Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: April 18, 2019

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

House Democrats unveil legislation to strengthen the ACA

On March 26, less than 24 hours after the Trump administration asked a federal appeals court to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA), House Democrats introduced a bill to strengthen the landmark health care legislation. The Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions & Making Health Care More Affordable Act of 2019 (HR 1884), which the House will vote on later this year, would expand the ACA’s tax credits to more low- and middle-income families and individuals and would increase the size of tax credits and cost-sharing reductions for all eligible to receive them. Introduced by Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), the law would also lower insurance premiums, strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and ban the sale of cheap “junk plans” that offer fewer benefits (often excluding maternity care and substance abuse treatment). At a press conference unveiling the legislation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted that “[t]he GOP will never stop trying the destroy health care,” and criticized her Republicans colleagues for failing to fulfill their promise to protect people with pre-existing conditions. Read more remarks from the event and a summary of the bill here. Access to high quality, affordable health care, including reproductive health care, is critical to an individual’s health, economic security, and dignity. NCJW supports the ACA, which expanded health care access to millions.

Trump administration further expands global gag rule

Upon taking office in January 2017, President Trump reinstated the global gag rule first established by President Reagan in 1984; Trump also expanded the policy, forcing more global health assistance programs (like those addressing HIV, maternal and child health, and malaria) to certify that they would not perform or promote abortion before receiving funds. On March 26, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the administration would further expand the rule by blocking global health funding to foreign groups that financially support other organizations that provide or promote abortions. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) condemned the decision which “puts international organizations in an impossible position: provide women the full scope of reproductive health care services or deny critical funding that saves lives. That is unconscionable.” NCJW endorses the Global HER Act (HR 1055/S 368) to permanently end the global gag rule.

House subcommittee considers legislation to lower health care costs

On March 27, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee considered twelve bills, all of which were favorably advanced to the full committee. Six of the proposals were designed to lower the cost of prescription drugs while the other six measures aimed to lower health care costs and reverse Trump administration sabotage to the ACA. Significantly, subcommittee members voted on an amendment to HR 1425, the State Health Care Premium Reduction Act, which would have blocked states from receiving money to establish reinsurance programs or to provide financial assistance for health care costs if those funds were used for abortion care. The amendment, offered by Subcommittee Ranking Member Mike Burgess (D-TX), was defeated in a 17-12 vote. NCJW opposes all attempts to ban abortion coverage in health insurance and supports the EACH Woman Act, a bill to end the Hyde Amendment and to prohibit local, state, and federal political interference in private insurance coverage of abortion.

MOMMA’s Act reintroduced

On March 27, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) and Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) reintroduced the Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA’s) Act (HR 1897/S 916). The bill seeks to reduce America’s rising maternal mortality rate by (1) establishing national obstetric emergency protocols, (2) ensuring dissemination of best practices and coordination among maternal mortality review committees, (3) standardizing data collection and reporting, (4) improving access to culturally competent care, and (5) expanding Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum. Maternal mortality is a reproductive justice issue disproportionately impacting women of color and those living in underserved and rural areas. NCJW supports this bill consistent with our resolution to work for comprehensive, affordable, confidential, accessible, and equitable family planning, reproductive, sexual health, and maternal health services.

Trump administration shifts Title X funds away from Planned Parenthood

On the heels of finalizing its domestic gag rule, the Trump administration on March 29 awarded as much as $5.1 million in Title X funds to a nonprofit organization funded by allies of the Catholic Church. Obria Group, based in Southern California, does not provide birth control other than natural family planning and abstinence education; as contraception services are required under Title X, the organization was previously rejected from the program. However, under the Trump administration, funds are being shifted from Planned Parenthood to faith-affiliated clinics. Indeed, the $250 million funding announcement indicated that Planned Parenthood would receive only $16 million per year through 2022, a steep drop from the $50 to $60 million the group has been receiving annually. NCJW strongly opposes attempts to block low-income women, women of color, young women, and LGBTQ individuals from accessing safe and legal abortion and family planning services and submitted comments opposing the proposed gag rule in July 2018.

