Tag Archives: committee

House Republicans change course on gutting ethics board

House Republicans, under pressure from President-elect Donald Trump, Democrats and good-government watchdogs, reversed course on a plan to gut an independent ethics board, according to a report from The AP.

The reversal came as representatives came together for the first day of the 115th Congress.

House Republicans had come under attack from Democrats, watchdog groups and also Trump over a secretive move to place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under their control.

One vocal critic was U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., who said the “effort to take all investigative and oversight authority away from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics was a shameful first action for the new Congress.”

In an emergency meeting, faced with criticism, House Republicans voted to undo the change.

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority,” was the statement on Trump’s Twitter account.

Congress should be focused on tax reform and health care, the statement said, and there was a reference to draining the swamp.

“We were elected on a promise to drain the swamp and starting the session by relaxing ethics rules is a very bad start,” GOP Rep. Tom McClintock of California said, according to the AP.

Republican  Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma: “People didn’t want this story on opening day.”

The ethics office was created in 2008 after several bribery and corruption cases in the House.

Regarding Republicans’ amendment dealing with the ethics office, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had issued this statement defending the move: “After eight years of operation, many members believe the Office of Congressional Ethics is in need of reform to protect due process and ensure it is operating according to its stated mission. I want to make clear that this House will hold its members to the highest ethical standards and the Office will continue to operate independently to provide public accountability to Congress. The Office will continue to be governed by a bipartisan independent outside board with ultimate decision-making authority. The Office is still expected to take in complaints of wrongdoing from the public. It will still investigate them thoroughly and independently. And the outside board will still decide whether or not evidence exists to warrant a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee. With the amendment adopted last night, the bipartisan, evenly-divided House Ethics Committee will now have oversight of the complaints office. But the Office is not controlled by the Committee, and I expect that oversight authority to be exercised solely to ensure the Office is properly following its rules and laws, just as any government entity should. I have made clear to the new Chair of the House Ethics Committee that it is not to interfere with the Office’s investigations or prevent it from doing its job. All members of Congress are required to earn the public’s trust every single day, and this House will hold members accountable to the people.”

Kind stated, “I am glad my colleagues realized this mistake and decided not to pursue the change. At a time when the people of Wisconsin have lost trust in Washington further weakening transparency and accountability for members of Congress is not the way to rebuild that trust. I will continue to stand up for Wisconsinites by fighting against any future attempts to limit the transparency and accountability of government.”

Wisconsin Assembly votes to lift barrier to new nukes

Editor’s note: The Senate is due to take up the bill on Feb. 16.

“No nukes now. No nukes probably forever,” says environmental activist Kevin Moore. 

Moore, in the late 1980s, went to jail as a protester seeking to block the licensing of nuclear power plants.

He’s remained active since. And, like many no-nuke demonstrators who committed to the cause in the late 1970s and 1980s, he’s baffled by the current campaign to build new plants.

“Did I miss something?” the 72-year-old activist asked. “Did they figure out what to do with the waste?”

The answer is no.

Yet, the Wisconsin Assembly has passed AB 384, which would remove a barrier to building new nuclear plants enacted in 1983, four years after a meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania and three years before the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. Current state law prohibits new plants until the construction of a federal storage facility for nuclear waste.

A Senate committee held a hearing on its version of the pro-nuclear bill, SB288, on Jan. 5, but had not voted on the measure when WiG went to press.

Republican state Rep. Kevin Petersen, in a memo introducing the bill, described nuclear power as affordable, clean, safe and necessary. 

Proponents also argue Wisconsin needs nuclear options to comply with the Obama administration’s clean power plan requiring energy producers to reduce carbon emissions. 

But opponents say that’s a false argument.

“Nuclear energy is a distraction from realistic, cost-effective methods to reduce carbon emissions in Wisconsin: energy efficiency and renewable energy,” the Clean Wisconsin environmental group said in a statement on AB 384. “Nuclear is exorbitantly expensive and new plants take decades to get up and running.”

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters refers to AB 384 as the “Nuking Wisconsin’s Energy Priorities Law” and has urged members to lobby their legislators.

The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter also opposes the measure.

Meanwhile, the national Sierra Club has responded to a renewed nuclear energy push with a “nuclear free future” campaign.

“The Sierra Club remains unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy,” read a statement from the leading environmental group.

