U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced legislation today to prevent further financial instability for rural health clinics and safeguard the care they provide to underserved communities. The bipartisan Strengthening Rural Health Clinics Act of 2021 would make a technical fix to protect existing rural health clinics from a sudden and unexpected Medicare payment rate change that was erroneously brought on by the December 2020 COVID-19 relief bill.
“In the past year, rural health clinics have played an essential role in bringing urgent and lifesaving care to some of our most vulnerable communities. Unfortunately, this crisis has served to further throw these facilities into financial distress,” said Sen. Warner. “By fixing a legislative error, our bill will help avoid further financial volatility and allow rural health clinics in Virginia and across the country to continue serving the communities that need it the most.”
“Many Missourians rely on rural health clinics for affordable, quality care close to home,” said Sen. Blunt. “This bill will fix a technical error to protect these clinics from added financial strain on top of the challenges they’ve faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. I urge our colleagues to join us in supporting the vital role these clinics play in improving health care – and the quality of life – in rural communities.”
The emergency COVID-19 relief bill that was signed into law in December included a provision to reform Medicare payment rates for future rural health clinics. While this provision intended to “grandfather” existing rural health clinics at their current payment rates in order to ensure their financial stability, a technical error ultimately excluded clinics that were established after December 2019. As a result, hundreds of rural health clinics nationwide, and even more clinics that were in the “mid-build” phase, now face serious financial uncertainty. Among these are nearly 30 clinics in Virginia:
Shenandoah Medical Associates Front Royal, VA
Valley Health Family Practice Rutherford Crossing, VA
New Warren Memorial Hospital Campus Front Royal, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Clifton Forge, VA
Carilion Clinic Internal Medicine Hardy, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Buena Vista, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Rocky Mount, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Buchanan, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Floyd, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Rocky Mount, VA
Carilion Clinic Family & Internal Medicine Galax, VA
Carilion Clinic Family & Internal Medicine Martinsville, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Tazewell, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Wytheville, VA
Carilion Clinic Family & Internal Medicine Boones Mill, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Bedford, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Hillsville, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Bluefield, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Raphine, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine Lexington, VA
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine – Westlake Hardy, VA
Volens Family Medicine Nathalie, VA
Clarksville Family Medicine Clarksville, VA
Sentara Obstetrics & Gynecology South Boston, VA
Halifax Pediatrics South Boston, VA
Chase City Family Medicine Chase City, VA
Halifax Family Medicine South Boston, VA
In order to protect these clinics from the chaos associated with a sudden payment rate change, this legislation would amend existing law to grandfather at the 2020 or first-year payment rate any qualified rural health clinic that was in existence, in “mid-build”, or that had either submitted an application or had a binding written agreement with an outside unrelated party for the construction, purchase, lease, or other establishments of such a rural health clinic prior to December 31, 2020.
This legislation has the support of a number of organizations including the National Association of Rural Health Clinics (NARHC), National Rural Health Association (NRHA), Virginia Rural Health Association (VRHA), Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association, Missouri Hospital Association, Missouri Rural Health Association, West Virginia Hospital Association, Carilion Clinic, Valley Health System, Sentara Healthcare, Forrest General Hospital, Highland Community Hospital, Marion General Hospital, Walthall General Hospital, Jefferson Davis Community Hospital, Pearl River County Hospital, Braden Health, Braden Patient Safety Organization, Mississippi Hospital Association, and McLaren Health Care.
“In December, Congress passed significant and positive payment reforms for rural health clinics,” said Nathan Baugh, Director of Government Affairs for the National Association of Rural Health Clinics. “This legislation will ensure that all rural health clinics in existence at the time the law was changed, as well as those who were in the process of becoming a rural health clinic, are fairly grandfathered into the program.”
“On behalf of Valley Health which serves communities in VA and WVA, I would like to thank Senators Warner and Blunt for introducing this important legislation. Rural health clinics are the lifeblood of healthcare delivery in these rural underserved areas. Ensuring that Rural Health Clinics receive proper reimbursement is critical to their continued sustainability. This legislation addresses the concerns of many across the country that was developing rural clinics in previous years and will go a long way in protecting access to care in these communities which is especially important during the pandemic,” said Mark Nantz, President & CEO of Valley Health System.
