To protect journalists from government harassment, PRESS Act is now on Senate’s fast track

It’s critical that we protect this pillar of our democracy. I support the PRESS Act and have cleared it for fast-track consideration on the Senate “hotline.”

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A Chicago Reader Box.

A Chicago Reader Box.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

In recent weeks, Seth Stern and John Cusack of the Freedom of the Press Foundation have written in the Sun-Times advocating for passage of the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act. They have called on me, in my role as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to help pass the bill.

I couldn’t agree more with Seth and John about the critical role a free and independent press plays in our democracy. Without the press to inform the public and hold politicians and others in power to account, our country’s experiment with democracy would have failed long ago. So, a bill that protects journalists and their sources from government harassment is important.

But in considering the PRESS Act — and the shield from subpoenas and other compulsory legal process it provides — you have to think through the tough questions, such as: Who qualifies as a journalist? What information should be shielded from law enforcement? Should law enforcement be prevented from seeking evidence from a white supremacist or other domestic violent extremist with information about a planned act of domestic terror just because he or she occasionally posts to a blog?

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It’s questions like these that I’ve wrestled with for over a decade as bills similar to the PRESS Act have been debated.

That’s why I am glad that today’s PRESS Act — like recent Justice Department regulations issued by Attorney General Merrick Garland — accounts for these scenarios. It makes exceptions for information necessary to prevent or identify the perpetrator of an act of terrorism or to prevent a threat of imminent violence, significant bodily harm or death. And it doesn’t apply to foreign agents, terrorists or journalists suspected of committing crimes.

At a time when the former president is calling for journalists to be jailed and referring to the press as the “enemy of the people,” it’s critical that we protect this pillar of our democracy.

That’s why I support the PRESS Act and have cleared it for fast-track consideration on the Senate “hotline.” I encourage my colleagues to support this legislation so it can go to President Biden’s desk.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois

Air medical industry is vital for Illinois veterans

Veterans in Illinois and across the country experience numerous barriers to health care, and a new change being considered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs could leave them without access to lifesaving care. The VA’s proposal to cut its reimbursement rate for emergency air medical services, to equal the Medicare rate, would force air ambulance bases to close, causing devastating loss of critical medical care for veterans, particularly in rural communities.

The air medical industry plays an important role in Illinois — home to over 628,000 veterans, including around 98,000 veterans with a disability — and connects those without direct access to a trauma center to the nearest medically appropriate facility.

These air ambulance transports take place within what trauma doctors call the “golden hour,” the first window after a traumatic injury when the right kind of medical care can lead to vastly better patient outcomes. Without the high level of care provided by air ambulances, the lives of veterans and rural Americans are at risk.

Medicare hasn’t updated its air ambulance rate in over 20 years and only covers around 50% of the cost to transport a patient. We need to urge the VA not to cut its reimbursement and to protect access to this lifesaving care. We must protect our veterans just like they protected us.

P.J. Amartey, Save Our Air Medical Resources (SOAR) Campaign, Washington, D.C.

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