Congressman Ted Poe

Op-Eds

The NCAA Men’s Final Four is a time of excitement, suspense, and this year, it’s an opportunity to display Houston’s hospitality to the hundreds of thousands of people who will travel to our great city for the games.  We welcome each and every visitor with open arms, friendly competition, our world famous Tex-Mex food and a cautionary message about an important topic that impacts too many in our community: human trafficking.

An increase in human trafficking can come with any event that brings in a large amount of people from around the country and the world. Traffickers view these events as a golden opportunity.  In recent years there has been more awareness of this heinous crime surrounding the Super Bowl.  Houston will also host the Super Bowl in 2017, and preparedness efforts are already underway, but this is not an annual effort unique to major sporting events. The buying and selling of human beings happens every day in Houston and throughout the United States.  Unfortunately, our city has become a national hub for human trafficking.  The good news is that many are fighting to end this scourge. We have come a long way already, but there is still a long way to go to eradicate modern day slavery in our city.

Combatting human trafficking is a priority at the local, state, and federal levels of government.  Law enforcement agencies are working together to ensure that our city is safe not only during popular events like the Final Four and Super Bowl 51, but also every other day.  When it comes to human trafficking law enforcement, government at all levels and nonprofit organizations that serve victims are coordinating and deploying proven approaches. What we really need more of is heightened awareness and participation from the community.  Houstonians can continue to help by making calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (1-888-373-7888) if they suspect human trafficking is occurring. In recent years, Texas has unfortunately had the second highest amount of calls to this hotline. While it is a good thing that the public is engaging, it is unfortunate that so many calls come from our state. With the public’s continued help, we can make sure that Texas is no longer one of the national ‘hotspots’ for this heinous crime.

Last year, we were able to obtain passage and enactment of the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.  This federal law gives law enforcement additional tools to take down human traffickers. It targets the buyers - those predators who purchase humans - helps to ensure that those who have been sold into slavery are treated as victims, and creates a fund primarily paid for by the perpetrators themselves to serve trafficked victims.  Locally, a brand new position dedicated to combatting trafficking was created within the Office of the Mayor.

This year, we’ve also seen city, county, and state law enforcement, government and non-profits working together to breakup trafficking rings and rescue trafficking victims.  This is not done hastily.  It requires time, collaboration and tremendous work.  Texans have been on the front lines in the national fight against human trafficking. In January and February, an innovative sting, Operation Traveling Circus, brought together multiple law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, courts, and victims’ services in order to arrest traffickers, buyers, and provide victims with resources.  In total, 259 buyers and 6 pimps were arrested.  A hallmark of this sting was the important decision to not publicize the photos of the women arrested or rescued.  After all, it can take time to determine the circumstances of those billed as “prostitutes,” as many actually may be victims of human trafficking.

In addition, just last week, Operation Batman led to the arrest of an acclaimed United Airlines pilot—Bruce Wayne Wallis.  While many knew him as an aviator, authorities say he was a hard-nosed pimp, running brothels throughout Houston, selling up to 60 women at a time. In a joint operation of the Houston Police Department Vice Division and Texas Department of Public Safety, Wallis was arrested along with others believed to be involved with the ring of brothels.

Houston should serve as a shining example to the rest of the country in battling modern day slavery.  In fact, the HPD Vice Division just won the Law Enforcement Innovation Award from the Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Network.  This work will not stop.  We will do all that we can to deter human trafficking, arrest those who buy and sell humans, and rescue and restore victims, not just during the big events in our city, but each and every day for as long as it is necessary. 

A satellite flying in space over the American Super Bowl, unprovoked missile launches, the test of a so-called hydrogen bomb and threats to destroy Manhattan. This is just a snapshot of what North Korea has been up to this year alone.  Although the circumstances and truth surrounding each of these actions remain murky, it’s probably safe to assume that Iranian experts were on site to witness these latest violations of international law. Why? Because Iranian scientists have been present at nearly every major North Korean missile test for decades.

The history of the strategic alliance between Iran and North Korea stretches back decades to the aftermath of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Sanctioned by the Carter administration, the newly founded Islamic Republic turned to North Korea to replenish its military arsenal with Scud missiles during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. By the end of the decade, North Korea and China were supplying Iran with 70 percent of its arms.

