This week in wins: House passes bill to help women veterans and their newborns


It’s been a great week for progressives nationwide.

Rhode Island is making veterans' benefits more accessible for LGBTQ service members, a federal court ruled customs agents can't arbitrarily search traveler's digital devices, and New Jersey is drawing up plans to help residents get fairer loans and interest rates.

Here are just a few of the week's biggest wins: 

House passes bipartisan bill supporting women veterans

The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to expand benefits and protections for women veterans through the Department of Veteran Affairs. 

The Deborah Sampson Act, named after a woman who disguised herself as a man to be able to serve in the Revolutionary War, would double the length of time veterans' newborns can receive health care through the VA, from 7 to 14 days. It would also create an Office of Women's Health within the VA and create a policy aimed at ending sexual harassment and assault at VA locations.

The bill also requires gender-specific services at all VA medical facilities, provides more money for doctors in the Women Veterans Health Care Program, and mandates additional oversight of women's health care in the department.

One in 10 veterans are women, as are 17% of those enlisted, but the VA has struggled to accommodate them. A study found that one-quarter of women veterans reported harassment at VA locations — which made them more likely to delay or avoid care. Women veterans also encounter difficulties with a health care system designed for men. For example, they are often given poorly fitting men's prosthetics.

"By passing this bill in the House with such strong bipartisan support, we are sending the message to America’s women veterans that we see you, and we thank you for your service," said Rep. Julia Brownley, (D-CA) who sponsored the bill.

"Together, we will continue working together to ensure that we are supporting and honoring women veterans and transforming VA so that all of our nation's veterans receive the benefits and services they have earned and deserve."

Rhode Island is helping LGBTQ veterans get benefits they were denied

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a bill on Veterans Day making it easier for veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation to access tax breaks and tuition assistance by reclassifying their discharge as honorable. Without an honorable discharge, service members cannot receive veterans' benefits. 

A study from the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military found that about 100,000 service members were discharged between World War II and the repeal of "don't' ask, don't tell" because of their sexual orientation.

"Far too many veterans have been discharged, shamed and left without the benefits they earned because of decades of a dehumanizing policy that said they couldn't serve," said state Sen. Dawn Euer, a Democrat and a sponsor of the bill.

"They deserved gratitude and honor, and we should be doing everything we can to ensure that these wrongs are righted and that they get the respect they deserve."

New Jersey takes first step to establish public bank

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order Wednesday beginning the establishment of a public state-run bank. The order creates a 14-person Public Bank Implementation Board that will spend a year developing a legislative and financial framework for the program.

Advocates argue that public banks provide lower interest rates because they don't have to pay executive salaries or worry about shareholder profits. Instead, they can focus on giving affordable loans to small business owners and underserved communities, while also funding government projects such as affordable housing.

The Bank of North Dakota, established in the early 20th century to protect farmers from unfair interest rates and predatory loans, is the only public bank in the United States.

"I still believe in the ability of a public bank owned by the people of New Jersey to be a force for good in helping small businesses succeed, in providing student loans at affordable rates, and opening lines of credit to municipalities for meeting long-term infrastructure and affordable housing needs," Murphy said.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin finally concedes after baselessly claiming voter fraud

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin conceded to Democrat Andy Beshear Thursday after refusing to do so for a week. Despite Beshear winning the Nov. 5 election by 5,000 votes, Bevin claimed without evidence there had been voting "irregularities" in the state, and requested a recanvass. On Thursday, that election review reconfirmed Beshear's victory.

Beshear campaigned against Bevin's record of trying to take Medicaid away from vulnerable recipients and blaming striking teachers for enabling child molestation.

The day after the election, Robert Stivers, the Republican president of the state Senate, said that he "will follow the letter of the law and what various processes determine," suggesting that the party would consider using a state rule last used in 1899 to contest the election.

"Whether you voted for us or not, we are here to serve you," Beshear said at a press conference after Bevin's concession. "We'll work every single day to earn your faith, to earn your trust."

Border patrol must now provide a reason before searching people’s devices

A federal court ruled Wednesday that the government could no longer freely search the electronic devices of international travelers coming into the UnitedStates. 

The Boston court found that those searches violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, and ruled that the government must have "reasonable suspicion" before searching people's devices.

The lawsuit, Alasaad v. McAleenan, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the ACLU of Massachusetts on behalf of 11 plaintiffs.

Customs and Border Patrol previously did not provide reasons when examining the cell phones, laptops, and hard drives of people entering the United States.

There have been several high-profile cases of people alleging inappropriate and excessive search of people's private devices.

Authorities detained and searched the phone of plaintiff Zainab Merchant, which contained privileged communications with her attorney, and an incoming Harvard freshman was detained and denied entry to the U.S. after a search of his phone revealed social media posts by friends critical of the U.S. government. 

CPB conducted more than 33,000 such searches in 2018.

Blueprints of 3D-printed guns can no longer be shared online

A federal judge struck down a Trump administration rule that allowed people to share blueprints for 3D-printed guns online. U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik found Tuesday that the rule was in violation of federal regulations on gun exports and imports. 

The case has its origins in 2012, when Defense Distributed, a nonprofit organization that develops and publishes 3D-printed gun designs, posted files that would have let people use a 3D printer to produce plastic one-shot pistols and assault rifle parts that could pass through metal detectors unnoticed.

President Barack Obama's State Department banned the posting of gun blueprints, but the Trump administration reversed that rule in July 2018. 

Lasnik called the reversal "arbitrary and capricious." He said the Obama State Department's concern that plastic guns increased the risk of "violence, assassinations, terrorist threats, aviation and other security breaches" was legitimate and that the Trump administration had failed to provide a "reasoned explanation" for the change.

Wisconsin governor creates equity and inclusion plans for state agencies

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order Tuesday requiring state agencies to create and implement plans that would "build an infrastructure and culture committed to equity and inclusion." The order also provides mandatory equity and inclusion training for all state employees. 

Evers, a Democrat, has made addressing bias against minorities and women a central part of his administration. His first executive order prohibited discrimination on those grounds in state agencies.

"I want to make clear that my administration and I are committed to making Wisconsin more equitable, just an inclusive place for everyone," said Evers before signing the order.