House conservatives continue to push “Born Alive” bill

On April 2, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Rep. Ann Wager (R-MO) filed a discharge petition to bring the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” (HR 962/S 311) to the House floor. The long-shot legislative maneuver is an attempt to circumvent Democratic leadership, who have rejected Republican requests for unanimous consent to bring the measure to the floor 25 times. In order to prevail, the discharge petition needs 218 signatures, meaning that all Republicans and 21 Democrats would have to sign on. On February 25, the Senate rejected S 311, an identical bill, by a vote of 53-44. NCJW strongly opposes all attempts to criminalize safe and legal health care and to put anti-abortion, partisan politics between a woman and her doctor.

Access to Contraception for Service members and Dependents Act reintroduced

On April 4, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reintroduced the Access to Contraception for Service members and Dependents Act (HR 2091/S 1049). The bill would require that the 1.5 million women of reproductive age who receive health care through TRICARE are treated the same as civilian women and have cost-free access to all forms of FDA-approved contraception and family planning counselling services. The legislation would also mandate the creation of a Department of Defense comprehensive family planning education program for all service members and ensure access to emergency contraception for survivors of military sexual assault. NCJW supports this bill to secure family planning, reproductive, and sexual health services for all women, including those who risk their lives to defend our country and our freedoms.

Access to Birth Control Act reintroduced

On April 9, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) reintroduced the Access to Birth Control Act (HR 2182/S 1086). This bill addresses refusals to dispense contraception by mandating that pharmacies provide birth control to patients without delay or assist patients in accessing their out-of-stock medication elsewhere. NCJW supports this bill to ensure that patients can make their own decisions about and readily access contraception irrespective of the personal beliefs of their pharmacists.

Unconstitutional 20-week ban considered in Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

On April 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the proposed federal 20-week abortion ban (HR 784/S 160) misleadingly titled “Abortion Until Birth: The Need to Pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” Dr. Valerie Peterson shared her abortion story, writing that “[i]t’s hurtful to think that legislators who know nothing of my life or situation want[] to deny me the right and dignity to make the difficult decision that was right for me and my family.” State Sen. Jen Jordan also testified, noting that “[s]tates like Georgia have already served as test cases for the effects of these unconstitutional bans. The women in my state have already suffered the consequences – consequences that I pray the rest of the women of this country won’t have to bear.” Watch the complete hearing and read written testimony here. NCJW opposes abortion bans which compromise critical constitutional rights and obstruct access to safe and legal health care.

Federal Courts

Senate leadership changes rules to confirm judges even faster

On April 3, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) invoked the so-called “nuclear option” to change the Senate’s rules and hasten the confirmation of more of Trump’s judicial nominees by reducing the number of hours of debate time for district court nominees from 30 hours to just 2 hours. The vote was 51-48; Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mike Lee (R-UT) joined the Democratic caucus to oppose the rules change. NCJW is deeply disappointed that the Senate has chosen to disregard, again, its duty to advise and consent on judicial nominations in favor of putting through partisan and too often unqualified nominees quickly and without regard for debate.

DOJ says entire ACA is unconstitutional

On March 25, the Trump administration escalated its attack on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by asking a federal appeals court to invalidate the entire law. The Department of Justice (DOJ) had previously maintained that certain portions of the ACA (such as its protections for people with pre-existing conditions) should be struck down while the remainder of the law (including the Medicaid expansion) could remain in place. Now, DOJ has asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm Judge Reed O’Connor’s December opinion declaring the entirety of the legislation unconstitutional given the Trump administration’s destruction of the individual mandate. Should the ACA be struck down, 21 million people could lose their health insurance, 12 million adults could lose Medicaid coverage, and 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions would lose important protections. President Trump is pushing Republican lawmakers to develop a plan to replace the landmark health care legislation, while also insisting that Congress will not vote on the non-existent bill until after the 2020 election. NCJW strongly opposes attempts to invalidate the ACA, jeopardizing the health and economic security of millions of Americans.

Supreme Court hears partisan gerrymandering arguments

On March 26, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Common Cause v. Rucho and Lamone v. Benisek, another set of cases that NCJW is watching this term. These cases from North Carolina and Maryland, respectively, concern partisan gerrymandering (the process of drawing political districts that favor one political party over another). The Court also heard a case regarding partisan gerrymandering last term but declined rule on the merits and instead ordered the case be sent back down to the lower courts to decide whether the voters challenging partisan gerrymandering had legal standing to do so. Decisions in these cases are expected sometime this year. The justices’ decisions on these two cases could impact how Congressional districts are drawn after the next decennial census in 2020. NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in these cases.

