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Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment legislation reintroduced

The legislation has failed to garner enough congressional support for passage beginning with its initial introduction in 2011

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Photo courtesy of the Tyler Clementi Foundation

WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, along with Democratic U.S. House Representative Mark Pocan, also from Wisconsin, reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act Wednesday.

If enacted, the legislation would require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to have in place a policy that prohibits harassment of students based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Schools would have to distribute that policy to all students, along with information about the procedure to follow should an incident of harassment occur, and notify students of counseling, mental health, and other services available to victims or perpetrators of harassment.

The legislation would also require schools to recognize cyber-bullying as a form of harassment, and would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to help colleges and universities establish programs to prevent harassment of students.

“No student should live in fear of being who they are at school,” Baldwin said in a statement. “By reintroducing this legislation, we are taking a strong step forward in not only preventing harassment on campus, but also making sure our students have the freedom to learn and succeed in safe and healthy environments. Everyone at our colleges and universities deserves to pursue their dreams free of harassment and bullying.”

The lawmakers action was to mark eleventh anniversary of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi’s death, a suicide, after he lept from George Washington Bridge which connects North New Jersey to New York City on September 22, 2010. 

The Rutgers University freshman jumped to his death just days after his college roommate broadcast live images on the internet of him having a sexual encounter with another man. Fellow students Dharun Ravi, who was Clementi’s roommate, and Molly Wei were later charged. Wei struck a plea deal with prosecutors and a New Jersey Superior Court judge sentenced Ravi to 30 days in prison and three years probation for his actions.

The proposed law has failed to garner enough congressional support for passage over the past decade in beginning with its initial introduction in the 112th Congress in 2011. 

During a dedication ceremony on Monday February 4, 2013 of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, (D-N.J.) announced that he and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) had reintroduced the legislation in Congress.

The legislation failed to get the required support for passage and it again languished.

Last year in the 116th Congress, it was introduced again by Pocan in the House and Murray and Baldwin in the Senate in May 2019.

“Today we honor the life of Tyler Clementi by reintroducing this critical legislation. No one should be bullied because of who they are or who they love,” Pocan said in a statement. “This bill will help ensure that students can learn in peace and not have to worry about living in fear or humiliation for being themselves.”

Tyler’s parents founded a non-profit organization in their son’s name committed to end online and offline bullying, harassment, and humiliation.

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Congress

U.S. Senate to consider same-sex marriage bill after August recess

Out U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), has been credited with taking the lead on the bill, She said the vote likely delayed till September

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U.S. Senate Chambers (Photo Credit: U.S. Senate)

WASHINGTON – A vote in the U.S. Senate on legislation to codify same-sex marriage, following a surprise bipartisan approval in the U.S. House, now appears on track for consideration in September after lawmakers return from summer recess.

Questions emerged on when the Senate would take up the Respect for Marriage Act, which was advanced amid fears the U.S. Supreme Court would act to rescind same-sex marriage next after the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, after the House voted 267-157 in favor of the bill. Among the “yes” votes were 47 Republicans, a full one-fourth of the caucus, which triggered momentum for a Senate vote on the legislation.

Out U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), has been credited with taking the lead on the legislation. She said over the weekend on PBS Wisconsin the vote would likely be put off until September when lawmakers return from recess, and anticipated 10 Republicans may vote to join Democrats in ending a filibuster to advance the measure.

“There are five Republicans who have publicly stated that they will support the Respect for Marriage Act, and I have spoken with an additional — well, additional many, but five additional members have indicated they are leaning in support, but I think because of how crowded the calendar is for next week, which is our last week before the August recess, and in light of the fact that we can’t have any absences, we need everybody there, and we have a few members with COVID, this is probably going to be a vote that occurs, what I would hope would be early September,” Baldwin said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has expressed interest in bringing the legislation to the Senate floor, but an effort to push for a vote in the Senate last week was dropped as two senators — Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — were out with COVID and another, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), was recovering from a broken hip after a fall. Much of the oxygen in Congress is also now absorbed by the spending deal Schumer reached with Manchin, which provides for nearly $370 billion in climate investments.

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, echoed in a statement to the Washington Blade the optimism about the bill and expectation the vote would be held in September.

“Given the exceptionally strong, bipartisan House vote and extensive conversations with and among senators from both parties, we agree with Sen. Baldwin’s public statements that there is a realistic, viable path to secure the 60 votes needed in the U.S. Senate to ensure passage this year, likely after the August recess,” Stacy said. “The U.S. Senate should have a vote on the legislation at the earliest opportunity.”

