House Judiciary Committee Votes on Bill to Establish Commission on Reparations for Slavery

Last week, legislators in the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill that would establish a commission to propose ideas on how to redress the effects of slavery in the U.S.

H.R. 40, sponsored by Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and named after the unfulfilled promise of “40 acres and a mule” for emancipated slaves, establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, which according to Congress.gov will “identify (1) the role of the federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African Americans and society.”

The commission would also consider a “national apology” for the harms caused by slavery.

The vote comes three decades after the bill was first introduced. Renewed interest in the bill has arisen during the current nationwide reckoning with systemic racism and the continued oppression of Black people in the U.S.

“We’re asking for people to understand the pain, the violence, the brutality, the chattel-ness of what we went through,” said Rep. Jackson Lee. “And of course, we’re asking for harmony, reconciliation, reason to come together as Americans.”

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for a vote, but faces opposition from Republicans and some Democrats. There is also doubt that the bill would pass the Senate where it would need 60 votes to move forward.

“Understanding that the compounding nature of racism has created a dynamic where Black people today must not only grapple with living in a country built on our sustained oppression, but also observe the modern manifestations in our daily lives,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY).

Reparations proponents are divided over what form reparations could take but assert that the need remains to address the racial wealth gap and the continued effects of systemic racism.

FDA Lifts Ban on Receiving Abortion Pill By Mail During Pandemic

On Tuesday, the Biden administration lifted the ban on receiving the pills required for medication abortion through the mail. The reprieve only applies for the duration of the pandemic but is still a major victory for abortion rights advocates.

In a letter sent Monday, acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said that the agency would stop enforcing the rule that requires patients to pick up the medication in person from a medical provider during the pandemic.

Citing four recent medical studies, Woodcock wrote that “these studies do not appear to show increases in serious safety concerns… occurring with medical abortion as a result of modifying the in-person dispensing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Professional medical organizations and reproductive health advocacy groups applauded the decision.

“Mifepristone itself has demonstrated, through both clinical study and decades of use, to be a safe, effective medication,” said Maureen Phipps, the president and chief executive of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Requiring the medicine to be dispensed in person, then taken elsewhere at the patients’ discretion, is arbitrary and does nothing to bolster the safety of an already-safe medicine.”

The new measure contradicts a recent Supreme Court ruling which appealed a federal judge’s decision that suspended the ban. The judge ruled on the basis that the requirement endangered the health of pregnant people seeking medication abortion by requiring them to pick up the drug in person. Monday’s rule change overrides the Supreme Court ruling since it comes from the FDA itself and not a lower court.

Shortly after the pandemic began many heavily regulated medications such as methadone were given the green light to be dispensed through the mail. Abortion rights advocates used this to highlight the disparity in how mifepristone was regulated under the Trump administration despite the public health crisis.

“By halting enforcement of the in-person dispensing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA is recognizing and responding to the available evidence – which has clearly and definitively demonstrated that the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone is unnecessary and restrictive,” said Phipps.

New Mexico Governor Signs Bill Requiring Paid Sick Leave

Last week, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law that will make New Mexico one of 15 states requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees, regardless of the size of the business.

The union-backed legislation guarantees that employees can accrue one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked—up to 64 hours of leave per year.

“This is, point blank, a humane policy for workers,” said Lujan Grisham in a statement. “No one should ever be compelled to come to work when they are sick. And no worker should ever feel they must choose between their health and their livelihood.”

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the bill will permit employees to use the paid leave for “illnesses, injuries, family medical appointments, and absences due to domestic abuse or sexual assault.”

Bellanira Lozano, a single mother from Sante Fe who is a domestic worker, said her family has been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

“This law means families like mine won’t have to decide between getting paid or going to work sick,” said Lozano.

The law is set to go into effect July 1, 2022.

Charges Dropped Against GA Representative Who Protested Anti-Voter Law

Yesterday, a district attorney in Atlanta announced that charges against Democratic Georgia state representative Park Cannon will be dropped. Rep. Cannon, a Black woman, was arrested on March 25th when she knocked on the door to Governor Brian Kemp’s office after he signed a new anti-voter bill into law and was speaking on live television.

