Kennedy's lifetime of legislative accomplishments


• Mental Health Parity Act — Kennedy co-sponsored this legislation, which prohibits insurance companies from setting higher co-pays and deductibles for mental health and substance abuse patients. It also requires insurers to offer mental health patients the same benefits afforded to physically ill patients.

• Higher Education Opportunity Act — The education bill, which Kennedy sponsored in the Senate, simplified the federal government’s college financial aid forms, expanded federal need-based aid programs and established ethical standards for student loan lenders.


• Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 — Kennedy spearheaded the Senate effort to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour — the first such increase in over a decade.


• Family Opportunity Act — Working with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Kennedy sponsored legislation that allows states to expand their Medicaid coverage to include children with special needs. The law targets both low- and middle-income families, some of which would not have otherwise been eligible for state Medicaid assistance.


• Keeping Children and Families Safe Act — Kennedy was one of four senators to co-sponsor this reauthorization of a 1988 law that provides grants to public agencies to prevent and investigate instances of child abuse.


• Healthcare Safety Net Amendments of 2001 — In addition to reauthorizing the health-centers program and the National Health Service Corps, this 2002 law created the Healthy Communities Access Program, which offers special grants to local communities and care providers.


• No Child Left Behind — Kennedy was a leading co-sponsor and negotiator for the No Child Left Behind Act, President George W. Bush’s overhaul of public education designed to standardize achievement goals and improve student performance. It has since become a political target for Democrats. Kennedy long maintained the law ought to be reformed, not scrapped entirely.

• A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide permanent authority for the admission of “S” visa non-immigrants — Kennedy fought hard in 2001 to prevent the expiration of the “S” visa — a non-immigrant visa typically extended to aliens who supply law enforcement with information about criminal or terrorist organizations.


• Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2000 — The law established the National Center on Minority and Health Disparities under the umbrella of the National Institutes of Health. It also authorized the secretary of Health and Human Services to offer grants to public and nonprofit agencies to research ways to provide minority groups and communities with more equitable care.


• Work Incentives Improvement Act — Alongside former Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.), Kennedy co-sponsored Ticket to Work, a program design to help disabled Americans re-enter the workforce without fear of losing their health insurance or disability benefits.


• State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Balanced Budget Act of 1997 — Teaming up once again with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Kennedy introduced SCHIP, the largest federal expansion of a healthcare program since the United States launched Medicare in the 1960s. The program, funded in part by a federal tax on cigarettes, offers matching grants to states that provide health insurance to children of low-income families.


• Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — Better known as HIPAA, Kennedy’s act guaranteed continued healthcare coverage for workers who changed or lost their jobs. The law further established new rules for how patients’ health information could be used, shared or disclosed among healthcare providers.


• Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994 — Kennedy’s freedom of access law set stiff criminal penalties for those who impede patients’ trips to reproductive health clinics.


•National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993 — The Revitalization Act authorized a host of new departments, from the National Library of Medicine to the Office of AIDS Research, and re-defined the roles of key NIH administrative positions.


• Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act — Kennedy’s work on this 1992 bill resulted in the creation of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. The law also prohibited hiring discrimination against former substance abusers (subject to exception).

• Ready to Learn Act — Kennedy had long championed expansions to Head Start, a Health and Human Services program aimed at early child development. The reform he sponsored in 1992 — the Ready to Learn Act — further expanded the program to include more children. Two years later, Kennedy also sponsored the Early Head Start program, which targets infants and toddlers in poverty.


• Armed Forces Immigration Adjustment Act of 1991 — Kennedy’s bill allowed the Immigration and Naturalization Act to extend special immigrant status to aliens who have served in the U.S. military for at least 12 years.

• Civil Rights Act of 1991 — Kennedy was a chief sponsor of this 1991 law, which strengthened existing rules and punishments for discrimination in the workplace.


• Americans with Disabilities Act — Kennedy was a vocal, active sponsor of the ADA, a 1990 law that extended civil rights protections to disabled Americans.

• Immigration Act of 1990 — The Immigration Act, one of many immigration laws Kennedy sponsored or supported, increased the total number of immigrants allowed into the U.S. annually. It also created a visa lottery system to encourage immigration from non-European countries.

