WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate confirmed on Tuesday two Biden nominees — one lesbian, another transgender — for high-profile positions at the Defense Department by unanimous consent.
Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian former Air Force pilot and Texas congressional candidate, was confirmed as under secretary of the Air Force, and Shawn Skelly, a transgender 20-year U.S. Navy veteran and a defense appointee in the Obama administration, was confirmed as assistant secretary of defense for readiness.
For the second time in U.S. history, the Senate has confirmed an openly transgender person as a presidential appointee — and did so without controversy by unanimous consent.
Just months ago, Rachel Levine was confirmed as assistant secretary of health on a party-line basis after enduring rude, invasive questioning from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during her confirmation hearing on transgender health care.
Jones has also made an achievement through Senate approval: She’s the first out lesbian to win confirmation to serve in a high-level defense position.
The Senate confirmation of the nominees by unanimous consent is consistent with their confirmation hearing, which both Jones and Skelly breezed through without hostility.
Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, pointed out in a statement the two newly confirmed presidential appointees both served in the U.S. military under bans against LGBTQ people in the armed forces.
“Gina and Shawn served their country when living openly could result in discharge and a lost career, so their ascension to key leadership positions is a powerful moment for those servicemembers who served or continue to serve in silence,” Parker said. “Their confirmation will transform perceptions of LGBTQ people within the ranks of the U.S. military, but also among the leaders of militaries we work with around the world.”
Another out LGBTQ person nominated by Biden for a high-profile defense role is Brenda Sue Fulton, whom Biden nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs. Her nomination, however, has not even had a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee. It’s unclear why her nomination hasn’t moved forward.
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Rep. Jennifer Wexton, ardent LGBTQ ally, will not seek re-election
In fact, on the day she took office, the congresswoman became only the second member to fly a transgender Pride flag outside her office
LEESBURG, Va. – U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) announced on Monday she will not seek reelection after receiving a diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder that the congresswoman described in a statement as “Parkinson’s on steroids.”
“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,” she said. “But taking into consideration the prognosis for my health over the coming years, I have made the decision not to seek reelection once my term is complete and instead spend my valued time with Andrew, our boys, and my friends and loved ones.”
A member of the Congressional Equality Caucus and co-chair of its Transgender Equality Task Force, Wexton has been a staunch ally of the LGBTQ community since her first election to Congress in 2018 and during previous five-year tenure in the Virginia State Senate.
“On my lowest days, she’s quite literally been a shoulder to cry on, and on my best days, she was the second person I told about my engagement last year,” Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-13) told the Washington Blade on Monday.
The congresswoman is “a role model, mentor and genuine public servant whose friendship and advocacy means the world to me,” said Roem, who is the first openly trans representative to serve in any state legislature and will be the first in Virginia’s State Senate if she is elected to the newly drawn 30th district seat next year.
“I spent so many years closeted in part because of the fear and loathing perpetuated by elected officials toward LGBTQ people in Northern Virginia broadly and greater Prince William [County] specifically that made for a hostile, unwelcoming environment,” she said.
“To go from that to having such outspoken, fearless representation from my member of Congress in Rep. Jennifer Wexton hasn’t so much been a breath of fresh air as much as a completely new biosphere,” Roem said.
She added, “I’m so grateful to her for everything she’s done and the example of inclusivity she’s set for her constituents.”
Roem pointed the Blade to an article in the Washington Post entitled, “How Jennifer Wexton became the ‘patron saint of the transgender community,’” which details the ways in which LGBTQ rights “with an emphasis on the transgender community” had become Wexton’s “signature issue” just “six months into her first term.”
In fact, on the day she took office, the congresswoman became only the second member to fly a transgender Pride flag outside her office.
Equality Virginia, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, also noted Wexton’s advocacy for the community in a post Monday on X: “Thank you @RepWexton for being a tireless advocate for LGBTQ+ people in the General Assembly and in Congress.”
“You’ve made our commonwealth a better place,” the group wrote, adding, “we’re sending our love and strength to you, your family and your entire team.”
“In 2018, this state senator I called my legislative role model and looked up to so much as a first-year delegate, came over for dinner crepes to share her wisdom, humor and guidance,” Roem said on X. “Five years later, Rep. @JenniferWexton is still a mentor, friend and champion for NOVA.”