As we previously reported, “In a seven-minute Facebook Live video filmed by activist Tamara Stevens, Cannon is seen knocking on the door to the room where the Governor was holding a news conference the bill, and then arrested by multiple officers who refused to state clearly why they were arresting her. A Georgia Department of Public Safety spokesperson reported that Cannon was arrested for “obstructing law enforcement and preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members.”

“After reviewing all of the evidence, I have decided to close this matter,” Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said in a statement. “It will not be presented to a grand jury for consideration of indictment, and it is now closed.”

“While some of Representative Cannon’s colleagues and the police officers involved may have found her behavior annoying, such sentiment does not justify a presentment to a grand jury of the allegations in the arrest warrants or any other felony charges,” she said.

Willis said she made her decision after an investigation in which statements were collected from multiple witnesses and the Capitol police.

 “We are appreciative of the decision of the district attorney after we provided witnesses to her and we plan to speak publicly very soon about our next steps,” said Cannon’s attorney Gerald Griggs.

“The Governor’s signing of this legislation behind closed doors illustrated the public’s disappointment with this bill or any other voter suppression measure. In our fight for all Georgians, we will continue to fight for equal access to the ballot by engaging in local elections and supporting our community partners. As the matters pertaining to Representative Cannon subside, we will continue to show her and our other members’ support as they work to end voter suppression,” the Georgia Democratic Caucus said in a statement.

The new anti-voter bill imposes restrictive measures that disproportionately impact Black, young, and disabled voters in the state of Georgia.

“Georgia’s election rules adds a new photo ID requirement to vote absentee by mail, gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials, prohibits people from giving water and snacks to people waiting in line, and makes some changes to early voting, among other things,” per the Associated Press.

Voting rights groups have already vowed to take legal action and are suing to prevent the law from being enacted.

Arkansas Legislature Overrides Veto on Trans Youth Health Care Bill

Yesterday, the Arkansas General Assembly voted to override Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto on the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, a bill that will prohibit transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming health care such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, among other services.

The bill is the first of its kind in the nation and has been publicly reviled by LGBTQ groups and professional medical organizations who argue that the bill will further marginalize a group that is already at risk for higher rates of self-harm and suicide.

“Despite opposition from even their own anti-LGBTQ governor, Arkansas legislators have denied transgender children access to medically-necessary and age-appropriate health care. This is the first law of its kind anywhere in the country, and it is immeasurably cruel to the transgender children who already suffer from higher risks of anxiety, depression, body dysphoria, and suicidal ideation and for whom those risks will only increase without medical care. This broadly unpopular bill is anti-science and dismisses the medical expertise of a wide range of child welfare advocates,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign in a statement.  

“Arkansas legislators, against the will of Governor Hutchinson, are not only inviting irreparable harm to their state’s transgender youth, but also economic and reputational consequences to all Arkansans. The Human Rights Campaign condemns this action by the Arkansas legislature and will use every tool at our disposal to fight against this law and for the rights all transgender youth and their families.”

Hutchinson, a Republican, vetoed the bill saying that it is “”a product of the cultural war in America,” and that it creates “new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.”

Pro-LGBTQ groups have vowed legal action to halt the enactment of the law this summer.

“The Arkansas Legislature has ignored dozens of local doctors and national medical experts, as well as trans youth and their parents. This bill will drive families, doctors and businesses out of the state and send a terrible and heartbreaking message to the transgender young people who are watching in fear,” Chase Stangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project said in a statement.

“Gender-affirming care is life-saving care and banning that care will have devastating and in some cases deadly consequences. Trans youth in Arkansas: We will continue to fight for you. The ACLU is preparing litigation as we speak. ACLU supporters from around the country spoke out against this bill. We will always have your back and will be relentless in our defense of your rights.”

#CrochetKamala: Textile Mural of VP Kamala Harris Debuts in D.C.

Dozens of women from across the country have come together for International Women’s Day to create a crocheted 20-foot by 40-foot mural of Vice President Kamala Harris, depicted the iconic “I’m speaking” moment during the vice presidential debate with former VP Mike Pence.

