Equality & Justice
Throughout his time in Congress, ensuring equality and justice for Oregonians has been a major priority for Senator Wyden. Wyden has been a champion for women, children and families, LGBTQ Americans and seniors. In addition, Senator Wyden led the campaign to put domestic sex trafficking of children on the national agenda and has promoted policies to help victims of sex trafficking. Senator Wyden is also concerned about racial disparities within our criminal justice system and has invested effort into reforming the criminal justice system.
Throughout his time in Congress, Senator Wyden has been a champion for women’s rights and has pushed for women to be treated equally and fairly in the workplace. In 2009, he voted in support of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an important first step towards closing the wage gap. However, the fight for fair pay continues for women in Oregon and across the country. That is why in 2017, he worked with his colleagues to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act. This legislation reinforces the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by ensuring that women can challenge pay discrimination and hold their employers accountable.
Senator Wyden is also fighting to provide family medical leave to Oregon families. In 1993 he supported the Family and Medical Leave Act that mandated that all public employers and private employers with 50 employees provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to qualified employees to care for a family member’s serious health condition; to care for a newborn, newly adopted, or newly placed foster child; and upon the birth or placement of an adopted or foster child. He is also a cosponsor of the Healthy Families Act that would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide paid sick leave each year for employees to care for personal or family needs. He continues to believe that it’s not fair to ask employees to choose between their job and their health or family.
Senator Wyden is a leading champion for women’s equality and rights in Congress. From his House days when he held a groundbreaking hearing and led the fight to end that ended the anti-science stigma that blocked women from accessing RU486, Wyden has stood up for women’s fundamental right to make decisions about their own lives. Wyden is a consistent force in the fight for equal pay for equal work and a stalwart against perennial attacks on women’s access the health care services they need and the providers they prefer.
Senator Wyden’s advocacy for vulnerable children and families stemmed from his years, between 1974 and 1980, as co-director of the Oregon Gray Panthers. During this time period, Wyden heard from seniors whose grandchildren were being taken from their parents’ custody and being placed into foster care, despite the fact that the grandparents desperately wanted to take care of these youngsters. That experience led Senator Wyden to author the Kinship Care Act to give family members -- aunts, uncles, grandparents and older siblings -- first preference for caring for a child entering foster care. Key provisions of the bill were signed into law in 1996. Up until then, many thought that the best way to help vulnerable kids was to get them as far away as possible from their families. Thankfully, policy and practice have come a long way since then, in a large part due to Senator Wyden’s work on these issues.
In 2008, Wyden worked to advance the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act to build on his support for kin families by providing states financial assistance for relatives who become foster parents. The law recognized that relatives, especially older relatives like grandparents, were often on a fixed income and should be given financial help to take in a child, just as non-relative foster parents are. More than thirty states—including Oregon—have taken up this new option for subsidized guardianship programs.
Senator Wyden is continuing to build on that success by helping keep vulnerable families together and children out of foster care in the first place when it’s safely possible to do so. Senator Wyden introduced both the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act and bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act. Currently, federal child welfare funding doesn’t kick in until a child is removed from home, and even then, almost all of those dollars go to basic room and board -- not for the types of support that can help enable and stabilize new kin placements. These bills would even out this lopsided system and allow federal foster care dollars to be spent on evidence-based support services for children’s family members, including their biological parents. This change would do much more than support current kin providers. It would also prevent the need for many children to have to enter foster care in the first place and allow others to return home more quickly if they do need to be removed. Working to enact the Family First Prevention Services Act is a priority of Senator Wyden’s, particularly given the increase in foster care entries during the current opioid epidemic.
Senator Wyden has also long championed children's health care, and recently co-authored a long-term, bipartisan extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Senator Wyden is a champion for promoting LGBTQ rights. In 1996, Wyden became the first member of the United States Senate to publicly campaign for marriage equality. At a time when most Oregon Democrats, labor leaders and other progressives were opposed—and even some gay leaders told Wyden to change his position because he was too far ahead of the time, Wyden stood firm.
Wyden made marriage equality a visible part of the 1995-96 campaign when Oregon was choosing its first new Senator in three decades. And Wyden was blunt: To all he said, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get one.” Only 14 members of the Senate voted against the inequality-promoting Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and Wyden is only one of two Senators still serving from that original group. Wyden memorably opened the debate on the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, by saying “I don’t care who you love. If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are.”
In 2015, after a legislative effort led by Wyden, the IRS said it would recognize same-sex marriages regardless of where they were performed, and the agency would make the terms “husband” and “wife” apply to same sex spouses as well as opposite sex spouses.
