North Star Newsletter: My Sixth Annual Secret Santa

Senator Al Franken
2016-12-30 14:37:56
North Star Newsletter: December 2016 My Sixth Annual Secret Santa In the Senate, we have serious jobs and often face some very sobering issues. But every year, I host a bipartisan event to embrace the spirit of the holiday season, my annual Secret Santa. This is something we used to do at my elementary school back in St. Louis Park. It helped make sure that every kid got a gift, and it was a way to mix things up and give the kids a chance to get to know one another. This year, I drew Johnny Isakson’s name, a Republican from Georgia, as the recipient of my gift. Ever since I started hosting this event, it’s done exactly what it was supposed to do: create goodwill and cheer in an institution badly in need of both, especially after a really divisive election year. This year, for my sixth annual Secret Santa, I think everyone had a really good time coming together in the spirit of the holiday. Protecting Consumers From Discrimination I strongly believe that no one should ever be denied equal treatment or service due to their race or gender. And as Minnesotans and people across our country come to rely more heavily on services provided through apps like Uber and Lyft, one of my priorities is to make sure that companies take necessary steps to safeguard consumers against discrimination or bias. That’s why, last month, I pressed Uber and Lyft to explain a recent independent study that documented driver discrimination against minority customers. I recently received responses from both companies, and I appreciate the steps that both Uber and Lyft have taken to address my concerns regarding discrimination against consumers, including meeting with the authors of a recent study, communicating with their drivers about the companies’ nondiscrimination policies, and monitoring available metrics about ride cancellations. But I remain concerned that certain elements of the apps—like allowing drivers to see a rider’s name or photo before accepting a ride request—do not sufficiently guard against discriminatory conduct. I look forward to continuing to work with Uber and Lyft to address these challenges and ensure that all consumers are treated equally. Improving Mental Health Access in Minnesota and Across the Country The United States has about 5 percent of the world's population but about 25 percent of the world's prison population. That's due in no small part to the fact that our jails and prisons are serving as substitutes for a functioning mental health system. But I'm proud to say that we made some meaningful progress toward addressing that issue just a few weeks ago when Congress passed the bipartisan legislation called the 21st Century Cures Act. That bill, which President Obama recently signed into law, included bipartisan legislation I authored called the Comprehensive Justice & Mental Health Act. Once enacted, it will bring more resources to law enforcement, the courts, and correctional facilities to help state and local efforts identify people with mental health conditions and connect them to the treatment they deserve—instead of allowing them to fall through the cracks and languish in prisons and jails. The new law also includes a dozen provisions that I wrote or championed, including measures to increase access to mental health programs for children, improve support services for pregnant and parenting women, increase loan forgiveness programs for new medical researchers, enhance mental health and substance use disorder training for new clinicians, and invest in the health care needs of rural communities. We have a lot of challenges facing us as we begin the new Congress, but I'm glad to say that we’re able to close out 2016 with some progress. Honoring Luis Montalvan Luis Montalvan was a veteran, author, and advocate who served in the armed forces for nearly 20 years, including being deployed to Iraq. Luis and his service dog, Tuesday, inspired the first bill I introduced in the Senate. That bill—the Service Dogs for Veterans Act—aimed to increase the number of service dogs for veterans who, like Luis, suffered from PTSD and other invisible wounds. I was proud to get it passed into law soon after I joined the Senate. Tragically, in November, we received the horrible news that Luis had suddenly died. He was 43. Luis dedicated his life to helping other veterans cope with the same struggles he faced after returning from war. His book, Until Tuesday, was a candid and deeply moving account of his life that chronicled his journey after returning from Iraq. I’ve always admired the bravery that it took for Luis to share his story. This month, I took to the Senate floor to honor Luis, and to celebrate the legacy he leaves behind of helping veterans cope with life after combat. Because of Luis, more veterans are now able to access service dogs. His book still sits on my desk in the Senate. And it'll stay there as a reminder of the man I'm so proud to have called my friend. To unsubscribe from these newsletters, please visit the unsubscribe page here.