The piece was conceptualized by LA artist London Kaye for her Love Across the USA public art project. She was inspired by the jacket VP Harris wore at San Francisco Pride in 2019 and recruited 150 knitters across the country who were each assigned a 24-inch by 24-inch square to knit with materials they had at home.

“From there the pattern was created,” said Kaye. “Every participant was encouraged to use yarn from their stash at home. They kindly shared with me photos of yarn colors that matched the color patellate of sketch and I assigned pieces from there.”  

The piece is on display at The Wharf in Southwest D.C., outside the restaurant Officina on Maine Avenue, until Memorial Day when it will be moved to a permanent location.

The mural of Vice President Harris is the 7th from the Love Across the USA project. Previous pieces include famous trailblazers Sojourner Truth, Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, Nina Simone, Marion Anderson, Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman.

As Ms. Magazine reports: “Crocheters from as far as California and Louisiana came to participate in the installation.  Gutsy Media/Wake Up & Vote, a social impact content studio, having produced 500+ short digital films for the 2020 election, had  partnered with Kaye and filmmaker, Jonna McKone, to document the process. Collecting video diaries from participants across the country, they  joined the crochet team over two days of filming in D.C. as the group stitched the panels together and installed the mural.  The short digital film have been shared online by various national women’s organizations as a celebration of Women’s History Month.”

One of Vice President Harris’ priorities is enshrining the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. Take action now at http://erayes2021.org and share your ERA story, send a letter to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her leadership on the ERA, or access our social media toolkit to share your support for the ERA.

Arkansas Passes Bill Banning Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Youth

This week, Arkansas passed legislation that bans access to gender-affirming care for minors. The bill now goes to Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to be signed into law. If signed, Arkansas will become the first state to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth.

The bill, misleadingly called the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, would prohibit doctors from providing gender affirming health care such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and transition-related surgeries. It also prohibits public funds from being dispersed to organizations that provide or recommend gender-affirming care to anyone under the age of 18, bans state-owned facilities from providing care related to transitioning, and prohibits the state’s Medicaid program from reimbursing or covering gender-affirming care to those under 18. Any doctor caught in violation of the law would risk losing their license.

17 states have introduced similar legislation targeting transgender youth, some of which prevent them from receiving gender-affirming health care and several that prohibit transgender girls from playing girls and women’s sports.

“Medical decisions belong to trans youth, their parents, and their doctor – not the government,” said ACLU of Arkansas executive director Holly Dickson in a statement. “This bill flies in the face of common decency, basic human rights, and the advice of every major medical association – not to mention federal law. What could possibly be more cruel than trying to take away a child’s access to the care that could save their life?”

Major medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), have spoken out in support of the need for trans youth to have access to transition-related care, pointing out that trans minors without access to care are at a much higher risk of suicide.

“Variations in gender expression represent normal and expectable dimensions of human development. They are not considered to be pathological. Health promotion for all youth encourages open exploration of all identity issues, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression according to recognized practice guidelines. Research consistently demonstrates that gender diverse youth who are supported to live and/or explore the gender role that is consistent with their gender identity have better mental health outcomes than those who are not,” said AACAP in a statement.

“This bill is harmful in two ways,” Lee Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said. “One, it threatens the health and well-being of transgender youth, and two, it puts politicians rather than pediatricians in charge of a child’s medical care.”

If signed into law by Gov. Hutchinson, the bill will face legal challenges as the ACLU has already pledged to take it to the courts.

“By passing this cruel and discriminatory legislation, Arkansas legislators ignored the pleas of parents, doctors, and trans young people themselves. Make no mistake: denying trans people health care because of who they are is wrong and illegal, and we’ll be ready to take this fight to court if this bill becomes law,” said the ACLU of Arkansas’s Holly Dickinson.

Voting Rights Groups File Lawsuits Against Restrictive GA Voting Law

Voting rights groups have filed two lawsuits against the restrictive voting rights legislation signed into law by Georgia governor Brian Kemp last week.