“Although nuclear plants have been in operation for less than 60 years, we now have seen three serious disasters,” the statement continued, referring to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. “Nuclear is no solution to climate change and every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on truly safe, affordable and renewable energy sources.”

The Sierra Club’s nuclear-free campaign emphasizes:

• The issue of what to do with the long-lived waste created by the fissioning of uranium remains unresolved.

• Uranium mining has contaminated large sections of the southwestern United States and many other areas in the world.

• Older nuclear plants sit in areas more densely populated than when they were built and almost all leak tritium and other radionuclides into groundwater.

• Newer nuclear plants remain expensive and need enormous amounts of water.

• Despite what energy industry leaders claim, nuclear power has a huge carbon footprint. Carbon energy powers uranium mining, milling, processing, conversion and enrichment, as well as the formulation of fuel rods and construction of plants.

A letter that Sierra’s John Muir chapter sent to Wisconsin lawmakers on behalf of a Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Coalition warned passage of the pro-nuclear bill could lead to the state becoming a depository for nuclear waste.

Elizabeth Ward of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, Katie Nekola of Clean Wisconsin, Amy Schulz of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Peter Skopec of Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group and Al Gedicks of Wisconsin Resources Protection Council signed the letter, along with Chuck Baynton and Judy Miner.

The coalition said passage of the bill could “send a strong message to the Department of Energy that Wisconsin is open to hosting a nuclear waste repository. In the 1980s, the DOE ranked Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as No. 2 for a second high-level nuclear waste repository. A 2008 DOE Study on the Need for a Second Repository listed Wisconsin as one of the top potential states based on our granite geology. After the cancellation of the potential Yucca Mountain repository, the DOE is desperate to find an alternative.”

Wisconsin’s energy mix

Wisconsin has one operational nuclear power plant, Point Beach, north of Two Rivers. 

About 15.5 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity is nuclear-generated, 62.3 percent is coal, 13.2 percent natural gas, 3.4 percent hydroelectric and 5.5 percent renewable.

— Lisa Neff

Medical pot proposal passes first test in conservative Utah

A panel of Utah lawmakers has given initial approval to a medical marijuana proposal that would allow residents of the conservative state who have chronic and debilitating diseases to use certain edible products containing THC, the chemical responsible for most of the drug’s psychological effects.

After a nearly two-hour debate, a Senate committee voted 3-2 earlier this week to approve the bill and send it to the full Senate for a vote.

Saratoga Springs Republican Sen. Mark Madsen said if the state can push past years of propaganda and misunderstanding surrounding the drug, it would bring compassion and freedom to those who are suffering.

The proposal does not allow the smoking of marijuana, which Madsen, its sponsor, said is unhealthy and an ineffective way to consume the drug.

Under his bill, patients would be issued medical marijuana cards. It also sets up a system of seed-to-sale regulation for licensed growers, producers and dispensers.

It specifies what conditions are eligible, such as AIDS, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical specialists — not general practice doctors — would be able to prescribe medical marijuana. For example, Madsen said, someone with cancer would need their oncologist to recommend it.

If Utah passed the bill, it would join 23 states and District of Columbia where medical marijuana programs are in place, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Madsen said this week that he began researching the issue after suffering from persistent back problems. When his doctor recently recommended that he try a pot treatment, Madsen traveled to Colorado to try it through cannabis-infused gummy bears and an electronic-cigarette device.

He said he found the treatment effective, and it lessened his pain. If his doctor agrees that it would let him use fewer or no prescription painkillers, he’d consider taking a cannabis product again.

Madsen said he is confident his bill will pass the GOP-controlled state Senate, and he’s reasonably optimistic about its chances in the Republican-dominated House.

The GOP House speaker and Utah’s Republican governor have said they fear a medical marijuana law would lead to legalized recreational pot or broad recreational use through suspect prescriptions.

Panel: Wisconsin congressman likely broke House rules

A congressional review panel said there is “substantial reason to believe” that veteran U.S. Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin violated House rules by acting on behalf of two companies in which he owned significant amounts of stock, according to a report released on Sept. 30.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics said Petri advocated for Oshkosh Corp. and the Manitowoc Co. despite owning at least $250,000 worth of Oshkosh stock and at least $100,000 worth of stock in Manitowoc. Both companies are based in Wisconsin.

Petri, a Republican who is retiring after 18 terms in the House, denied wrongdoing and said he routinely sought and took advice from the House Ethics Committee regarding his stock ownership. The committee approved his actions on each of those occasions, Petri said.

