Saturday, February 23, 2019

Bipartisan LEGION Act introduced in the Senate

By The American Legion

Washington, D.C. - February 23, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- A bill expanding membership eligibility for the American Legion was filed last week in the Senate. The Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act — also known as the LEGION Act — is a bipartisan effort introduced by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Because the American Legion’s membership periods are congressionally chartered, the organization is prevented from expanding membership eligibility without an act of Congress. The act expands membership eligibility to honorably discharged veterans who have served in unrecognized times of war since World War II.

“Nearly 1,600 brave American men and women were killed or wounded since World War II, while defending our nation during times not officially recognized as periods of war by the U.S. government,” American Legion National Commander Brett P. Reistad said. “These veterans are unable to receive some of the benefits and recognition available to their counterparts who served during official wartime periods.

“Because The American Legion is congressionally chartered, we are unable to welcome many of these veterans as members of the nation’s largest veterans organization. It is fitting that during the 100th anniversary of the founding of The American Legion, Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Thom Tillis are introducing the LEGION Act, bipartisan legislation that will recognize all veterans who served honorably since the start of World War II, while also fostering growth within the veteran community. Moreover, we salute Sen. Sinema for making this the first bill that she has introduced as a newly elected U.S. senator. We hope that the American people will encourage all members of Congress to support the LEGION Act. It is an appropriate ‘thank you’ to those who served.”

“The American Legion provides critical resources to our veterans, but currently, only veterans who served during formally recognized conflicts can belong to the Legion,” said Sinema, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “That restriction leaves out thousands of former American servicemembers who signed up to defend our country. Our legislation rights this wrong and ensures veterans have the opportunity to join the American Legion.”

VA issues proposed rule for new community care program

by American Hospital Association

Washington, D.C. - February 23, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs has proposed the criteria for determining when covered veterans may elect to receive necessary hospital, medical and extended care services from non-VA entities or providers under the Veterans Community Care Program. The AHA-supported MISSION Act of 2018 requires the agency to consolidate its existing community care programs into this new program by June.

Under the proposed rule, covered veterans would have to be enrolled in the VA health care system and meet at least one of six conditions: VA does not offer the required care or services; VA does not operate a full-service medical facility in the state in which the veteran resides; the veteran was eligible to receive care under the Veterans Choice Program and is eligible to receive care under certain grandfathering provisions; VA is not able to furnish care or services to a veteran in a manner that complies with VA’s designated access standards; the veteran and the referring clinician determine it is in the best medical interest of the veteran to receive care or services from an eligible entity or provider based on consideration of certain criteria VA proposes to establish; or the veteran is seeking care or services from a VA medical service line that VA has determined is not providing care that complies with VA’s standards of quality.

The proposed rule also designates access standards for the new program, as announced last month; describes non-VA entities and providers eligible to participate in the program; and clarifies payment rates and methodologies for those community providers to include rates for critical access hospitals and other types of providers. According to the agency, providers eligible to participate in the new program would be “substantively identical” to those permitted to participate under the VA’s current Veterans Choice or other community care programs.

The proposed rule will be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register with comments accepted for 30 days. VA last month issued a separate proposed rule implementing urgent care provisions for the new program.

AFT Supports Legislation to Make Workplaces for Healthcare, Social Service Employees Safer

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By American Federation of Teachers

Washington, D.C. - February 23, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309), introduced by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), would make nurses and healthcare workers safer in their workplaces. The bill requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop protection measures and enforceable safety standards for people who work in front-line healthcare jobs, who are five times more likely to be assaulted at work than the rest of the labor force.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 80 percent of emergency medical workers experience violence during their careers, some reporting verbal assault and some reporting physical abuse. And the rates are rising. Between 2007 and 2017, rates of violence in hospitals grew by 123 percent.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “Our nurses and health industry workers care every day for the sick, the elderly and the mentally ill, yet they often feel unsafe or unprotected themselves from the assaults that occur in hospitals and other healthcare-related settings.”

