Newsbreak February 28 2013

On my mind this month...

Gail Yamner, JAC President
March 20 is the time. It is the moment to put 30-plus years of political activism to work. Join JAC in Washington as we walk the marbled halls of Congress and demand action on gun safety.  Being in DC for one day will not bring back the innocent victims of mass shootings in schools and public spaces or  the 33 people murdered everyday in America. But it will give voice to those who have lost their lives or who have suffered life-altering damage through gun violence.
In President Obama’s State of the Union Address he called on Congress to act on gun safety. His repeated utterance, “They deserve a vote,” was for the victims of gun violence and their families. It was a challenge to Congress to end political bickering and work for sensible gun safety issues. He called on Congress to pass legislation to:
Require criminal background checks for ALL gun sales, including private sales
Ban assault weapons, including 
high-capacity magazines
Make gun trafficking a federal crime
When we visit offices during our fly-in, we will press for the members to support these first steps. We will ask for their vote, their support.
Many of us have signed petitions and called members to support legislation on gun safety. Those do not go unread nor the guns unregistered but seeing us in person and hearing our voices makes a difference. Seeing that we care enough to come to Washington compels them to listen more carefully. Your voice on March 20 is your demand that they vote now and continue to work to make America safer. 


President Obama announced that his first foreign trip of his second term will be to Israel. He plans to arrive on March 20th at Ben Gurion Airport where he will be greeted by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While in Israel, he will visit Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, an Iron Dome battery,  Mount Herzl and the tomb of Yitzhak Rabin. He will also visit Israel’s high tech sectors which the entire world relies upon. On the list of topics for the trip will be Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the Israel-Palestinian peace process, Syria and Jonathan Pollard. He will give a public speech at the Israel Museum. Besides spending public and private time with Israeli leaders, he will venture to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Ynet News 2/12/13)
While President Obama is in Israel, President Peres will present him with the Presidential Medal of Distinction. Explaining the decision of the award committee, Peres said: 
“Barack Obama is a true friend of the State of Israel, and has been since the beginning of his public life. As president, he has stood with Israel in times of crisis. ... He has strengthened the strategic cooperation between the countries and through the joint development of technology to defend against rockets and terrorism.”(The Times of Israel, 2/18/13)
In Israel, PM Netanyahu has started to form his government. The first official coalition partner will be Tzipi Livni as the next Justice Minister. She will also be tasked with peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Although Livni only received six Knesset seats from her Hatnua party, she is being given great responsibility.
In an editorial in the New York Times, Thomas Donilon, National Security Advisor to President Obama, writes about the need for Hezbollah to be included on the European Union’s terrorist list.  After six months of investigations, the Bulgarian government announced that it believed Hezbollah was responsible for the attack last July that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver. The report is significant because, as a member state of the European Union, Bulgaria pointed a finger at Hezbollah and lifted the veil on the group’s continued terrorist activities. (NYT 2/17/13)
On the topic of Iran, the US administration has sought to reassure Israel on President Obama’s determination to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Again, the US has reiterated its committment to preventing a nuclear Iran and the willingness to use military force as a last resort.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has set a mid-2013 red line for halting Iranian uranium enrichment. The Iranian issue will loom large in the March US-Israel talks. (The Jerusalem Post 2/12/13)

Reproductive Rights

Newspapers are filled with stories of states seeking to restrict abortion with new laws limiting access to clinics, ultrasound requirements, personhood amendments and 20-24 week limitations on allowing abortion procedures. Contrary to the trend, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is planning to propose legislation that would guarantee women in New York the right to late-term abortions when their health is in danger or the fetus is not viable. Abortion rights advocates are pleased with Mr. Cuomo’s plan, but the Roman Catholic Church and anti-abortion groups are distressed. “I am hard pressed to think of a piece of legislation that is less needed or more harmful than this one,” the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, wrote in a letter to Mr. Cuomo. National abortion rights groups have been trying for many years to persuade state legislatures to adopt laws guaranteeing abortion rights as a backup to Roe v. Wade. Only seven states have such laws in effect. When asked why the Governor is doing this now, a senior Cuomo administration official said, “Why are we doing this? The Supreme Court could change.” (NYTimes 2/16/2013)

