.9 million families in FY2011. Over this period, some of the characteristics of the TANF cash assistance caseload have remained fairly stable, and other characteristics have changed.

CRS– Juvenile Victims of Domestic Sex Trafficking: Juvenile Justice Issues (August 5, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

Juvenile Victims of Domestic Sex Trafficking: Juvenile Justice Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

There has been growing concern over sex trafficking of children in the United States. Demand for sex with children (and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children) is steady, and profit to sex traffickers has increased. Law enforcement is challenged not only by prosecuting traffickers and buyers of sex with children, but also by how to handle the girls and boys whose bodies are sexually exploited for profit.

Under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA; P.L. 106-386), the primary law that addresses trafficking, sex trafficking of children is a federal crime; moreover, an individual under the age of 18 who is involved in commercial sex activities is considered a victim of these crimes. Despite this, at the state and local levels, juvenile victims of sex trafficking may at times be treated as criminals or juvenile delinquents rather than victims of crime. Of note, there are no comprehensive data that address the number of prostituted or otherwise sexually trafficked children, and there are limited studies on the proportion of these juveniles who are treated as offenders.

CRS — Federal Student Loan Forgiveness and Loan Repayment Programs (July 22, 2014)

August 14, 2014 Comments off

Federal Student Loan Forgiveness and Loan Repayment Programs (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Student loan forgiveness and loan repayment programs provide borrowers a means of having all or part of their student loan debt forgiven or repaid in exchange for work or service in specific fields or professions or following a prolonged period during which their student loan debt burden is high relative to their income. In both loan forgiveness and loan repayment programs, borrowers typically qualify for benefits by working or serving in certain capacities for a specified period of time or by satisfying other program requirements over an extended term. Upon qualifying for benefits, some or all of a borrower’s student loan debt is forgiven or paid on his or her behalf.

One of the most important distinctions among these types of programs is whether the availability of benefits is incorporated into the loan terms and conditions and thus considered an entitlement to qualified borrowers, or whether benefits are made available to qualified borrowers at the discretion of the entity administering the program and subject to the availability of funds. For the purposes of this report, the former types of programs are referred to as loan forgiveness while the latter are referred to as loan repayment.

CRS — Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014: Comparison of Select Provisions (July 14, 2014)

August 14, 2014 Comments off

Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014: Comparison of Select Provisions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA 2014, P.L. 113-121) became law on June 10, 2014. The conference report, H.Rept. 113-449, resolved differences between H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA 2013), and S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (WRDA 2013). Both bills represented omnibus authorization legislation for water resource activities, principally associated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

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