Supreme Court pivots on religious discrimination question

On March 28, the US Supreme Court blocked the execution of a Buddhist inmate on death row whose spiritual adviser was not permitted by prison officials to be present in the execution chamber. In his concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that “[t]he government may not discriminate against religion generally or against particular religious denominations,” referring to the fact that prison officials provided chaplains for inmates of other faiths. However, the Justices failed to explain why they reached a different result less than two months ago when the Court allowed Alabama to execute a Muslim inmate without the presence of his imam. In response to the rulings, the ACLU noted that the only real difference between the cases “is that Ray is a Muslim and Murphy is not. The Supreme Court’s divergent rulings once again suggest that Muslims are not treated equally.” NCJW opposes this blatant religious discrimination by our nation’s highest court.

Third census victory

On April 5, a federal judge in Maryland joined courts in California and New York when it blocked the administration’s plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Uniquely, the judge also found that Hispanics and non-citizens would be harmed by including the question. The US Supreme Court will hear an appeal of the New York case on April 23, which will likely include the California and Maryland cases. NCJW opposes adding a citizenship question to the census as it would suppress response rates in communities of color.

Remain in Mexico in legal limbo

In January, the Trump administration began implementing its Remain in Mexico policy, officially dubbed “Migrant Protection Protocols.” Under the plan, asylum seekers are forced to stay in Mexico for months or even years while their claims are processed. Last week, a district judge in San Francisco placed a temporary injunction on the policy, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the temporary halt while the injunction is appealed. NCJW opposes ‘Remain in Mexico,’ yet another cruel attempt to block asylum seekers from the US.

No right to family unity in detention

On April 16, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that migrants have no due process right to family unity. Practically speaking, detained immigrants do not have the right to be held in the same state as their children while in detention, or vice versa.

Voter Engagement

Senate companion to HR 1 introduced

On March 28, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced S 949, the companion bill to the For the People Act (HR 1) which passed the House of Representatives along party lines (234-193) on March 8. The bill would enact a series of voting reforms, including:

  • modernizing voter registration by implementing online voter registration, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration;
  • restoring voting rights to individuals currently or previously incarcerated;
  • establishing two weeks of early voting for federal elections;
  • making Election Day a federal holiday;
  • increasing funds for election security; and
  • requiring states to implement independent redistricting commissions.

The bill would also implement campaign finance reform measures and ethics guidelines. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he will not bring this critically important bill up in the Senate. NCJW supports this landmark reform legislation.

Civil Rights

House disapproves of trans military ban

On March 28, the House of Representatives passed (238-185) a resolution expressing disapproval of the ban on transgender military service members (H Res 124). The resolution is in response to the president’s transgender military ban, announced over Twitter in July 2017, which went into effect on April 12. NCJW opposes this disgraceful ban.

Gun Violence Prevention

Progress to curb gun violence

On March 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO). ERPO would help prevent a person in crisis from harming themselves or others by temporarily removing guns and prohibiting the purchase of firearms. The hearing reflected the growing need for extreme risk protection laws and received bipartisan support in the Senate.

Also on March 26 — 18 months after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history — the federal bump stock ban went into effect. The ban prohibits attachments that allow rifles to mimic automatic. NCJW submitted a comment in support of this ban.

Economic Justice

House passes landmark pay equity bill

On March 27, the House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act (HR 7) 242-187. This bill would deter wage discrimination by updating and strengthening the Equal Pay Act, bar retaliation against workers who disclose their own wages to co-workers, and prohibit employers from seeking a job applicant’s salary history so that pay discrimination will no longer follow women and people of color from job to job. The counterpart Senate bill, S 270, was introduced on January 30 by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). NCJW applauds the passage of HR 7 in the House, and encourages senators to pass this landmark bill.

Pay Data Collection

In March, a federal district court ruled that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) could move forward with pay data collection that includes a breakdown by race, ethnicity, and gender. This week, the government announced that data collection would begin September 30 of this year. The data will help identify and remedy pay equity issues. NCJW supports this important data collection.

Immigration & Refugees

Another blow to asylum seekers

On April 16, Attorney General William Barr issued an order that directs immigration judges to deny bond hearings to asylum seekers who cross the border in between official ports of entry, even after they have passed their credible fear interviews. These asylum seekers will now be subject to detention without bond for the duration of their asylum proceedings, which can take years. The rule will go into effect in 90 days, and will almost certainly trigger a request for additional funding from the Department of Homeland Security to construct temporary shelters, like tents, for holding asylum seekers. NCJW opposes expanding immigrant detention and indefinitely detaining asylum seekers.

