|NA’AMAT USA’s focus on social justice, status of women, women’s rights, child well-being and reproductive choice are included in our Statement of Principles and the Resolutions approved at our biennial conventions. Our American Affairs chairs prepare “Legislative Updates” reports to inform NA’AMAT members of issues being debated in Congress and in state legislatures, and to call members to action when certain legislation needs our support or opposition.|
President Barack Obama
Below are the positions that President Barack Obama has taken, on issues that are of interest to NA’AMAT:
As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama consistently emphasized his commitment to Israel. He has supported the annual U.S. foreign aid package that provides both military and economic assistance to Israel. Additionally, he has called for fully funding military assistance and continuing cooperative work on missile defense programs.
Obama has asserted that the United States would never recognize Hamas unless it renounces its fundamental mission to eliminate Israel and he has insisted that Hamas recognize Israel, abandon violence, and abide by previous agreements made between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
He has warned of the dangers to both the United States and Israel if Iran successfully develops nuclear weapons and has called for stronger international sanctions against Iran to persuade it to halt uranium enrichment. He co-sponsored the Iran Counter Proliferation Act, which calls for sanctions on Iran and other countries for assisting Iran in developing a nuclear program.
The Obama administration will support a woman’s right to reproductive choice. Obama has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and has pledged to make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in that case.
As a U.S. Senator, Obama co-sponsored and helped reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Signed into law in January 2006, the bill funds and helps communities, nonprofit organizations, and police combat domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The legislation establishes a sexual assault services program and provides education grants to prevent domestic violence.
Obama has been a champion of early childhood education since his years in the Illinois legislature. In the U.S. Senate, he introduced a comprehensive plan to invest $10 billion per year to: help fund state “zero to five” efforts; quadruple the number of eligible children for Early Head Start and increase Head Start funding; work to ensure all children have access to pre-school; provide affordable and high-quality child care that will promote child development and ease the burden on working families; and create a Presidential Early Learning Council to increase collaboration and program coordination across federal, state, and local levels.
Obama has pledged to make sure that every child has health insurance, expand educational opportunities for low-income children, extend resources for low-income families, support and supplement the foster care system, and protect children from violence and neglect.
Obama’s health care platform includes requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions; Creating a new tax credit to help small businesses provide affordable health insurance to their employees; Lowering costs for businesses by covering a portion of the catastrophic health costs they pay in return for lower premiums for employees; preventing insurers from overcharging doctors for their malpractice; and requiring large employers that do not offer health coverage to contribute a percentage of payroll toward the costs of their employees’ health care.
Reproductive Health Rights
INTERFAITH COALITION LOBBIES PRESIDENT-ELECT FOR REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH RIGHTS
NA’AMAT USA is a member of the Interfaith Coalition, a group made of organizations that support reproductive health rights as an integral part of achieving greater social justice for all. To strengthen the right of Americans to
access comprehensive health care services, the Interfaith Coalition prepared a letter to the newly elected President of the United States:
Dear President-Elect Obama:
Reproductive health is critical at every stage of development: from routine gynecological exams to comprehensive and accurate sex education and disease prevention information.
The following three issues are among the social justice priorities of our faith communities: access to comprehensive sex education, abortion services and contraceptive information and options.
Access to Comprehensive Sex Education
As faith communities, we are committed to sex education in our public schools. Federally funded abstinence-only programs are often based on incomplete information. There is a growing body of evidence that shows abstinence-only programs do not impact teens’ decisions to abstain from sexual activity, while comprehensive programs can effectively do this.
A. Ensure that young people in public schools receive comprehensive, medically accurate, scientifically sound sex education that includes unbiased health information about abstinence and contraception necessary to help them make responsible and safe life decisions.
B. Ensure that young people from other countries are not barred from accessing the full range of information. Remove funding requirements for ineffective abstinence-only programs in US global HIV/AIDS policy.
Access to Abortion Services
As faith communities, we believe that each individual is capable of making complex moral decisions.
Improve access to abortion services:
A. Support the Freedom of Choice Act, which reaffirms a woman’s right to choose to bear a child or terminate a pregnancy, and urge its passage in Congress.
B. Repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services.
A. Ensure contraceptive access for all women and men by increasing support for Title X family planning clinics and for voluntary international family planning assistance.
B. Protect and strengthen access to birth control, including emergency contraception. Implement safeguards so that no one religious practice or belief denies women the freedom to make personal decision.
C. Restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), so that the most vulnerable women. And families around the world have access to vital reproductive health.
D. Repeal the Global Gag Rule (Mexico City Policy) which withholds much needed aid from family planning agencies that even mention abortion.
Our nation’s families and communities.
NA’AMAT USA and the members of the International Coalition
May 2008-Legislative Update
A REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT
As we celebrate the event of Israel’s 60 years of existence as an independent Jewish state, we in NA’AMAT USA should be proud of our many contributions to our vital State of Israel. All of us who participated joyfully at the 2007 NA’AMAT USA Convention in Israel were made aware of the Israelis’ great appreciation for the multitude of important efforts that we have performed in Israel with dedication, devotion and determination.
