Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after President Trump announced his intent to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court: 

“There is so much on the line with this Supreme Court vacancy. The next justice has the opportunity to decide the future of the Affordable Care Act, and whether Americans with preexisting conditions will continue to be protected, or if millions of Americans covered by the ACA will have their health care ripped away in the middle of a pandemic. Everything from health care to reproductive rights to voting rights hangs in the balance. Given the stakes, the American people have a right to have their voices heard before the confirmation of a new justice.

“This is not a question of judicial qualifications or temperament – this is about following the standard established by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2016, when he refused – over my own strong objections – to consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee 10 months prior to the election. That’s now the precedent. We can’t have one set of rules for Democratic presidents, and a different set of rules for Republican presidents. Our system of checks and balances, which has held strong and lasting for more than 200 years, was simply not meant to bear the brunt of such cynicism and hypocrisy. 

“Virginians are already casting their ballots. The Senate should not be considering a Supreme Court nomination before Inauguration Day.”

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) urging the agency to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee on their list of ongoing remote inspections during the COVID-19 health crisis. Following troubling reports of conditions at Virginia facilities and a four-month-long delayed response by BOP, these remote inspections would help assess whether the Virginia BOP-managed correctional institutions are complying with protocols and best practices to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 outbreaks in these facilities.  

“We write today to urge you to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, both in Virginia, in the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) remote inspection of facilities housing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our offices have received numerous reports from employees and families of incarcerated individuals regarding the spread of COVID-19 and allegations of deteriorating health and safety conditions within both facilities. These concerns have been raised multiple times by several of our offices with BOP, and we remain deeply troubled by conditions at the two Virginia correctional facilities,” wrote the lawmakers. 

In Virginia, there are two federal correctional institutions in operation, including the U.S. Penitentiary in Lee County and the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex. Correctional officers at Virginia’s facilities are responsible for approximately 4,144 incarcerated individuals. Currently, no Virginia facility is included in the OIG remote inspections list even as the number of COVID-19 cases have increased.

“On September 24, 2020, the BOP website reported 200 incarcerated individuals and 13 staff members with active or recovered positive COVID-19 cases at FCC Petersburg. Many of our offices have received reports that – despite denials from BOP – cases are increasing and inadequate steps have been taken to limit transmission at this facility. USP Lee weathered much of the pandemic without a COVID-19 outbreak. However, on September 9, 2020, BOP transferred at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 to the facility. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia. Transfers such as this could result in preventable outbreaks, both inside the prison and in the local community,” the lawmakers continued.

Additionally, the lawmakers raised alarm over the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)provided to staff and incarcerated individuals despite the contradictory claim by BOP that they have enough PPE at their facilities. In their letter, the lawmakers also note that they have receiveddisturbing reports of diminished quality of life for incarcerated individuals, which include reports of spoiled food and reduced access to essential facilities.

The members of Congress have advocated for vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 crisis. In March, Sen. Warner joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to BOP and the three largest private prison operators inquiring about any policies and procedures in place to manage a potential spread of COVID-19. In May, Sens. Warner and Kaine and Reps. McEachin and Griffith requested answers from BOP Director Carvajal regarding issues at the Virginia facilities. Earlier this week, following a failure to respond to the May letter, the lawmakers once again pressed Director Michael Carvajal for answers concerning an ongoing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Following a delayed responsefrom BOP that contradicted information the lawmakers have consistently heard about the lack of PPE, the spread of COVID, and deteriorating conditions, the members of Congress are pressing OIG to include these facilities in their remote inspection list. 

Additionally, Sens. Warner and Kaine have also urged the Trump Administration time and time and time again to cease the inter-state transfer of people held at immigration detention facilities during the public health crisis.

 

Full text of the letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Inspector General Horowitz: 

We write today to urge you to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, both in Virginia, in the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) remote inspection of facilities housing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our offices have received numerous reports from employees and families of incarcerated individuals regarding the spread of COVID-19 and allegations of deteriorating health and safety conditions within both facilities. These concerns have been raised multiple times by several of our offices with BOP, and we remain deeply troubled by conditions at the two Virginia correctional facilities.

On September 24, 2020, the BOP website reported 200 incarcerated individuals and 13 staff members with active or recovered positive COVID-19 cases at FCC Petersburg. Many of our offices have received reports that – despite denials from BOP – cases are increasing and inadequate steps have been taken to limit transmission at this facility.

USP Lee weathered much of the pandemic without a COVID-19 outbreak. However, on September 9, 2020, BOP transferred at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 to the facility. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia. Transfers such as this could result in preventable outbreaks, both inside the prison and in the local community.

We also continue to receive reports that BOP has not provided proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and incarcerated individuals at both facilities. As a result, PPE is frequently reused beyond its intended service life. Further, we are concerned that neither facility has taken adequate steps to distance those who have tested positive for COVID-19 from the general population.

Finally, several of our offices have been informed that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis. We have also received disturbing reports that both food quality and quantity have significantly declined, including accounts of spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.  

We seek to maintain the highest levels of safety for incarcerated individuals, correctional facility staff, and local communities in the Commonwealth, and urge you to include USP Lee and FCC Petersburg in your remote inspections. Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA), demanded answers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regarding reports of troubling conditions at Virginia facilities amid the COVID-19 crisis. Expressing frustration with Director Michael Carvajal’s failure to respond to a letter from earlier this year, the lawmakerspressed for answers concerning an ongoing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and diminished quality of life for incarcerated individuals. 

“Nearly four months ago, we sent you a letter detailing the significant risks and challenges COVID-19 posed to the health and safety of staff, incarcerated individuals at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities. We remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated,” the lawmakers wrote. “One area of particular concern is the continued lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). According to employees at FCC Petersburg, both staff and incarcerated individuals are forced to re-use supplies and masks, which presents serious health and safety risks. Given the close quarters and frequent person-to-person interaction, correctional staff and incarcerated individuals are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Lack of PPE also creates additional risk of community spread outside the facilities. Relatedly, we have learned from facility staff that showers are restricted for individuals incarcerated at FCC Petersburg, a policy which further exacerbates sanitation and hygiene issues during a global pandemic.”

“We have also received numerous reports related to other declining conditions at FCC Petersburg. It is our understanding that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis,” they continued. “We have also heard disturbing reports that the food the incarcerated individuals are receiving has declined significantly in both quantity and quality, including being served spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.” 

In Virginia, there are two federal correctional institutions in operation, including the U.S. Penitentiary in Lee County and the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex. Correctional officers at Virginia’s facilities are responsible for approximately 4,144 incarcerated individuals. 

In their letter, the four members of Congress also raised concern with reports that correctional staff at FCI Petersburg continue to be denied a lunch break despite working shifts as long as sixteen hours – an issue originally raised in the lawmakers’ May 21st letter. Calling this “unacceptable and dangerous,” they encouraged Director Carvajal to institute a nation-wide break policy in order to address correctional staff’s basic needs.

Additionally, they expressed dismay regarding the transfer of incarcerated individuals between facilities, highlighting that at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 was transferred to USP Lee. The lawmakers noted that this this lapse in judgment could result in an entirely preventable COVID-19 outbreak inside the prison, endangering staff, inmates and local communities. 

The members of Congress have advocated for vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Earlier this year, they requested answers from Director Carvajal regarding issues at the Virginia facilities. Sen. Warner also joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to BOP and the three largest private prison operators inquiring about any policies and procedures in place to manage a potential spread of COVID-19.

Additionally, Sen. Warner and Kaine have urged the Trump Administration time and time and time again to cease the inter-state transfer of people held at immigration detention facilities during the public health crisis. 

Full text of today’s letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Director Carvajal:

We write to reiterate our serious concerns about the health and safety of staff and individuals incarcerated at Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, the two federal correctional facilities in Virginia, and to express our severe frustration at your failure to respond to our letter from May 21, 2020. After speaking with employees and the families of individuals incarcerated at both facilities, it is clear that the situation is worsening. According to figures shared with our offices, there are over 200 incarcerated individuals and at least 12 staff who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at FCC Petersburg. 

Nearly four months ago, we sent you a letter detailing the significant risks and challenges COVID-19 posed to the health and safety of staff, incarcerated individuals at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities. We remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated.  

One area of particular concern is the continued lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). According to employees at FCC Petersburg, both staff and incarcerated individuals are forced to re-use supplies and masks, which presents serious health and safety risks. Given the close quarters and frequent person-to-person interaction, correctional staff and incarcerated individuals are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Lack of PPE also creates additional risk of community spread outside the facilities. Relatedly, we have learned from facility staff that showers are restricted for individuals incarcerated at FCC Petersburg, a policy which further exacerbates sanitation and hygiene issues during a global pandemic. 

We have also received numerous reports related to other declining conditions at FCC Petersburg. It is our understanding that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis. We have also heard disturbing reports that the food the incarcerated individuals are receiving has declined significantly in both quantity and quality, including being served spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.   

Further, as we detailed in our letter nearly four months ago, correctional staff at FCC Petersburg continue to be denied a lunch break, despite reportedly working shifts as long as sixteen hours. This is unacceptable and dangerous. We once again encourage you to institute a break policy—not only at the Petersburg facility, but at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) facilities across the nation—that more appropriately responds to correctional staff’s basic needs. 

Additionally, we are particularly dismayed to learn that, despite our concerns, BOP is transferring individuals to facilities without a record of COVID-19 cases. A group of individuals was recently transferred to USP Lee, which included at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia, and not only could this transfer result in an entirely preventable outbreak inside the prison, it is also dangerous for the public health of local community members.   

Finally, your failure to respond to our serious concerns is further heightened by the recent announcement from the BOP that facilities will allow visitations to resume in early October. While we agree that resuming visitations is incredibly important for incarcerated individuals and their families, proper protocols must be in place and followed to ensure the health and safety of the incarcerated individuals, their families, and the surrounding communities. We urge you to take all available steps to ensure vitiations can resume as soon as possible while preserving the health and safety of visitors, staff, and incarcerated individuals.

Given the magnitude of the worsening conditions at USP Lee and FCC Petersburg, we demand an immediate response to how BOP is addressing our concerns by no later than October 5, 2020. As COVID-19 continues to present a significant health challenge at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities, we are committed to working with you to address the needs of incarcerated individuals and correctional staff. 

We appreciate your attention to these important issues impacting our constituents and look forward to your prompt response. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and 29 senators today in calling on the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to expeditiously investigate a whistleblower complaint alleging forced hysterectomies at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Ga.

