Federal Legislative Update
June 29, 2018
APHA “Speak for Health”
Both the Senate and the House are out of session July 2-6, and the House is on recess all of August, which means your senators and representative will be home and more accessible. Important public health issues at stake over the next few months include protecting and increasing public health funding, stopping efforts to weaken or repeal the Affordable Care Act and protecting safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the Farm Bill. We also need your help opposing efforts to weaken laws and other safeguards that protect our health from dangerous air pollution and the health impacts of climate change.
Supreme Court News
The Supreme Court ruled this week that the California law requiring pregnancy centers to notify women that state might cover abortions is likely unconstitutional.
The California law requires centers to notify women that the state provides free or low-cost health care, contraception services and abortion.
The clinics said the state was violating free speech rights by requiring them to deliver a message that was in opposition to their very purpose.
The state said the law was targeted at centers that mislead women into believing they offer all services but only want to persuade them to continue their pregnancies.
The Court ruled Tuesday that President Trump has the authority to ban travelers from certain majority-Muslim countries if he thinks it is necessary to protect the United States, a victory in what has been a priority since Trump’s first weeks in office and a major affirmation of presidential power.
The vote was 5 to 4, with conservatives in the majority and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. finding that a string of unprecedented comments and warnings from Trump about Muslims did not erode the president’s vast powers to control entry into this country.
In major blow to organized labor, the Supreme Court says public employee unions may not charge fees to nonmembers.
The case has major implications for the future of organized labor, which has become a pillar of Democratic Party politics, and for the millions of workers in the nearly half of states that authorize payments from nonmembers to cover the cost of collective bargaining.
Conservative activists for years have brought lawsuits arguing the payments are a violation of nonmembers’ free-speech rights.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that public-employee unions could charge nonmembers for the cost of representation but not for the union’s political activities.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is retiring, a move that will give Trump a chance to shift the institution to the right.
Kennedy, 81, has been the court’s most important member for more than a decade. The Californian chosen by President Ronald Reagan has cast the deciding vote on the court’s controversial Citizens United campaign finance decision, the constitutional right to same-sex marriage and the continued viability of affirmative action.
Washington could be in for an epic battle over Kennedy’s replacement.
It will be the first time since Justice Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall more than 25 years ago that a new justice could radically change the direction of the court. Justices added to the court since then have replaced justices of the same basic ideology.
The Senate passed a $428 billion farm bill this week, setting up a fight with the House over food stamps, subsidies and conservation.
The Senate bill, which passed with bipartisan support, now requires reconciliation with a House measure passed last week.
The House-passed version imposed work requirements for food-stamp recipients and largely eliminated a popular conservation program. Those provisions are not included in the Senate version, setting up a struggle between House conservatives who pushed the provisions and Senate Democrats and some Republicans who oppose them.
The current law expires Sept. 30. If a new measure isn’t passed before then, some farm programs could expire or lose funding.
Sen. Chuck Schumer has introduced a new bill to decriminalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level.
The legislation, which the New York Democrat announced back in April, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, where it is classified among drugs such as heroin and LSD.
By striking marijuana from the act, Schumer's office said in a news release Wednesday, the bill would effectively decriminalize the drug at the federal level. The measure would still allow states to determine their own marijuana laws while maintaining federal law enforcement against trafficking to states where it is illegal.
Budget Cuts to Public Health Corps
The White House is proposing to reduce by nearly 40 percent the uniformed public health professionals who deploy during disasters and disease outbreaks, monitor drug safety and provide health care in some of the nation’s most remote and disadvantaged areas. The proposal is part of a plan announced last week by the Office of Management and Budget to overhaul the federal government. It would cut the size of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps from its current 6,500 officers to “no more than 4,000 officers.” Administration officials, who have said the officers are “more expensive” than equivalent civilians, want “a leaner and more efficient organization” better prepared to respond to public health emergencies. They have not offered projections on how much might be saved.