“The past year has again reminded us of the critical importance of protecting and strengthening access to health care for all people, including those in rural communities,” said Sean T. Connaughton, President and CEO of Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. “This legislation aims to correct an oversight in existing law to ensure the adequacy of Medicare reimbursements for designated health care providers treating patients in underserved rural communities. We appreciate the work of Senator Warner and Senator Blunt in sponsoring the Strengthening Rural Health Clinics Act of 2021 and we are proud to support it.”
“Thank you to Senator Warner for his ongoing efforts to assist citizens in rural areas of the Commonwealth with sustainable and expanded access to affordable, high-quality health care,” said Nancy Howell Agee, President, and CEO of Roanoke-based Carilion Clinic. “Much of Carilion’s service area is rural with an aging population. Our community needs assessments consistently reflect concerns about access to primary and specialty care. Our Rural Health Clinics and expanded digital solutions, including telehealth, help us better serve the health care needs in the region and provide more sustainable access to care. Senator Warner has consistently worked to ensure that health care services are available for our rural citizens to the greatest degree possible. His efforts to help stabilize access to these services through our Rural Health Clinics is important and appreciated.”
A copy of the bill is available here. A one-page summary can be found here.
Warner & Kaine announce more than $2.1 million in funding to address COVID-19 in rural Virginia communities
On August 12, 2022, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $2,124,300 in emergency rural health care funding to bolster federal support in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding will be provided to the Ledwith-Lewis Free Clinic in Tappahannock, Page Memorial Hospital in Luray, Tazewell Community Hospital in Tazewell, and Wellmont Health System in Big Stone Gap. This funding was awarded through the Community Facilities Emergency Rural Health Care program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“As Virginia communities continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical that we provide resources to help protect Virginians,” said the Senators. “That’s why we are pleased to see these grants go towards COVID vaccination and testing, telehealth and food assistance services, ventilation systems, and financial aid.”
The funding will be awarded as below:
- $36,800 for Ledwith-Lewis Free Clinic in Tappahannock, VA, to provide COVID-19 testing kits, rapid testing supplies, and vaccinations, as well as additional staffing to meet the needs of the rural counties served. This investment will benefit approximately 27,350 residents.
- $1,000,000 for Page Memorial Hospital in Luray, VA, to purchase telehealth, remote monitoring systems, COVID testing, a mobile clinic, and food assistance. In addition, the funds will be used to train current nursing staff. This project aims to connect rural patients to Valley Health telehealth services and Page County internet infrastructure. This project will benefit approximately 24,042 residents.
- $335,000 for Carilion Clinic (Tazewell Community Hospital) in Tazewell, VA, to upgrade the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The HVAC system will follow the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 operational protocols for health care and will service the lab and patient care areas, as the current HVAC system is old and unreliable. This investment will benefit approximately 45,078 residents.
- $752,500 for Wellmont Health System in Big Stone Gap, VA, to replace lost health care revenue and help with financial difficulties experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. This investment will benefit approximately 70,997 residents.
The USDA’s Community Facilities Emergency Rural Health Care program is designed to help broaden access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines, rural health care services, and food assistance through food banks and food distribution facilities.
Senators Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for rural communities and health care access in the Commonwealth. Last year, both Senators helped pass the American Rescue Plan, a COVID-19 relief bill that provided $20 billion to improve vaccine distribution, $10 billion for the Defense Production Act to procure essential medical equipment, and $50 billion for virus testing, genomic sequencing to detect new variants, contract tracing, and additional PPE. Additionally, Senator Warner introduced legislation, cosponsored by Senator Kaine, to expand telehealth services through Medicare, connecting patients to doctors and cutting costs for patients and providers. Senator Kaine also introduced legislation to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019. The bill was passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.
Kaine, Murkowski, Sinema, and Collins introduce legislation to codify Roe v. Wade
On August 1, 2022, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Reproductive Freedom For All Act. This legislation would enact the essential holdings of Roe v. Wade and related cases in federal law, protecting abortion rights and contraception access.
“After the Supreme Court gutted a woman’s right to make personal health care decisions, Congress must restore that right,” said Senator Kaine. “That’s why I’ve worked with my colleagues to find common ground on this bipartisan compromise that would do just that. The Reproductive Freedom For All Act would restore the right to abortion and protect access to contraception by enshrining those freedoms into federal legislation.”
“Every American should have autonomy over their own health care decisions, and the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs has made it imperative for Congress to restore women’s reproductive rights. I’m proud to introduce bipartisan legislation with my colleagues to write into law the protections provided through Roe and Casey as well as affirming access to contraception provided in Griswold and other cases,” said Senator Murkowski. “For five decades, reproductive health care decisions were centered with the individual – we cannot go back in time in limiting personal freedoms for women.”
