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U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today voted for H.R. 2740, a bill to bring all private military contractors under the accountability of U.S. law.  The bill closes a loophole that allows contractors working for government agencies aside from the Defense Department – like State-Department-employed Blackwater – to dodge prosecution in U.S. courts if they commit crimes in a war zone.  H.R. 2740 passed by a vote of 389 to 30.

“We are using huge numbers of private contractors in Iraq outside of the jurisdiction of our courts.  We need to bring all private groups in Iraq under the rule of law and establish accountability,” Smith said.

Congress passed the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) in 2000.  The bill originally gave U.S. courts jurisdiction over contractors hired by the Defense Department in overseas war zones.  The State Department and other agencies make use of such contractors, and the original MEJA language does not extend court jurisdiction over them.

More than 1,000 private security contractors now do business with the State Department in Iraq apparently outside of any U.S. legal accountability.  These contractors include 861 Blackwater employees.  Under the bill passed today, these and all other security contractors working for the U.S. can be held accountable to U.S. law when they commit crimes.

H.R. 2740 must now be passed by the Senate before the President can sign it into law.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith's (D-Wash.) Global Poverty Act of 2007 today passed the House of Representatives under a suspension of the House rules.  Smith spoke in favor of the legislation just before it passed by voice vote:

                                                         
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U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today announced he secured language in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill to fund the redevelopment of noise mitigation land near airports.  The provision provides an opportunity for partnerships like the City of Burien and the Port of Seattle to apply for up to $5 million in funds to develop buffer zones near the port’s third runway. 

“Noise buffer land near airports can provide important economic development opportunities for both nearby communities and airports.  The pilot projects we fund in this bill will support these ‘win-win’ partnerships and help them coordinate more effectively,” Smith said.

The provision Smith secured would expand the current eligible uses of noise mitigation funds or passenger facility charge funds to allow for redevelopment of land next to airports.  The provision directs the FAA to fund four pilot projects run by a partnership between airports and local communities at a maximum of $5 million per pilot program.  The federal share of project costs will be capped at 80 percent.

The bill including the pilot project provision, H.R. 2881, passed the House of Representatives today by a vote of 267 to 151.  The bill must now be passed by the Senate and a conference report agreed to by both Houses of Congress before the President can sign it into law.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today issued the following statement following his interaction with General David H. Petraeus and Ambasador Ryan C. Crocker during a joint House Armed Services / Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.  Petraeus and Crocker testified about Iraq and the state of the President’s escalation strategy.

“Today’s testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker did not clarify the Administration’s criteria for beginning to end our occupation.  What was clear, however, was that the only drawdown that we currently have plans for would simply return us to pre-escalation troop levels.  Essentially, by July 2008, we would return to where we were in January 2007.

“Based on the testimony I heard today, it is clear that there is no end in sight to our occupation of Iraq under this Administration’s policies. 

“Our current involvement in Iraq comes at an enormous cost to our country, and the escalation has failed to bring about the stated goal of political reconciliation.  It is time to reallocate our resources to better confront al-Qaeda and the threat presented by their violent, totalitarian ideology across the globe.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith today voted for H.R. 1908, the Patent Reform Act, to help promote innovation and ingenuity in America.  The Act passed today by a vote of 220 to 175.

“This legislation is the most significant patent reform in more than fifty years.  This bill will stimulate innovation and promote American competitiveness in the global marketplace.  I plan to continue working to improve certain provisions of this bill to make sure the best version possible becomes law,” Smith said.

The Patent Reform Act is a bipartisan bill that includes measures to streamline our patent approval procedures and protect the integrity of the patent process:

  • A move to a first-come, first-serve basis for issuing patents.  Currently the U.S. relies on a “first to invent” patent system, wherein patents are granted to applicants who can prove they invented a given product before other applicants. No other nation in the world uses such a system because of the inefficiencies, uncertainties, and staff time inherent in such a process; they use instead a “first to file” system, wherein the first applicant for a given patent receives it on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • Enhancements to fairness in adjudication of patent disputes.  H.R. 1908 provides guidance to the judicial branch to ensure that patent owners receive appropriate damages while not discouraging innovation in a given field.  The bill also provides clarification to patent holders on requirements to prove “willfulness” in infringement disputes.  The legislation includes protection against abuse of validity challenges to patents as well.

H.R. 1908 must now be approved by the Senate and a conference agreement must be reached between both Houses of Congress before the President can sign it into law.