New Congress More Ideological
|Although there were many
good feminist candidates elected (60 of those endorsed by NOW/PAC
won elective office), the conservative wave that was launched in 1994 will
maintain control of both houses of Congress. Only 13 of the extremist Republican
freshman class were turned back by the voters on November 5th to produce
a smaller majority (235 of 435 in the 104th Congress, 225 for the 105th).
Democrats made a small gain in the House (net of eight as of this date,
with three races yet to be decided) but lost two seats in the Senate, giving
the Republicans a 55-45 majority.
The new make-up spells even tougher times for feminist issues in Congress, especially those relating to reproductive rights. The most ominous result of the election is the fact that hard core anti-abortion proponents managed to increase their strength. A preliminary count has 51 solid anti-abortion members in the Senate; only 35 Senators are identified as being solidly within the pro-abortion rights camp, with 14 members classified in as 'mixed.' Those members, including 10 Democrats, are Biden (D-DE), Bryan (D-NV), Campbell (R-CO), Cleland (D-GA), Collins (R-ME), Conrad (D-ND), Dorgan (D-ND), Graham (D-FL), Johnson (D-SD), Landrieu (D-LA), Leahy (D-VT), Moynihan (D-NY), Specter (R-PA), and Stevens (R-AK).
The House anti-abortion majority is decidedly stronger at 221 (mostly Republicans and 37 Democrats), with only 145 abortion rights supporters (nearly all Democrats, 4 Republicans), and a 'mixed' group of 35 Democrats/29 Republicans (total: 64). It can be speculated that anti-reproductive rights measures will sail through the House and face hard fought battles in the Senate, with appeals to the 14 'swing' members to tip the scales. Other issues which disproportionately affect women may find the same voting patterns, with the exception of violence against women legislation which has usually enjoyed strong bipartisan support.
Given that Congress has become even more ideological, Republican priority legislation from the 104th which did not get passed will be pushed with renewed vigor. This includes the affirmative action repeal, parental 'rights,' rollback of Food and Drug Administration review and approval process for drugs and medical devices, the late term abortion (D & X) abortion ban, and other restrictions on reproductive rights/family planning funding. It seems likely as well that there will be only very limited corrective legislation on welfare -- if any -- despite the President's vow to do something about the new law's most punishing aspects.
Women Gain More House Seats
|The 1996 election produced a new record high for the number
of women members of the U.S. House of Representatives at 49 of the 435
seats; 34 are Democrats and 15 are Republican. And that total could move
up to as much as 53 women members, depending on how several close races
turn out. In addition, District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton
handily won re-election. The Senate kept its nine female members, although
some faces have changed. Republican Sheila Frahm who was appointed to replace
retiring Sen. Bob Dole lost in the primary, but Democrat Mary Landrieu
(LA) and Republican Susan Collins (ME) will join the upper body. Republican
Nancy Kassebaum (KS) retired this year.
Seven women (9 House members and two Senators) retired at the close of the 104th and four were defeated in their re-election bids. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire democrat heavily supported by NOW, was the only woman elected governor, bringing the grand total to two women governors for the country. Christine Todd Whitman, Republican governor of New Jersey, is the other.
President Supports Family Violence Provisions for Welfare Plans
|President Clinton has issued a directive to the Department
of Health and Human Services and the Justice department to work with states
to incorporate the Family Violence Provisions in their welfare plan.
The president issued his recommendation
at a Rose Garden ceremony in early October, honoring Domestic Violence
Awareness Month, and instructed federal agencies to collaborate with states
and domestic violence program advocates to assure that families facing
violence receive help.
The Family Violence Provisions would have states confidentially screen welfare recipients for current or past domestic violence, refer them to counseling and support services, and provide "good cause" waivers from certain program requirements, among other things. The provisions are the same as those adopted by both the House and Senate as an amendment offered by Sens. Paul Wellstone and Patty Murray and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, but was made optional for the states (as opposed to required) by the welfare bill conference committee.
NOW Foundation and NOW/LDEF, with domestic violence coalition partners, are working hard to get information to the 50 states about how to address violence in their new plans, which must be filed with the federal government as required by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193). As of early November, 26 states had filed plans, with varying degrees of detail, but only six had included any elements of the Family Violence Provisions.
