On the Hill Updates: March 9, 2018
Gun Violence Prevention
Gun Legislation Stalls; Youth-led Efforts Surge
With gun safety negotiations at an impasse, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) held a hearing on March 7 — “America Speaks Out: Protecting Our Children from Gun Violence” — with gun violence survivors and family members asking Congress to take swift action to strengthen our nation’s gun laws.
Though lawmakers have introduced or are working on proposals following the Parkland school shooting, none have the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate or majority support in the House. While support for the Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Act is gaining among Senate Republicans, it’s a non-starter for many Democrats who favor more robust measures including: requiring background checks for firearms sold over the internet and at gun shows; debate on the assault weapons ban; and allowing law enforcement or family members to get a court order to temporarily prevent someone deemed dangerous from getting a gun. Without agreement on how to move forward, the Senate has turned its attention to a banking bill, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expected to bring legislation to combat sex trafficking and an omnibus spending package to the floor before the March 23 recess.
In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is investigating failures by the FBI and local law enforcement to follow up on a tip about the suspect in the Parkland shootings along with considering measures that would focus on school safety. Yet, despite congressional inaction or perhaps because of, youth-led efforts calling attention to gun violence are gaining steam. Learn more, support, and join the three national events supported by NCJW to promote gun safety and end gun violence:
Reproductive Health & Rights
Arkansas Work Requirements Approved
On March 5, Arkansas became the third state to receive the Trump Administration’s approval to impose requirements that residents work in exchange for Medicaid coverage. Medicaid provides affordable health care coverage — including coverage for a range of reproductive health services — for an inordinate number of women of color, women with low incomes, women with disabilities, single mothers, and women from other underserved populations. Arkansas’ requirements will mandate that individuals have a job, be in school, or volunteer for at least 80 hours per month and apply to able-bodied adults unless they qualify for an exemption (which is rare). Studies examining the effects of work requirements in other programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), show that individuals with physical and mental health conditions are disproportionately likely to be sanctioned for not completing the work requirement. The measure will go into effect June 1, making Arkansas the first state to implement Medicaid work requirements. NCJW opposes all measures that impose unjust and unlawful burdens on access to comprehensive health care.
Immigration & Refugees
DACA Deadline Comes, and Goes
March 5 marked six months since President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The six months was intended to be a time during which Congress could pass legislation to address DACA recipients, but the deadline came and went without any action from Congress or the White House. NCJW joined partners United We Dream, Church World Service, Bend the Arc, and many others at an action on March 5 to demand immediate passage of a clean Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for more than one million young immigrants brought to the United States as children.
Department of Justice Sues California
On March 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice had filed suit alleging that the State of California violated the constitution in passing sanctuary laws (policies that limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration enforcement). Though the case only concerns California, the decision could impact sanctuary policies across the country. NCJW supports sanctuary jurisdictions.
Budget Deadline Ahead
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) plans to bring a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill to the House floor next week, in advance of the March 23 deadline to pass a budget or risk another government shutdown this year. Most of the 12 appropriations subcommittees are expected to finish their work by March 14, with the exception of Labor-HHS-Education as abortion-related riders, opposed by NCJW, that would cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood, eliminate a federal family planning program, and gut the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program could derail attempts to meet the timeline.
#CourtsMatter to LGBTQ Rights
On March 7, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination against transgender individuals. In response to allegations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that a closely-held, for-profit funeral home unlawfully discriminated by firing a transitioning employee, the funeral home argued that forcing them to employ a transgender individual would constitute an “undue burden” on their sincerely held religious beliefs, thus violating the funeral home’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan agreed with the funeral home and its owner that transgender is not a protected status under Title VII and that RFRA provided them an exemption regardless. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit definitively stated that Title VII does indeed protect against trans discrimination as a form of sex discrimination, and that RFRA does not provide the funeral home with an exemption because employing a transgender employee does not constitute a substantial burden on anyone’s religious exercise. NCJW applauds this victory for transgender rights and condemns efforts to use religion freedom as a guise for discrimination.
Judicial Confirmation and Diversity Update
This week, the Senate confirmed 3 federal district court judges who will sit in Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana. As of March 8, 29 federal judges have been confirmed under President Trump. This includes 1 Supreme Court Justice, 14 circuit court judges, and 14 district court judges. Of those confirmed, none are black or Latino, 3 are Asian American, and 6 are female. There are currently 55 pending nominees, of which 1 is black, 1 Latino, 2 Asian American, and 13 women. NCJW believes that the federal bench should reflect the community it serves and advocates for a qualified, fair, and diverse judiciary.
Sign On Letters
- On March 5, 23 organizations including NCJW signed a letter to the Senate sharing concerns about the ADA Education and Reform Act, which would weaken protection for individuals with disabilities.
- On March 7, 354 organizations including NCJW signed on to a letter to Congressional leadership and House and Senate appropriators in support of permanent protections for Dreamers and a reduction in funding for immigration and border enforcement.
- On March 8, NCJW joined more than 300 faith organizations and leaders on a letter urging Congress to cut funding for immigration detention, deportation, and border militarization.