“Apparently, seeking advice, getting advice and following advice from the Ethics Committee is not good enough,” Petri said in a statement.

Petri said the Office of Congressional Ethics seems intent on “imposing arbitrary new standards and rules” on actions he took years ago. “All members of the House are at risk by the creation and application of standards and rules that have no basis in law,” he said.

The OCE is an outside organization that can refer cases to the Ethics Committee. The ethics committee said Tuesday it is continuing its investigation of Petri.

In its report, the OCE faulted Petri for pressing colleagues to help the Oshkosh Co. retain a $3 billion Pentagon contract to make tactical vehicles for the military. Separately, Petri worked with Manitowoc as it applied for an environmental exemption from the Obama administration regarding diesel engines used in cranes built by the company.

The Oshkosh case dates to 2009, when Petri and other members of the Wisconsin delegation pushed the Pentagon to move forward on a $3 billion contract awarded to Oshkosh to make tactical vehicles. The Government Accountability Office had upheld a protest by a losing bidder, and lawmakers in Texas were urging the Pentagon to support that company.

Petri said his actions on behalf of Oshkosh were not related to his stock ownership, but were an effort to help a major employer in his district. His office consulted with ethics committee staff before acting, Petri said.

But the review panel said in its report that on at least one occasion, advice from the ethics committee “appears to have been based on incomplete or inaccurate information.”

Petri did not consult the ethics committee before calling the Secretary of the Army in December 2009, the report said, nor did he disclose his stock ownership to the Army secretary.

Army Secretary John McHugh told the panel he considered Petri’s call routine and said knowing about Petri’s stock ownership would not have affected his decision. Oshkosh retained the contract in 2010 after the Army reevaluated the proposals.

The review panel also said Petri did not consult the ethics committee before helping Manitowoc in its dealings with the Environmental Protection Agency. The company received an exemption from the EPA in 2012, an outcome that a Manitowoc executive said could not have happened without Petri’s support, the report said.

The ethics committee’s jurisdiction over Petri ends when he leaves office in early January.

Illinois House committee advances bill against ex-gay therapy

Illinois’ House Human Services Committee on March 26 approved a bill to protect minors from so-called ex-gay therapy.

The legislation, introduced by Chicago Democrat Kelly Cassidy, who is gay, is called the Conversion Therapy Prohibition Act. The measure would prohibit mental health providers from trying to change the sexual orientation of minors.

The committee vote was 9-6.

After the committee action, Equality Illinois called on the full House to approve the measure.

Said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois: “This bill would ensure that the most vulnerable individuals, those already struggling in the face of homophobia and transphobia, are not targeted and subjected to a practice that medical practitioners deem harmful and inappropriate.”

Conversion therapies for youths pretend to supposedly “cure” people of being gay, but have actually proven to be very harmful and are actively opposed by leading mental health and medical professional groups, said Cherkasov.

He said Equality Illinois, the state’s largest and oldest LGBT advocacy group, is “grateful for the work of Rep. Cassidy and her cosponsors in advancing the bill and urge the full House to quickly follow suit.”

Legislation against ex-gay therapy for minors has been passed in California and New Jersey. 

Christian right opponents of the law sought to ask voters in California to repeal the law but failed to gather enough legal signatures for a ballot referendum.

The right also has challenged New Jersey’s measure.

U.S. Olympic chair would vote to add sexual orientation to charter

America’s newest member of the International Olympic Committee would vote to amend the Olympic charter to list sexual orientation as a form of discrimination.

U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst, voted onto the IOC last month, said such an amendment is one of the few avenues available to the USOC as it tries to send a message to Russia, which recently passed an anti-gay law, less than a year before it hosts the Winter Olympics.

The sixth item in the charter’s “Fundamental Principles of Olympism” says “any form of discrimination … on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” It does not specifically mention sexual orientation.

“If it came to a vote of IOC members, I would absolutely vote yes to amend the charter,” Probst said during a news conference at the USOC media summit on Oct. 1.

Probst reiterated that an American boycott of the Sochi Olympics is not an option, but asked what moves the USOC could make, both Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun mentioned the possible amendment, which would have to be done at a future IOC meeting.

“There are people who would like to see sexual orientation added to that list,” Blackmun said. “We’d support a change in that direction.”

Besides mentioning the amendment, the USOC leaders stuck mainly to their party line: They are not there to change Russian law and their top priority is ensuring a safe and successful Olympics for their athletes. They are also not telling their athletes to not speak up.