Increased evidence of violence in the lives of poor women discounts the Republican demonization of 'welfare queens.' More scientific journal articles, based on the Worcester, MA Better Homes Fund study of 1100 poor women and their children, have been released -- the most recent in a special welfare issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry reporting on the role of fathers of children on welfare and barriers to stable employment for poor women. The latter article details the often insurmountable hurdles for welfare recipients to maintain employment, especially when escalated violence is a factor in discouraging their success.
An earlier article about welfare recipients, appearing in the August Journal of the American Medical Association, indicated that 92 percent of homeless women and 82 percent of those with homes, in the same study, reported several physical violence or sexual assaults during their lifetime. In addition, the women, who all depended upon Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) at various points, reported high rates of major depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) -- many of the conditions associated with battering. New data from the Taylor Institute, which previously documented the problem in the report "Prisoners of Abuse; Domestic Violence and Welfare Receipt" at a NOW Foundation-sponsored press conference on Capitol Hill, are expected at the end of the month.
|Advocacy is needed at the state level with governors, human
service directors and state legislators who may be preparing new welfare
plans; NOW activists and domestic violence program advocates should be
contacting officials to urge that they adopt the Family Violence Provisions.
There is a decided lack of understanding, even amoung anti-poverty activists,
about the extensive nature of violence among poor families and of what
this means for the long term success of welfare-to-work programs.
We need your help in calling or writing key officials as soon as possible. Packets with detailed information on the Family Violence Provisions can be obtained by contacting the National NOW Action Center. Even though your state may have filed a plan with the federal government, they can always amend the plan to include these critical provisions. Without the necessary screening, counseling, safety planning and other special measures for welfare women who face violence, they may become endangered when moving towards employment and independence.
A Major Victory - Funding Gains for HHS/DOJ Programs!
|In what was the strongest gain for women rights in the 104th Congress,
more than full funding of most Violence
Against Women Act (VAWA) programs was approved for the Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS), with a welcome increase of $12.8 million
primarily for battered women's shelter construction (above the $60 million
administration-requested amount). Additionally, the National
Domestic Violence Hotline received $1.2 million --nearly three times
the previous year's funding. Rape prevention and education programs were
approved for $35 million, an increase of about $6.5 million over the last
fiscal year. Sexual abuse/runaway youth programs were approved for $8 million,
up about $2.5 million and community programs found their allotment doubled
at $6 million. Several other programs, such as the Centers
for Disease Control domestic violence study and youth education, were
not authorized for any funds this year.
Overall, the HHS total is $123 million, compared to 1996 funding of $53 million. Department of Justice (DOJ) Violence Against Women programs were slightly less at $197.5 million than the administration had requested for 1997 ($197.95) million. Nearly all programs saw an increase over the previous year's funding level; these included $145 million for STOP grants (a $15 million increase) for local programs combating domestic violence, $33 million to encourage arrest policies (up $5 million), $17.5 million for a national stalker reduction program ($2.5 million over 1996).
Unfortunately, state and federal judges' training programs are still unfunded (which they have been since the act was passed in 1994). Because there remains a great deal of ignorance and bias against women in our judicial system, especially concerning domestic violence, this lack of funding is very serious. One small, but important gain is the first time funding for a study on campus assault, set at $200,000.
Congress re-authorized the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and slightly increased the funding for small states for programs under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), part of VAWA. Small states are now assured $400,000 each year to be used for battered women's shelters. An additional clarification in the law will allow state domestic violence coalitions to receive monies under FVPSA which could mean an increase of two or three times the federal funds those state groups are currently receiving.
|Thank your members of Congress for their support of Violence Against
Women programs. Leaders in the battle include: Sens. Arlen Spector (R-PA),
Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mark Hatfield (R-OR), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Joe Biden
(D-DE), Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS), Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Reps. Nita Lowey
(D-NY), Connie Morella (R-MD), John Porter (R-IL), David Obey (D-WI), Harold
Rogers (R-KY), Alan Mollohan (D-WV) Bill Goodling (R-PA), Patsy Mink (D-HI),
and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI). Also, take that opportunity to talk about
the critical need for funding of state and federal judges' training. Battterers
are still getting (joint or exclusive) physical custody of children in
many divorces, despite research showing that children have a 40 - 60% chance
of being abused if the parent was abusive to his/her partner. Other unjust
or dangerous decisions are routinely being made by judges who simply are
unaware of the true nature and consequences of family violence, rape and
Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban
|Another late emerging victory in the fight against domestic violence
was the passage of the Domestic
Violence Offender Gun Ban (S. 1632), sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg
(D-NJ) and Rep. Robert Toricelli (D-NJ), and pushed by the Clinton administration.