“While OSHA has left these workers vulnerable,” she said, “incidents of workplace violence continue to rise, with 69 percent of reported cases occurring in healthcare settings. Thankfully, this bill addresses this increasing trend head-on, and it provides long-needed protections and specific and enforceable safety standards for people who work in front-line healthcare jobs.”

Weingarten concluded, “No one should face violence, intimidation or fear for their safety while they’re on the job. And as a union of healthcare professionals, educators and public employees, we welcome this effort to finally make federal workplace-safety regulations a priority.”

The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.

‘The Administration is Setting Us Up to Fail,’ says VA Workers Union

by American Federation for Government Employees

Washington, D.C. - February 23, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- On Friday, February 15, the Department of Veterans Affairs quietly posted that the agency now has 48,985 unfilled vacancies – up nearly 4,000 since the VA started posting vacancy totals in August 2018. The muted rollout of the data – which is only tracked and posted because of a push for transparency from the American Federation of Government Employees – follows Secretary Robert Wilkie’s recent announcement that the Department is outsourcing care and funding from the already short-staffed and underfunded agency.

“It is unconscionable that Secretary Wilkie is starving the VA by leaving almost 49,000 positions unfilled– 42,790 of which are at the Veterans Health Administration,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “As the Secretary recently said, the ‘VA is seeing more patients than ever before, more quickly than ever before, and Veterans are more satisfied with their care than they have been previously’ – which comes as the VHA has jumped from having 35,000 unfilled vacancies in October 2017 to nearly 43,000 today.”

Cox added, “With the outstanding work being done by VA medical centers across the country, why would anybody try to undermine them with short staffing or shifting funding to the private sector?”

Last month the VA announced new criteria for privatized care that will be simultaneously slower and inferior to the integrated and specialized care offered by the VA. Understaffing the VA is a slow-motion replacement of VA’s in-house care with private care that is demonstrably unable to deal with veterans’ unique needs. Workers, medical experts, and members of Congress raised concerns that the VA’s in-house funding and staffing challenges will be worsened by funneling more money into the private, for-profit sector, and questioned the lack of transparency around the development and implementation of expanding private care for veterans.

“This push for further privatization should not occur, and the MISSION Act should not be implemented under the current schedule unless and until the VA does a thorough analysis of the impact of privatization on the quality and cost of care,” said AFGE National Veterans Affairs Council President Alma Lee. Lee, who represents 250,000 workers at the VA, says there are alternative approaches that will improve care – namely increased funding and a commitment to achieving full-staffing inside the VA.

“While the administration is setting us up to fail so they can dismantle veterans’ preferred health care provider, there are thankfully allies in Congress who are working to ensure we can hire and retain the medical professionals we so desperately need,” said Lee.

In early February, Rep. Mark Takano of California, introduced H.R. 1133 – VA Employee Fairness Act – to restore equal workplace rights to VA Title 38 health care professionals. H.R. 1133 already has 27 co-sponsors, and in mid-February was introduced as companion legislation in the Senate by Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

“Veterans are provided the best quality and timely care when the VA workforce can thrive,” said Rep. Takano. “With more than 40,000 employee vacancies in the VHA alone, it is crucial to ensure that doctors, nurses, and other medical professional are equipped with the best tools to retain and recruit the best talent to serve veterans — this bill will help make that possible.”

“The nurses, physicians, and health care workers at our nation’s VA medical centers, many of whom are veterans themselves, are the best at what they do. When they are able to collectively bargain and have their voices heard in the workplace, care improves for veterans. At a time when Americans are working harder and earning less for the time they put in, we should be making it easier for all workers to advocate for better working conditions, which leads to better veteran services and care,” said Sen. Brown.