Most recently, Senator Wyden worked with his Senate Democratic colleagues to introduce the Equality Act. The bill would ensure full federal non-discrimination equality by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to other protected classes, such as race or religion, in existing federal laws. Senator Wyden has always fought against discrimination on any basis and he will continue to fight for the rights of all Americans, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation.
Since beginning his career as co-founder of Oregon’s Gray Panthers, an advocacy organization for the elderly, and director of Oregon Legal Services, Senator Wyden has never stopped fighting for America’s seniors. As a member of the House of Representatives he authored the Medigap law regulating the private market for Medicare’s supplemental insurance policies. In 1997, Wyden passed a law updating Medigap regulations to require private insurance companies offering supplemental Medicare policies to guarantee issue to all eligible individuals regardless of health status or preexisting conditions. Those laws not only protected seniors from unscrupulous insurance practices, they remain the model for consumer protection today.
In the early 1990’s working with then Representative Olympia Snowe, Wyden was among the first to propose bipartisan legislation to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare and he has been the Senate’s leading proponent of empowering Medicare to use its market power to negotiate better drug prices for seniors.
During the 2009 health reform debate, Wyden successfully defended the Medicare Advantage program and attached an amendment to the Affordable Care Act creating a 5 star system to rate the quality of Medicare Advantage plans and reward the highest quality plans with bonus payments. In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that, thanks in part to this reform, enrollment in Medicare Advantage is up and more seniors have high quality health coverage.
Wyden’s “Independence at Home” program also passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, creating Medicare’s first home-based health program for seniors with chronic illnesses and he successfully amended Medicare rules to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries who go into hospice care do not have to give up the prospect of a cure. Wyden has received numerous award for his work on seniors issues including the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization for his hospice advocacy and his work on nursing home quality has been credited as the source of Medicare’s five-star rating system for nursing homes.
After leading the campaign to put domestic sex trafficking of children on the national agenda, Senator Ron Wyden, worked with his colleagues to pass the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. The legislation supports programs that help trafficking victims by creating a deficit neutral Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund. The Fund is financed through fines on persons convicted of trafficking and other sex crimes and will increase federal resources available by up to $30 million per year. Recently, Senator Wyden also worked with colleagues to introduce the Abolish Human Trafficking Act that would reauthorize critical components of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Research suggests that the majority of trafficked youth in the United States have been in and out of the child welfare system, specifically foster care. Too often, the protections, services and protocols established for abused and neglected children within the child welfare system are not extended to trafficked children and youth, and in many states, such children aren’t even categorized as victims. Instead, they are often sent to the juvenile justice system and criminalized for being raped and trafficked. To address this serious issue, Senator Wyden passed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act in 2014, to help prevent kids in foster care and the child welfare system from becoming victims in the first place.
One of the struggles in gaining attention to the issue of child sex trafficking is the lack of reliable data. Senator Wyden and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the bipartisan Child Sex Trafficking Data and Response Act of 2013 to address this shortcoming, particularly as it relates to children in the child welfare system. The bill was signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act which was led by Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Wyden.
Criminal justice reform is one of the most important issues of our time. Many of our prisons are under strain due to the rapidly increasing prison population. Disturbingly, one in every 35 adults in the United States is under some form of correctional control. Even worse, African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white Americans. To address part of this issue, Senator Wyden introduced the Ending Tax Breaks for Private Prisons Act to make sure that the prison system is not used by private enterprises to turn an unfair profit. The bill would prevent prisons from qualifying as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). As REITs, private prisons can get a special status that allows them to pay tax at an individual rate instead of the business level. Senator Wyden’s bill would end this tax break for private prisons and detention facilities. Private prisons should not be getting special tax treatment that encourages unfair detention practices and costs American taxpayers.
Senator Wyden worked with his colleagues to introduce the Democracy Restoration Act, a bill that would restore voting rights in federal elections to the 6.1 million disenfranchised Americans who have been released from prison but do not have the right to vote. Senator Wyden also cosponsored the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill that would update our federal drug sentencing laws by giving federal judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of non-violent drug offenses.
Senator Wyden is also concerned about racial disparities within our criminal justice system. Unfortunately, racial profiling by federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement occurs across our nation and instances of racial profiling have been on the rise. Racial profiling undermines the rule of law and has no place in modern law enforcement. In order to protect our nation’s citizens against this injustice, Senator Wyden cosponsored the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act. This legislation would prohibit and attempt to eliminate racial and religious profiling by law enforcement, except when there is trustworthy information, relevant to the locality and time frame that links a person of a particular race, religion, ethnicity or national origin to an identified criminal incident or scheme. The bill also mandates training on racial profiling issues as part of federal law enforcement training.
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