by Katherine Gregg
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — What have Rhode Island’s two $174,000-a-year congressmen, James Langevin and David Cicilline, accomplished in Washington in the two years since they last faced their home-state voters?
Lots, if you ask them, even though they are Democrats, from the smallest state, in a chamber currently dominated by Republicans.
Langevin, the former secretary of state who has been Rhode Island’s 2nd District congressman since 2001, takes credit for wording in five pieces of legislation that have cleared Congress since January 2015, including a boost in potential funding for transportation services for the disabled, a cyber-crime prosecution bill and the naming of a South County post office.
Cicilline, the former Providence mayor who has been the state’s 1st District congressman since 2011, had a hand in nine new laws that included a hike in funding for a national Veterans Crisis Center, the naming of a Providence post office, notice to manufacturers of overseas contract opportunities, and a high-profile diaper-changing bill.
Langevin spokeswoman Meg Geoghegan said: “I think the question is less, ‘How many bills have you passed?’ and more, ‘How much policy have you influenced?’ ”
By that measure, Geoghegan says, Langevin is proud of his “strong record of bipartisanship at a time when Congress faces unprecedented gridlock. … On all of the top issues he works on — his priorities of cybersecurity, national security and workforce development, in particular — he has Republicans with whom he works closely.”
Cicilline’s checklist includes the “Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation (BABIES) Act,” which was recently signed into law by President Obama.
The legislation mandates that all restrooms in federal buildings have diaper-changing stations.
The issue took flight after actor and new dad Ashton Kutcher complained on Facebook about the lack of diaper-changing stations in men’s restrooms and later started a Change.org petition to get the ball rolling. Advocates rallied to the cause. Cicilline led the charge in Congress with an election-year bill that cleared the U.S. House of Representatives, 389-34. The Senate unanimously approved the bill before it landed on the president’s desk.
“This is how government should work to make commonsense reforms that make life easier for the people we serve,” he said in a statement.
Cicilline’s campaign spokeswoman, Kathleen O’Hanlon, said former representative Dale Kildee, D-Michigan, had introduced the bill in previous Congresses, without success.
“It was brought to David’s attention by a staff member who previously worked on this legislation,” O’Hanlon said. “He didn’t need a lot of convincing.”
Who could possibly object to a bill titled “BABIES”?
“I understand the issue,” said Cicilline’s Republican opponent, H. Russell Taub. “Childcare givers of both genders would benefit. But I contend that there are many more pressing matters the House should address in the extremely limited time left to it before the election.”
“If David’s position in the minority means that all he can do for voters of the 1st District is to manage baby furniture legislation on the floor, then I think those voters ought to consider hiring a representative who will be in the majority,” Taub said.
Langevin faces Republican Rhue Reis and independents Salvatore G. Caiozzo and Jeffrey Johnson.
The Journal asked Langevin and Cicilline for a list of other bills they sponsored or cosponsored since the last election that became law. Their rundown:
Langevin has seen five pieces of legislation that bear his imprint signed into law in the last two years. The most recent named a federal post office in North Kingstown after the late Melvoid Benson, a one-time state lawmaker and teacher hailed as a trailblazer for women of color in elected office.
He also takes credit for an amendment to a law, titled the Every Student Succeeds Act, that requires states applying for federal education dollars to detail how they would use the money to provide apprenticeships for academic credit and “comprehensive career counseling to the students.”
Langevin, who has been paralyzed since he was accidentally shot as a teenage police cadet, also cosponsored an amendment to a five-year, $305-billion transportation-funding legislation that boosted potential funding for public transit services for people with disabilities.
Previously, local transit systems could use up to 10 percent of their federal formula funds to provide “mobility options for people with disabilities.” The language that Langevin cosponsored with congressmen Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, and Frank LoBiondo, R-New Jersey, doubled the allotment to 20 percent if the extra money is targeted for improvements such as wheelchair lifts.
Asked the extent to which Rhode Island has benefited from these spending moves, Geoghegan said: “It’s too soon to say.” A RIPTA spokesman said an application is pending for $1.4 million more than the roughly $2.8 million “potentially available under the old 10-percent cap.”
Elements of an unrelated bill that Langevin cosponsored with Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., were incorporated into an omnibus cybercrime bill.
According to Langevin, the law would make it easier for authorities in the United States to prosecute foreign criminals who trade in Americans’ stolen credit cards.” These are the middlemen who sell stolen credit- and debit-card numbers.
Under previous law, these middlemen had to store the stolen card numbers or their illicit gains from selling them in the United States to be prosecuted.
According to Langevin’s staff, the new law would permit the United States to prosecute anyone trafficking in credit-card numbers with intent to defraud if the credit cards were issued by a United States financial institution, regardless of where the possession or trafficking took place.
Langevin, who is the co-founder and co-chair of the Cybersecurity Caucus in the U.S. House, also placed his imprint on a 2015 law that provided immunity, from liability, to private companies that voluntarily report “indicators” of possible hacks to other businesses and federal agencies.
The bill was titled the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act of 2015.
Langevin’s amendment to the bill excluded from the definition of cybersecurity risk “any action that solely involves a violation of a consumer term of service or a consumer licensing agreement.” (Translated: unauthorized access by a consumer or cybersecurity researchers.)
His stated goal: to make sure “our focus is on the many real cyber threats out there, not on consumers and researchers.”
Cicilline takes credit for portions of nine new laws, including the “BABIES” bill.
He led a successful effort in Congress to rename the Elmwood Avenue Post Office in Providence after the late Sister Ann Keefe, a social justice advocate who worked for more than 33 years at St. Michael the Archangel Church, in South Providence, and helped launch at least 22 organizations, including the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence.
In July 2015, the House passed a resolution Cicilline introduced “to support the right of the Ukrainian people to choose their government in free, fair elections in the face of Russian aggression.”
Also on his checklist: the 2015 passage of an amendment to a National Defense Authorization Act that was aimed at requiring the departments of State and Defense to give American companies the same opportunities that are given to overseas competitors to equip the Afghan National Security Forces.
The owner of the company that manages Northwest Woolen Mills in Woonsocket was very appreciative.
“American manufacturers have been at a competitive disadvantage for years because the Department of Defense is not required to notify them about overseas military contracts,” said Sam Brickle, chairman of the board of the Brickle Group, according to a press release issued by Cicilline’s office.
Responding to a Journal inquiry about the tangible effects of the legislation, company president Max Brickle cited awards of foreign-military supply contracts for pea coats and blankets.
On the federal funding front: Cicilline “led the effort,” according to his staff, to secure extra funding for the 24/7 operation of a national Veterans Crisis Line. The $78.5 million included for the crisis center in a “continuing resolution” to fund the federal government represented a 40-percent increase over last year’s funding.
Cicilline took up the cause after an Inspector General’s report revealed that nearly 1 in 5 of the 450,000 calls placed to this mental-health and suicide-crisis hotline in 2014 had been directed to a backup call center, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance.
Cicilline also takes credit for blocking an effort to reduce Rhode Island Public Transit Authority funding by $12 million, and securing $927,000 for the creation of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.
According to his office, Cicilline also championed new federal grants for afterschool programs, reflected in the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” State Department of Education spokesman Elliot Krieger told The Journal that Cicilline’s advocacy saved $5.4 million in annual grants for afterschool programs from getting swept into a block grant.