“First and foremost, we’re a sports organization,” Blackmun said. “The only organization in the world whose job it is to make sure American athletes are able to compete in the Olympic Games. We’re not an advocacy organization or a human-rights organization. We’re part of the worldwide Olympic movement, though. What we can do is advocate for change within our movement.

“We want to lead by example and advocate internally to make sure we, as a family, are sending the message that we don’t tolerate discrimination.”

Among the few athletes at this week’s Olympic summit to speak out against the Russian law was skier Bode Miller, who called the existence of such a law “absolutely embarrassing.”

Most others have said, in one way or another, that they’d let the USOC handle the politics while they focus on sports.

IOC officials have said they don’t have the authority to intervene in Russia’s lawmaking and are convinced there will be no discrimination against athletes or spectators at the games.

Among the other topics that came up during the hour-long session with reporters:

-The USOC’s potential bid for the 2024 Olympics.

Blackmun said no decision had to be made until late 2014 and the USOC, if it decides to bid, would probably make the announcement with a bid city in place.

“We’ve got to get to the very, very best city,” Blackmun said.

-Security. Blackmun said the USOC keeps open channels with the State Department to ensure athletes are safe for their trip to southern Russia. An Islamic insurgency is raging on the other side of the North Caucasus mountains from Sochi. Russian officials have promised the safest games in history.

-Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird highlighted a campaign to find more big-money donors and also unveiled a plan to open four “USA Houses” across America – similar to the ones the USOC opens in the Olympic city – where fans can watch the Games.

-Blackmun said that because the USOC is privately funded, he didn’t expect preparations for the Olympics to be affected by the shutdown of the federal government.

-Chief of sport performance Alan Ashley was asked the usual question: How many medals does he expect? He gave the usual answer, which was very noncommittal.

“I’m confident we’ll be in the right place,” Ashley said.

Probst seemed as interested as anyone in Ashley’s prediction.

“I’m hoping to get a more definitive answer to that question in next week’s board meeting,” he joked.

The board meets next Thursday and Friday in Colorado Springs during the USOC’s annual assembly.

As criticism continues over Sochi games, Olympic Committee to choose 2020 host

Rarely, if ever, has so much been on the line at a single Olympic meeting.

When International Olympic Committee members gather in Buenos Aires, Argentina, they will be faced with three decisions that will shape the direction of the Olympic movement for the next decade.

At stake: Choosing the host city of the 2020 Olympics, electing a new IOC president to succeed Jacques Rogge and selecting one sport to add to the 2020 program.

The favorites: Tokyo, Thomas Bach and wrestling.

Prime ministers, royalty, sports stars and celebrities will be part of the election extravaganza at the IOC session. The weeklong meetings will have the flavor of a political carnival replete with last-minute campaigning, backstage vote-chasing and round-the-clock lobbying by spin doctors, consultants and strategists.

While most IOC members are primarily interested in the Sept. 10 presidential election, the first big vote comes on Sept. 7 with a secret ballot on the 2020 host city.

It’s a three-way contest between Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul.

All three are repeat candidates: Istanbul is making its fifth overall bid, Madrid a third straight attempt and Tokyo a second try in a row.

Tokyo has been seen as a slight front-runner, though the leak of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant is causing concern. Madrid – once counted out because of Spain’s economic crisis – has picked up momentum recently and now looks like a legitimate challenger. Istanbul has slipped following the anti-government protests and doping scandals in Turkey and the escalating war in neighboring Syria.

With each bid facing political, economic or other drawbacks, the winner could be determined not for its positive attributes but for having fewer weaknesses than its rivals.

“There’s no obvious choice,” senior Canadian IOC member Dick Pound told The Associated Press. “Where do you go? None of the three is risk free. Probably somebody ends up backing into it this time.”

Each city offers a different narrative. Istanbul would bring the games to a new part of the world, to a predominantly Muslim country for the first time, to a city linking Europe and Asia. Madrid has most of the venues ready and would spend the least. Tokyo offers safety and reliability at a time of global uncertainty.

In the end, the decision could center on which city offers the least risk. After taking gambles by sending the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi, Russia, and 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro, some members feel it’s time to opt for certainty.

Delays in Rio are causing serious concerns and the IOC is eager to avoid more headaches.

And Russia’s government-driven persecution of LGBT people has led to calls of a boycott of the Winter Games.

