U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Livermore) recently introduced three bills in Congress, two of which aim to better prepare the federal government to treat pandemics as national security threats and another to give more rights to the families of homicide victims in federal cases.
House Resolution 4491, dubbed the "National Security Council Modernization Act of 2021," and HR 4492, the "Biosecurity Information Optimization for Defense (BIO Defense) Act of 2021," were both introduced on July 16. Swalwell's office issued statements detailing the goals of each bill.
The National Security Council Modernization Act would give the U.S. secretary of health and human services -- whose department oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other disease surveillance agencies -- a seat on the National Security Council (NSC).
According to Swalwell's office, the move would ensure that emerging public health threats are evaluated as potential national security threats and would provide a readily available forum for the secretary to share information on such diseases with national security-oriented departments like the Department of Defense.
"COVID-19 must be seen as a wake-up call for the national security threats posed by major pandemics," Swalwell said in a statement.
"Infectious disease outbreaks bring not only human suffering but also massive economic losses and political instability -- especially if outbreaks are serious enough to overwhelm our health care system, drain the workforce and interrupt supply chains, which clearly puts our national security at risk," he added.
The BIO Defense Act aims to improve the National Biodefense Strategy (NBS), a bipartisan plan enacted in 2016 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, by formalizing a national biodefense directorate, including the vice president and department secretaries. The entity would be required to meet regularly, hire staff and establish uniform data collection methods so it can continually update the NBS to address the national security risks posed by pandemics.
"The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that public health misinformation -- particularly on social media -- can jeopardize America's response to biological threats, unnecessarily putting people in harm's way," Swalwell said. "Knowledge is power during a pandemic, and government must actively promote fact-based information -- while actively debunking and preventing the spread of lies, be they deliberate or panic-induced -- to save lives."
HR 4491 has been referred to the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence committees. The BIO Defense Act was referred to the Energy and Commerce, Armed Services, Homeland Security and Agriculture committees.
Earlier this year, on May 19, Swalwell and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced the bipartisan HR 3359, "Homicide Victims' Families Rights Act" which aims to give more rights to the families of homicide victims in federal cases.
In a statement, both Swalwell and McCaul recounted their experiences as former prosecutors to underscore why they believe the bill is needed.
"As a former prosecutor, I saw first-hand the unimaginable tragedy of losing a loved one to homicide," Swalwell said. "Accountability is crucial to beginning the healing process and getting justice, and when families miss out on that opportunity, it is a massive failure of our systems."
"We must do more to give those families -- who have already been through so much -- the closure they deserve," he added.
"Almost 30 years have passed since the unspeakable and brutal murders of four teenage girls at a local yogurt shop in Austin," McCaul said. "To this day, we do not know who is responsible. As a father of five and a former federal prosecutor, it seems unimaginable to go without an answer as to why a loved one was taken so suddenly. That is why this legislation is so important -- to give these Austin families -- and others like them -- the tools to work with law enforcement to pursue justice on behalf of their loved one."
According to Swalwell's office, the Homicide Victims' Families Rights Act would give relatives of homicide victims, under federal law, the right to have their loved one's case file reviewed once the case has gone cold after three years.
If the federal investigator feels it would lead to probative leads, a full reinvestigation would then occur. The bill also would require the federal government to notify family members of their rights and to provide them with updates on any cold case review undertaken. It would also collect data on the problems with the cold cases.
The rationale behind the bill is that a new set of eyes can discover overlooked facts or new signs and using tests that were previously not available when the homicide was first investigated can lead to new information, Swalwell's office said.
The Homicide Victims' Families Rights Act has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
* Complete text of the National Security Council Modernization Act is available here.
* Complete text of the BIO Defense Act is available here.
* Complete text of the Homicide Victims' Families Rights Act is available here.