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House Panel Approves 9/11 Victims Fund Bill

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  • The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would extend funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) until 2090.
  • The VCF helps firefighters, first responders, and volunteers who have health issues stemming from the toxic dust and smoke they were exposed to in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
  • The move comes after Jon Stewart gave an emotional speech before a subcommittee about the urgent need to renew the fund.
  • The video of Stewart’s speech went viral and many people responded by calling for a bipartisan effort to extend the fund.

House Judiciary Committee Approves Act

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve additional funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) through 2090.

The VCF was first created by Congress after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 to help the families of people who died or were injured. The fund ended in 2004, as planned. Then in 2010, lawmakers pushed to reauthorize the fund to help first responders, volunteers, and survivors who had spent weeks at the site of the attack inhaling toxic dust and smoke.

After reauthorization from Congress and then-President Barak Obama, the fund started processing claims from victims in 2011. Congress renewed the bill again in 2015 to extend its funding until December 2020.

Since 2011, Congress has given the fund around $7.4 billion in appropriations, but it has not been enough. In February, the fund’s administrator, Rupa Bhattacharyya, announced that the VCF did not have enough money to pay both existing and expected claims.

The newfound approval of the bill, called the Never Forget the Heroes Act, comes one day after comedian Jon Stewart spoke in front of a subcommittee to convince lawmakers to extend funding.

Jon Stewart’s Speech

Over the years, Stewart has been one of the biggest activists for the fund.

He has been quick to call out Congress for being inactive whenever the fund seemed to be at risk, and he did not hesitate to do just that in an emotional speech before the subcommittee on Tuesday.

Stewart started out his speech by criticizing the lack of congress members in attendance.

“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” he said. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves here to no one.”

“And you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here, but you won’t be,” Stewart continued.

However, a spokesperson for the subcommittee later said only two representatives were missing. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the chair of the subcommittee, explained that the meeting was held in a bigger room intended for the full Judiciary Committee, so there were more empty chairs.

Stewart went on the condemn Congress for not giving enough money to the responders and for politicizing the issue.

“Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity. Time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of,” said Stewart. “Why this bill is not unanimous consent and a standalone issue is beyond my comprehension, and I have yet hear a reasonable explanation for why.”

“They responded in 5 seconds, they did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. 18 years later, do yours.”

Response

Stewart’s speech went viral following the hearing, with many people taking to Twitter to praise him.

Comedians Ricky Gervais and Adam DeVine applauded Stewart, while actor and activist Mark Ruffalo echoed his sentiment, writing, “Plenty of money for wars […] but when it’s time to actually do something to care for the 9/11 heroes and American’s health care…no shows.”

Stewart’s speech also evoked a strong bipartisan response. Donald Trump Jr. and conservative journalist Megyn Kelly commended his work, and conservative commentator Tomi Lahren said in a post on Twitter, “This is bigger than the partisan divide. We should ALL support this!”

On Wednesday, several firefighters and first responders who responded to the attack on the World Trade Center also praised Stewart on a Fox News segment.

What Next?

The Never Forget the Heroes Act will now move to the House floor, which is expected to vote on the bill next month.

Lawmakers said they expect the bill will pass the House easily, but some are worried about its prospects in the Senate. Following the committee’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to a vote as soon as possible.

“We will reach the point soon, most likely this year, when more will have died from 9/11-related illnesses than on 9/11 itself,” Schumer said. “I say to Leader McConnell: This is not politics. This is not a game. These are our heroes, American heroes, who are suffering and need our help.”

I am imploring, pleading, even begging to Leader McConnell to put the bill on the floor immediately after it passes the House,” he continued.

McConnell, for his part, has not said anything about a vote yet. When asked about the fund on Tuesday, McConnell told reporters, “I hadn’t looked at that lately. I’ll have to. We’ve always dealt with that in a compassionate way and I assume we will again.”

Dire Need for Funding

It remains unclear how much the total cost of extending the victims fund for 70 years will cost. Many hope that if the bill is passed, it will be a final fix help the heroes of 9/11 who are desperately in need of medical funding.

Under current funding levels, the VCF administrator said that all future payouts will be cut as much as 70 percent. Already, the fund has more than 19,000 additional unpaid claims.

This is a huge issue. According to CNN, VCF has identified 2,355 deaths that have been associated with 9/11-related health issues, which is nearly the same number of people who died at the World Trade Center because of the attack.

