Six Reasons to Be Proud of Massachusetts Senators and Representatives

Aside from Elizabeth Warren bringing Dunks to the gun control sit-in.

Following the tragic Orlando shooting at Pulse, Congresspeople across the country have had enough of gun violence. So much so that Georgia representative and civil rights activist John Lewis spearheaded a more than 24-hour sit-in to force a vote on gun legislation.

Massachusetts was well-represented: both senators (Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren) and all nine representatives (Joe Kennedy, Richard Neal, Bill Keating, Katherine Clark, Mike Capuano, Niki Tsongas, Seth Moulton, Stephen Lynch, and Jim McGovern) made Massholes everywhere proud by helping hold down the floor.

But this isn’t the only reason for us to have pride: Massachusetts representatives and senators are always raising awareness for key issues and passing bills. Here are a few other actions they’ve taken just this June.

Elizabeth Warren fights LGBTQ discrimination.

Before bringing the Dems some Dunkin’ Donuts, on June 20, Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin addressed to the FDA that criticized the universal ban on blood donations from gay men. Introduced during the AIDs epidemic, the regulation does not allow exceptions even when blood tests have shown the men to be healthy enough to donate. The letter appeals to the recent Orlando shooting targeting gay men—the very men whom this policy discriminates against and who now cannot donate blood to help their community. Twenty-two other senators, including Massachusetts’ Ed Markey, signed. In summary, the letter requested “better blood donor deferral policies that are grounded in science, based on individual risk factors, don’t unfairly single out one group of individuals, and allow all healthy Americans to donate.”

Katherine Clark stands with survivors of sexual assault.

Following the harrowing Stanford sexual assault case, women in the House of Representatives are demanding reform. Congresswoman Katherine Clark has been a major player. She was on the floor during the June 15 reading of Emily Doe’s letter, and on June 21 she came out again to show support for fellow Congresswoman Ann Kuster who shared a story of her own sexual assault. Clark thanked Kuster for her story: “It’s moving, it’s courageous, and it makes a difference, and we so appreciate your words, because your story is our story.”

Clark painted the bleak prospects for victims like Kuster: 20 percent of college women will be sexually assaulted and 95 percent of them will not report the crime out of fear of not being believed in court. She called out the absurdity of recent cases at WPI, Stanford, and a Harvard alumni club that refused to admit women on the premise that more women would lead to more sexual assaults. “Alcohol, trusting security guards, the mere presence of women—none of it justifies rape,” she said. Looking forward, she demands that the government stop cutting funding to social services for sexual and domestic violence, make clear efforts toward data collection on perpetrators, and prioritize institutional “transparency and accountability.” On a personal level, she encourages parents to talk to their children about sexual assault, citing that by age 18, 73 percent of parents have never brought that topic up—let alone “double standards, power imbalance, bias, and bigotry.”

Ed Markey promotes environmental safety.

Senator Ed Markey spearheaded the passage of the first major environmental bill to go through Congress in over a generation. The bill updates the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for a modern time period. The Obama administration lauds it as “a clear improvement over the current TSCA and represents a historic advancement for both chemical safety and environmental law.”

Markey is taking Massachusetts along with him to the cutting edge of environmental safety. “Massachusetts has long led the nation in protecting our families from toxic chemicals,” Markey said. The law ensures that this will continue by allowing measures that would require MA companies to measure and reduce their usage of toxic chemicals and by permitting MA legislatures to circumvent the “pause protection,” which prevents governments from banning dangerous chemicals for three years of EPA inspection after initial concern is raised.

Joe Kennedy furthers mental health reform.

On June 15, Congressman Joe Kennedy passed a bill in the Energy & Commerce Committee reversing a previous Medicaid restriction that mentally ill children could receive mental or physical health care—but not both. “Forcing a child in need to choose between mental and physical health care is unjust, unfair and unacceptable,” the Congressman said in a statement. Despite this recent success, Kennedy has not grown complacent, remaining vocal about the need for more equitable health care access for all. “No matter what improvements we make to our mental health system, no matter how many resources we commit, if we do not ensure that those suffering from mental illness are treated fairly by their insurance companies then we leave treatment and care out of reach for far too many patients in need.”

jim mcgovern with dalai lama

Jim McGovern with the Dalai Lama. / Photo via House.gov

Jim McGovern supports international human rights.

As co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commissions, Congressman Jim McGovern has represented the state well. On June 7 he co-hosted a hearing on human rights in India. In his opening remarks, McGovern identified religious minorities, restrictions on freedom of speech, and the continued presence of caste-based discrimination as problem areas. “As U.S.-Indian ties strengthen and our partnership deepens, our two democracies must continue to engage on issues of accountability, rule of law, and human rights,” McGovern says.

Just days later on June 13, McGovern led a group in welcoming the Dalai Lama to the U.S. “As we seek to comprehend the senseless violence of the massacre of at least 49 people yesterday in Orlando, and the wounding of more than 50 others – most members of the LGBT community, many of Hispanic descent, all just out trying to enjoy their lives on a Saturday night – I can think of no better source of words of wisdom, tolerance and peace than His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” McGovern said. In his speech that followed, he condemned China’s treatment of Tibetans as “unconscionable” and acknowledged the U.S.’s guilt: “the international community today is more interested in not offending China than in vigorously supporting the human rights of the Tibetan people. It seems to me that my own government has fallen into this trap.” Still, he remains hopeful for “a world that respects and honors the ancient Tibetan culture.”

Seth Moulton advocates for Syrian refugees.

On June 20, Congressman Seth Moulton joined David Cicilline and Bill Pascrell in penning a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to prioritize providing safe haven to Syrian refugees. The state department set a goal to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016, but progress lags far behind, with only 2,805 resettlements eight months into the fiscal year. Countries like Canada surge ahead with 27,000 in just the past six months. The letter highlights that failing to meet this goal empowers ISIS. “We must remain steadfast and resolute in who we are as a people and as a nation: a beacon of hope for all those ‘yearning to breathe free.’ In other words, the slow pace of current Syrian refugee admissions will not help our national security. In fact, it will only give credence to those who hope to undermine our values.”

The letter acknowledges the necessity of background checks to ensure our national security, but Moulton emphasized in a statement the true victims of the crisis: “There’s nobody who knows the terror of ISIS better than these refugees.” The letter earned 77 signatures, including of all Massachusetts Representatives except for Stephen Lynch.

 

Combatting discrimination, supporting human rights, protecting our children’s health, and taking a stand on sexual assault? Cheers to that.


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