Policy Corner

Michigan Primary raises citizenship question

“Are you a citizen?” was the question posed by the Michigan Primary even before voters were asked to decide between President Obama or Santorum and Romney.
PFAW Foundation

Virginia poised to tighten voter ID requirements

In a tie-breaking vote cast by its Lieutenant Governor, Virginia yesterday came one step closer to tightening its voter ID requirements.
PFAW Foundation

Every Child Deserves a Family

Half million children in the foster care system. 120,000 eligible for adoption. Every child deserves a family.
PFAW

Pew report reveals our real voting problem

The Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives today released Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient, detailing an astonishing voter registration crisis in this country.

“Voter registration is the gateway to participating in our democracy, but these antiquated, paper-based systems are plagued with errors and inefficiencies,” said David Becker, director of Election Initiatives at the Pew Center on the States. “These problems waste taxpayer dollars, undermine voter confidence, and fuel partisan disputes over the integrity of our elections.”

Mr. Becker makes an important point: our problems are found in a system that hasn’t kept up with the times. The solution is to modernize that system, not cause further harm by prioritizing politics over participation.

Last fall’s The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation, details just how harmful the politics can be.

“This report reveals just how the far the Right Wing is willing to go to win elections,” continued Keegan. “Eroding the achievements of the Civil Rights movement by disenfranchising voters is abhorrent. All Americans have a fundamental right to vote, and we need to be vigilant to make sure that ever eligible voter is ready and able to vote on Election Day."

The Brennan Center for Justice continues:

“Last year, a slew of states passed new laws making it harder to vote. Notably, none of those laws addressed the concerns highlighted in this study. Rather than erecting barriers between eligible American citizens and their right to vote, we should be opening pathways to a modern voting system. Voter registration modernization is a common sense reform that would cost less, register many more voters, and curb any possibility of fraud. It should be put in place without delay.”

There is no question that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that eligible Americans can exercise their right to vote. But the goal should be fair and honest enfranchisement, not the politics of distraction.

PFAW

UPDATE: Stop School Bullying this GSA Day!

As you know, PFAW recently celebrated GSA Day 2012 and the work of Gay-Straight Alliances that bring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied people together to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and hate, and we called on you to be part of the solution.
PFAW

President Obama calls for DC budget autonomy

The budget proposal that President Obama released earlier today is the first in a series of executive and congressional actions that will fund the government in the next fiscal year. Among the thousands of pages of tables and spreadsheets are two items of note to DC democracy advocates.

Appendix, Page 1317:

The District of Columbia annually receives direct Federal payments for a number of local programs in recognition of the District's unique status as the seat of the Federal Government. These General and Special Payments are separate from and in addition to the District's local budget, which is funded through local revenues. Consistent with the principle of home rule, it is the Administration's view that the District's local budget should be authorized to take effect without a separate annual Federal appropriations bill. The Administration will work with Congress and the Mayor to pass legislation to amend the D.C. Home Rule Act to provide the District with local budget autonomy.

Appendix, Page 1321:

SEC. 817. Section 446 of the Home Rule Act (D.C. Official Code sec. 1–204.46) is amended by adding the following at the end of its fourth sentence, before the period ": Provided, That, notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, effective for fiscal year 2013, and for each succeeding fiscal year, during a period in which there is an absence of a federal appropriations act authorizing the expenditure of District of Columbia local funds, the District of Columbia may obligate and expend local funds for programs and activities at the rate set forth in the Budget Request Act adopted by the Council, or a reprogramming adopted pursuant to this section." (Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2012.)

In the absence of voting rights, budget autonomy is an important step toward enfranchising our nation's capital. DC should have control over its local revenues without having to clear that spending through Congress, and those local revenues should not be held hostage in the event of a government shutdown.

As the President himself points out, the Administration must work with Congress and the Mayor to ensure that these statements move from words to actions.

Click here for more information from DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

PFAW

FINAL PUSH: Online March for Trust Women Week!

There are now over 100,000 participants in the Online March for Trust Women Week. We’re making our final push today. Please join now!

Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive freedom and health are still under attack.

The Tea Party Congress has moved aggressively to shut down women's access to reproductive health care and deny women the basic right to choose by targeting their health insurance and key healthcare providers, most notably, Planned Parenthood. In the states, a movement is afoot to make abortions illegal by conferring the status of “personhood” on embryos, and various state legislatures have taken up bills that would erect insurmountable barriers to women exercising their right to choose.

