S.2236 – Congressional Harassment Reform Act
Sponsor: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Co-Sponsors: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Cornyn (R-TX), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
Synopsis: This bill would overhaul the way Congress responds to sexual harassment claims by workers on Capitol Hill. Measures included in the bill include:
- Requirement for discrimination and harassment awareness and prevention training for members, officers, employees, interns, fellows, and detailees of Congress within 30 days of employment and annually thereafter;
- A biennual, anonymous climate survey of Congress to determine whether training efforts and reporting/enforcement measures are working, to be followed by a full report of findings;
- Amendment of the enforcement process under the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights for covered discrimination and harassment complaints;
- Options for remote work, resignation, counseling, and mediation in cases of reported discrimination or harassment;
- No congressional funds may be used to settle cases of discrimination or harassment—lawmakers would pay settlements out of pocket;
- Rename Office of Compliance to Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to oversee training, enforce law, and give workers more control in complaint process.
Action: On 12/14/2017, read twice and referred to Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Sponsor Comments: “Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We should treat every person who works here with respect and dignity, and that means creating a climate where there is accountability, fairness, respect, and access to justice if sexual harassment takes place.”
“Congress is not above the laws, and secret settlements with taxpayer money to cover up harassment should no longer be tolerated,” Mr. Cruz said. “This legislation seeks to empower victims of harassment to report those crimes and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”
According to The Nevada Independent, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto issued a statement Friday calling sexual harassment “unacceptable,” and said that the stories of rampant harassment in various fields from media to politics left her “frustrated, disappointed, and disgusted.”
“I support a full, fair and expedient investigation against Congressman Kihuen and any other Member of Congress who have women or men come forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior,” Cortez Masto said. “This process must be open, transparent and have an appropriate investigatory timeline that delivers justice.”
Cortez Masto urged her colleagues to “end the culture of secrecy in Congress around sexual misconduct.”
Jessica’s Take: If you’re like me, the “Me Too” revelations that one beloved public figure after another has perpetrated some sort of sexual harassment is exhausting. “Not him too!” you cry. “But I really liked him!” Unfortunately, we’re now experiencing the growing pains of evolving as a society to where women and men can coexist in a respectful way, and that no matter how much money or power you have, it’s never okay to put someone in that kind of a position. And you should have to pay the consequences for it yourself. Hollywood seems to have caught onto this, but Congress is woefully behind the times. According to The Washington Times, the Office of Compliance has paid out $17.2 million to settle 264 sexual harassment claims and other workplace violations over the last 20 years. In other words, the people we’ve entrusted to make the laws that keep people safe have had an entity paying for their own transgressions, all with taxpayer dollars. The bipartisan group of 25 senators proposing S.2236 is working to end this pattern and establish a zero-tolerance policy—and they should, if they want to avoid accusations of hypocrisy as well.
S.2183 – CHIP Stability Act
Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)
Synopsis: This bill amends title XXI (Children’s Health Insurance Program [CHIP]) of the Social Security Act to establish a special rule, with respect to the first quarter of FY2018, for the redistribution of unused CHIP allotments to state child health plans experiencing emergency shortfalls. Specifically, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) must redistribute unused allotments to each such state in an amount equal to the state’s emergency shortfall before the CMS may redistribute the allotments to any state that is experiencing a nonemergency shortfall.
Action: On 12/1/2017, read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance. Signed into law on 12/8/2017.
Sponsor Comments: “Children’s care should not be held hostage by political disputes, and that’s why I’m pushing Congress to take immediate action and pass my proposal that ensures there is no gap in funding for CHIP,” Heller said. “In states like Nevada, CHIP is a lifeline for thousands of vulnerable children and families. Inaction is not an option. My proposal allows the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to suspend their statutory formula and use all available redistribution funds based on each state’s need so that states are fully funded through the end of December. I look forward to working with my colleagues to approve this bill quickly so families will have the certainty they need.”
Jessica’s Take: This band-aid measure ensured no gap in funding for CHIP, which lapsed on Sept. 30 when Congress’ attempt to repeal the ACA failed and the program’s new funding was left as yet undetermined. S.2183 keeps CHIP funded through the year’s end by reallocating unused funds to states experiencing emergency shortfalls. Now that the gap is addressed, hopefully Congress can address new legislation that reauthorizes CHIP and finds a long-term solution. Heller has given this effort a push by cosponsoring the Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure (KIDS) Act, a bipartisan measure that would ensure vulnerable children have health care stability by extending CHIP funding for five years.