The sweeping voter suppression bill SB 202 limits the use of drop boxes, limits voting days and times, ends no-excuse absentee voting and will enact stricter voter identification laws for absentee ballots. Only residents who are disabled, over 65, are in the military, have a religious holiday that falls on Election Day, or will be out of town during an election will be allowed to vote by mail. Those voting by mail will be required to submit a copy of a photo ID, and have their ballot signed by a witness in order for their vote to be counted. It also bans non-poll workers from distributing water and food to voters waiting in line. Many are calling the legislation “Jim Crow 2.0”

The groups filing suit against the bill, which include the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, and Rise Incorporated, allege that the law is unconstitutional and violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

According to the 35-page complaint the new law “clearly intended to and will have the effect of making it harder for lawful Georgia voters to participate in the State’s elections,” and that it will create “unjustifiable burdens” that will overwhelmingly impact communities of color, as well as young, poor, and disabled voters.

“None of the bill’s burdensome and discriminatory changes to Georgia’s election code will increase the public’s confidence in the state’s election administration or ensure election integrity,” said Marc Elias, the prominent election lawyer representing the plaintiffs. “Rather, the grab bag of voting restrictions that populate SB 202 make clear that the Bill was animated by an impermissible goal of restricting voting.”

The new law is part of a larger voter suppression strategy at the state level in response to Democrat victories in the 2020 elections and Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud. As of February, at least 253 bills that restrict voting access have been carried over, introduced, or filed in 43 states.

Dr. Rachel Levine Becomes First Transgender Person to Receive Senate Confirmation

On Wednesday, Dr. Rachel Levine made history as the first openly transgender person to receive a confirmation from the Senate. She was confirmed as the assistant health secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a vote of 52 to 48.

“As Vice President Harris has said, I recognize that I may be the first, but am heartened by the knowledge that I will not be the last,” she wrote in a statement. “When I assume this position, I will stand on the shoulders of those who came before — people we know throughout history and those whose names we will never know because they were forced to live and work in the shadows.”

Levine was appointed as Pennsylvania health secretary by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017 and has been at the forefront of Pennsylvania’s response to the pandemic. During her time serving at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Levine addressed the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, eating disorders, adolescent medicine, LGBTQ health, and fighting diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

She especially wants to use her position to focus on transgender youth.

“I know that each and every day you confront many difficult challenges,” Levine wrote. “Sadly, some of the challenges you face are from people who would seek to use your identity and circumstance as a weapon. It hurts. I know. I cannot promise you that these attacks will immediately cease, but I will do everything I can to support you and advocate for you.”

Levine faced a contentious hearing in the Senate in February, with a particularly tough exchange with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who likened gender confirmation surgery to “genital mutilation”.  Dr. Levine was praised for staying calm in the face of inflammatory questioning from Republicans.

“At a time when hateful politicians are weaponizing trans lives for their own perceived political gain, Dr. Levine’s confirmation lends focus to the contributions trans people make to our nation,” said former Houston mayor Annise Parker, who is the current president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute.

Nearly 200 Businesses Urge Congress To Enact Federal Paid Leave Program

In a letter sent to congressional leaders on Tuesday, nearly 200 businesses are calling for a permanent federal paid family and medical leave program to become part of any future economic recovery legislation passed by Congress.

“We cannot emerge from this pandemic and remain one of only two countries in the world with no form of national paid leave,” reads the letter. “We need a policy that is inclusive and that protects all workers equally, regardless of what kind of work they do, where they live, or whom they love. Congress must work with the administration to build a framework for a permanent paid family and medical leave policy, so we’re never unprepared for a crisis again.”

The businesses that signed onto the letter include Spotify, Etsy, Pintrest, Levi Strauss and Co., Patagonia, Eventbrite, Goop, and Thirdlove.

As mentioned in the letter, the U.S. is one of only two countries that doesn’t have a federal paid family and medical leave program. Around 25% of U.S. workers do not have access to paid leave, with a larger percentage amongst low wage workers, most of whom are women and people of color.

