Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
NCSD Policy Staff
June 3, 2022
The House and Senate are out of session this week and will return the week of June 6.
House Gun Legislation
On June 2, the House Judiciary Committee, by a party-line vote of 25-19, approved the “Protecting Our Kids Act” (H.R. 7910) sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
The bill could be on the House floor for a vote as early as next week. The provisions of the legislation include:
Increasing from 18 to 21 the minimum age for sales of certain semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, with exceptions for active-duty service members and authorized government employees;
Making gun trafficking a federal crime, covering individuals who buy firearms for a third party through “straw purchases;”
Prohibiting unauthorized production or sales of untraceable “ghost guns” that lack unique serial numbers, including gun frames and receivers;
Setting federal requirements for secure firearms storage, including in homes where young people are likely to gain access;
Authorizing federal grants to distribute firearms storage devices and provide a tax credit for some retail sales; and
Restricting sales of bump stocks and large-capacity ammunition-feeding devices.
Red Flag Legislation: The House may also take up “red-flag” legislation sponsored by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) that would permit federal courts to grant petitions from family members and law enforcement officers to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who are deemed to pose an extreme risk to themselves or others.
Senate Gun Legislation Discussions: A bipartisan group of Senators led by John Cornyn, R-Texas, Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., are discussing legislation that would set new policies targeting gun violence. The discussions are in the early stages and appear to focus on incentivizing states to pass red flag laws; updates to school safety protocols; and possibly some narrow changes to background checks. Senators are looking for legislation that can clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
Other Legislation and Happenings Around the Nation:
This week, California’s State Department of Insurance, issued a new bulletin banning insurers from denying or limiting coverage for STI treatment, diagnosis or for periodic screenings, and outlining required coverage. In the June 1 bulletin, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said the department has received complaints that insurers are “imposing clinically inappropriate annual limits on STI screenings” and reiterates coverage obligations under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and state law. Insurance plans that fail to comply with the law could face investigations and enforcement action, the insurance department confirms. The ACA requires coverage of preventive screenings without cost-sharing, while California law requires plans to cover all needed screenings, tests and treatments for any condition. But California has found that several insurers are shifting costs to consumers, creating barriers to care that can worsen consumers’ health and lead to more infections. The bulletin also explains that plans must cover all preventative screenings that are within the scope of the ACA without cost-sharing. Insurers must also cover STI screenings that are not defined as preventative under the ACA, as well as screening, diagnosis and treatment in accordance with accepted standards of care. Insurers cannot impose coverage limits that conflict with evidence-based clinical recommendations on screening intervals. The bulletin says that pharmacy benefits must cover medically necessary drugs, including direct-acting antivirals for treating Hepatitis C, at-home test kits and laboratory costs for detecting STIs, and antigen/antibody HIV self-tests, including rapid fingerstick tests. Medical staff have reported how the denials create additional burdens, from delayed treatment to worsening health, and to multiple additional transmissions when a person with an STI is unable to access timely and appropriate care. The bulletin comes at a pivotal time, with the CDC finding that diagnosis of many STIs increased in 2020 after declining in the initial months. California is also experiencing a significant increase in STI infections, which affects all communities, with youth, people of color, and gay, bisexual, and transgender people disproportionately impacted, the insurance department says. Cases of syphilis, in particular, skyrocketed by 349 percent from 2009 to 2019. The California Bulletin can be found here.
This week, President Biden met with executives of five infant formula companies and announced new shipments of formula from Europe to help restock American shelves. During the virtual meeting the President stated the US needs more new entrants in the infant formula market. The Administration also announced it has reached a deal to import more formula from Australia and the UK. The announcements come as the President is trying to tone down the firestorm facing his presidency over the baby formula shortages, amid criticism from lawmakers and others that his administration was too slow to respond.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported more than 550 confirmed monkeypox cases since May 13 in 30 countries where the virus isn’t endemic. In the US, CDC has reported 18 cases in nine states: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, Virginia and Washington. WHO officials asked countries with stockpiles of monkeypox and smallpox vaccines to distribute them to countries based on need, nodding to a 20-year-old vaccine-sharing agreement designed for a smallpox emergency. “Given that the current situation involves monkeypox, it is premature to comment on what steps related to this previous commitment might be taken in the current situation,” an HHS official stated. The CDC said last week that the US government’s Strategic National Stockpile contained some 100 million doses of an older live smallpox vaccine that can be used to treat monkeypox but that has significant potential side effects, as well as about 1,000 doses of a newer vaccine approved by the FDA for monkeypox and smallpox.
This week researchers at a WHO meeting spelled out the sexual transmission component of the recent monkeypox outbreak. In a presentation made to the WHO by Gianfranco Spiteri, MD, MDH, of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, he detailed the initial cases in Portugal and suggested that close skin-to-skin contact during sexual relations is the primary mode of transmission for these cases. Spiteri explained that the clinical manifestations of a genital rash were the first telltale sign that sexual activity was playing a role in transmission.
LGBTQ Anti-discrimination Rule: LGBTQ advocacy groups are seeking to reopen a case by July 31 against a Trump-era rewrite of an Obamacare anti-discrimination rule if the Biden administration doesn’t propose a new rule by that date. The suit stems from the Trump-era removal of gender identity and sexual orientation from a list of anti-discrimination protections under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act in 2020. The case was put on hold in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in 2021 after President Biden took office.
Vaccines for Children Under Five
This week, Pfizer and BioNTech finished submitting data to the FDA for their three-dose Covid-19 vaccine for children 6 months to 4 years old. In May, the companies announced that three pediatric doses — about one-tenth the size of adult doses — of their mRNA Covid-19 vaccine produced immune responses in the younger age group comparable to young adults who received two full doses. The companies also reported preliminary data suggesting their vaccine reduced symptomatic Covid-19 infections by 80.3 percent. The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee will meet on June 15 to discuss Pfizer and BioNTech’s request to authorize their vaccine for the youngest kids. The committee will also discuss Moderna’s emergency use authorization request for its vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years old. According to a White House spokesperson, shots could begin as early as June 21.
Even as the US grapples with its most recent wave of Covid-19, new research suggests that variants on the horizon may keep case levels high. The next influx of infections will probably come from the newer Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, two closely related viruses that were first characterized in South Africa and that landed in the US in March. These variants are gaining ground against BA.2, particularly in the central part of the country, not because they’re more contagious, as much as they are more immune evasive.
Florida: This week abortion providers in Florida filed a lawsuit to try to block the state’s new law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which is slated to take effect July 1. The constitutional challenge in Florida comes as Republican-led states have moved to restrict abortion access, and weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to issue a major abortion ruling that is expected to undermine if not overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
California: While 26 states in the U.S. are likely to ban or restrict abortion care if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, California is positioning itself to be a sanctuary for abortion access, preparing to welcome and support people from around the country. The state’s Democratic-led legislature is considering a package of 13 bills designed to ease access to abortion and reduce its costs. It includes proposals to protect people from law enforcement action if they have an abortion or help provide one. Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged $125 million in state funds to back these efforts.