Tag Archives: lobby

Patients, physicians lobby for federal medical marijuana bill 

Patients and their physicians lobbied Congress in late March, pressing for a vote on legislation aimed at removing marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs, which are defined as having no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana and four states allow recreational use of marijuana. However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, creating complications in the states that have legalized use and erecting barriers to reform in other states, such as Wisconsin.

A bipartisan group in Congress is advocating passage of the Compassionate Access, Research, Expansion and Respect States Act.

Citizens who lobbied for the measure on March 22 included medical marijuana patients, academics, pot advocates and physicians.

At a news conference, they heard from U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, a Democrat from the District of Columbia. “If marijuana is a gateway drug, then virtually every college student is on her way to heroin or worse,” she said. “The Congress of the United States keeps us from moving ahead on understanding medical marijuana, what are its values, its true benefits.”

Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, a sponsor of the CARERS Act, added, “Republicans and Democrats agree: federal law on medical marijuana is outdated, out of touch and needs to change. … Keeping marijuana on Schedule I, which is a category for drugs with no medical use, is ludicrous. Ailing patients deserve compassion, not prosecution, especially when they live in states that have legalized medical marijuana.”

For the Clean Power Plan

I write this letter on behalf of all those who feel that the future of our beautiful state is in jeopardy. I grew up camping and fishing in our pristine north woods. I want others, for generations to come, to be able to enjoy these treasures.

But not supporting the Clean Power Plan, regulation on carbon emissions from power plants, can no longer be ignored. The compounding effects from decades of unchecked carbon pollution are getting worse and worse, for our state, our country and our planet.

We all know U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, denies climate change. But what cannot be denied is that these unchecked carbon emissions are also pollutants and hazardous to the health of your fellow Wisconsinites. Asthma, emphysema and other respiratory illnesses are on the rise and are due to the growing effects of unregulated carbon emission particulates from power plants.

With increased illness comes increased health care costs from both the state and its citizens. Plus, supporting the CPP promotes job growth for clean, renewable energy sources.

Isn’t your family’s health worth reducing carbon emissions?

Sen. Johnson needs to reconsider his position on carbon emissions and support the Clean Power Plan, for a cleaner, healthier Wisconsin future.

Ian L Somerville, Wisconsin

On the Web…

To reach Ron Johnson, go here. 

Wisconsin’s largest business lobby opposes GOP’s fetal tissue research ban

Wisconsin’s largest business lobby is opposing a bill to ban research on tissue from aborted fetuses, saying it would impede medical research.

The president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Kurt Bauer says his group appreciates that backers of the bill narrowed its scope this week, but opposes it nonetheless.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the WMC’s position further clouds the future of the legislation, which key Republicans hope to pass this fall. The situation puts two strong GOP allies — the business lobby and the anti-abortion coalition — at odds.

But the lead sponsor of the bill, Rep. Andre Jacque, says he’s confident the legislation will become law, even with opposition from WMC.

The bill would let researchers use tissue from fetuses aborted before Jan. 1, but not later.

Activists lobbying Congress on ENDA

LGBT civil rights advocates are lobbying U.S. lawmakers and their aides Oct. 3. They are demanding passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.

“Americans believe all hardworking employees should be judged on their talents and job performance – not on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Matt McTighe, the campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity. “Lobby day will serve as a powerful reminder that the Golden Rule applies in the workplace: everyone should be treated the same – and everyone has to put food on the table. There is significant momentum – including from Fortune 500 companies and supermajorities of Republicans – to pass ENDA this year.”

ENDA would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing employment protections for race, religion, gender and disability.

Polls show that nearly 80 percent of Americans support such protections, including 70 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of observant Christians and 72 percent of residents in the South.

Polls also show that 90 percent of Americans mistakenly think protections for LGBT employees already exist.

More than 100 major U.S. corporations – including General Mills, Bank of America, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, Groupon, MillerCoors Brewing, Time Warner and US Airways – have endorsed ENDA.

The bill was backed by a Senate committee earlier this year and Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised a vote this fall.

