NCRA keeps eye on federal and state legislation

NCRA’s government relations department continually monitors legislation and regulations that may affect court reporters and captioners on the federal, state, and local levels. This year, the government relations team has identified several bills and proposed legislation on the federal level. Here is a run-down of the bills and how they might affect NCRA members.

The National Oath Act: This legislation, which has not yet been introduced, would reduce or eliminate some of the notary regulations placed on court reporters in interstate matters. While the legislation protects the rights of states and state court reporting boards to set certification regulations and govern who can take a deposition in that state, it offers court reporters the flexibility to work in various states without requiring a notary from that state. This proposed legislation is not an interstate notary either as it solely allows a court reporter to swear in a witness, not to actually take the deposition.

Local Courthouse Safety Act: The Local Courthouse Safety Act, S. 445, is bipartisan legislation intended to offer U.S. courthouses some additional assistance to increase public safety. Specifically, the proposed bill would allow courthouses to receive security equipment that is no longer being used from other federal agencies and allocate existing federal funding for courthouse security equipment and safety training for court security guards. Last session, the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a voice vote but was held up in the Senate. At the beginning of a new Congressional sessions in January, NCRA’s government relations team was successful in getting the bill reintroduced in the Senate. This bill was the centerpiece of NCRA’s Boot Camp weekend in 2013.

Captioning and Image Narration to Enhance Movie Accessibility Act: This bill, also known as the CINEMA Act, or S. 555, would require every movie theater with two or more screens to provide captioning and video description upon request. Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa introduced this bill. NCRA has written a letter of support on this issue. NCRA will continue to work to get the bill through Congress and signed into law.

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act: This bill would require that airlines providing movies or other in-flight entertainment also provide captions. This would amend the current Air Carriers Access Act. This bill, S. 556, was also introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin. NCRA also wrote a letter of support for this bill.

Line of Duty Act 2013: The Line of Duty Act of 2013, S. 698, was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn from Texas. This bill, which responds to a recent uptick in violent attacks against judicial employees, will place federal court reporters and other court personnel in the same category as police officers and fire fighters in terms of increased penalties in the commission of crimes. An almost identical bill, the McLelland-Hasse Line of Duty Act, or H.R. 1577, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ted Poe from Texas. NCRA has sent letters of support to both congressmen and will continue to work to strengthen currents laws designed to protect federal court reporters.

The Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act: This bill would remove restrictive regulations imposed by the U.S. Department of Education several years ago, including the gainful employment, the state authorization, and the credit hour regulations. This bill would allow educators and school administrators to focus on teaching, as opposed to dealing with complicated government bureaucracy. NCRA has sent a letter of support for H.R. 2637 and will continue to work with Chairman John Kline and Reps. Virginia Foxx and Alcee Hastings on this issue.

Federal Judgeship Act of 2013: This bill would add additional federal circuit and district judges around the country. This bill was introduced because of the high caseload for current judges. Many judges around the country have taken on more than 200 additional cases a year to make up for the loss of judges over several years, a situation that has delayed many court cases for months. NCRA is currently working on a letter of support for S. 1385.

To contact NCRA’s Government Relations team, email GovRelations@ncra.org.

Making an invaluable difference

Tami SmithWatch just one news report and see how many stats and figures you hear on a variety of topics, i.e., percent- ages of overweight children, economic issues, and how many celebrities are getting divorced. Here’s a real statistic that should touch all of us: Violent incidents in court- houses happen at the rate of one per month.

When you stop and think about it, it’s staggering and quite alarming that our colleagues and John Q. Public are at a risk for harm on a daily basis. NCRA has put a lot of effort into seeing the Local Courthouse Safety Act move closer to becoming a law.

SAFETY MATTERS

The Local Courthouse Safety Act proposes that we allocate already-existing grants from the Department of Justice to train security officers and other courthouse personnel to deter and react to potentially dangerous attacks. It would also allow local courthouses across the country to request from the Department of Justice some of the millions of dollars’ worth of unused security equipment it has — metal detectors, baggage screeners, and handheld wands — and the DOJ has grant money set aside to train security personnel how to use it.

For many reasons, this legislation is a no brainer. The Congressional Budget Office has indicated that this proposal is “budget neutral,” meaning that there’s no hefty price tag that accompanies the plan. With NCRA’s active involvement in the Local Courthouse Safety Act, we’re simply proposing that some of these resources be dedicated to the safety of courthouse employees and citizens who gather in these public institutions.

Luckily, safety, for the most part, is a nonpartisan issue. Though a few elected officials are not in favor of these types of proposals for purely philosophical reasons (mainly to tamp down “big government” proposals and leave decisions such as these in the hands of state officials), we are fortunate that with some significant co-sponsors and the active involvement of NCRA, we have seen the Local Courthouse Safety Act gain some traction.