“Forced sterilizations infringe on reproductive rights and autonomy,” the senators wrote. “To understand whether such violations may have been committed against immigrants in our federal government’s custody, the Inspector General’s Office should immediately investigate the reproductive health policies and practices at the ICDC and at other facilities, including but not limited to, all instances of forced, coerced, or medically unnecessary hysterectomies.”

 In addition to Senators Feinstein, Leahy, Murray, Casey and Booker, the letter was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Full text of the letter follows:

 

September 17, 2020

Hon. Joseph V. Cuffari

Inspector General

Department of Homeland Security

245 Murray Lane SW

Washington, DC 20528-0305

Dear Mr. Cuffari:

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General should expeditiously conduct a thorough investigation into a whistleblower complaint alleging forced hysterectomies and other egregious abuses at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia. LaSalle Corrections operates that facility for the federal government, including for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The alleged abuses detailed in the complaint and in related reports must be thoroughly and swiftly investigated to protect the rights and safety of women and patients in our nation’s care.

 The whistleblower expressed alarm about the “rate at which the hysterectomies have occurred” at the facility. Specifically, the complaint alleges that between October and December 2019 at least five women detained at the ICDC received hysterectomies. When asked about the procedures, however, the women “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” The complaint also describes how a gynecologist once removed the wrong ovary on a young woman, causing her “to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy,” leaving her unable to bear children.

Another detained woman who received a hysterectomy recounted that medical personnel “did not properly explain to her what procedure she was going to have done.” Although she asked for more information about why she was receiving a hysterectomy, she was “given three different responses by three different individuals.” When the woman told a nurse that the procedure “isn’t for me,” the nurse “responded by getting angry and agitated.”

Forced sterilizations infringe on reproductive rights and autonomy. To understand whether such violations may have been committed against immigrants in our federal government’s custody, the Inspector General’s Office should immediately investigate the reproductive health policies and practices at the ICDC and at other ICE facilities, including but not limited to, all instances of forced, coerced, or medically unnecessary hysterectomies.

 In addition to thoroughly investigating the recent alleged abuses at the ICDC, we urge you to immediately conduct a national review of reproductive health policies and practices at ICE facilities to ensure that the human rights of women in federal immigration custody are assured.

Sincerely,

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 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Chris Coons and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn to introduce legislation to honor and commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The bill would recognize the importance of the additional sites that catalyzed litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., -- including the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville – by designating them as National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas and expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas. The legislation was crafted in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Tom Carper (D-DE).

“On April 23, 1951, a 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a walkout of students at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, to protest school segregation and poor education conditions. The student-led strike in Virginia and the subsequent lawsuit became one of the five cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education.  As our country continues to grapple with the need to reckon with our past and present, it is more important than ever to highlight those Americans who time and time again have stood up and pulled our nation towards progress,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan bill to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and recognize the vital role played by the Moton School in Farmville in ending school segregation.”

“I am proud to join this bipartisan bill to honor and protect historic sites connected to Brown v. Board of Education—a watershed case in our nation’s progress toward equality for all,” said Senator Kaine. “One of the sites that will benefit is the Moton Museum, former home of the Moton School, where Barbara Johns led a protest over the intolerable conditions for Black students. It’s so important that we preserve these sites for all to reflect on the sacrifice and patriotism of leaders like Johns, Spottswood Robinson, and Oliver Hill.” 

“The Robert R. Moton Museum is excited to join with communities involved in the historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. In seeking to become an affiliated area of the National Park Service, we know this affiliation will allow us the opportunity to better collaborate with other communities involved in the historic Brown decision as we work to ensure that countless individuals have the opportunity to know of the courage and sacrifice that citizens made towards equality in education,” said Cameron D. Patterson, Executive Director of the Robert R. Moton Museum. “The Moton Museum Board of Trustees, Moton Museum Community Council, and our partner institution Longwood University in offering their support towards this effort, recognize that the resources and benefits offered from this affiliation with the National Park Service will only strengthen our ability to fulfill our mission as a museum.”

The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was described by constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak as “probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Brown decision transformed the United States, striking down the separate-but-equal doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896The Plessy decision was the linchpin that condoned and entrenched legalized segregation across the South despite liberty and equality protections clearly stated in the U.S. Constitution and underscored by the 14th and 15th Amendments.   

These laws stayed in placed for nearly 100 years after Reconstruction, but pioneering civil rights lawyers Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, William Hastie, Constance Baker Motley, Louis Lorenzo Redding, and others challenged the constitutionality of segregation and won. The Brown decision ended the practice of legalized segregation in educational facilities and was a major catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.  

The history of Brown v. Board of Education is represented in our national consciousness by a single building, Monroe School, which is a National Historic Site located in Topeka, Kansas. This limited geographic scope condenses public memory of these events and inadvertently fails to recognize the contributions of the other communities in Claymont, Delaware; Hockessin, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia that were also important to the fight for equality and that saw their cases consolidated with the Brown case. The geographic dispersion of these locations demonstrates that Brown v. Board of Education is truly a story of a national struggle with national significance.

The creation of NPS Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for sites associated with the Brown v. Board of Education case and an expansion of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include the related sites in South Carolina provides an opportunity for these sites to tell their own uplifting, under-recognized stories of students, parents, and their allies who helped shape American society. 

Enactment of this legislation has the potential to appropriately recognize the sites associated with the other four court cases and help them to combine current uses with preservation and public education.  In collaboration with local partners and other stakeholders, the National Trust will continue their collective work to bring recognition to communities that fought for school integration, helping these sites to tell their own history of the Brown v. Board of Education case and make connections to other communities engaged in the fight for educational equity, past and present.  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) celebrated that the bill to rename a Hopewell, Va. post office as the “Reverend Curtis West Harris Post Office Building” passed in the U.S. House of Representatives today. The bill, introduced by U.S. Representative A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), honors the life and legacy of Reverend Curtis West Harris, who long fought for racial justice and equity. Reverend Harris served as pastor of Hopewell’s Union Baptist Church for nearly fifty years, was the first African-American Mayor of Hopewell, and was also elected to serve in the Hopewell City Council from 1986 to 2012. He passed away in 2017 and was buried in Appomattox Cemetery, a site he first fought to integrate in 1960.

“Reverend Curtis West Harris is a Virginian who was a fierce champion for civil rights. He not only served Union Baptist Church faithfully, but he was also devoted to the fight against racial discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement,” said the Senators. “From participating in the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery to leading sit-ins against segregated Hopewell lunch counters, Reverend Harris helped pursue change against racial inequities. With today’s House passage, we are one step closer to paying tribute to a man who inspired all to do their part in the fight for social justice.”

The United States Postal Service (USPS) facility is located at 117 West Poythress Street in Hopewell, Virginia. In July, the Senators wrote to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Senate Committee that oversees USPS, voicing their support for renaming the post office.

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WASHINGTON – Today, on National Poll Worker Recruitment Day, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) emphasized the threat posed by the shortage of poll workers ahead of the November elections, and urged the administrative bodies of each state’s Continuing Legal Education (CLE) system to allow lawyers to volunteer as poll workers on November 3rd in exchange for CLE credits – a measure already undertaken by the Ohio State Bar Association. CLE credits are required professional education for attorneys, who must earn these credits after their initial admission to the bar.

“Across the country, election officials have raised the possibility that many experienced poll workers – who are primarily older than age 60 and at a higher risk from coronavirus – will opt to remain at home this year. We saw early signs of this during primary elections held nationwide earlier this spring and summer, with reduced polling locations in many states as a result of the public health emergency,” wrote Sen. Warner. “A reduction of polling places undermines not only our democracy, but also our public health response, as larger numbers of Americans are forced to rely on a limited number of open polling locations.”

He continued, “Well-trained poll workers are critical to ensuring the secure and effective completion of this year’s elections. Without an adequate number of poll workers during the primaries earlier this year, many states were forced to close polling locations leading to long lines and undoubtedly disenfranchising voters. With much higher turnout expected for this year’s general election, these challenges will be magnified. This impending shortage demands innovative solutions and should serve as a call to service.”

According to the CDC, one of the best ways to mitigate COVID-19-related health risks during the election will be to support a wide variety of alternative voting methods and options – such as expanded early voting and longer voting hours – that reduce the number of voters at a single polling location. However, many of these options require the presence of poll workers, who are traditionally older and therefore more likely to stay home given the risks associated with COVID-19.

In his letters, Sen. Warner also noted that placing lawyers in precincts across the state will also serve to curb voter suppression and other legal violations at a time of increased levels of voter suppression.

Letters were sent to the Alabama State Bar, Alaska Bar Association, State Bar of Arizona, Arkansas Continuing Legal Education Board, State Bar of California, Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center, State Bar of Connecticut, Commission on Continuing Legal Education of the Supreme Court of Delaware, Florida Bar, Georgia Commission on Continuing Lawyer Competency, Hawaii State Bar Association, Idaho State Bar, MCLE Board of the Supreme Court of Illinois, Indiana Commission for CLE, Commission on Continuing Legal Education of the Supreme Court of Iowa,  Kansas CLE Commission, Kentucky Bar Association, Louisiana Supreme Court Committee on MCLE, Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar, Minnesota State Board of CLE, Mississippi Commission on CLE, MCLE Department    Montana Board of CLE, Nebraska MCLE Commission, Nevada Board of Continuing Legal Education, New Hampshire Minimum CLE Board, Supreme Court of New Jersey, New Mexico MCLE, New York State Continuing Legal Education Board, North Carolina State Bar, North Dakota CLE Commission, MCLE Commission, Oregon State Bar, Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board (PACLE) , Rhode Island MCLE Commission, Commission on CLE and Specialization, Tennessee Commission on CLE and Specialization, State Bar of Texas, Utah State Board of Continuing Legal Education, Vermont Board of Continuing Legal Education, Virginia State Bar, Washington State Board of CLE, West Virginia State Bar, Supreme Court of Wisconsin, and Wyoming State Board of CLE.

A sample letter is available here.

 

Earlier today, Sen. Warner also cosponsored legislation to address the urgent shortage of poll workers and make it easier for election boards across the country to send recruits to where they are most needed by removing requirements that poll workers be registered to vote in the same county where they are volunteering. Given Leader McConnell’s consistent refusal to advance election assistance legislation, Sen. Warner is encouraging states to explore alternative solutions. 

As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner has long advocated for the integrity of our elections. In June, he led all Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as the National Association of State Election Directors and the National Association of Secretaries of State to work proactively to counter any attempts to suppress vulnerable and historically-disenfranchised voters during the COVID-19 crisis. 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) today in introducing legislation, the Poll Worker Recruitment Act of 2020, to address the urgent shortage of poll workers for the November 2020 general election. Today’s announcement coincides with National Poll Worker Recruitment Day.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Merkley, the legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). 