H.R.4639 – Military Domestic Violence Reporting Enhancement Act
Sponsor: Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)
Co-sponsor: Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS)
Synopsis: Bill would close a loophole that exists under the current Uniform Code of Military Justice, which now says that a domestic violence conviction is categorized as assault because an article for domestic violence does not exist. Under federal law, an individual convicted of domestic violence cannot legally purchase a firearm, while some convicted of assault are still able to. The Military Domestic Violence Reporting Enhancement Act would make domestic violence an independent crime under the UCMJ and would mandate that convictions of domestic violence at Court Martial must be reported, as is the case under federal law.
Action: On 12/13/2017, bill was introduced in House, referred to the Committee on Armed Services and Committee on the Judiciary, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker.
Sponsor Comments: “Congress has a responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them and take meaningful action to prevent the senseless gun violence that has claimed so many innocent lives,” said Congresswoman Rosen. “This bill will help close the dangerous loophole in the Uniform Code of Military Justice that allowed a gunman in Sutherland Springs to slip through criminal background databases, purchase assault rifles, and kill 26 innocent people at a church. I am proud to work across the aisle on this commonsense legislation and will continue to push for solutions that prevent dangerous weapons from getting into the wrong hands.”
Jessica’s Take: Though this legislation is bipartisan—a useful distinction in today’s political climate revolving around gun discussions—it’s a fact that gun legislation rarely goes anywhere these days. Unfortunately, it’s a touchy subject that most legislators seem to prefer ignoring in the hopes it’ll go away. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that though a flurry of gun bills were filed after the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs shootings, only two were taken up in the House, one of which would allow concealed weapons to be carried in states without those laws. This is a gun-favoring Congress, one that hesitates to tamper with government or military reporting to the FBI database, so, frankly, the chances are slim this bill will pass with our current set of legislators at the helm.
H.R.4208 – Wildland Fires Act of 2017
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA)
Synopsis: • Directs the Forest Service and the Interior Department to provide up to $100 million to at-risk communities to plan and prepare for wildfires;
- Establishes a pilot program directing the Forest Service and Interior Department to treat their top 1 percent most-at-risk, least-controversial lands over the next decade (installing fuel breaks in the wildland-urban interface and, outside of there, conduct prescribed fires); and
- Authorizes longer-term contracts to provide stability to companies involved in restoration projects on Federal land, and gives a preference for companies that will use forest products to create mass timber, e.g., cross-laminated timber;
- Authorizes the Federal agencies to re-purpose unused wildfire suppression funds to conduct preparedness projects.
Action: Introduced in House on 11/1/2017 and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Committee on Agriculture, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker. On 11/9, 2017, referred to Subcommittee on Federal Lands, and on 11/16/2017, referred to Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.
Sponsor Comments: “The Wildland Fires Act we’ve introduced … proposes common sense, bipartisan measures to help prevent future, widespread wildfires,” Thompson said in a statement. “This legislation would do that by directing federal agencies to identify communities at high risk of wildfires, and provide them with the fire preparation and prevention assistance they need. Giving these communities the resources they need to prepare for and prevent wildfires is a no-brainer and will help save money, property, and lives in the long run.”
“I look forward to working with my neighbor from the west side of the Sierras to educate my colleagues from flood, tornado, tropical storm, and hurricane regions about the effects of wildfire in the West and elsewhere in our nation,” said Rep. Amodei.
Jessica’s Take: In the wake of the North Bay fires of October 2017, Thompson and Amodei introduced this bill to take a more active role in mitigating the threats of fires on the scale we’ve seen this year. According to a report in The Ely Times, the average number of acres burned each year in the past decade has surpassed $6 million, compared to the $3 million per year in the 1970s. The North Bay fires are estimated to have caused economic losses of $85 billion. Rather than deal with forest-thinning measures, which have historically been blocked by Democrats for fear of excessive or indiscriminate thinning, this bipartisan measure deals with the communities themselves, identifying those most at risk and providing financial resources to assist those communities’ firefighting agencies in preparing for and preventing fires in those areas. It’s a measure that appears to stand a good chance of passage, in part due to its provision for reuse of thinned forest materials for commercial use—one that’s sure to please environmental champions.