Yesterday, Franken got his first ammendment passed, when he attached the Jaime Leigh Jones Ammendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill, and it successfully passed 68 - 30. The bill is named after a woman of the same name who suffered sexual harassment and was gang-raped while working at Kellog Brown and Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton) in Iraq.
Here's the short version of her story from an email release by Franken's office:
When Jamie was 19, she was working for then Halliburton subsidiary KBR in Iraq, where she was placed in a barracks with 400 men. She complained about sexual harassment, but KBR took no action and she was eventually drugged and gang-raped by co-workers. When she tried to report what had happened, KBR locked her in a shipping container under armed guard. One of her guards smuggled her a cell phone, which she used to call her dad. Her dad and her Congressman got her back to the States.Congratulations nu Si Senadot Franken para este i fine'nina chine'gue-na gi i neubu na che'cho'-na. Under this law, any Federal defense contractors who require that their employees sign similar contracts to the one which Jamie Leigh Jones was forced to sign, will not be allowed to receive any Federal contracts. Although it became a generic talking point amongst Democrats in the elections of 2006 and in 2008, that they were going to put a stop to the abuses of companies like Halliburton, not much seems to have come from that rhetoric. Just as in the parody that Saturday Night Live made of Obama last week, where the President is proudly showing for all his record since January of accomplishing close to nothing, the Democrats despite a larger margin of seats in both the Senate and the House, still have done so incredibly little in terms of reversing, preventing or punishing the various abuses of the previous administration and political party. I hope that this ammendment has some teeth to it, and I hope that it represents a real check against companies such as Halliburton whose interests and power cross so many borders and economies that they come to think of themselves as countries.
Once Jamie was back with her family, she discovered that the fine print in her contract with KBR prevented her from taking her case to court. Since then, she's been telling and retelling her story around the country, fighting on behalf of victims of sexual violence.
When I lived in San Diego several years ago, I used to follow Franken regularly on the radio and have read all of his books (including the ones before he became a liberal poltiical icon). I enjoyed the mixture that Franken represented of being able to talk very intelligently about policy, while still being able to make silly references to keep the policy aspect a bit more lively. Even though I'm on Guam now, and so kind of cut out from national American politics, I still find myself following Al Franken, news on him, his web alerts and email notices.
I think part of the reason that I still do follow him, is that now that he's a Senator, I'm just waiting for the moment when he reverts to his old comedy-writer self and continues his important work of calling conservatives, big fact idiots. Franken was always interesting to watch because, those on the Right side of the aisle and the political spectrum don't seem to have any problems name-calling or mocking their opponents, and most Democrats stay above that sort of engagement. Not Al Franken, and so even though he was always a bit of a political longshot or potential liability because of his background as a comedian, and sometimes funny approach, he still had no problem fighting or mocking back. In the current debate about health care, where elected Democratic officials seem to be struggling over what approach they want to take in terms of screwing everything up, a sarcastis and snarky voice like Franken's is what Democrats need to find their spines.
For more on the passage of this bill, I'm pasting the article from Think Progress on it below:
Franken Wins Bipartisan Support For Legislation Reining In KBR’s Treatment Of Rape
October 7, 2009
In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” (Jones was not an isolated case.) Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) proposed an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would withhold defense contracts from companies like KBR “if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.” Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday, Franken said:
The constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law … And today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. … The victims of rape and discrimination deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen.
Watch Franken’s speech:
On the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) spoke against the amendment, calling it “a political attack directed at Halliburton.” Franken responded, “This amendment does not single out a single contractor. This amendment would defund any contractor that refuses to give a victim of rape their day in court.”
In the end, Franken won the debate. His amendment passed by a 68-30 vote, earning the support of 10 Republican senators including that of newly-minted Florida Sen. George LeMieux. “He did what a senator should do, which was he was working it,” LeMieux said in praise of Franken. “He was working for his amendment.”
Appearing with Franken after the vote, an elated Jones expressed her deep appreciation. “It means the world to me,” she said of the amendment’s passage. “It means that every tear shed to go public and repeat my story over and over again to make a difference for other women was worth it.”