“Paid leave is also a key element of addressing racial, class, and gender inequalities in the United States. With an equal paid leave policy in place, we can help stem the historic tide of women leaving the workforce and ensure that low-wage earners and people of color have the time they need to care for themselves and their families,” the letter states.

Polls show that a majority of those in the U.S. support a paid family leave program. Last month, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMILY) Act, which would create a permanent federal paid family leave program.

Heidi Zak, co-founder of the lingerie startup Thirdlove, says that as a business with a predominately female workforce and customer base, paid family leave is an important issue to her that has become even more urgent during the pandemic.

“An investment in this is an investment in women and the future of our economy,” said Zak. “Having some baseline for benefits in the U.S. is really important.”

Biden Administration to Amend Trump Federal Family Planning Program Rules

The Biden administration has announced that it will rewrite the rules for the Title X federal family planning program put in place by Donald Trump, which forced Planned Parenthood and other independent clinics who provide abortion and reproductive health care to withdraw from the program in 2019.

 Trump’s changes to the program, which provides reproductive health services to millions of low-income patients, disproportionately people of color, forced providers out after revoking eligibility for those who counsel on or provide abortion care. These changes left some states without a Title X provider.

“Planned Parenthood applauds the Biden-Harris administration for announcing its intent to end the Title X gag rule and take an important step toward restoring access to essential sexual and reproductive health care. This swift action from the administration is much needed. In under two years, the gag rule has decimated access to affordable reproductive health care, like birth control, STI testing, and cancer screenings,” said Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy for Planned Parenthood.

“It has severely decreased the program’s health care provider network, put more financial restraints on patients, and actively harmed people of color and people with low incomes across the country — all during a pandemic. We stand ready to work with the administration to swiftly end this discriminatory policy and to create a pathway to program reentry for health care providers who were forced out by the gag rule, so they can once again meet patients’ needs,” she said.

The announcement comes shortly after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the rules brought forth by the American Medical Association, Planned Parenthood, and others. The Biden administration says the new rules will be “substantively similar” to how the program was run prior to the Trump administration’s rule change.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has pledged to publish the new rules no later than April 15, with a final rule in place by the fall, which will give clinics that were forced out of the program time to reapply.

House Votes to Remove Arbitrary Timeline on the ERA and Reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act

Today, the House of Representatives voted 222-204 to remove the arbitrary timeline on the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

“Today the United States House of Representatives voted that there is no time limit on equality,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Now it’s up to the Senate to agree and clear the path for the ERA to be in the Constitution so that equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.”

Next, the Senate will vote on companion legislation introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and if passed, the ERA will be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution as the 28th amendment.

The House also voted 244-172 today to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which requires reauthorization every five years.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a landmark federal legislation passed in 1994 that forms our nation’s foundation to respond to and prevent gender-based violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and stalking, and authorizes funding to prevent such violence and to assist survivors.

The law criminalizes such violence at the federal level and also provides resources for community-coordinated responses that work to end violence and support survivors.

VAWA was introduced for reauthorization in the spring of 2019, and was passed by the House of Representatives, but was not brought to the Senate floor for a vote by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell during the last session of Congress.

The House bill closes the “boyfriend” loophole, which bans gun ownership for abusive intimate partners.  The current jurisdiction of VAWA does not include intimate partners who do not live together, which the House bill would change. The National Rifle Association (NRA) objects to closing the loophole.

The House bill also covers key protections for LGBTQ+ survivors and important provisions concerning murdered and missing Indigenous women that would stop non-Native defendants from moving their prosecution from tribal courts to state courts.

The legislation moves to the Senate next for a vote.

Deb Haaland Confirmed Becoming First Indigenous Secretary of the Interior

This week, in a 51-40 vote, the Senate confirmed Rep. Deb Haaland as the first Native American secretary of the interior, putting her at the helm of a federal agency that oversees natural resources, public land, and tribal affairs.

“It is long past time that an American Indian serve as the secretary of the Interior,” president of the National Congress of American Indians Fawn Sharp said.

“The nation needs her leadership and vision to help lead our response to climate change, to steward our lands and cultural resources and to ensure that across the federal government, the United States lives up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our citizens,″ she added.