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the U.S., the coronavirus crisis has made it much more challenging to recruit poll workers at a time when in-person voting options are already limited. Many of the volunteers who normally help staff polling stations are seniors who are at high risk of COVID-19 complications and have been urged by public health professionals to stay home.

As election boards across the country work to resolve this poll worker shortage, the legislation would make it easier for them to send recruits to where they are most needed by removing requirements that poll workers be registered to vote in the same county where they are volunteering. Poll workers would still need to be registered in the same state.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to holding a safe and fair election in November,” said Merkley. “No right is more sacred than our right to vote, and we must do everything in our power to protect voting rights this year. Every American voter needs to be given the chance to cast their vote in a safe and accessible way. That means that in addition to giving every voter a chance to vote by mail, we need as many poll workers as possible to avoid long lines, unreasonable waits, and dangerous crowding. Let’s get every poll worker America has available to where they are most needed and will be most effective.” 

Pennsylvania implemented this change in requirements during its 2020 primary election. The proposal would make this change national, ensuring that all states have equal opportunity to maximize coverage by poll workers.

As the coronavirus pandemic has spread across the U.S., poll worker shortages have become a persistent problem throughout the 2020 primary election season. Washington, D.C. reported a loss of 1,700 election workers during its primary voting period. Kentucky reduced its in-person voting locations to a single polling place in each county for its primary because of poll worker shortages. And alarming statistics from other states show that this is likely to be a significant problem for the general election: In Anchorage, Alaska, 95% of past poll workers declined to sign up again this year, while in Maryland, the state announced last month that it is short nearly 14,000 election workers.

“As we have seen in primary elections across the United States, the challenge of recruiting and retaining poll workers during COVID-19 has had a suppressive effect on in-person voting, which communities of color disproportionately rely on. The Voter Protection Corps applauds Senator Merkley for recognizing the critical need to boost poll worker recruiting this Fall so that all voters who want or need to vote in person can do so safely,” said Voter Protection Corps Executive Director Bob LaRocca. “By providing local and county jurisdictions greater flexibility to recruit poll workers from across a state, this legislation works to address the massive demand for in-person election workers in November.”

“I fully support this common-sense approach to recruiting poll workers. With two major Universities in my county, having the ability to recruit younger poll workers who aren’t permanent residents would help immensely,” said Amelia Powers Gardner, Utah County Clerk/Auditor. “Removing barriers to recruitment helps elections officials and our local communities while giving young people the opportunity to serve.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged Virginia’s election registrars to do everything in their power to ensure that all Virginians can access their right to vote amid controversial reforms to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the ongoing public health emergency. In a letter, the Senators strongly encouraged the Commonwealth’s 133 registrars to take advantage of the steps Virginia recently took to expand early voting and to ensure that no American is forced to choose between their right to vote and their health.

“We understand you are currently preparing to handle the anticipated surge in absentee voting, both in-person and by mail, and we urge you to be thoughtful about those steps, particularly in light of delays in the processing of mail as a result of changes made to the U.S. Postal Service,” wrote the Senators. “We urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that both of these important safeguards of the American franchise can be fully exercised, including by working with your local governance body to expand the number of satellite sites where in-person absentee voting is available and the number of business hours during which those sites are open.”

They continued, “The Commonwealth of Virginia has made major strides in recent years to increase access to the franchise. Prior to the current public health emergency, Virginia not only expanded early voting opportunities, but also implemented no-excuse absentee voting. We urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that both of these important safeguards of the American franchise can be fully exercised, including by expanding the number of sites where in-person absentee voting is available and the number of hours during which those sites are open.”

This letter follows the implementation of sweeping operational changes to the Postal Service that have significantly delayed mail, in what many have called an attempt by the Trump Administration to undermine mail-in voting ahead of the November election. This comes as more and more Americans look to mail-in voting and other convenience voting opportunities in order to participate in the election while staying safe during the ongoing pandemic.

In their letter, the Senators also asked the registrars to immediately alert the Senators and officials at the Virginia Department of Elections regarding any constraints in safeguarding voting, including in securing resources to organize safe polling locations or finding adequate numbers of poll workers to staff early voting sites. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been vocal proponents of securing Americans’ right to vote and of reversing any changes to USPS that have affected the reliability of mail delivery. Earlier this week, the Senators calledon the Postmaster General to testify before Congress and provide clear, transparent answers on service delays. Last week, they joined their colleagues in a letter asking the Postmaster General not to take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots. Sen. Warner has also demanded immediate action to ensure that Veterans and the VA can count on USPS for the timely delivery of essential prescription drugs, and he has pressed the Postmaster General regarding Virginians’ concerns about delayed mail service.   

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

There is enormous interest nationwide in the upcoming election, with record interest in absentee voting across the Commonwealth. However, the current public health emergency and recent changes to longstanding Postal Service policies have raised concerns about the ability of Americans to safely exercise their franchise through absentee balloting. We write to urge you to do as much as feasible to ensure all Virginians can access their right to vote, including taking advantage of the historic steps Virginia recently took to expand early voting.  

During the primary season, the pandemic caused delays and hazardous conditions for voters nationwide. Going forward, it is evident that substantive measures must be taken to ensure that no American must choose between their franchise and their health. The urgent need for safe voting procedures, including safe, secure alternatives to voting in-person on Election Day, has significantly increased interest in convenience voting opportunities.  

We understand you are currently preparing to handle the anticipated surge in absentee voting, both in-person and by mail, and we urge you to be thoughtful about those steps, particularly in light of delays in the processing of mail as a result of changes made to the U.S. Postal Service. We urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that both of these important safeguards of the American franchise can be fully exercised, including by working with your local governance body to expand the number of satellite sites where in-person absentee voting is available and the number of business hours during which those sites are open.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has made major strides in recent years to increase access to the franchise. Prior to the current public health emergency, Virginia not only expanded early voting opportunities, but also implemented no-excuse absentee voting. We urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that both of these important safeguards of the American franchise can be fully exercised, including by expanding the number of sites where in-person absentee voting is available and the number of hours during which those sites are open. To the extent that you face constraints in this context, including in finding adequate numbers of poll workers to staff early voting sites or securing resources to organize safe polling locations, we urge you to immediately alert officials at the Virginia Department of Elections, as well as our offices. As we approach the election, a fulsome understanding of the situation and needs across Virginia will be crucial to shaping a legislative response.

Americans are experiencing great hardship as a result of the ongoing public health emergency. For months, we have advocated for additional resources for local election officials grappling with the unprecedented voter turnout that is expected this November in the midst of a pandemic. While these requests have been ignored to this point, we hope to continue advocating for and amplifying the needs of Virginia’s elections officials during this critical time.

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Gary Peters, Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the entire Senate Democratic caucus to demand answers from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on significant operational changes he directed that have caused serious delays for postal customers in Virginia and across the country. In a letter, the Senators called on DeJoy to testify before Congress and provide clear, transparent answers on service delays that have caused seniors and veterans to miss their prescription medications, small businesses to lose money and customers over delayed packages, and other serious disruptions that affect communities across the country who count on the Postal Service for timely delivery.

“In the weeks since you began to implement these changes, we have seen a steep increase in constituent concerns about mail delays, including restricted mail movement, limitations on carriers’ abilities to timely deliver mail, and most concerning, risks to receipt of critical mail involving life-saving medication and ballots for the upcoming general election,” wrote the Senators. “The Postal Service is a public institution that both serves and belongs to every person in our nation. As a result, we call on you to testify before Congress about all changes you have made and plan to make as Postmaster General.  The lack of transparency so far regarding the intent, scope, and responsibility for changes at the Postal Service is unacceptable.” 

Last week, Warner and Kaine joined their colleagues in a letter to urge DeJoy to provide answers regarding reports of changes to long-standing practices at USPS that result in increased delivery times and costs for election mail, and urged him not to take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots. Sen. Warner also demanded immediate action last week to ensure that  Veterans and the VA can count on USPS for the timely delivery of essential prescription drugs. He has also previously pressed the Postmaster General regarding concerns from Virginians regarding delayed mail service.  

Text of the letter is copied below and available here.

  

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

We write to seek answers about changes to the U.S. Postal Service under your leadership that are adversely affecting mail delivery for Americans across the country.  We call on you to testify before Congress about these changes and their impact on every person in our nation.  

The Postal Service is an essential public institution with an obligation to serve every community in the nation.  As Postmaster General, you should not make changes that will slow down mail or compromise service for veterans, small businesses, rural communities, seniors, and millions of Americans who rely on the mail for medicines, essential goods, voting, correspondence, and for their livelihoods. 

Last week, however, you confirmed to Congress that you recently directed operational changes in post offices and processing centers. On August 7, 2020, you also announced a significant reorganization of Postal Service leadership and functions. These changes include the elimination of extra mail transportation trips, the reduction of overtime, the start of a pilot program for mail sorting and delivery policies at hundreds of post offices, and the reduction of equipment at mail processing plants.   

The Postal Service has characterized these changes as efficiency or cost-saving measures and minimized any “temporary service issues” as an “inevitable” side effect of implementing new procedures. However, in practice and in the midst of a pandemic, these actions, whether intentionally or not, are causing mail delays and appear to constitute an unacceptable threat to the Postal Service and the millions of Americans who depend on it.

In the weeks since you began to implement these changes, we have seen a steep increase in constituent concerns about mail delays, including restricted mail movement, limitations on carriers’ abilities to timely deliver mail, and most concerning, risks to receipt of critical mail involving life-saving medication and ballots for the upcoming general election.  There are also reports that post offices have significantly reduced their hours, including in West Virginia, where postal officials circulated an alarming document announcing potential post office closures before quickly withdrawing it and calling it a misunderstanding.

As Postmaster General, you have avoided answering questions about the magnitude of delays we have seen and have not yet provided any evidence that you studied or considered how your changes would affect delays and mail service before implementing these changes.  Furthermore, you have refused to engage with nearly all Members of Congress who have reached out to you or raised concerns about these issues.  Inevitably, without additional information or engagement from you or the Postal Service with stakeholders about these changes, your actions raise questions regarding your intent and whether you have adequately sought to fully understand the Postal Service’s current capabilities, personnel, and public service mission before implementing these changes.   

The Postal Service is a public institution that both serves and belongs to every person in our nation. As a result, we call on you to testify before Congress about all changes you have made and plan to make as Postmaster General.  The lack of transparency so far regarding the intent, scope, and responsibility for changes at the Postal Service is unacceptable.  We understand you have committed to being more forthcoming and transparent with Congress and the American people regarding these changes, including providing documentation of the operational changes you have made and will be making since beginning your term.  For every American who relies on the Postal Service, we call on you to fulfill that commitment without delay. 

