ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Nearly 40 law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, social workers and survivors of violence have been named to a federal commission tasked with helping improve how the government addresses a decades-long crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans and Alaska Natives, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Thursday.
The committee’s creation means that for the first time, the voices guiding the Interior and Justice departments in the effort will include people most affected by the epidemic, said Haaland, the first Native American to lead a cabinet department.
She said the panel includes members with diverse experiences and backgrounds, representing communities from Alaska and Washington to Arizona, Oklahoma and Michigan. It will craft recommendations on how the government can better tackle a disproportionately high number of unsolved cases in which Native Americans and Alaska Natives have disappeared or been killed.
“It will take a focused effort — and time — to unravel the many threads that contribute to the alarming rates of these cases,” Haaland said during a virtual event.
Some members of Congress have expressed concern that work to address the crisis as required under the law isn’t on track. In the case of appointing members to the commission, federal officials are more than a year behind schedule.
The Not Invisible Act, signed into law in October 2020, required that the commission be named by February 2021 and that findings be made public last month.
Another law signed around the same time directed the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to find ways to increase cooperation among law enforcement agencies, provide tribes resources and address data collection. Savanna’s Act was named for 22-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who went missing while pregnant in 2017 before her body was found in a North Dakota River.
U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who faces a tough reelection campaign; Jon Tester of Montana; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the vice-chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, outlined their concerns in a letter earlier this week.
“Both of these laws outlined specific time frames and deadlines for implementation; however, it is unclear which provisions have been undertaken, and it appears that almost every deadline has been missed,” the lawmakers wrote.
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Thursday the naming of the commission marks a major milestone that follows ongoing work by a separate steering committee to marshal more federal resources to address the problem.
She also announced the creation of a new position within the executive office of U.S. attorneys that will be responsible for working with victims and families to ensure they have a voice while navigating the criminal justice system.
Federal officials also plugged work being done by the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which now has 17 offices across the country that have at least one agent dedicated to solving casing involving missing or slain Native Americans.
As for the 37-member commission, its mission includes tracking and reporting data on missing-person, homicide and human trafficking cases and increasing information sharing with tribal governments on violent crimes investigations and other prosecutions on Indian lands.
The commission is expected to hold hearings and gather testimony before making recommendations to the Interior and Justice departments to improve coordination among agencies and to establish best practices for state, tribal and federal law enforcement. The panel also is tasked with boosting resources for survivors and victims’ families.
Meanwhile, some communities already have created their own response plans to address the problem. In New Mexico, officials on Thursday rolled out the state’s plan, highlighting goals that include building more support services for survivors and families, doing more outreach on education and prevention and leveraging resources for tribal judicial systems.
Fawn Sharp, president of the tribal advocacy group National Congress of American Indians, said during Thursday’s virtual event that although funding for law enforcement in Indian Country has increased in recent years, it doesn’t come close to meeting the needs.
She pointed to research showing that failure to provide funding undermined the ability to provide adequate public safety in tribal communities.
“Having the authority to hold perpetrators accountable is an important first step, but tribal nations cannot follow through to hold bad actors accountable without adequate and consistent funding for tribal justice systems,” she said.
Other advocates said they were hopeful the federal commission’s recommendations will cover the need for safe housing for victims of domestic violence and other social services and health care that could help prevent violence.
Florida and Louisiana Lawmakers Seek to Make Disabled Veterans Education Law a National Model
ORLANDO, Fla. – Today, Representative Daisy Morales (D-Orlando) met virtually with Louisiana State Representative Beau Beaullieu (R-48) and staffers to discuss making HB 45 – Educational Opportunities for Disabled Veterans, a bill State Rep. Morales passed during the 2022 Legislative Session which Governor DeSantis signed into law, legislation in Louisiana and talked of a national model for disabled veterans on the state level.
The bill provides an education benefit to certain disabled veterans who qualify as residents to attend a state university, Florida College System institution, career center operated by a school district, or charter technical career center, but who do not qualify for the 100% eligibility tier federally, waiving the remaining tuition and fees from the institution attended.
