Friday, April 5, 2019

Chairman Scott Statement on March Jobs Report

by: House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Chairman Bobby Scott (VA-03) issued the following statement after the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the economy added 196,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate held at 3.8 percent.

“Today’s jobs report continues to show that despite steady job growth, wages are barely keeping pace with inflation. It is another reminder that Congress must take bold action to lift millions of workers out of poverty to help build a thriving middle class.

“The Raise the Wage Act would gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2024, which would increase the pay and standard of living for nearly 40 million workers across this country. Raising the minimum wage is not only good for workers, it is good for businesses, and good for the economy. When we put money in the pockets of American workers, they will spend that money in their communities.

“Just last week, new polling data revealed that voters across the political spectrum and around the country support gradually raising the federal minimum wage to $15. After 10 years with no increase in the minimum wage, it is past time to listen to the American people, boost workers’ paychecks, and stimulate economic growth by passing the Raise the Wage Act.”

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Experts Call for Strengthened, Integrated Strategies Addressing “Converging Public Health Crisis” of Opioid, ID Epidemics

by: Infectious Disease Society of America

Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Citing the spread of infections linked to rising rates of opioid use across the country including HIV, viral hepatitis, skin and soft tissue infections, bone and joint infections and endocarditis, an article published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases calls on the federal government to support coordinated and strengthened responses by infectious diseases and substance use specialists. The article, by a team of authors from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that includes NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, notes that opioid use has climbed since the late 1990s, leading to increased use of injecting drugs. By 2016, the authors note, injecting drug use was linked to 13% of new HIV diagnoses and the majority of new hepatitis C infections.

The article notes that infectious disease physicians confronting outbreaks of infections linked to injection drug use increasingly find themselves on the frontlines of the nation’s opioid epidemic, and must be equipped to recognize, refer, and treat substance use disorders. In turn, the authors recommend that providers of substance use disorder responses, including mental health professionals, nurses and social workers, be prepared to screen clients for infections, and to refer those at risk to programs providing sterile needles and syringes and other supports to reduce the risk of infection. Limited numbers of providers in both fields, as well as a lack of sterile needle and syringe programs, the authors note, exacerbate the challenges providers face in addressing the growing crisis. The authors call for investments by the federal government ensuring the expansion of evidence-based interventions, and support for the needed workforce.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association also continue to call on Congress and the administration to ensure the resources and workforce needed to reverse climbing rates of infectious diseases fueled by the opioid epidemic. We have supported the President’s request for Congress to provide a minimum of $58 million for U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support surveillance, prevention, detection and linkages to care to address the full range of infectious diseases associated with substance use disorders, and support collaboration with state and local health departments, health care facilities, and providers in these responses. In addition, we urge Congress to fund the Loan Repayment for Substance Use Treatment Disorder Treatment Workforce Program at a minimum of $25 million as recommended in the SUPPORT Act and have urged the Health and Human Resources Administration to include infectious diseases and HIV physicians who diagnose and treat infections associated with substance use in programs providing education loan repayment, including by designating Ryan White-funded clinics as eligible National Health Service Corps sites.

We will continue to urge support for evidence-based, innovative and responsive care models and for addressing the challenges faced by the workforce that will be essential to ending the impacts of the opioid crisis.

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The Truth About the Violence Against Women Act

by: French Hill (R-AR, 2nd)

Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with bipartisan support. This legislation has played a valuable role in combating violence and providing resources that support victims. VAWA was reauthorized by bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2000, 2005, and 2013.

I have consistently supported the funding of VAWA programs because all victims of violence deserve resources that help to protect and keep them safe.

In February of this year, the VAWA programs expired. Instead of continuing the bipartisan tradition of reauthorizing VAWA, House Democratic leaders have sabotaged this legislation and are forcing a vote this week on a partisan version of this bill purely for political gain. This new authorization contains a laundry list of liberal proposals that could put victims in greater danger.