To that end, please provide the following information by August 21, 2020:

1.               Please explain how the changes you have made to Postal Service operations since becoming Postmaster General have affected on-time mail delivery (i.e. service performance).  Please provide all nationwide, Area, and regional service performance data since June 15, 2020.

2.               Did you conduct any formal analysis before making these changes to Postal Service operations, including analysis of the potential effect on service performance?  If so, please provide the analysis.  If not, explain why not.   

3.               It appears the Postal Service did not consult meaningfully with any stakeholders, including unions, mailing industry stakeholders, or others, before implementing these operational changes.  Please explain why. 

a.     Did you discuss these operational changes, or any other potential operational changes, with Administration officials outside the Postal Service?  Please list and describe any such discussions.

4.               What analysis did you conduct over your 8 weeks as Postmaster General to determine an “organizational realignment” was necessary and that the previous structure was inadequate?  Please provide copies and descriptions of any analysis, including any discussions with employees and business stakeholders.  

a.     The reorganization reshuffles reporting relationships and Postal Service geographic Areas.  How will this affect coordination among essential functions of the Postal Service during this pandemic?  How will this affect reports of service performance and other essential performance metrics? 

5.               What, if any, plans are under consideration for further post office or facility hour reductions, suspensions, closures, or consolidations?

6.               What steps will you be taking to suspend or halt any changes adversely affecting mail delivery during this pandemic and in advance of the general election?

 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the entire Senate Democratic caucus in demanding answers from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on significant operational changes he directed that have caused serious delays for postal customers in Michigan and across the country. In a letter, the Senators called on DeJoy to testify before Congress and provide clear, transparent answers on service delays that have caused seniors and veterans to miss their prescription medications, small businesses to lose money and customers over delayed packages, and other serious disruptions that affect communities across the country who count on the Postal Service for timely delivery. 

In the weeks since you began to implement these changes, we have seen a steep increase in constituent concerns about mail delays, including restricted mail movement, limitations on carriers’ abilities to timely deliver mail, and most concerning, risks to receipt of critical mail involving life-saving medication and ballots for the upcoming general election,” wrote the Senators. “The Postal Service is a public institution that both serves and belongs to every person in our nation. As a result, we call on you to testify before Congress about all changes you have made and plan to make as Postmaster General.  The lack of transparency so far regarding the intent, scope, and responsibility for changes at the Postal Service is unacceptable.”  

Text of the letter is availabe below.

  

August 17, 2020

Mr. Louis DeJoy

Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer

United States Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W.

Room 4012

Washington, D.C. 20260

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

We write to seek answers about changes to the U.S. Postal Service under your leadership that are adversely affecting mail delivery for Americans across the country.  We call on you to testify before Congress about these changes and their impact on every person in our nation. 

The Postal Service is an essential public institution with an obligation to serve every community in the nation.  As Postmaster General, you should not make changes that will slow down mail or compromise service for veterans, small businesses, rural communities, seniors, and millions of Americans who rely on the mail for medicines, essential goods, voting, correspondence, and for their livelihoods. 

Last week, however, you confirmed to Congress that you recently directed operational changes in post offices and processing centers. On August 7, 2020, you also announced a significant reorganization of Postal Service leadership and functions. These changes include the elimination of extra mail transportation trips, the reduction of overtime, the start of a pilot program for mail sorting and delivery policies at hundreds of post offices, and the reduction of equipment at mail processing plants.   

The Postal Service has characterized these changes as efficiency or cost-saving measures and minimized any “temporary service issues” as an “inevitable” side effect of implementing new procedures. However, in practice and in the midst of a pandemic, these actions, whether intentionally or not, are causing mail delays and appear to constitute an unacceptable threat to the Postal Service and the millions of Americans who depend on it.

In the weeks since you began to implement these changes, we have seen a steep increase in constituent concerns about mail delays, including restricted mail movement, limitations on carriers’ abilities to timely deliver mail, and most concerning, risks to receipt of critical mail involving life-saving medication and ballots for the upcoming general election.  There are also reports that post offices have significantly reduced their hours, including in West Virginia, where postal officials circulated an alarming document announcing potential post office closures before quickly withdrawing it and calling it a misunderstanding.

As Postmaster General, you have avoided answering questions about the magnitude of delays we have seen and have not yet provided any evidence that you studied or considered how your changes would affect delays and mail service before implementing these changes.  Furthermore, you have refused to engage with nearly all Members of Congress who have reached out to you or raised concerns about these issues.  Inevitably, without additional information or engagement from you or the Postal Service with stakeholders about these changes, your actions raise questions regarding your intent and whether you have adequately sought to fully understand the Postal Service’s current capabilities, personnel, and public service mission before implementing these changes.  

The Postal Service is a public institution that both serves and belongs to every person in our nation. As a result, we call on you to testify before Congress about all changes you have made and plan to make as Postmaster General.  The lack of transparency so far regarding the intent, scope, and responsibility for changes at the Postal Service is unacceptable.  We understand you have committed to being more forthcoming and transparent with Congress and the American people regarding these changes, including providing documentation of the operational changes you have made and will be making since beginning your term.  For every American who relies on the Postal Service, we call on you to fulfill that commitment without delay. 

To that end, please provide the following information by August 21, 2020:

1.              Please explain how the changes you have made to Postal Service operations since becoming Postmaster General have affected on-time mail delivery (i.e. service performance).  Please provide all nationwide, Area, and regional service performance data since June 15, 2020. 

2.              Did you conduct any formal analysis before making these changes to Postal Service operations, including analysis of the potential effect on service performance?  If so, please provide the analysis.  If not, explain why not.   

3.              It appears the Postal Service did not consult meaningfully with any stakeholders, including unions, mailing industry stakeholders, or others, before implementing these operational changes.  Please explain why.

a.     Did you discuss these operational changes, or any other potential operational changes, with Administration officials outside the Postal Service?  Please list and describe any such discussions.

4.              What analysis did you conduct over your 8 weeks as Postmaster General to determine an “organizational realignment” was necessary and that the previous structure was inadequate?  Please provide copies and descriptions of any analysis, including any discussions with employees and business stakeholders. 

a.     The reorganization reshuffles reporting relationships and Postal Service geographic Areas.  How will this affect coordination among essential functions of the Postal Service during this pandemic?  How will this affect reports of service performance and other essential performance metrics?

5.              What, if any, plans are under consideration for further post office or facility hour reductions, suspensions, closures, or consolidations?

6.              What steps will you be taking to suspend or halt any changes adversely affecting mail delivery during this pandemic and in advance of the general election?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Tom Carper (D-DE), and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with the entire Senate Democratic caucus, in a letter urging U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to provide answers regarding reports of recent changes to long-standing practices at USPS that would result in increased delivery times and costs for election mail, and urged him not take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots.  

Despite numerous reports from across the country of slow delivery, mail left sitting in facilities overnight and challenges delivering absentee ballots on time to election officials, DeJoy has refused to provide Congress with satisfactory answers on his actions he has taken and continues to assert that election officials must pay the First Class rate for election mail to be prioritized. This letter follows previous requests from the lawmakers that demanded answers from DeJoy after he refused to answer whether reported changes restricting mail delivery came at his direction. DeJoy has since confirmed changes in delayed mail came at his direction. 

“Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is vital to our democracy. Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“Instead of taking steps to increase your agency’s ability to deliver for the American people, you are implementing policy changes that make matters worse, and the Postal Service is reportedly considering changes that would increase costs for states at a time when millions of Americans are relying on voting by mail to exercise their right to vote.

“We have received reports that in the last several weeks, the Postal Service sent letters to state election officials that indicate that the Postal Service will not automatically treat all election mail as First Class. If any changes are made to longstanding practices of moving election mail just months ahead of the 2020 general election, it will cause further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions.”

The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Postmaster DeJoy:

We write to express significant concern regarding reports that you are implementing policy changes that will increase the cost for timely delivery of election mail, and to urge you not to take any action that makes it harder and more expensive for Americans to vote.  

Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is vital to our democracy. Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic. Instead of taking steps to increase your agency’s ability to deliver for the American people, you are implementing policy changes that make matters worse, and the Postal Service is reportedly considering changes that would increase costs for states at a time when millions of Americans are relying on voting by mail to exercise their right to vote.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) allows state and local officials to send materials authorized or required under the Act, such as absentee ballot applications, at USPS Nonprofit Marketing Mail prices. These prices are lower than the regular USPS Marketing Mail prices and election officials across the country rely on the lower rates to send voters important election mail in a cost-effective manner. Absentee ballots themselves are not specifically covered under the NVRA; however, many jurisdictions receive the lower rate for ballots as well because they utilize the Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) information from returned ballots for list maintenance activities prescribed under the NVRA. The practice of mailing out ballots as Marketing Mail has been formalized to the degree that the 2020 Official Election Mail Kit (Kit 600) sent to election officials in January 2020 includes advice on how to decide whether to send ballots by First Class or Marketing Mail.

While First Class mail normally has a delivery standard of 2-5 days, and Nonprofit Marketing Mail has a delivery standard of 3-10 days, it has been the practice of USPS to treat all election mail as First Class mail regardless of the paid class of service. Reports from the USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) support the fact that USPS has traditionally prioritized election mail. An OIG report on the 2018 elections found that 95.6 percent of election and political mail was delivered within the 1-3 day service standard applied to First Class mail. That is extremely close to the USPS overall goal of delivering 96 percent of First Class mail within the 1-3 day service standard and clearly indicates that election mail was being processed across the country as if First Class service standards applied. In addition, the OIG also conducted interviews in which area and facility managers stated that they treat all election mail as First Class mail. 

We have received reports that in the last several weeks, the Postal Service sent letters to state election officials that indicate that the Postal Service will not automatically treat all election mail as First Class. If any changes are made to longstanding practices of moving election mail just months ahead of the 2020 general election, it will cause further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions. Many state deadlines allow voters to request absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots within a few days of Election Day, so it is vital that standard delivery times remain low and pricing remain consistent with past practices to which election officials and voters are accustomed.

As you know, state laws set deadlines for voter registration, absentee ballot requests, and ballot postmarking and/or delivery. Changes to previous practices regarding election mail would upset these timelines. Furthermore, changing any policy for election mail only months before Election Day does not give election officials sufficient time to respond by changing deadlines set in law, especially since many state legislatures have adjourned.