Representative Daisy Morales had this to say, “It’s great to work as partners to help disabled veterans who have scarified so much for our country with educational opportunities to eliminate challenges they face when they have given so much for our country and allow them to support their families. My office will work closely with other State Legislators looking to pass legislation for educational tuition assistance. We love our veterans in the State of Florida!”
“Florida’s HB 45 of the 2022 legislative session could serve as a national model to provide educational opportunities to our disabled veterans and provide an avenue for their future success,” said Louisiana State Representative Beau Beaullieu.
“I’m excited that other states have already taken notice of this law,” Rep. Morales told FNN News. “It may very well become the model used throughout the nation to help our disabled veterans.”
State Representative Christopher Benjamin (D-Miami-Dade) worked alongside Rep. Morales to move HB 45 through committee to the House floor where it passed. The law went into effect July 1, 2022.
Biden to Announce Climate Actions at Ex-Coal Plant in Massachusetts
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will announce new actions on climate change that he can take on his own just days after an influential Democratic senator quashed hopes for a sweeping legislative package of new environmental programs this year.
Biden is to unveil the latest efforts during a visit on Wednesday to a former coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, that is shifting to offshore wind manufacturing. It’s the embodiment of the transition to clean energy that Biden is seeking but has struggled to realize in the first 18 months of his presidency.
Wednesday’s executive actions include new initiatives to bolster the domestic offshore wind industry as well as efforts to help communities cope with soaring temperatures through programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a White House official.
The trip comes as historic temperatures bake Europe and the United States. Temperatures reached 115 degrees in Portugal as wildfires raged in Spain and France, and Britain on Tuesday shattered its record for highest temperature ever registered. At least 60 million Americans could experience triple-digit temperatures over the next several days as cities around the U.S. sweat through more intense and longer-lasting heat waves that scientists blame on global warming.
The actions that Biden announces on Wednesday will not include a national emergency declaration to address the climate crisis — something that has been sought by activists and Democratic lawmakers after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., last week scuttled talks on a long-delayed legislative package.
White House officials have said the option remains under consideration. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday declined to outline a timetable for a decision aside from saying no such order would be issued this week.
Gina McCarthy, Biden’s climate adviser, said the president is not “shying away” from treating climate as an emergency. She told CNN on Wednesday that he will be announcing a series of actions “over the next few weeks” to address the threat.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said he was “confident that the president is ultimately ready to do whatever it takes in order to deal with this crisis.”
“I think that he’s made that clear in his statement last Friday, and I think coming to Massachusetts is a further articulation of that goal,” Markey told reporters on Tuesday.
Biden has come under considerable pressure to issue an emergency declaration on climate, which would allow him to redirect federal resources to bolster renewable energy programs that would help accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. The declaration also could be used as a legal basis to block oil and gas drilling or other projects, although such actions would likely be challenged in court by energy companies or Republican-led states.
Jean-Pierre declined to detail internal deliberations on such a declaration, which would be similar to the one issued by Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, who declared a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border when lawmakers refused to allocate money for that effort.
Biden pledged last week to take significant executive actions on climate after monthslong discussions between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., came to a standstill. The West Virginia senator cited stubbornly high inflation as the reason for his hesitation, although he has long protected energy interests in his coal- and gas-producing state.
For now, Manchin has said he will only agree to a legislative package that shores up subsidies to help people buy insurance under the 2010 health care law as well as allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices that will ultimately lower the cost of pharmaceuticals for consumers.
The White House has indicated it wants Congress to take that deal, and Biden will address the climate issue on his own.
“I’m going to use every power I have as president to continue to fulfill my pledge to move toward dealing with global warming,” Biden told reporters over the weekend in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after the talks between Schumer and Manchin were derailed.
Biden on Wednesday will be visiting the former Brayton Point power plant, which closed in 2017 after burning coal for more than five decades. The plant will now become an offshore wind manufacturing site.