The Washington Post reported Wexton’s planned departure means her seat representing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District could be vulnerable in next year’s elections, as it was held by Republicans for 40 years prior to the congresswoman’s defeat of GOP incumbent Barbara Comstock in 2018.
DeSantis pushing House Republicans toward shutdown
The governor and candidate for the Republican nomination for president was a founding member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus
WASHINGTON – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing House Republicans to not back down in negotiations with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) over spending bills they have held up by demanding spending cuts and advancing far-right amendments, including riders attacking the LGBTQ community.
Should the Republican conference fail to reach an agreement before the end of September, or unless McCarthy brokers a deal with his Democratic colleagues that would likely lead his GOP colleagues to file a motion to vacate the chair, a government shutdown will be triggered.
News of DeSantis’ involvement was first reported by Politico. The governor and candidate for the Republican nomination for president was a founding member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus when he served in the chamber.
All 12 of the appropriations bills under consideration in the House contain anti-LGBTQ amendments, most targeting the transgender community. They would almost certainly not pass through the U.S. Senate or earn President Joe Biden’s signature.
“Ron DeSantis knows that both parties — including the current and previous administration — are to blame for Washington’s reckless spending spree,” DeSantis campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo told Politico.
“He is urging congressional Republicans to hold the line in this current spending standoff and end days of rubber stamping multi-trillion dollar spending bills that harm the American people,” Romeo said.
Sarah McBride polls far ahead in primary race for House seat
McBride, who is America’s first openly transgender state senator and the country’s highest ranking trans elected official
WILMINGTON, Del. – A new poll of likely Democratic voters shows Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride (D) has earned nearly double the support of runner-up Eugene Young, with 44 percent support compared to his 23 percent.
Conducted from September 7 to 12, the poll was commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes PAC.
“As this new poll reveals, Delaware voters overwhelmingly back Sarah McBride in her historic bid for Congress,” said Geoff Wetrosky, Vice President of National Campaigns at the Human Rights Campaign.
“Her depth of understanding on the issues that matter most to the people of Delaware is built on a lifetime advocating for her neighbors and making real change,” he said.
McBride, who is America’s first openly transgender state senator and the country’s highest ranking trans elected official, would become the first trans member of the U.S. Congress if elected.
Last month, during an interview with the Washington Blade, she said, “Of course there’s going to be discussion about the potential of this campaign to break this barrier and to increase diversity in Congress and to ensure that a voice that has been totally absent from the halls of Congress is finally there in an elected capacity.”
At the same time, she said, her campaign is not focused on the potential for her to make history with this election. Nor, she said, are voters.
The poll underscores this point, finding that “health care and gun violence prevention rank as the top two policy priorities, with 42% and 40% of voters, respectively.”
In the Delaware State Senate, McBride has “worked to pass vital policies for her constituents, like paid medical and family leave, as well as laws making Delawareans safer by restricting the availability of assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” HRC wrote in a press release announcing findings from its poll.
DeSantis blames media for backlash against anti-LGBTQ+ policies
Asked whether everyone would feel welcome in America if he is elected president, DeSantis responded “100 percent
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – During an interview Wednesday with CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president, doubled down on his anti-LGBTQ policies by attributing backlash to controversy ginned up by the media.
The governor’s comments began with O’Donnell’s question about the travel advisory issued in May by the NAACP over legislation the group characterized as “openly hostile for African Americans, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals.”
“They obviously have (a) very left wing agenda,” DeSantis said.
When she countered that some minorities including LGBTQ people feel unsafe visiting the state, particularly after laws targeting them were passed in recent months, DeSantis said, “part of the reason they think that is ’cause of narratives that are put out by media.”
He said the press was responsible for dubbing last year’s Parental Rights in Education Act the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, adding that the law does not include the word “gay.”
Regardless, as the Human Rights Campaign pointed out when the law was expanded to cover public schools from pre-K through 8th grade, it “silences educators by prohibiting any instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The group, America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, also highlighted other anti-LGBTQ legislation that was signed concurrently by the governor in May: “an extreme gender affirming care ban” and “an anti-trans bathroom bill.”
While he declined to say whether he would support a U.S. Supreme Court justice who sought to overturn the 2015 marriage equality precedent, DeSantis said such an outcome would be unlikely in consideration of the ruling’s “significant reliance interest.”
Asked whether everyone would feel welcome in America if he is elected president, DeSantis responded “100 percent.”