People For the American Way is proud to be partnering with the Silver Ribbon Campaign and an extremely broad coalition of organizations to promote the Virtual March celebrating Trust Women Week.

It is imperative that we begin 2012 with a powerful event that builds solidarity and momentum for reproductive health, rights and justice.

Join the Virtual March now and send your views to Congress and other elected officials where key decisions are pending about reproductive health, rights and justice.

You'll see your actions on an online map where you can also see who else is joining you, nearby and nationwide.

Choose from messages like:
  • “I trust women and I vote”
  • “Reproductive rights are human rights”
  • “We are the 99%. Fix the economy, and stop the war on women”
  • And more.
Join the march now and then help spread the word!

You can find out more about Trust Women Week at http://oursilverribbon.org.

Thank you for standing up for women’s rights and against right-wing attacks on reproductive freedom.
PFAW

UPDATE: Online March for Trust Women Week!

PFAW has made a very strong showing among the more than 80,000 people who have already joined the Online March for Trust Women Week. If you haven’t yet, please join now!

Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive freedom and health are still under attack.

The Tea Party Congress has moved aggressively to shut down women's access to reproductive health care and deny women the basic right to choose by targeting their health insurance and key healthcare providers, most notably, Planned Parenthood. In the states, a movement is afoot to make abortions illegal by conferring the status of “personhood” on embryos, and various state legislatures have taken up bills that would erect insurmountable barriers to women exercising their right to choose.

People For the American Way is proud to be partnering with the Silver Ribbon Campaign and an extremely broad coalition of organizations to promote the Virtual March celebrating Trust Women Week.

It is imperative that we begin 2012 with a powerful event that builds solidarity and momentum for reproductive health, rights and justice.

Join the Virtual March now and send your views to Congress and other elected officials where key decisions are pending about reproductive health, rights and justice.

You'll see your actions on an online map where you can also see who else is joining you, nearby and nationwide.

Choose from messages like:
  • “I trust women and I vote”
  • “Reproductive rights are human rights”
  • “We are the 99%. Fix the economy, and stop the war on women”
  • And more.
Join the march now and then help spread the word!

You can find out more about Trust Women Week at http://oursilverribbon.org.

Thank you for standing up for women’s rights and against right-wing attacks on reproductive freedom.
PFAW

What a Difference 18 Years Makes

Sometimes it’s hard to see what it means to make change. Last week OutServe brought us a notable exception.

Not long ago, this video could not have been made. It’s because so many people worked so hard over the past 18 years to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that this issue could be raised so openly from within the armed forces. And all of our work on It Gets Better and safe schools will be better for it.

PFAW

Stop School Bullying this GSA Day!

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides in 2010, Senator Al Franken took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. His Student Non-Discrimination Act (S. 555) protects them from school-based discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Today, Senator Franken has an important video announcement for you regarding S. 555.

On the occasion of GSA Day 2012, when we celebrate the work of Gay-Straight Alliances that bringing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied people together to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and hate, PFAW has called on you to be part of the solution.

Below are some quick talking points (more detailed talking points here) you can use in your call and to help promote awareness about the bill.
  • Celebrate Gay-Straight Alliance Day by supporting and cosponsoring the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
  • Bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination, but federal civil rights statutes leave LGBT students, and those who are perceived to be LGBT, unprotected.
  • Bullying and harassment in schools is a pervasive national problem.
  • Both Americans overall and education professionals in particular recognize the problem and support congressional action.
  • When students lose their sense of safety, they lose their access to quality education.
  • As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it should address the bullying and harassment problem.
  • This isn’t just a question of education. It’s a matter of life and death.
Please call your senators now: Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121

You can let us know how your call went with our online call report form.

More than one third of the Senate already supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act. You can check for your senators on the list here and if one or both of your senators are on it, please make your call a “thank you” call.

PFAW

Join the Online March for Trust Women Week!

Yesterday, I asked you to join the Online March for Trust Women Week. PFAW supporters are among the 66,000 and counting who’ve already marched. If you haven’t yet, please join now!

Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive freedom and health are still under attack.

The Tea Party Congress has moved aggressively to shut down women's access to reproductive health care and deny women the basic right to choose by targeting their health insurance and key healthcare providers, most notably, Planned Parenthood. In the states, a movement is afoot to make abortions illegal by conferring the status of “personhood” on embryos, and various state legislatures have taken up bills that would erect insurmountable barriers to women exercising their right to choose.

