In today's On the News segment: On Thursday, the United States Senate approved the so-called comprehensive immigration bill; last-minute attempts to stop student loan interest rates from doubling failed to meet the deadline; the Supreme Court declined to hear two more cases involving same-sex couples; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. On Thursday, the United States Senate approved the so-called comprehensive immigration bill. It is the first significant attempt to fix out broken immigration system in over 25 years. However, it may not be time to break out the champagne just yet. The bill passed 68-to-32, with 14 Republicans joining Democrats to approve the measure. In order to gain the support of those 14 GOP Senators, Democrats were forced to include huge border security provisions that many are calling extreme, and expensive. Those provisions – dubbed the "border surge" - include 20,000 new border agents, 700 new miles of fencing, and electronic surveillance of our southern border. The price tag for these increased security measures is nearly $40 billion dollars. The Senate bill also sets up a 13 year path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in our nation, but that path can't even begin until all of the new security measures are in place. Now that the Senate has approved their version, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will start working on their own version of immigration reform, which will likely include even more extreme security measures, and remove any path to citizenship. Immigration advocates are concerned that any plan approved by both chambers will focus more on militarizing our border, and less on repairing our broken immigration system. There's no question that we need to fix our current system, which breaks up families, demeans the Dreamers, and leaves millions of people hiding in the shadows in fear of deportation. However, many Americans and immigrants are fearful that these proposed fixes could make this broken system worse.
In screwed news... Last-minute attempts to stop student loan interest rates from doubling failed to meet the July 1st deadline. On the last day of the legislation session before the July 4th break, Democratic Senators introduced a bill to give lawmakers another year to come up with a long-term solution for student loans. However, their attempt was unsuccessful. They will attempt to work on the issue retroactively, when Congress returns on July 10th. Currently, the student loan interest rate is 3.4% percent, but it is only days away from doubling to 6.8 percent. With millions of students already struggling to meet loan obligations, the higher interest rate will greatly increase their burden. Students and their families have been watching this effort for months, and they're hoping that some how, Congress can pull it off after the break.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Just days after the Supreme Court sided with equality in two landmark gay-marriage cases, the Court rejected to hear two more cases involving same-sex couples. The Justices declined to review an appeals court ruling, which struck down an Arizona law that blocked same-sex spouses of state employees from received domestic partnership benefits. So, the lower court's ruling stands, and same-sex partners are entitled to those benefits. The Supreme Court also declined to hear a challenge to Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage, which means the case will be argued in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has previously ruled in favor of same-sex couples in other cases – specifically, the Prop 8 case. The Supreme Court's decisions to decline these cases do not have the sweeping impact of the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings, however they are victories for equality advocates, and they are more evidence that our nation is slowly moving down the path to full equality.
On Wednesday, a healthcare activist in Pennsylvania was arrested for exercising his right to free speech. As that state is considering legislation to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, which Republican Governor Tom Corbett has said he won't support, activists gathered to put pressure on lawmakers and the Governor. An activist by the name of AJ Marin was arrested for writing the message "Corbett has healthcare. We should too.", in chalk on the sidewalk outside the Governor's mansion. He was charged with disorderly conduct for writing a "derogatory remark about the governor." Pointing out the fact that Governor Corbett has healthcare – which is paid for by the taxpayers – is far from derogatory, but that's beside the point. Mr. Marin has the Constitutional right to protest, and to speak out against his government. Political speech is one of our most fundamental rights, and it is one that must be protected.
Yesterday, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals said Hobby Lobby may have the right to deny employees access to reproductive healthcare. In an unanimous ruling, the Tenth Circuit directed the lower court to hear Hobby Lobby's request for an injunction to block parts of Obamacare. The craft store has attempted to claim a religious exemption, which would allow it to deny insurance coverage of certain forms of birth control. The new ruling will allow Hobby Lobby to avoid government fines while challenging the requirement to provide birth control they say violates their religious beliefs. A spokeswoman for the group representing Hobby lobby called the ruling a "resounding victory for religious freedom," but Barry Lynn of American United for Separation of Church and State said, "This isn't religious freedom; it's the worst kind of religious oppression."
And finally... This Fourth of July, the city of Kirkland, Washington will take careful steps to avoid a conflict of national symbols. The city has announced they are moving their annual fireworks display from its usual location, to ensure that a pair of baby bald eagles is not bothered by noise. To ensure the eaglets aren't startled, Kirkland is moving their pyrotechnics display a half-mile from the nest. The city has also opted to use a more visual fireworks display to further reduce the noise, and will set up an observation site to allow visitors to sneak a peak at the tiny American emblems. Apparently, just because eagles and fireworks are both symbols of American pride, it's not wise for them to share the same sky.
And that's the way it is today – Friday, June 28, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.