“A woman’s health care decisions should be between her, her family, and her doctor. Our bipartisan, commonsense legislation protects the health and wellbeing of women in Arizona and across the country by ensuring all women – no matter where they live – can access the health care they need and have the ability to make their own decisions about their futures,” said Senator Sinema.
“The Supreme Court’s recent abandonment of longstanding precedent erodes the reproductive rights on which women have relied for half a century. These basic rights need to be the same for American women regardless of the state in which they reside. Our bill would restore the right to obtain an abortion by enacting in federal law Roe v. Wade and other seminal Supreme Court decisions pertaining to reproductive freedom. In addition, our bill would protect access to contraception,” said Senator Collins. “By reinstating—neither expanding nor restricting—the longstanding legal framework for reproductive rights in this country, our bill would preserve abortion access along with basic conscience protections that are relied upon by health care providers who have religious objections.”
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, more than 60 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Overturning Roe has resulted in immediate bans on all abortions in several states. In the future could potentially call into question other important rights, including the right to access birth control, outlined in Griswold v. Connecticut, Eisenstadt v. Baird, and Carey v. Population Services International. That is why the Reproductive Freedom For All Act would enact not only the core holdings of Roe v. Wade but also key subsequent cases: Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, as well as the holdings of Griswold v. Connecticut, Eisenstadt v. Baird, Carey v. Population Services International.
The Reproductive Freedom For All Act protects the ability of women to make health care choices for themselves. It would:
- Prohibit state regulations that impose an undue burden on a woman’s access to pre-viability abortions while allowing states to enact reasonable restrictions on post-viability abortions – provided that states cannot ban abortions that are necessary to protect the life or health of the mother;
- Protect access to contraceptives; and
- Preserve conscience protections.
The full text of the legislation is available here.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – July 29, 2022
House Democrats spent last week moving legislation that accomplished little other than increasing our Federal debt and trying to shore up their base in the polls. Desperate to distort, distract, and deceive the American people from the failed agenda of Nancy Pelosi and President Biden, Congress considered a massive spending bill and other legislation that fails to help address the impact of rising prices of food, fuel, and housing.
Among other bills, Congress considered legislation regarding contraception and gay marriage, despite there being no indication that the Supreme Court is moving to overturn the right to contraception created in Griswold (1965) or the right to gay marriage created in Obergefell (2015). Additionally, Congress considered a non-binding resolution calling for the expansion of NATO, which would force American taxpayers to pay more for the security of Europeans and put U.S. troops at greater risk of involvement in a destabilizing war in Europe. I also had the chance to welcome constituents to Washington and to recognize an outstanding local softball team on the House Floor. As always, I will continue to vigorously represent your interests as your Representative in Congress.
This last week Congress passed a massive spending bill which funded six areas of government for the next fiscal year. This $402 billion package was an overall 13% increase above funding for last year and contained several provisions that backed away from long-standing pro-life policies.
Much of our current economic slide can be traced to the runaway spending of the current Democrat Congress, which has led to a 40-year high inflation rate, rising prices of goods and services, and paychecks being stretched to the breaking point. Even so, the House pushed through Appropriations bills that included a 17% increase for Financial Services and General Government, an 18% increase for Interior and Environment, and a 12.2% increase for Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
Inflation is a hidden tax on all Americans, and at a time when Americans are struggling to pay for gas and groceries, the Federal government should be reducing spending. We should prioritize core responsibilities such as our national security, and we must cut wasteful and inefficient social programs. I will continue to be a leader in championing fiscal responsibility.
Desperate to hold on to power, Democrats put forth several political messaging bills last week instead of working to address inflation, secure our border, stop crime, and strengthen education. While the power to ratify treaties resides in the Senate, House Democrats pushed a non-binding resolution to support the expansion of NATO membership to include Finland and Sweden. As the U.S. supports the Ukraine resistance against the invasion of Russia, expanding NATO to the Russian-Finnish border during the fighting increases the risk of drawing American troops into a broader European conflict, something to which I have been consistently opposed. Further, NATO needs significant reform, and I have long called for NATO members to pay their pledged fair share — 2 percent of GDP — and while Finland has done this, Sweden has not.
Assault Weapons Ban
Realizing there is only a limited number of legislative days before November’s election, Speaker Pelosi and Congressional Democrats are playing politics with the Constitution and are attempting to move on an assault weapons ban through the House of Representatives.