Fast forward to the 1990s and Iran and North Korea moved on to collaborating on development of long-range ballistic missiles. North Korea’s nuclear-capable Nodong missile became the basis for the Iranian Shahab missile series which currently threatens Israel, our other Middle Eastern allies, and even Central Europe. By the beginning of the 2000s, the Iranians were returning the favor, giving North Korea sensitive data from their own tests to improve North Korean missile systems.

Sunday’s long-range ballistic missile test coupled with the alleged first test of a North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in May represent a major threat to U.S. national security. North Korea does not need these kinds of capabilities to attack its traditional rival to the south – Pyongyang already possesses missiles that can strike anywhere in South Korea. The development of SLBMs and long-range missiles are intended to directly menace the United States – both Pyongyang and Tehran’s common enemy.

This dangerous alliance does not just end with ballistic missiles, however. There is growing evidence suggesting long-term nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea. Media reports dating back to the 1990s indicate collaboration between the two rogue countries in the nuclear field. Reports from 1993 claimed that the Iranians financed North Korea’s nuclear program to the tune of $500 million in return for nuclear technology. South Korean news outlets rang the alarm in 2011, alleging that hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile experts were working in Iran, including at the facility in Natanz where centrifuges will continue spinning under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Intelligence provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency appear to corroborate reports of nuclear collaboration, indicating that North Korea transferred “crucial technology” to Iran including mathematical formulas and codes for nuclear warhead design. Over the summer, an Iranian opposition group claimed that nuclear expert delegations from North Korea had traveled to Iran three times in 2015 alone, meeting with high-level Iranian officials including those responsible for nuclear warhead design. In early 2016 North Korea made headway in its nuclear program, conducting its fourth nuclear test “in the face of nuclear threats and blackmail by the United States,” according to Pyongyang.

In the aftermath of the JCPOA, the danger from the Iran-North Korea strategic alliance is even greater. Iran has already begun to receive billions of dollars as the result of this deal and cash-strapped North Korea would be more than willing to continue this covert relationship. North Korea can also possibly supply Iran with a nuclear backstop – a method to covertly continue nuclear research and development restricted under the deal through their tried and true secret procurement channels. Iran can then follow in the footsteps of its North Korean partner – agree to the deal for sanctions relief and then breakout when convenient.

In eight years’ time, Iran will also be able to freely work on its ballistic missile program. If Iran was able to develop its ballistic missile in secret thanks to its North Korean friends, one can only imagine what it will be able to achieve after the ban on its ballistic missile program is lifted.

We must also remember that this strong relationship between Iran and North Korea was forged in secrecy – we do not even know the full extent of their collaboration. What we do know, however, is that now that the world has given the Iranian nuclear program a stamp of approval, officials in both Tehran and Pyongyang are cashing in. The questions remains – how long will we let these two enemies of the United States inch closer to nuclear wear? And as developments keep coming out of the Korean Peninsula, we can only ask: what’s next?

Poe has represented Texas’ 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary committees

By: Rep Poe

"There's already a door on that iPhone. We are asking Apple to take the vicious guard dog away and let us pick the lock,” said FBI Director Comey in his recent testimony before the Judiciary Committee. What would happen if the government mandated that we take away all the guard dogs in a neighborhoods and leave our homes vulnerable for others to ‘pick the lock’ and gain access to our homes? 

As a former judge I have a problem with that premise. As the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, I am as dedicated as anyone to national security and the mission of defeating the terrorists. I still believe that we can combat this threat without bending the rules written in the Constitution. The question is this: Must private industry be forced to create new software that can give the government access to a phone they would not have access to otherwise? I think the answer is no. 

The truth is that Congress should have acted on this issue already and not waited for a terrorist attack. Hundreds of phones in the possession of investigators are sitting in limbo because the law is not clear. This will turn into thousands unless we act. It is the role of Congress to debate this and to change the policy, not the courts.

Since the San Bernardino attack, investigators have not been able to get into the phone of Syed Farook because of the security Apple has on all of its devices. In the wake of San Bernardino, law enforcement jobs are more challenging than ever as our enemies are more determined. As challenging as this is, a drastic, fear-driven policy that dramatically affects the privacy of every single American with an Apple product should not be made in the courts.

Before we mandate that the government must have a “key” for all encrypted data-- we must step back and consider what that means for privacy.