This measure would prevent convicted DV offenders (felony or misdemeanor)
and child abusers from purchasing a firearm. Even though there is ample
data that the presence of firearms in domestic conflicts often result in
deaths and serious injuries, the proposal was bitterly opposed by the gun
According to the Violence Against Women Office, in 1994 there were 88,500 incidents of domestic violence where a firearm was present. From 1985 to 1994, 65 law enforcement officers were killed when responding to domestic complaints, and nine out of ten of those deaths resulted from firearms in the home.
During the final hours of the 104th Congress, efforts were made to attach a number of amendments that would have gutted the bill. Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) and Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) tried to exempt child abusers from the language -- a move that produced a huge outcry -- and also attempted to mandate jury trials for all persons accused under this law (a requirement that would have seriously constrained prosecution, since most of these cases are heard only by judges). But supporters in the fight against domestic violence prevailed and the measure passed. The President signed it into law as part of the Brady Gun Law.
Homepage for Violence Against Women Office
|The U.S. Department of Justice has a new home page for the Violence Against Women office. It can be found at http://www.usdoj.gov/vawo. The home page provides information about the Violence Against Women Act, programs that are funded under the act, statistical and other information on violence against women.|
Late Term Abortion Ban Veto Override Vote - A Victory!
|The big news at the conclusion of the 104th Congress was
the 57-41 vote on September 26th in the U.S. Senate sustaining the president's
veto of the late term abortion ban
1833). The final vote was a cliff-hanger until the last few days before
the scheduled action. Only 34 Senators were known to be in support of sustaining
the veto; the opposition needed 67 votes to override. Ultimately, six more
Senators came on board in favor of keeping the rare procedure legal and
the abortion rights forces prevailed.
Seven women senators voted to sustain the veto: Democrats Barbara Boxer (CA), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Carol Moseley-Braun (IL), and Patty Murray (WA); Republicans Olympia Snowe (ME) and Nancy Kassesbaum (KS). Republican Senators Sheila Frahm (KS) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) voted to override the veto.
The sustained veto climaxes a massive campaign by the Christian Coalition, Right-to-Life groups, leadership in the Catholic Church and fundamentalist denominations to frontally attack Roe v. Wade by banning these abortions which are clearly protected by Supreme Court decisions. The Senate vote was critical in that the House of Representatives had voted on September 19th to override the veto by 285 to 137 -- only four votes away from sustaining the veto (two-thirds of members present and voting are required to overturn a veto). Seventy Democrats joined 215 Republicans to override, while only 15 Republicans voted with the 121 Democrats and one independent to support the president's veto. Members who changed from previous positions of opposition to the ban to vote in favor of the override were Reps. Barrett (D-WI), Jefferson (D-LA), Roukema (R-NJ), and Visclosky (D-IN).
A flurry of articles, planted by abortion opponents in major newspapers just prior to the Senate vote, quoted certain physicians as saying that a majority of women who have the procedure do not have them for medical reasons. Dr. Warren Hern, one of only a few physicians who provide third trimester abortions, immediately responded by noting that in the misleading news articles and opinion columns the authors had confused second and third trimester abortions -- different from one another in both patient profiles and in clinical requirements. Dr. Hern emphasized that he "knows no physician who will provide an abortion in the seventh, eighth, or ninth month of pregnancy, by any method, for any reason except when there is a risk to the women's life or health, or severe fetal anomaly."
The strategy was a slick, well targeted and deceitful effort to attempt to discredit abortion rights supporters in the llth hour and it nearly paid off. Four senators who had previously opposed the ban switched to support the override -- possibly influenced by this deceit as well as by extensive anti-abortion constituent pressure. They were Sens. Leahy, Nunn, Specter, and Campbell (although, Campbell did not vote as he was hospitalized in Colorado).