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House Democrats seek IRS review of SPLC listed hate-group’s tax status

The Family Research Council has been designated an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center

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WASHINGTON – A group of House Democrats, in the wake of a report finding the Family Research Council has been granted a special tax status as an “association of churches,” is calling on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the prominent anti-LGBTQ organization’s designation under the tax code.

The Family Research Council has been designated an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its lies, propaganda, and activism against LGBTQ+ people in the United States and overseas.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) is among those leading a call for an investigation into the FRC

The 38 House Democrats — led by Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) — articulate the call in an Aug. 1 letter to the IRS, arguing the Family Research Council is “primarily an advocacy organization and not a church.”

“We understand the importance of religious institutions to their congregants and believe that religious freedom is a cherished American value and constitutional right,” the letter says. “We also believe that our tax code must be applied fairly and judiciously. Tax-exempt organizations should not be exploiting tax laws applicable to churches to avoid public accountability and the IRS’s examination of their activities.”

The impetus for the letter was a July report in ProPublica revealing the Family Research Council — which pushes for legislation against gender reassignment surgery for youth, filed friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of overturning of Roe v. Wade, and pushed for exemptions for individuals refusing to provide services for LGBTQ people over religious objections — is considered an “association of churches” with Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ group, as its religious leader.

According to ProPublica, the Family Research Council is among a number of social conservative groups in recent years that have sought and been granted tax status as churches, which shields them from financial scrutiny. As a result, Family Research Council won’t be required to issue an IRS 990 detailing its finances and salaries of key staff members, nor can the IRS initiate an audit of the organization without approval from a high-ranking Treasury Department official, ProPublica reports.

The letter from House Democrats seeks from the IRS: 1) An expeditious review of the status of the Family Research Council; 2) Investigation on whether other political advocacy organizations have obtained church status, but do not satisfy the IRS requirements for churches; 3) Improvement of the review process for organizations seeking church status to ensure that organizations that aren’t churches can’t abuse the tax code; and 4) a determination on whether existing guidance is sufficient to prevent abuse and whether more congressional actions are necessary.

The Washington Blade has placed a call with the Family Research Council and the Internal Revenue Service seeking comment on the letter and calls to review the organization’s tax status.

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Padilla pushes to protect abortion rights during Planned Parenthood visit

Senator Padilla is a champion for reproductive rights and is a cosponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act

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Senator Padilla visits Planned Parenthood Los Angeles headquarters (Photo Credit: Office of Senator Padilla)

LOS ANGELES — U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, visited the Planned Parenthood Los Angeles headquarters on Friday to meet with volunteers, advocates and workers, and highlight his efforts to protect essential reproductive health care in the wake of the Dobbs decision.

Padilla was joined by Sue Dunlap, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and Celinda Vazquez, Chief External Officer of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. The visit comes as nearly half of states across the country continue to restrict access to reproductive care.

“I am grateful for the tremendous level of dedication and care that Planned Parenthood Los Angeles offers to the surrounding community,” said Senator Padilla. “However, across the country women continue to experience the harmful and, in many cases, deadly consequences of a post-Roe America. In the face of unending attacks on reproductive freedom, we will not give up the fight to protect a woman’s right to safe abortion access.”

“We want to extend our sincere thanks to Senator Padilla for stopping by Planned Parenthood Los Angeles to see the importance of our work first hand. Senator Padilla is a long time champion for reproductive health care and access to safe and legal abortion and we’re thankful for his continued advocacy in this critical moment where people from all walks of life are looking to California to lead.” Celinda M. Vazquez, Chief External Affairs Officer, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.

Senator Padilla is a champion for reproductive rights and is a cosponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would guarantee access and the right to provide abortion services in the United States.

Most recently, Padilla joined his colleagues in introducing the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act of 2022, legislation that would make it clear that it is illegal for anti-choice states to limit travel for abortion services and would empower the U.S. Attorney General and impacted individuals to bring civil action against those who restrict a person’s right to cross state lines to receive legal reproductive care.

Padilla also successfully secured commitments from SafeGraph and Placer.ai, two data brokers, to permanently stop selling the location data of people who visit abortion clinics. This month, he also urged President Biden to prioritize health equity for people of color, and low-income, immigrant, and tribal communities in any executive actions to address the recent Dobbs decision.

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