Week Ending March 8, 2019

House moves forward on voting and ethics reform.

  • House Passes Bill to Restore Voting Rights

  • House Committee Approves a $15 Minimum Wage

  • AFSCME Supports 911 Dispatchers Reclassification
  • Repeal of 40 percent Tax on Worker/Retiree Health Benefits
  • House Health Panel Reviews Bills to Lower Health Care Costs
  • Congress Aims at Wall Street Speculators

House Passes Bill to Restore Voting Rights

On a party-line vote of 234-193, the House passed the “For the People Act” (H.R. 1) to help restore democracy, end corruption and make it easier for Americans to vote. The bill is a top priority for House Democrats, which all co-sponsored it, but is unlikely to move in the GOP-controlled Senate. President Lee Saunders said, “This important bill makes long-needed, fundamental reforms to fight the rigged political system and to strengthen our democracy for all Americans.”

The bill restores the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which will reaffirm the right of all Americans to vote. The legislation calls for an end to the widespread voter suppression that exists today and expands opportunities for voting. It creates automatic voter registration across the country; ensures that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full rights restored; expands voting by mail and early voting; and modernizes the U.S. voting system. The bill also reforms our nation’s campaign finance laws, and ethics and lobbying rules. H.R. 1 attacks the massive rise of dark money in our politics and will force big-money contributors and special interests to disclose their political spending. It also expresses support to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which opened the door for billionaires and special interests to spend unlimited, untraceable money in America’s elections. H.R. 1 improves ethics rules, expands conflict of interest laws, prevents members of Congress from serving on corporate boards and requires presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns. The legislation also improves federal ethics oversight by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics, closing registration loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents, and creating a code of ethics for the Supreme Court.

What You Need to Know: Access to voting should not be hampered based on race, color, national origin, disability status, or religion. H.R.1 is necessary to guarantee all protected classes of individuals have the right to vote and an easier path to the polls.

House Committee Approves a $15 Minimum Wage 

On Wednesday, the House Education and Labor Committee approved the “Raise the Wage Act of 2019” (H.R. 582) to gradually lift the current federal minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by the year 2024. The bill was voted out of committee, 28 to 20. Millions of working people across the country and their families will be helped by this legislation. The current federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 an hour makes it very difficult for workers to meet basic family needs. Since it was last raised in 2009, the federal minimum wage has lost 9.6 percent of its purchasing power to inflation. Working families in America deserve better. Earning a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work should be an American value. That’s why AFSCME sent a letter to all members of the House encouraging swift passage of raising a uniform minimum wage that provides a guarantee to all employees no matter where they live. This bill will now move on to the full House for a floor vote. 

What You Need to Know: During the committee markup, GOP Rep. Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania offered a misleading amendment entitled, “Union Fairness,” that would have eliminated collective bargaining agreements for state and local workers. In response, many members on the panel voiced opposition, including Reps. Mike Levin (D-Mich.) who stated, “Whenever these [collective bargaining] agreements exist, they almost uniformly exist because those workers with voice and power in their workplace are negotiating for pensions and health care agreements, the kind of thing that created the middle class in this country." The committee rejected the Smucker amendment along party lines by a vote of 20 to 28.

AFSCME Supports 911 Dispatchers Reclassification

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), a former 911 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department and AFSCME Local 3090 member, introduced this week the “911 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services (SAVES) Act,” which would reclassify 911 dispatchers as part of “Protective Service Operations.”  Rep. Torres’ bipartisan legislation has support from Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), and Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), as well as Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

What You Need to KnowLindsay Washington, local president of EMS Workers United/AFSCME District Council 20, spoke at the press event in favor of the  legislation, describing how “dispatchers play an essential role in saving lives and in helping me do my job safely. They are our eyes and ears before we arrive on scene. They receive advanced training to effectively assess a situation, ask the right questions, and communicate vital information so that we know what to expect when we get to the scene of an emergency.”