This includes a new provision that would implement “alternative justice responses” for sexual assault and domestic violence cases where a victim and an abuser would be put in the same room together. Allowing this only re-victimizes the abused individual. The new authorization would allow male prisoners to be kept with the female population, and have males be placed in women's protective shelters. Additionally, the new authorization strips religious freedom protections that would allow private religious agencies to continue serving victimized women.

The right way to proceed on this legislation is to engage in a bipartisan process to shape and update the original 1994 law. That’s why I cosponsored Representative Elise Stefanik’s (NY-R) clean, one-year extension of VAWA’s provisions that expired in February 2019. This would give members of Congress time to negotiate a bipartisan bill in good faith. All women, like my wife and daughter, deserve legislation that protects them and their well-being, not partisan gimmicks.

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See Also:

VIDEO: Statement From Congressman Horsford On Reauthorization Of Violence Against Women Act

Houlahan Continues to Stand Up for Women with the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019

Haaland Celebrates House Passage of the VAWA Reauthorization

HRC: Senate Must Join House in Reauthorizing VAWA

Heading to the President’s Desk: ACE Kids Act

by: Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA, 3rd)

Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler’s bipartisan Advancing Care for Exceptional (ACE) Kids Act is heading to the president’s desk for his signature into law. Her bill, which was included in a broader Medicaid improvement package, was approved by the U.S. Senate yesterday. ACE Kids Act helps improve the coordination of and access to high quality care to ensure optimal outcomes for children with complex medical conditions on Medicaid.

Herrera Beutler has been championing this bipartisan legislation since 2014. WATCH her speak on behalf of her bill in December.

“I’ve sat bedside to bedside with many a family as they face the reality of having a sick kid, and have also hit hard times economically. Every family should be able to pursue the best doctors and facilities for their kids, regardless of their zip code or the scope of their child’s medical needs. Too often, kids get overlooked in our health care system so passage of this bipartisan bill through Congress is a critical step forward in protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our population,” Herrera Beutler said.

“We at Seattle Children’s are very pleased that the ACE Kids Act has passed. Seattle Children’s serves many children, including those living in rural communities, whose highly specialized medical needs require them to cross state lines for care. The ACE Kids Act will improve access to the full range of pediatric providers, from primary care to specialized providers like Seattle Children’s, while at the same time providing additional Medicaid data to ensure care is standardized, more reliable, and safer. This will result in a better system for our nation’s children and their families. We thank and congratulate Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler for her strong leadership in sponsoring this legislation and seeing it through to successful passage,” Dr. Jeff Sperring, CEO of Seattle Children’s Hospital, said.

Medically-complex kids on Medicaid:

· One in 25 children in the U.S. is “medically complex” with diagnoses like cancer, congenital heart disease, Down syndrome, or others that require consistent care and medical expertise. Of the several million medically-complex children, roughly two million rely on Medicaid. Children who have complex medical conditions represent a small percentage of kids in Medicaid, but account for a large portion of the costs.

· Most children with complex medical conditions receive care from multiple specialized pediatric providers who often are located at different clinics and hospitals, including in different states. The ACE Kids Act will encourage the creation of more health homes for these children and their families that better coordinate care, save precious time, money and lives. Outside studies have found that, through care coordination, the ACE Kids Act will save families and taxpayer money through a less fragmented and burdensome system of care for children and families.

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Bill to Increase Job Opportunities for Wildlife Veterinarians Reintroduced

by: Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL, 20th)

Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Alcee L. Hastings reintroduced the Wildlife Veterinarians Employment and Training Act of 2019 (Wildlife VET Act), legislation to increase the quality of job opportunities for individuals seeking a career in wildlife and zoological veterinary research or medicine, spur job growth, incentivize students to enter the field, and promote robust public health policy. Joining Hastings as original cosponsors include: Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.-At Large), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Darren Soto (D-FL), and Filemon Vela (D-TX). (Please find attached a copy of the legislation):

“I am pleased to reintroduce the Wildlife VET Act, which responds to pressing public health needs, while also addressing the current shortage of veterinarians by alleviating looming student debt and other barriers. Salaries for wildlife and zoological professionals are relatively low compared to those who practice companion animal medicine, ranking second to the bottom for salaries paid to veterinarians as a whole. These students graduate with a massive $143,000 in student loan debt, on average. Given the lower salaries, looming student debt, combined with the limited number of funded positions available, this bill prevents students from being too discouraged to enter this essential profession.