Haaland formerly served as a representative from New Mexico in the U.S. House, previously making history as one of the first two Native American women elected to the House in 2018.

“Rep. Haaland’s confirmation represents a gigantic step forward in creating a government that represents the full richness and diversity of this country,″ said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Native Americans for far too long have been neglected at the Cabinet level and in so many other places.”

Haaland’s confirmation represents a new era for the Interior Department, which has been a force to oppress Indigenous tribes and people in the past.

Per the Associated Press, “Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, called Haaland’s confirmation “an unprecedented and monumental day for all first people of this country. Words cannot express how overjoyed and proud we are to see one of our own confirmed to serve in this high-level position.″

Her confirmation “sets us on a better path to righting the wrongs of the past with the federal government and inspires hope in our people, especially our young people,″ he stated.

Arkansas Governor Signs Near-Total Abortion Ban into Law

This week Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law a near-total ban on all abortions in Arkansas, with the only exception being if the life of the pregnant person is in danger.

“This is politics at its very worst,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a statement. “At a time when people need economic relief and basic safety precautions, dismantling abortion access is cruel, dangerous, and blatantly unjust.”

The law won’t take effect until the Arkansas Legislature adjourns its session, meaning it won’t be enacted until this summer. Pro-choice advocates plan to challenge the ban in court before then.

The ACLU has called the ban “cruel and unconstitutional”. 

“Governor Hutchinson: we’ll see you in court,” said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson.

Governor Hutchinson expressed some reservations about the bill due to the lack of exceptions for abortion in cases of rape or incest and its direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, but acquiesced due to “overwhelming legislative support and my sincere and long-held pro-life convictions.”

Arkansas is one of 14 states that have introduced such legislation since the beginning of this year. Anti-abortion proponents hope the legislation will force the Supreme Court to revisit the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and overturn it.

“(The ban) is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law,” said Hutchinson in a statement. “I would have preferred the legislation to include the exceptions for rape and incest, which has been my consistent view, and such exceptions would increase the chances for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The Feminist Majority Foundation Celebrates the Passage of the American Rescue Plan

Today, the U.S. House passed the Senate version of the American Rescue Plan Act, which will provide economic relief to millions of Americans suffering from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is a statement of Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation:

“The passage of the American Rescue Plan today is a victory for women, especially women of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and low-income and middle-class families. It is the most progressive act passed since Medicare and Social Security, slashing childhood poverty in half by giving money directly to the families that need it most. It recognizes the importance of women in the labor force, many of whom are essential workers, by providing $50 billion in assistance to stabilize childcare providers. It gives childcare providers the opportunity to apply for paycheck protection programs.  We strongly encourage Congress to make the child tax credit permanent.

It also provides $130 billion for K-12 schools so that they can reopen safely for students, teachers, and administrators. It provides nearly $40 billion to colleges and universities, 50% of which must be used for emergency financial aid to college students. Furthermore, any student loans forgiven are not counted as taxable income.

It provides $25 billion in rental and housing assistance to millions of people and it provides $5 billion in emergency vouchers for the unhoused, survivors of domestic violence, and victims of human trafficking. These are just a few of the measures especially impacting working class women, particularly women of color who have been the most adversely affected by the pandemic.  

The Feminist Majority Foundation commends the Biden administration, the House, the Senate, and all the courageous lawmakers who fought to pass this legislation and we are hopeful that this bill will act as a foundation to build upon in the months and years ahead.”

Georgia Senate Passes Bill to Restrict Voting Access

The Republican-controlled Georgia state Senate voted Monday to pass sweeping legislation that would restrict access to voting for thousands of Georgia residents.

The bill, which passed 29-20, will end no-excuse absentee voting and will enact stricter voter identification laws for absentee ballots. Only residents who are disabled, over 65, are in the military, have a religious holiday that falls on Election Day, or will be out of town during an election will be allowed to vote by mail. Those voting by mail will be required to submit a copy of a photo ID, and have their ballot signed by a witness in order for their vote to be counted.