People For the American Way is proud to be partnering with the Silver Ribbon Campaign and an extremely broad coalition of organizations to promote the Virtual March celebrating Trust Women Week.

It is imperative that we begin 2012 with a powerful event that builds solidarity and momentum for reproductive health, rights and justice.

Join the Virtual March now and send your views to Congress and other elected officials where key decisions are pending about reproductive health, rights and justice.

You'll see your actions on an online map where you can also see who else is joining you, nearby and nationwide.

Choose from messages like:
  • “I trust women and I vote”
  • “Reproductive rights are human rights”
  • “We are the 99%. Fix the economy, and stop the war on women”
  • And more.
Join the march now and then help spread the word!

You can find out more about Trust Women Week at http://oursilverribbon.org.

Thank you for standing up for women’s rights and against right-wing attacks on reproductive freedom.
PFAW

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s Story Comes to ABC

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides last fall, PFAW took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. Last Friday, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition turned its attention to the story of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.

On April 6, 2009, 11-year-old Carl Walker took his own life after being relentlessly bullied at school. Carl's family has focused their energies on helping others. They have turned this tragic event into something positive by lobbying for new state and federal laws against bullying.

The 3rd floor of the Walker home is where Carl took his own life. As a result, the family cannot bear the sadness of being on that floor. They need a new home that would meet their current needs yet also honor Carl in a positive way. Know anyone who can help?

Ty Pennington and designers Michael Moloney, Tracy Hutson, Jillian Harris, John Littlefield and local builders N. Riley Construction, Inc., as well as community volunteers, are tasked with building a new home while the Walkers are whisked away on a dream vacation to Hollywood.

As part of the episode, ABC teamed up with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network:

GLSEN worked with the Makeover team to create Stand Together, a community of people dedicated to taking action against bullying, with Sirdeaner Walker - a leading advocate on this issue - as the driving force behind the movement. The online hub featured in the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode is designed to raise awareness about the overwhelming number of bullying incidents in our nation's schools. Those touched by her work of making schools safe for all students can get involved and make a pledge against bullying and harassment by visiting www.standtogether.tv.

Stand Together is a great new tool to show how diverse the fight against bullying has become. They are well over one hundred thousand strong and still growing.

PFAW will continue its own advocacy to make sure that lessons are learned from stories like Carl's. Just this week, we sent a letter to the Senate supporting the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

S. 555 protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.

Senator Franken is the sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimation Act.

On a personal note, Carl's story will remain saved in my DVR as a reminder of why I – why all of us in this fight do what we do.

PFAW

PFAW Applauds Committee Vote on Respect For Marriage Act

Back in July, I had the privilege of attending the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act. Today brought me to another historic moment: the passage of that bill out of Committee.

Senator Feinstein, the bill’s chief sponsor, offered a perfect description of how times have changed.

“When DOMA passed 15 years ago, no state permitted same-sex marriage. Today, 6 states and the District of Columbia do: Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

So, today there are 131,000-plus legally married same-sex couples in this country.

These changes reflect a firmly-established legal principle in this country: marriage is a legal preserve of the states.

DOMA infringes on this state authority by requiring the federal government to disregard state law, and deny more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits to which all other legally married couples are entitled.”

Here are a mere few of the many highlights from the other nine Democrats on the Committee, all nine among the bill’s thirty cosponsors.

Chairman Leahy:

“The Federal Government should not deny recognition and protection to the thousands of Americans who are lawfully married under their state law. We must repeal DOMA to ensure the freedom and equality of all of our citizens.”

Senator Durbin:

“I voted for DOMA. I believe I was wrong.”

“If this is called to the floor and only the 30 cosponsors vote for it, it’s worth the effort.”

Senator Franken:

“But every year, when they fill out their federal tax return, Javen and Oby have to check the ‘single’ box. They have to sign that form—under penalty of perjury. Every year, DOMA forces Javen and Oby to lie under oath. Every year, Javen and Oby pay taxes to a government that says their marriage is a fiction, even though they are a married couple—in the eyes of the God that they worship, in the eyes of their friends and family, and in the eyes of the state of Connecticut.”

“And you know, when we do pass it, straight people aren’t suddenly going to become gay. Straight people aren’t going to stop getting married. No, we’re going to be just fine. What will happen is that millions upon millions of lesbian and gay Americans aren’t going to suffer the indignity of having their own government tell them that their marriages are no good. What will happen is that it will be easier for those people to start and protect their families.”