“We have reached a point in our history when we cannot ignore the importance of protecting America’s wildlife. With an increasing number of endangered species, the introduction of invasive non-native species, and more infectious disease threats to public health, wildlife and zoological veterinarians must be placed at the core of our efforts and be given the resources and recognition necessary to protect both animal and human lives.”

The Wildlife VET Act increases the quality and number of job opportunities for individuals seeking a career in wildlife and zoological veterinary research or medicine, reduces barriers and provides incentives to students to enter the field, and promotes robust public health policy. In so doing, the bill creates new positions in the field; limits the amount of educational debt students can take on; provides scholarship and loan repayment programs; and helps schools develop specialized curricula and training programs with a focus on wildlife and zoological veterinary medicine.

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings serves as Vice-Chairman of the House Rules Committee, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman of the Florida Delegation.

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by: Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)

Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) has stressed the need for federal action to address the risk of rural hospitals closing in Mississippi and other rural states.

Hyde-Smith raised the rural hospital issue at a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Thursday on the FY2020 budget request for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“We must keep working to find strong actions that we can take to help rural hospitals in Mississippi stay open. Rural hospital closures have reached a very critical point in our state,” Hyde-Smith said following the hearing.

At the hearing, Hyde-Smith told HHS Secretary Alex Azar about her growing concerns regarding rural healthcare in Mississippi, which has more rural hospitals at risk of closing than any other state. She cited recent reports showing half of all rural hospitals in Mississippi are at high financial risk of shutting their doors.

“When a hospital closes, the whole community is affected in so many ways, not only the employment there. Most importantly, it means no more access to emergency care for the community’s residents,” Hyde-Smith said. “In an emergency, timely care is of essence, and having close-by access to them can truly mean life or death.”

Azar assured Hyde-Smith, “We’re working on this.”

“You have repeatedly raised with me the concerns about rural hospital access in Mississippi, and in part because of your efforts I have created a task force across HHS to help come up with all ideas that we can around how we can address the hospital crisis,” Azar said.

The Secretary listed ongoing review of HHS programs, policies, and rules to determine their effectiveness in supporting access to rural health care and hospital financial survivability.

“Let me give you some ideas. One of them we just were discussing, which is telehealth. How can we help make sure that we’re expanding access into rural America because we’ll end up consolidating everyone living in urban areas if we can't provide them healthcare in rural America,” Azar said.

“We also have to make sure that our regulations at CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] or otherwise are not creating artificial barriers to economically viable models of hospitals in rural America. Are we trying to force a 1960s model of hospitals through our payment systems and other regulations onto rural America?” he said.

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Senator Hirono Leads Senate Democrats in Requesting Deputy Inspector General Investigate Data Suppression at DOI

by: Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D - HI)

Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Deputy Inspector General Mary L. Kendall to request she investigate “the suppression of a Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion that was due to be completed and released in December 2017.” The letter specifically calls into question actions taken by David Bernhardt, the current nominee to become Secretary of the Interior, to suppress scientific data and follows up on a letter the Senators previously sent requesting the Deputy Inspector General monitor and investigate any “instances of potential alterations to scientific reports, documents, or communications produced by the Department of the Interior (DOI) as well as instances of political pressure influencing science at DOI.”

“Under the current administration DOI has repeatedly shown a willingness to completely disregard the work of career scientists and allow political appointees who are not subject matter experts to influence the decision-making process,” the Senators wrote. “In our previous letter, we said we had no reason to believe that the attacks on science and pressure by political appointees to alter science in order to advance the administration’s narrative would cease, and this report reinforces that conclusion. As such we request an investigation into the delayed release of the Fish and Wildlife Biological Opinion that was due for release over a year ago.”

