U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Thune (R-SD), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced legislation to allow retired first responders to withdraw from their retirement without being penalized. The senators’ legislation would improve and reform the Healthcare Enhancement for Local Public Safety Act (HELPS) by changing state and local direct payment requirements from mandatory to optional and creating an alternative to the current method, allowing the retirement system to make the distribution to the retired public safety officer. The retiree can then make the premium payment to the provider and remain eligible for the tax exclusion.
“Ohio firefighters and other first responders wear their bodies out protecting our families and communities, and they shouldn’t have to worry about being penalized for withdrawing from retirement that they’ve earned,” said Senator Brown. “This is a simple solution that allows first responders to keep their own money and alleviate pressure on state and local governments.”
“We owe a great debt of gratitude to our retired police officers, firefighters, and other first responders who dedicated their lives to protecting our communities and keeping our friends, families, and neighbors across South Dakota safe,” said Senator Thune. “Currently, it is extremely difficult for retired first responders to utilize an existing benefit that helps cover certain health care expenses, which is why I introduced this legislation that would ensure these retirees can make tax-free withdrawals from their pension and direct those amounts to qualifying insurance premiums.”
“Virginia’s first responders put themselves at risk every day to protect our communities – the least we can do is ensure that they are taken care of in retirement,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan Police and Fire Health Care Protection Act of 2022, which will make it easier for tens of thousands of retired officers – like Mr. Wally Bunker, a stalwart advocate and retired police officer from Culpepper – to claim the benefits that they have earned.”
“First responders play a vital role in our communities, addressing a variety of high-stress emergency situations throughout their careers. All first responders ought to be able to take advantage of a tax benefit that is intended to help them access health coverage in retirement,” said Senator Grassley.
In order to implement the direct payment requirement under current law, state and local retirement systems are now responsible for directly paying often numerous health and long-term care providers and keeping track of changes to premium amounts and payment deadlines for thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of retirees. This already challenging task is made even more difficult because providers will often communicate only with the retiree policyholder and not with the retirement system. Information does not flow seamlessly, and inadvertent errors are made. In addition, due to the complexity, some retirement systems have made the decision to not implement HELPS, thereby resulting in retired public safety officers covered by these pension plans being ineligible for the tax benefit.
“Too often, firefighters are forced to retire early and have no access to affordable health insurance. We owe it to our firefighters and EMS providers to help them access quality healthcare after making a career’s worth of physical and mental sacrifices for our communities,” said Edward Kelly, General President, International Association of Fire Fighters. “This legislation ensures our retired firefighters can access their hard-earned retirement income to pay for health insurance costs. The IAFF thanks Senators Brown, Thune, and Warner for their commitment to supporting our retirees and helping them to maintain a healthy and secure retirement.”
“In 2006, Congress enacted the HELPS Retirees Act, which provided a modest tax benefit to help retired public safety officers afford health insurance by allowing the use, on a pre-tax basis, of up to $3,000 annually from their pension funds health care and long-term care insurance,” said Patrick Yoes, National President, Fraternal Order of Police. “However, too many public safety officers were ineligible or lost their eligibility for this benefit because of the law’s ‘direct pay’ requirement. This means that the public pension system must pay the health or long-term care insurance company directly in order to exclude these payments from the employee’s gross income. Officers whose pensions are or came to be administered by third parties could not take advantage of this tax break. We are very grateful to Senators Brown and Thune for introducing legislation which repeals this direct pay requirement and provides a modest increase to the benefit.”
“On behalf of Ohio’s and the nation’s public safety personnel, we are grateful to Senator Brown for his leadership on this issue. The new legislation will ensure that first responders receive the assistance Congress intended them to receive with their health care expenses in retirement,” said Mary Beth Foley, Executive Director, Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F).
Under the senators’ bill, plans that are able to implement HELPS through the current direct payment method, possibly because they have only one or two providers to pay and a small number of retirees, may continue to do so. However, for the many retirement systems that are experiencing administrative problems with the current requirement or have refused to implement HELPS because of the burdens, the senator’s legislation will allow them to make distributions to their retirees without rendering the retiree ineligible for the tax exclusion.
In cases where the distribution is made to the retiree, the legislation would require the retiree to include with their tax return an attestation that the amount sought to be excluded from the pension distribution does not exceed the amount paid by the employee for qualified health insurance premiums for the taxable year. The tax exclusion is capped under current law at $3,000 per year.