Under this plan, Democrats want to make it a felony for any American to sell, manufacture, or possess an AR-15, or any one of over 200 similar firearms, and criminalize the gifting of legally owned firearms to a family member, friend, or neighbor. This assault on the Second Amendment is an attempt to disarm law-abiding Americans, and I am continuing to fight their efforts and defend our Constitution.
All Star Darlings One Minute
On the House Floor last week I had the honor of recognizing an incredible achievement in youth sports. The Amherst All Star Darlings, a girls youth softball team of 7- and 8-year-olds, just finished their season undefeated. After winning both the district and state championships, they have their eyes set on Cochran-Beckley, Georgia, where the girls’ softball world series will be played later this month. These young ladies worked hard and were hungry for competition, and their determination to win throughout the length of their season is nearly unmatched. Now they are planning and working towards making their trip to Georgia possible to get the chance to make this Cinderella story a reality. Their efforts are a story of comradery, hard work, and laying the foundation for a bright future not only in sports but in all of their future endeavors. The Sixth District will be cheering them on when they compete on July 31st in the Dixie youth softball league world series. Congratulations to the Amherst All Star Darlings for representing Virginia and the Sixth District so well.
Last week in Virginia there was an average 35 daily cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, down from 36 daily cases last week. This week’s COVID-19 test positivity rate dropped to 22%. 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.
Kaine statement on Senate passage of bill to boost domestic chip manufacturing
On July 27, 2022, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine released the following statement after helping the Senate pass legislation to incentivize private investment in domestic chips manufacturing and provide a combined $157 billion of support for chips production and science research in America:
“Increasing chips manufacturing in Virginia and throughout America is a win-win-win for job creation, our national security, and lowering costs—all while helping us outcompete China,” said Kaine. “America has a lot to gain with this bill not only because it’ll strengthen our manufacturing economy but also because it’ll boost our many great research institutions. I’m glad we took this step forward today and won’t give up in the fight to build on this momentum to make our economy even more competitive.”
America currently only produces 12 percent of the global supply of chips, which are required by everything from cars, computers, and phones to televisions, LED lightbulbs, and washing machines. Meanwhile, East Asia—where other governments incentivize their own domestic chip manufacturing that makes it significantly cheaper to produce chips than in America—has become the production point for 75 percent of the world’s chips.
COVID-related chip supply strains have hindered American manufacturing output, resulting in decreased supply and higher prices for cars and other goods. Today’s shortages indicate how catastrophic future chip shortages could be for America’s economy, technological competitiveness, and military capabilities.
This legislation aims to create a resurgence in American chip manufacturing to protect America from the threat of future chip shortages by offering private companies a tax credit for investments in domestic chip manufacturing facilities and making $52 billion in funding available for chips researchers and manufacturers so they can make more chips in America.
Kaine has been a consistent advocate for the need to onshore chip production and has emphasized the important role Virginia can play in strengthening chip supply and creating chip manufacturing jobs. Virginia is already home to some of the world’s leading semiconductor manufacturers, which will be able to apply for funding from today’s legislation once it is signed into law by President Biden.
In addition to investments in and incentives for chips manufacturing, the legislation would help support the scientific research America’s economy needs to be competitive in the 21st century by including:
· Over $81 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years, including $20 billion for the first-of-its-kind NSF program to accelerate domestic development of national and economic-security critical technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, advanced manufacturing, 6G communications, energy, and material science;
· $13 billion to invest in America’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) workforce by supporting STEM education through scholarships, fellowships, and traineeships to train workers in critical fields, including through an artificial intelligence scholarship-for-service program, a national network for microelectronics education, and cybersecurity workforce development programs; and
· $11 billion for the Regional Innovation Engines to advance multidisciplinary and collaborative research and development in key technology focus areas at institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations, civil society organizations, and industrial firms in relevant sectors. These hubs will focus on technology development, job creation, and expanding U.S. innovation capacity.
Warner, Kaine, Wexton, Beyer, Connolly press Biden to raise the detention of Virginian Asim Ghafoor with Emirati government
Only July 22, 2022, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, alongside Representatives Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), Don Beyer (VA-08), and Gerry Connolly (VA-11), pressed President Biden to raise Asim Ghafoor’s detention with the highest levels of the Emirati government and advocate for his fair and humane treatment. Asim Ghafoor—a U.S. citizen and Virginia resident—was reportedly tried in absentia, detained without notice of his conviction, and sentenced to prison on to-date unsubstantiated charges by United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities.