Even some of his fellow Republicans, however, spoke up to denounce a homophobic ad run by DeSantis’s campaign this summer that targeted former President and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump — who, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average, is ahead of the governor by more than 40 points.
Pence reaffirms opposition to gender affirming care for minors
“What adults do in their lives- is one thing, but for kids under the age of 18— there’s a reason why we don’t let you drive ’til you’re 16”
DES MOINES, Iowa – In an emotional exchange on Thursday at a town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, former Vice President and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence doubled down on his opposition to allowing minors to access gender affirming health interventions.
Melissa McCollister, a social work professor at Grand View University, fought back tears as she explained that, “So far, in 2023, 15 transgender individuals and gender nonconforming people have been murdered,” most of whom were “Black and Latinx transgender women.”
“What is your policy plan,” she asked, fighting back tears, “to protect the transgender community, specifically Black and brown trans women, from historically high levels of violence?”
The question from McCollister — who identified herself as a member of the LGBTQ community and said she is raising a transgender child — came after Pence pledged to “protect our kids from that radical gender ideology that’s taken hold in too many public schools.”
“For me,” The former vice president responded, “what adults do in their lives, decisions that they make, including transgender adults, is one thing, but for kids under the age of 18— there’s a reason why we don’t let you drive ’til you’re 16.”
He continued, “In the state of Indiana, you can’t get a tattoo until after you’re 18, you can’t drink until after you’re 21, that’s because we understand that kids don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions…”
“When it comes to surgical or chemical procedures,” Pence said, “I just— I really believe that we’ve got to protect our kids from decisions that will affect them, the balance of their lives, while at the same time saying adults can make decisions according to the dictates of their own conscience.”
Despite these statements, gender surgeries are almost never performed on minors younger than 18 in the United States.
McCollister responded, “to hear somebody tell me that it’s not OK for young children to make decisions about their gender identity and to ask their school officials for support, protection and help, is appalling.”
FiveThirtyEight’s polling average puts Pence at 5.1 percent, exactly 50 points behind former President and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
Utah’s Mitt Romney to retire from the U.S. Senate
During a confirmation hearing Romney spoke against allowing trans woman & girls to compete on sports teams
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced on Wednesday that he will not seek reelection next year, telling the Washington Post now is the time for a new generation to “step up” and “shape the world they’re going to live in.”
The announcement means Romney’s first term in the Senate will likely bookend his 20-year political career, which included a four-year term as governor of Massachusetts and two presidential campaigns, the latter as the Republican nominee.
During his time in Congress, the 76-year-old often clashed with members of his own party because he rarely shied away from publicly criticizing former President Donald Trump as other members of the GOP conference aired their grievances only privately.
Romney said he had decided a second term would be less productive and “less satisfying” — citing, according to the Post, “the disarray he sees among House Republicans” along with “his own lack of confidence in the leadership of President Biden and Trump.”
The lower chamber is in turmoil now as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) seeks to unite his caucus while far-right members demand that the party move forward with an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden and advance anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ amendments to appropriations spending bills that would almost certainly languish in the Senate.
Romney’s independent streak extended to LGBTQ rights
In 1994, Romney ran unsuccessfully for the Senate seat occupied by the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was vying for a sixth term. At the time, the Boy Scouts of America was embroiled in controversy over its policy of excluding gay scouts from participating.
During a televised debate against Kennedy, Romney, who was serving on the organization’s National Executive Board, said, “I feel that all people should be able to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”
“His campaign distributed at the gay Pride parade pink flyers that asserted that he would be a better and a stronger advocate than Ted Kennedy,” lobbyist Arlene Isaacson told NPR in 2012.
A decade later, Romney reaffirmed his position on the Boy Scouts issue.
More ambiguous, however, were his positions on marriage equality.
Massachusetts recognized same-sex marriage pursuant to a decision by its Supreme Judicial Court in 2003. Though he had previously said he believes the issue should be left up to each state to decide and opposed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Romney would subsequently advocate for Congress to back an amendment defining marriage as unions between one man and one woman.
And then last year, Romney was one of only 12 Senate Republicans to vote for the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified protections for married same-sex couples into law.
During a confirmation hearing for Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Romney spoke out against allowing transgender woman and girls to compete on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
Governor Newsom to decide on ending pro-LGBTQ state travel ban
The state would be following San Francisco in doing so, as city leaders this spring ended their similar travel restriction
By Matthew S. Bajko | SACRAMENTO – Ending California’s ban on publicly funded travel to states with anti-LGBTQ laws is now in the hands of Governor Gavin Newsom after lawmakers this week sent him a bill to do away with the policy.