Prospects for passage in the GOP-controlled House, however, seem unlikely without lobbyists moving some Republicans on the issue.

Activists mark Labor Day weekend, call for law to protect LGBT workers

Americans for Workplace Opportunity is marking Labor Day weekend with another call to Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban workplace discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

“We’re reminded this Labor Day that everyone should have the opportunity to get and keep a job and provide for their families – one of the most fundamental American values,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity. “Fortune 500 companies, labor unions and supermajorities of Republicans and Democrats – a rare national consensus – are honoring these values by supporting ENDA.  It’s time for the Senate to pass this bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wants to bring the bill to the floor this fall.

In July, ENDA passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee by a 15-7 bipartisan vote – with support from Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Nike, Citigroup, General Mills, US Airways, Proctor & Gamble, Pfizer, Coca-Cola and Ernst & Young are among the more than 100 major businesses that back ENDA. The largest labor unions also support the bill, including Service Employees International Union and American Federation of Teachers.

“Labor Day is a time when we celebrate the contributions of workers to our society and our economy,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union. “However, we must remember that not all workers are equally protected from discrimination. In 2013, this is simply unacceptable.”

“The fear of being discriminated against based on who they love often deters great people from stepping up to serve our communities and reach for the stars. Growing up gay, I remember often being paralyzed by this fear. As we reflect back on 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we should recommit ourselves to knocking down barriers for working people and standing up for equal treatment under our laws,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said. “The Senate has an opportunity to right this wrong. This Labor Day, we’ve got to make it clear that the time for ENDA is now.”

Nearly 80 percent of Americans back workplace protections for LGBT people, including 77 percent of observant Christians, 72 percent of Deep South residents, 70 percent of Republicans, and 69 percent of seniors. It’s so commonsense that most Americans – nearly nine in 10 – mistakenly believe it’s already law.

A risk in including gay partners in immigration debate?

Frustrated at being left out of an immigration overhaul, gay rights groups are pushing to adjust a bipartisan Senate bill to include gay couples. But Democrats are treading carefully, wary of adding another divisive issue that could lose Republican support and jeopardize the entire bill.

Both parties want the bill to succeed. Merely getting to agreement on the basic framework for the immigration overhaul, which would create a long and costly path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally, was no small feat for senators. And getting it through a divided Congress is still far from a done deal.

Even so, gay rights groups, their lobbyists and grassroots supporters are insisting the deal shouldn’t exclude bi-national, same-sex couples – about 28,500 of them, according to a 2011 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA Law. They’re ramping up a campaign to change the bill to allow gay Americans to sponsor their partners for green cards, the same way straight Americans can. Supporters trekked to the Capitol to make their case at senators’ offices on April 24.

“Opponents will be proposing amendments that, if passed, could collapse this very fragile coalition that we’ve been able to achieve,” Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said last week at the unveiling of the bill. He said the eight senators from both parties who crafted the legislation are committed to voting against changes that could kill it.

For Democrats, it’s a precarious position to be in. Democratic senators overwhelmingly support gay marriage – all but three are now on the record voicing their support – and two dozen of them this year backed a separate bill called the Uniting American Families Act to let gays sponsor their partners independent of a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

But the party’s senators are still bruised from an agonizing defeat on gun control this month. And few seem eager to inject divisive issues that might sink their best prospects for a major legislative victory this year and a potential keystone of President Barack Obama’s legacy.

“Any amendment which might sink the immigration bill, I would worry about,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a brief interview, adding that he had yet to decide whether an amendment for gays and lesbians would meet that yardstick.

Support from both Hispanics and gays was critical to Obama’s re-election, and his overwhelming advantage among Hispanics was a major factor prompting Republicans to warm to immigration overhaul almost immediately after. But now, one community’s gain on the immigration front could be to the other’s detriment.

“As you continue to add other issues to the immigration discussion, it’s going to make it more challenging,” said Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican.

Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has committed to offering an amendment to the bill to allow gay citizens to sponsor their partners, said Ty Cobb, an attorney and lobbyist with the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. Another Democratic senator, Al Franken of Minnesota, pledged in a Judiciary hearing on the bill this week to do “everything we can” to adjust the bill.

But even if the amendment makes it through the Senate, it faces a tougher path if and when the bill moves to the Republican-controlled House. GOP leaders there have been defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, though Obama has said it is unconstitutional. And while Obama supports same-sex marriage, his administration has shown little appetite for forcing the issue while the immigration overhaul’s prospects are still shaky.

“No one will get everything they want from it, including the president. That’s the nature of compromise. But the bill is largely consistent with the principles he has laid out repeatedly,” Obama spokesman Jay Carney said last week. A White House spokesman declined to answer further questions about the issue.

Some Democrats argue privately that with the Supreme Court poised to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the government from giving federal marriage benefits to gay couples, the issue could soon be moot. Still, even if the high court strikes the law down, it would only bring partial relief; only couples married in the nine states – soon to be 10 – that recognize gay marriages would probably be eligible.

The issue has generated an intense advocacy campaign, with gay rights organizations and Hispanic groups such as the National Council of La Raza squaring off with religious interests such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which sent a letter to Obama telling him including the provision could jeopardize the whole bill.

At the Human Rights Campaign, four of its seven federal lobbyists are engaged in pushing lawmakers to back such an amendment. Immigration Equality, another group supporting the provision, said it was bringing more than 60 families from 24 states to the Capitol on Wednesday to ask lawmakers to offer their support.

And Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, is making a pro-business pitch with potential GOP supporters, arguing that including gay couples would allow U.S. companies to retain the best talent instead of forcing good workers to leave the U.S. to be with their partners.

Such may be the case for Paul Coyle, a 45-year-old partner in a Chicago law firm, who has spent the past 10 years in a long-distance relationship with his partner in Toronto. At first, the two men would take turns flying back and forth, he said, until immigration officials cracked down, making it harder for his partner to enter the U.S. Now Coyle flies to Canada every other week, wondering each time whether it would be cheaper and more rewarding to pack up his law practice and move to Canada.

“It’s emotionally draining. It’s financially draining, and every time he comes to the U.S., there’s the risk he won’t get let back in,” Coyle said. “But when you’re in love, you just take the risk, because it’s worth it.”

Ignoring critics, NRA doubles down

The United States virtually belongs to Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Pharma and a handful of other special interests – including the National Rifle Association. The rest of us merely live in it.

The NRA’s wealth does not come from hunters but rather from the producers of weapons and ammunition. That industry is expected to rack up $11.7 billion in sales and $993 million in profits this year, according to analysts at IBIS World. An increasing percentage of those profits are from semi-automatic weapons produced for combat, according to industry analysts.

With their vastly disproportionate influence, the NRA and its cronies create policies and laws that benefit their interests while harming the rest of us. Indeed, if an elected official from a non-safe legislative district dares to put public safety before the arms industry’s bottom line, the NRA can simply eliminate him or her. Money buys a lot of political advertising. Even President Obama is terrified of the NRA.

Demonstrating the arrogance of their power, NRA officials waited a week before responding to the unthinkable Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, in which Adam Lanza allegedly used an assault weapon to riddle the bodies of 6-year-olds and 7-year-olds.

When the NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre did finally address the massacre, he used the opportunity to hawk gun sales by calling for the arming of school officials. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he advised.

But if LaPierre’s advice had any merit, then America would be the safest nation on earth – because it is the best armed. A November Congressional Research Service report found that, as of 2009, there were about 310 million firearms in the United States, including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns. At least 1.5 million of those weapons are automatics and semi-automatics designed for warfare.

Yet the United States has by far the highest incidence of gun-related deaths in the industrialized world, and the 10th highest incidence rate overall – ranking just 1 percent less deadly than Mexico in deaths by firearms.

Even more reprehensible than the NRA’s reaction to the Connecticut massacre was the pandering response of politicians hoping to curry the group’s favor. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is a prime example.