Repeal of 40 Percent Tax on Worker/Retiree Health Benefits 

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) reintroduced the bipartisan “Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act” (S. 684), which would repeal the harmful 40-percent tax on employer-sponsored high cost worker/retiree health benefits. AFSCME strongly supports repealing this tax, often derisively labeled the “Cadillac Tax,” because it’s already forcing insurers and employers to lower worker and retiree health benefits, which simultaneously raises patient medical deductibles, copays, and related out-of-pocket expenses.

What You Need to KnowThis tax is regressive, disproportionately burdens working families, and weakens health benefits. Although this tax doesn’t take effect until 2022, AFSCME is already negotiating contracts extending into or beyond 2022, and thus this tax already affects AFSCME’s contract negotiations. In Congress’ last session, the identical bill was co-sponsored by 32 bipartisan senators and the new 2019 bill already has 23 bipartisan co-sponsors.  In addition to AFSCME’s strong support, this bill is endorsed by more than 30 allied unions, national businesses and employer associations, government interest groups, for a total of more than 500 organizations.

House Health Panel Reviews Bills to Lower Health Care Costs 

In the last Congress, the Republican leadership repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and seemed unconcerned with the Trump administration’s actions that increased premiums. With the leadership change in Congress, the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee under the Democrats is continuing its work to lower out-of-pocket costs and put an end to the Trump administration’s efforts to sabotage the ACA law. Specifically, the “State Health Care Premium Reduction Act” (H.R. 1425) would provide $10 billion annually to states to establish a state reinsurance program or use the funds to provide financial assistance to reduce out-of-pocket costs for individuals enrolled in qualified health plans. The “Expand Navigators’ Resources For Outreach, Learning, And Longevity (Enroll) Act” (H.R. 1386) would provide $100 million annually to reinstate the requirement that there be at least two navigator entities in each state and would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that navigator grants are awarded to entities with demonstrated capacity to carry out the duties specified in the ACA.  The “State Allowance for A Variety of Exchanges (Save) Act” (H.R. 1385) would provide states with $200 million in federal funds to establish state-based marketplaces. Under current law, federal funds are no longer available for states to set up state-based marketplaces.  

What You Need to Know:  The House is working to develop and consider legislative proposals to lower health care out-of-pocket costs and protect people with pre-existing conditions. These common-sense proposals will help put an end to the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal and unravel the ACA through administrative policies and actions.

Congress Aims at Wall Street Speculators

New legislation imposing a small tax on Wall Street financial trading was introduced in the House and Senate.  “The Wall Street Tax Act” (S. 647 and H.R. 1516) imposes a federal tax of .1 percent on the sale of stocks, bonds and derivatives, which is estimated to raise $777 billion in 10 years and simultaneously reduce market volatility, discourage speculative and predatory Wall Street trading, and help reduce income inequality. This tax is progressive and mostly affects the wealthiest 10 percent who own roughly 85 percent of stock market wealth. For example, someone that trades stock worth $10,000 would pay only $10. The new revenues could be invested to preserve and strengthen health care, public education, affordable housing and create new high paying jobs. 

What You Need to Know: AFSCME strongly endorses “The Wall Street Tax Act,” which was introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). Senator Schatz said, “Over the last decade, Wall Street has made record profits from high-risk trades that have made the market dangerously volatile, while doing nothing to add real value to our economy or raise wages for workers.”

Sign Up to Receive the Weekly Report and Action Alerts via Email and Become an AFSCME e-Activist!!!

In an effort to move toward electronic transmission which will allow us to put important federal legislative updates in your hands sooner, we urge you to sign up to receive the Federal Legislative Report via your email address.

Please go to www.afscme.org/join and check the "Federal Legislative Report" box under subscriptions on the bottom of the page.

Get the AFSCME Legislative Report delivered via email by signing up here.

Thank you!

You will begin receiving the AFSCME Legislative Report via email.