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) have re-introduced the “Access to Birth Control” (ABC) Act, a bill to ensure women get unfettered access to birth control at the pharmacy counter. The legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate on February 14. When passed, the ABC Act will give women access to both over-the-counter and prescription birth control without delay and/or harassment. “The white coat does not make pharmacists the judge and jury of our medical decisions. Their job is to ensure that decisions made by women with our doctors are carried out, not to impose their personal opinions from behind the counter,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro Choice America. “Thankfully, pro-choice champions like Rep. Maloney and Sen. Lautenberg have worked tirelessly on our shared goal of improving women’s access to contraception. Congress should support this common sense policy.”
The clinic in Wichita, Kansas, where George Tiller was among only a few doctors in the country to do late-term abortions, will reopen this spring. Dr. Tiller was killed at a Wichita church in 2009. “We will continue to move forward to see that women have their rights,” said Julie Burkhart, who worked with Tiller’s clinic for eight years on political and legislative issues. “It’s incredibly important because women in this region need access to good medical care.” Since the clinic closed, women in the Wichita area have had to travel at least 150 miles to Oklahoma City or Kansas City for abortions. Burkhart directs a non-profit organization called Trust Women Foundation Inc. which now owns the single story, nearly windowless clinic building. (
JAC will continue to fight these battles and others as they arise. Our elected leaders must be reminded of the need for safe and legal avenues for women and their reproductive rights.

Separation of Religion and State

On February 13, the House of Representatives passed, 354-72,  HR 592, the bill stipulates that houses of worship are eligible  for certain federal disaster relief and emergency assistance on terms equal to other eligible private nonprofit facilities.  

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty were among groups asking Congress to reconsider passing legislation that could have serious consequences for religious liberty.  Nan Futrell, the Baptist Joint Committee’s Staff Counsel wrote that the Supreme Court has clearly stated:
“that direct monetary contributions of taxpayer dollars to religious institutions create special Establishment Clause dangers. …Simply put, we do not allow taxpayer dollars to build churches… . We likewise should not allow taxpayer dollars to be used to rebuild churches.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said the bill’s purpose is laudable, but there are “real constitutional problems” in its passage… . The bill would provide direct cash grants to rebuild houses of worship… direct government funding of churches, synagogues, and mosques has always been held to be unconstitutional, and the decisions of the Supreme Court establishing that principle remain good law to this day.” (Associated Baptist Press, 2/15/2013)

Research & Races

2013 Special Elections and Vacancies
States set their own requirements for filling Senate and House vacancies. Some states, like Massachusetts, mandate that a special election must be held within a proscribed amount of time. Other states permit gubernatorial appointments until the next regularly scheduled election. 
Massachusetts Senate - Dem. Sen. John Kerry was confirmed as Secretary of State, and William “Mo” Cowan has been appointed to fill Kerry’s Senate seat until a special election can be held on June 25. Cowan, who served as legal counsel and chief of staff to Governor Deval Patrick, has said he will not run for this seat. He is the eighth African American to serve in the Senate and the second from Massachusetts. The primary special election is scheduled for April 30. Currently, the Democrats vying for the nomination are Reps. Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey. Both have excellent records on Israel issues and on separation of religion and state. Rep. Lynch’s record on choice is mixed, whereas Markey’s is 100%. JAC has supported Markey during his tenure in the House. GOP candidates include businessman Sean Bielat, former U.S. Navy Seal Gabriel Gomez and st. Rep. Dan Winslow. Former GOP Sen. Scott Brown has declined to run. 
Illinois 02 – Dem. Rep. Jessie Jackson, Jr. resigned his seat on November 21. A special primary was held on February 26 with the general set for April 9. This is a heavily Democratic district so it is likely the Democratic primary winner will also be victorious in the general. As many as 17 Democrats had shown an interest in running, but the field narrowed considerably. The issue of gun violence has become very important in this race. One of the leading candidates, former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, has an “A” rating from the NRA and a lot of outside money has been spent on advertising opposing her candidacy. Another candidate, Toi Hutchinson,  also with an “A” rating, dropped out of the race this past weekend. The top contenders are former Rep. Halvorson, st. Rep. Robin Kelly and Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale. Kelly received the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune and several Democratic members of the Illinois House delegation.  **Election Update: Democratic Primary was won Tuesday by Robin Kelly. News surrounding her victory is focusing on funds provided by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. An estimated $2.2 million went towards ads against Kelly’s opponents who have shown past support for the NRA.  Bloomberg’s  super PAC, Independence USA, has now been involved in backing 8 pro gun-regulation candidates in both state and congressional races. 
Missouri 08 – This special election to fill the seat held by GOP Rep. Jo Ann Emerson will be held June 4. Emerson resigned this month to become President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.  In Missouri, nominees are selected by Democratic and Republican committee members. GOP st. Rep. Jason Smith was selected as his party’s nominee. Democrats are meeting this week to select their candidate. Demographics in this district strongly favor the GOP. 
South Carolina 01 – This seat became vacant when GOP Rep. Tim Scott was appointed to fill the seat of GOP Sen. Jim DeMint, who resigned on December 6.  Scott will hold this seat until the next regularly scheduled election in 2014. But his House seat will be filled in a special election set for May 7. The primary on March 19 will carry some celebrity buzz. On the Democratic side, Stephen Colbert’s sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch is running; on the GOP side, former Governor Mark Sanford and Teddy Turner, son of media mogul Ted Turner, is running. Republicans have the advantage. 
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