A new report says the U.S. and other major carbon-polluting nations are falling short on pledges to fight climate change. Among the 10 biggest carbon emitters, only the European Union has enacted polices close to or consistent with international goals of limiting warming to just a few more tenths of a degree, according to scientists and experts who track climate action in countries.
Biden to award Medal of Freedom to Biles, McCain, Giffords
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will present the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to 17 people, including actor Denzel Washington, gymnast Simone Biles and the late John McCain, the Arizona Republican with whom Biden served in the U.S. Senate.
Biden will also recognize Sandra Lindsay, the New York City nurse who rolled up her sleeve on live television in December 2020 to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine dose that was pumped into an arm in the United States, the White House announced Friday.
Biden’s honors list, which the White House shared first with The Associated Press, includes both living and deceased honorees from the worlds of Hollywood, sports, politics, the military, academia, and civil rights and social justice advocacy.
The Democratic president will present the medals at the White House next week.
Biden himself is a medal recipient. President Barack Obama honored Biden’s public service as a longtime U.S. senator and vice president by awarding him a Presidential Medal of Freedom in January 2017, a week before they left office.
The honorees who’ll receive medals from Biden “have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities, and across the world, while blazing trails for generations to come,” the White House said.
The honor is reserved for people who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values or security of the United States, world peace or other significant societal public or private endeavors, the White House said.
Biles is the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history, winning 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. She is an outspoken advocate on issues that are very personal to her, including athletes’ mental health, children in foster care and sexual assault victims.
Lindsay became an advocate for COVID-19 vaccinations after receiving the first dose in the U.S.
McCain, who died of brain cancer in 2018, spent more than five years in captivity in Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Navy. He later represented Arizona in both houses of Congress and was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008. Biden said McCain was a “dear friend” and “a hero.”
Washington is a double Oscar-winning actor, director and producer. He also has a Tony award, two Golden Globes and the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a longtime spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
The other 13 medal recipients are:
— Sister Simone Campbell. Campbell is a member of the Sister of Social Service and a former executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is an advocate for economic justice, overhauling the U.S. immigration system and health care policy.
— Julieta Garcia. A former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville, Garcia was the first Latina to become a college president, the White House said. She was named one of the nation’s best college presidents by Time magazine.
— Gabrielle Giffords. A former U.S. House member from Arizona, the Democrat founded Giffords, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence. She was shot in the head in January 2011 during a constituent event in Tucson and was gravely wounded.
— Fred Gray. Gray was one of the first Black members of the Alabama Legislature after Reconstruction. He was a prominent civil rights attorney who represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr.
— Steve Jobs. Jobs was the co-founder, chief executive and chair of Apple Inc. He died in 2011.
— Father Alexander Karloutsos. Karloutsos is the assistant to Archbishop Demetrios of America. The White House said Karloutsos has counseled several U.S. presidents.
— Khizr Khan. An immigrant from Pakistan, Khan’s Army officer son was killed in Iraq. Khan gained national prominence, and became a target of Donald Trump’s wrath, after speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
— Diane Nash. A founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Nash organized some of the most important 20th century civil rights campaigns and worked with King.
— Megan Rapinoe. The Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup soccer champion captains the OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights who has appeared at Biden’s White House.
Rapinoe, who was at training camp in Denver when the White House called to inform her of the honor, thought she was getting a prank or robocall when she saw her phone say “White House,” U.S. Soccer said in a statement. She showed her phone to a teammate, who encouraged her to answer the call.
— Alan Simpson. The retired U.S. senator from Wyoming served with Biden and has been a prominent advocate for campaign finance reform, responsible governance and marriage equality.
— Richard Trumka. Trumka had been president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade at the time of his August 2021 death. He was a past president of the United Mine Workers.
— Wilma Vaught. A brigadier general, Vaught is one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history, breaking gender barriers as she has risen through the ranks. When Vaught retired in 1985, she was one of only seven female generals in the Armed Forces.
— Raúl Yzaguirre. A civil rights advocate, Yzaguirre was president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He served as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic under Obama.