North Star Newsletter: December 2016

My Sixth Annual Secret Santa

In the Senate, we have serious jobs and often face some very sobering issues. But every year, I host a bipartisan event to embrace the spirit of the holiday season, my annual Secret Santa. This is something we used to do at my elementary school back in St. Louis Park. It helped make sure that every kid got a gift, and it was a way to mix things up and give the kids a chance to get to know one another.

This year, I drew Johnny Isakson’s name, a Republican from Georgia, as the recipient of my gift. Ever since I started hosting this event, it’s done exactly what it was supposed to do: create goodwill and cheer in an institution badly in need of both, especially after a really divisive election year.

This year, for my sixth annual Secret Santa, I think everyone had a really good time coming together in the spirit of the holiday.

Protecting Consumers From Discrimination

I strongly believe that no one should ever be denied equal treatment or service due to their race or gender. And as Minnesotans and people across our country come to rely more heavily on services provided through apps like Uber and Lyft, one of my priorities is to make sure that companies take necessary steps to safeguard consumers against discrimination or bias.

That’s why, last month, I pressed Uber and Lyft to explain a recent independent study that documented driver discrimination against minority customers.

I recently received responses from both companies, and I appreciate the steps that both Uber and Lyft have taken to address my concerns regarding discrimination against consumers, including meeting with the authors of a recent study, communicating with their drivers about the companies’ nondiscrimination policies, and monitoring available metrics about ride cancellations.

But I remain concerned that certain elements of the apps—like allowing drivers to see a rider’s name or photo before accepting a ride request—do not sufficiently guard against discriminatory conduct. I look forward to continuing to work with Uber and Lyft to address these challenges and ensure that all consumers are treated equally.

Improving Mental Health Access in Minnesota and Across the Country

The United States has about 5 percent of the world's population but about 25 percent of the world's prison population. That's due in no small part to the fact that our jails and prisons are serving as substitutes for a functioning mental health system.

But I'm proud to say that we made some meaningful progress toward addressing that issue just a few weeks ago when Congress passed the bipartisan legislation called the 21st Century Cures Act. That bill, which President Obama recently signed into law, included bipartisan legislation I authored called the Comprehensive Justice & Mental Health Act. Once enacted, it will bring more resources to law enforcement, the courts, and correctional facilities to help state and local efforts identify people with mental health conditions and connect them to the treatment they deserve—instead of allowing them to fall through the cracks and languish in prisons and jails.

The new law also includes a dozen provisions that I wrote or championed, including measures to increase access to mental health programs for children, improve support services for pregnant and parenting women, increase loan forgiveness programs for new medical researchers, enhance mental health and substance use disorder training for new clinicians, and invest in the health care needs of rural communities.

We have a lot of challenges facing us as we begin the new Congress, but I'm glad to say that we’re able to close out 2016 with some progress.

Honoring Luis Montalvan

Luis Montalvan was a veteran, author, and advocate who served in the armed forces for nearly 20 years, including being deployed to Iraq. Luis and his service dog, Tuesday, inspired the first bill I introduced in the Senate. That bill—the Service Dogs for Veterans Act—aimed to increase the number of service dogs for veterans who, like Luis, suffered from PTSD and other invisible wounds. I was proud to get it passed into law soon after I joined the Senate.

Tragically, in November, we received the horrible news that Luis had suddenly died. He was 43.

Luis dedicated his life to helping other veterans cope with the same struggles he faced after returning from war. His book, Until Tuesday, was a candid and deeply moving account of his life that chronicled his journey after returning from Iraq. I’ve always admired the bravery that it took for Luis to share his story.

This month, I took to the Senate floor to honor Luis, and to celebrate the legacy he leaves behind of helping veterans cope with life after combat. Because of Luis, more veterans are now able to access service dogs.

His book still sits on my desk in the Senate. And it'll stay there as a reminder of the man I'm so proud to have called my friend.

To unsubscribe from these newsletters, please visit the unsubscribe page