The bill has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the International Association of Fire Fighters.
An Update from Washington
June has been a busy month in the Senate, and I wanted to share some of my work this month with you.
Following the horrific shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo, and communities across the country, Congress finally took action to curb gun violence. For the first time in decades, we passed meaningful legislation that included provisions similar to what I proposed in my Virginia Plan to Reduce Gun Violence, including improving background checks, strengthening protections for victims of domestic violence, and incentivizing states to implement laws to remove firearms from individuals who pose a high risk of harming themselves or others. I proudly voted for this bill, and while it doesn’t have everything I wanted, it’s going to save lives. This victory lays the foundation for more progress, and I’m going to keep working to make our communities safer.
Following the Supreme Court’s dangerous decision taking away a woman’s right to make personal health care decisions, I’ve been reaching across the aisle to see if we can find a bipartisan consensus to restore that right legislatively. I’m not giving up on finding legislative solutions to federally protect reproductive freedom.
I’ve also been working to pass my child care proposal that I introduced with Senator Patty Murray. Too many parents are currently locked out of the workforce because they can’t find affordable child care and too many child care providers are forced to quit their jobs because they can’t pay their bills. Our proposal will lower child care costs for families, help parents get back into the workforce, and raise wages for hardworking providers.
This month, I also voted to extend child nutrition waivers that help keep kids fed, expand support for toxic-exposed veterans, and deliver critical support for Virginia’s servicemembers and defense community:
• Keep Kids Fed Act: The Senate unanimously passed legislation to extend school breakfast and lunch flexibilities so that schools and daycares can continue to provide summer meals for needy children from low-income food-insecure families. I’ve been pushing for this extension, and I’m glad President Biden signed this bill into law.
• PACT Act: The Senate passed bipartisan legislation to expand health care and resources for more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed post-9/11 combat veterans. The bill will also authorize a new community-based outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads. It’s currently awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives and then will go to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
• National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA): Representing Virginia’s military community is deeply important to me. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I proudly voted the Fiscal Year 2023 NDAA out of committee. The bill includes numerous provisions I helped secure, including a 4.6% pay raise for our troops, support for military families, and more funding for shipbuilding and military construction projects in Virginia. Now, the full Senate will debate and vote on the bill.
In addition to my legislative work, I held events in Arlington, Alexandria, Heathsville, Gloucester, Leesburg, Ashburn, Dulles, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News. I appreciated hearing from Virginians about issues affecting them, including gun violence, child care, job training, support for small businesses, coastal resiliency, and affordable housing.
I look forward to keeping in touch, hearing about the issues that matter most to you, and seeing how my office can help. You can always reach out to a member of my team at: https://www.kaine.senate.gov/contact.
Long overdue action to prevent gun violence
Virginians know all too well the scars of gun violence. In the wake of horrific shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo, and cities in Virginia and across the country, I’m glad Congress finally took action.
For the first time in decades, meaningful legislation to curb gun violence passed Congress and was signed into law. I was proud to vote for this bill, and while it may not be everything I wanted, it’s going to save lives.
Among its many provisions, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will:
- Improve background checks for buyers under 21 years old;
- Strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence;
- Invest in mental health services; and
- Provide resources to states to create and administer laws that ensure deadly weapons are kept out of the hands of individuals who pose a significant danger to themselves or others.
I’m grateful to the many people who helped us get here, but make no mistake: our fight is not over. Success begets success, and today’s victory lays the foundation for more progress. I’m going to continue working to find solutions to make our communities safer.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – June 29, 2022
The United States Supreme Court handed down rulings on ensuring school choice, upholding the 2nd Amendment, and protecting life last week. Taken by themselves, each issue is significant to parents, law-abiding citizens, and advocates for states’ rights, yet none are as historic and consequential as the reversal of the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. For fifty years, the Court had erroneously held that there was a right to abortion contained in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. With the ruling in Dobbs, the Court reversed this and turned the issue back to the states and the people through their elected representatives. While the issue of abortion generates much passion on both sides, those who want to protest should do so in a peaceful manner. I hope that all sides will condemn acts of vandalism against churches and pregnancy centers, like the acts we saw at the Blue Ridge Pregnancy Center in Lynchburg.