The gratitude and recognition we received ranged from the Israeli shopkeeper selling items for tourists, who, seeing our NA’AMAT USA identification badges, said, “Ah, NA’AMAT USA, welcome. I’ll give you a discount,” to the genuine praise from the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, as he addressed us in his historic and beautiful home.
A NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL
The United States Ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones’s 3-year-term concludes this summer. President Bush has nominated James B. Cunningham to replace Mr. Jones. Mr. Cunningham is a veteran diplomat. He served as the acting United States Ambassador to the United Nations (January to September 2001). In that capacity, Mr. Cunningham performed a critical role defending Israel from the condemnation of the many United Nations member states during the intense second Intifada. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a Confirmation Hearing for Mr. Cunningham’s new position, May 1, 2008. No significant problems arose at this hearing. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on this nomination prior to the Memorial Day recess.
The Effect of a Supreme Court Decision and its Civil Right Consequences: The Ledbetter Case Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama, with a stellar record, was stunned to learn that all the male employees, including some under her jurisdiction, and some working fewer years than she, were receiving greater financial earnings than she. In fact, Ms. Ledbetter was earning $3,727 a month, and the newest mail worker, with absolutely less seniority than she, was earning $4,286 a month.
Ms. Ledbetter immediately filed a Civil Rights Discrimination Complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC informed her that she should have filed the complaint within 180 days, not years after this discriminatory practice was occurring.
Ms. Ledbetter then filed a Civil Rights case in the Federal District Court. The jury at the Federal District Court awarded her $223,776 in back pay and more than $3 million in punitive damages. Her employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company immediately appealed this decision. Eventually, this case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Inc., came before the United States Supreme Court. Ms. Ledbetter lost her case.
The 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito upheld the EEOC strict time restrictions and totally disregarded the financial awards that the Federal District Court had decreed for Ms. Ledbetter. The Washington Post editorialized, “The decision is impractical. Because of the highly secretive nature of pay decisions, most employees rarely know, at the time, that they are being given short shrift, meaning they would be likely to miss the filing deadline and be barred from pursuing their claims.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who wrote the minority decision of Ledbetter v. Goodyear, was so upset by the majority decision’s arguments, that she felt compelled to read her dissenting opinion very slowly from the bench at the Supreme Court. In a later interview, when she was asked about her unorthodox act, she replied, “I did it as a way for Congress to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Senator Arlen Spector, (R-PA), ranking member, Senate Judiciary Committee, took up this challenge, resulting in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This new bill would establish the deadline for making a charge of pay discrimination under Title VII to run from when a worker receives unequal pay, not from the day a company first decided to discriminate, as the Supreme Court incorrectly ruled in its 5 to 4 decision.
The House of Representatives quickly acted in July 2007 and passed this important measure 225 to 199. However, the Senate has not yet passed this bill. It was brought up in the Senate, April 23, 2008. Most Republican Senators oppose it, taking the position of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups. They are lobbying hard to defeat this measure. They fear an endless stream of lawsuits if this bill is enacted. Furthermore, the White House has threatened to veto it, if it would pass the Senate and come to President Bush’s desk for his signature. However, on April 23, 2008, this became academic. The vote in the Senate was 56 to 42, which fell 4 votes short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate for legislation to proceed and overcome a filibuster. Senator Kennedy stated: “It is outrageous that the Republican Senators refused to break this filibuster. As we have done on other basic bills to protect Civil Rights, we won’t take no for an answer. This issue is not going away.”
In all probabilities, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will not become law until the next Congressional Session convenes (the 111th Congressional session begins January 2009). If the number of Democratic Senators increases to 60 or more, after the November 2008 elections, then this important Civil Rights legislation would be able to overcome the threat of a filibuster and become law. Then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s judgment would be the Civil Rights law of the land.
A POSITIVE NOTE:
After a period of many years, on April 24, 2008, the Senate passed this measure by a vote of 95 to 0. The following week, May 1, the House of Representatives passed this long-awaited measure by a vote of 414 to 1, and President Bush has agreed to sign GINA into law. Thus, after this lengthy period of forceful opposition from employers and insurers, and skepticism from lawmakers over its necessity, positive results have been attained.
The Gender Information Nondiscrimination Act protects people from being fired or denied medical coverage based on their DNA. It would prevent health insurers from canceling, denying, refusing to renew or changing the terms or premiums of coverage, based solely on a genetic predisposition towards a specific disease. Additionally, it bars an employer from using an individual’s genetic information when making hiring, firing, promotion and other employment-related decisions. An employer who does these illegal acts could be fined $300,000 for each violation.
The chief sponsor of GINA is Representative Louise N. Slaughter, (D-NY). The Congresswoman is a microbiologist by training. Rep. Slaughter has worked tirelessly and effectively to achieve this result. She states at the conclusion of the House of Representative vote: “By prohibiting the improper use of genetic information, Americans will be encouraged to take advantage of the tremendous life-altering potential of genetic research.”
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) called GINA “the first Civil Rights bill of the new century. With its passage, we take a quantum leap forward to preserving the value of new genetic technology and protecting the basic rights of every American.” GINA will become law 18 months from the date of the President’s signature. It is good to report on this landmark anti-discriminatory measure!