Congress has recently taken steps to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans in the digital age; this decision does the opposite. This order in effect would give the government the keys to the backdoor to every cell phone in America. In order to do this, the government is attempting to force Apple and other companies to re-engineer all of their products in order to give the government the ability to access all phones.

This decision will not only violate the privacy of American citizens -- far more than just the owner of the iPhone the court ruled on-- it will also hurt American tech companies. American products will suffer on the world market because international consumers will know that their phones are not safe from the eyes of the snooping United States government.

My bill, H.R. 2233, End Warrantless Surveillance of ‎Americans Act would specifically prohibit the government from either mandating (as they are trying to do with Apple) or even requesting that a back door be installed.

Congress should immediately act on this to make the law clear.

Throughout history, America has faced threats from a variety of enemies. During times of heightened fear, there have been similar calls for less privacy in the name of more security.

I believe there can be both.

Today the government once again asks us to just “trust” them with our privacy because the threat of Islamic extremism exists.  They want a key to our email, a key to our phones, a key to virtually all elements of our life.  

Should we trust the government not to abuse this power? We don’t give the government a spare key to our homes and our cars. Why should the laws that govern the digital world be any different? 

These questions are difficult, but they are not new. 

Technology has rapidly changed in recent years, and the question has been whatwill Congress do to protect privacy. The case of San Bernadino has demanded that we address that question. The law must keep up with technology. Our Constitutional rights depend on it. 

Technology may change, but the Constitution does not.   The Electronic Communications and Privacy Act (ECPA) is a perfect example. Under this law, authorities can search your electronic communications after 180 days without a warrant. 

Today, with most of our data flowing through the cloud, our constitutional right to privacy is in jeopardy.  Let’s not make the same mistake twice with encryption.   

We can defeat the threat of Islamic extremism while keeping our Constitution whole at the same time. And that’s just the way it is.

Republican Ted Poe represents Texas' Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a former judge and a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee.

The administration is forsaking its friends in the Middle East in favor of appeasing Iran.

By Ted Poe Feb. 19, 2016

With civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq, and with instability and terrorism stretching from Turkey to Egypt, now is not the time for the United States to further roil the Middle East by appeasing our adversaries and abandoning our allies.

But that's just what the Obama administration has been doing in the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In spite of Iran's well-earned designation as the largest state sponsor of terrorism, and its stoking of sectarian divisions across the region, the White House is tilting towards Tehran in another of its infamous "resets."

Tensions flared recently between these two regional rivals when Iranian mobs trashed and burned the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Purportedly, the rampage was responding to the Saudi's recent execution of 47 convicted terrorists, including a Shiite cleric seeking to overthrow the Saudi Arabian government and other terrorists who attacked the U.S. consulate in Jeddah in 2004, which killed nine people. But the riot recalled another supposedly spontaneous incident: the 1979 invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran that resulted in more than 60 Americans being held hostage.

Answering the attack on its embassy, Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran. So did Bahrain and Sudan. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates downgraded its diplomatic ties with Tehran.

And how did the administration respond? Not by standing with our friends but by cozying up to our foe.

Seeking to protect the misguided nuclear agreement with Iran that will lift economic sanctions on them within days, the administration slapped both rivals' wrists while giving the Saudis the cold shoulder. White House spokesman Josh Earnest equivocated, saying "I guess the point is that there's plenty of blame to go around."

Just two days after the United States officially lifted sanctions on Iran, sending billions of dollars to a nation that has promised to wipe Israel off the map, the U.S. ambassador to Israel sharply criticized Israel's rule of law. Under this administration, it somehow makes sense to sign a deal with one of the worst human rights abusers in the world in Iran and then days later pick at our ally Israel as it struggles to deal with a months-long wave of violence where terrorists stab innocent civilians with knives.

The administration ignores three fundamental facts: First, Iran is a bad actor. Second, the Saudis and Israelis are essential to American interests. And third, American passivity in the Middle East is forcing the Saudis and Israelis to go it alone.

From the hostage-taking in 1979, to the bombing of the Kobar Towers in 1996, to the recent seizure and detainment of 10 American sailors, Iran is antagonistic to America and engages in deliberate provocations. Tehran supports violent rebels in Yemen; supplies weapons to Hezbollah to destroy Israel and destabilize Lebanon; and provides money, weapons and other support to the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, contributing to the killing of more than 250,000 people and the exile of 4.5 million refugees.

