February 1, 2022

Pursuing Voting Rights, Critical Therapies, VA Online Education Benefits and Condemning Forced Labor

Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act(HR 5746) – This act is comprised of two previous bills that were combined and passed in the House using a procedural workaround, then sent to the Senate where it did not pass under current Senate rules. A Senate bipartisan committee is taking action to draft another bill containing components of this one, but it is yet to be seen. This Freedom to Vote Act was designed to expand voting access, standardize voting election laws across the country, and restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Other key provisions include:

  • Making Election Day a federal holiday
  • Online, automatic and same-day voter registration
  • A minimum of 15 days of early voting, including during at least two weekends
  • No-excuse mail voting
  • Ample access to ballot drop boxes
  • Online ballot tracking
  • Streamlined election mail delivery by the USPS
  • Requiring states to accept a wide range of forms of non-photographic ID
  • Restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people convicted of felonies
  • Making it harder for states to remove eligible voters from rolls
  • Providing more protections and resources for disabled, overseas and military voters
  • Strengthen voting rights and protections for voters in Native American Indian districts
  • Greater federal protections and oversight for voting in U.S. territories
  • Improve voter registration resources and outreach
  • Reauthorize and strengthen the US Election Assistance Commission
  • Require states to use standardized criteria when drawing new congressional districts
  • Require states to use voter-verifiable paper ballots and conduct post-election audits
  • Strengthen cybersecurity standards for voting equipment
  • Prohibit local election officials from being fired or removed without cause
  • Make interference with voter registration a federal crime, with stricter penalties for the harassment, threats and intimidation of election workers
  • Enhance transparency disclosures for campaign financing
  • Require campaigns to report foreign interference

Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act (HR 3537) – This bill authorizes grant programs to be awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for scientific research utilizing data from expanded access to investigational ALS treatments for individuals who are not otherwise eligible for clinical trials. Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shall award grants to cover the costs of research and development of drugs that diagnose or treat ALS and other rare neurodegenerative diseases, and publish a five-year action plan to foster the development of drugs that improve or extend the lives of people living with these diseases. The bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) on May 25, 2021, passed in the House on Dec. 8 and in the Senate on Dec. 16. It was signed into law by the president on Dec. 23.

REMOTE Act (HR 5545) – This act was introduced by Rep. David Trone (D-MD) on Oct. 8, 2021. In light of the pandemic and many college classes moving online, Congress passed this bill to ensure veterans making the transition to virtual classes would still receive full benefits. These education benefit protections, which include allowing the VA to make payments or extend eligibility periods for students who can’t participate in school, work-study or vocational rehabilitation programs that were closed as a result of COVID-19, will be extended through June 1. The bill passed in the House on Dec. 8, the Senate on Dec. 15 and was signed into law on Dec. 21.

To ensure that goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China do not enter the United States market, and for other purposes. (HR 6256) – The purpose of this legislation is to ban imports produced using forced labor in China, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It also expands existing asset- and visa-blocking sanctions for foreign individuals and entities responsible for serious human rights abuses in connection with forced labor. The bill was introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) on Dec 14, 2021. It passed in the House on Dec. 16, the Senate two days later and was enacted by the president on Dec. 23.