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Spring 2009 Legislative Update
4/16/2009
While we usually concentrate our updates from Washington on legislative action, a new president and administration often take executive actions on important issues. Here is some of what President Obama and his Administration have done on issues of particular interest to The Episcopal Church. As always, it is the actions of General Convention and Executive Council that determine the church’s positions on matters of public policy.

 

Haiti: On April 14, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States would donate $20 million to relieve the remaining debt payments owed by Haiti to the World Bank and other international donors. Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere and one whose already struggling economy and infrastructure were paralyzed by last year’s hurricanes, has been a part of the international-debt cancellation program since 2006, but for a variety of reasons had not yet qualified for final cancellation. The $20 million donated by the U.S. will cover Haiti’s debt until the end of the year when its cancellation is expected to be final. This fulfills a longstanding goal of the Episcopal Church, including the Diocese of Haiti, which is TEC’s largest diocese.

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SCHIP: On February 4th, President Obama signed legislation reauthorizing and expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The bill added four million children so that 11 million children are now covered. It also included a provision to allow legal immigrant pregnant women and children who have been in the country less than five years to receive health benefits through SCHIP and Medicaid.

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Stem Cell Research: The President signed an executive order March 9th removing federal barriers to research on embryonic stem cells.

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Special Envoy to Sudan: On March 18th, President Obama appointed Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, a Swahili-speaking retired Air Force officer who grew up in Africa as the son of missionaries, as Special Envoy to Sudan. Gration is an expert on African issues as well as on the operational requirements of training peacekeepers and of airlift capabilities.

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Mountain top removal: On March 24th the Environmental Protection Agency wrote to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality caused by certain types of coal mining practices, such as mountaintop mining. The letters specifically addressed two new surface coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA also intends to review other requests for mining permits.

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International Family Planning: On January 23rd President Obama signed an executive order rescinding policy whereby federal government funds were denied to organizations providing international family planning assistance and using their own funds to give abortion information to their clients. He committed to working with Congress to restore U.S. financial support for the U.N. Population Fund.

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Middle East Peace: On January 22 former Senator George Mitchell was named Special Envoy for the Middle East by President Obama. The former Maine senator Mitchell served as a Mideast envoy for the Bush administration, writing a 2001 report that called for a halt to Israeli settlements and greater Palestinian efforts to crack down on terror. He was a peace broker on Northern Ireland for President Clinton.

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Liberians in the United States: The President has given them Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status until March 31, 2009 and allowing them to work during that time.

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Cuba: The President has scaled back some of the additional restrictions of the Cuban embargo and travel ban imposed by President Bush, though the Administration disappointed many advocates in Washington by not removing all of the Bush-era restrictions, including those that pertain to American religious travel to, and spending in, Cuba. While the full embargo thus remains more strict than it was at the end of the Clinton Administration, there are multiple bipartisan bills pending in Congress to repeal the most onerous of the embargo’s restrictions. We are hopeful that both chambers will pass one of these bills this year and that the President will sign it.

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