“Thank you to Rep. Mark Takano and Sen. Sherrod Brown for once again standing with the women and men who care for our nation’s veterans,” said Cox. “Without the ability to advocate for other health care employees working under stressful conditions, or the ability to advocate for better patient care, the VA is going to struggle to attract and retain the best and brightest in the medical field and veterans will be at greater risk. It’s essential that Congress pass the VA Employee Fairness Act as soon as possible, so we can stop losing the professionals we have and hire the workers we need to continue serving those who have borne the battle.”

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

Tell Senators to pass Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act

American Family Association

Next Monday night, February 25, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to protect the lives of infants who survive an abortion. Every member of the Senate ought to agree that all babies who are born deserve protection.

Contact your Senators urging them to vote to ban the killing of infants who survive abortion.

Senate Republican leadership must rally the entire Senate to unify in support of this bill. Passing this bill will not only protect the lives of babies who survive an abortion, but the vote will also let voters know which Democrats and Republicans refuse to protect innocent life.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is to be commended for bringing this bill up for a vote. It is troubling to know that he, however, scheduled the vote for Monday night.

Senators typically travel to D.C. on Monday for the week, and they record their attendance that evening by what is known as a "bed check" vote. Bills considered after check-in are typically viewed as low-priority votes—renaming a post office, for example.

If the vote had been delayed till next Thursday, Senate leadership, including Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD), would have had the opportunity to whip the votes during the week to build support for the bill. A Monday night vote weakens the ability of Senate leadership to leverage their majority position.

To protect babies born alive, Christians and constitutional conservatives should expect the same or greater legislative prowess that Sen. McConnell demonstrated when he fought to pass the Middle East security bill (S.1) in January.

Sen. McConnell brought this bill up for a floor vote three times (1, 2, 3) even though it kept failing to break the 60 vote threshold to proceed to a vote. McConnell kept bringing it to the floor until it passed. He and other Senate leadership kept putting the full weight of their majority position behind this bill till it passed. Surely newborn lives are worth just as much effort!

This same bill, the Born-Alive Protection Act, passed the House in September 2015, but a Senate Republican majority allowed the bill to die. Senate Republican leadership, namely Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is responsible despite the overwhelming number of Republican senators who would have voted for the bill.

Another concerning fact is that Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House for two years following the 2016 election yet they failed to make this a top priority. Instead, some Senate Republicans hid behind the 60 vote rule and refused to switch to a simple majority (51) vote to pass this important legislation.

This brings into question how committed these lawmakers are to the pro-life movement?

Nonetheless, it is important that all Senators go on the record regarding this important issue.

Contact your Senators urging them to vote to ban the killing of infants who survive abortion.

AMA Against Rule that Bans Federal Funding for Abortions

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by Barbara L. McAneny, M.D.
President, American Medical Association

“This rule interferes with and imposes restrictions on the patient-physician relationship. For all intents and purposes, it imposes a gag rule on what information physicians can provide to their patients. The patient-physician relationship relies on trust, open conversation and informed decision making and the government should not be telling physicians what they can and cannot say to their patients.

“Protecting the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship and defending the freedom of communication between patients and their physicians is a fundamental priority for the AMA. With this action, the administration wants to block physicians from counseling patients about all of their healthcare options and from providing appropriate referrals for care. This is a clear violation of patients’ rights in the Code of Medical Ethics.

“The AMA also strongly objects to the administration’s plan to withhold federal family planning funding from entities that provide critical medical services to vulnerable populations. Millions of women depend on the Title X program for access to much-needed healthcare including cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment, and other exams. This is the wrong prescription and threatens to compound a health equity deficit in this nation. Women should have access to these medical services regardless of where they live, how much money they make, their background, or whether they have health insurance.

“Title X is popular, successful, and has had bipartisan support for decades. Our country is at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy and an historic low for pregnancy among teenagers — largely because of expanded access to birth control. We should not be walking back from that progress.”