Senate Democrats (in addition those listed above) who voted to sustain: Akaka (HI), Bingaman (NM), Bradley (NJ), Bryan (NV), Bumpers (AR), Byrd (WV), Daschle (SD), Dodd (CT), Feingold (WI), Glenn (OH), Graham (FL), Harkin (IA), Hollings (SC), Inouye (HI), Kennedy (MA), Kerry (MA), Kerrey (NE), Kohl (WI), Lautenberg (NJ), Levin (MI), Lieberman (CR), Pell (RI), Pryor (AR), Robb (VA), Rockefeller (WV), Sarbanes (MD), Simon (IL), Wellstone (MN), and Wyden (OR). Republican Senators supporting the veto: Chafee (RI), Jeffords (VT), Lott (MS), and Simpson (WY). Republican Sens. Campbell (CO) and Cohen (ME) did not vote. Majority Leader and abortion opponent Trent Lott voted to sustain the veto in a parliamentary maneuver so he could bring the issue up again for another vote should overrride supporters gain the necessary votes (which, of course, had not happened by adjournment of the Senate).
The deluge of phone calls, letters, and visits to the Senate on this issue reached an all-time high. Some offices reported that they had received over 70,000 letters and calls from opponents of late term abortions. Twenty-seven million postcards were distributed through Catholic and fundamentalist churches and many found their way to Capitol Hill offices.
Abortion rights opponents are not likely to give up on the late term abortion ban; there are still numerous states where similar legislation will be re-introduced next year. It can be reasonably speculated that because abortion opponents have gained more seats in Congress, there will again be an attempt to pass the late term abortion ban, perhaps in addition to, an outright repeal of Roe v. Wade.
|If your Senator voted to sustain the president's veto,
s/he needs to be thanked (see list above). Senators who were up for
re-election and who voted to sustain the veto are: Harkin, Kerry, Levin,
Wellstone, Baucus, and Rockefeller (all were re-elected). Also thank members
of the House who opposed the override; call their offices to find out how
they voted on the late term abortion veto or contact NOW's Government Relations
Office for that information. President Clinton and his team in the White
House also deserve recognition for their efforts to assure that the veto
Abortion Rights Supporters May Introduce Late Term Ban Legislation
|Reportedly, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and 14 co-sponsors
are preparing a bill which bans post viability abortions, but contains
stronger life and health exceptions (using the Sen. Barbara Boxer failed
amendment language 'serious health consequences). However, the exceptions
are still narrower than those allowed by Roe v. Wade for third trimester abortions. Rep. Hoyer, who was under
extreme pressure from abortion foes, during this election season, won re-election.
International Family Planning/Population Assistance Funding Hobbled
|We had a setback for family planning in developing countries
in the closing days of this Congress. Only a slight increase above last
year's budget was approved for international family planning programs
to a total of $385 million -- contrasted to the $547 million authorized
in 1995 by a different Congressional leadership -- an amount more closely
approaching the needs of the 34 million men and women in poor countries.
Nearly crippling constraints were placed on disbursement of monies under this program. First: no funds can be released until July 1, 1997 -- nine months into the fiscal year -- and then can be spent only on a pro-rated basis (8% monthly) over the next 13 months. Additionally, the president must submit a finding to Congress on February 1, 1997 on whether these new restrictions are having a negative impact on population assistance programs (!!) and, if so, then Congress must vote on a resolution containing the Administration's findings by the end of that month. If Congress approves the resolution, then funds can be made available March 1, 1997, but again would be released on a monthly pro-rated (8%) basis.
One bright spot: the authorization does not contain the Mexico City policy, although earlier versions did. This policy prohibited foreign non-governing organizations (NGO's), such as Planned Parenthood International, from using even their own privately-raised funds to provide abortion information and services, if they also receive federal family planning funds from the U.S. Originally, abortion rights opponents proposed that groups who refused to comply with the Mexico City policy would face a cut of 50% below their 1995 funding levels.
|Extensive pressure on members of Congress needs to be brought between
now and February 1st, when the President makes his finding on whether these
restrictions are having a negative impact on population assistance programs.
