WASHINGTON — The Senate voted last week to prevent the National Security Agency from storing a massive database of bulk telephone records as part of a bill to reauthorize expiring pieces of the Patriot Act.

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted last week to prevent the National Security Agency from storing a massive database of bulk telephone records as part of a bill to reauthorize expiring pieces of the Patriot Act.


After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, NSA began collecting bulk data from telephone companies to use in looking for links to foreign terrorists. The secret program was revealed two years ago by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, inflaming concerns of privacy advocates.


The bill, which was signed into law, would require NSA to obtain a search warrant to seek a narrow range of data from telephone companies for specific investigations.


Proponents argued the bill struck a balance between national security and privacy rights. Opponents argued that it did not go far enough in protecting the privacy of ordinary Americans.


Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called it a "carefully crafted bill" that had earned the support of the intelligence community, privacy and civil liberties groups, the tech industry and members of Congress from both parties and chambers.


"We were able to reach agreement on a bill that certainly does not go as far as I would like, but that definitively ends NSA’s bulk collection of phone records, improves transparency and accountability, and includes other important reforms," he said.


Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., opposed the bill saying it could leave America vulnerable by hampering the ability of NSA to discover terrorist plots before they are launched.


"I think people want to believe we are doing everything we possibly can to strengthen our national security, to eliminate the threat of terrorism here and abroad. My fear, quite frankly, is that this bill doesn’t accomplish that," he said.


The vote was 67-32 to approve the bill. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted in favor. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., opposed it.


House tackles fishery management law


A bill to reauthorize the nation’s principle marine fisheries management law cleared the House last week over the objections of most Democrats, who claimed the new version weakened conservation protections in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.


Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., criticized Republicans for failing to work in a bipartisan manner to renew the law as had been done in previous sessions of Congress — resulting in a bill that would create "gaping loopholes" for overfishing and mismanagement under the guise of increased flexibility.


"These misguided provisions would threaten the viability of an entire industry and harm the health of our oceans simply to benefit a few special interests," she said.


Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said such claims are not accurate. The flexibility would allow regional fishery management councils to shape policies specific to the variations in regional fisheries, ocean conditions, and harvesting methods.


"The flexibility in the bill is based on science. Rebuilding of fish stocks will be based on the biology of fish stock. Harvest levels will still be based on science and at levels where overfishing will not occur," he said.


The bill was approved 225-152, with only five Democrats in support. The Senate has yet to act on reauthorizing the law.


Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, French Hill, R-Little Rock, voted for it. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, did not vote.


House votes to protect state laws on medical marijuana


The House voted to block federal funds from being used to interfere with state-approved medical marijuana use.


Although possession of marijuana remains a federal crime, the Obama administration has largely tolerated state regulations that permit medical or recreational use of marijuana. Still, agencies can go after them unless Congress cuts off funding — as it also did last year for medical marijuana.


"The practical aspect of this vote is based on the realization that, at a time of severely limited resources, it makes sense to target terrorists, criminals and other threats to the American people rather than use federal law enforcement resources to prevent suffering and sick people from using a weed that may or may not alleviate their suffering," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who proposed the measure.


The measure passed, 242-186, with Womack, Westerman, Hill and Crawford against it.


The House narrowly defeated a second measure, offered by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., that would have extended the purse-string protections to state laws allowing recreational use of marijuana.


McClintock said he was not endorsing marijuana use but felt states should be free to experiment as Colorado and Oregon have done to see if "the harm that might be done by easier access to this drug is outweighed by removing the violent underground economy that is caused by prohibition."


Rep. John Fleming, R-La., argued against it saying marijuana has too many bad effects for the federal government to tolerate its recreational use.


In Colorado, he said, "the information is rolling in, and the information is bad. The black market is worse than ever when it comes to drugs. Interstate commerce has increased, not decreased."


Rep. Jarrod Polis, D-Colo., said the contrary is true. Underage marijuana use is down and violent crime is down, he said.


McClintock’s measure was defeated 206-222. Womack, Westerman, Hill and Crawford voted against the measure.