Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: September 14, 2018

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Title X grants awarded; new rule expected in spring

New Title X grantees were recently announced, though the administration has issued a proposed rule to make it illegal for doctors, nurses, hospitals, community health centers, and any other provider in the federal Title X program to tell patients how they can safely and legally access abortion. However, the grant period has been significantly shortened to just seven months instead of the usual three year grant cycle, leaving advocates and providers to expect a new rule from the administration in the spring.Title X is our nation’s affordable birth control and reproductive health care program. NCJW sent in comments opposing the proposed domestic “gag” rule, as it would block access to health care for millions of low income individuals and remove the guarantee that patients get full and accurate information about their health care from their doctor.

Administration cuts navigator funding

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on September 13 the groups that will receive navigator funds in the 34 states where the federal government runs the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace.The administration has cut navigator funding by over 80% since 2016, leaving many consumers who buy insurance through HealthCare.gov on their own to complete the complex application and enrollment process to get affordable health coverage. This is yet another tactic by the administration to hamstring the ACA, even as new Census figures show that progress in reducing the uninsured rate stalled in 2017, likely due in part to the Administration’s efforts to undermine the ACA.

Get involved! Protect Our Care, of which NCJW is a member, is launching a nationwide bus tour this fall. Kicking off in Portland, Maine on September 24, the bus, “Care Force One,” will make 48 stops across 23 states. Find the bus tour schedule here, and sign up here to find a stop near you.

Federal Courts

What’s next for Kavanaugh?

After four days of Judge Kavanaugh’s hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, it became increasingly clear that Kavanaugh misled the Committee in previous hearings and holds views far outside the mainstream when it comes to executive power and more. See NCJW’s press statement here. Despite the continued lack of records and increasing number of groups and individuals speaking out against Judge Kavanaugh, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a markup for Thursday, September 13 to vote on the nomination. However, Democrats used a procedural move to delay the vote until September 20. Should Judge Kavanaugh be voted out of committee, a final confirmation vote in the Senate is expected the week of September 24. Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated throughout his career that he would favor the wealthy and powerful over protecting the civil and human rights of all individuals, especially women.

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#CourtsMatter to immigrants

On August 8, Judge Hanen of the Northern District of Texas held a hearing in a case opposing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, brought by Texas and six other states. Judge Hanen is the same judge who issued a nationwide injunction in 2015 halting an expanded DACA program, as well as a program for parents of DACA recipients. On August 31, the judge declined to block DACA in a big win for immigrant advocates and allies. The ruling not to block the program, in combination with decisions in three other suits successfully defending the program, means that current DACA recipients are protected from deportation and can apply for renewals. The case is likely to be appealed, and may ultimately end up in front of the Supreme Court during its 2018-2019 term.

#CourtsMatter to voting

On August 27, the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals decided that North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. However, on September 4, the same panel of judges decided November’s midterm elections would take place under the current district map to avoid confusing voters. North Carolina’s maps have been under litigation since they were finalized in 2011, and could wind up as a case before the Supreme Court during its 2018-2019 term.

#CourtsMatter to abortion rights

A federal appeals court on September 10 ruled that the state of Missouri could enforce laws that will curb access to abortions. The Eighth US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2017 ruling that blocked enforcement of the laws, which require doctors who perform abortions to be affiliated with hospitals and abortion clinics to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers. Similar laws in Texas were struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The ruling threatens to eliminate abortion access at all but one health center in the state. If appealed, the decision could make its way to the Supreme Court, giving the justices an opportunity to undermine Roe v. Wade.

#CourtsMatter to health care

On September 14, 7 health organizations filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia against the Trump administration’s short term, limited duration plan (aka “junk” plans) final rule issued last month, opposed by NCJW. They argue the rule will harm patients and their families as well as others in the health care system by undermining access to quality, affordable coverage; significantly disrupt insurance markets in states across the country; and allow abusive practices that harm consumers specifically prohibited by the Affordable Care Act.

Another chance for asylum

In August, Muslim Advocates filed suit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of a group of parents who failed their initial asylum interviews while they were separated from their children. The suit, Dora v. Sessions, argues that the parents were debilitatingly traumatized by the cruel separations and should not have been interviewed in those conditions. It was ultimately joined with two others representing more than one thousand parents. On September 12, a settlement between the plaintiffs and the administration was announced that would give parents another chance to apply for asylum. In the meantime, they will not be removed from the US. The settlement still needs to be approved by the courts.


Civic Engagement

Massive subpoena for voter records

Federal prosecutors ordered North Carolina to turn over millions of voter records to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). No reason has been given for the request, but it may have something to do with the now-disbanded “voter fraud” commission chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Civil rights advocates fear the request could depress voter turnout in the upcoming election, and many election officials in North Carolina have stated the do not have the resources to fulfill the demand.


Civil Rights

Congress passes bill to protect religiously affiliated institutions

In the past two weeks, the House and Senate passed the Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act (S 994/HR 1730), which makes it a federal crime to threaten damage to religious property. Under current law, damaging religious property is a crime but threatening religious property is not. The legislation was introduced in response to the series of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers in 2017 and rising hate crimes against Muslims.