A perennial aspirant for higher office, Van Hollen made a preemptive defensive strike against any prospective efforts to reform gun-control laws in the state. “It’s a bad idea to have quick, knee-jerk reactions,” he said, apparently unaware of the irony.

Van Hollen wasn’t really worried – he was merely genuflecting. The NRA and gun-makers spent $815,660 to help Walker defeat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the June recall election, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. That’s why concealed-carry was at the top of Walker’s legislative agenda, and that’s why Wisconsin will never have gun-control reform as long as Walker and the GOP maintain their greedy grip on Madison.

Illinois activists to lobby for marriage equality

LGBT civil rights activists are headed for Springfield on April 25 to lobby for marriage equality and to promote other bills on their state agenda.

Equality Illinois announced a full day of meetings with representatives, senators and executive officers from both parties.

Activists planned to lobby for passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, as well as for adding gender identity, military status and immigration status to protected classes in the state hate crimes law. Another crucial bill would require all Illinois schools to develop new measures against bullying.

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a longtime supporter of LGBT equality, was to welcome the activists at the Capitol.

Springfield Ald. Cory Jobe planned to host a farewell reception.

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Anti-gay Christians say they’re victims of bullying

As the gay-rights movement advances, there’s increasing evidence of an intriguing role reversal: Today, it’s the conservative opponents of that movement who seem eager to depict themselves as victims of intolerance.

To them, the gay-rights lobby has morphed into a relentless bully – pressuring companies and law firms into policy reversals, making it taboo in some circumstances to express opposition to same-sex marriage.

“They’re advocating for a lot of changes in the name of tolerance,” said Jim Campbell, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. “Yet ironically the tolerance is not returned, for people of faith who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Many gay activists, recalling their movement’s past struggles and mindful of remaining bias, consider such protestations by their foes to be hollow and hypocritical.

“They lost the argument on gay rights and now they are losing the argument on marriage,” said lawyer Evan Wolfson (pictured), executive director of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry. “Diversions, scare tactics and this playing the victim are all they have left.”

He added: “There’s been a shift in the moral understanding of people – that exclusion from marriage and anti-gay prejudice is wrong. Positions that wouldn’t have been questioned in the past are now being held up to the light.”

Among the recent incidents prompting some conservatives to complain of intolerance or political bullying:

– Olympic gold medal gymnast Peter Vidmar stepped down as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in May following controversy over his opposition to gay marriage. Vidmar, a Mormon, had publicly supported Proposition 8, the voter-approved law passed in 2008 that restricted marriage in California to one man and one woman.

– After coming under fire from gay-rights groups in April, the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding pulled out of an agreement with House Republicans to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

– In New York, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat from the Bronx, contends he’s received death threats because he opposes legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The alleged threats were cited last week by the New York State Catholic Conference, which also opposes gay marriage. “We are unjustly called ‘haters’ and ‘bigots’ by those who have carefully framed their advocacy strategy,” wrote the conference’s executive director, Richard Barnes. “The entire campaign to enact same-sex marriage is conducted under a banner of acceptance … Yet behind that banner of tolerance is another campaign – of intimidation, threats and ugliness.”

– Apple Inc. recently withdrew two iPhone apps from its App Store after complaints and petition campaigns by gay-rights supporters. One app was intended to publicize the Manhattan Declaration, a document signed in 2009 by scores of conservative Christian leaders. It condemns same-sex marriage as immoral and suggests that legalizing it could open the door to recognition of polygamy and sibling incest. The other app was for Exodus International, a network of ministries that depict homosexuality as a destructive condition that can be overcome through Christian faith.

In both cases, gay activists celebrated the apps’ removals, while the apps’ creators contended their freedom of expression was being unjustly curtailed.

“The gay-rights groups have shown their fangs,” wrote Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure turned born-again Christian who helped launch the Manhattan Declaration. “They want to silence, yes, destroy those who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Exodus International president Alan Chambers, who says he changed his own sexual orientation through religious counseling, said he was alarmed by the aggressive tactics of “savvy gay activists.”