The Senators requested the investigation after the New York Times published an article last week that detailed a series of documents from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists who completed a comprehensive analysis showing several widely-used pesticides were so toxic they “‘jeopardize the continued existence’ of more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish, and other animals.” The documents also indicated top political appointees, led by Bernhardt, blocked the release of the opinion and “set in motion a new process intended to apply a much narrower standard to determine the risks from pesticides.” The documents exposing Bernhardt’s actions were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

In September 2018, Senator Hirono led fourteen of her Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Deputy Inspector General Kendall to request she investigate allegations of political interference and alterations to scientific data at the DOI regarding a report by the National Park Service (NPS) on sea level rise. While that report was ultimately released without politically-influenced edits or alterations, Senator Hirono has remained vigilant in tracking DOI’s ongoing treatment of scientists and scientific experts.

The full text of the letter is available here

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Legislation to Block Efforts to Roll Back Fuel Economy Emissions Standards Introduced

by: Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)

Washington, D.C. - April 4, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) on Wednesday reintroduced the Greener Air Standards Mean Our National Security, Environment, and Youth (GAS MONEY) Saved Act, legislation that would block efforts at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) to roll back strong fuel economy emissions standards. This legislation highlights the benefits of the existing fuel economy and vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards and the dangerous impacts of the proposed rule released by the EPA and NHTSA last August. The GAS MONEY Saved Act would reinstate the 2012 fuel economy and vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards rule—which was reaffirmed by an extensive technical assessment report in 2016—and prevent EPA Administrator Wheeler from weakening the standards. This proposed rule is being challenged by a coalition of 20 attorneys general and has been questioned by several major auto companies.

“Every American deserves clean air and clean water, yet this administration has taken drastic steps to undermine the clean car standards put in place to protect public health and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Senator Harris. “We must preserve these important standards and recommit ourselves to securing the environment for future generations.”

“Reducing harmful car emissions is key to combating climate change. Congress enacted our bipartisan Ten-in-Ten Fuel Economy Act to boost fuel efficiency standards, which is now on track to exceed 50 mpg by 2025. The new standards are working, thanks to a joint effort between the federal government, California and like-minded states, and the auto industry. Cars are becoming more fuel efficient, families are saving money at the pump and auto manufacturers are meeting the stronger standards at lower costs than expected – there is no reason to change them now,” said Senator Feinstein.

“Consumers, our national security, and the environment all benefit from the strong fuel economy emissions standards the Trump administration wants to repeal,” said Senator Markey. “Instead of fostering the kind of innovation and American competitiveness that come with more efficient cars, the EPA and NHTSA are doing the bidding of Big Oil and putting us in reverse. Fuel economy emissions standards are the single greatest action ever taken by any nation to fight climate change. At a time when we still import more than 2.5 million barrels of oil a day from OPEC, Congress should block any attempt by the Trump administration to make a U-turn on these standards and the ability that California and other states like Massachusetts have under the Clean Air Act to put strong standards in place. The GAS MONEY Saved Act will save American families money at the pump, combat the climate crisis, protect auto industry jobs, and help end our reliance on foreign oil.”

The fuel economy emissions standards are projected to save nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2030, around as much oil as we currently import from OPEC countries every day, save consumers over $1 trillion, and reduce global warming pollution by six billion metric tons. Since reaching an historic agreement with the Obama administration and state leaders, the auto industry has gone from the brink of economic disaster to record auto sales in 2015 and 2016, including adding 700,000 U.S. jobs.

Other Senators co-sponsoring the legislation include Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

A copy of the GAS MONEY Saved Act can be found HERE.

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AFGE Urges Congress to Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

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by: The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. today issued the following statement:

The nation's largest union representing federal and D.C. government workers, AFGE, strongly supports legislation to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act.
The nation's largest union representing federal and D.C. government workers, AFGE, strongly supports legislation to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act.
"AFGE thanks Representative Karen Bass of California for her leadership in introducing legislation to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act, HR 1585. Congress first passed this law in 1994 to protect survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, but as a result of the government shutdown the law expired and must be reauthorized. Every day that Congress fails to reauthorize this bill is another day that victims of domestic and sexual abuse go without the help they need. AFGE strongly supports this legislation and urges Congress to pass this bill without delay.