The state would be following San Francisco in doing so, as city leaders this spring ended their similar travel restriction.
Legislators first enacted the statewide travel ban policy in 2016 with the hope of seeing their counterparts in other states think twice about adopting LGBTQ discriminatory laws. Under the ban, no taxpayer money is to be used to cover non-emergency travel by state employees, as well as faculty, students, and sports teams at state colleges, to those states that have enacted anti-LGBTQ laws since 2015.
Yet, since its implementation, the travel ban has grown to cover 26 states. The restriction on traveling to Nebraska, added to the list this summer, is set to take effect on October 1.
Citing the lack of impact the travel ban has had in halting other legislatures from passing anti-LGBTQ laws, lesbian outgoing Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced this year Senate Bill 447 called the BRIDGE Act, which stands for Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supportive Equality. It aims to replace the so-called no-fly list with a privately funded pro-LGBTQ marketing effort in the states on it.
San Francisco officials similarly cited continued passage of anti-LGBTQ laws by other states for ending their local travel ban policy, which also covered states that restricted abortion and voting access. They also cited the policy having a negative fiscal impact on the city in higher contracting costs since the policy prohibited city agencies from doing business with companies headquartered in the states covered by the ban.
To press the case for rescinding the state’s travel ban, Atkins created a dedicated website at sd39.senate.ca.gov/sb447 for her SB 447. A broad coalition of LGBTQ groups and leaders had expressed support for doing away with the travel ban, arguing the policy also hampered the ability of LGBTQ advocates to be on the ground in the covered states arguing on behalf of LGBTQ rights.
“As attacks on the LGBTQ+ Community across the country grow, building bridges to change hearts and minds in these communities is now more important than ever,” wrote gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Santa Monica/West Hollywood) on X (formerly Twitter), who had advocated for implementation of the travel ban in his former capacity as executive director of statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California.
Meanwhile, gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), who wrote the initial legislation establishing the state’s travel ban, had expressed misgivings about ending it. He was one of four members of his chamber who abstained Monday from voting on SB 447, when the bill passed out of the Assembly by a 64-12 vote.
Because Atkins had amended it to include an urgency clause so SB 447 would take effect immediately if signed into law by Newsom, the Senate had to vote on it again Tuesday. It passed out of the chamber 31-6 with three abstentions.
“I remember what it was like to grow up in a time and place where conversations about someone being gay or lesbian only happened in whispers,” stated Atkins. “While years have passed since then, there are still areas of our country where the LGBTQ+ community — and especially our LGBTQ+ youth — feel isolated and fearful for their safety. The BRIDGE Project would be a conduit of hope and compassion, and encourage others to open their hearts and minds to be more accepting and inclusive. It’s within all of us to be that light.”
Newsom, who has faced criticism in the past for making personal trips to states on the banned list, has until October 14 to either sign SB 447 into law or veto it.
The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished with permission.
California lawmakers send bill barring school book bans to Newsom
The bill had passed the Assembly in May after the Temecula Valley Unified School District voted to reject a book that included LGBTQ+ topics
SACRAMENTO – A bill that would effectively halt efforts by school districts in California to ban text books and curriculum related to LGBTQ+ subject matter, including queer history, gender and racial diversity is now headed to the desk of California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Assembly Bill 1078 passed in the state Senate last week, and the governor already has indicated he will sign it as soon as he receives the legislation.
In a statement released on Thursday, September 7, Newsom said: “California is the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them. With the passage of legislation to ban book bans & ensure all students have textbooks, our state’s Family Agenda is now even stronger.”
California is the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them.— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) September 8, 2023
With the passage of legislation to ban book bans & ensure all students have textbooks, our state’s Family Agenda is now even stronger. pic.twitter.com/RG9nnYd32u
The bill had passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly in May after the Temecula Valley Unified School District Board voted to reject inclusion of a book that included mention of slain former openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and LGBTQ+ topics.
Board Member Jennifer Wiersma, one of the three who is backed by the Inland Empire Family Pac, a far-right group that opposes LGBTQ+ rights, transparent sexual education curriculum, and so-called ‘Critical Race Theory’ although that material is not taught in K-12 schools anywhere in the United States argued:
“I don’t want my 3rd grader studying an LGBTQ issue. I don’t want them going into gender ideology.” Wiersma, supported by the other two conservatives, Danny Gonzalez and Dr. Joseph Komrosky, signaled that they were also opposed to any curriculum that included lessons or information about former openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk.