• The Ryan White CARE Act — Introduced by Kennedy and Hatch, the Ryan White CARE Act is to this day the largest federal program focused on HIV/AIDS treatment. The original law — since updated and modernized in 2000 and 2006 — offers grant money to communities disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, and to families struggling with the costs of care.


• National Military Child Care Act — Kennedy was instrumental in writing and winning approval for this legislation overhauling the Department of Defense’s childcare system. Widely regarded as a success by military personnel, it also authorized funding for new child development centers, lowered the price of the program and expanded it to include more children.


• Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act — With the help of Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Kennedy co-sponsored this 1986 amendment to the Social Security Act, which authorized the continued payment of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to disabled Americans who work despite impairment.

• Handicapped Children’s Protection Act — The Handicapped Children’s Protection Act, which Kennedy co-sponsored, permits courts to award attorney fees to the parents or guardians of a handicapped child who wins in court.


• Anti-Apartheid Act — Kennedy introduced the Anti-Apartheid Act, a bill that imposed strict economic sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime. Although President Ronald Reagan initially vetoed the measure, Kennedy rallied sufficient support in Congress to override the president in 1986.


• Voting Rights Act amendments — Kennedy was a chief proponent of the 1982 amendments, which modified the original 1965 Voting Rights Act (which Kennedy also supported) to include protections for minorities at the polls. The goal, Kennedy proclaimed during congressional hearings in the 1980s, was to increase minority representation in all levels of government.


• Air Deregulation Act — The deregulation law — better known as the Cannon-Kennedy-Pearson Act — phased out the Civil Aeronautics Board, which had for decades regulated airline fares and routes. Under the new system, airlines set their own business practices.

• Kennedy was a leading sponsor of an amendment that would have granted Washington its first vote in the House and Senate. However, the initiative — which did pass both chambers — did not receive sufficient support from the states.

• Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — FISA, which Kennedy sponsored in the Senate, permits the federal government the ability to conduct electronic surveillance on foreign powers or their agents, occasionally without first obtaining a court warrant. The law also established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to handle surveillance warrants by federal law agencies.


• Title IX — Kennedy was a vocal supporter of Title IX, part of a package of education amendments Congress debated in 1972. The provision, which targets public schools, colleges and universities, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Kennedy later fought a court battle that would have limited the law to private schools.


• Lowering the voting age — Kennedy’s amendment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 — which he attached to a bill reauthorizing the 1965 Voting Rights Act — eventually resulted in the 26th Amendment.


• Alternative Minimum Tax amendment — Kennedy successfully added his Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1969. At the time, the Massachusetts senator believed his new tax formula, which limited the power of deductions and exemptions, would apply only to those families in the highest of tax brackets. However, the steady, nationwide increase in income since the 1960s has forced lawmakers to devise new ways to shield middle-class families from the tax, which was never indexed to inflation. Congress generally has provided a “patch” to ensure the tax is not applied to the middle class.


• Bilingual Education Act — The act provided funds to school districts so they could establish programs for students who spoke limited English.

• Fair Housing Act — The Fair Housing Act suffered through two years’ worth of debate until 1968, when Kennedy joined his colleague, then-Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Mass.), to fight vigorously (and successfully) for the bill’s passage. The law prohibits landlords from selecting tenants based on race, color, religion or national origin.


• Voting Rights Act of 1965 — Kennedy was instrumental in the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed voter literacy tests and safeguarded minorities against similar forms of poll discrimination.

• Elementary and Secondary School Act — Influenced by Kennedy’s brother, former President John F. Kennedy, and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 offered funding to disadvantaged schools and students in order make their districts more competitive and successful. Since 1965, however, the law has evolved considerably — it now regulates school safety, student equality, technology and a host of other areas.

• Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Hart-Cellar Act) — After President Kennedy’s assassination, Sen. Kennedy took up his brother’s cause to reform immigration. Most notably, he campaigned extensively in support of the Hart-Cellar Act, which eliminated the national-origin quotas that had been in place since 1924.


• The Civil Rights Act of 1964 — Kennedy made his first speech to the Senate during the debate over the Civil Rights Act, a 1964 law that outlawed segregation in public places and created the Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity.


• Kennedy is elected to the U.S. Senate.

SOURCES: Library of Congress, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Senate office, Sen. Kennedy’s Senate campaign office, Harvard University Institute of Politics