Senate to Vote on Farm Bill, Sustainable Agriculture Amendments Ignored
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Last Thursday, June 6, the Senate voted 75-22 to limit debate on its version of the 2013 Farm Bill, setting up a final vote on passage of the bill for this evening. Fifty-three Democrats and 22 Republicans voted to limit debate—or, to invoke “cloture” —and 22 Republicans voted against.
The vote to limit debate became necessary after Senate leaders failed to come to an agreement on a list of farm bill amendments to consider. Since consideration by the full Senate of the Committee-passed farm bill started in mid-May, over 200 amendments have been filed to the bill. Of the amendments filed to the bill, the Senate has considered only 14 and has adopted eight. This includes the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition-supported amendment led by Sens. Coburn (R-OK) and Durbin (D-IL) to reduce crop insurance subsidies for millionaires that passed by a vote of 59-33.
Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) had been trying to secure a unanimous consent agreement on a shorter list of amendments to receive votes, but Senators kept objecting to consideration of certain amendments unless others were also considered. This led to the need to limit debate on the bill, especially since the Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) wants to move on to debate other bills, including immigration reform. The immigration reform bill debate started Friday and picks up again on Tuesday.
The successful vote to limit debate on the farm bill also severely limits the number and types of amendments to be voted on. Currently, only two more Senate votes are expected on the Senate farm bill—one on a rural broadband amendment by Senator Leahy (D-VT) and the other on final passage of the bill.
If that proves to be the case and the only votes tonight are on the Leahy broadband amendment and then final passage, the Senate will not get the opportunity to vote on a number of priority sustainable agriculture amendments. These include:
- The Brown amendment on local food and rural development
- The Casey amendment on beginning farmer microloans
- The Harkin amendment to modernize the interest rate for Farm Service Agency real estate loans
- The Leahy amendment on conservation payments for organic farmers
- The Udall amendment on water conservation
- The Grassley amendment on antitrust enforcement
- The Tester amendment on public plant breeding research
- The Shaheen amendment on revenue insurance premium subsidy limits
It is unclear whether there will also be a manager’s amendment that packages a variety of amendments that have bipartisan support and are relatively uncontroversial. It may still prove possible, but given the heated backroom debate and all the jockeying this week over amendments, it could very well be that no additional changes will be considered.
It is widely expected that the Senate will pass its version of the 2013 Farm Bill on Monday by a substantial bipartisan majority. A number of significant unknowns remain about the path to completion of the 2013 Farm Bill, but both the Senate and the House are taking steps to move the bill forward before the current extension expires on Sept. 30. The full House is expected to take up consideration of the House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bill during the week of June 17.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition continues to support a manager’s amendment that would allow at least some of the less controversial amendments to move forward.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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