Although some election jurisdictions may be able to send their election mail at the First Class rate, the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions simply do not have sufficient resources to do so. Election officials are coping with budgets that are severely strained by the increase in requests for absentee ballots and other costs associated with the pandemic. Despite our continued efforts, Congress has so far only provided states with $400 million in emergency funding for elections—billions short of what experts say is needed to keep voters safe this year. As election officials across the country plead with Congress to authorize additional election funding, reports suggest the Postal Service could implement changes that suddenly increase costs for Americans to safely vote. That is wrong and unacceptable.

As Postmaster General, you have a duty to our democracy to ensure the timely delivery of election mail. Millions of Americans’ right to vote depends on your ability to get the job done. We urge you not to increase costs for election officials, and to direct all Postal Service employees to continue to prioritize delivery of election mail.

We understand you have committed to being more forthcoming and transparent with Congress and the American people regarding your work as Postmaster, including the Postal Service’s plan to successfully deliver election mail during the 2020 elections. Accordingly, we ask you to publicly release this plan and provide answers to the following questions no later than August 25.

1.     Prior to 2020 it was the practice of the Postal Service to prioritize the delivery of all election mail, including voter registration materials, absentee ballot request, and ballots, to meet the equivalent of First Class delivery times no matter what class of mail was used to send it. Will the Postal Service commit to continuing this practice?

2.     Will the Postal Service commit to continuing its longstanding practice of allowing election officials to mail ballots to voters at Nonprofit Marketing Mail Rates?

3.     Has USPS headquarters staff provided any guidance, formally or informally, in writing or verbally, regarding the service standards to be applied to election mail not sent at the First Class rate? Please provide copies of any such guidance.

 4.     Please provide copies of any letters or guidance sent to state or local election officials regarding the service standards that will be applied to election mail.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Postmaster General raising concerns that he’s heard directly from Virginians regarding delayed mail service following structural and operational changes at the Postal Service. The current public health crisis has resulted in an unprecedented rise in Americans relying on mail service to receive prescription drugs, groceries, and other basic necessities in an effort to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. However, since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented sweeping operational changes to the agency last month under the guise of cost-saving measures, mail service has been significantly delayed.

“I have heard from many of my constituents in Virginia that vital packages, including medicine, are being delayed and some constituents report that they are going days without any mail delivery at all. This sudden decline in USPS quality of service poses a significant hardship in the context of COVID-19, when so many Americans are depending on the mail for delivery of groceries, household necessities, and medications. Even in the best of times, many seniors, some people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas particularly rely on the Postal Service as a critical link to vital resources. I strongly urge you to rescind any policy changes that are contributing to delays in mail delivery,” wrote Sen. Warner to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

In his letter, Sen. Warner also notes that like many Virginians, he worries that new policies that have already delayed mail delivery across the Commonwealth could also jeopardize timely distribution and processing of mail-in ballots for the upcoming November elections. 

“My constituents have also raised concerns that recent delays in mail delivery are part of the administration’s broader effort to erode the effectiveness of, and confidence in, voting by mail. Millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail in November so as not to risk their health by voting in-person. I am gravely concerned that instead of working to dispel misinformation about the security of voting by mail and supporting states in expanding access as a public health measure, the Trump administration is instead casting doubt on the integrity of mailed ballots and accusing states that seek to expand it of “cheat[ing]”. It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect our electoral process from political interference and ensure that the process of voting by mail during the pandemic runs as seamlessly as possible. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to rescind any policy that might hamper the delivery and processing of mail-in ballots,” continued Sen. Warner.

In his letter, Sen. Warner also calls on the Postmaster General to answer a series of questions after the Postal Service’s Appalachian District erroneously posted notices at some Virginia Post Offices indicating that they would be closing in late August 2020.

“I heard from constituents in Danville real-time that the closure notification had appeared suddenly and without following statutory and regulatory processes. Although it was later communicated to my office that the postings were made in error, I remain concerned that established processes could break down so easily and spark such concern in the community,” wrote Sen. Warner.

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Mr. Louis DeJoy
Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer
United States Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 4012
Washington, DC 20260

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

I write to express deep concern about a number of issues related to the United States Postal Service (USPS or Postal Service) that my constituents have raised with me in recent weeks.

Several of my colleagues have written to you with questions and apprehension about operational changes implemented since your tenure as Postmaster General began on June 15, 2020. These abrupt changes are resulting in widespread delays in mail delivery and appear to have been implemented without proper consultation with Congress or key postal stakeholders, including unions. I echo these concerns and urge you to respond to their inquiries promptly and meaningfully.

I have heard from many of my constituents in Virginia that vital packages, including medicine, are being delayed and some constituents report that they are going days without any mail delivery at all. This sudden decline in USPS quality of service poses a significant hardship in the context of COVID-19, when so many Americans are depending on the mail for delivery of groceries, household necessities, and medications. Even in the best of times, many seniors, some people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas particularly rely on the Postal Service as a critical link to vital resources. I strongly urge you to rescind any policy changes that are contributing to delays in mail delivery.

My constituents have also raised concerns that recent delays in mail delivery are part of the administration’s broader effort to erode the effectiveness of, and confidence in, voting by mail. Millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail in November so as not to risk their health by voting in-person. I am gravely concerned that instead of working to dispel misinformation about the security of voting by mail and supporting states in expanding access as a public health measure, the Trump administration is instead casting doubt on the integrity of mailed ballots and accusing states that seek to expand it of “cheat[ing]”. It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect our electoral process from political interference and ensure that the process of voting by mail during the pandemic runs as seamlessly as possible. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to rescind any policy that might hamper the delivery and processing of mail-in ballots.

I also continue to have concerns and unanswered questions about the series of events that led to the Postal Service’s Appalachian District erroneously posting notices at some Virginia Post Offices indicating that they would be closing in late August 2020. I heard from constituents in Danville real-time that the closure notification had appeared suddenly and without following statutory and regulatory processes. Although it was later communicated to my office that the postings were made in error, I remain concerned that established processes could break down so easily and spark such concern in the community. I respectfully request a detailed accounting of how many Post Offices nationwide and in Virginia were affected by similar inaccurate notifications; from what list(s) or based on what characteristic(s) these Post Offices were identified; what steps have been taken to correct the record and inform the general public that these Post Offices are, in fact, remaining open; and how many Post Offices are currently being considered or evaluated for closing, consolidation, or having their operating hours reduced. For all of the reasons detailed above, it is unconscionable to me that USPS would seek to limit access to postal services, and I seek your commitment that no such closings, consolidations, or reductions in hours will be pursued before the November 2020 election or before the COVID-19 public health emergency ends, whichever is later.

In addition to playing a vital and constitutionally mandated role in the life of every American, the Postal Service also directly supports nearly 17,000 jobs in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I strongly oppose any policy change or other effort to undermine the mail delivery that countless Virginians will continue to rely on to exercise their democratic right to vote and safely access groceries, medication, and other basic necessities in the midst of the pandemic. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reverse course and commit to strengthening and defending the Postal Service for the remainder of your tenure as Postmaster General.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) continued to seek answers from the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the killing of Fairfax County resident Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police (USPP) officers in 2017. For over two years, Sen. Warner has sought transparency into the circumstances surrounding the use of deadly force, the FBI’s review of the case, and the handling of the incident by the Department of the Interior.

“I am deeply disappointed in the lack of actual information provided in your letter, especially considering it took over seven months to receive a response to my original correspondence. The response and recent public comments made by the Department of the Interior raise some additional questions that require further clarification,” wrote Sen. Warner. “One specific aspect of NPS and USPP’s handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case that has not been adequately explained is the status of an internal affairs investigation related to the Park Police officers involved in the incident.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner pointed to contradictory comments from USPP regarding the status of an internal affairs investigation into the officers that were involved in the incident. In response, Sen. Warner requested answers to a number of questions regarding the Department of the Interior’s position on such an investigation: 

  1. Is the Park Service and the Park Police relying on written guidance within the USPP Internal Affairs Unit or elsewhere within NPS when claiming it is the position of the agency that it does not pursue internal affairs investigations while criminal investigations are ongoing or could potentially be forthcoming? If such written guidance exists, I request that you provide my office with a copy of this policy. If no such written policy exists, I ask that you provide a fulsome explanation as to how this became the current position of USPP and NPS, including the legal justification for the agency’s position on this matter. 
  1. Are there previous examples where the USPP Internal Affairs Unit has conducted an internal affairs investigation regarding the use of force by Park Police officers while outside civil or criminal investigations were ongoing or potentially forthcoming? If there are such instances, I request that you provide my office with documentation regarding these investigations and an explanation of how they differ from the situation regarding Mr. Ghaisar.
  1. In the updated USPP General Order on Use of Force policy (#3615), a section is included regarding the reporting of use of force incidents. In this section, it states that an officer “shall immediately report all uses of force beyond Cooperative or Contact controls to an immediate supervisor,” and that “[t]he supervisor shall submit a copy of all reports within 24 hours to the Commander, Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and the appropriate Division Commander through the appropriate chain of command.” It continues, “[t]he Commander, OPR, shall ensure all use of force incidents are properly investigated,” and provides the OPR Commander authority to assign the Internal Affairs Unit to conduct a thorough investigation of an incident if deemed necessary.[1]

    How do these new reporting requirements compare to the guidelines in place at the time of the Bijan Ghaisar incident? The updated guidelines appear to have no qualifications that would prevent the Internal Affairs Unit from conducting an investigation concurrently with any potential civil or criminal investigation associated with an incident pertaining to the use of force by a Park Police officer. Would these reporting requirements spelled out in the updated General Orders on Use of Force be subjected to USPP’s current stated policy that it does not initiate internal affairs investigations if a criminal investigation is possible, even if the OPR Commander determines an incident is worthy of an internal affairs investigation? 
  1. When the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney makes a formal decision of whether or not to bring criminal charges against the two Park Police officers involved in the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, what is the anticipated timeline for the USPP Internal Affairs Unit to determine if any violations of USPP policy occurred?

In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of its investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letterto the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

In June of 2019, Sen. Warner along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. Two months later, the FBI provided a brief response, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from the Senators seeking more information.

In November 2019, the Senators pledged to seek greater transparency and formally requested an FBI briefing on its investigation into the shooting – shortly after the FBI concluded its lengthy investigation without fully explain its findings, including why the two officers opened fire on Ghaisar. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner voted against the nomination of Katharine MacGregor to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and in May, announced that he would place a hold on future Department of the Interior nominees until he receives adequate responses to his questions surrounding the Park Service’s handling of the shooting.

A copy of today’s letter is available here and below.