Also, last week, while the Supreme Court reaffirmed the 2nd Amendment, both the House and Senate opted to restrict Second Amendment rights through gun control legislation. The bill approved would only serve to restrict the Constitutional freedoms of responsible gun owners rather than focusing on the root causes of violent crimes in our communities. Further, as the House Appropriations Committee began marking up the 12 bills that fund the Federal government, I continued my fight against wasteful spending and Speaker Pelosi’s radical agenda. Lastly, I was pleased to welcome to the Capitol the winner of the Sixth District Congressional Art Competition, Hunter Muddiman, and meet with several constituents to hear their thoughts about how Congress can help the diverse businesses and people of the Sixth District.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
Last week, the Supreme Court applied sound Constitutional principles in its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The Court’s decision leaves the debate over this important issue to the people of the fifty states and their elected representatives.
As Justice Alito said writing the majority opinion for the Court, “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion and no such right is implicitly protected by a constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely—the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition’ and ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty…’ The right to abortion does not fall within this category.” And finally, contrary to the Left’s attack on the Court and misrepresentation of their opinion in the Dobbs case, Justice Alito underscored that “nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”
While the ruling generated sharp opinions on both sides, I urge those who want to protest to do so in a peaceful manner. I hope that all sides will condemn the acts of violence that we have seen against churches and pregnancy centers, like the acts we saw at the Blue Ridge Pregnancy Center in Lynchburg. In the end, with its ruling last week in the Dobbs case, the Supreme Court is to be commended for its decision to finally heed the text of the Constitution on this issue and return the abortion debate to the people’s elected representatives.
Expanding Gun Control
Despite a Supreme Court ruling reaffirming the 2nd Amendment last week, the House and Senate approved legislation this week that does little to harden our schools and increase the presence of school resources, law enforcement officers, or mental health counselors in schools. This legislation took the wrong approach in attempting to curb violent crimes. The bill encourages the implementation of red flag laws, and its vague language contains insufficient guardrails to ensure that grant money funneled to the states will actually keep guns out of the hands of criminals or prevent mass violence. Additionally, the bill creates a de facto waiting period of up to ten business days for legal, law-abiding citizens’ firearm purchases, as well as the consideration of whether an adult purchaser’s juvenile record should prohibit an individual from buying a firearm.
House Republicans are committed to identifying and solving the main causes of violent crimes, but we must not infringe upon the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens while doing so. Rest assured, I will continue fighting for the rights of Americans to defend themselves and to keep and bear arms.
Funding the Federal Government
Throughout the Appropriations process this year, I have fought to rein in record levels of spending and deny Speaker Pelosi the chance to fund her liberal agenda, as well as counter the Biden Administration’s failed policies. Most recently, I introduced two amendments to provide urgent support to help secure our border at a time when the President and the Department of Homeland Security Secretary have abdicated their duty in enforcing our laws. At a time of $30 trillion in national debt, fighting to fund our national security priorities while restoring fiscal responsibility remains a top priority of mine in Congress.
Virginia’s Birthday as a Commonwealth
On June 25th, Virginia celebrated the 234th anniversary of its ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Known as the “Mother of Presidents,” the Commonwealth is home to eight presidents, and also goes by the nickname of the “Old Dominion” due to Virginia being the first, and therefore the oldest, of the overseas dominions of the kings and queens of England.
The Sixth District Congressional Art Competition Winner
This past week, I was pleased to honor the winner of the Sixth District Congressional Art Competition, Hunter Muddiman, of William Byrd High School to the Capitol. His painting “Shores of Observation” is a testament to his hard work and gifted talent. The art competition allows for students across the Sixth District to showcase their artistic skills, and as Hunter’s painting will be displayed in the Capitol, four students’ pieces will be displayed across my four district offices. I congratulate all the students who participated in the competition and look forward to continuing this great tradition.
Last week in Virginia there was an average 29 daily cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, down from 30 daily cases last week. This week’s COVID-19 test positivity rate remained at 17%. For more information, click here.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.
Obenshain: New laws in Virginia that take effect July 1
With the approach of July, I wanted to provide you with an update on new laws that are taking effect as well as an update on the Commonwealth’s budget.
Every year, the General Assembly passes bills during Session which starts in early January and goes for either 45 days or 60 days depending on if it’s a budget year or not. If bills pass the legislature, they go to the Governor and if he signs them into law, most will go into effect on July 1 of that year.
Additionally, every two years (on even-numbered years), the General Assembly passes the Commonwealth’s two-year budget which is then amended or signed by the Governor. Governor Youngkin recently sent back a short list of amendments on which the General Assembly then voted and on Wednesday, he signed the budget for the next two years.
