CHN: House passes several bills to further democracy and social and economic justice

The House of Representatives has passed several pieces of legislation in the past month that would further social and economic justice, including in the areas of democracy reform and voting rights, the right to unionize, gun control reform, countering racial bias in policing, and protections for LGBTQ individuals.

On March 3, the House passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a comprehensive democracy reform package. The bill would put in place long-needed voting, elections, and ethics reforms, including ending partisan and racial gerrymandering by establishing independent redistricting commissions; expanding and protecting voting rights by mandating access to early voting and same-day registration; getting “dark money” out of politics by requiring donor disclosures; and much more. The Center for American Progress called the legislation, “arguably the most consequential people-empowering legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1965.” The bill passed by a vote of 220-210, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting no. A similar bill passed the House in 2019 but was never taken up in the Senate. In addition, President Biden issued an executive order on promoting access to voting on March 7.

Also on March 3, the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 1280), which seeks to address racial bias in policing, help end police brutality, and protect civil rights. The vote total was 220-212, with one Republican joining all but two Democrats in supporting the measure. The bill would direct the Department of Justice to track systemic racial discrimination, establish a national registry to track police misconduct, ban no-knock warrants and chokeholds at the federal level, and limit “qualified immunity” that shields police officers from lawsuits, allowing individuals to recover damages in civil court. Some advocates voiced concerns, however, that the qualified immunity provision and other provisions do not go far enough to address accountability and protect civil rights. A previous version of the bill passed the House in June 2020 but was never taken up by the Senate.

The Equality Act passed the House on Feb. 25 (224-206; three Republicans joined all Democrats in voting yes). H.R. 5 would expand federal protections for LGBTQ people by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public accommodations (such as restaurants, hotels, and theaters), and jury service. It would also prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in programs receiving federal funding. This legislation passed the House in 2019 but died without a vote in the Senate. President Biden issued an executive order guaranteeing an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity, on March 8. The same day, he also issued an executive order establishing the White House Gender Policy Council to advance gender equity and equality.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would reverse years of attacks on unions and restore private sector workers’ right to join a union and bargain for fair wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces. CHN joined the many of its members, including the Economic Policy Institute, the National Employment Law Project, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and hundreds of other organizations in urging members of Congress to support H.R. 842, which passed the House on March 9 (225-206). The bill previously passed the House in early 2020 but died in the Senate.

Two bills aimed at expanding background checks on gun sales, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R. 8) and the Enhanced Background Checks Act (H.R. 1446), passed the House on March 11. H.R. 8 would close the “gun show loophole,” while H.R. 1446 would close the “Charleston loophole” that allows some licensed gun sales to proceed before a required background check is done. Both bills also passed the House in 2019.

The bills are expected to have tougher roads ahead in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster and move any of the pieces of legislation forward.

gun control
policing reform
voting rights