While Iran props up Assad and aids him in killing innocent civilians, Saudi Arabia has participated in coalition operations against the Islamic State group in Syria and recently founded an alliance of more than 30 countries to combat al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and other terrorist groups. Israel meanwhile is working to protect itself from terrorist groups like Hezbollah, which is building up weapon stockpiles to its north, and the Islamic State group, whose leader said recently that "Palestine will be a graveyard" to the Jews.

The U.S. military knows the importance of these two allies. Our armed forces have conducted joint military exercises with both the Saudis and the Israelis, and Israel and Saudi Arabia are two of the largest customers of U.S. military equipment.

The problems confronting the Middle East are too big for the United States to solve on its own. Millions of Syrians have left their homes to find refuge somewhere it is safe. The Islamic State group continues to find safe haven in Iraq and Syria. But if we want our allies to do more – and they must if these challenges are to be overcome – we need to give them assurances, not treat them worse than we treat the largest state sponsor of terrorism. If our longtime partners feel anxious and alone, they may act in ways that further upset the fragile balance in an increasingly unstable region. America needs to return to reassuring our friends and restraining our foes. And that's just the way it is.

By Linda Smith, President/Founder, Shared Hope International; Congressman Ted Poe (Texas)

As National Human Trafficking Awareness Month draws to a close, and with the Super Bowl around the corner, it is important to keep in mind that while these opportunities to bring awareness to the scourge of sex trafficking are significant, American children are being bought and sold for sex every day all over the country.  They make up some of the tens of millions of victims of human trafficking all over the world.   Trafficking victims walk among us, often unnoticed. This should embolden our commitment each day to change our country’s response and provide justice for victims of trafficking. That commitment must be made on the federal, state and local levels.

On the federal level last year, we celebrated the enactment of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, landmark legislation that shifted the focus of criminal responses from the victims to the perpetrators of this horrific crime including the buyers of sex with children. While going after the demand, the bill also provides support for domestic child sex trafficking victims to ensure that they are treated with the trauma-informed, individualized care and support they deserve.

However, there is still more work to be done. While recent shifts in federal and some state policies has led to a now widely accepted fact that commercially sexually exploited children are victims of human trafficking, 36 states still have laws criminalizing child victims under adult prostitution laws or other trafficking-related crimes. This is unfortunate and unjust. No other victim of child abuse would be classified this way or would face drastic measures like jail time as human trafficking victims face today.

Opponents of non-criminalization laws assert that their concern is rooted in safety, that without other resources in place, they have no other option than juvenile detention to protect youth from exploitation. However, knowing that arresting and charging trafficked children with crimes related to their abuse not only has the potential to further victimize them, it also may undermine efforts to restore these children while reinforcing negative stereotypes used by exploiters to control victims. Under our justice system, a minor simply cannot consent to sell their bodies for sex. The laws should be amended to reflect this.

Governments should look to a new, important resource, the Non-Criminalization ofJuvenile Sex Trafficking Victims policy paper and field guidance by Shared Hope International’s Juvenile Sex Trafficking (JuST) Response Council, a group comprised of survivors and other leaders in the anti-trafficking movement.  The JuST Council’s report provides solutions to the complex challenges associated with keeping our youth safe and empowering them to live a life free of exploitation while also recognizing that non-criminalization of juvenile sex trafficking victims must be a component of a comprehensive protective response.

We hear stories of young girls over and over again who have been arrested while their pimps and buyers are overlooked.  If we do not protect, shelter, and restore these children, we are just as much a part of the problem as their abusive family, their trafficker who told them they were worthless, or their buyer who put a price tag on their body. In order to stop this crime, we must empower victims and put away the real bad guys—traffickers and buyers because they are both as much part of this modern day slave trade as the other.

As we approach the Super Bowl and learn even more about the trafficking of humans in the greatest nation on earth, let’s take those lessons and put them into practice throughout the year so that we can prove ourselves to be the best by caring for our most vulnerable.  We will be judged by how we treat the defenseless among us.  Let us do the right thing - save our children - and be judged well.

Congresswoman Linda Smith (ret.) is the President and Founder of Shared Hope International, which provides leadership in awareness and training, prevention strategies, restorative care, research, and policy initiatives to mobilize a national network of protection for victims. For more information about Shared Hope and the JuST Response Project visit www.sharedhope.org/justresponse.

