Week Ending June 26, 2020

House Passes Historic Statehood Bill for the District of Columbia and a Major New Policing Reform Bill

  • House Approves D.C. Statehood
  • House Passes Policing Bill; Senate Fails to Advance
  • Announcement of House Appropriations Committee Schedule
  • Trump Fumbles Executive Order on Worker Visas

House Approves D.C. Statehood 

The House of Representatives approved along party lines the “Washington, D.C. Admission Act” (H.R. 51), which would establish statehood for Washington, D.C., and make it the 51st state. It’s the first statehood vote by Congress in 25 years, and the bill passed the House by a vote of 218-169. But it is not expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. 

  • Statehood Means Full Representation in Congress: The House vote represents the growing interest in the issue for Democrats and the possibility that if they win control of the Senate in the fall elections, D.C. could become a state in the future. Statehood would mean full representation in Congress and the addition of a state with a diverse population – many with progressive views. With more than 700,000 residents, including many AFSCME members who work for the D.C. government as well as their families and retirees, the new state would be larger than Vermont and Wyoming. In a 2016 referendum, 86 percent of D.C. residents voted in favor of statehood.
  • An Historic Vote for Civil Rights: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who represents a neighboring Maryland jurisdiction, called the legislation historic and long overdue with civil rights implications. Hoyer said, “Over the past few weeks, we saw further examples of why the District of Columbia’s lack of representation in Congress is so damaging,” referring to the Trump administration’s use of federal officers in the District to respond to protests. Soon after the incident, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “this deprivation of statehood is unjust, unequal, undemocratic and unacceptable,” at a news conference where she announced there soon would be a vote.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME strongly supports the statehood initiative because residents of the District of Columbia deserve the same equality and rights to self-government enjoyed by other Americans living in the 50 states, including local budget autonomy; the ability to pass their own laws without delay, direct congressional oversight or preemptive interference; and equal representation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

House Passes Policing Bill; Senate Fails to Advance

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” (H.R. 7120) by a vote of 236-181. The vote was largely along party lines with most Democrats voting for it and most Republicans voting against, with the exception of Republican Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who all joined House Democrats in supporting the legislation. Despite the strong vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already indicated the Senate does not plan to take up the legislation. 

  • Major Provisions – The legislation makes it easier for the federal government to successfully prosecute police misconduct cases, bans chokeholds, ends racial and religious profiling and encourages prosecutions independent from local police. The bill modifies the doctrine of qualified immunity in civil rights lawsuits against police officers. The bill also collects and publicizes data on a number of key policing matters; creates a national database on police-misconduct incidents to prevent officers with track records of misconduct from moving from department to department; ends no-knock warrants and the militarization of local policing; and specifies that lynching is a federal hate crime. It also creates a new grant program for community-based organizations to establish local commissions and task forces on policing innovation to reimagine how public safety could work in a truly equitable and just way. Go here for a copy of the legislation, factsheet and summary of the bill from the House Judiciary Committee.

What You Need to Know: The House vote comes one day after the Senate failed to advance a much narrower policing bill, described as a “half-measure” that had been introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Without any hope of passing a bill in the Senate, there will likely be no further action on the issue this year.

Announcement of House Appropriations Committee Schedule 

House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) announced the upcoming schedule to consider and pass the 12 funding bills for fiscal year 2021. This is a late start compared to previous years, so the schedule is compact. The subcommittees will mark up their bills starting July 6 and full committee markups will begin July 9, when they will also consider top-line (302b) allocations to the various subcommittees. Leaders anticipate that the full House will vote on the bills the last two weeks of July, right before they break for August recess. 

Subcommittee markup schedule:

  • July 6: State and Foreign Operations; Agriculture; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs;
  • July 7: Homeland Security; Interior and Environment; Legislative Branch; Energy and Water; Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education;
  • July 8: Commerce, Justice, Science; Transportation and Housing and Urban Development; Financial Services and General Government; Defense.

What You Need to Know: The Senate Appropriations Committee schedule is uncertain. They had planned to start markups of their bills earlier this week, but Chairman Richard Shelby (D-Ala.) postponed it because Democrats wanted to add more pandemic aid and police reform measures. House appropriators plan to add additional measures to their bills to help with the pandemic so this is another vehicle for additional funding for vital programs. 

Trump Fumbles Executive Order on Worker Visas

This week, President Donald Trump unveiled an Executive Order (EO) to temporarily suspend until Jan. 31, 2021, the issuance of new visas to workers and their families who are applying from outside of the United States. Further guidance on whether guest workers who are currently in the U.S. can reapply is still needed. The visa categories affected are: H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1.

  • What It Fails to Do: The administration, as well as many other lawmakers, understands that the worker visa program is broken and favors business executives, not the American or foreign worker. Trump’s temporary pause of this program does nothing to fix this problem. Instead, this short pause now further publicizes the issue for short-term partisan gain.

What You Need to Know: A serious EO on worker visas would signal long-term congressional action is needed to ensure that businesses and corporations prove that there is no American worker available for the position; require foreign workers to be paid prevailing wages rather than undercutting American workers; make sure workers have access to labor representation to ensure fair wages and treatment; and ensure that stricter caps be placed on the number of worker visas available to companies, among other important fixes.

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