Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., reintroduced the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act for the third time in hopes that the bill designed to protect Federal employees during health emergencies will finally pass the Senate.
H.R. 8466 was approved by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Sept. 20 after being reintroduced in the House on July 21.
The bill – co-sponsored by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D- N.Y., and Shontel Brown, D-Ohio – will “require the head of each agency to establish a plan relating to the safety of Federal employees and contractors physically present at certain worksites during a nationwide public health emergency declared for an infectious disease, and for other purposes.”
“On May 26, 2020, Chai – a kitchen staff worker at a childcare facility on Marine core base Quantico, and my constituent – tragically died from coronavirus-related complications. He died because there were no protocols in place at a Federal workplace,” Connolly said at the markup meeting.
The lawmakers’ bill will require agencies to present their employees with policies and procedures related to the safety from infectious diseases of those physically present at the worksites 90 days after the act is passed. The plan should include descriptions and guidance on protective equipment, testing, exposures, cleaning, and more.
“We are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. But new strains of infectious diseases and other potential health emergencies demand that the Federal government prepare to adapt and continue operations across any challenges,” Connolly continued, “Federal agencies must place the health and safety of Federal employees at the forefront of their operations and decision making while continuing to ensure vital services are provided to the public.”
Connolly explained the importance Federal workers had during the height of the pandemic – continuing to deliver mail, help veterans, and give financial assistance. He believes Federal employees and the public deserve clear policies that will “ensure a safe and healthy continuity of operations.”
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., applauded Connolly on the bill, stating his excitement that it is no longer specific to COVID-19, but instead future-looking.
“I commend Chairman Connolly for this forward-looking bill that would better prepare government agencies for future public health crises,” said Maloney.
Connolly’s first bill of this nature was passed by the House in September 2020 but stalled in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. His second attempt at the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act was withdrawn in the House in September 2021.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., supported Connolly’s third attempt at passing this bill, but introduced an amendment.
“The plans this bill calls for must be made through the lens of maintaining operations and minimizing impacts to customer service,” he said. “The amendment that I have is very simple. It states that the plans required by this bill also cover how agency missions and customer service will be maintained during a potential future public health emergency.”
The bill will also require the inspector generals of each agency to submit a report on the implementation of the plan. Additionally, Rep. Connolly and his co-sponsors ask that the Government Accountability Office submit a report on the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Connolly’s bill – with Hice’s amendment – was unanimously agreed upon in the committee hearing and will now head to the full House.