Congressman Poe is Founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus and a Senior Member of the House Judiciary Committee. Before Coming to Congress, he served as a Prosecutor and a Judge in Texas for 30 years.

By: Senator John Cornyn and Congressman Ted Poe

Earlier this year, U.S. Marshals announced the arrest of Rosain Moreno, a 27-year-old Pennsylvania man, who allegedly convinced a 13-year-old girl to run away from her parents and travel with him to South Carolina. Once the child was reported missing, police asked the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force to get involved. Fortunately, they acted quickly, locating and arresting Moreno in South Carolina and bringing the young girl home safely.

Days before Moreno's arrest, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons met in Washington. Eleven human trafficking survivors were introduced as members of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. The council was created in accordance with the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation we introduced and President Obama signed into law last year. These survivors all have different stories, but they have all lived the nightmare of human slavery. The Council will convene to make policy recommendations on how to continue the fight against this despicable scourge in our nation.

This year, instead of calling for new legislation, we are marking the impactful changes in federal law to combat human trafficking. While we have already seen positive outcomes in the first eight months of this law, the work is just beginning in the fight against 21st-century slavery in this nation.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act includes a wide variety of reforms that help victims get the shelter and services they need and provide them with a fresh start. Importantly, it ensures that those sold into the marketplace of sex slavery are treated as victims rather than criminals. The law also strengthens law enforcement tools to target the predators who purchase trafficked human beings.

As former judges, we strongly believe in not only punishing the people who commit these horrendous crimes but also in helping victims rebuild their lives. And as fathers, we refuse to sit back while children are being bought and sold in our own country. That's why we authored the act — to provide law enforcement with new tools to apprehend those who commit these heinous acts and to provide resources for the survivors to restore their lives. We are proud that this bipartisan bill is now the law of the land.

We don’t know what the fate of this young girl would have been had the authorities not rescued her. But we do know that because of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, and the increased authority given to the U.S. Marshal Service, that child is home today, safe and sound.

FOX NEWS

Byline: Rep. Ted Poe

South Korean intelligence officials reported recently that North Korea is preparing for a new nuclear test. If true, it would mark Pyongyang’s third nuclear detonation since 2007, when it agreed to end its nuclear program during the Six-Party Talks. In return for this commitment, the United States removed Pyongyang from the state sponsors of terrorism list.

Since then, North Korea has torn up the agreement and resumed its reckless nuclear activities. Meanwhile, the United States has sat back and watched the ally of our enemies and the enemy of our friends terrorize the world with its threats of nuclear war. It’s time to re-designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Between 1988 and 2008 the United States government listed North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism. The catalyst for its listing was North Korea’s involvement in the 1987 in-flight bombing of Korean Air Flight 858, which killed all 115 passengers onboard. The State Department cited a laundry list of other hostile activities pursued by the regime to justify its listing throughout the years. These included North Korea’s history of harboring and supporting terrorists, abductions, and developing and proliferating weapons of mass destruction. 

North Korea continues these illicit activities today despite being removed from the list partly in return for its commitment to halt its nuclear program. This was a mistake. The fact that North Korea conducted two nuclear tests in 2009 and 2013 should alone merit the re-designation. And while the State Department routinely claims that North Korea has not been linked to terrorism since 1987, ample open-source evidence disputes this claim.

North Korea is also still a major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. Its ongoing collaboration on ballistic missiles with Iran, the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism, is well known.

Pyongyang has known links to the tyrannical regimes in Tehran and Damascus, and there have been several instances in the past decade in which North Korea’s two Middle Eastern clients transferred North Korean arms to Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2009 alone, three North Korean arms shipments were seized by UAE, Israeli, and Thai authorities.

In all three cases, press reports indicated that the arms were bound for terrorist groups. In July 2014, Western security sources told media outlets that Hamas brokered an agreement to purchase communications equipment and artillery rockets from the Kim regime. Sure enough, North Korean anti-tank guided missiles surfaced in Gaza that same year. 

But weapons sales are not the whole picture of North Korea’s ties to terrorist groups – there is growing evidence of Pyongyang’s advisory role to these violent organizations. Press reports in 2014 suggested that North Koreans advised Hezbollah in the construction of tunnels in Southern Lebanon in 2003-2004. Israeli military commanders believe that North Korea also provided logistical advice on Hamas’ tunnel network which it infamously used to attack Israeli civilian populations.