"This important legislation establishes a coordinated response to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and similar crimes that includes victim advocates, law enforcement, the judicial system, and community partners. As reauthorized, this bill would provide additional grant money to strengthen how the health care system responds to these issues, help save lives by restricting gun ownership by domestic violence offenders, and expand existing protections to include transgender victims.

"Millions of Americans experience domestic or sexual violence each year. This type of violence and abuse affects victims in the short-term and chronically, and it imposes a significant economic burden on victims and communities.

"AFGE represents more than 700,000 federal and D.C. government workers who deserve to live in a world where they do not experience violence at the hands of their partners. This is a women's and civil rights issue that impacts our members and all workers across the country. AFGE stands with all victims of domestic assault and urges Congress to pass HR 1585 and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act."

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.

Journalists, political leaders agree on blueprint to rebuild public trust in institutions

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by: National Press Club Journalism Institute

Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Journalists, elected officials and government communicators committed to concrete steps aimed at increasing trust and civility in public life following two days of intensive conversations at the National Press Club.

Hosted by the club's nonprofit Journalism Institute and facilitated by the National Institute of Civil Discourse, the "Dialogue in a Divided Democracy" brought together more than 60 people —news media leaders and the people they cover—for face-to-face conversations about the challenges facing key American institutions. PEN America and the Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership partnered in the event.

Among steps participants agreed to take:

  • Engage in a practice of "radical transparency." Journalists will open up newsrooms and their decision-making processes to the public and do a better job explaining the difference between opinion and news, as well as identifying more clearly "who is a journalist," while elected officials will also commit to greater transparency and accessibility;
  • Provide better training for new journalists and congressional staff who work with the press and offer opportunities for them to get to know peers in other parties and across the journalism/politician divide;
  • Make more time to get to know each other and build relationships;
  • Take a series of steps to de-escalate danger and increase security for journalists and public officials alike;
  • Avoid inflammatory language.

  • These commitments represent the results of dialogues that began at a Monday night dinner followed by a day of small group discussions on topics suggested by a series of speakers.

    "We didn't agree on everything or solve all of our problems but we did agree that we want to keep working to de-escalate the hostility in public life and do a better job for the public that we all serve," said Barbara Cochran, president of the NPC Journalism Institute.

    Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director emerita of the National Institute of Civil Discourse, described it as an important first step towards changing the political ecosystem.

    "The experience brought renewed hope that we can rebuild the public's trust in our democratic institutions," she said.

    The audience heard from authors of two recent studies that document the declining confidence of Americans in key democratic institutions: The Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, and The Democracy Project, a joint effort of the George W. Bush Institute, the Penn Biden Center and Freedom House.

    Speakers cited a number of factors for the decline in trust and civility, including incentives for elected officials and media that reward speed and conflict -- with a news cycle that offers little time for nuance, context, reflection or relationship-building. "We should all think twice, or three times, before tweeting," said Thomas O. Melia, Washington Director of PEN America, and one of the dialogue's facilitators, "and maybe eliminate comments about people altogether, and stick to issues and ideas."

    Former White House press secretaries Mike McCurry and Ari Fleischer pleaded for less breathless incrementalism in news coverage: "When you cover every pitch, you miss the game," said Fleischer.

    Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said the same lack of deliberation has cheapened discourse in the political sphere. "There's a reward for snarkiness and nastiness and little for thoughtfulness and analysis," Flake said. Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., raised concerns about political activists who masquerade as members of the press. "They use the title of journalist," he said, urging reporters: "Hold those folks accountable too."

    Speakers from the world of journalism cited the collapse of employment in the industry — more than 25,000 newsroom jobs have been lost since 2008, according to the Knight Commission — as a major factor in the loss of community cohesion and urged a recommitment to local news. "I learned to be a journalist covering local news," said Politico Editor Carrie Budoff Brown. "I don't believe there are as many of those opportunities for reporters."

