- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2019

While the political jockeying gets more attention, candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential race are advancing serious policy proposals. The Washington Times takes a weekly look at some of them that may have flown under the radar.

Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke on Thursday announced his plan to boost labor unions and workers, dubbing it his “21st Century Labor Contract.”

The former Texas congressman promised to increase wages, expand job training and end workplace discrimination by guaranteeing the right to join a union and job training to shift fields when the labor market changes. He also promised to create economic conditions he said would eliminate the need to hold more than one job to make ends meet.

“We need to be there for workers across this country who have always been the engine of our economy,” he said. “We need to keep up the fight for $15 an hour to ensure that one job is enough — and no one needs to work a second or third job to support themselves and their families.”

A day earlier, Sen. Bernard Sanders offered his own plan for “workplace democracy,” setting a goal of doubling union membership within four years.

“If we are serious about rebuilding the middle class in America, we have got to rebuild, strengthen and expand the trade union movement in America,” Mr. Sanders said.

Mr. Sanders would repeal the federal law that allows states to set their own “right to work” laws, which generally prevent workers from being forced to join unions or pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Mr. Sanders also wants to require companies that merge to honor existing union contracts, and he wants to create federal protections against firing workers for any reason other than “just cause.”

The Vermont lawmaker also tucked a tweak to his “Medicare for All” government-run health care program, saying companies that would save money by no longer having to fund generous union-negotiated health plans would be required to pass the savings on to workers in wages or benefits.

Gillibrand on mental health

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand on Tuesday released a plan intended to boost mental health care services, as the subject receives renewed attention in the wake of the recent shootings in Texas and Ohio.

She called for an expansion of community health centers that provide mental and behavioral health care, and she said she would work to combat “implicit biases” in mental health care that disadvantage people of color and other “harmed” communities.

“If we truly believe that health care is a right and not a privilege, then access to quality mental health treatments cannot be up for debate,” the New York Democrat said in a Medium post. “It’s time for mental health to be taken as seriously as physical health.”

Ms. Gillibrand vowed to expand school-based mental health care treatment, expand access to mental and behavioral health care for rural Americans, and invest further in suicide prevention efforts for young people and the LGBTQ community.

Ms. Gillibrand also said she would work to ensure proper reimbursement rates for “non-traditional” treatment and prevention methods, such as connecting people seeking treatment with a peer familiar with their background.

She also wants to address the link between mental health and the epidemic of opioid addiction in the country through efforts such as a grant program for family support services, and incentives for specialized training in which health providers could opt for alternative pain management treatments.

Castro on animal welfare

Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro on Monday introduced a wide-ranging animal welfare proposal that would make animal cruelty a federal crime and ban the import of “big-game trophies,” among other priorities.

Mr. Castro wants to end lethal methods of animal control through a new $40 million grant program to local governments. He would increase the federal role in policing dog breeders and more rigorously enforce federal animal welfare laws his campaign says the Trump administration has sought to undercut.

Mr. Castro said President Trump doesn’t care about animals and has put “corporate profits over living creatures.”

“This groundbreaking plan will improve the treatment of animals around the country and the world, and undo Donald Trump’s damage,” he said.

His plan would prohibit the testing of cosmetic products on animals, ban unlicensed private ownership of “big cats” such as lions and tigers, and permanently ban horse slaughter for human consumption — a frequent point of contention in annual spending bills Congress passes.

Mr. Castro also envisions higher federal standards for animal welfare in farms and expanding rights of whistle-blowers to encourage them to report bad actors.

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