According to the Huffington Post, around 1.3 million Georgia residents voted by mail in 2020, most of whom voted Democratic and help to flip the state from red to blue for the first time since 1992. Absentee votes also helped to secure two more Democratic seats in the U.S. Senate when Georgia Senators Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both won their races in the Georgia runoff elections.

According to data from the Brennan Center for Justice, these new restrictions will disproportionately harm Black voters.

“Although white voters still made up a majority of mail voters, their share of the vote-by-mail electorate dropped from 67 percent in 2016 to 54 percent in 2020; the Black share, meanwhile, surged from 23 percent to 31 percent. As the figure below shows, nearly 30 percent of Black voters cast their ballot by mail in 2020, but just 24 percent of white voters did so,” states a recent report.

The bill joins recent legislation introduced by the Georgia House that would also work to restrict voting access by enacting stringent voter ID laws, strip power from the secretary of state’s office, and enforce new early voting hours which would limit voting times in larger, more Democratic counties.

“Georgia has spent the majority of its history systematically erecting barriers designed to dilute the power of Black voters ― all to minimize their political voices on the issues that matter most to them,” Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund told HuffPost. “Decades of hard work by voting rights advocates across the state led to record turnout in 2020 despite the pandemic.”

These bills are part of a larger nationwide Republican voter suppression strategy. As of February 19, at least 253 bills that restrict voting access have been carried over, introduced, or filed in 43 states.

This International Women’s Day Stand with the Women and Girls of Afghanistan

On this International Women’s Day, The Feminist Majority Foundation honors Afghan women and girls in their struggle for human rights and equality. Despite the unprecedented threats and increasing assassinations of Afghan women leaders of all ages, Afghan women with much strength and courage, have continued to fight for their human rights and a future in which they are treated equally. 

During the so-called Afghan government-Taliban peace talks one of the issues up for negotiation are the human rights of Afghan women and whether or not the constitution of Afghanistan be amended, and the guarantee of equal rights for women be removed. Afghan women leaders and workers have been threatened, many forced to leave their jobs for their own security, and some have been killed in targeted terrorist attacks over the past year while the peace talks are ongoing. 

“This is unacceptable. The human rights of women should never be up for negotiation and must not be jeopardized in the current talks. We applaud both Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Advisor Dan Sullivan on their recent comments emphasizing the importance of human rights and especially women’s rights in the peace talks. Women’s rights, peace, and security are not in conflict. Rather, women’s rights and participation in the peace process substantially enhances the probability of success,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. 

“From my many conversations with the Afghan women leaders and women’s groups, it has been clear that they want to preserve their democracy, their republic and the constitution that guarantees Afghan women equal rights. We commend the courage of everyday Afghan women and girls going to work and school and taking risks in the pursuit of equality,” continued Smeal. 

Afghan women leaders have been fighting for their basic human rights for decades. In spite of the challenges, they continue to persevere in their quest for equal human rights. Their leadership serves as a model for women around the world. 

The US House Passes Landmark Voting Rights Bill

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping voting rights act designed to combat nationwide state level voting restrictions proposed by Republican lawmakers in the wake of the 2020 election.

The For the People Act, more commonly known as H.R. 1, would expand voting rights, overhaul campaign finance rules, and reform redistricting laws.

Republicans have introduced measures in numerous states to restrict voting access, including narrowing the eligibility to vote by mail, banning ballot boxes, and in Georgia ending early voting on Sundays. The latter move is an attack on Black communities in Georgia who routinely vote on Sundays after church services and are largely responsible for flipping the state from red to blue and electing two senators that cemented the narrow Democratic majority.

“Everything is at stake. We must win this race, this fight,”said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “At the same time as we are gathering here to honor our democracy, across the country over 200 bills are being put together, provisions are being put forward to suppress the vote.”

According to a report from the New York Times, “It aims to impose new national requirements weakening restrictive state voter ID laws, mandate automatic voter registration, expand early and mail-in voting, make it harder to purge voter rolls and restore voting rights to former felons — changes that studies suggest would increase voter participation, especially by racial minorities.”

The bill also takes aim at the contentious Supreme Court Citizen’s United ruling, requiring super PACs and “dark money” groups to publicly disclose their donors and establishing a public fund to match small dollar donations.

