5 Life-Saving Justice Bills Currently Stalled in Congress

In this March 30, 2017, photo, the U.S. Capitol dome is seen at dawn in Washington

By Josh Shepherd Published on October 11, 2017

Believe it or not, Congress is nearing the end zone of its current session. The U.S. Senate has only eight work weeks left in 2017; the House, just seven.

Busy campaign schedules during the 2018 election year, when voters decide on all of the House and 34 Senate seats, mean few bills will move. This makes the next few weeks pivotal — and packed with priorities.

Most media discussion about the fall agenda centers on tax reform, immigration and must-pass funding bills. Meanwhile, leading nonprofit groups focused on justice issues are urging action on certain bills with high potential to save lives.

1. Combating Sex Trafficking at Home and Abroad

The scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual harassment has put the exploitation of women on the front pages. Perhaps it’ll push the Senate to act on domestic sex trafficking. On July 12, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., led a bipartisan coalition to pass the Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act. Thus far, the Senate has taken no action.

Several bills have also been introduced to combat global sex trafficking. Some provisions are expected to be folded into year-end appropriations bills.

The proposed law would grant funding to the Dept. of Justice to better enforce efforts against sexual predators — usually men abusing women and children. “My bill addresses the epidemic of sex trafficking by giving police officers the resources they need to go after the criminals behind these terrible crimes,” says Hartzler.

A nonprofit that stands against the illegal sex industry, Demand Abolition backs the bill. Actress Ashley Judd, one of Weinstein’s accusers, is part of the group’s advisory council. Several bills have also been introduced to combat global sex trafficking. Some provisions are expected to be folded into year-end appropriations bills.

2. Giving Kids a Second Chance

A nonprofit coalition has recently documented how many minors in juvenile detention are being kept in solitary confinement. “More than half of suicides in juvenile facilities occur while youths are isolated alone in a room,” states a study from the Justice Department — yet these practices persist.

States have long relied on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to help protect kids. Leaders in the House and Senate have passed bills to renew this policy. Now, all they lack is to go to conference, work out small differences between the two bills and ultimately have the president sign it.

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On Monday, free market think tank The R Street Institute criticized Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., for holding up the conference process. From Stop Solitary for Kids to Prison Fellowship, a broad spectrum of groups back juvenile justice reform.

3. Providing Iraq and Syria Relief From Genocide

Following the confirmation hearing for Sam Brownback last week, a key Senate committee hosted a public hearing on Iraq. Former Congressman Frank Wolf, just back from the region, had shocking details to share.

“Three years ago, ISIS began a ruthless campaign of death, kidnapping and forced conversions,” stated Wolf, now senior fellow with the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. More than 10 million people in Iraq and Syria have been displaced since the conflict began. The United Nations calls it “the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.”

Wolf outlined how the Christian population has nearly disappeared in Iraq, and how U.S. aid funding has not accomplished its intent. “We need what Mr. Smith’s bill does,” he said, referring to H.R. 390 which the Senate has yet to vote on.

H.R. 390 authorizes U.S. government support for entities assisting minority groups in Iraq or Syria and those conducting criminal investigations into perpetrators of war crimes and genocide in those two countries.. 

4. Protecting Lives in the Womb Who Feel Pain

On Monday, the Washington Post fact checkers issued a rare “Geppetto checkmark” — given when a disputed fact is found to be true. The story asked, “Is the United States one of seven countries that ‘allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy?’” Both liberal and conservative sources confirmed this fact, placing the U.S. alongside such nations as North Korea and China.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would penalize abortion providers who attempt to end lives in the womb after 20 weeks development.

A new bill being debated seeks to change that answer. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would penalize abortion providers who attempt to end lives in the womb after 20 weeks development. The bill passed the House last week by a 237-189 vote. Days later, Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced it in the upper chamber.

Public opinion polling shows that 64 percent of Americans support this bill, including 46 percent of Democrats. While 54 Senators voted for the bill two years ago, it faces a 60-vote threshold to reach the president’s desk and be enacted as law.

5. Stopping the Flow of Funds to Terrorism

While the war against terrorism continues on several fronts, one human rights lawyer believes there’s a better way to fight than guns and bombs. “Without the cash to fund fighters and leaders, there would be no global jihad against the West,” says Nitsana Darshan-Leitner. She heads up Shurat HaDin Legal Center in Tel Aviv, Israel.

This strategy of defunding terrorism is at the heart of a new bill. U.S. Army veteran Taylor Force, age 28, was the victim of a terrorist attack while in Israel. Following his assailant’s death, investigators found that the terrorist’s family now receives a significant wage because of the man’s murderous act.

“For a governmental body to incentivize killings and provide rewards geared to the number of dead is an outrage that cannot be allowed to continue,” declared Jewish leaders in a recent joint statement. The Taylor Force Act would cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority until such payments cease.

As revised in committee, the current bill would not affect humanitarian funds or medical care to the Palestinian region. Both the Senate and House have yet to vote on this proposed law.

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