#HIVResists Monthly Policy Update – September 2017

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Federal Updates

Trump Education Secretary Rolls Back Obama-Era Guidance on Title IX Sexual Assault

September 22, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the administration’s plans to roll back guidance from the Obama Administration on Title IX , the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on gender at educational institutions and programs that receive federal funding. The Obama administration previously issued guidelines for how schools should investigate sexual assaults under Title IX, including additional protections for survivors. DeVos has nullified those guidelines after expressing concern that they denied alleged rapists their due process in a court of law. Instead, DeVos is allowing schools to choose whether they want to switch to a stricter standard when reviewing evidence, which would make it more difficult to find students accused of rape guilty.

Price Is Out but Conservative HHS Plan Is Still In

Former Georgia Congressman Tom Price has resigned from his position as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human services (HHS) amidst revelations of his frivolous spending of over $1 million in taxpayer dollars on private chartered flights, at least partially for personal business. Although he’s gone, Price’s anti-choice legacy and refusal to protect marginalized communities may live on in the form of a draft strategic plan for the department that was recently introduced.

The new plan contains anti-abortion language and leaves out protections for minority groups including people of color and the LGBTQ community. Though Price’s replacement could change the language,  most of these provisions are expected to survive the transition. Don J. Wright has been appointed interim HHS secretary. Wright was formerly acting Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Rumors are circulating that CMS head Seema Verma, notorious for restructuring Indiana’s Medicaid program with work requirements and for her perspective that maternity benefits should be optional, may be appointed to fill the permanent position.

RIP Graham-Cassidy

Under a September 30 deadline to use the budget reconciliation process to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a simple majority vote, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) along with Senators Dean Heller (R-NV), and Ron Johnson (R-WI) revived a last-ditch repeal campaign, introducing the most harmful repeal bill to date.

Faced with early opposition from Senator John McCain (R-AZ), bill sponsors desperately worked to negotiate compromises with Senate Republicans – offering increased funding and special exemptions to the states represented by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John McCain, Susan Collins (R-ME), Rand Paul (R-KY). However, in the end and amid widespread activist opposition, sponsors failed to garner enough support to pass the bill, with Senators Paul and Collins coming out in public opposition to the plan, forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to announce there would be no vote on the Graham-Cassidy legislation.

While the chances of another repeal effort seem unlikely in the near future, Trump has said a repeal could still happen in the future and has also alluded to working with Democrats on a future bipartisan effort.

Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS Continues

On September 29, Trump issued an executive order continuing several advisory committees including the President’s Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).President’s Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). Established in 1987, PACHA provides information, advice, and recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding programs, policies, and research to promote effective treatment, prevention, and cure of HIV disease and AIDS. Six of the 21 PACHA members, including PWN members Gina Brown and Grissel Granados, resigned in June in protest of the administration’s push to repeal the Affordable Care Act and dismantle Medicaid.

Trump’s Transphobic Nominee for Texas Judgeship

In May 2015, Jeff Mateer, Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship in Texas, made public statements saying transgender children are proof that “Satan’s plan is working.” Mateer also supports conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth, and said same-sex marriage was a “disgusting” gateway to polygamy and bestiality. In a joint letter organized by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), 278 parents of transgender children from multiple states concluded, “Your statements about children like ours are the opposite of love — they are cruel. We urge you to apologize sincerely and without reservation to us and our families and all the others like us, and to clearly articulate how wrong and damaging your words are to children like ours — or to withdraw your nomination.” Read more here and here.

Racial Justice & Civil Rights

Travel Ban 3.0

In his third attempt to institute his “Muslim ban,” Trump issued a new proclamation placing travel restrictions indefinitely on the countries of Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, North Korea, and certain groups from Venezuela. Chad, North Korea and Venezuela are new additions to the ban while Sudan has been dropped in this latest version. The previous travel ban was scheduled for a hearing before the Supreme Court, but has since been canceled since the original question of religious discrimination no longer applies with the addition of Venezuela and North Korea to the list. Future litigation is still possible, but lower courts will have to strike this version down before the Supreme Court can hear arguments on it. Read more here.

Dreamers Sue Trump

Six Dreamers, U.S. residents who have protected legal status under Deferred Action for Child for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), have filed suit in San Francisco federal court arguing that Trump improperly ended the program and denied them due process. This is the first suit brought by Dreamers, although two other suits against DACA termination have been brought previously by state attorney generals. Congress can preserve DACA but they must act before March 5, 2018 when the program will expire current DACA recipients will lose their status. If Congress does nothing, approximately 300,000 people would lose their status in 2018, and 320,000 more would lose their status from January to August 2019.

Trump Administration Responds Sluggishly to Humanitarian Crisis in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma

Weeks after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the federal government’s response remains underwhelming and markedly slower than relief efforts executed in response to the devastation to states within the continental U.S. wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Trump was hesitant to give Puerto Rico a waiver from the Jones Act, a century-old law that limits the number of foreign ships from moving goods between destinations in the U.S., citing opposition from the shipping industry. This law makes it prohibitively expensive for non-U.S. vessels to move goods from the mainland U.S. to outer states and territories. Puerto Rico requested the waiver because they could not afford to pay twice as much for American shipping to get relief supplies. Trump’s prioritization of profits over people in what have been described as “apocalyptic” conditions in Puerto Rico has brought new waves of criticism for the administration. Read more here.

Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights Watch

House Passes National 20 Week Abortion Ban

In April 2010, Nebraska became the first state to institute a 20-week abortion ban based on an erroneous belief that at 20 weeks, a fetus can feel pain. This claim has no scientific proof, but 15 states have nonetheless put similar bans in place. Now, the House has passed a national version of the bill, H.R. 36 (Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act of 2017). The bill would ban abortions 20 weeks and beyond in all states and anyone attempting or performing an abortion would face the possibility of a fine, up to five years in prison, or both. There are exceptions to preserve the health of the parent and in cases of rape/incest, but even in these cases, the doctor must provide the best opportunity for the “unborn child” to survive. The House passed a similar bill in 2015, but Senate Democrats blocked it. This bill is expected to face a similarly tough battle in the Senate. Read more here.

State Updates

HIV Criminalization Reform, LGBTQ Rights, and Supervised Consumption Spaces in California

SB 239 HIV Criminalization Reform: PWN is a co-sponsor of SB 239, which would modernize current California laws that fuel stigma and discrimination toward people living with HIV. The bill is currently on Governor Brown’s desk, waiting for his signature. SB 239 is backed by science, public health professionals, and other public health advocacy organizations, but we do encourage Californians to call, tweet, and write Gov. Brown to urge him to sign this critical bill.

You can find more information and advocacy resources for SB 239 on our website and be sure to check out the op-ed written by PWN’s executive director Naina Khanna here.

CA SB 219 – LGBT Long-term Care Bill of Rights: This bill prohibits discrimination against residents of long-term care facilities on the basis of their gender identity, sexual orientation, and HIV status, and was signed on October 4, 2017.

CA SB 179 – Gender Recognition Act: This bill, currently awaiting signature by Governor Brown, would make California the first state to not require people to officially identify as “male” or “female.”  SB 179 would create a recognized non-binary gender designation on state-issued documents, and would eliminate the requirement that people of trans experience undergo clinical treatment, in order to change their gender markers on state-issued identification.

CA AB 186 – Safe Injection Site Bill: This bill would have allowed Alameda, Humboldt, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Joaquin counties to approve facilities specifically designed to allow for the consumption of drugs. Unfortunately, the bill fell two votes short of passing the state Assembly. If passed, California would have been the first state in the country to legalize safe injection sites for people who use drugs. Proponents of the bill, including public health professionals are not deterred though- they continue to advocate for safe injection sites which are well-demonstrated to reduce deaths and transmission of infections among people who use drugs. Read more here.

Illinois Governor Signs Legislation Allowing Medicaid Coverage for Abortions

On September 28, Illinois Republican governor Bruce Rauner signed legislation allowing state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions. As a candidate for office, Rauner had supported expansion of abortion coverage but as of last spring, had initially been against the bill. The bill goes into effect immediately, and will improve access to safe and legal abortion for low-income women in the state.

Texas Partial Birth Abortion Ban Law Takes Effect

TX SB 8 – Partial Birth Abortion Ban, a bill passed by the Texas legislature and signed by the governor in May of this year, went into effect in September. The law bans “partial-birth” abortions in the state, requires that fetal tissue from abortions be buried, and prohibits donation of fetal tissue from abortions. Read more here.

Texas Budget Increases Funding for Family Planning

Budget bill: Proposed in early May 2017, the Texas budget bill went into effect in September, increasing funding for the state’s family planning program (Healthy Texas Women) by 9%. However, none of the funds distributed through the program can go to entities that either perform abortions or that contract with or provide funding to entities that perform abortions.  Read more here.

Washington State Enters Fight Against Transgender Military Ban

In July of this year, Trump tweeted out a series of messages calling transgender service members a “burden”, alleging that he was concerned about health care-related costs to the armed forces. This was followed by an executive order prohibiting people of trans experience to serve openly in the military. But studies have shown that health care costs associated with trans service members seeking transition-related care are marginal. The ban is just a smokescreen for transphobia, serving to foster anti-trans discrimination. Washington’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, is petitioning to join a suit in U.S. District Court against the ban arguing that it “serves no legitimate purpose and its implementation will have significant, damaging impacts on the State of Washington and its residents.” Read more here.

What’s happening where you live? Send your updates to Rebecca at rebecca.wang.pwn@gmail.com.

Policy Workgroup

Want to discuss the issues in this policy update in more detail and learn how public policies and laws affect people living with and affected by HIV? Join a PWN-USA Policy Workgroup call on the 4th Wednesday of the month at 6 PM ET/3 PM PTThe PWN-USA Policy Workgroup is for women living with HIV only. To be added to the Policy Workgroup listserv, please check the Policy Workgroup box when you fill out our membership form here.