North Korea is also still a major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. Its ongoing collaboration on ballistic missiles with Iran, the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism, is well known. According to reports the two countries are presently working on the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could allow North Korea to deliver a nuclear warhead far beyond its shores.

Though the State Department will deny any veracity to growing evidence that Pyongyang and Tehran are also collaborating on nuclear weapons, North Korea has aided other unstable regimes in setting up their own nuclear shops. North Korea helped establish the al-Kibar nuclear reactor in Syria, which was destroyed by an Israeli strike in 2007, and provided game-changing nuclear materials to Libya in the early 2000s.

Aside from its involvement in weapons of mass destruction, North Korea also threatens us in cyber space.  In 2009, South Korean intelligence officials told the media that North Korea set up a cyber-warfare unit to target military servers in South Korea and the U.S. Since then, North Korean cyber-attacks have reportedly targeted the websites of the departments of Homeland Security and Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission.

Just last year, North Korea carried out a brazen cyber-attack against Sony Pictures that included direct threats against its employees and an ominous warning to “Remember the 11th of September 2001.” An attack on a private U.S. company that threatens action similar to the most infamous terrorist attack in our nation’s history sure sounds like terrorism to me.

Make no mistake: North Korea is a greater threat to our national security today than it was in 1988 when the US first listed North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. The country is much closer to successfully developing not just nuclear weapons but missiles that can carry these nuclear weapons to drop them on the United States. Its new leader, Kim Jong Un, has followed in his father’s footsteps in his opposition to the United States and, just like his father, is teaming up with other state sponsors of terrorism to do it.

The question remains: why have we not put North Korean back on the state sponsors of terrorism list? We didn’t take them off because they stopped sponsoring terrorism – we took them off for purely diplomatic reasons that have since become irrelevant. North Korea has only grown more bold and unpredictable since 1988. It is high time the State Department calls a spade a spade and designates North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Republican Ted Poe represents Texas' Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade.

THE HILL

Byline: Rep. Ted Poe

Doughnuts to Go is a small family-owned shop in California managed by Lee Ky.  Like any small business, its success depends on the hard work and grit of the folks who run it. Her success was threatened in 2012 when Doughnuts to Go was sued by ADA trolls for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The lawsuit alleged minute violations, including: a mislabeled table, door handles being off by a few centimeters and the trashcan in the bathroom being in the wrong place. Lee was outraged and surprised by this lawsuit. Even more so because she is disabled herself, confined to a wheelchair and runs her store without any barriers to access. Lee was targeted by a serial plaintiff who never set foot in her store and whoalso sued nearly 80 other businesses in the area. Unfortunately, Lee is not alone. The fact is that there is a whole industry made up of people who prey on and strong-arm small businesses in order to make money off of ADA lawsuits. To these trolls, it is about making money, not helping the disabled.

In 1990, the ADA was signed into law, a monumental step to improve access and equality for all citizens in this country. Now, after 25 years of progress and advancement, the integrity of this landmark legislation is being threatened by a handful of attorneys and plaintiffs.

Small businesses are the life-blood of our communities. The vast majority of them strive to serve their customers to the best of their ability – relying on the ADA as another tool to help ensure that customers with disabilities can enjoy the services that they provide. However, despite their best attempts, certain attorneys and their pool of serial plaintiffs look for minor, easily correctable ADA infractions so they can file a lawsuit and make some cash. 

Faced with the threat of a lawsuit for minor infractions, small businesses often find themselves in a dilemma. They have few choices: settle, pay fees that match those of lengthy and expensive litigation, or spend time and money to go through the legal process.  This becomes a lose-lose situation very quickly.

At face value, these “drive-by” lawsuits are an easy way for both plaintiff and attorney to make a quick buck. In many cases, a single plaintiff signs onto multiple cases, alleging violations at businesses and properties where that plaintiff may have never set foot. In California, for example, one serial plaintiff has filed nearly 1,000 lawsuits. Some of these lawsuits are filed by plaintiffs that have never been in the business, or even live in the state. The abuse is evident. 

Unfortunately, these lawsuits are on the rise nationwide. What’s more is that local and state courts across the country are finding themselves inundated with these “drive-by” lawsuits; some have created special rules just to deal with the sheer volume of drive-by cases being heard. Because of this, local legislatures are taking notice and have begun to take action. The ADA, however, is a federal law, and as such, Congress must remedy the harmful practice of “drive-by” lawsuits targeting small businesses. 