The act also attempts to eradicate gerrymandering on both sides of the aisle, requiring states to use an independent commission made up of Democrats, Republicans, and independents and would require bipartisan approval of the redrawing of districts. It would require a public comment period and give citizens legal grounds to challenge badly drawn districts.

“Regardless of whether it’s a red state or a blue state, we are seeing significant manipulation in the legislative redrawing of districts,” CEO of the nonpartisan Voter Participation Center Tom Lopach said. “H.R. 1 presents an opportunity for everyone to get onboard with independent, unbiased and balanced redistricting that frankly is good government.”

The bill would also outlaw the rule that allows members of Congress to use taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits and would legally require presidential candidates to release their tax returns.

The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, as it requires 60 votes to pass. So far, no Republican legislators have come forward in support of the bill.

Idaho House Passes Legislation to Defund Abortion Providers

On Tuesday, the Idaho House passed a bill that would prevent any public funding from going to health care practitioners who perform or provide counsel on abortion care.

The bill, HB 525, “would bar all public funding to any entity — including schools, public health departments and other health care providers — if anyone associated with the entity provides an abortion, assists someone in getting an abortion, or even counsels a patient that abortion is an option they could seek out,” per the Associated Press.

It makes exceptions for hospitals, threats to the pregnant person’s life, and when Medicaid is involved since it is a federal program. The Hyde Amendment already prevents federal funding from being used for abortion services, but this legislature would prevent any public funds from being dispersed to providers who even discuss abortion with their patients, potentially robbing them of the money needed to provide cancer screenings, contraception, and other kinds of health care.

Democratic Rep. Chris Mathias opposed the legislation on the grounds that it could rob thousands of Idaho residents of health care services.

“Idaho is a state with healthcare shortages,” said Mathias. “We don’t have enough primary care physicians. We don’t have enough nurses. We don’t have enough hospitals in the right places. We don’t have enough beds. We don’t have enough people with health insurance or enough health insurance to get them the adequate care that they need.”

According to the Idaho Statesman, “Of Idaho’s 44 counties, only three — Ada and Twin Falls and Valley — have abortion providers. Planned Parenthood operates clinics in Boise, Meridian and Twin Falls, and a private doctor provides them in Boise and McCall.”

“Currently, Planned Parenthood does not take any state money. There are reimbursements from Medicaid that go to services such as cancer screenings, gynecological exams and other health services,” Rep. Melissa Wintrow said, arguing that there are already measures in place to prevent public funds being used for abortion care.

The bill is set to go to the state Senate next for a vote.

Former Staffers Accuse NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo of Sexual Harassment

Two former staffers of Gov. Andrew Cuomo have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuses of power during their time working with the governor.

“Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected. His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right. He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences,” wrote former staffer Lindsey Boylan in a Medium post last week.

Boylan alleges that she was told by her boss that Gov. Cuomo had a “crush” on her. Soon after she experienced unwanted attention, inappropriate comments, and touching from the governor, including one incident where he kissed her on the lips without consent. Boylan resigned in September of 2018.

“I am speaking up because I have the privilege to do so when many others do not,” Boylan wrote. “No one should have to be defined or destroyed by this kind of sexual harassment. Nor should they be revictimized if they decide to speak their own truth.”

Former aide Charlotte Bennett allegedly experienced similar behavior during her time with the Cuomo administration. According to the New York Times, “she said the governor had asked her numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s — comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”

Gov. Cuomo released a statement denying the allegations and stating that, “I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”

Gov. Cuomo has agreed that an investigation into the harassment charges should take place, but received backlash from both Democrats and Republicans in the state government who say the governor should not be able to choose who investigates the claims.

Nancy Pelosi released a statement calling the allegations “credible” and joined the calls for an independent investigation saying, “The women who have come forward with serious and credible charges against Gov. Cuomo deserve to be heard and to be treated with dignity. The independent investigation must have due process and respect for everyone involved.”

Pelosi joins a growing number of lawmakers calling for an investigation into the governor’s behavior.

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