 

July 24, 2020

The Honorable David Vela

Acting Director

National Park Service

1849 C Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20240 

Dear Acting Director Vela: 

Thank you for the letter, sent June 3, 2020, which aimed to respond to a letter Senator Grassley and I sent to you on November 1, 2019, that raised serious questions regarding the National Park Service’s (NPS) and United States Park Police’s (USPP) handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case. While I appreciate that you responded, I am deeply disappointed in the lack of actual information provided in your letter, especially considering it took over seven months to receive a response to my original correspondence. The response and recent public comments made by the Department of the Interior raise some additional questions that require further clarification.

One specific aspect of NPS and USPP’s handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case that has not been adequately explained is the status of an internal affairs investigation related to the Park Police officers involved in the incident. In response to my question regarding the status of a potential internal affairs investigation, you replied that “the National Park Service (NPS) does not typically comment on the substance or specific aspect of such reviews before they are complete,” and “[w]e can confirm that the Department has begun evaluating next steps in the context of pending cases and possible criminal action by the Fairfax County Prosecutor’s Office.” However, on May 20, 2020, a representative for USPP commented, “no internal affairs investigation of this case will begin until after a decision is made by Fairfax on filing criminal charges.”  While other questions remain surrounding the Department’s handling of Bijan’s shooting, I have a number of specific questions regarding the Department’s position on a potential internal affairs investigation.

1.           Is the Park Service and the Park Police relying on written guidance within the USPP Internal Affairs Unit or elsewhere within NPS when claiming it is the position of the agency that it does not pursue internal affairs investigations while criminal investigations are ongoing or could potentially be forthcoming? If such written guidance exists, I request that you provide my office with a copy of this policy. If no such written policy exists, I ask that you provide a fulsome explanation as to how this became the current position of USPP and NPS, including the legal justification for the agency’s position on this matter.

2.           Are there previous examples where the USPP Internal Affairs Unit has conducted an internal affairs investigation regarding the use of force by Park Police officers while outside civil or criminal investigations were ongoing or potentially forthcoming? If there are such instances, I request that you provide my office with documentation regarding these investigations and an explanation of how they differ from the situation regarding Mr. Ghaisar.

3.           In the updated USPP General Order on Use of Force policy (#3615), a section is included regarding the reporting of use of force incidents. In this section, it states that an officer “shall immediately report all uses of force beyond Cooperative or Contact controls to an immediate supervisor,” and that “[t]he supervisor shall submit a copy of all reports within 24 hours to the Commander, Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and the appropriate Division Commander through the appropriate chain of command.” It continues, “[t]he Commander, OPR, shall ensure all use of force incidents are properly investigated,” and provides the OPR Commander authority to assign the Internal Affairs Unit to conduct a thorough investigation of an incident if deemed necessary.  

How do these new reporting requirements compare to the guidelines in place at the time of the Bijan Ghaisar incident? The updated guidelines appear to have no qualifications that would prevent the Internal Affairs Unit from conducting an investigation concurrently with any potential civil or criminal investigation associated with an incident pertaining to the use of force by a Park Police officer. Would these reporting requirements spelled out in the updated General Orders on Use of Force be subjected to USPP’s current stated policy that it does not initiate internal affairs investigations if a criminal investigation is possible, even if the OPR Commander determines an incident is worthy of an internal affairs investigation? 

4.           When the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney makes a formal decision of whether or not to bring criminal charges against the two Park Police officers involved in the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, what is the anticipated timeline for the USPP Internal Affairs Unit to determine if any violations of USPP policy occurred?

Thank you for your attention to the questions outlined above. Should you or your staff have any questions regarding this request, please contact my staff.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to introduce the Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act, which would block the Trump Administration from deploying federal agents as paramilitary forces against Americans. The action comes after a week in which heavily armed federal forces without uniform identification in unmarked vehicles have been grabbing protesters off the street in Portland, Oregon. Those forces have deployed munitions and tear gas against protesters. 

“What we’ve seen in Portland these last two weeks is an outrage and should never be accepted in the U.S.,” the Senators said. “President Trump is using completely unjustified and unconstitutional intimidation tactics against American citizens over the objections of state and local officials. This bill makes it clear that unidentified officers cannot trample on the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters.”

Specifically, the legislation would:

  1. Require individual and agency identification on uniforms of officers and prevent unmarked vehicles from being used in arrests.
  2. Limit federal agents’ crowd control activities to federal property and its immediate vicinity, unless their presence is specifically requested by both the mayor and governor.
  3. Require disclosure on an agency website within 24 hours of deployments specifying the number of personnel and purposes of deployment.
  4. Make arrests in violation of these rules unlawful.

The bill was also introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Senator Kaine previously introduced a successful NDAA amendment to prevent the use of military funds or personnel against American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.

The full text of the Senate NDAA amendment can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Debbie Stabenow (MI), Tom Carper (DE), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Ben Cardin (MD), and Tim Kaine (VA) today hosted a virtual hearing to examine why Washington, D.C. should become the country’s 51st state. The hearing, titled, “Statehood and Equality for Washington, D.C.,” focused on the statehood process outlined in the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. It also focused on the need to provide voting representation in Congress and full local self-government to the more than 700,000 residents of the current District of Columbia.  

The Senators heard testimony from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Mayor Muriel Bowser, Monica Hopkins with the American Civil Liberties Union, Rick Lee, the owner of Lee’s Flower and Card Shop, and James Nelson Rimensnyder, veteran and lifelong D.C. resident. A video hearing of the hearing can be viewed here.

“It’s about time that the District’s 700,000 residents get proper representation in Congress and a say over how their federal dollars are spent,” said Senator Warner. “I’ve supported a Senate bill to make Washington D.C. the 51st state and I’m going to keep pushing until Virginia’s neighbors receive the same level representation they would get in any other part of our country.”

“I am grateful for our witnesses today who spoke about what statehood would mean for Washington D.C. residents. For far too long, the people of D.C. have been denied full representation in our Democracy. Meanwhile, they keep our federal government running, serve in our military and pay federal taxes. Now is the time to act and pass H.R. 51 the Washington, D.C. Admission Act,” said Senator Stabenow.

“People often ask me why a U.S. Senator from Delaware would spend his time trying to get statehood for Washington, D.C. I tell them that, to me, this issue is all about fairness. I point them to the Golden Rule – treat other people the way you would want to be treated. In Delaware, we have a little less than a million people. We have two senators and a congresswoman who have a vote in Congress. The same goes for Wyoming and Vermont, two of the smallest states with even fewer people than Delaware and DC. Nobody would dare suggest that they or any of our smaller states don’t deserve to have representation in Congress. Yet we’ve left nearly 700,000 DC residents – the majority of whom are people of color – with no voice in this body,” said Senator Carper. “These U.S. taxpayers work, study, raise families, start businesses and serve in our military. In fact, DC residents have fought in every single American war, yet have never been afforded the right to have their voices heard on those wars in Congress. And DC residents pay more in federal taxes per capita than citizens of any other state, yet they aren’t able to have a say in how those taxes are spent. It’s why for years, Congresswoman Norton and I have reintroduced our DC Statehood bills in both Chambers – and I am so proud that last week, the House voted to advance the Congresswoman’s version and right this wrong. Here in the Senate, we still have work to do, but today’s hearing is a promising step. I want to thank Senator Stabenow for hosting today’s discussion and Congresswoman Norton, Mayor Bowser, and other leaders in this fight for appearing today and for their work to further the cause of full voting rights and equality for the people who live here in our nation’s capital. Together, we will get this done.”

“For far too long the people of the District of Columbia have faced taxation without representation. And the need for urgent action has only been further underscored by recent events. The District has been denied the basic right of self-governance even though its residents pay more in taxes than 22 other states – and the population of D.C. is greater than Wyoming and Vermont. The message we heard today was clear – now that the House has acted, Republican Senate Majority Leader McConnell must immediately bring this bill up for Senate consideration. It’s time for Republicans to stop treating the citizens of the District of Columbia as second class citizens and recognize their most basic right to have voting representation in the Senate and House,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Our Constitution guarantees a right to representation for all citizens, yet we are the only democratic country in the world where citizens of our capital do not have a vote in their national legislature. The U.S. is an outlier. This is a violation of basic human rights that needs to be corrected,” said Senator Cardin. “Human rights should not be a partisan issue. Full voting rights and representation for the 700,000 citizens of the District of Columbia should not be a partisan issue. Statehood is long overdue.” 

“D.C. deserves statehood. It has long met the criteria that we’ve applied throughout our history for becoming a state,” said Senator Kaine. “Making D.C. the 51st state is about protecting the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans. I’m proud to support this effort.”  

On January 3, 2019, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which would admit the new State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth as the 51st state of the United States and reduce the size of the federal district. The House of Representatives voted to approve the bill by a vote of 232-180 on June 26, 2020, marking the first time a chamber of Congress has passed the D.C. statehood bill.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement on the House of Representatives’ passage of legislation to immediately remove the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), paving the way for full and equal protections to women in the Constitution. In November, Warner and Kaine cosponsored similar legislation in the Senate, S.J. Res. 6, with Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to remove the ERA deadline. Last month, the Virginia General Assembly passed a historic resolution to make Virginia the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA. 

“We’re thrilled the House has passed legislation to ensure there’s still time to ratify the ERA, and we urge the Senate to follow suit. We’re so proud Virginia made history last month by becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA. Passing this legislation in the Senate would honor the tireless work of all who worked on this historic effort,” said the Senators. “It’s unacceptable that one hundred years after ratification of the 19th amendment, women are still not explicitly recognized as equal under our Constitution. The ERA is critical to finally guarantee equal protections to women and bolster our ability to fight gender discrimination.” 

Article V of the Constitution contains no time limits for ratification of amendments, and the states finally ratified the Twenty-Seventh Amendment in 1992 regarding Congressional pay raises more than 200 years after Congress proposed it in 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights. The ERA time limit was contained in a joint resolution, not the actual text of the amendment, and Congress has already once voted to extend the ERA ratification deadline. The bipartisan resolution sponsored by Warner and Kaine would put to bed any potential ambiguity over adding the ERA to the Constitution.

The Equal Rights Amendment would finally give women full and equal protection under the Constitution. It reads as follows:

Section 1.  Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2.  The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3.  This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today released the following statement after the General Assembly passed a historic resolution to make Virginia the final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA):

“It’s about time for women’s equal rights to be explicitly declared in our Constitution and we’re thrilled that Virginia will be the last state necessary to move this effort towards the finish line,” said the Senators. “Ratifying the ERA not only honors the work of all those who dedicated their lives to fighting for women’s equality, but also enhances our legal ability to fight future instances of gender-based discrimination throughout the country. We applaud Senator McClellan, Senator Locke, and Delegate Carroll Foy for their work on this resolution, and commend every advocate and activist across Virginia who has been a part of this important movement.” 