School Board Dr. Joseph Komrosky referred to Milk as a pedophile, “My question is, why even mention a pedophile?” Komrosky said during a May meeting drawing the ire of Gov. Newsom who tweeted: “An offensive statement from an ignorant person. This isn’t Texas or Florida. In the Golden State, our kids have the freedom to learn. Congrats Mr. Komrosky you have our attention. Stay tuned.”
Komrosky and the School District Board the defied a letter warning that that the state would take action. Newsom, joined by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, and Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson announced the state would begin the process of securing textbooks for students in the Temecula Valley Unified School District and enact legislation, Assembly Bill 1078, to fine school districts for failure to provide adequate instructional materials.
“The three political activists on the school board have yet again proven they are more interested in breaking the law than doing their jobs of educating students — so the state will do their job for them,” the governor said.
AB 1078, sponsored by Assemblyman Jackson would financially penalize school boards that enact bans on books and education material related to Black, Latino, Asian, Native American and LGBTQ topics, provided they are part of an approved school curriculum.
“We’re taking a firm stand against book banning in California’s schools, ensuring that our students have access to a broad range of educational materials that accurately represent the rich cultural and racial diversity of our society,” Jackson said.
“AB 1078 will strengthen existing laws to ensure that local school districts provide students with accurate and inclusive instructional materials,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “Accurate and inclusive education is essential to ensure the educational success of all California students, including LGBTQ+ students and Black, Indigenous, and other students of color. By seeing themselves reflected, LGBTQ+ students are validated, building stronger academic and social success opportunities.”
Then in July, after oft times contentious, acrimonious and emotional public comments as both sides presented arguments in favor or against California’s new elementary level social studies book and curriculum previously rejected twice, the Temecula Valley Unified School District’s board relented and voted unanimously to adopt it.
Curriculum that deals with LGBTQ+ history is mandated under California’s FAIR Education Act, which was signed into law on July 14, 2011, and went into effect on January 1, 2012. It amends the California Education Code to include the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful reference to contributions by people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community in history and social studies curriculum.
Conservative school board majorities and some parents argue that curriculum that deals LGBTQ topics to Critical race theory are either not age-appropriate for younger students, radical or, in some cases, are framed asanti-American.
“We’re not having the conversation at the core of the issue, which is age-appropriate materials,” Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa) told The Sacramento Bee.
Conservatives on social media platforms are also expressing their outrage:
Seven HIV/AIDS activists arrested inside Kevin McCarthy’s D.C. office
Protesters demanded House Republicans approve PEPFAR funding
WASHINGTON — U.S. Capitol Police on Monday arrested seven HIV/AIDS activists who refused to leave House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building.
Housing Works CEO Charles King, Housing Works President Matthew Bernardo and Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell are among the seven people who entered McCarthy’s office shortly after 11 a.m., sat down in the lobby and demanded the California Republican to “pass PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) now.”
Capitol Police officers removed the activists from McCarthy’s office less than 15 minutes after their protest began. They handcuffed them in the hallway and brought them to Capitol Police headquarters.
Officers also arrested Housing Works Community Health Center Medical Director Archie Jao, Housing Works Case Manager Rosalind Casillas, Housing Works client Darnell Smith and Housing Works Human Resources Vice President Jewel Allred. A Capitol Police officer after the protest told reporters the activists would be charged with incommoding or obstructing.
California Congresswoman Maxine Waters is among those who have also criticized McCarthy and House Republicans over their proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
Waters, a Democrat who represents California’s 43rd Congressional District, in a Sept. 6 speech at the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS in D.C. noted the House Appropriations Committee’s Fiscal Year 2024 Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill would cut $767 million from domestic HIV/AIDS programs.
Waters said the measure would cut funds to fight HIV/AIDS among underrepresented groups by 53 percent and “completely eliminates” funding for “Minority AIDS Initiative activities within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” She also noted the appropriations measure “eliminates funding” for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and community health centers.
Waters further criticized House Republicans for “refusing to authorize” PEPFAR, noting ending the program “would endanger the lives of millions of people around the world who are living with HIV and endanger the lives of millions more who are at risk.”