THE PROCESS

The Local Courthouse Safety Act (S. 2076) was introduced by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota with Senator John Boozman of Arkansas signing on as the lead cosponsor. NCRA has been vocal in thanking these senators for their role in kicking off the proposal. In May, the Act passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. This means that it is now headed to the floor of the Senate, once the group reconvenes after its fall recess.

On the House side, NCRA’s Government Relations team lobbied hard to promote the introduction of a companion bill. NCRA brought the legislation to the attention of Lamar Smith of Texas who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. With Rep. Smith’s support, legislators from both sides of the aisle signed on as cosponsors, including Rep. Sandy Adams of Florida, who introduced the bill to the House in July. The bill passed out of the House of Representatives in September without opposition.

The Local Courthouse Safety Act remains in the hands of the Senate, and our Government Relations team is working hard on our behalf to do whatever we can to get the proposal passed out of the Senate. Once that happens, the Act would then, of course, be presented to the president to be signed into law. Stay tuned to NCRA’s website and publications to track the Local Courthouse Safety Act as it progresses.

THE VOICE OF NCRA

The Local Courthouse Safety Act is just one of many examples of how the collective voice of NCRA can make a difference in each of our individual lives. When we pay our membership dues each year, unlike a cell phone bill or a grocery receipt, we don’t receive a statement that lists “Your income increased X percent because of your new certification” or “the value of the education you received at Annual Convention was worth $X,XXX” or even a little note that points out that, thanks in part to the efforts of our Government Relations team, stenographic court reporting was not eliminated in a certain jurisdiction or state.

But in the case of the Local Courthouse Safety Act, with all of the hard work we have done as an association to facilitate the passing of this proposal into law (fingers crossed!), I think we can all agree that the eventual result could prove to be invaluable. How many years of membership dues would you pay to save a life or prevent serious injury to just one colleague — or anyone for that matter? Collectively, we may be able to make a significant impact on the stats and figures concerning courthouse safety, and that would be a number worth noting.

Washington watch

NCRA promotes hearing health rights

In late July, NCRA, through the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Alliance, submitted letters to all U.S. Senators, asking for their support in ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The United Nations adopted the CRPD in 2006. Taking one of the most significant steps to date to help promote and ensure disability rights globally, the CRPD is the first international treaty to protect disability rights on a global scale and establish a standard to help people with disabilities participate in society.

Like all treaties, the CRPD requires 67 senators to vote in favor of ratification. The treaty passed out of the Senate’s Foreign Relations committee by a vote of 13- 6. The treaty requires the following provisions from all countries that have ratified it:

  • Non-discrimination against individuals with disabilities;
  • Allowing individuals with disabilities full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
  • Respect for differences and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity; and
  • Equality of opportunity for individuals with disabilities.

In July 2009, the United States signed the CRPD, becoming the 142nd country to sign on in support. Today, 153 countries have signed on to the treaty and 112 of those have ratified the treaty, including key United States alliances such as Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, and many European nations. The Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Alliance is a coalition that consists of organizations with a strong interest in promoting public policy and education on issues affecting the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. NCRA is a current member of the DHHA. NCRA stands ready to work with the United States Senate to ratify the CRPD. Please contact NCRA’s Government Relations Department (govrelations@ncra.org) with any questions.

LOCAL COURTHOUSE SAFETY ACT PASSES OUT OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

On September 11, 2012, the Local Court house Safety Act of 2012 cleared a critical hurdle by passing out of the House of Representatives. The legislation still must pass the United States Senate and be signed by President Obama in order to become law. If it is passed into law, the Local Courthouse Safety Act will allow courthouses to receive unused security equipment like metal detectors, wands, and baggage screeners from federal agencies. It will also allow courthouses to allocate existing federal funding toward security training for court personnel. Essentially, this law strengthens security at courthouses around the country and provides excess equipment to help local security personnel better do their jobs.

The Local Courthouse Safety Act previously passed out of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee’s with bipartisan support and little opposition.

NCRA’s Government Relations Department has taken an active role with members of Congress in promoting the importance of this vital piece of legislation and will continue to do so over the coming months until the bill is signed into law. NCRA appreciates the leadership and hard work done by the initial sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Rep. Sandy Adams of Florida.

NCRA is committed to seeing this important legislation progress, and our Government Relations team is working closely with the Senate to get this legislation passed.

For more information on the Local Courthouse Safety Act of 2012, contact NCRA’s Government Relations Department (govrelations@ncra.org) with any questions.

COURTING DISASTER PROMISES REVOLUTIONARY LEARNING AND BRAINY FUN

NCRA is pleased to announce the release of Courting Disaster, the first online learning game designed to simulate the unique challenges that court reporters face every day. The game will be free to play and will offer a one-of-a-kind interactive learning experience for court reporters, students, and anyone interested in the reporting profession.

Reporters will have the option to claim CEU credit by purchasing a follow-up e-seminar that explores the issues encountered in the game in more detail. Check out Courting Disaster—it will be the most fun you’ve ever had learning! Visit www.ncra.org/courtingdisaster to play the game.