Senate Introduces Dream and Secure Acts

On March 26, the Senate introduced two bills to protect immigrants, the Dream Act (S 874) and Secure Act (S 879). Together these bills would provide a pathway to citizenship for all Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and Liberian Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders. Their equivalent bill in the House is the Dream and Promise Act (HR 6), introduced earlier in the month. NCJW applauds the introduction of these bills in the Senate, and urges Congress to pass them as quickly as possible.

No Ban Act

On April 10, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced the No Ban Act (HR 2214/S 1123), with 31 Senate and 63 House original co-sponsors. The bill would overturn the Muslim Ban — upheld by the US Supreme Court in June 2018 — and prevent future presidents from issuing blanket bans without culpability. Specifically, the bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by outlawing discrimination in the entry of immigrants or non-immigrants based on religion. NCJW supports this landmark legislation.

DHS purge

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is undergoing a massive shake-up: DHS Secretary Kristjen Nielsen was pressured to resign, Undersecretary Claire Grady stepped down, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Ron Vitiello was asked to leave, and reports suggest head of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Francis Cissna will be next out the door. The purge is a result of Trump’s growing frustration with what he sees as a lack of movement on his immigration priorities, and is widely seen as being orchestrated by White House Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller. Currently, the Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan is acting as DHS Secretary. President Trump continues to push harmful anti-immigrant and anti-asylee policies, including a proposal to transport asylum seekers to sanctuary jurisdictions and a threat to close the US-Mexico border.

Gender-Based and Sexual Violence

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Passes House

On April 4, the House passed the reauthorization of VAWA (HR 1585) 263-158, which included provisions to close loopholes and gaps. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), maintains protections for all survivors, makes vital investments in sexual assault prevention, ensures sexual predators who prey on Native women can be held accountable, protects survivors of domestic violence from intimate partner homicide, and increases survivors’ access to safe housing and economic stability. NCJW applauds House passage of VAWA.

Sign On Letters

  • On March 15, NCJW and 23 other organizations sent a letter to members of Congress detailing the coalition’s vision of an American health system that anticipates and prioritizes women’s unique health needs and optimizes women’s health outcomes.
  • On March 22, NCJW joined 45 other human rights and civil society organizations on a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opposing the nomination of Robert Destro to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
  • On March 26, NCJW sent a Jewish organization letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee signed by 18 other groups opposing the renomination of Ronald Mortensen.
  • On March 28, NCJW submitted a comment to US Department of Agriculture opposing the proposed rule change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • On March 29, the International Rescue Committee sent a letter signed by 35 organizations including NCJW to Congress opposing a proposal by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to close its International Operations Division, which includes 23 field offices in 20 countries around the world.
  • On April 1, NCJW submitted a letter to the House Judiciary Committee for the record supporting the Equality Act.
  • On April 4, NCJW joined 32 organizations on a statement of principles regarding investments in our nation’s immigration system.
  • On April 4, NCJW and 25 others organizations sent a letter to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) supporting their reintroduction of the Access to Contraception for Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2019.
  • On April 8, more than 300 organizations including NCJW signed a Jewish letter supporting the Never Again (Holocaust) Education Act.
  • On April 8, NCJW joined 383 organizations on a letter in support the NO BAN Act, a bill to overturn and prevent future Muslim Bans.
  • On April 8, NCJW joined 25 other organizations on a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leadership strongly opposing unconstitutional and dangerous abortion bans, including S 160, the subject of the Committee’s April 9 hearing, as well as S 311 and other attacks on abortion that put individuals’ health and rights at risk.
  • On April 10, 18 Jewish organizations led by HIAS, including NCJW, joined a Jewish letter in support of the NO BAN Act, a bill to overturn and prevent future Muslim Bans.
  • On April 11, NCJW joined an interfaith letter led by Interfaith Alliance and signed by 23 orgs to Congressional leadership condemning the use of anti-Semitism and Nazi comparisons as a political tool.
  • On April 11, NCJW joined a letter organized by Demand Justice urging the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees to investigate now-Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.

Amicus Briefs

  • NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in Pennsylvania v. Trump, a case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals regarding religious exemptions to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.
  • NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in NY v. Commerce, a case before the US Supreme Court about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

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