On the big issues, Washington is broken. With a chronically weak economy and record debt and deficits, unfortunately Democrats and Republicans simply aren’t coming together to tackle big challenges the nation faces.
Yet I am pleased to report that even in Washington’s partisan environment, my team and I have remained focused on producing results and we’ve had some important successes for Ohio. In fact, even as a freshman senator in the minority party, we had 10 bills signed into law in the session of Congress that just ended.
Here are a few of our 2012 legislative initiatives that were ultimately signed into law by the President:
In my role as a member of the Armed Services committee, I succeeded in including a number of Ohio-related provisions in the Defense Authorization bill that passed Congress in December. We were able to help secure $150 million in funding to continue the American Centrifuge Project in Piketon (ACP), Ohio; an advanced-technology uranium enrichment effort critical to meeting our national security, nonproliferation, and energy security needs. The Piketon Plant, where ACP is located, is already one of the largest employers in SE Ohio and has the potential to be a huge economic boost to the region. This most recent funding is a bridge until the project finally receives the loan guarantee it deserves and the President supported as a candidate in 2008, which could create 4,000 new jobs.
Also this year, after hearing from Toledoans who were deeply concerned about the human trafficking problem in their area and learning more about this serious issue, I worked with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to found the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking. We also introduced the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act, which was ultimately signed into law as part of the Defense Authorization. It strengthens existing protections against human trafficking, ensuring that overseas government contracts, paid for by taxpayer dollars, operate in a manner consistent with our deeply-held values as a nation.
Over the course of 2012, Ohio community colleges and universities came to me and told me about how the various branches of the armed services were giving their separating veterans incompatible educational transcripts. This was counterproductive, interfering with colleges’ ability to give our vets credit for the extensive education they received while in uniform. So we got to work and passed legislation — also as part of the Defense Authorization — that directs the Department of Defense to establish a plan to standardize the services’ educational transcripts.
Outside of the Defense Authorization, we found other legislative vehicles to help Ohio veterans. One came about after I heard from the Ohio chapter of the Missing in America Project, a group of volunteers who provide military burials for the unclaimed or abandoned remains of veterans. Out of our conversations we drafted the Veterans Missing In America Act of 2012, a bill I worked on with Columbus-area Congressmen Pat Tiberi and Steve Stivers and passed last month. It directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to aid the efforts of groups like the Missing in America Project.
Fighting drug abuse was one area where I was also able to help, including making changes to the laws to help Ohio families. In the summer of 2011, I participated in a townhall on prescription drug abuse in Portsmouth, Ohio with White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske. At the meeting, local police officers, family members of recovering addicts, and community activists talked about the effects of epidemic levels of prescription drug abuse in the area and asked for my help in supporting a community anti-drug coalition, bolstering law enforcement and stopping people from being able to get drugs legally by crossing state lines to Kentucky or West Virginia because of the lack of interstate prescription drug monitoring. We were able to help in all three areas by helping the local coalition obtain federal support, working with others to designate the area as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) to improve law enforcement, and introducing and enacting new bipartisan legislation that enables states to share information in their prescription drug monitoring programs. Drug trafficking is an interstate problem, and Ohio can now communicate effectively with Kentucky and West Virginia and other states where drugs are coming into and out of Ohio.
Drugs aren’t the only bad thing making their way across Ohio. If Asian carp, invasive species of fish, are not prevented from entering the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin, they will do great damage to Lake Erie, Ohio’s greatest natural resource and one of our most important economic resources. Over 2012, I spoke to port officials, conservationists, and sportsmen concerned about this issue. With Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), I was able to develop and pass the Stop Invasive Species Act, which broke a years-long logjam between legislators from Illinois and those of us from other Great Lakes states. This legislation finally requires the Army Corps of Engineers to put in place a plan to block Asian carp from entering Lake Erie.
Even in these partisan times, this is a sampling of the good legislative work our team accomplished on behalf of the Buckeye State.
As the new session of Congress begins this week, I will be focused on continuing to achieve results that help Ohioans.
Rob Portman is a United States Senator from Ohio.