“We have seen individuals, ministries and even private corporations that dare to hold to a biblical worldview on sexuality bullied into a corner,” Chambers wrote in a blog.

However, Wolfson said the Exodus app deserved to be removed. “They were peddling something that’s been repudiated as crackpot quackery.”

The campaign that pressured King & Spalding to withdraw from the Defense of Marriage Act case was criticized by a relatively wide range of commentators and legal experts, not just conservative foes of gay marriage.

“To think it’s a good idea to attack lawyers defending unpopular clients – I don’t have words for how stupid and wrong that is,” said Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and writer who formerly served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, the gay-rights activists involved in pressuring King & Spalding were unapologetic.

“If we made it such that no law firm would defend the indefensible, then good for us,” said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communication. “When you have people talking about the fact that it’s no longer politically correct to be anti-equality, it’s a show of progress.”

Sainz said it was important for activists to pick their targets carefully.

“We understand there are goodhearted Americans in the middle who are still struggling with these issues,” he said. “Different activists have different ways of getting to the same end, and some of those are bound to make certain people feel uncomfortable.”

Though same-sex marriage is legal in only five states, it has for the first time gained the support of a majority of Americans, according to a series of recent national opinion polls. For some gay activists, this trend has fueled efforts to make their opponents’ views seem shameful.

“Their beliefs on this issue are very quickly becoming socially disgraceful, much in the way white supremacy is socially disgraceful,” wrote Evan Hurst of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out. “They are certainly entitled to cling to backwoods, uneducated, reality-rejecting views … but their ‘religious freedom’ doesn’t call for the rest of us to somehow pretend their views aren’t disgusting and hateful.”

However, some gay-rights supporters see the public opinion shift as reason to be more magnanimous.

“The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia,” Jonathan Rauch, a writer and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently in The Advocate.

“Incidents of rage against haters, verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of anti-discrimination laws: Those and other ‘zero-tolerance’ tactics play into the ‘homosexual bullies’ narrative,” Rauch wrote. “The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.”

As ideological foes spar over these issues, the American Civil Liberties Union is confronted with a delicate balancing act. Its national gay rights project battles aggressively against anti-gay discrimination, but, as a longtime defender of free speech, the ACLU also is expected to intervene sometimes on behalf of anti-gay expression.

For example, the ACLU pressed a lawsuit on behalf of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, which has outraged mourning communities by picketing service members’ funerals with crudely worded signs condemning homosexuality. The ACLU said the Missouri state law banning such picketing infringes on religious freedom and free speech.

Some critics – such as Wendy Kaminer – have contended that the ACLU now tilts too much toward espousing gay rights, at the expense of a more vigorous defense of anti-gay free speech.

However, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s gay rights project, said the First Amendment protection of free speech only comes into play when a government entity is seen as curtailing speech rights – which did not occur in the Vidmar or King & Spalding cases.

“What we have there is simply the push and pull in public policy discourse … which is sometimes rough and tumble,” Esseks said. “Being stigmatized for expressing unpopular views is part of being in a free society. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Robert George, a conservative professor of jurisprudence at Princeton and one of the co-authors of the Manhattan Declaration, shared Esseks’ view on the often sharp-elbowed nature of public debate in America.

“Democratic politics is a messy business and sometimes it’s a contact sport,” he said, suggesting that those who hold cultural power are inevitably going to try to impose their viewpoints.

“The power to intimidate people, to make them fear they’ll be called a bigot or denied opportunities for jobs, only works if people allow themselves to be bullied,” George said. “Conservatives who make themselves out to be victims run the risk of playing into the hands of their opponents, suggesting that their opponents’ cultural power is so vast that there’s no way it can be resisted.”

To professional free-speech advocates ­– such as Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship – the gay rights vs. free expression cases are fascinating and often difficult.

“It’s very volatile – it requires you to parse the issues very closely,” she said. I’m of the school of thought that you should know your enemy. You need to know what people are thinking.”

David Crary can be reached at http://twitter.com/CraryAP