VCF also reported that as of May 2019, more than 12,500 cases of cancer have been diagnosed due to exposure to carcinogens following the attack

This is a growing problem. In July 2011, the VCF identified around 56,000 first responders, volunteers, and others with health problems from 9/11. However, by March 2019, that number had grown to more than 95,000, with nearly 500 to 900 new cases being identified each month.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Fox News)

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Republican Congressman Proposes Bill to Ban Anyone Under 16 From Social Media

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The proposal comes amid a growing push for social media companies to be stringently regulated for child and adolescent use.


The Social Media Child Protection Act

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Ut.) introduced legislation Thursday that would ban all Americans under the age of 16 from accessing social media.

The proposal, dubbed the Social Media Child Protection Act, would require social media companies to verify users’ ages and give parents and states the ability to bring legal actions against those platforms if they fail, according to a press release.

The legislation would also mandate that social media platforms implement “reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from users and perspective users.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be given the authority to enforce these regulations and implement fines for violations.

Stewart has argued that the move is necessary to protect children from the negative mental health impacts of social media.

“There has never been a generation this depressed, anxious, and suicidal – it’s our responsibility to protect them from the root cause: social media,”  he said in a statement announcing the bill.

“We have countless protections for our children in the physical world – we require car seats and seat belts; we have fences around pools; we have a minimum drinking age of 21; and we have a minimum driving age of 16,” the Congressman continued. 

“The damage to Generation Z from social media is undeniable – so why are there no protections in the digital world?”

While Stewart’s arguments are nothing new in the ongoing battle around children and regulating social media, his legislation has been described as one of the most severe proposals on this front.

The plan would represent a huge shift in verification systems that critics have long said fall short. Many social media sites like TikTok and Twitter technically ban users under 13 from joining, but there is no formal verification process or mechanisms for enforcement. Companies often just ask users to provide their birthdays, so those under 13 could easily just lie.

Backlash and Support

Stewart — who spent the weeks before the rollout of his bill discussing the matter with the media — has already gotten pushback from many who say the idea is too extreme and a bad approach.

Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of the social media trade group NetChoice, told The Washington Post that such a decision should be left to parents.

“Rather than doomsaying or trying to get between parents and their families, the government should provide tools and education on how best to use this new technology, not demonize it,” he said.

Others have also argued that the move could cut off access to powerful and positive online resources for kids.

“For many kids, especially LGBTQ young people who may have unsupportive parents or live in a conservative area, the internet and social media are a lifeline,” Evan Greer, the director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Post. “We need better solutions than just cutting kids off from online community and educational resources.”

Lawmakers have also echoed that point, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Ca.), who represents Silicon Valley. However, there also seems to be support for this measure. At least one Democratic Congressmember has told reporters they are open to the idea, and Stewart says he thinks the proposal will have broad bipartisan backing.

“This is bipartisan… There’s Democratic leaders who are actually maneuvering to be the lead co-sponsor on this,”  he told KSL News Radio, adding that President Joe Biden recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that referenced similar ideas.

A Growing Movement

Stewart is just one among the growing number of lawmakers and federal officials who have voiced support for keeping kids and younger teens off social media altogether.

In an interview with CNN Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expressed concern regarding  “the right age for a child to start using social media.”

“I worry that right now, if you look at the guidelines from the platforms, that age 13 is when kids are technically allowed to use social media,” he said. “But there are two concerns I have about that. One is: I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early.” 

Murthy went on to say that adolescents at that age are developing their identity and sense of self, arguing that social media can be a “skewed and often distorted environment,” adding that he is also worried about the fact that the rules around age are “inconsistently implemented.”

His comments gained widespread backing. At least one Senator posted a tweet agreeing, and an FTC Commissioner also shared the remarks on the platform. Stewart, for his part, explicitly cited Murthy’s remarks in the press release announcing his bill. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KSL News Radio) (CNN)

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Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office

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The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom


What Was in the Files?

President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.

The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.

According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.

A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.

The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.

Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.

On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.

They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.

What Happens Next?

Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.

Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.

Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.

If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.

The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.

On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.

Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.

“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”

Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.

Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.

The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats

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The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.


The Right To Build Families Act of 2022

A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.

The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.” 

The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.

The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal. 

“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”

Fertility Treatments Under Treat

The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.

For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.

Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.

Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.

All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions. 

“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.

“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.

In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”

Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.

“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”

The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.

Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.” 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (HuffPost) (USA Today)

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