Human Needs

Progress towards passing spending bills

On September 13, the House and Senate reached a deal to prevent a government shutdown by passing a large package of spending bills along with a continuing resolution (CR) that would fund the rest of the government through Dec. 7. All poison pill policy riders were dropped and not included in the final spending package or CR, and many areas of concern for NCJW received higher funding levels than in the previous year. By law, Congress must pass funding bills to cover 12 areas of spending each year, or pass a CR at current funding levels for the new fiscal year. Failure to do so by midnight on September 30 results in a government shutdown.

Funding for Trump’s border wall is part of the Department of Homeland Security bill, included in the CR. Also included in the CR is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expires on September 30, extended through December 7. This means opportunities for passing a new, more robust reauthorization bill with increased funding and expanded protections will wait until the lame duck Congress or the new 116th Congress in January. Earlier in the day, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) filed legislation to extend VAWA’s authorization for six months (HR 6796) to give lawmakers more time to negotiate. Both efforts were done behind closed doors without consulting Democrats and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence — of which NCJW is a steering committee member. NCJW supports Sheila Jackson Lee’s Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2018 (HR 6545).

Tax reform take two?

On September 13, the House Ways and Means Committee passed a tax overhaul package comprised of three bills HR 6756, HR 6757, and HR 6760, that would make permanent individual tax rate cuts from the Republicans’ first tax bill, among other things. The Tax Policy Center estimates the tax package could add $3.8 trillion to the federal deficit over a decade. The House is expected to take up the measure after this week’s recess despite opposition from some Republicans facing tough re-election. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated he won’t consider a second tax bill given his focus on judicial nominations. NCJW joined 776 national and state organizations to oppose this second set of tax cuts.


Immigration and Refugees

Family separation update

Every Friday, parties involved in Ms. L v. ICE, the family separation lawsuit, release a reunification report. As of September 6, 416 children were still separated from their parents (14 of whom are age 5 or under). Of this total, 304 kids have parents outside the US because they were deported. The deadline to reunite all children with their families was July 26.

Administration targets Flores settlement

On September 7, the Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security published a proposed rule that would alter the guidelines under which immigrant minors can be held in federal detention, known as the Flores settlement. Currently, children must be released as soon as possible, typically in fewer than 20 days. Further, they can only be held in state license child care facilities. The proposed regulations would allow the government to detain children indefinitely — with or without their families. Further, the federal government would be able to self-regulate facilities, making it easy to establish new detention centers. NCJW opposes this proposed rule.

Outside of the rulemaking process, the administration continues its attempt to overturn Flores in the courts. In July, a federal judge denied an administration request to alter the settlement. On September 6, the government appealed the case to the 9th Circuit.


Gender-Based and Sexual Violence

President Trump on September 4 signed the Power Act (S 717) into law, a bill offered by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) that expands a program in Alaska encouraging attorneys to offer free help to domestic violence survivors. The law requires chief judges across the country to hold events promoting “pro bono” legal services for survivors of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. Twice in the next four years, judges will hold these events in areas with high populations of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.


Sign On Letters

  • On August 30, NCJW joined 58 organizations on a comment organized by Mijente in response to a Department of Homeland Security proposal to create new databases and procedures to collect and store biometric and biographic information of any noncitizen applying for any immigration benefit and anyone, including any US citizen, who has a connection to the applicant.
  • On August 30, NCJW joined 20 organizations on a comment organized by the Leadership Conference in response to a Department of Education proposal to weaken protections for students defrauded by for-profit colleges.
  • On August 30, NCJW led a letter from the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, a coalition comprising national, state, tribal, territorial and local leadership organizations representing thousands of advocates and others working to end domestic violence and sexual assault, expressing our objection to the holding of a confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh when vital documents that bear on his fitness to serve on the Supreme Court have not yet been produced.
  • On September 4, nearly 60 organizations including NCJW joined a letter organized by Muslim Advocates to members of Congress asking them to reject the bigotry of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant groups ACT for America and Federation for American Immigration Reform.
  • On September 4, 42 organizations including NCJW signed a letter organized by the National Center for Transgender Equality to the Department of Labor urging them to maintain current equal employment requirements for federal contractors.
  • On September 5, NCJW joined a letter signed by 175 groups organized by the National Immigrant Justice Center urging Congress to defund immigrant detention.
  • On September 5, NCJW led a letter from the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, a coalition comprising national, state, tribal, territorial and local leadership organizations representing thousands of advocates and others working to end domestic violence and sexual assault, expressing our concerns about the impact of Kavanaugh’s nomination on the safety, health, rights, and well-being of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors as it relates to firearms, reproductive rights, health care, and privacy, as well as larger issues of judicial independence.
  • On September 10, 65 organizations including NCJW signed a letter organized by First Focus to members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee urging them to refrain from including harmful nutrition assistance provisions in the final bill.
  • On September 12, NCJW was one of 137 national organizations and 639 state groups to join a letter organized by Americans for Tax Fairness opposing additional tax cuts.
  • On September 12, NCJW and ADL organized a letter signed by 21 Jewish organizations to the Department of Labor urging them to rescind a directive authorizing taxpayer funded discrimination.
  • On September 12, 47 organizations including NCJW joined a letter organized by Public Citizen urging Congress to keep poison policy riders out of appropriations bills.

Amicus Briefs

NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in the Kentucky Supreme Court, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals, Inc., a case over a printer’s refusal to make t-shirts for Lexington’s gay pride festival.

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