Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: March 2, 2018

Gun Violence Prevention

Will They or Won’t They?

Since the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida, lawmakers are debating what if anything to do related to gun violence. A flurry of bills have been introduced, with efforts in the Senate mainly around two vehicles: The bipartisan Fix NICS Act (S 2135), supported by NCJW, which would create incentives for states and federal agencies to fix current gaps in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and ensure the system has comprehensive and up-to-date records. And, the so-called Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 (S 446) — already passed by the House and opposed by NCJW — which would allow individuals to carry hidden guns in every state with no permit, no training, and no background checks whatsoever.

Though no votes haven’t been scheduled on either bill or other gun legislation, it’s likely we’ll see gun-related amendments to financial reform legislation when it comes to the Senate floor in the next few weeks. And, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will hold an oversight hearing on March 14 examining the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

In the House, a discharge petition has been filed to bring the Thompson-King background check bill — HR 4240, offered by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Peter King (R-NY) — straight to the floor, bypassing Committee. It’s a procedural tactic allowing 218 lawmakers (an absolute majority) to force a floor vote on a bill. The measure would expand the existing background check system to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those at gun shows, over the internet, or in classified ads while providing reasonable exceptions for family and friend transfers. NCJW supports HR 4240, though not a perfect vehicle, as an important first step to saving lives.

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Human Trafficking

Trafficking Bills Pass In House

The House passed Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-MO) Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA, HR 1865, 388-25) on February 27. HR 1865 would allow for prosecuting of websites for promoting sex trafficking online and survivors to seek damages.Included in the measure was an amendment  (a version of Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act or SESTA) allow enforcement of criminal and civil sex trafficking laws against websites that knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking.

The SOAR Act — Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond to Health and Wellness Act of 2017 — also passed the House this week. Approved by voice vote, the measure would create training programs for nurses, doctors, and first responders to help them recognize the signs of human trafficking in patients.

Reproductive Health, Rights & Justice

Title X FOA Released

On February 23, the Trump Administration released its long-delayed Title X grant criteria. The Title X grant is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. For more than forty years, the Title X program has served millions of poor and low-income people in accessing reproductive health care. The latest funding announcement largely compromises access to that care by omitting any reference to nationally recognized clinical guidelines. These guidelines outline how to provide patient-centered services related to contraception, pregnancy testing and counseling, achieving pregnancy, infertility, preconception health, and sexually transmitted diseases. By omitting these guidelines, clinics that don’t provide health services (like Crisis Pregnancy Centers) can receive Title X program funding. This is one of the first Title X FOA’s (funding opportunity announcement) that de-emphasizes contraception and health services in favor of clinics that provide information on ‘returning to a sexually risk-free status’ (also known as abstinence education). This could have a significant impact on the availability of family planning services to poor and low-income people. NCJW opposes all measures that reduce access to contraception and comprehensive family planning services.

Immigration & Refugees

DACA “Patch” Introduced

On February 27, Sens. Flake (R-AZ) and Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced a bill (S 2464) extending protections for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for three years. In return, Congress would provide $7.6 billion to fully fund the first three years of the administration’s border-security proposals, including the wall. NCJW does not support temporary solutions to extend DACA, and instead supports immediate passage of a clean Dream Act.

Civil Rights

Civil Rights Rule Could be Delayed

Under President Obama, the Department of Education finalized a rule aimed at combating an excessive numbers of students of color in special education classes. The rule was supposed to go into effect by this July, but Education Secretary DeVos has formally proposed delaying its implementation until July 2020. The rule is important to protect students of color, who are disproportionately funneled into special education classes due to a patchwork of state laws. NCJW supported the rule when it was originally finalized, and opposes this unnecessary delay.

Federal Courts

#CourtsMatter to Labor Rights

On February 26, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that will determine whether union “fair share” fees — which are compulsory and go towards collective bargaining costs for benefitting non-union, public-sector employees — are a violation of the First Amendment. The outcome of the case will affect how public unions operate. NCJW believes that strong unions are a vital tool in furthering economic justice. Doing away with “fair share” fees would take a significant financial toll on unions, weakening their bargaining power significantly.

#CourtsMatter to LGBTQ Rights

OnFebruary 26, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes protection for workers who have faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation. This is the second time that a federal appeals court has held that sexual orientation discrimination is indeed a form of sex discrimination. Not all federal appeals courts are in agreement on this issue, meaning that the US Supreme Court could potentially be asked to address it in the future. NCJW applauds this ruling and believes that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should be protected from discrimination.

#CourtsMatter to Immigration

  • On February 26, the US Supreme Court declined the administration’s request to immediately review a federal district judge’s decision to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in place. The denial means that the case will follow the normal path through the federal court system and will next be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It is rare for the Supreme Court to immediately take a case on appeal from a district court, as opposed to an appeals court.
  • On February 27, the US Supreme Court issued a decision in one of the cases NCJW has been watching, Jennings v. Rodriguez. In a 5-3 decision (Justice Kagan recused herself), the Court held that noncitizens held in detention and facing deportation do not have a right to periodic bond hearings during the course of that detention. In so ruling, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that an individual may not be held for more than six months without a bond hearing. These decisions were based on differing interpretations of certain federal statutes; the case will now return to the lower court to determine whether the statutes themselves are constitutional. The ultimate resolution of this case will significantly impact federal detention policy for immigrants, and potentially refugees, too.
  • On February 26, a federal district court in California found that the government violates its own rules and the Administrative Procedure Act when it terminates DACA status without notice or a chance to contest the government’s actions. The case was brought on behalf of a group of DACA recipients whose status had been unlawfully revoked.
  • On February 27, a federal district judge found that the administration has the legal authority to build a wall on the southern border of the US. The suit argued that the Department of Homeland Security had illegally waived environmental regulations in connection with the wall. The judge in the case had previously been criticized by President Trump as biased because of his Mexican heritage (though the judge was actually born in Indiana).

Sign On Letters

  • On February 27, more than 170 organizations including NCJW joined a letter to the State Department expressing deep concern with reports that 2018 Human Rights Report was eliminating content about women, LGBTQ, and other marginalized populations.
  • On February 27, NCJW joined 24 organizations on a letter to the administration expressing concern at the news that the US will not welcome a number of Iranian Christians and other religious minority refugees who have been waiting for resettlement in Austria.
  • On February 28, nearly 100 organizations including NCJW sent a letter to Education Secretary DeVos expressing deep concerns about reports that the Department of Education is automatically dismissing complaints from transgender students who have faced discrimination accessing restrooms.

Amicus Brief

  • NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in R.M.A. (minor child) v. Blue R-IV School District, et al, a case before the Missouri Court of Appeals about whether the Missouri Human Rights Act requires a school to allow a transgender student access to facilities consistent with his gender identity.

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