    Rick Hutzell, editor of the Capital Gazette, the newspaper in Annapolis that lost five employees when a gunman attacked the newsroom last year, said he has been heartened to find out how much his organization means to the community. Key to that relationship is a willingness to "keep talking," he said.

    "Lean into criticism," he advised reporters. "Listen to what they are saying, even if they're wrong."

    Several editors said they are having success working for non-profit news operations that enlist the community in identifying and dissecting difficult stories.

    Resolve Philadelphia provides a platform for 22 local newsrooms to work "from the same bank of resources" on stories ranging from the reintegration of released prisoners into society, the city's persistent poverty rate, and municipal elections, said Cassie Haynes, the program's co-executive director.

    Acknowledging that sometimes journalists have "acted like jerks," Doug Oplinger said that as head of the journalistic collaborative Your Voice Ohio he urged them to act like members of the community. Journalists shouldn't be afraid to say "I want the world to get better," and offer ideas for solutions to the problems they uncover, said the former Akron Beacon Journal editor.

    It was in that spirit that the National Press Club Journalism Institute decided to sponsor the Dialogue for a Divided Democracy, said Kathy Kiely, Lee Hills Chair of Free Press Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism and an organizer of the program.

    "Journalists are not enemies of the people. We are their eyes, their ears and their advocates," said Kiely, who wrapped up her tenure as the Journalism Institute's first press freedom fellow at the event. "We cannot and will not be neutral bystanders when the democracy in which we are so deeply embedded is at risk."

    With this summit, the Institute is launching an initiative to convene communities who share a commitment to building trust across differences in a divided democracy, and to growing journalism in the public interest, said Julie Moos, who joined the National Press Club Journalism Institute as Executive Director in January. "There is a coalition developing with a clear call to consistent action, and the public requires us to succeed."

    Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2019

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    by: Raul Grijalva (D-AZ, 3rd)

    Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva introduced the Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2019. The legislation would establish a veteran visa program that would allow for eligible deported veterans to permanently return to the United States as lawful permanent residents.

    “It is unconscionable that the phrase ‘deported veteran’ even exists,” said Rep. Grijalva. “If you’re good enough to enlist in our military and fight for this country, you’re good enough to become a U.S. citizen. I am proud to reintroduce this legislation to ensure that we honor our commitments to all veterans and end this shameful practice of deporting them even after they serve time for the offense they committed.”

    While very little data exists on the number of veterans deported, advocates estimate that more than 2000 veterans are currently living in Mexican border towns after their deportation. Under current law, the only way that deported veterans can return to the United States is only in death, for a burial in a veteran’s cemetery. By allowing deported veterans to return, this legislation will reunite families and allow veterans access to their hard-earned VA benefits.

    Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) reintroduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.

    “Men and women willing to wear our uniform shouldn’t be deported by the same nation they risked their lives to defend,” Sen. Duckworth said. “These pieces of legislation will help Servicemembers become citizens and help Veterans like Miguel who have been deported return to this country, enabling them to live here with their families and ensuring they can access the life-saving VA care they earned through their tremendous sacrifices.”

    The Veterans Visa and Protection Act is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Legion.

    Representatives Jesús “Chuy” García and Adriano Espaillat Call Foul on USCIS Office Closures

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    by: Jesus Garcia (D-IL, 4th)

    Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04) and Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) led more than 60 of their colleagues in an effort to prevent U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from closing its international field offices. Last month, the agency announced it would close nearly two-dozen offices in 21 countries around the globe that assist with refugee and asylum cases, help Americans who are adopting children from abroad, and process applications to reunite families. The offices also work to combat immigration fraud.

    “USCIS International Operations Division field offices provide critical services that aid our immigration process and prospective immigrants. We believe the Trump Administration’s proposal to close these offices runs counter to its stated goal of helping reduce the current backlog Instead, we fear this is an ill-conceived attempt to reduce legal immigration by reducing access to the agencies that implement our immigration laws,” the members wrote in a letter to the Appropriations Committee requesting language in its report to accompany the bill funding the Department of Homeland Security recommending USCIS keep the international field offices fully operational. The Appropriations Committee is expected to consider the bill later this spring.