“Speaker McCarthy is a strategic target because he’s the leader of the Republican Party in the House,” Aly Bancroft, associate director of U.S. policy and advocacy for Health GAP, told reporters after the activists were arrested. “When it comes to both the domestic cuts and the failure thus far to reauthorize PEPFAR in its current form, we’re seeing the issues come from the Republican caucus, so we really need leadership when it comes to both the domestic and the global front because it’s still a really big, significant issue and he needs to get its caucus in order.”
The Blade has reached out to McCarthy’s office for comment on the protest.
Wiener pulls PrEP bill after Assembly committee adds poison pill
In 2019, Gov. Newsom signed the first-in-the-US law that authorized pharmacies to furnish up to a 60-day supply of PrEP without a prescription
SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced Friday that he is pausing Senate Bill 339 in the Assembly after the Assembly Appropriations Committee inserted a harmful amendment to the bill.
SB 339 improves access to PrEP and PEP, a powerful preventative HIV medication, by ensuring pharmacists can furnish PrEP without a prescription. The bill deals exclusively with ensuring pharmacists are able to provide PrEP.
Last week, the Assembly Appropriations Committee inserted an extraneous amendment into SB 339 having nothing to do with the bill — essentially inserting an unrelated bill into this bill — and which *undermines* access to PrEP.
According to Wiener’s office, this amendment would allow insurance companies to impose prior authorization and step-therapy for PrEP and PEP, which are significantly limited under existing law and regulations. In other words, the amendment reduces patient protections.
This harmful amendment is not only completely unrelated to the purpose of the bill – i.e., improving pharmacists’ ability to furnish PrEP and PEP – but it also upends longstanding guidance from state regulators and runs counter to California’s ongoing efforts to improve access to PrEP and PEP for Californians most at risk for contracting HIV, a spokesperson for Wiener noted adding that because these amendments undermine PrEP access, they’re effectively a poison pill and therefore untenable.
The amendments were never analyzed or voted on by a health policy committee, and Senator Wiener opposes them. As a result, Senator Wiener has chosen not to move SB 339 forward at this time. Over the recess, Senator Wiener will determine if there is a path to deleting these harmful amendments. If not, he likely will abandon the bill.
“It’s heartbreaking to see a straightforward, critically important HIV prevention bill stall this way,” said Senator Wiener. “Thousands of Californians contract HIV each year, and we need common sense measures like SB 339 to improve access to PrEP.”
Despite significant public health advancements, HIV remains a major public health challenge in California, with nearly 4,000 new HIV diagnoses each year. Black and Latino gay and bisexual men, Black cisgender women, transgender women, and youth continue to be the populations most impacted by HIV.
PrEP is a preventative drug taken orally or intravenously that reduces the risk of contracting HIV through sexual contact by more than 99%, making it more effective than any other measure to prevent HIV, including condoms. Despite its incredible efficacy, fewer than 25 percent of those who would benefit from PrEP are using these medications.
“We are shocked at the recent actions of the Assembly Appropriations Committee to reverse years of advocacy for HIV prevention in California and roll back essential protections for people at risk of acquiring HIV,” says Dr. Tyler TerMeet, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, “For decades California has been at the forefront of HIV prevention, ensuring that people had access to PrEP, our most effective form of HIV prevention, without delays caused by insurance red tape and greed. The language changes added by the Appropriations Committee would undo that work and leave people at the highest risk of HIV vulnerable to pointless bureaucratic delays and denials, increasing HIV transmission and undoing our work to get to zero new HIV infections in California.”
Michael Conner, PharmD, President of the California Pharmacists Association states, “While the current version of the bill meets the goal of CPhA to allow pharmacists to independently initiate and provide PrEP/PEP, it removes protections for patients. Our commitment is to do what is in the best interest of patients, it is at the heart of what we do. Therefore, we cannot support moving the bill forward at this time. We look forward to working together to move a bill that meets the intention of improving access to these life-saving medications.”
“We are disappointed that SB 339 will not be advancing this year because of the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s amendments — we could not in good conscience move forward with the amended bill and roll back years of progress in the fight against HIV,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “The amendments would take California back to a time when health plans could impose onerous delays to accessing critical HIV prevention medications and they demonstrate a disregard for the HIV providers and advocates who have been fighting for years to improve PrEP access in California. We remain fully committed to expanding PrEP access for all Californians and look forward to continuing our work with Senator Wiener on this important issue.”
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