2003 in Congress: What Didn’t Happen

Both houses of Congress have now adjourned until January 20, 2004, so it’s time to evaluate what was accomplished. It’s mostly unfortunate that in evaluating this year, it’s easier for us to look at what Congress didn’t do than what it did, when it comes to the issues we track here at Workplace Fairness. While legislators went home to observe the holidays and campaign locally, several important pieces of legislation remain on their agenda for next year — an election year in which Congress is historically notorious for accomplishing even less than other years.

Here’s just a few of the things Congress didn’t do this year:

It Didn’t Fix Overtime — Or Prevent the Department of Labor’s Misguided Attempt To Do So

As previously reported here, both houses of Congress voted to prevent the Department of Labor from implementing new overtime regulations that would mostly harm the workers they’re designed to help. In negotiations on the appropriations bills, Congressional leaders listened to the White House instead of the majority of their respective bodies, and allowed a veto threat to derail efforts to stop the proposed reforms. The House and Senate didn’t agree on an appropriations bill either, and while the House passed its pork-filled version, the Senate is deferring action on the appropriations legislation until January. (See Fort Worth Star-Telegram article.) In the meantime, the regulations could go into effect shortly after the beginning of next year, without any additional congressional effort to stop them.

Thankfully, Congress also never took action on the “Family Time Flexibility Act,” a supposedly family-friendly bill that would instead lead to more overtime hours being uncompensated. However, if the new regulations discussed above go into effect, there may not be much of a need for this bill, as there won’t be many workers left earning overtime anyway. (Of course, that may not stop a business-friendly Congress from attempting to reduce that number to practically zero, but it will be an election year, so anything could happen.)

More Information About Overtime and the Family Time Flexibility Act: Fair Overtime Pay

Take Action Now: Keep Pressuring Congress to Oppose Proposed Overtime Changes

It Didn’t Provide Tax Relief for Those Doubly Taxed in Discrimination Cases

While Congress came closer than ever before in doing something about those who are hit with excessive taxation in discrimination cases, the year ended without the tax laws changing. While Congress considered its latest round of tax cuts in May, the Senate Finance Committee added a portion of the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act (House version (HR 1155)/Senate version (S 557)), a change undoing the double taxation of attorneys’ fees, to its version of the omnibus tax bill. However, House leaders later stripped all Senate additions (not just this one) from the final version of the bill. So when April 15, 2004 rolls around, those who have successfully fought back against discrimination are still likely to writing very large checks to the IRS that day, quite possibly wondering why they ever bothered to bring a discrimination claim in the first place.

More Information About the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act: Fair Taxes


Take Action Now: Stop Taxing Discrimination Awards Unfairly

It Didn’t Take Action on the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act

Not too many bills increasing the civil rights protections of employees have the unanimous support of any subset of the U.S. Congress, whether it’s due to partisan wrangling or one contrary legislator. The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act did, however, enjoy the unanimous support of the Senate, when it came to a vote in October 2003. You might think this exceedingly rare unanimity (coupled with the support of the White House) would mean something, but as of yet, you would be wrong. The House took no action on this bill before adjourning. So employers and insurers are still free to discriminate and/or deny insurance to those individuals with genetic histories they feel could cost them more money, and future scientific research could be hampered if those who could most benefit from knowing more fear the harm caused by what they know more than the harm caused by what they do know about themselves.

More Information about the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act: A Bill For People With D.N.A.: Senate Passes Genetic Non-Discrimination Bill (Today’s Workplace, October 14, 2003)

Take Action Now: Support a Vote on the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act

On a more positive note, there was one area in which the Senate’s failure to act can be praised:

It Didn’t Approve the Nominations of Some of the Worst Judicial Nominees

While the Congressional term ended with scores of federal judicial nominees approved by the Senate, there were a select few of the most extreme nominees who cannot yet call themselves federal circuit judges. Senate Democrats have thus far successfully filibustered nominees Charles Pickering (5th Circuit); Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit); William Pryor (11th Circuit); Carolyn Kuhl (9th Circuit); and Janice Rogers Brown (DC Circuit). Despite some talk from Senate Republicans about invoking a “nuclear option” requiring changes to long-standing Senate rules to allow the nominees to move ahead, and much more talk during a 30-hour debate session in November about the stalled nominees, when Congress went home for the holidays, these nominations continue to be stalled. While this issue is not likely to go away, especially in an election year, perhaps some of the nominees will, like Miguel Estrada, who withdrew his nomination once it was clear that his nomination was unlikely to be ratified by the Senate. Senators from both sides of the aisle need to hear from constituents aware of this issue who will urge them to reject extremist nominees and work towards a less rancorous confirmation process.

More Information on Judicial Nominations: Fair Judges

NELA’s Judicial Nominations Page

Take Action Now:

Demand Fair Judges: Stop Charles Pickering

Demand Fair Judges: Stop Bill Pryor

Demand Fair Judges: Stop Carolyn Kuhl

Demand Fair Judges: Stop Priscilla Owen

Demand Fair Judges: Stop Janice Rogers Brown

Perhaps in the future, we can report more favorably on what did happen, but in 2003, the most important developments were those that didn’t.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.