Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 26, 2014

Posts in "Uncategorized"

October 23, 2014

Online Sales Tax Supporters Eye Action in Lame Duck

As supporters of a bill to boost online sales tax collection gear up to pass the measure in the lame duck, opponents say leaders will likely avoid a tax debate in the waning months of this session.

“There’s a lot to pressure to minimize contentious issues at that point in time,” said Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

State and local government associations have been salivating at the chance to collect taxes from out-of-state online vendors, who they say rob them of billions in revenue each year.

The Senate passed a bill, the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act, last year that would allow states to collect sales taxes on items delivered to customers in their state. After the bill languished in the House for nearly a year, sponsor Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., combined it with a popular House-passed measure extending a moratorium on taxing Internet access.

Congress extended the Internet access tax moratorium under the government’s stopgap funding bill through Dec. 11, at which time the Senate could take up Enzi’s new proposal (S 2609).

“We know the House is interested in passing a continuation of the moratorium,” said Dan Crippen, executive director of the National Governors Association. “And so, what the Senate is essentially saying is that this is a more complete e-commerce bill and addresses both issues at once.”

It may not be as simple as that, Mitchell said. With several other pressing matters on the agenda for the lame duck, any procedural roadblocks on the tax issue could force leaders to delay action until next year.

Some senators also indicated they may support the measure if they had more time to debate the issue, including Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

“I think the bill is well-intentioned and I’m not fundamentally opposed to it,” Hatch said on the floor, before the Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness bill last year. “But, make no mistake, there are problems with this legislation as it is currently drafted; problems that likely could have been avoided if the Finance Committee had been given an opportunity to fully consider the bill.”

If Republicans take control of the Senate in November, Hatch could have more sway in getting the bill to the floor. For now, Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is among those from states without sales taxes who are expected to try and keep the issue separate from the access tax moratorium.

“Sen. Wyden is going to do whatever it takes to preserve the Internet Tax Freedom Act, including making sure people understand that [the Marketplace Fairness Act] violates the animating principle of ITFA,” Wyden spokesman Keith Chu said in an email.

By Sarah Chacko Posted at 1:30 p.m.

International Space Station, A State Department Twitter Account in Coburn’s ‘Wastebook’

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Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on the second floor of the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Niels Lesniewski at #WGDB has the rundown on Sen. Tom Coburn’s annual “Wastebook” of federal projects that the Oklahoma Republican deems “silly, unnecessary and low priority” — basically (as the name would suggest) wasteful.

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October 21, 2014

Q&A: Law Professor Ryan Calo, Part Two

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A man practices surgery using a robot during the opening of the robotics surgery training center ‘Onze-Lieve-Vrouwziekenhuis Vattikuti Robotic Surgery Institute.’ (NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/AFP/Getty Images)

Ryan Calo is an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law and has suggested a Federal Robotics Commission as a “thought experiment.” Technocrat talked with him about the idea, how he defines robotics, and more. Below is some of the discussion. You can read more on Technocrat’s chat with Calo here on legal issues he foresees arising in the coming years.

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October 20, 2014

Leahy Wants Comcast Pledge of No Paid Prioritization

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Sen. Patrick Leahy speaks with reporters before the Senate luncheons in the Capitol in March 2014. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As federal regulators continue to review Comcast’s proposal to acquire Time Warner Cable and as the Federal Communications Commission seeks to draft net neutrality rules, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is calling on Comcast to promise that it won’t engage in paid prioritization.

In a letter to Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen on Monday, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., wrote:

In a May blog post, you wrote that Comcast does not intend to enter into paid prioritization agreements. I welcome that assertion, but I remain gravely concerned that if such agreements are permitted [under the FCC's net neutrality rules], market incentive may drive Comcast and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to change that position in the future.

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October 17, 2014

Obama Issues New Requirements for Government Payment Cards

Government officials have been saying for years that they want to see more payment cards ditching the magnetic strips and signatures and switching over to the embedded microchips and PIN numbers favored by European nations and Canada, but they can’t agree on a way to get the industry to take action. The White House said President Obama is taking a shot at leading by example, signing an executive order Friday for government credit cards to make the change.

