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Washington Review, October 19, 2020

Oct 19, 2020
Washington Review

Last week, I signed onto legislation to crack down on wildlife markets, which are harmful to animals and can contribute to the outbreak of pandemics. I also signed onto legislation to increase the standard of care at nursing homes, help communities transition to clean power grids, and protect press freedom. I also led a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging them to issue an emergency rule on face masks for air travel. I joined colleagues in signing onto letters to denounce the persecution of the Uyghurs in China, outlining and calling for concrete steps for a pandemic prevention plan, and opposing weak ozone standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Legislation

I became a cosponsor of H.R. 8433, the Preventing Future Pandemics Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). This legislation takes an important step in ending commercial wildlife trades which are not only detrimental to animals but are also a key factor in the creation and spread of pandemics. Specifically, this legislation makes an official foreign policy of the United States that we should work with international actors to shut down commercial wildlife markets, end the international wildlife trade, and reduce human consumption of wildlife. The bill gives the Department of State additional tools to achieve this goal and authorizes funding for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help reduce demand for wildlife consumption. Importantly, it prohibits the import, export, and sale of live wildlife in the United States for human consumption, and provides funding for the United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) to hire positions focused on disrupting the illegal wildlife trafficking network abroad.  The illegal wildlife trade is detrimental for endangered species, animal habitats, and the health of humans. Science tells us that the unregulated trade of wildlife for human consumption can lead to dangerous viruses. It is important that we end these practices to protect animal and human health.

I also signed onto H.R. 6698, the Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents and Workers During COVID-19 Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Following the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, it is essential that we ensure residents and staff in nursing homes are properly protected and equipped to deal with the continuing spread of COVID-19 and future public health emergencies. This important piece of legislation establishes higher minimum nurse staffing levels for nursing homes under Medicare and Medicaid and expands training requirements and supervision for all nursing staff. Additionally, this legislation creates whistleblower protections for nursing home residents and personnel, so they can feel confident in reporting any irregularities of practice. As the COVID-19 public health emergency continues, ensuring the safety of the residents and staff of nursing homes is one of my highest priorities.

Earlier last week I became an original cosponsor of the Energy Resilient Communities Act, introduced by Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-CA), and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY). One of the main provisions of this bill is the creation of a new program at the Department of Energy (DOE) to invest in clean energy microgrids to power the critical infrastructure that communities rely in in the aftermath of an extreme weather event or power disruption. As the climate crisis worsens, we will see more extreme weather events and natural disasters, which often result in power loss that can last from days to weeks. Electricity can be a lifeline for residents relying on powered medical equipment, and it is critical to maintaining essential community services such as hospitals, water systems, and senior housing. This legislation will help to reverse environmental inequities by prioritizing grants for environmental justice communities, while also helping our country combat and adapt to climate change and build the clean energy economy.

I also cosponsored the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act, introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Two years ago, Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and brutally murdered and dismembered by Saudi intelligence officers. The Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act builds upon existing efforts to strengthen our commitment to holding those who would target journalists for violence and persecution to account and to uphold independent media as essential to a functioning democracy. Further, this legislation would levy targeted sanctions against public and private actors who commit gross violations of human rights against journalists, prohibit U.S. foreign assistance to government entities that perpetrate a gross human violation against a journalist, and require the Department of State to document incidents of online harassment and electronic surveillance of journalists in its Human Rights Reports.

Letters

Last Thursday, I sent a letter to the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Health and Human Services urging the agencies to issue an emergency rule on face masks for air travel. As the amount of positive cases and deaths due to COVID-19 continue to rise in the country, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) completed a study concluding that air travel continues to be a vector for transmitting COVID-19. The letter calls for the agencies to issue an emergency face mask rule on all flights, and outlines that the agencies should provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to all flight passengers, airline, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees. This face mask requirement will help to keep airline passengers and employees safe as we see a likely increase in travel during the holiday season.

I joined over 150 of my colleagues in a letter addressed to House and Senate leadership outlining a pandemic prevention plan to prevent future pandemics from occurring. The letter, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), lays out plans to address the current COVID-19 public health emergency, nurture an equitable recovery, and prevent future pandemics. The letter calls for the United States to invest in domestic supply chains, support global health efforts, create more public health jobs, address the systematic racism in our healthcare system, and stop environmental harm which leads to pandemics. All these goals are an important aspect of preventing future pandemics, curbing our current public health emergency, and ensuring an equitable recovery for all members of our communities.

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), led a letter to the EPA opposing weak ozone standards. I signed onto the letter, which expresses opposition to the EPA’s proposal to maintain 2015 Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone, known as smog. The EPA has since revealed that the 2015 levels for smog are still too high to be safe, and that higher levels of smog can cause adverse health effects, and disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. If the EPA is to keep the 2015 levels of permissible smog, low income communities of color, which are also more at risk to have preexisting conditions such as asthma, would face serious health impacts.

I also signed onto a letter led by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, calling for the agencies to expedite visa requests for the persecuted Uyghurs in China. Recent reports indicate that the Chinese government has continued persecuting Uyghurs in a number of ways: holding over a million Uyghurs in detention facilities in Xinjiang, torturing them, implementing forced sterilization and forced abortions, confiscating passports, and using extensive surveillance technology to track Uyghurs in China and reportedly to harass and intimidate Uyghurs living outside of China. The letter urges greater U.S. government action to assist Uyghurs at heightened risk from persecution by the government of China and calls for expedited consideration of visa applications to enter the United States, Priority One (P-1) refugee referrals for Uyghurs abroad along with raising overall refugee limitations, and actions to protect Uyghurs already in the United States. The human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in China are appalling and we must do everything possible to aid those who have been targeted and provide them protection from persecution.

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.