    “This is another example of the president’s broader attack on immigrants. Trump’s decision hurts American families, businesses, and individuals seeking humanitarian relief. His actions fly in the face of our American principles of welcoming people seeking a better life and opportunity,” said Rep. García.

    “The Trump Administration will stop at nothing to make it harder for immigrants to come to the United States legally,” said Rep. Espaillat. “This is just another battle in his war on immigrants, and we won’t stand for it. USCIS’s overseas offices provide critical services not only to prospective immigrants, but also to U.S. citizens, and they must remain open.”

    The letter continues: “The administration claims it will redistribute resources from closing international field offices to domestic offices in order to reduce caseload backlogs. Yet, at the same time, the President’s Budget request includes proposed increases in visa application fees, including a “deficit reduction” surcharge that would not even fund agency operations. It would seem to be against the interests of prospective immigrants, the mandate of the agency, and the intent of Congress to levy additional fees that will not even help to reduce caseload backlogs. We strongly believe the administration is presenting a false choice – USCIS can continue to operate its international field offices while finding other efficiencies to reduce its backlog of cases.”

    The members also recommended increased funding to assist the agency with its growing caseload backlog, which has reached a nearly two-year wait following the filing of a petition.

    In addition to this request, Reps. García and Espaillat are crafting forthcoming legislation that would prohibit USCIS from closing international field offices without consulting with Congress.

    The Status Quo is Failing, Here's How We Fix It

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    by: Mike Gallagher (R-WI, 8th)

    Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Last week, Congressman Mike Gallagher attended the Unrig Summit to discuss his ideas on how to fix our broken Congress. The congressman has been a leader on this issue since he arrived in Congress, and has introduced a number of bills to help drain the swamp. Watch his full remarks above, or read highlights from his speech below.

    Congressman Gallagher's three simple ideas to make Congress work again:

    “The first is in just changing the schedule through which Congress operates. Right now you fly-in on a Tuesday night, you fly-out on a Thursday. People are raising money all the time, and then we don’t get anything done. Then what do we do in August? We take a big vacation…in what other job would you take a month long vacation having failed to actually do your job? Simply getting rid of the vacation and changing the Congressional calendar so we’re forced to actually stay there and do our jobs would go a long way.
    "So what’s the second thing that you could do? Let’s say you get everyone in D.C., they’re working, they can’t go on vacation. Well, you don’t want them to spend that time raising money. How about we disallow fundraising while Congress is in session?

    "A third simple thing that I have Democrat and Republican colleagues intrigued by: we all know that people are using political office as a pathway to getting rich. People spend their time there and then they cash out and become lobbyists. How about we just don’t allow former Members of Congress to become lobbyists?"

    On the challenges ahead for Congressional Reform:

    "Political reform is not popular with people that have spent their entire lives in politics in Washington D.C. because it threatens their power. But change is overwhelmingly popular with the American people. The American people are crying out for serious reform right now…and I believe that it is almost a matter of time before we get it."


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    by: Matt Gaetz (R-FL, 1st)

    Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-01) announced, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, the introduction of the “Green Real Deal,” a plan to address climate change by harnessing the power of free markets, embracing technological innovation and entrepreneurship, and cutting excessive governmental red tape. Congressman Gaetz’s “Green Real Deal” is the preeminent conservative response to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (NY-14) “Green New Deal” introduced earlier this year.

    Rep. Gaetz’s “Green Real Deal” recognizes that a national commitment to innovation, competitive markets, and the deployment of advanced energy technologies will help the United States as the global leader in clean energy. The Green Real Deal calls for increased investment in clean energy technology and sources, like solar and nuclear power, while improving transparency and accountability for the benefit of customers, investors, and shareholders alike. Pointing to the unprecedented demand for job-creating, American-made clean energy, as well as the need to empower individuals and businesses to come together, the Green Real Deal harnesses the power of the free market to create millions of U.S. energy jobs and secure the nation’s position as a global environmental leader.