A proposed constitutional amendment must be ratified by 38 states in order to be eligible to become part of the Constitution. This resolution makes Virginia the 38th state needed to guarantee women equal rights in the Constitution.

The ERA reads as follows:

Section 1.  Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2.  The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3.  This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

In November, Sens. Warner and Kaine joined Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in sponsoring a bipartisan Senate resolution to immediately remove the ratification deadline for the ERA and eliminate any ambiguity that may exist at the federal level.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) today formally requested an FBI briefing on its investigation into the fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police in 2017. The FBI announced the conclusion to its lengthy investigation last week, but did not fully explain its findings, including why the two officers opened fire on Ghaisar.

The senators have long sought transparency into the circumstances surrounding the deadly use of force and the FBI’s review of the case, but the FBI largely declined to provide details at the time, citing an ongoing investigation. Now that the investigation has concluded, the senators are demanding greater clarity to provide needed transparency and preserve the public trust.

“Despite nearly two years of investigating this incident in which considerable FBI resources were used, the Ghaisar family, Congress, and the general public still do not have all the answers.  The FBI needs to provide a full and thorough account of the events that led to Mr. Ghaisar’s untimely death,” the Senators wrote.

In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letter to the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

Grassley, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, contacted the FBI about the investigation in December of 2018. The FBI responded in March with little information, provoking a follow-up letter from Grassley.

In June, Grassley and Warner decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. The FBI provided a brief response in August, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from the Senators seeking more information.

Following the recent conclusion of the FBI’s investigation, the senators pledged to seek greater transparency. Full text of the senators’ official request for a briefing follows. A copy of the letter is available here.

 

November 20, 2019

The Honorable Christopher Wray

Director

Federal Bureau of Investigations

Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Director Wray:

We write today to request a briefing and a response to Senator Warner’s letter from January 30, 2018, Senator Grassley’s letters from December 17, 2018, and March 22, 2019, and the Senators’ joint letter from June 18, 2019, on the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar.  While the FBI has announced it has concluded its investigation into the shooting of Mr. Ghaisar, the FBI has continuously refused to answer several questions that were raised in the aforementioned letters because the investigation had yet to conclude.  Now that the investigation has concluded, we expect to receive answers to these questions and a briefing on the FBI’s investigative process and findings. 

Investigations into the use of deadly force must be handled in a way that reinforces public confidence in law enforcement.  Following completion of these types of investigations, it is necessary for investigators to be fully transparent to ensure that the public understands the circumstances of each incident.  This creates transparency and builds public trust in law enforcement.  Despite nearly two years of investigating this incident in which considerable FBI resources were used, the Ghaisar family, Congress, and the general public still do not have all the answers.  The FBI needs to provide a full and thorough account of the events that led to Mr. Ghaisar’s untimely death.

In order to shed light on this delicate situation, we ask that you respond to Senator Grassley’s and Warner’s letters and provide us with a briefing summarizing the findings of this investigation by no later than December 15, 2019.   Additionally, we ask that you please arrange a time to provide our staffs with a briefing no later than December 6, 2019.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

Mark Warner

United States Senator

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – As incidents of hate crimes continue to rise, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to introduce the Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act. The legislation would improve hate crimes reporting and expand assistance and resources for victims of hate crimes. Companion legislation was introduced by U.S. Representatives Don Beyer (D-VA) and Pete Olson (R-TX) in the House of Representatives. 

“In 2017, Heather Heyer lost her life fighting the forces of hatred and white supremacy. But since the horrible events in Charlottesville nearly two years ago, we have continued to see an alarming increase in the number of hate crimes across the country,” said Warner. “We owe it to Heather and the victims of hate crimes everywhere to do everything we can to stamp out the voices of hatred that have been promoting violence against Jews, Muslims, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and other vulnerable Americans.” 

“We all need to come together to combat this onslaught of hate crimes. Virginians have seen too many horrific acts of hate, including when white supremacists descended upon Charlottesville and murdered Heather Heyer. Those of us in leadership need to stand up against hate and do everything in our power to support those who are hurt by it,” Kaine said

“The rise in hate crimes in the United States has reached epidemic proportions in the last few years, and we need law enforcement to have every possible tool to stop it,” said Beyer. “By tracking and reporting incidents of hate crimes nationwide, we can know whether we are making progress towards their prevention. I thank my colleague, Rep. Olson, for his leadership; this legislation has a real chance to move forward.” 

“Everyone knows my daughter’s name,” said Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother. “Heather is everywhere—in the news, in our minds, in our hearts—but she’s not in the data, nor are the 35 people who were injured while marching alongside her in Charlottesville. If such a despicable act of hatred is not reflected in hate crime statistics, think of everything else that might be missing. The Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer NO HATE Act is an important bill that will improve our response to hate crime, and I call on Congress to support this effort.”

“After Khalid was killed, our family released a statement expressing that his death was not just another murder to be added to crime statistics, that the circumstances surrounding his death laid bare the need for a better response from law enforcement and the justice system,” said Rami Jabara, Khalid Jabara’s brother. “In retrospect, we shouldn’t have assumed his death would be there reflected in the data, despite how straightforward that may have seemed. Congress must pass the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer NO HATE Act. No family should be subjected to what we endured and victims’ voices should be heard.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported a sharp uptick in reported hate crimes in the fourth quarter of 2016. Researchers have shown that reported hate crimes following President Trump’s election made up the second largest surge since the FBI began collecting data in 1992. Yet the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics report vastly understates the true incidence of this problem. In 2017, the report reflected that approximately 7,000 hate crimes occurred nationwide, when the SPLC believes the number is closer to approximately 250,000 per year.

The Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act would help combat the recent surge in hate crimes by:

  • Improving Reporting of Hate Crimes: This legislation will improve reporting of hate crimes by supporting the implementation of and training for NIBRS, the latest crime reporting standard, in law enforcement agencies without it. This will allow law enforcement agencies to record and report detailed information about crimes, including hate crimes, to the FBI. In 2016, of the 15,254 agencies that participated in reporting hate crimes to the FBI, nearly nine out of 10 reported zero hate crimes; in Mississippi, agencies reported just seven incidents in the entire state. Helping law enforcement agencies recognize and report detailed information on hate crimes and report that data to the FBI will help establish a clear picture of the threats that vulnerable communities are facing across the country.
  • Encouraging Law Enforcement Prevention, Training, and Education on Hate Crimes: This legislation will provide support to law enforcement agencies that establish a policy on identifying, investigating and reporting hate crimes, train officers on how to identify hate crimes, develop a system for collecting hate crimes data, establish a hate crimes unit within the agency, and engage in community relations to address hate crimes in that jurisdiction. 
  • Establishing Hate Crime Hotlines: This legislation will provide grants for states to establish and run hate crime hotlines, to record information about hate crimes, and to redirect victims and witnesses to law enforcement and local support services as needed. This will make sure that hate crimes don’t go unreported and victims get the help that they need. 
  • Allowing Judges to Require Community Service or Education for Perpetrators of Hate Crimes: This legislation will allow for judges to require individuals convicted under federal hate crime laws to undergo community service or education centered on the community targeted by the crime.

The bill is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union; the Arab American Institute; Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, California State University, San Bernardino; the Heather Heyer Foundation; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights; the Matthew Shepard Foundation; Muslim Advocates; the National Center for Transgender Equality; the National Disability Rights Network; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT); and the Sikh Coalition.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined 44 of their Senate colleagues to introduce the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 to restore and strengthen the landmark Voting Rights Act

“There is no more sacred right as an American than the right to vote. Unfortunately, more than 50 years after the enactment of the landmark Voting Rights Act, and particularly after the Shelby County decision, many Americans still face barriers to fair participation in our elections,” said Warner. “This bill would restore the vital voter protections to ensure that all Americans have the unfettered access to the ballot box.”

“The right to vote is at the heart of American democracy, but hundreds of thousands of people are still denied that right today,” said Kaine. “More than 50 years after the original Voting Rights Act, Congress must not allow systematic disenfranchisement to continue to plague our elections. I’m proud to join my colleagues in this effort to protect voting rights and ensure voting is no longer treated as a privilege.”

In 2013, the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted Section 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act, consequently crippling the federal government’s ability to prevent discriminatory changes to state voting laws and procedures. In the wake of Shelby County, states across the country unleashed a torrent of voting restrictions that have made voting more difficult and systematically disenfranchised communities of color. The Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore and modernize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, improve and modernize the landmark legislation, and provide the federal government with other critical tools to combat what has become a full-fledged assault on Americans’ right to vote.

Sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 is also cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Doug Jones (D-AL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

The legislation is also supported by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Brennan Center For Justice, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Human Rights Campaign.

The full text of the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 can be found here.

An outline of the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 can be found here.

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PROVIDENCE FORGE, VA – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) attended the 67th annual Chickahominy Pow Wow over the weekend to celebrate the tribe's recently secured federal recognition. Sens. Warner and Tim Kaine, as well as Rep. Rob Wittman, passed legislation in January finally granting the tribe recognition centuries after the Chickahominy and five other Virginia tribes first made contact with  English settlers. Sen. Warner participated in the Pow Wow Grand Entry, a ceremony honoring veterans in attendance, and greeted the crowd of several hundred, alongside Chickahominy Chief Stephen R. Adkins, State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Del. Lamont Bagby, Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson and other local officials.

“It should not have taken 341 years to get federal recognition for the Chickahominy people, but I'm glad to be here celebrating this long overdue victory,” said Sen. Warner. “All of Virginia's tribes pay such respect to our country and to our veterans, and it was a moral slight that they did not have this recognition until this year. The day when Chief Adkins and the other chiefs of Virginia's tribes sat in the Senate gallery as we won federal recognition was one of my proudest days this year.”

"The Chickahominy are a sovereign nation within these United States," said Chief Adkins. "Federal recognition wouldn't have happened without Sen. Warner, Sen. Kaine, Congressman Wittman, their staffs and many others who worked on this bill. But as Sen. Warner remarked, there was a spiritual atmosphere in the Senate on the day the recognition bill passed. All of us know what that spirit is. So praise God, the Creator was on our side."

The Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act was signed into law on January 29, 2018, after decades of bipartisan efforts by Virginia’s elected officials. Sens. Warner and Kaine secured final passage of the bill earlier that month. Six Virginia tribes—the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond— now have the federal recognition they have waited centuries for. Many of these tribes include descendants of Pocahontas’ Virginia Powhatan tribe. These tribes had received official recognition from the Commonwealth of Virginia, but had not received federal recognition, which will grant the tribes legal standing and status in direct relationships with the U.S. government.