Title X Domestic Family Planning Survives
|The omnibus spending bill that the Senate was expected to pass in the closing days of the session included $198.5 milion for domestic family planning programs, with the unexpected bonus of a $5.86 million increase over the 1996 funding levels. The legislation contained several elements of compromise language which had been developed to fend off abortion opponents' efforts to require parental consent in the provision of family planning services. That is, clinics will now be required to certify to the Secretary of Health and Human Services that they 'encourage family participation in a minor's decision to seek family planning services.'|
|Even though domestic family planning escaped the budget knife last Congress, there are increased odds that it will be cut in the next. Therefore, reproductive rights activists must be prepared to lobby hard for maintenance of this 25-year-old program which is popular with the public and critically important for thousands of program beneficiaries.|
Inadequate to Meet Caseload Demands
|Efforts to increase funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission to handle a backlog of cases and an increase in sexual harassment
complaints met with only minimal success for 1997. The President had requested
$268 million; Republican budget-makers wanted only $232.7 million --very
nearly the same as the 1996 amount. The final authorized funding is $239.74
million, a $7 million rise over 1996 levels. Representatives Eleanor Holmes
Norton (D-DC) and Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) advocated for a much higher
funding level, noting that the agency would be forced to make cutbacks
in its services and may be required to furlough staff. EEOC staffing in
at least 30 states is inadequate to meet the need, they reported. EEOC
had a backlog of cases in the funding year 1995 of more than 96,000 pending
private charges; and, by the end of that year, investigators found that
their active caseloads averaged 122 cases (as compared to an average of
51 cases five years earlier).
Reps. Norton and Schroeder decried these funding constraints on EEOC coming at a time when the large and complex sexual harassment lawsuit against Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America is being pressed.
|Increased activism to expand the EEOC budget and strengthen its effectiveness will be necessary during the 105th Congress, especially since opponents have increased their strength. Write or call your member of Congress to ask that s/he support a strong agency to investigate and enforce the nation's laws against employment discrimination, racial and sexual harassment.|
"Drive-by" Deliveries Discouraged
|A bill to end "drive-by" deliveries was quickly passed by Congress and signed by the president. An issue pushed by the president, which proved popular in an election year since there is little federal budget impact, it will require insurance companies to cover a minimum of 48 hours in the hospital -- 96 hours if the woman has had a Cesarean procedure. Public concern had been raised recently with news of increased post-delivery health complications and infant deaths; reportedly, some insurers pay for only eight hours of hospital stay, while most have limited the amount of time to 24 hours following delivery. The latest "drive by" procedure is mastectomies, with some insurers proposing to provide this major surgical procedure on an outpatient basis!|
Bad Bill Bites the Dust
|The best news at the close of the 104th Congress is that
a lot of bad legislation died. At the top of that list is the so-called
Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act (PRRA) (H.R.
1946/S. 984) which would allow anyone to sue in federal court whenever
they object to school or social service programs which affect children.
Backed by right wingers in Congress, this legislation is opposed by a wide
array of parent, education, law enforcement, religious, child welfare,
and women's rights groups. Critics say that such legislation could create
chaos in local school districts and cause endless litigation. PRRA, essentially,
overrides local consensus building and democratic governance of school
districts and other state and local government programs. It would provide
a real obstacle to teen-agers seeking birth control, sexually-transmitted
disease information and treatment, and other confidential medical services.
Others see such legislation as being a back door method to gain public
funding of private and parochial schools.
In Congress, hearings were held in both Senate and House Judiciary Committees, but did not progress to a floor vote in either body. Observers believe, nonetheless, that PRRA will raise its ugly head in the 105th Congress and, of course, will be re-introduced in numerous state legislatures and pressed as a ballot initiative in others.
Colorado voters defeated the state 'Parental Rights' constitutional amendment which appeared on the general election ballot. Opponents feared that it would pass since polls showed most voters appeared not to undertstand the amendment's implications. Vague "motherhood and apple pie" language asserted that "parents have the right to direct and control the upbringing, education, values, and discipline of their children."
Political religious extremists are hoping that, with a sufficient number of states passing the legislation or voters approving of state constitutional amendments, eventually a federal "parental rights" law can be passed. The defeat in Colorado is seen as a temporary setback and re-introduction of the federal bill is expected.
|Work against Parental Rights legislation or constitutional amendments is needed at the state level, wherever they may be introduced next year. Let folks know how disruptive and dangerous this legislation, if passed, could be to local school districts, child protective services, and public health clinics. A detailed analyses of the federal bill (which is similar to many state bills) can be obtained from the NOW Government Relations office.|
This Legislative Update was compiled by the Government Relations/Public Policy Team at the National NOW office. Call Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director, at (202) 628-8669, ex. 768, if you have any questions. To receive free of charge copies of any of the above bills, call your Senator or Representative at (202) 224-3121. The update is mailed monthly to NOW leadership. Any member can receive a copy of this Update by mail for a yearly charge of $25. Tell friends that they can read this Legislative Update at http://www.now.org/issues/legislat/legislat.html . Or, they may receive it by e-mail if they join our Action Alert.
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