July 17, 2022

At this critical moment in our nation’s history, all of us who love America must redouble our efforts to make sure the United States lives up to its true promise. We have a lot of work ahead to achieve that objective, especially as we tackle the many challenges that our nation now faces. One of our top priorities must be addressing the scourge of gun violence that threatens to rip apart the very fabric of our communities. The American people have been calling for action on gun safety, and the Senate took a modest but meaningful step forward to do just that with the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. This bill marks an important achievement, but I will not rest until we enact comprehensive gun safety reform. I will also work with the Maryland Attorney General and the Maryland General Assembly to shape new Maryland laws in response to the harmful Supreme Court decision overriding state laws – like ours in Maryland – that place reasonable limits on the ability to carry concealed guns. We cannot normalize the idea that Americans must live in fear – whether they’re in a classroom, at a July 4th parade, or walking in their neighborhood. Our country has more guns than people, and we need more safeguards to prevent the epidemic of gun violence.  

And following last month’s devastating ruling from the far-right packed Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, we must fight even harder to protect the most basic freedoms of all Americans – including the right of privacy and reproductive freedom. Americans don’t want elected officials interfering in their most personal, private decisions – but that fact hasn’t stopped the Court from forcing its ideological beliefs down the throats of the American people. And the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is just step one of the anti-choice, far-right’s plan. Next, they’re aiming to secure a majority in Congress to pass a national law banning the right to choose everywhere – overriding state laws like Maryland’s 1991 statute codifying the protections of Roe v. Wade in our state.

Republican-run state legislatures are already trying to expand their reach beyond their borders by passing laws to criminalize women who travel to other states to seek abortion care. This extremism is not isolated to Republican-controlled states; it has also infected Senate Republicans. Just this week, they blocked efforts by the Democratic Senate majority to pass legislation that I cosponsored to protect the right of women to travel across state lines in order to receive abortion care. 

We need a majority of senators and representatives who will vote to pass a national law to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade. The House has already passed such a measure, the Women’s Health Protection Act. We have tried to do the same in the Senate, but have not been able to get an up-or-down vote on it because of the supermajority filibuster. That’s just one more reason why we need the votes to amend or end that undemocratic Senate rule. 

Serving Our Veterans

Our nation has a duty to support those who have risked their lives for our country. That includes ensuring our nation’s veterans receive the care they deserve. That’s why I’m fighting to pass the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act), legislation that will improve access to care for all those who served in America’s armed forces. Within this bill, I worked to secure funding to open two new veterans clinics in our state – one in Baltimore and one in Prince George’s County – to extend the already existing network of these Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) in other parts of Maryland. Additionally, this bill provides health care benefits for all generations of toxic-exposed veterans for the first time in our nation’s history, including those exposed to burn pits. This legislation is a big win for our communities and a critical step forward in improving the network of care and new safeguards for veterans across our state. This landmark legislation recently passed the House of Representatives, it will soon return to the Senate for final passage, and I look forward to voting in favor of sending this bill to the President’s desk for signature immediately.

Recently, I also had the privilege of presenting a POW Medal to Maryland veteran Ron Dolecki, whose bravery in the face of captivity saved lives. Ron was captured by the Eritrean Liberation Front while on a classified mission to Ethiopia in the 1960’s and was forced to march more than 150 miles from Ethiopia to Sudan. He managed to escape from his captors and braved the elements without any food or water before finally making it back to safety, where he briefed the Army on the location of his partners. Decades later, his wife, Linda, submitted an application for Ron to receive a POW Medal, but her request was denied. For years, I worked alongside Ron, Linda, and others to fight for this recognition – which was bogged down by an error in the Army’s application of the law governing eligibility for this medal. I wrote twice to the Secretary of the Army – and then worked to pass legislative provisions to ensure the accurate application of the law and secure Ron’s medal. Finally, the Army formally approved his medal award this March. It was an honor to invite him to the United States Capitol so he could receive his medal in person, along with another POW from Virginia, David Strickland.

Beating Back Sickle Cell

Last year, a member of my legislative staff, John Amara Walters, died of complications from Sickle Cell Disease. John had been on my staff since my days in the House of Representatives, working hard and climbing the ranks – eventually becoming a Legislative Aide on my Senate team. No matter the challenge, John brought enthusiasm, good humor, and brilliance to everything he did.

This illness took John from us far too soon – only a few months before his 30th birthday. But today, his legacy lives on. Since his passing, I have worked with John’s mother, Kimberley Davis, to ramp up our efforts to defeat the disease. Last month, I introduced the Sickle Cell Care Expansion Act to move this fight forward by improving access to medical treatment and quality of life for people suffering from Sickle Cell Disease.

For too long, Sickle Cell Disease has been an overlooked condition, which has left a shortage of medical professionals who can treat it and limited resources for young adults living with it. Our bill will help close gaps in care that Sickle Cell patients often face by training more doctors in the field and boosting access to comprehensive care and other services for young adults transitioning out of pediatric care. As promising treatments for this disease advance and patients live longer, we need to ensure this care is accessible to all who need it. We shouldn’t have to lose any more colleagues, friends, neighbors, or loved ones to this disease – and I’m committed to making that vision a reality through this legislation and future efforts to beat back Sickle Cell.

Ensuring Access to Food and Nutrition 

No family should live in fear of not knowing how they will provide their child their next meal. I’ve been hearing from parents and caregivers across Maryland who are gravely concerned about the current shortage of baby formula. Formula is a critical source of nutrition for newborns and infants, and this supply shortage has put their health and development at risk.

In May, I joined Senators Patty Murray and Bob Casey in sending a letter to Mardi Mountford, President of the Infant Nutrition Council of America, calling on infant formula manufacturers to make every effort possible to get parents and families the formula they need to feed their kids. A few days later, my colleagues and I sent a letter to the White House urging President Biden to immediately assign a coordinator on infant formula to address the shortage and implement a national strategy to increase the resiliency of the infant formula supply chain and protect against future contamination and shortages.

In response to our calls in Congress – and the combined efforts of local leaders and stakeholders across the country – the Biden Administration is taking action to get formula back on shelves. The President is now working to airlift millions of cans of formula into the United States. This is an important step, and we must continue pushing with everything we’ve got. I also encourage Marylanders to refer to the resources assembled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, designed to help families navigate this shortage. 

In addition to working to tackle the formula shortage, I recently fought to pass emergency, bipartisan legislation that will extend free summer meals and other food assistance programs that my colleagues and I included in earlier COVID-19 relief bills, but were set to expire over the summer. This legislation will extend a crucial lifeline to children and families, keep our kids fed for the coming months, and cut red tape to make food assistance programs more effective.

Both of these efforts represent important investments in the health of kids and families in Maryland and across the country. But we cannot stop there. I remain deeply committed to meeting the needs of all of our communities – from tackling the kitchen table issues weighing down our working families to confronting the institutional challenges weighing down our democracy. In particular, I know many working families are deeply concerned about rising costs. That’s why right now, my colleagues and I in the Senate are working on a legislative package to ease the strain on working families’ pocketbooks – with provisions to bring down the costs of prescription drugs and other items that Marylanders rely on every day. That push is absolutely central to ensuring our economy works for everyone – and that every Marylander and every American can share in America’s wealth and prosperity.

These efforts, and others, require that all Marylanders join together to address the priorities that matter most. It’s in that spirit that I hope you will continue to stay engaged.





               Chris Van Hollen