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HC Wake-Up Call: Senate Passes Sweeping Public Lands Bill, Northam Lauds 'Second Chances' for Felons & NASA Astronaut Mark Kelly Launches Senate Race

Good morning, Her Campus! With a break-neck news cycle, there is no possible way for you to stay on top of every story that comes across your feeds—we’re all only human, after all.

But, life comes at you fast. So grab a cup of coffee and settle in for this quick and dirty guide to stories you might’ve been sleeping on (like, literally. It’s early.)

Senate Passes Sweeping Public Lands Bill, Protects 2 Million Acres

The U.S. Senate passed the most sweeping public lands conservation legislation in over a decade, protecting millions of acres of land, hundred of miles of rivers and trails and creates four new national monuments honoring heroes, including Civil War soldiers and a Civil Rights icon.

In a 92 to 8 vote, the 662-page measure garnered lots of bipartisan support, and senators congratulated each other for crossing the aisle and working together to make gains in all of their states.

“It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development and conservation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said (R-KY).

According to The Huffington Post, the measure, which includes more than 100 pieces of individual legislation, establishes 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, the nation’s most stringent protection, prohibiting any roads or vehicles. It permanently withdraw 370,000 acres from mining around two national parks, and and permits a program to spend offshore-drilling revenue on conservation efforts, according to The Washington Post.

The package deal expands five national parks, including Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley. The measure also protects 620 miles of rivers across seven states from damming and other development, and creates new national monuments, such as the Mississippi home of civil rights activists Medgar and Myrlie Evers and the Mill Springs Battlefield in Kentucky where the Union had its first victory in the Civil War, The Post reports.

“This is not only lands. This is water, this is sportsmen, this is conservation. This is about developing local economies,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who co-introduced the bill with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), said during a press conference following the vote. “This is about who we are as a country.”

Cantwell said the fact that the legislation protects so many of the nation’s most prized properties won wide support.

“Today is a very important day for public lands,” Cantwell said at the press conference. “It shows that there are bipartisan spirits alive in the United States Senate to support access for hunting, fishing and recreating to our public lands.”

“Today marks an overdue but critical victory for America’s most important conservation funding program and for protecting our wild lands,” Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s encouraging to see the new Congress immediately moving bipartisan legislation that conserves our land and water for now and for future generations.”

Northam Lauds “Second Chances” for Felons Amid Blackface Scandal

In a press release on Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam celebrated his administration restoring voting rights to former felons.

“I believe in second chances and making our Commonwealth more open and accessible to all,” Northam said, as he continues to face calls to resign over a racist blackface incident.

“Virginians who have repaid their debts should be able to return to society, get a good job, and participate in our democracy. This is an important achievement that marks my administration’s unwavering commitment to fairness, rehabilitation, and restorative justice,” he said.

According to The Huffington Post, the push to restore former felons’ voting rights actually began under Virginia’s two previous governors, Bob McDonnell (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D). During Northam’s 2017 gubernatorial race, he campaigned on heavily on the issue of voting rights.

Northam said that since taking office, 10,992 former felons in Virginia have regained their voting rights.

Northam has recently faced a blackface scandal after a photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page resurfaced and shows one man dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe and another in black face.

BuzzFeed News reported Monday that Northam plans to go on a “listening tour” across Virginia to engage in discussions about race.

“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity,” Northam told The Washington Post in his first interview since the photo resurfaced.

“There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entrepreneurship,” the governor said. “And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”

NASA Astronaut Mark Kelly Launches Senate Race

Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and Navy captain who has become a strong advocate for gun control after the failed assassination attempt of his wife former Rep. Gabby Giffords, announced that he is running for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

“I care about people. I care about the state of Arizona. I care about this nation. So because of that, I’ve decided that I’m launching a campaign for the United States Senate,” Kelly said in a video released Tuesday announcing his run as a Democratic candidate.

“I learned a lot from being an astronaut. I learned a lot from being a pilot in the Navy. I learned a lot about solving problems from being an engineer,” Kelly said in the campaign announcement. “But what I learned from my wife is how you use policy to improve people's lives.”

Giffords, Kelly’s wife, survived a shooting in 2011, CNN reports. The two, appearing together in the campaign announcement video, recounted the difficult period in their lives and Gifford’s rehabilitation after the incident.

Since retiring from NASA, Kelly has been an advocate for gun control, and he and Giffords created the organization called Giffords in 2013 to combat gun violence, CNN reports.

In his campaign announcement, Kelly focused on affordable health care, the economy and climate change, ABC News reports.

“You remember when you entered Congress for the first time?” Kelly asked Giffords. “You know, I thought then that I had the risky job. Turned out that you were the one who had the risky job.”

Kelly finished his announcement video with a famous quote passed through naval history about perseverance: “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

Kelly will be running for the seat formerly held by the late Sen. John McCain. The seat is currently Sen. Martha McSally (R), who was appointed to the seat by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey last year.

According to ABC News, the 2020 special election will decide who will hold the seat for the last two years of McCain’s term, and the 2022 election will determine who holds the next full six-year term.

Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Iraq War veteran, is also said to be considering a run for the Senate seat.

What to look out for...

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