This is why I am introducing the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2015, H.R. 3765; legislation that will provide business owners with an opportunity to remedy alleged ADA infractions before being saddled within legal fees. Business owners will have a 120-day window within which to make any necessary public accommodation corrections and updates to their businesses. If the business owner fails to correct the infractions, the plaintiff retains all of their rights to pursue legal action under the ADA. This legislation restores the purpose of the ADA: to provide access and accommodation to disabled Americans, not to fatten the wallets of ADA trolls.

This bill also includes a measure aimed at bringing state and local governments, business owners, and disability advocacy groups together to improve access for the disabled community through improved education and compliance. H.R.3765 will serve as a vital partner to the ADA and will provide property owners and members of the disability community the opportunity to work together to increase the effectiveness of the ADA.

The goal of this legislation is to make all businesses comply with the ADA----not to be a cash cow for litigants that never have set foot in Doughnuts to Go.  This bill represents a common sense solution to a very real problem facing countless businesses across this country. It is time to restore the ADA’s integrity and ensure its survival for another quarter century and beyond.

Poe has represented Texas’ 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs committees.

WASHINGTON EXAMINER

Byline: Rep. Ted Poe

When Russian President Vladimir Putin recently addressed the United Nations in New York City, he publicly condemned the policies of the "one center of dominance" in the post-Cold War world: America. He went on to speak directly to all of Russia's critics saying: "It is not about Russia's ambitions. … but about the recognition of the fact that we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world."

The only one who caught the foreshadowing in Putin's speech was Putin. After a frosty photo-op and handshake with President Obama, Putin boarded a plane back to Moscow. Two days later, American diplomats were notified that Russia would be dropping bombs in Syria within an hour. Russia had one message for America: "Get out of the way."

While Putin was in New York publicly scolding the United States in front of the U.N., the terrorist group Hezbollah, Iranian troops and Shiite fighters from Iraq were quietly preparing the ground game in Syria. Then came Russia, dropping bombs from the skies. Russia has come to the aid of Assad, indiscriminately bombing targets in Syria and taking the lives of anyone in the way, including Syrian rebels backed by the U.S. What is our reaction? No real action at all. The U.S. is still without a workable strategy, four years after the war in Syria began.

How did we get here? We should look no further than the White House's inaction and indecisiveness in Syria and the surrounding region. Russia has taken advantage of the power vacuum in the Middle East created by America choosing not to lead. The plan to train and equip so-called moderate rebels has been an abysmal failure. Five hundred million dollars later, all that remains are maybe four or five armed rebels after deaths and desertions, according to General John Allen, the president's chosen point man to counter ISIS. Putin sat back and watched the U.S. doing the two-step in the Middle East, drawing meaningless red lines and making concessions to our enemies like Iran. He waited; now he has made his move.

So here we are, caught flat-footed and bungling our response. Russia took advantage of the crisis and instability in Syria, entering the Middle East in a combat mission for the first time since the Cold War. It has instantly replaced the U.S. and become the dominant force in the Middle East. What's more, Russia's ground squad happens to be made up of America's enemies, Iran, Hezbollah and the militant Shiites in Iraq. So much for that Russian reset.

After the world convened for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia stunned everyone and invaded Crimea and then Eastern Ukraine. This was six years after it militarily seized one-third of the territory of Georgia, which it still controls. By now, Putin's actions should be no surprise to anyone. He is a tyrant who is hell-bent on restoring Mother Russia's dominance in the world. He is an imperialist whose sights go far beyond Russia and its backyard. He seeks world dominance, and he will not stop until he restores the old Russian Empire.

Putin is motivated by power. Any tyrant knows that one way to stay in power and suppress your people is to have a strong economy. Russia's economy is hurting, so Putin is desperate to find new ways to distract the population, boost his economy and maintain legitimacy. Building an alliance with the governments of Iran, Iraq and Syria allows Russia to have an unstoppable geopolitical and economic influence, controlling energy in the region. This monopoly will make Russia the dominant player in the Middle East and increase Putin's power in the world.