Ghafoor was a close personal friend of and reportedly served as legal counsel to Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered by Saudi officials in 2018, in an operation that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) assessed was approved by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
“…[W]e strongly urge you and your Administration to raise Mr. Ghafoor’s case immediately at the highest levels of the Emirati government and advocate for his fair treatment, including assurances regarding his health and safety while in Emirati custody. It is critical the Administration makes clear that the hasty detention of U.S. citizens like Mr. Ghafoor cannot become normalized as an appropriate tactic of U.S. partners,” the lawmakers wrote.
“We welcomed the Department of State’s July 18, 2022, statement that the United States had ‘not sought’ Ghafoor’s arrest. However, absent concrete evidence of Ghafoor’s alleged criminal behavior, the UAE’s repeated claim that this arrest was conducted in coordination with the United States government in order to ‘combat transnational crimes’ raises concerns about oversight of U.S. involvement in that partnership,” they continued.
Additionally, the lawmakers requested that the Biden Administration:
- Call on Emirati authorities to allow Mr. Ghafoor regular access to his family and to his attorneys;
- Ensure that the U.S. embassy continues to receive consular visits with Mr. Ghafoor and that U.S. embassy staff are permitted to attend all trial proceedings;
- Confirm with UAE officials that Mr. Ghafoor will receive humane and fair treatment while in Emirati custody, including immediate access to required medical care; and
- Solicit additional information from the Emirati government regarding the legal proceedings against Mr. Ghafoor, in order to determine if his arrest should be considered wrongful detention or an act of transnational repression.
Here’s the full text of the letter :
Dear Mr. President,
We request your Administration’s urgent attention to the recent detention of U.S. citizen and Virginia resident Mr. Asim Ghafoor by United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities. Mr. Ghafoor was convicted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on currently unsubstantiated charges of money laundering and tax evasion, in absentia and, reportedly, without his knowledge. Mr. Ghafoor was detained by UAE authorities on July 14, 2022, while transiting Dubai International Airport, and was sentenced to three years in prison on July 16, 2022. The UAE’s decision to detain Mr. Ghafoor – without notice or opportunity to seek legal counsel – represents a gross violation of his due process rights.
Mr. Ghafoor is a board member for the nonprofit organization Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN), which advocates for democratic reforms in the Middle East and has at times criticized the Emirati government. In his capacity as an attorney, Mr. Ghafoor is reported to have represented his friend Mr. Jamal Khashoggi, who was also a Virginian and who was brutally murdered by Saudi officials in 2018. Noting your July 16, 2022, meeting with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan and your invitation for him to visit the United States by the end of this year, as well as the close relationship between the Saudi and Emirati governments, we strongly urge you and your Administration to raise Mr. Ghafoor’s case immediately at the highest levels of the Emirati government and advocate for his fair treatment, including assurances regarding his health and safety while in Emirati custody. It is critical the Administration makes clear that the hasty detention of U.S. citizens like Mr. Ghafoor cannot become normalized as an appropriate tactic of U.S. partners.
The UAE has claimed the United States played a role in Mr. Ghafoor’s detention, and as such we further urge your Administration to clarify the nature of the United States’ potential involvement. We welcomed the Department of State’s July 18, 2022, statement that the United States had “not sought” Ghafoor’s arrest. However, absent concrete evidence of Ghafoor’s alleged criminal behavior, the UAE’s repeated claim that this arrest was conducted in coordination with the United States government in order to “combat transnational crimes,” raises concerns about oversight of U.S. involvement in that partnership.
As your Administration works to ensure that Mr. Ghafoor is treated humanely and fairly, we respectfully request that you take the following interim measures:
1. Call on Emirati authorities to allow Mr. Ghafoor regular access to his family and to his attorneys.
2. Ensure that the U.S. embassy continues to receive consular visits with Mr. Ghafoor and that U.S. embassy staff are permitted to attend all trial proceedings.
3. Confirm with UAE officials that Mr. Ghafoor will receive humane and fair treatment while in Emirati custody, including immediate access to required medical care.
4. Solicit additional information from the Emirati government regarding the legal proceedings against Mr. Ghafoor, in order to determine if his arrest should be considered a wrongful detention or act of transnational repression.