Full story

By Rob Margetta Posted at 2:23 p.m.

Friday Q&A: Law Professor Ryan Calo, Part One

CaloRyan1 Friday Q&A: Law Professor Ryan Calo, Part One

Calo (Photo Credit: UW School of Law)

Ryan Calo is an assistant law professor at the University of Washington School of Law whose academic work looks at the legal and policy aspects of robotics. Technocrat talked to him about what he anticipates the future of robotics will look like, legal issues he thinks will arise in the coming years, and more.

Q: I know you say you’re a legal professor and not an engineer, but what are your assumptions of how you see robotics impacting our daily lives in the future, if at all, in the coming years?

A: Well, I think that robotics will rapidly be entering the mainstream. I think you’ll see ‘em in hospitals, I think you’ll see ‘em in stores. I think people will have them in their homes more so even than they do today. I just think that robots will touch every part of our lives. Transportation, medicine, you name it.

You’ll see them flying around and so forth. So, I think that robots will be almost ubiquitous the way that, you know, computers are.

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October 16, 2014

Internet Use Via Phones Depends on Education, Income Level, NTIA Report Shows

Among the findings of a report released Thursday by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration: whether you go online and check your email using your phone depends on your education and income level, and whether you live in a rural or urban area.

The report on Internet usage is based on a 2012 Census Bureau survey of more than 53,000 households.

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Report: High Internet Bills Impede School Access

The majority of school districts surveyed cited the monthly Internet costs as an obstacle to boosting connectivity in schools, according to a new report that calls for more funding for the federal program that subsidizes Internet service for public schools and libraries.

According to the report, 58 percent of school districts said high Internet bills posed the biggest barrier to boosting Internet connectivity. Another 38 percent said capital, non-recurring costs were their biggest challenge. Other barriers included factors like geography and poor classroom wireless access.

Full story

October 10, 2014

Weekly Recap: Net Neutrality, Mobile ‘Cramming’ and a Spacewalk

Among the highlights in happenings from the past few days: President Barack Obama talked net neutrality, AT&T Mobility agreed to a $105 million settlement over mobile “cramming” allegations, and an astronaut popular on Twitter took his first spacewalk outside the International Space Station. That and more news highlights as well as some Technocrat posts are below. For happenings from earlier this week, check out the Mid-Week Catchup.

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Dig Deeper on STEM Education, Tech Education Exec Says

In the context of competitiveness and immigration policy, STEM jobs and education are big issues. But what do we actually mean when we’re talking about STEM? Obviously, science, technology, engineering and math. But the approach to STEM education needs to be more targeted, argues Patrick Gusman.

Gusman is co-founder of Startup Middle School, a business-oriented tech education program, and executive director of the Equal Footing Foundation, which runs “Computer Clubhouses.”

At a panel discussion hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance and Pew Research Center on Thursday, he said that instead of investing in STEM education because it’s a “great buzzword,” there needs to be an examination of what the currently relevant skills are and “re-tooling” school, after-school and community programs accordingly.

Technocrat caught up with him afterwards and he said that people see STEM as a “mythic” positive, and that they don’t understand it in detail.

“You can say a word but not really give it meaning,” he said, adding that politicians throw out the term. “But what’s behind it? What are you teaching as far as those skills?”

He posed these questions: Are students being taught to become bio-pharmacists or to be the next Mark Zuckerberg? Do they end up getting internships?  Do they take the Advanced Placement test for computer science?

The complexity is being missed by simply throwing out the term STEM, he said.

STEM education should be broken down beyond its umbrella of science, technology, engineering and math, to “dig down into the details” and try to connect such programs to industries that are prominent or that there’s a desire to grow in the local area, he said.

For more on why there’s so much talk about STEM – at least in New Hampshire – check out this New Hampshire Public Radio video:

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