Below is a list of some of the most notable and important items that will go into effect as well as items that would have been good for Virginians but were not passed this year.
• The budget included $4.2 billion in tax relief in the form of one-time tax rebates, a reduction in the grocery tax, tax relief for veterans, and an increase in the standard deduction.
• $730 million was included for over two years for salary raises for teachers.
• Law enforcement officers are receiving $113 million in overdue salary increases.
• $45M in additional funds to support placing an SRO in schools that do not currently have one.
• The grocery tax was partially repealed. Despite pledging their support for its full repeal for years, the Democrats balked and would agree only to reduce it from 2.5 cents to 1 cent.
• Although my bill to expand the ability to open charter schools failed, the House and Senate passed a bill to allow for lab schools to be started in conjunction with colleges and universities across the Commonwealth.
• The House and Senate passed legislation that would make the votes of the Virginia Parole Board subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
• A bill requiring school principals to report to law enforcement and parents criminal offenses passed the House and Senate and was signed into law.
• On March 1, Youngkin signed an order that ended school mask mandates statewide. You can read more about it here.
• A bill requiring parental notification about sexually explicit material in schools passed the General Assembly.
• Senate Democrats defeated a number of bills that would have rolled back gun control efforts passed in past years by progressives. I outlined them in my update here.
• My bill that would have reinstated Virginia’s photo ID requirement in order to vote was defeated in the Senate.
If you have any questions about laws that are going to be taking effect in July or any bills that did not make it out of the General Assembly this year, don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com.
Warner & Kaine applaud Senate passage of Legislation to extend child nutrition waivers
U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded the Senate passage of legislation to extend critical COVID-era school lunch flexibilities that have prevented children all over the country from going hungry during the summer and throughout the school year. The passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act comes just one week before waivers are set to expire, imposing cumbersome restrictions on parents just as summer break kicks off.
“Parents across Virginia are facing higher costs across the board – the last thing they need right now is to lose the commonsense flexibilities that have made it easier for them to keep their kids fed. We’re very proud to have voted to pass bipartisan legislation that will extend these flexibilities and help keep food insecurity at bay. We hope that the House will pass this bill expeditiously and send it to the President’s desk for approval,” said the senators.
The Keep Kids Fed Act will:
- Extend flexibilities for summer meals in 2022 by waiving area eligibility so summer providers can serve all children for free and continuing options like meal delivery and grab-and-go.
- Extend some of the administrative and paperwork flexibilities for schools through the 2022-23 school year.
- Allow students with a family income at or below 185 percent of the poverty level to qualify for free or reduced-cost meals for the 2022-23 school year.
- Increase the reimbursement rate for school lunch and school breakfast to help offset the increased cost of food and operating expenses. Schools will receive an additional 40 cents for each lunch and 15 cents for each breakfast served.
Provide an additional 10 cents per meal or snack for Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) daycares and home providers, and expand eligibility to more providers. When combined, these actions will help offset increased costs for providers.
Sens. Warner and Kaine have been vocal about the need to ensure that children have continuous access to healthy meals. They have expressed alarm about the imminent expiration of the child nutrition waivers and recently pushed Senate leadership to extend these flexibilities before the waivers expire. In April, they introduced the Support Kids Not Red-Tape Act – similar legislation to grant the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) additional flexibility so that schools and summer meal sites can stay open.
Warner and Kaine: On passage of Bipartisan Safer Communities Act
U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement after the Senate voted to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – landmark legislation to curb gun violence in the wake of horrific mass shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo, and cities across the nation:
“Virginians know all too well the pain of gun violence—pain no one should have to experience. While nothing can bring back a life lost to gun violence, we are hopeful that the reasonable measures advanced through this bill will help curb the plague of shootings that continue to haunt American communities. We will continue to work to build on today’s milestone by advocating for additional measures to protect our neighborhoods from further senseless attacks. In the meantime, we urge our colleagues in the House to move quickly so that this bill can start saving lives.”
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act includes similar provisions to those proposed by Sens. Warner and Kaine in their Virginia Plan to Reduce Gun Violence—a bill they introduced last year based on a series of commonsense measures adopted by Virginia. These provisions include improving background checks, strengthening safeguards for victims of domestic violence, and incentivizing states to implement their own Extreme Risk Protection Orders to remove firearms from individuals who pose a high risk of harming themselves or others.