    A transcript and video of the press conference can be found below, as well as the background information on the “Green Real Deal.”


    Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Votes to End U.S. Support for Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen

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    by: Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI, 2nd)

    Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) voted in support of S.J.Res.7, a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen. The Congresswoman has been a leading voice in Congress calling for an end to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which Congress has not authorized, and which has created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportion.

    Just before the vote, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard spoke on the House Floor urging her colleagues to recognize the urgency of this crisis and to vote to pass the legislation.

    The House of Representatives voted 247-175 to pass S.J.Res.7, and it now heads to President Trump for his signature or veto.

    Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said:

    “Right now the United States continues to support Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen. This support has been ongoing since 2015 and yet has never been authorized by Congress. It must end now.

    “U.S. support for this war has resulted in dire consequences. Just last week the Saudi coalition bombed a hospital, they’ve bombed school buses, weddings, markets, funerals. Tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians killed. Millions more are in dire need of humanitarian aid, starving and sick without access to food and water or basic medicine. This has created the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

    “We’re voting later today on an important bill to finally, finally end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. We need to put politics aside. Lives are at stake. We cannot afford to delay. I urge my colleagues to recognize the urgency with which we must act to vote against any attempts to delay or block this bill and vote to pass S.J.Res.7 today.”

    Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is a leading voice for peace in Congress, advocating against counterproductive, regime-change wars. She has called for ending support for Saudi Arabia, pushed for additional oversight on acquisition and cross-service agreements (Section 1271 of the FY19 NDAA), supported three resolutions in the 115th Congress (H.Con.Res.81, H.Con.Res.138, and H.Con.Res.142) that sought to stop U.S. military participation in Saudi Arabia's war against the Houthis in Yemen, in addition to bipartisan legislation (H.R.7082) that would immediately stop all military sales and aid to the government of Saudi Arabia, and more. The congresswoman also led a letter calling on former Speaker Paul Ryan to schedule an immediate vote on a bipartisan resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

    Last congress, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Walter Jones introduced H.Res.922, which would reclaim Congress’s constitutional right to declare war by:

  • Defining presidential wars not declared by Congress under Article I, section 8, clause 11 (Declare War Clause) as impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors”
  • Prohibiting the President from perpetuating ongoing wars or supplying war materials, military troops, trainers, or advisers, military intelligence, financial support or their equivalent in association, cooperation, assistance, or common cause without first receiving congressional authorization

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    by: Senator Chuck Grassley - (R - IA)

    Washington, D.C. - April 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved by a vote of 51-0 its version of the CREATES Act, which is cosponsored in the Senate by Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley. The CREATES Act addresses abuses by brand-name drug companies that keep lower-cost generic alternatives from being developed or reaching the market. The legislation is estimated to saves taxpayers roughly $3.9 billion over 10 years. The House committee also advanced by voice vote a bill to end anti-competitive pay-for-delay agreements between brand-name drugmakers and generic manufacturers that keep lower-cost alternative drugs off the market. Grassley is the lead Republican cosponsor of separate bipartisan legislation in the Senate to address pay-for-delay.

    “Few proposals get unanimous support these days. Yesterday’s broad, bipartisan action by the House Energy and Commerce Committee to advance the CREATES Act is a major win for consumers. I look forward to advancing this bill because it will cut down on abuses in the system that keep prices high for patients. I’m also pleased that the committee advanced a bill to address pay-for-delay schemes. Although that bill is not identical to the bill I’ve sponsored in the Senate, the bill’s movement shows that the committee is serious about addressing the pay-for-delay problem. I’ll continue to push for legislation to address abuse and improve competition in the prescription drug market. I’ll also continue working to bring transparency to the business model and supply chain that is causing unnecessarily high prices for American patients and taxpayers,” Grassley said.

    Grassley held two hearings this year on drug pricing in America, including one with seven leading drug manufacturers, and has scheduled a hearing with five pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) for next week. He is also leading a bipartisan investigation with Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden into the recent spike in the price of insulin.