Senators introduce reforms to the Electoral Count Act of 1887
On July 20, 2022, after months of bipartisan negotiations, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and a bipartisan group of colleagues in introducing two proposals which include legislation to reform and modernize the outdated Electoral Count Act of 1887 to ensure that the electoral votes tallied by Congress accurately reflect each state’s vote for President.
In addition to Sens. Warner, Collins, and Manchin, the senators involved in the bipartisan negotiations include Rob Portman (R-OH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Todd Young (R-IN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
“From the beginning, our bipartisan group has shared a vision of drafting legislation to fix the flaws of the archaic and ambiguous Electoral Count Act of 1887,” the senators said in a joint statement. “Through numerous meetings and debates among our colleagues as well as conversations with a wide variety of election experts and legal scholars, we have developed legislation that establishes clear guidelines for our system of certifying and counting electoral votes for President and Vice President. We urge our colleagues in both parties to support these simple, commonsense reforms.”
In developing the bills, the senators received input from state election officials, as well as from an ideologically diverse group of election experts and legal scholars, including the American Law Institute. Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-MO) also provided helpful insight.
“Debates over the political ‘rules of the game’ can be fraught with suspicion and jockeying for advantage. When these rules change, there must be buy-in from both parties to maintain trust in the system,” said Matthew Weil, Executive Director of the Democracy Program at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “This bipartisan Senate framework is a critical step for shoring up ambiguities in the Electoral Count Act. These senators, especially Sens. Manchin and Collins, should be commended for finding common ground on a matter that is so foundational to our democracy: faith in the system that selects our leaders.”
“We are impressed with the draft Electoral Count Act reform legislation developed by a bipartisan Senate working group, including Senators Collins, Manchin, Romney, and Murphy,” said Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith co-chairs of the Presidential Reform Project. “Our work on these reform issues, which has included co-chairing a group of experts convened by the American Law Institute (ALI), has convinced us that major improvements in the current law are both urgent and achievable. We believe the legislation as proposed will help curtail threats to future presidential elections that would erode the foundational democratic principles of our country. It merits broad support.”
The first bill, the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, is co-sponsored by Senators Collins, Manchin, Portman, Sinema, Romney, Shaheen, Murkowski, Warner, Tillis, Murphy, Capito, Cardin, Young, Coons, Sasse, and Graham. The bill includes the following provisions:
1) Electoral Count Reform Act. This section would reform and modernize the outdated Electoral Count Act of 1887 to ensure that electoral votes tallied by Congress accurately reflect each state’s vote for President. It would replace ambiguous provisions of the 19th-century law with clear procedures that maintain appropriate state and federal roles in selecting the President and Vice President of the United States as set forth in the U.S. Constitution. Click here for a one-pager on the Electoral Count Act reform section.
2) Presidential Transition Improvement Act. This section would help to promote the orderly transfer of power by providing clear guidelines for when eligible candidates for President or Vice President may receive federal resources to support their transition into office. Click here for a one-pager on the presidential transition section.
The second bill, the Enhanced Election Security and Protection Act, is co-sponsored by Senators Collins, Manchin, Portman, Shaheen, Romney, Sinema, Murkowski, Warner, Tillis, Murphy, Coons, and Cardin. The bill includes the following provisions:
1) Enhanced Penalties to Protect Our Elections Act. This section would double the penalty under federal law for individuals who threaten or intimidate election officials, poll watchers, voters, or candidates. Under current law, threats of violence or intimidation against these individuals are punishable by no more than one year in prison. This penalty would be raised to no more than two years in prison.
2) Postal Service Election Improvement Act. This section aims to improve the handling of election mail by the U.S. Postal Service and provide guidance to states to improve their mail-in ballot processes where permitted under state law.
3) Election Assistance Commission Reauthorization. This section would reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) for five years and require the EAC to conduct cyber security testing as part of its testing and certification process for voting systems. Established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the EAC is an independent agency that helps states improve the administration and security of federal elections. The EAC administers grants to states and develops non-binding guidance and best practices for election officials in various areas, including cybersecurity, election audits, and voting accessibility. The authorization for the EAC, which is led by two Republican and two Democratic commissioners, expired in the fiscal year 2005, although the agency has continued to receive annual appropriations for operations.
4) Election Records Protection Act. This section would clarify that current law requires electronic election records to be preserved. It would also increase the existing maximum penalties for individuals who willfully steal, destroy, conceal, mutilate, or alter election records from $1,000 to $10,000 and from up to one year in prison to up to two years in prison. In addition, it would make it illegal to tamper with voting systems.