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Biden Approves New Environmental, Discrimination and Mental Health Rules

Reversing Trump-era policies, Biden signed bills on rural veteran health, lending and methane restrictions.

(CN) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed three Congressional Review Act bills into law, reversing Trump-era policies that deregulated lending, health care and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Each of these bills reflects return to common sense and commitment to the common good,” Biden remarked. 

The first bill the president signed on Wednesday evening aimed to restore federal limits on methane emissions in the gas and oil sector.

It reversed a rule published by the Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 14, 2020, which had limited the agency’s ability to regulate the methane emissions of potentially polluting industries. 

Biden then signed a joint resolution that voids a final rule published by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Oct. 30, 2020.

Aiming to defend borrowers from loan sharks, the rule requires that to be considered a lender, a national bank or federal saving association must, “as of the date of origination of the loan, be named as the lender in the loan agreement, or fund the loan.”

Before signing the bill, Biden said it will serve to “protect consumers from predatory lenders.”

The president earlier on Wednesday signed-off on a bipartisan bill, aimed at expanding access to mental health care for veterans who live in rural areas, called the Sergeant Ketchum Rural Veterans' Mental Health Act.

The bill was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate on June 24 and named in memory of Iowa Sergeant Brandon Ketchum, who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder following his military service.

“I am so proud that my first standalone bill signed into law this Congress is one that honors the service of an Iowa hero — Sergeant Brandon Ketchum — and recognizes the need to have our veterans’ backs when they return home, regardless of where they live,” Iowa Representative Cindy Axne said in a statement on Wednesday. 

According to investigators, Ketchum died by suicide after being denied access to mental health services through the Iowa City VA Medical Center.

The bill requires the VA to establish and maintain three new centers of the Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement program during the fiscal year 2022 “in areas with interest from personnel and a need for additional mental health care for rural veterans.” 

It also requires the Government Accountability Office to “conduct a study and report on whether the VA has sufficient resources to serve rural veterans who need mental health care that is more intensive than traditional outpatient therapy.”

One in five veterans returns home from combat with at least one serious mental health condition, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Axne, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, added “Months ago, I promised Brandon’s mother, Bev, that I would fight to see this legislation through so that veterans like her son could get the mental health care they need when they return home — and I’m grateful to President Biden, Senators Tester and Moran, my Iowa colleagues, and all the others who helped make this law happen.”

The president on Wednesday also signed into law an official Congressional disapproval of a rule initially proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in October 2020.

The Trump-era rule had sought to update the commission’s conciliation procedures.

“This resolution will help ensure fairness for those who bring forth charges of unlawful workplace discrimination,” Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia said ahead of a June 24 House vote to disapprove of the rule. 

When the commission finds that an employer likely violated the anti-discrimination law, it is required under Title VII of the 1984 Civil Rights Act to engage in conciliation — or, reaching an out-of-court resolution — before filing a lawsuit.

“This conciliation process is meant to be an informal and confidential opportunity for parties to settle a charge of discrimination in lieu of going to court,” said Scott, adding, “Unfortunately, in the final weeks of the Trump administration, the EEOC issued a final rule that imposed onerous new requirements on the conciliation process.”

Warning that the commission’s rule change would tip the scales in favor of potentially discriminatory employers, Scott said it would have required the EEOC to “expose the identities of workers or groups of workers for whom relief is being sought unless they proactively request anonymity, and their witnesses.”

He added that the rule, if not condemned by Congress, could further drag out the process.

Biden’s signing of the resolution against the commission’s rule on Wednesday means the rule will not take effect.

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