This federal recognition allows Virginia’s tribes legal standing and status in direct relationships with the U.S. government. Further, it allows tribes to:

  • Compete for educational programs and other grants only open to federally recognized tribes;
  • Repatriate the remains of their ancestors in a respectful manner. Many of these remains reside in the Smithsonian, but without federal status there is no mandate to return the remains; and
  • Provide affordable health care services for elder tribal members who have been unable to access care.

For more information on the Chickahominy Pow Wow, you can visit the Chickahominy Tribe's website.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement to mark the one-year anniversary of the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12, 2017 that claimed the lives of Heather Heyer, Lt. Jay Cullen, and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates:

“Today we remember the lives lost following the deadly rally that occurred a year ago in Charlottesville, when a group of white nationalists came to a peaceful Virginia town seeking to use hate and division to incite violence against fair-minded, innocent civilians. Their words and their actions betrayed President Lincoln’s appeal to ‘the better angels of our nature,’ forcing us to confront some of the demons that still plague our society today. These purveyors of hate and bigotry were emboldened to take their message public by a President who has refused to categorically and unequivocally condemn their message and actions in clear terms.

“Let us take a moment today to celebrate and honor the lives of Heather Heyer, Lt. Jay Cullen, and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates. As we honor their memories, we must also continue to heal the racial wounds of our past. We must show that what sets us apart as citizens of this country are our values of respect, openness, and tolerance towards one another. Without that, we cannot fulfill the promise of a more perfect union.”

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One Year After Deadly Charlottesville Rally, Warner & Kaine Press DOJ for Updates on Combating Racial Hate

Letter presses the Administration on carrying out actions to combat hate crimes as outlined in joint resolution led last year by Warner and Kaine

Aug 10 2018

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) wrote a letter to John Gore, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ), pressing for more answers on how the Administration is implementing actions specifically outlined by S.J.Res.49, a joint resolution condemning racial hate and directing a coordinated federal effort to address hate violence, following the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11 and August 12, 2017.

The bipartisan resolution introduced by Sens. Warner and Kaine along with Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), unanimously passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by President Trump on September 14, 2017. The resolution explicitly condemned white nationalists, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other hate groups involved in prompting the deadly attack in Charlottesville, Va. that killed counter-protester Heather Heyer, injured several others, and led to the deaths of two Virginia state troopers responding to the violence. Additionally, the resolution outlined specific actions for the Administration to take to fight hate violence, including thoroughly investigating all acts of hate crimes and domestic terrorism by hate groups, and calling upon the Administration to “use all resources available to the President and the President's Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States.”

Now, nearly one year after the bipartisan resolution was signed into law by President Trump, Sens. Warner and Kaine are pressing for answers on actions the Administration is taking - or not taking - to uphold the terms of the resolution calling for a coordinated federal effort to fight hate violence. 

“We are particularly interested if you have implemented, or plan to implement, the following: the creation of a task force dedicated to addressing hate violence, sufficient funding for civil rights offices, robust data collection procedures to document the prevalence and nature of hate crimes in the U.S., a federal website on hate violence to convene resources and communicate effectively to the public, the development of incentives for participation in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hate Crime Statistics Act reports, increased training and education for jurisdictions that underreport hate crimes, and the use of grants to promote strong enforcement on these issues,” wrote the Senators.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

 

John M. Gore
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Acting Assistant Attorney General Gore:

Nearly one year has passed since the violence and domestic terrorist attack that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia between August 11 and August 12, 2017. As the one year anniversary of that tragedy approaches, we write regarding the progress made by the Department of Justice in carrying out the actions called for in S.J.Res.49, a joint resolution condemning that event.

President Trump signed the resolution into law (P.L. 115-58) on September 14, 2017. As Virginia’s Senators, we led the effort that unanimously passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by the President. The legislation rejects White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, and other hate groups, and urges action from the President and his administration to combat this growing threat.

Specifically, the law urges the Attorney General to work with “the Secretary of Homeland Security to investigate thoroughly all acts of violence, intimidation, and domestic terrorism by these groups to determine if any criminal laws have been violated and to prevent those groups from fomenting and facilitating additional violence.” Further, the law directs the Attorney General to collaborate with “the heads of other Federal agencies to improve the reporting of hate crimes and to emphasize the importance of the collection, and the reporting to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of hate crime data by State and local agencies.”

More broadly, the law directs the administration to use all available resources to address the growing prevalence of hate groups.

Given the direction provided to the Department of Justice in this legislation, we request that you provide our offices an update within 30 days of receipt of this letter on activities that you have undertaken in furtherance of the provisions of S.J. Res 49, as well as a full report on the multi-agency efforts on hate crimes data collection.

As you implement this request, we are particularly interested if you have implemented, or plan to implement, the following: the creation of a task force dedicated to addressing hate violence, sufficient funding for civil rights offices, robust data collection procedures to document the prevalence and nature of hate crimes in the U.S., a federal website on hate violence to convene resources and communicate effectively to the public, the development of incentives for participation in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hate Crime Statistics Act reports, increased training and education for jurisdictions that underreport hate crimes, and the use of grants to promote strong enforcement on these issues.

We appreciate your attention on this important matter and look forward to your response within 30 days.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined more than two hundred of their Senate and House colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar expressing opposition to the implementation of a domestic gag rule on Title X, the only federal grant program solely dedicated to family planning and related preventive services. This new gag rule would interfere with doctors’ ability to provide patients information about reproductive care. According to reports, President Trump could direct HHS to implement the rule as early as this month. 

Each year, roughly four million people rely on Title X-funded health centers for basic preventive health care, including cancer screenings, birth control, sexually transmitted infection screenings, pregnancy testing, and well-woman exams that include breast and pelvic examinations along with a pap smear. In Virginia, more than 140 health centers rely on Title X funding. In keeping with longstanding legal, ethical and medical standards of health care, Title X providers can offer patients medically accurate counseling on and referrals for all pregnancy options-including parenting, adoption, and abortion.

"The domestic gag rule would bar patients from receiving information to support their ability to make informed decisions about their own reproductive health," wrote the Senators. "We strongly oppose efforts to undermine the integrity of the Title X program and harm the millions of people who rely on it for care. Federal health policy should be evidence-based and produced with the best interests of patients in mind."

Reinstatement of the gag rule, which has never been fully implemented, would be President Trump's latest attempt to fulfill his pledge to "defund Planned Parenthood," whose health centers serve 40 percent of the patients who go to Title X for contraceptive care. If Planned Parenthood were eliminated as a Title X-funded provider, other Title X-funded health centers would have to expand their contraceptive caseloads by an average of 70 percent. The move would disproportionately impact communities of color, the uninsured, and low-income individuals, and could reverse progress made in critical areas. Title X has helped women avoid 822,000 unintended pregnancies, which would have resulted in 387,000 unplanned births and 278,000 abortions. Title X also yields critical cost savings to the American healthcare system - every dollar invested in Title X saves more than seven dollars in Medicaid-related costs.

Nearly two-thirds of Title X patients have incomes at or below the federal poverty level, and 43 percent of patients are uninsured. In 2016, nearly 4,000 Title X-funded health centers provided 720,000 Pap tests, nearly one million women with breast exams, and 1.2 million HIV tests. Title X providers offer confidential, medically accurate, and evidence-based care. Implementing a domestic gag rule would do enormous harm to the millions of patients across the country who count on the high standard of medical care provided by these health centers.

The full text of the Senate letter can be found here and below. 

Dear Secretary Azar,

We are writing today in support of the Title X family planning program (Title X) and to express our strong opposition to any changes to Title X that would restrict access to affordable, high-quality and lifesaving reproductive healthcare in communities across the country.

Title X is the nation’s only federal program dedicated to providing family planning services to low-income and otherwise underserved individuals. Each year, roughly four million women, men, and adolescents rely on Title X-funded health centers for basic preventive health care, including cancer screenings, birth control, sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings, pregnancy testing, and well-woman exams. Nearly two-thirds of Title X patients have incomes at or below the federal poverty level, and 43% of patients are uninsured. In 2016, nearly 4,000 Title X-funded health centers performed 720,000 Pap tests, provided nearly one million women with breast exams, and administered 1.2 million HIV tests. Title X providers offer confidential, medically accurate, and evidence-based care, ensuring that patients receive the highest standard of medical care.

In addition to providing care to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured individuals, Title X yields critical cost savings to the American healthcare system. Every dollar invested in Title X saves more than seven dollars in Medicaid-related costs. By helping individuals obtain the preventive services they need, Title X advances the health and well-being of individuals, families and our nation as a whole while saving taxpayer dollars in the process.

In keeping with longstanding legal, ethical and medical standards of healthcare, Title X providers offer patients medically accurate counseling on and referrals for all pregnancy options—including parenting, adoption and abortion. The Title X program has never funded abortion services at its health centers. Health centers that receive Title X to provide family planning care may also separately provide abortions using non-federal funds. 

In spite of the critical role that Title X-funded health centers play in promoting the health and wellbeing of millions of people, President Trump may seek to dramatically reduce the reach of Title X by reinstating the “domestic gag rule,” which was first issued under the Reagan administration but was never fully implemented.  This “gag rule” would bar patients from receiving information to support their ability to make informed decisions about their own reproductive health. This means that the millions of patients who obtain care at Title X-funded health centers annually would be denied the ability to receive complete and accurate information about their medical options, including counseling on, and referrals, for abortion. On top of the ban on counseling and referrals, the “gag rule” would impose additional requirements intended to bar providers from participating in Title X that also separately provide abortion services. 

Calls to reinstate these policies directly acknowledge this effort as an opportunity for President Trump to fulfill his pledge to “defund Planned Parenthood,” whose health centers remain an essential part of the family planning safety net, serving 40 percent of Title X patients. In reality, other providers of Title X-funded care would face immense challenges in attempting to absorb the patients that would lose access to care if Planned Parenthood were eliminated as a Title X-funded provider. According to recent analyses, other Title X-funded providers would have to expand their contraceptive caseloads by an average of 70 percent just to maintain access to contraceptive care at current levels. 

A “domestic gag rule” would have a devastating impact on the overall Title X network and the millions of individuals who rely on it for care. This move would disproportionately impact communities of color, the uninsured, and low-income individuals, and it could reverse progress made in critical areas. For example, unintended pregnancy rates in the U.S.—including those among teenagers—have been declining.  We cannot threaten to reverse this progress by crippling Title X: in 2015 alone, the contraceptive services supported by Title X helped women to avoid 822,000 unintended pregnancies, which would have resulted in 387,000 unplanned births and 278,000 abortions.

We strongly oppose efforts to undermine the integrity of the Title X program and harm the millions of people who rely on it for care. Federal health policy should be evidence-based and produced with the best interests of patients in mind.

Sincerely,

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