Virginia’s federal lawmakers come together for Gabriella Miller
U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine (D) and Mark Warner (D) made public Monday their support for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, bipartisan legislation named after the Loudoun County child cancer advocate who died from the disease last year at the age of 10. The bill, as it passed the House, proposes to shift $13 million per year for 10 years to pediatric research from funds designated for political party conventions. The measure also establishes the Pediatric Research Initiative Fund.
In December, Mr. Cantor led his chamber to a 295-103 vote approving the legislation – this in a deeply-divided House of Representatives.
The bill was initially introduced in May 2013 by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.-3rd). After learning of the young Miller's story, Mr. Cantor reached out to Gabriella's parents Mark and Ellyn, met with them and suggested naming Mr. Harper's proposal in Gabriella's honor.
The Republican dean of Virginia's congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.-10th), signed on as one of more than 100 co-sponsors of the legislation.
Mr. Kaine, during a Jan. 24 interview with the Times-Mirror, expressed emphatic support for the Gabriella Miller act. The first-term Democratic senator called the bill “an important way to honor the memory of this remarkable young Virginian while recognizing the importance of pediatric disease research.”
While Mr. Kaine said he expects the legislation to remain strongly bipartisan -- as it was in the House -- his Senate colleagues are currently tasked with crafting the verbiage to see the bill reach a floor vote.
It's unclear when the measure will be taken up by the full Senate.
“Often the biggest hurdle in the Senate is just getting floor time on something,” Mr. Kaine told the Times-Mirror. “ … I would say that is what we're strategizing. The cause is good. Once you talk to people about the need for more pediatric research, they get it.”
Sen. Warner said Gabriella was “a profile in courage.”
“I am pleased to add my support to this worthwhile effort to boost National Institutes of Health research for pediatric diseases,” Mr. Warner said Monday. “ ... I can think of no better way to honor her legacy.”
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has taken the lead on the legislation for Senate Republicans.
Monday's announcement comes two days after Mark and Ellyn Miller hosted a fundraising gala in their home county of Loudoun to honor Gabriella, who in her final 12 months became a regional hero and well-known titan for childhood cancer awareness.
In December 2012, following her diagnosis, Gabriella mobilized people across the nation to write 240,000 letters to Santa, dropping them off at Macy's to raise $240,000 dollars for the Make-a-Wish foundation, which prompted Macy's to add $25,000 to the donation.
Named Loudoun County's 2012 volunteer of the year, Gabriella was featured by several local and national news outlets. Additionally, in her final months, she wrote a children's book on cancer, spoke in Washington, D.C., traveled to Paris on a Make-a-Wish trip and earned an honorary degree from Shenandoah University.
Eventually, the Millers decided to start a cancer awareness foundation of their own. They called it Smashing Walnuts, an homage to the hours the Millers spent destroying walnuts, meant to signify them beating Gabriella's nut-sized tumor.
Times-Mirror Staff Writer Alanna Dvorak contributed to this report.