“We’re looking for the city which we can look toward to be the most secure option at this stage, given global uncertainties and the fact that we’re entering into a new era with a new presidency,” longtime Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper said. “We’re looking for a safe pair of hands.”

That sentiment works in favor of Tokyo, which hosted the games in 1964 and has repeatedly played up its case as being the “safe” choice. Tokyo also received the best overall review in an IOC technical report this summer.

“Of course we know how serious the Japanese are and we know they would deliver what they propose for sure,” Swiss IOC member and presidential candidate Denis Oswald said.

The last few days and hours of the campaign could be vital. The final presentations on the day of the decision could swing a few votes that decide the outcome. Leading the bid delegations will be prime ministers Shinzo Abe of Japan, Mariano Rajoy of Spain and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

With a majority required for victory, the city with the fewest votes from the 100-or-so members is eliminated after each round. In this case, the vote is expected to go the maximum two rounds.

“I think the ultimate choice will be a matter of a difference of two, three votes, not more than that,” Rogge said.

Members often vote for personal, sentimental or geographical reasons. Some will still be undecided when they get to Buenos Aires.

“IOC members vote with their hearts, not with their heads,” veteran Norwegian member Gerhard Heiberg said. “They will look at the presentations and vote right there and then, not thinking that this is seven years ahead. That could decide who will take the gold medal.”

Tokyo also can benefit from the sentimental factor of using the Olympics to help rebuild the nation’s spirits after the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. Yet, it’s the fallout from the disaster that is now posing the bid with its biggest challenge – the leak of radiation-tainted water into the Pacific from the crippled plant.

“Japan has got to recover from the real effects and perceived effects of the biggest nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl,” Pound said. “That’s not chopped liver.”

Madrid’s bid has been hindered by the economic meltdown in Spain, which has been mired in recession for most of the past four years and has a 26.3 percent unemployment rate. In addition, Rajoy has been embroiled in a party financing scandal, and Spain’s record on doping and handling of the Operation Puerto case have dogged the bid.

But Madrid, and a speech by Crown Prince Felipe, made the biggest impact in presentations to IOC members in Lausanne, Switzerland, in early July. The Spaniards hammered home this point: The games pose no economic risk, 80 percent of the venues are ready, the construction budget will be only $1.9 billion ($10 billion less than Istanbul’s).

The message resonates at a time when the Olympics are being criticized for being too expensive – the price tag for construction in Sochi is more than $50 billion. Madrid’s strong showing in the 2012 and 2016 races also underlines its capability of securing votes.

Once seen as a favorite because of its compelling story line, Istanbul – which bid previously for the 2000, ‘04, ‘08 and ‘12 Olympics – has been scrambling to keep in contention after a tumultuous summer in Turkey.

Images beamed around the world of police using force on anti-government protesters in the heart of Istanbul in June rocked the bid. More than 30 Turkish track and field and other athletes were suspended for doping. FIFA complained of empty seats at the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey. Civil war continues to rage in Syria, with Western countries now weighing military action in response to suspected chemical weapons attacks.

Three days after choosing the host city, the IOC will pick a leader who will lead the organization through the 2020 Games for a term of eight years – and a potential second term of four years. Rogge is stepping down after completing 12 years in the job.

Making up the record six-man field are IOC vice president Bach of Germany; vice president Ng Ser Miang of Singapore; finance commission chairman Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico;  executive board members Sergei Bubka of Ukraine and C.K. Wu of Taiwan; and former board member Oswald.

It shapes up as a three-man race, with Bach the favorite and Carrion and Ng the challengers.

Bach, a 59-year-old lawyer, has long been viewed as the man to beat. He ticks the most boxes: former Olympic athlete and gold medalist (team fencing in 1976), long-serving member on the policy-making board, chairman of the legal commission, head of anti-doping investigations, negotiator of European TV rights, president of Germany’s national Olympic committee.

“If you were handicapping, you’d have him in front, but whether it’s by a nose or a neck or open water, I don’t know,” Pound said.

The voting process is the same as for the bid cities.

Some of Bach’s supporters believe he could win in the first round. If not, things could get trickier, as it’s not clear where the votes will go in the next rounds. Wu and Bubka appear to be the most vulnerable of going out first.

If Bach is elected, he would continue Europe’s hold on the presidency. Of the IOC’s eight leaders, all have come from Europe except for Avery Brundage, the American who ran the committee from 1952-72.