Banks Doing Well in Thriving Economy, Says ABA

By James Chessen, ABA’s chief economist

Washington, D.C. - February 23, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- “The latest FDIC data show that America’s banks are healthy, well capitalized and making the loans that help Main Street businesses succeed. With tax reform helping to spur business expansion, banks stepped up to meet increased loan demand from businesses of all sizes. Business lending picked up 7.8 percent over the year, and total bank lending saw the biggest quarter-over-quarter increase since 2015. Bank lending grew a healthy 4.4 percent to over $10 trillion in total loans, an increase of $431 billion in 2018. Depositors benefited from increased competition for funds as banks looked to attract more deposits to supply loan demand.

“As always, banks are keeping a watchful eye on the state of the economy and are well positioned to manage any changes that affect the business landscape, including additional interest rate moves by the Fed. Banks continue to maintain credit discipline, and are building up reserves for potential loan losses as they look ahead to the twilight of this economic cycle. This is on top of a record $2 trillion in capital that provides a strong foundation for financial security and economic growth.

“The FDIC’s renewed focus on supporting de novo banks is encouraging as new institutions show the promise of a brighter future for communities and the industry. With a solid foundation of capital and high-quality assets, banks remain well positioned to support continued economic growth in 2019 and beyond.”

The American Bankers Association is the voice of the nation’s $17.9 trillion banking industry, which is composed of small, regional and large banks that together employ more than 2 million people, safeguard nearly $14 trillion in deposits and extend more than $10 trillion in loans.


by American Association for Justice

Washington, D.C. - February 23, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- The following is a statement from American Association for Justice CEO Linda Lipsen on the announcement from Google promising to end mandatory forced arbitration for all full-time employees:

“AAJ applauds the courageous group of women from Google who organized the walkout to call national attention to sexual harassment and the common workplace policy of forced arbitration that silences survivors and allows corporations to escape accountability.

As we celebrate this good news for Google employees, we call on Congress to take action to end forced arbitration for all Americans. We commend Senators Richard Blumenthal and Patty Murray and Representatives Hank Johnson, Jerry Nadler and Bobby Scott for leading on this issue, as well as Senator Lindsey Graham, who last year publicly challenged companies to end forced arbitration as a matter of good business practice.

Some corporations, like Microsoft and now Google have taken action, realizing forced arbitration was bad policy. Until the law is changed, forced arbitration remains the prevailing practice for most corporations, leaving millions of Americans unable to enforce their constitutional right to seek justice and accountability from the corporations who hurt them. Forced arbitration means that corporations can get away with breaking the law and never be held responsible. That’s why Congress needs to step up and pass comprehensive legislation to ensure all Americans, not just employees at Google, can enforce their rights.”

The American Association for Justice works to preserve the constitutional right to trial by jury and to make sure people have a fair chance to receive justice through the legal system when they are injured by the negligence or misconduct of others—even when it means taking on the most powerful corporations.

HHS issues final rule on life-affirming health funding reforms

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by Alliance Defending Freedom

Washington, D.C. - February 23, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- The following quote may be attributed to Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Denise Burke regarding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ issuance Friday of the final version of the Protect Life Rule and its reforms of the Title X funding program:

“The tax dollars of Americans should never be used to fund abortion, shield child abusers, or force medical professionals to violate their convictions by participating in the end of human life. We commend the Trump administration and HHS for these commonsense reforms, which simply ensure greater compliance with current federal and state laws, safeguard vulnerable and abused women and children, and help protect freedom of conscience for health care workers. The Protect Life Rule, which the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld, will prevent organizations like the nation’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood, from funding their abortion activities through the Title X program. Planned Parenthood has covered up the sexual abuse of young girls and has been investigated for waste, abuse, and potential fraud. Because of these failures, it doesn’t deserve taxpayer dollars. This rule is a welcome step toward greater government program integrity and the protection of every human life, no matter how vulnerable.”

ADF submitted official comments to HHS in support of the Protect Life Rule in July of last year.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.