Senator Coons:

"This is a truly important day in our nation's journey toward equality," Senator Coons said. "We’ve made tremendous progress and I am proud of the committee's vote today. As more Americans join the cause of equality, the Senate is changing with it. Equality is never a special interest — it is a fundamental interest of this country. Whether the Respect for Marriage Act moves to the floor in this Congress or the next, we will eventually repeal DOMA. We must redouble our efforts to show that the love and commitment shared by same-sex couples is of equal value as that shared by heterosexual couples."

Please take a moment to add your name to PFAW's petition urging Congress to Dump DOMA and end this unconstitutional, discriminatory policy once and for all.

PFAW

SB 137 says Michigan bullies can hide behind religion

In 2002, upon completing eighth grade at MacDonald Middle School in East Lansing, MI, Matt Epling was the victim of a hazing assault by upperclassmen. Roughly forty days later, presumably still reeling from the aftermath of the incident, Matt committed suicide. In the years since, friends and family have honored his memory by fighting for the passage of Matt’s Safe School Law.

The latest iteration of this legislation passed the Michigan Senate on November 2. But instead of protecting students like Matt from bullying and harassment, SB 137 creates a potentially dangerous religious exemption.

This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.

The First Amendment and the fundamental constitutional rights and principles it encompasses deserve our utmost respect and a passionate defense. But to exempt religion in this way is not the answer.

Matt’s father, [Kevin Epling], expressed his dismay in a Facebook post after the state senate vote on Wednesday. “I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying,” wrote Epling. “For years the line [from Republicans] has been ‘no protected classes,’ and the first thing they throw in…was a very protected class, and limited them from repercussions of their own actions.”

Senator Gretchen Whitmer:

Or as Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, once said:

This is an issue of behavior, not belief.

News reports suggest that a compromise is in the works. Please tell the House and the Education Committee to:

Fix SB 137 by removing the exemption clause, adding statewide reporting requirements, and adding enumerated protections for categories such as race, disability, and sexual orientation.
PFAW

Norton Thanks Issa for Pulling DC Bill

Yesterday we reported how eager Representative Darrell Issa was to override DC’s home rule when he introduced a bill to mandate new DC hiring practices. Just hours later, he pulled his bill off the markup schedule for his committee, where it had been fast-tracked. DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton:

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) called Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) today to thank him for pulling his bill on District of Columbia hiring practices, after D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown called and assured Issa that the city was moving forward with its own hiring reform legislation. During an affable phone conversation, Norton told Issa that she has long advised members of Congress who have concerns about local D.C. laws to speak directly with the mayor, council chair, or her regarding their concerns rather than to introduce legislation, and that she hopes that other Members will follow Issa’s example in this case of working directly with the city to address their concerns.

We must still remain vigilant in the House, because as Delegate Norton points out:

The current House Republican majority has been less open to working with the District and instead has moved aggressively on anti-home-rule legislation.

And in the Senate, remember that PFAW is still calling for a clean funding bill, and urges everyone to send the same message to the Senate.

PFAW

UPDATE: PFAW to Senate GOP: Leave DC alone

Last month, PFAW strongly encouraged the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve a clean DC appropriations bill. Now the fight continues in the Senate, where this week we expect the consideration of a “minibus” appropriations package including DC.

PFAW renews its call for a clean bill, and urges everyone to once again send the same message to the Senate.

DC residents and their elected officials should be the ones who determine what is best for their city, without the meddling of a Congress in which they have no vote. For a party that claims to be focused on getting the federal government out of people’s lives, many Republicans have been astoundingly eager to override DC’s home rule.

On the House side, Representative Darrell Issa is showing how eager he is to do just that. Representative Issa has introduced a bill to mandate new DC hiring practices, and he’ll mark up that bill in his committee on Thursday morning.

Seriousness of recent DC scandals aside, Representative Issa fails to recognize that this is a DC problem, one that DC itself is already investigating through the city council, the Office of Campaign Finance, and the US Attorney. DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton:

The bill represents a significant escalation of Republicans’ relentless attacks this Congress on the District’s right to self-government . . . [It] will not pass the committee quietly, and if it makes it to the House floor, we will make it very clear that Republicans, who profess to support local control of local matters, are focused on partisan, ideological fights, not addressing Americans’ top priority: jobs.
PFAW