Bach brushes off the pressure of being the front-runner and exudes confidence heading into the final days.

“I take this campaign like I prepared for a big competition as an athlete,” he told the AP. “You know how important good training is, that it’s very helpful if your test events are going well. This can give you confidence. But, on the other hand, all that does not count when it comes to the grand final. That is the same for Sept. 10. You want to see the competition taking place. I’m really looking forward to this day.”

Wrestling, meanwhile, looks set to end its seven-month limbo and win back its place in the 2020 Games. The vote will take place on Sept. 8, with squash and a combined baseball-softball bid also vying for the single spot on the program.

Wrestling, featured in every Olympics except for 1900, was dropped from the list of core sports by the IOC executive board in February, a stunning decision that provoked an international outcry. The United States joined with unlikely allies Russia and Iran in fighting to save the sport.

Wrestling governing body FILA responded quickly, replacing Raphael Martinetti as president and electing Nenad Lalovic, adding two new weight classes for women and enacting rule changes to make the sport more fan-friendly. In May, wrestling easily made it onto the shortlist for inclusion in 2020.

“I have no doubt it will happen,” Oswald said. “It was such a mistake. It has to be corrected.”

Senate committee increases Ryan White/ADAP funding

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted on July 11 to increase funding for HIV prevention through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.

The committee voted for legislation that sustains federal funding for HIV prevention and care programs at 2013 levels, with an additional $51 million for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.

About $47 million of that funding would go to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which has seen funding shortfalls and waiting lists in recent years.

The committee, according to the National Minority AIDS Council, also approved increases in funding for the National Institutes of Health, continued funding for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at last year’s levels, and restored funding that had been stripped by sequestration.

Kali Lindsey, the director of legislative and public affairs for NMAC, said, “Sequestration has devastated our nation’s response to HIV at a time when we can least afford it. For the first time in three decades, science has provided us with the tools to realistically end this epidemic.  But the climate of gridlock and budget cuts that continues to grip our nation’s capital has left America’s researchers, health care providers and outreach workers struggling to realize this vision.”

Lindsey said the committee, with the vote on July 11, recognizes “the importance of this collective effort and has demonstrated a strong commitment to achieving an AIDS-free generation.”

Senate committee to consider ENDA July 10

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is expected to take up the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act on July 10. The measure, which would ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, has the support of at least 53 U.S. senators.

ENDA also is supported by a majority of U.S. voters, according to polls.

“Most Americans agree: Discrimination is wrong and it must be stopped. We need the committee to mark-up ENDA and for it to be swiftly taken-up by the full Senate,” said Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Carey said, “The cruel irony of last week’s Supreme Court marriage decisions is that an LGBT couple could get married one day, and on the very next day, because we still don’t have federal laws to ban employment discrimination, those same individuals could be fired from their jobs.”

A 2008 survey found that about 42 percent of LGBT Americans had experienced employment discrimination. Other studies show that transgender Americans are disproportionately impacted by discrimination and harassment in employment.

One study, “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” found that 26 percent of transgender people lost a job because of their gender identity and 50 percent were harassed for being transgender.

ENDA has been introduced in the Senate by Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon. All but three Democrats – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Pryor of Arkansas – have signed as co-sponsors. On the GOP side, only Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine are co-sponsors.

Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, scheduled the committee hearing.

“Our livelihoods depend upon a future that’s free from such discrimination,” said Carey. “We thank Senators Merkley and Kirk for championing this legislation. Now is the time for Congress to tear down this appalling barrier that keeps the American Dream out of reach for far too many LGBT people.”

However, there’s general agreement that ENDA will not advance in the GOP-controlled House. This is why activists have called on the president to sign an executive order barring contractors with the federal government from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

RI House committee approves gay marriage bill

UPDATED: Legislation to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in Rhode Island got its first 2013 political test on Jan. 22. The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure.

The next step is a vote in the full House, possibly as early as Jan. 24.

A statement from Rhode Islanders United for Marriage said, “Moments ago, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance the marriage bill to the House floor. Today marks the first time a marriage bill has advanced past committee in Rhode Island history.”

House Speaker Gordon Fox has said he wants the House to vote on the legislation by month’s end.

Advocates for gay marriage like their chances in the House, but concede that the Senate is a tougher challenge.

Nine states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage. Rhode Island is the only state in New England without it.

A hearing on the bill last week attracted hundreds of people on both sides of the issue.