Washington Review, March 5, 2021
This week, the House passed legislation to reform our elections for the people, and to enact sweeping reforms to policing. I chaired a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere hearing focused on the challenged for the Biden administration regarding Venezuela. I also signed onto legislation to increase background checks for firearms, increase screening for colorectal cancer, ensure veterans who worked with atomic radiation are fairly compensated, protect LGBTQ+ youth, and to increase standards for pregnant women being detained. I also signed onto letters to increase food assistance programs and to oppose the discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals in our public services.
On Wednesday, the House passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD). This groundbreaking legislation creates a variety of reforms to empower American voters and protect the integrity of our election systems. Specifically, this legislation enacts reforms to end the influence of mega-donors in our elections. It also takes important steps in combatting voter suppression by including provisions to increase ballot access, expand automatic voter registration, enforce ethics rules, and require the disclosure of large opaque political donations known as ‘dark money’. Additionally, this legislation includes provisions to increase election security to protect our elections from foreign interference. I voted in favor of H.R. 1, which passed the House by a vote of 220-210.
The House also passed H.R. 1280, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA). This legislation takes numerous steps to reform policing practices in our communities to ensure the safety of individuals when interacting with police. It would provide resources to train police departments across the country to end the practice of racial and religious profiling, and also bans the use of no-knock warrants and chokeholds. Additionally, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act requires all federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to wear body cameras and improves transparency by creating a National Police Misconduct Registry. I voted in favor of H.R. 1280, which passed the House by a vote of 220-212, and now awaits further action from the senate.
On Wednesday, I chaired a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere hearing focused on the humanitarian, diplomatic, and national security challenges facing the Biden administration in Venezuela. Unfortunately, over 90% of Venezuelans live in poverty and over 5 million people have migrated out of the country underlining the urgency in finding a suitable and democratic solution to the crisis in Venezuela. The Subcommittee was joined by four qualified witnesses, Mr. Feliciano Reyna, Founder and Executive President of Acción Solidaria; Dr. Cynthis Arnson, Director of the Wilson Center Latin America Program; Mr. Brian Fonseca, Director of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University; and Dr. Ryan Berg, Research Fellow in Latin America Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. I spoke of the importance of working with our allies to bring about democratic changes and solutions to Venezuela and being aggressive against those actors who are sewing discord in the country, and thanked Colombia for their role in granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelan refugees arriving in the country.
Our country has waited far too long for much-needed comprehensive gun control reform laws. This week, I cosponsored H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), and H.R. 1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, introduced by Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC). H.R. 8 is common sense legislation that would require all individuals to undergo a background check prior to purchasing a firearm. The Enhanced Background Checks Act would close the “Charleston loophole” which allows individuals to purchase a firearm prior to the completion of their background check. Additionally, this legislation would extend the amount of time allowed for completion of background checks from three days to 10 days, ensuring the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has adequate time to thoroughly process each background check.
I cosponsored the Donald Payne Sr. Colorectal Cancer Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ). This legislation would require Medicare to cover Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved blood-based colorectal cancer screening tests. This important step would help to break down health barriers by ensuring all who need a screening test are able to get one. We must be doing all we can to empower the individuals in our communities to take charge of their health.
I also cosponsored the Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). This legislation would take the important step of authorizing veterans who worked at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands to be treated as ‘radiation exposed veterans’. The Enewetak Atoll was the site of 43 separate nuclear tests and many of the veterans who did service there are now battling significant health challenges. This change in authorization would allow veterans who were at Enewetak Atoll to receive proper medical care compensated through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The brave men and women who made sacrifices for their country at Enewetak Atoll deserve the benefits and medical care they are rightly entitled to.
Following the recent House passage of the Equality Act, we must continue pushing for fair treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals in all facets of society. To that end, I cosponsored the Protecting LGBTQ Youth Act, introduced by Rep. David Scott (D-GA). This legislation would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to Direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to carry out an interdisciplinary research program to protect LGBTQ youth from child abuse and neglect and to improve the well-being of victims of child abuse or neglect. Additionally, this legislation would Open grant funding opportunities for the training of personnel in best practices to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ youth.
I also cosponsored the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act, introduced by Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX). This bill would reinstate the presumption of release of pregnant women and youth by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with exceptions only when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary makes an individualized determination that credible, reasonable grounds exist to believe that the person presents an immediate and serious threat of hurting herself or others. Additionally, this legislation It would also prohibit the shackling of pregnant women in custody at any time during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum recovery.
I joined colleagues in a letter led by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) addressed to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack. The letter requests that USDA formally increase the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food package. During this COVID-19 public health emergency, many families have come into hardship and food security has lowered drastically in many communities. It is incumbent upon us to provide resources to those in need to ensure no family or child goes hungry during these tough times.
I also signed onto a letter led by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and the Equality Caucus addressed to Acting Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Norris Cochran. The letter urges the Biden Administration to halt a rule which would allow for the discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals in a range of public services such as foster-parenting, homelessness prevention, and HIV prevention. These discriminatory rules serve no place in our public services.
Current Washington D.C. Office Status
My Washington D.C. staff continue to take meetings virtually during this time. Please know we continue to monitor our phone system, so while we are unable to speak directly with you, we respond to voice messages left. If you reached out to us through phone or e-mail, please expect an e-mail response. Be sure to check your spam or junk folders for a response from our office. We appreciate your understanding as we all navigate working through the pandemic.
Open Enrollment has been extended through May 15th. This year, instead of using the federal marketplace, New Jersey will switch to their own state-run marketplace. In order to browse health care plans you can visit: www.nj.gov/getcoverednj. Here you will be able to compare available plans, review financial assistance options, and select a plan that is best for you. This new marketplace is easy to use and helps to clearly identify plans that will be most beneficial to you. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial we leave no one behind and that everyone has access to affordable health care. If you need health care, be sure to visit the site. Open enrollment is open from November 1, 2020 to May 15, 2021.
With cases of COVID-19 continuing to rise across the country, and in New Jersey, it is imperative we remain vigilant and safe. Please continue to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing when possible. As always, please exercise caution if meeting with loved ones, and take necessary measures to ensure the safety of yourself, your family, and our community. Working together, we can help slow the spread of this virus. Please know that I will continue working to get the 8th District the resources it needs. If you have questions or need assistance please call my Washington, D.C. office at (202)225-7919 and follow instructions to be connected to my staff or send an email to NJ8inquiries@mail.house.gov. Together we can get through this.