July 10, 2014
During the past week, the Supreme Court ruled on two controversial issues. One such decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, proves that the battle for women’s equal access to healthcare is far from over. On Monday, June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that certain for-profit companies are not required to provide health care coverage for contraceptives if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs. The decision supports the religious rights of the owners, even though their beliefs may not be the same as their employees.
Employers are now able to make healthcare decisions for female employees. Women should make the decisions regarding their health, not their bosses. Moreover, the economic benefit lost to women because of the court’s decision is undeniable. One study found that the requirement to cover contraception without cost sharing saved consumers $483 million in 2013, the first full year the requirement was in effect for most consumers. In the study, 56 percent of women filling a prescription for oral contraceptives did not have a co-pay, up from just 14 percent in the previous year.
This ruling also sets a dangerous precedent, elevating the status of corporations as people at the expense of individual rights. It is a setback, but it will not deter me from continuing to work to protect women’s healthcare rights and supporting the goal of the Affordable Care Act which is to expand access to quality, affordable health care to all. I believe the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has once again chosen to be on the wrong side of history and a future court will one day reverse this unfortunate decision.
In another controversial decision, Harris v. Quinn, the court ruled that home healthcare workers cannot be required to pay union fees if they do not want to participate in a union. It is important to note that the decision applies only to home healthcare workers, and not to all public employees. The decision could have had a more devastating effect for unions, but instead the court made a narrow ruling. The court said that home healthcare workers specifically could not be forced to pay union fees, but the underlying law requiring public employees to pay fees remained intact.
With the Independence Day recess behind us, it’s time for Congress to do its job and pass legislation to increase funding for the Federal Highway Trust Fund (FHTF). On August 1st – just a few weeks from now – the Trust Fund will run out of money to fully reimburse states for transportation projects. Just like the government shutdown in October, this looming crisis can easily be avoided. We’re speeding toward the cliff of insolvency for one reason – Republican House Leadership and Republicans in the Senate have thwarted efforts to bring responsible legislation to a vote.
Simply put, our nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges need work. However, due to inflation and more fuel efficient cars leading to lower gas consumption, the federal gas tax – the main source of revenue for the Trust Fund has not kept pace with the need. Unless revenues are increased, the Highway Trust Fund is no longer able to pay the full amount of funds promised to the states. The Obama Administration announced last week that without additional revenue, federal reimbursements to states will be reduced by an average of 28 percent effective August 1st. Individual states must then determine how to deal with the reduced reimbursements.
In some cases, it may mean slowing down projects already underway. It could mean some roadwork will grind to a halt or future projects will either be postponed or cancelled. Jerry Wray, Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation has indicated there is sufficient funding to keep current projects going but some may be “slowed down” if federal funding is reduced. Alternatives to raising the gas tax to boost highway funding may be proposed. One that is a non-starter for me is to eliminate Saturday mail delivery to compensate for more revenue allocated to transportation. Some Republicans have publically advocated for that option but again, it is absolutely not a solution I support. Limiting mail service has a disproportionate, negative impact on the elderly and low income households, both urban and rural. I certainly hope my colleagues will lay aside partisan differences and resolve this situation in the best interests of the American people. I’ll keep you posted. Have a good week everyone.