So what now? The administration's policy of "deconfliction" is clearly not going to work with the Russian Bear. Our strategy is still not clear. We need to reassert our global leadership so that our allies look to us, not Putin. The effectiveness of American air strikes has been minimal. U.S. planes are flying a quarter the number of sorties that we did in Libya, and two-thirds of them are returning home without dropping their munitions. The reason? Poor intelligence. Meanwhile, foreign fighters are able to travel freely across the Turkish border into Syria. Our NATO ally Turkey should not allow this. Our other allies in the region have shown willingness to combat extremist elements within their countries in the past, but they could do more now. They do not want to stand with Russia, but they will if we leave them no other option.

Finally, the American people need to understand why Syria matters. Syria is in turmoil, and hundreds of thousands of people have died at the hands of Assad. Millions of Syrians are running for their lives into Europe and the U.S. away from Assad and ISIS. ISIS — which has publicly called for attacks on our homeland — has taken advantage of the instability in Syria and expanded the territory under their control. Syria is to ISIS what Afghanistan was for the extremists who planned 9/11. If we don't do more, we may face serious consequences here at home.

During a 2012 presidential debate, President Obama mocked Governor Romney for calling Russia one of our biggest threats. "You said Russia ... the 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years." President Obama miscalculated Russia's actions then and he is miscalculating them now. Either America steps up and leads or Russia will continue its march of aggression, and the world will be even more embroiled in turmoil. And that's just the way it is.

Ted Poe, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation & Trade, represents Texas' second congressional district. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

FOX NEWS

Byline: Rep. Ted Poe

In an era of constant political gamesmanship and gridlock, getting things done in Congress is never easy. That was never clearer than the last Congress’ failure to pass long overdue reforms to an antiquated that today threatens the very thing it was intended to protect – the privacy of Americans’ digital communications and records.

A bipartisan group of more than 270 members of the House of Representatives co-sponsored legislation with the same underlying objective -- to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). And yet, these bills were left to die without a vote.

The broad support extends beyond the House. Senators Mike Lee and Pat Leahy have introduced similar ECPA legislation and it has the support of nearly one-quarter of the Senate.

ECPA reform proposals enjoy wide support from conservatives, moderates and liberals, small and big business, labor, former prosecutors and civil libertarians. And it’s obvious why. Under current law every email and text, every Google doc and Facebook message, every picture of our vacation and video of the office softball game is subject to government inspection without a warrant or probable cause if we’ve kept it longer than six months.

ECPA was written in 1986. Those were the days before the World Wide Web existed, when the first Mac had been sold only two years earlier with a nine-inch screen and 128KB of memory. No one kept anything in the “cloud.” There wasn’t any broadband or social media or tablets or Smartphones. Hard drives were small. Service providers charged a lot for the little storage capacity they sold. The relatively few people who used email then never imagined keeping an email longer than it took to send or read it.

So it was perfectly reasonable in 1986 for lawmakers to only protect new email -- those held for less than 180 days -- from government access. Who would keep anything online for longer than six months?

Three decades later, we have an answer. Everybody.

Most of us store all kinds of stuff online for a lot longer than six months. Emails, financial records, proprietary work products, schedules, photographs. Under current law all of it, every email and text, every Google doc and Facebook message, every picture of our vacation and video of the office softball game is subject to government inspection without a warrant or probable cause if we’ve kept it longer than six months.

That’s an outrageous invasion of our privacy, and unlike in 1986, ECPA is no longer an unintended assault on our liberty but an intentional one.  

Government agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission are lobbying to keep the law on the books unchanged in order to acquire powers Congress and the American people never intended them to have -- to read our personal communications without the constitutional protections of a search warrant. 

Whatever our other political disagreements, most Americans share the conviction that our privacy is protected by the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” of our “persons, houses, papers and personal effects.” 

Government agents can’t raid our homes or tap our phones or read our mail without showing a judge they have probable cause to believe we’ve committed a crime and obtaining a search warrant. Why should our possessions and communications be less private online?

The reforms introduced in the House and Senate would restore ECPA’s original purpose, and protect our privacy in the ways we live, communicate, learn, transact business and recreate today.

They are simple and straightforward.  We extend constitutional protections to communications and records that Americans store online for any amount of time.

There is no need to delay ECPA reform any longer.

Americans expect us to act on their widespread concerns. The bills are written. The votes are there. Members of Congress are ready to reaffirm a founding principle of American citizenship.

While the world is always changing, our civil liberties must exist unabridged forever.

Republican Ted Poe represents Texas' Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade.