Attempt to ban vaccine passports in Arizona fails

By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square, May 21, 2021

(The Center Square) – A legislative effort to not only ban the creation of vaccine passports but punish businesses that require something similar narrowly failed in Arizona.

The Senate called House Bill 2190 for a vote Thursday, even though a couple of Republicans were missing from what was expected to be a party-line vote. 

Should it have succeeded, the measure would have banned government entities, businesses, ticket venues and others from either discriminating against unvaccinated people or offering special benefits to those based on vaccination status. 

Individuals breaking the law faced felony charges. Businesses that defied the law would have seen any state-issued business licenses suspended. 

The bill exempted much of the health care industry from the requirements. 

Gov. Doug Ducey banned public entities from requiring any proof of vaccination via an executive order he signed in April.

With a couple of absent Republicans, the party needed every member of their caucus to support the bill.

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, was the only Republican to vote against the measure. The former house speaker owns a supermarket, something he said guided his decision.

“I believe in private property rights and the rights of the sole proprietor,” Shope said, giving the hypothetical of an immunocompromised barber who can’t get a vaccine. “This bill in its current form would have the heavy hand of government shut that business down and leave that individual without a livelihood, and that is something that I cannot stand for.”

Shope criticized lawmakers for litigating the issue on social media instead of reaching out to him.

Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, responded, saying the bill takes the appropriate stance on the rights of Arizonans.

“We all believe in private property rights, but we also believe in individual rights,” he said. “Any time that you have to go into a business and they can say, ‘Let me see your passport. Show me what you’ve done. Show me you’ve injected something in your arm.’ That is not proper. That is not individual rights.”

Sponsors of the bill may call it for reconsideration before the current session ends. 

Ohio Democrats walk out on voting bill debate

By J.D. Davidson | The Center Square May 21, 2021

(The Center Square) – A bill that would eliminate early voting in Ohio the day before an election and stop the mailing of absentee ballots 10 days before Election Day got its first hearing in the Ohio, and it came with controversy.

Democratic lawmakers walked out of the House Government Oversight Committee on Thursday after they say committee Chair Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, threatened to cut off debate.

“What we saw today was unsettling – Republicans unwilling to engage in civil discourse on their bill that would silence the voices of Ohioans by rolling back the right to vote,” said House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron. “If Republicans are unwilling to hear the people out, Democrats are going to take this issue to the people.”

House Bill 294 also requires testing of voting machines before use in all elections and expands the definition of voter activity to ensure fewer active voters are purged from voter rolls, bill cosponsor Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, told the committee.

“Ohio succeeds at elections because we’ve found the right balance of voter access and election security,” said Ray, a former member of the Medina County Board of Elections and the Ohio Elections Officials Association. “I think we can all agree it’s in all our best interest to build off that balance – utilizing both technology and best practices to improve upon our election system. I believe this bill achieves that objective.”

Democrats, however, have been critical of the bill from its beginning, saying the elimination of early voting days, along with two-factor voting ID to request an absentee ballot online, disenfranchises voters, particularly minority voters. They also argue it makes the process more confusing.

“After lawmakers were denied the ability to thoroughly vet a 174-page bill with vast implications on our right to vote, it’s abundantly clear that the intent of House Bill 294 is not to improve voter access or work across the aisle to build a democracy that works for all of us,” said Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland. “If elected officials are not allowed to ask questions and make their voices heard, then why should we trust the GOP to let Ohioans make their voices heard at the ballot box?”

Ray called the current Ohio law that allows for absentee ballots to be requested up until the third day before a general election unrealistic and a guarantee for disenfranchisement, saying “it is highly unlikely that voters that waited that long would receive their absent ballot in time to be filled out and returned by the deadline.”

Ray also called the bill balanced and said members have had many questions answered.

“Never in my 21 years of service in the General Assembly have I seen a more comprehensive set of materials distributed to all members of the House by way of the cosponsor request,” Ray said. “In many ways, this bill has been vetted before it has ever had sponsor testimony.”

Democrats announced a statewide listening tour for June 2-5 to hear concerns about the bill. Stops include Cincinnati, Columbus, Akron and Cleveland.

Whitmer loosens COVID-19 restrictions; Michiganders can return to work

By Scott McClallen | The Center Square, May 24, 2021

(The Center Square) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday updated COVID-19 emergency rules in place the past 14 months to allow Michiganders to return to in-person work.

This rollback follows a lousy weekend for Whitmer, who was exposed on social media while breaking her own COVID-19 rules in an East Lansing bar seated with 13 people. Her orders require “no more than 6 patrons are seated together,” which threatens a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to six months, or a fine of not more than $200.00, or both. The same weekend, Wall Street Journal editors chose her as the topic of its Weekend op-ed, in which the editors excoriated her for her Line 5 stance. 

The new order will eliminate outdoor capacity limits and increase indoor social gatherings to 50% capacity on June 1.

“As we work to put Michigan back to work, we are moving quickly to invest in our families, small businesses, and communities to help them succeed,” Whitmer said in a statement issued Monday morning. “The reason we can take these steps is thanks to every Michigander who has stepped up and taken action to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe. Together, we are eliminating this once-in-a-century virus, and now we are poised to jumpstart our economy and power it to new highs.”

The agreement follows Whitmer and the GOP-led Legislature fighting for more than a year on COVID-19 response.

The Legislature will negotiate the budget with Whitmer in return for Whitmer abandoning her threat to make COVID-19 restrictions permanent through the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (MIOSHA).

MIOSHA has removed the requirement that employers must create a “policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely.” The agency rescinded the draft permanent COVID-19 rules and canceled a public hearing scheduled May 26.

“As we work with the administration to get back to normal, protecting Michigan workers on the job remains the top priority for MIOSHA,” Michigan Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity Acting Director Susan Corbin said in a statement. “These updated emergency rules will give workers and businesses the clarity and confidence they need to bring our economy back to full-strength.”

MIOSHA has updated its guidance

  • Employers may allow fully vaccinated employees to not wear face coverings and social distance provided they have a policy deemed effective to ensure non-vaccinated individuals continue to follow these requirements.
  • The rules have been reformed focusing on performance, eliminating industry-specific requirements. Definitions have been updated to more clearly reflect changes in close contact and quarantining requirements for fully vaccinated employees.
  • Cleaning requirements have been updated to reflect changes in CDC recommendations.
  • Employers should continue to have and implement a written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan in accordance with the updated rules.

 The new MDHHS order starting June 1 will require masks worn indoors for those who aren’t fully vaccinated. That broad mandate will end July 1.

 ”The COVID-19 vaccine is the most important tool we have to reduce the spread of the virus. The vaccines are safe and effective and vaccinated people can do so many more things safely,” Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in a statement. “We have made great progress with our vaccination efforts, but the pandemic is not over. We are working to make sure vaccines are accessible to everyone at their doctor’s office, in their neighborhoods, or even in their homes. By getting vaccinated as soon as possible Michiganders can protect themselves, their families and their communities and help end this pandemic as quickly as possible.”

The news will be welcome to local businesses that rely on foot traffic. However, The Detroit News reported 26,000 state workers won’t return to the office before July 12. 

Biden administration resettles migrant children in Tennessee without local knowledge

By Vivian Jones | The Center Square contributor, May 21, 2021

(The Center Square) – A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services operation to resettle hundreds of unaccompanied children apprehended by immigration officials in Tennessee has officials demanding transparency from the Biden administration.

Chattanooga TV station WRCB reported Thursday at least four flights landed at Chattanooga’s Wilson Air Center in the middle of the night carrying unaccompanied children. Videos depicted children boarding buses at the airport that witnesses said were bound to destinations including Miami and Dallas, WRCB reported.

The flights are part of a program operated by HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to provide travel for unaccompanied children to reunite with families or transfer to group home settings.

According to the ORR, 10,418 unaccompanied children were in ORR care as of March 31 – mostly teenage males – up from 1,929 in October. During the month of March, ORR oversaw 6,527 discharges to individual sponsors across the country.

In response to inquiries by The Center Square about the flights into Chattanooga, ORR’s Office of Communications provided this statement:

“ORR’s mission is to safely care for unaccompanied children until they can be unified with a vetted sponsor, usually a parent or close relative. As part of the unification process, ORR is currently facilitating travel for the children in ORR’s custody to their sponsors to prevent any delays. Their parents and relatives are located across the United States, and ORR contractors use various transportation modes to unite unaccompanied children with their families, including air and ground transportation options, taking into account child safety and wellness, travel time, and cost-effectiveness.”

A total of 484 unaccompanied children apprehended by immigration officials have been released to sponsors in Tennessee during the first three months of this year, according to ORR, including 290 unaccompanied children released in Davidson County.

ORR has not released numbers of resettled minors since the end of March, but it’s likely to be a significant increase. During testimony before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee last week, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas highlighted the recent decrease in the number of minors in Customs and Border Protection custody.

“On March 29, more than 5,700 children were in border patrol stations. Two days ago there were 455,” Mayorkas said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defense confirmed that the department has provided housing for unaccompanied children at Fort Bliss and Lackland AFB in Texas in conjunction with the HHS operation.

State and local officials in the dark

HHS has carried out the unaccompanied children operation in Tennessee without the knowledge of local or state officials.

HHS did not make Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly aware of its operations in his city, according to a spokesperson from the mayor’s office. Chattanooga Police Department confirmed to The Center Square it did not have any information about the flights. A spokesperson for the Chattanooga Wilson Air Center said the airport did not have any details about the incoming flights.

“We do not have specific information regarding the circumstances of any flights, including the number of flights or identities of passengers on board,” CHA spokesperson Albert Waterhouse told The Center Square in a statement. “Wilson Air Center Chattanooga provides only the necessary operational support, such as fueling and other ground services, to inbound and outbound aircraft.”

HHS had requested help from Tennessee to resettle unaccompanied minors in the state. Gov. Bill Lee denied the request March 19, but the operation continued to move forward.

“Weeks ago, we declined the Biden Administration’s request to house unaccompanied minors and called on the administration to secure the border and stop scattering children across the country,” Lee said in a statement Thursday. “When we demanded answers, they cut off transparency and emboldened one of the worst human trafficking crises we’ve seen at our border in the last 20 years.”

Detainments at the U.S. border have increased significantly this year. The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 47,642 unaccompanied minors during the first three months of the year – up 163% from the same period last year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data. Agents apprehended 410,460 adults during the same period, a 209% increase over last year. The majority of unaccompanied children apprehended at the southern border are from Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

Officials call for transparency

Lee recently led a group of 20 other governors calling on the Biden administration to address the crisis at the southern border via a letter.

“The crisis is too big to ignore and is now spilling over the border states into all of our states,” the letter read. “Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called upon many of our states to identify potential housing locations for migrants. In addition, the Department circumvented our states altogether by asking private organizations and nonprofits to house unaccompanied migrant children.”

Congressman Chuck Fleischman, who represents Chattanooga, and U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty have asked the Biden administration for transparency about children being relocated to Tennessee.

“Tennesseans deserve answers from the Biden Administration and they deserve them now,” Hagerty said in a statement. “I have warned for months that President Biden’s failure at the border would result in a systematic resettling of migrants in our communities, burdening our schools, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies, and bringing an increase in drug trafficking and human smuggling. A new reality is happening in our country – every town is now a border town.”

LeDuff, health department settle COVID-19 nursing home FOIA lawsuit

By Scott McClallen | The Center Square, May 21, 2021

(The Center Square) – Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff has reached a settlement with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) after it failed to provide public records as required by law.

The health department agreed to release some of the public records LeDuff requested. The department also acknowledges it can’t determine if some patients killed by COVID-19 contracted the virus at a nursing home or other long-term care facility.

LeDuff sued on March 9 after submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for data on COVID-19 deaths but the MDHHS failed to produce the requested records. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation represented him.

“We stood up to Goliath and won,” LeDuff said in a statement. “While I’m pleased that some of the records were released, the state’s overall response is alarming and disappointing. Still, this is a win for the people of Michigan, and I’m glad this lawsuit was able to shed some light.”

MDHHS has now provided records for the ages and death dates of the COVID-19 victims, but inadequate tracking meant the department couldn’t provide the dates when a specific vital record death was added to the state’s tally, or whether the deceased contracted COVID-19 at a long-term care facility.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to assist Mr. LeDuff in resolving this case, and we are glad that MDHHS chose to produce this data without further litigation,” Mackinac Center’s FOIA expert Steve Delie said in a statement. “Government transparency is essential, particularly during a pandemic, and we will continue to represent individuals like Mr. LeDuff to ensure the public has full and complete access to records.”

LeDuff plans to continue looking into the accuracy of the state’s COVID-19 death data. 

Michigan Republicans have accused Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of botching COVID-19 nursing home policy by sending infected seniors into nursing homes, spreading the disease to the most vulnerable population. About 5,645 nursing home residents died and 77 staff members died of COVID-19.

“This data is an essential part of accurately understanding the effects of this pandemic and the public policy implemented in response,” Delie said. “It also leaves open the possibility that the state is undercounting the number of deaths of those in nursing homes.”

Lawmakers call for special session to stop Kansas City from ‘defunding’ police

By John Haughey | The Center Square contributor, May 21, 2021K

(The Center Square) – Missouri lawmakers passed a bill during their recently concluded legislative session that would penalize cities that cut police budgets and bolster protections for officers under investigation for misconduct.

Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Springs, was filed to thwart efforts to “defund the police” by diverting funds normally earmarked for law enforcement into hiring social workers to handle domestic violence 911 calls.

The bill, which is on Gov. Mike Parson’s desk awaiting his signature, would go into effect on Aug. 28.

But that would be too late to nix Thursday’s adoption of two ordinances by the Kansas City Council that change, and perhaps “defund,” the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD).

The Kansas City Council approved two proposals in 9-4 votes to change how the city funds its police department, allocating 20% of the city’s budget – more than $150 million – to the KCPD in accordance with state law but earmarking anything above that for other expenditures.

Under Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas’ plan, anything over that state-mandated 20% will go to a new Community Services & Prevention Fund that the city and a police board will determine how to spend.

The adoption of the measures removes $42.3 million directly out of the police budget but commits $45.3 million to be used by the KCPD for crime prevention, community engagement and outreach.

Lucas said it is basically a transfer while increasing the KCPD budget by $3 million.

“This is increased funding and increased accountability. Two good goals that I think everybody in the public can support,” he said.

KCPD Chief Rick Smith said the transfer would affect staffing, programs and response times and the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police denounced the “mayor’s reckless actions” and is “exploring all legal and legislative remedies while we wait to hear from those tasked with running KCPD and keeping the citizens safe.”

The four city council members who voted against the proposals said they were presented on the same day they were adopted – an unusual move – and blindsided them.

“This is absolutely the worst piece of legislation I’ve seen since I’ve been here at City Hall,” Councilwoman Teresa Loar said.

“This severely compromises the ability of KCPD to respond in a timely and effective manner to calls for service,” Councilman Dan Fowler said. “If this results in reduction of police staff, and certain it will, this will further compromise that ability.”

And it may be against state law – that is, if it was after Aug. 28. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville; Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs; and Rep. Josh Hulbert, R-Smithville, want fellow lawmakers and Parson to call for a special session to ensure the Kansas City “defunding” is derailed.

Luetkemeyer said diverting money away from front line law enforcement makes no sense in Kansas City, which he said is ranked by the FBI as “one of six most dangerous cities in America” and “is already down over 100 officers” in its force now.

“If we think cutting funding to the police department is somehow going to make our streets safer, that’s totally crazy,” he said.

Richey said it is incomprehensible that the council would agree to cap law enforcement spending especially since, like cities across the nation, it is flush with federal pandemic assistance money.

“For them to play games with KCPD’s budget, it just goes beyond the pale, and I think that we’re going to be taking a serious look,” Richey told reporters. “I’m going to be taking a serious look with respect to the various responsibilities I have within the general assembly, and we want to do the right thing.”

Inslee vetoes bipartisan COVID data privacy bill

By Tim Gruver | The Center Square May 20, 2021

(The Center Square) – A bipartisan bill intended to protect personal COVID data from third parties was vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee this week, making waves across the political aisle.

Lawmakers filed House Bill 1127 to address data collection from contact tracing or the process by which investigators retrace an infected person’s steps to when they first contracted the virus.

The bill would have made sure all digital tools used by the state’s health care system to combat COVID would also boast privacy protections. The legislation would have restricted third-party contractors from collecting or disclosing COVID-19 patient data for purposes in the public interest. It essentially stripped down data collection conducted by third parties to the least amount of personal information possible, supporters said.

Under the bill, all data collected by third-party groups would be destroyed after 30 days. The bill’s provisions would expire by Dec. 31, 2022.

The governor claimed the bill language was too broad and could hamper efforts to identify and incentivize residents to get their COVID shots.

“For example, this bill appears to prohibit efforts by public and private entities to offer incentives to become vaccinated or to make certain opportunities available to those persons who are vaccinated,” Inslee said. “The current critical need to incentivize every eligible person to become vaccinated is an issue that did not exist, and was not contemplated, at the time this bill was drafted or made its way through the legislative process.”

HB 1127 has seven sponsors, Republican and Democrat. 

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Vandana Slatter, D-Bellevue, shared her disappointment on the bill’s demise on Wednesday. 

“This was a tremendous bill and I’m so grateful to all the stakeholders who united with urgency to bring attention to this issue, protect personal data privacy, and strengthen public health during a pandemic,” Slatter said. “I’m deeply disappointed it won’t become law, but I am more committed than ever to making real progress on delivering innovative solutions to protect Washingtonians’ privacy.”

Contact tracing and other public health investigative work are routine practices in the medical field. They are subject to medical privacy laws like The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The state’s COVID alert app, WA Notify, has built-in privacy features.

The CDC’s COVID Tracker showed on Wednesday that 41.3% of the state was fully vaccinated, and another 52.7% had received at least one dose. Like Oregon, Washington is set to fully reopen once 70% of people in the state get vaccinated.

Inslee’s veto of HB 1127 joins a growing list of vetoes from the third-term governor. On Monday, Inslee vetoed several provisions in several climate bills, angering his fellow Democrats. His party has insinuated they may take the matter to court soon.

Watermarked absentee ballots coming to Tennessee in 2022

By Jon Styf | The Center Square contributor May 19, 2021

(The Center Square) – Tennessee’s absentee ballots will have a watermark, starting in elections in 2022.

Gov. Bill Lee signed Senate Bill 1315, the Tennessee Election Integrity Act, which was passed by the Tennessee Legislature last month and will put an approved watermark on all absentee ballots with the goal of providing more security to the election process.

The watermark does not apply to military electronic absentee ballots, which are not printed onto paper. Local election authorities will be required to dispose of previously purchased ballot paper at the end of 2021.

“Each ballot would have to have that watermark when returned or it would not be counted,” Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, said.

The bill did not lead to any discussion in the Senate, but it did lead to some debate in the Tennessee House before it was passed.

The estimated cost per local election commission would be $105, per the bill’s fiscal note, because of the already purchased ballot paper that will need to be disposed of during the process.

“This is a good bill, this is a very good bill, and I’m going to be voting for it,” Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said during House discussion.

Parkinson said he hoped election commissions would be held accountable if they don’t follow the proper process and send out the new watermarked paper.

The state election commission will approve the watermark, which can be placed on the ballot by any of the 14 vendors that provide paper for ballots.

“The watermark will not be disclosed to the public in terms of what is put out in the paper for the sample ballot,” Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, said. “That will remain confidential with the local election officials.”

Rokita Leading 20 States in Opposing funding for Critical Race Theory in Schools

By Margaret Menge | The Center Square contributor 20 hrs ago

(The Center Square) – Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is taking the lead in a 20-state fight against a proposal that has been issued by the U.S. Department of Education that the AGs say will force critical race theory into American schools.

“This proposed rule aims to co-opt America’s traditional U.S. history and civics curriculum by imposing the deeply flawed and radical teachings of critical race theory into the classroom,” Rokita said in a news release.

Rokita and the other attorneys general sent an 8-page letter to the Department of Education on Wednesday urging the department, now under the leadership Miguel Cardona, to either drop the proposal or at least make clear that federal money can’t be used “to fund projects that are based on CRT, including any projects that characterize the United States as irredeemably racist or founded on principles of racism (as opposed to principles of equality) or that purport to ascribe character traits, values, privileges, status, or beliefs, or that assign fault, blame, or bias, to a particular race or to an individual because of his or her race.”

On April 19, 2021, the Department of Education issued two proposed “priorities” that would direct federal grant money to projects that “incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives into teaching and learning” and projects that “promote information literacy skills.”

Specifically, the money would go to programs that train new teachers and also veteran teachers in how to teach American history, civics and government and would also go toward programs that involve teaching high school students about American history and/or civics.

In 2018, three grants were awarded, including one for $1.4 million for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, for “Uncovering an Alternative Narrative: Diverse Contributions to American History and Civics.”

A second one, for $3.5 million, was awarded to the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation, and a third, for $2.8 million, to the Center for Civic Education, based in Calabasas, California.

In his release and in the letter to the Department of Education, Rokita mentions the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015, which he’d supported as a member of Congress. The bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama, gave back to states and local communities control over much of the K-12 curriculum. It also created grant programs to encourage the teaching of American history and civics. But not the kind the Biden administration seems to be conjuring up, Rokita says.

“Congress made clear that the purpose of the programs is to advance a traditional understanding of American history, civics, and government,” the letter signed by Rokita and the other attorneys general says. “The proposed priorities would do little to advance that goal and, based on the proposal’s support for the ‘1619 Project,’ would endorse teaching factually deficient history. Moreover, the implementation of these priorities will, in practice, lead to racial and ethnic division and indeed more discrimination. These issues will be addressed in turn.”

The other states whose AGs signed the letter are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

Todd Rokita previously served as Indiana’s secretary of state and from 2011 until 2018 was a member of Congress representing the 4th congressional district, west and northwest of Indianapolis.

“When I co-authored ESSA in Congress, the intent was to get away from Washington-driven one-size-fits-all education policies and teach traditional American history and civics,” Rokita said in his statement. “We don’t need a new liberal indoctrination project that endorses factually deficient instruction and racial division.”

Study: California’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate for children overcounted

By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square, May 19, 2021C

(The Center Square) – New research on COVID-19 hospitalizations of children in California has found nearly half of them were unlikely to have been because of the disease. 

A peer-reviewed commentary from two University of California San Francisco academics – Dr. Monica Gandhi and Amy Beck, associate professor of pediatrics – found instances of purported COVID-19 hospitalizations in children were overreported.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released “Adjudicating Reasons for Hospitalization Shows That Severe Illness From COVID-19 in Children Is Rare” on Wednesday. It was first reported on by New York Magazine.

The report tracked two surveys of “large children’s hospitals” in California. Both found broad instances of children being hospitalized because of COVID-19-caused ailments to be exaggerated.

The first found many recorded hospitalizations to have been “unlikely” to be caused by the disease.

“They found that 53 hospitalizations (45%) were unlikely to be due to disease caused by SARS-CoV-2,” the authors said. “Rather, patients were hospitalized for a wide range of other diagnoses, including bacterial infections, scheduled surgical procedures, appendicitis, ingestions, anaphylaxis, and neurologic conditions.”

Of the rest of the 117 hospitalizations, the study found three were asymptomatic and 27 had mild-to-moderate symptoms, with 20 characterized as more severe and mostly tied to Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C).

In the second hospital, researchers found 14% of the 147 non-MIS-C patients were “significantly symptomatic,” meaning they exhibited respiratory or cardiac symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and requiring respiratory or ICU level support. The rest were either asymptomatic or tested positive after coming to the hospital for another ailment.

“Taken together, these studies underscore the importance of clearly distinguishing between children hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2 found on universal testing versus those hospitalized for COVID-19 disease,” the authors said. “Both demonstrate that reported hospitalization rates greatly overestimate the true burden of COVID-19 disease in children.”

The reported overcount raises questions about the efficacy of school closures that left millions of students learning from less-than-ideal situations often made worse for low-income Californians and minority residents. 

The California Department of Public Health wouldn’t speak to the revelations, saying, “CDPH does not typically comment on studies in which the department is not involved.”

The state made the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine available to adolescents as young as 12 on May 12. 

In a news release, State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan remarked on the incidence of COVID-19 in children.

“It’s important to remember that young people need protection against the severity and ongoing threat of COVID-19,” she said. “California has had more than 500 cases of serious health outcomes among young people resulting from this virus, and cases are increasing among younger Americans and Californians who have not yet had the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

Oregon nears full reopening as ‘vaccine passport’ debate flares up

By Tim Gruver | The Center Square, May 19, 2021

(The Center Square) – Vaccinated Oregonians can forego wearing a face mask in most places so long as they produce what critics call “vaccine passports.”

The new rule comes from the Oregon Health Authority’s revisions to the state’s pandemic restrictions on Tuesday in line with federal guidance from the CDC and Gov. Kate Brown. Private businesses, employers, and places of worship may set face mask guidelines, but only fully vaccinated people may go mask-free. They must provide proof of their vaccination to do so.

In public settings where proof of vaccination is not required, face masks will still be necessary, based on the CDC’s guidance. Face masks are required at all times on planes, trains, and other forms of public transportation. On Tuesday, the OHA announced face masks would also be required at all times for all individuals in jails, hospitals, homeless shelters, and K-12 schools. The FDA has yet to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12-years-old.

The OHA defines proof of vaccination as documentation from a tribal, federal, state, local government or health care provider. That includes names, dates of birth, the type of COVID-19 vaccination received, date or dates given and their place of administration. Such information is included on CDC vaccination cards.

Aaron Corvin, a spokesperson with the Oregon Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, says CDC cards may be one option to check vaccination status if venues want to hold mask-free gatherings. Whatever rules businesses decide on, Corvin says, OSHA will hold them to their word.

“We expect employers to comply, whichever route they take–allowing the vaccination exemption or sticking with current requirements,” Corvin wrote in an email to The Center Square. “We will take and investigate complaints alleging employers aren’t requiring face coverings, for example, or checking vaccination status.”

Jason Brandt, CEO of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, says there is no consensus in the hospitality industry about how to move forward. Some, he said, plan to maintain their mask rules until the state reopens. Other places may verify their workers’ vaccination status.

“It’s quite a mixed bag out there,” Brandt said. “We have operators who have committed earlier on in the pandemic to never ask for employees or customers vaccination status. For the most part in our industry, it seems like many are keeping with face coverings from the entry point to the point at which [customers] are either sitting at a table or entering their hotel room.”

Some Oregon businesses like Salem’s Original Pancake House have not made up their minds about whether they will be verifying vaccinations.

“[Our general manager] is reviewing all the new things that came out,” said Katie, a manager at the eatery. “For right now, everything’s still the same.”

Others, like Sybil’s Omelettes in Salem, will be requiring face masks on site until the pandemic subsides.

“We’re still going to be enforcing the mask mandate here,” said Stephanie, a manager at the restaurant. “We’re going to until we’re sure the pandemic’s over. We don’t have an interest really in checking everyone’s vaccinations.”

On Tuesday, Oregon’s 7-day rolling average stood at 567 cases, less than half of what it was the week of May 10. The OHA reports 331 people are currently hospitalized with the virus.

Brown’s pandemic restrictions have come under fire from Oregon Republicans in the state legislature since the onset of the pandemic. The GOP made it clear that submitting “vaccine passports” to go mask-free was unacceptable.

“Vaccine passports are completely contrary to Oregonians’ sense of privacy,” said Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons. “This kind of dictatorial control over the everyday lives of Oregonians must stop.”

Oregon’s new face mask restrictions face criticism from the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank that first sued Brown last year over pandemic rules.

“The governor needs to immediately rescind this order and fully reopen the state,” said Jason Dudash, director of the Freedom Foundation of Oregon. “The Freedom Foundation was the first to sue Gov. Brown over her mask mandates last year and we’re prepared to fight her in court over this ludicrous vaccine passport, as well.”

The CDC’s COVID Tracker on Wednesday showed 40% of Oregonians are now fully vaccinated. Another 50% have received at least one dose. Brown said last week she anticipates 70% of the state receiving at least one dose by the end of June. The state is slated to fully reopen if Oregon reaches that benchmark.

Brown announced on Tuesday that Benton, Deschutes, Hood River, Lincoln and Washington counties would be eligible to move to the state’s least restrictive Lower Risk level starting on Friday. As of May 17, all five counties had vaccinated over 65% of residents ages 16 and older with at least one dose. Preliminary OHA data did not include federal vaccine doses administered in counties.

The OHA reported 394 new cases and seven new deaths from the diseases on Wednesday, raising the state’s total caseload to 197,787 and the statewide death toll to 2,601 people

Poll: Many Americans hesitant about continuing federal unemployment benefits

By Casey Harper | The Center Square May 18, 2021

(The Center Square) – Many Americans are wary of President Joe Biden’s trillions of dollars in new spending proposals, according to the latest polling data.

‘The newly released Yahoo News/YouGov poll asked Americans about a range of issues related to Biden’s spending plans and the economic impact of the growing federal budget.

When asked about the recent rise in unemployment numbers, 44% of Americans – a plurality – blamed supplemental government payments, saying they “are making it too easy for unemployed Americans to not work,” while 41% of Americans say unemployment has risen because “the pandemic is making it hard for unemployed Americans to find work.”

Employers across the country have reported difficulty hiring workers, in part because of a $300 weekly unemployment benefit provided by the federal government on top of state benefits.

The poll comes after a spike in unemployment in April that concerned economists. Experts predicted the economy would create 1 million new jobs last month, but data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed only 266,000 new jobs and a spike in unemployment to 6.1%.

Though polling data showed a slight public opinion advantage for the benefits of Biden’s newly proposed spending packages, the survey also found Americans are less enthusiastic about increased federal spending, even to help Americans recovering from COVID-related economic hardship.

Notably, a plurality of 43% of Americans said the federal government should discontinue the $300 federal unemployment payments that began as a result of a surge in unemployment during the pandemic while 41% said they should continue.

Recently, Republicans in red states and in Congress have called for an end to the payments. Several Republican senators introduced the “Get Americans Back to Work Act” last week to repeal the payments, citing employers’ difficulty in finding workers even as the unemployment rate rises.

The White House has rebuffed claims that the payments are the root cause of unemployment.

“We’re going to make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who was offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits,” Biden said last week. “We don’t see much evidence of that.”

Republicans in red states, though, see rising unemployment as a direct result of federal unemployment benefits, saying when the payments are added to state benefits, staying home becomes more attractive than heading back to work.

More than a dozen states have announced they will no longer accept the $300 payments, saying they are doing more harm than good.

Texas became the latest state to turn away the federal payments. Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott pointed to the Texas Workforce Commission, which says roughly 45% of job postings offer wages over $15.50 per hour and about 76% pay over $11.50 per hour, well above the minimum wage.

“The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott said. “According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits. That assessment does not include the voluminous jobs that typically are not listed, like construction and restaurant jobs. In fact, there are nearly 60 percent more jobs open (and listed) in Texas today than there was in February 2020, the month before the Pandemic hit Texas.”

The polling data and Republican response to federal help mark a mindset shift as the economy poises to fully reopen amidst rising vaccinations.

“At this stage of opening the state 100%, the focus must be on helping unemployed Texans connect with the more than a million job openings, rather than paying unemployment benefits to remain off the employment rolls,” Abbott said.

Pollsters interviewed 1,561 Americans last week across all demographics. The poll has a 2.6% margin of error.

Judge rules Antrim County lawsuit challenging election ‘moot’

By Scott McClallen | The Center Square, May 18, 2021

(The Center Square) – After a six-month legal battle, an Antrim County judge dismissed a 2020 election lawsuit seeking a recount.

William Bailey and his attorney, Matthew DePerno, targeted their fight in Antrim County, where human error incorrectly showed Democrat Joe Biden winning a GOP stronghold the morning after the Nov. 3 election.

The case, filed on Nov. 23, 2020, when the Board of State Canvassers certified Michigan’s election results, sought to require an “independent and nonpartisan forensic audit.”

However, 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer dismissed the case, saying state law entrusts Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to perform audits, but not the plaintiff.

“A petitioner … does not get to choose his own audit criteria,” Elsenheimer said. “Rather the Legislature has given that authority … to the secretary of state.”

“The plaintiff’s claims in this case are moot,” the judge said. “No additional relief is available. And therefore, no claim has been stated.”

Benson welcomed the ruling.

“The dismissal of the last of the lawsuits attempting to undermine democracy in furtherance of the Big Lie affirms that despite intense scrutiny, and an unprecedented misinformation campaign, the 2020 election was fair and secure, and the results accurately reflect the will of the voters,” Benson said in a statement.

DePerno disagreed, tweeting, “Apparently the SOS can conduct the audit in any way she determines even if she is actively part of the fraud.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel called the ruling “the nail in the coffin” for election conspiracy theories

“Time and time again, people have filed frivolous lawsuits in an attempt to undermine the integrity of our democratic process in Michigan,” Nessel said in a statement. “I applaud the Court for correctly concluding that there was no relief that could properly be granted on the claims presented.”

Illinois Republicans call for investigation of veterans home deaths during pandemic

By Kevin Bessler | The Center Square, May 18, 2021

(The Center Square) – The call for a criminal investigation by law enforcement into COVID-19 deaths at Illinois’ veterans’ homes is getting louder.

During a news conference Tuesday, House Republicans said it is a tragedy that 76 veterans have died in state-run homes since the pandemic began. They also said Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration must be held accountable.

“How could the governor and his team have allowed this to happen, knowing that our veterans were at risk prior to this pandemic?” said state Rep. David Welter, R-Morris. “The question will continue to haunt the families of the heroes that we lost at the LaSalle home and our other veterans homes across the state.”

An Inspector General report showed repeated failures to follow COVID-19 guidelines at the Lasalle Veterans Home where 36 residents died. Records indicate it took 12 days for an Illinois Department of Public Health official to conduct an onsite investigation of the outbreak.

“Our veterans deserve better, they have a right to be cared for and protected, just as they historically cared for us and protected us,” said state Rep. Paul Jacobs, R-Pomona. “The administration needs to get this mess straightened out.”

Illinois’ Public Health Director and Pritzker’s deputy in charge of health care recently stated they were misled by top state veterans affairs officials when told COVID-19 procedures were being followed that could have slowed or prevented the deadliest outbreak, at the LaSalle Veterans Home in November. Thirty-six veterans there have died since the pandemic began.

“We believed the home was following all the recommended protocols and that the appropriate steps were being taken to address the cases,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike told an Illinois House hearing on an inspector general’s report on the outbreak.

Some relatives of the veterans who died in the COVID-19 outbreak have filed lawsuits against the state as a result of the report’s findings.

The governor has put the blame on former Illinois Department of Veteran’s Affairs director Linda Chapa LaVia, who he said he hired because she was an integral part of the investigation into the Legionnaire disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home several years ago. She resigned shortly after the news of the outbreak came to light.

“Each veteran stepped up to the call to protect their fellow Americans,” said Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield. “It is deeply troubling when we failed to protect them as they thought to protect us.”

Gov. Abbott prohibits governments from mandating face masks

Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor, May 18, 2021

(The Center Square) – Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued his third executive order on facial coverings, this time prohibiting government entities from mandating that Texans wear them. The reversal comes nearly one year after he issued his first executive order requiring all Texans to wear facial coverings, with some exceptions.

On July 2, 2020, Abbott ordered all Texans to wear facial coverings in public in most counties. First time violators were to be issued a warning, and repeat offenders were to be fined up to $250. On March 2, 2021, Abbott rescinded the mask mandate when he ended the statewide shutdown and fully reopened the state.

Under the latest order, effective immediately, no county government, city government, school district, public health authority or government official can require anyone to wear a mask, with the exception of school districts and several other entities.

Shortly after Abbott issued the first mask mandate, he was sued by several plaintiffs represented by Houston-based attorney Jared Woodfill. Woodfill maintained that Abbott’s orders changing laws without any input from the legislature were unconstitutional and fell outside of the scope of the 1975 Texas Disaster Act.

Last year, Woodfill called on the legislature “to remove Abbott’s unlimited power and amend the Texas Disaster Act. We cannot allow Abbott or any other elected official to act as a king. Despite pleas from his constituents and other legislators, Abbott continues to ignore the Constitution and go at it alone.”

Although Abbott’s July 2 mask mandate included exceptions for children under age 10, people who have medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask, and those who are eating and drinking or exercising outdoors, most public and private entities in Texas ignored the exceptions and required everyone to wear facial coverings or be denied service.

According to Abbott’s new order, once the school year is over, as of June 4, no student, teacher, parent or other staff member or visitor can require anyone to wear a mask while on campus, unless he changes the policy by issuing another order.

Until June 4, students will continue to be required to wear masks in public schools that require it, at all ages.

The new order also states that Texans cannot be required to wear a mask in buildings or properties that receive government funds. Now, instead of those who don’t wear masks facing fines, government officials who impose mask mandates will.

Beginning May 21, local governments or officials who attempt to impose a mask mandate or impose a limitation inconsistent or conflicting with the governor’s order can be fined up to $1,000, according to the order.

The reversal of the facial covering mandate, Abbott says, is because “the Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities.”

Reversing course from his previous statements, Abbott now argues that “Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”

In March 2020, Gov. Abbott said that he was making his decisions based on the expertise of some medical experts and health advisors. He then, via executive order, shut down the state with no input from the legislature. He also ignored calls to hold a special session by state legislators asking him to do so.

Abbott’s initial March shutdown order designated some businesses as essential and some as nonessential, including houses of worship. Many deemed nonessential went out of business. Many required to operate at reduced capacities for nearly a year also went out of business. More than 8 million unemployment claims have been filed with the state since March 2020.

While small businesses, bars and restaurants remained closed under Abbott’s order, big box stores remained open.

Those exempt from the new executive order include state-funded living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, and county and municipal jails.

Bill would make Ohio state school board completely elected

By J.D. Davidson | The Center Square, May 18, 2021

(The Center Square) ­– Two members of the Ohio House want the state’s board of education to be more connected to the public by reducing the number of members and eliminating nonelected members.

Eight of the current 19 members receive appointments from the governor, but House Bill 298 eliminates each of those positions when current terms expire, reducing the board to its 1995 level of 11 members.

“The State Board of Education is an important body and the members of its Board should be accountable to the voters,” Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, said. “Right now, 42% of the members of the State Board of Education are not elected and, therefore, not accountable to anyone. To have almost half the board unelected and unaccountable does not reflect the transparency and responsiveness that Ohioans need and deserve.”

The board hires and fires the state superintendent after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1953 to create the board. Calls to change the board makeup have been heard since almost the time the current board organization took place.

Sponsors believe the current bipartisan proposed legislation brings accountability and transparency, while removing political connections to the governor’s office.

“Changing the State Board of Education make-up to a totally elected body will return the original intent and give taxpayers a voice on issues and policies that will affect their children’s education,” co-sponsor Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, said. “This places the responsibility of the electorate to be more intentional in who we elect to the State Board of Education members. We need pro-public education representation on the board that represents public education. This bill will allow for more of a separation of power and return to a more transparent and accountable State Board.”

HB 298 has been assigned to the House Government Oversight Committee and awaits its first committee hearing.

Indiana legislature passes bill to protect universities from foreign spying

By Margaret Menge | The Center Square contributor May 14, 2021

(The Center Square) – The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill this spring that requires all public universities in the state to report on their ties to foreign countries and to show what they’re doing to protect intellectual property from being stolen or misused “by a foreign government or other foreign entity.”

House Bill 1549 appears to be a first step toward addressing a concern about large numbers of students from China at the state’s public universities – in particular Indiana University and Purdue University – and the threat some say is posed by China’s efforts to access advanced research being done at America’s top universities.

Under the new law, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education must prepare a report for the legislature on “foreign malfeasance” at public universities in the state, and those public universities are directed to provide full information to the commission.

That information is to include a description of the university’s export control program.

“Export controls” refers to the federal laws that prohibit universities from sharing research with foreign students or foreign entities that is related to military technology, space exploration or involves biological materials or chemicals – for national security reasons.

In August 2020, a Chinese man who was a PhD student at Indiana University studying computer science on the main campus in Bloomington was arrested by the FBI and charged with lying on his visa application about his military status. He was in fact a Chinese military officer with the People’s Liberation Army (PLO). Investigators said the man, Kaikai Zhao, had specifically worked to gain entry into the United States to do high-end research to benefit the PLO, and indicated the research he’d helped produce at IU on military radar technology was transferred to a Chinese university, which had applied for a patent for it.

As of the fall of 2019, there were 2,295 students from China studying at Indiana University who together paid a total of $80 million to the university in tuition and fees.

Purdue University had more than 3,000 students from China in the fall of 2019.

The section of the new law on foreign malfeasance also has a requirement that public universities in the state report to the Commission for Higher Education on what they are doing to comply with the requirements of the “insider threat program.”

Universities like Indiana University and Purdue that handle sensitive and classified information have a special clearance through the Department of Defense. To maintain this clearance, they must have a program in place to identify potential threats posed by someone inside the organization. It requires universities with a clearance to “detect and mitigate the impact of insiders who pose a risk to classified information.”

Purdue University’s employee training on its Insider Threat Program has a theme of “if you see something, say something,” encouraging university employees to report suspicious activities in the workplace.

HB 1549 passed the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously in late April and passed the Indiana Senate by a vote of 32 to 17. It was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 29.

The law requires the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to prepare three reports by Nov. 1, 2021: One on Free Speech, one on lowering the cost of college tuition and fees, and the third on foreign malfeasance. Public universities and colleges in the state are directed to supply the information to the commission that is needed for the reports.

The law applies to all public institutions of higher education in the state: Indiana University, Purdue University, Ball State University, Vincennes University, the University of Southern Indiana and Ivy Tech Community College.

The commission’s report, the law says, must include “a summary description of policies, procedures and other measures to protect personal data, research data, intellectual property, and controlled unclassified information or classified information from being appropriated or misused by a foreign government or other foreign entity.”

In addition to specific information on export controls and the university’s insider threats program, the report must include a description of each university’s compliance with foreign gift reporting requirements; a description of each university’s compliance with federal laws prohibiting contracting with “certain foreign entities” using “certain telecommunications and video surveillance services and equipment” and “a summary of each state educational institution’s  business arrangements with foreign entities, excluding business arrangements pertaining to non-technology procurement.”

The law says that the Commission for Higher Education “may include” recommendations to the legislature for how to better protect research produced by public universities from being taken or misused by foreign countries.

A call to the spokesman for Indiana University was not immediately returned. At Purdue, no one was available to comment on Friday afternoon about how the university is planning to comply with the new law.

California settles lawsuits over COVID worship restrictions

Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor, May 17, 2021C

(The Center Square) – The state of California has settled a lawsuit brought against it by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry.

All California churches can now hold worship services without restrictions as a result of the settlement. California Gov. Gavin Newsom was the first governor to have a permanent injunction levied against him on behalf of houses of worship.

On May 10, Liberty Counsel and the California Attorney General’s Office submitted a full and final settlement to both the district court and to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, California is now under a statewide permanent injunction from imposing restrictions on churches and houses of worship.

Once entered by the district court, the settlement will be the first statewide permanent injunction in the U.S. against COVID restrictions on churches and houses of worship.

Liberty Counsel founder and Chairman Mat Staver said of the settlement, “Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID restrictions discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings. The Supreme Court intervened multiple times to provide relief. Under the settlement, California may never again place discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship. We are grateful for Pastor Ché Ahn, Harvest Rock Church, and Harvest International Ministry. Pastor Ahn’s leadership and courage has toppled the tyranny and freed every pastor and church in California.”

Newsom is also required to pay Liberty Counsel $1.35 million to reimburse the nonprofit organization for its attorney fees and costs.

The settlement references several Supreme Court opinions, including Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom, noting the high court ruled multiple times that restrictions imposed on houses of worship that were not imposed on nonreligious entities and activities are unconstitutional.

The settlement means that churches and houses of worship “may never again have discriminatory restrictions placed on them that are not equally applied to a long list of ‘critical infrastructure’ or ‘essential services’” outlined in several Supreme Court precedents cited in the agreement.

Liberty Counsel argues “every church in California is now free” because of Harvest Rock’s Pastor Ché Ahn standing up to the Pasadena criminal prosecutor who threatened him, his staff, and anyone who attended church with daily criminal charges of up to one year in prison and daily fines of $1,000.

Newsom’s original restrictions on churches were among the severest in the nation, with 90% of Californians still prohibited from worshipping as of April 8, 2021, more than a year after Newsom issued his first executive order.

The settlement comes after Liberty Counsel filed for three emergency injunctions pending appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, two oral arguments before a panel of three judges, and two orders from the U.S. Supreme Court, including an injunction pending appeal issued by the high court on Feb. 5.

From March 19, 2020 to May 25, 2020, Newsom by executive order mandated that all churches be prohibited from worshipping.

From May 26, 2020 to July 12, 2020, Newsom mandated that churches be allowed to worship only at 25% capacity with no more than 100 people.

By April 8, 2021, more than 90% of Californians were still prohibited from worshiping together inside. This included over a one-year long ban on Californians participating in home Bible studies and singing and chanting.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s latest ruling, in April 2021 Newsom lifted restrictions on home Bible studies but not on singing and chanting.

By May 9, 2021, Newsom lifted mandatory attendance limits.

Now, under the settlement agreement, restrictions on worship and religious gatherings may no longer be applied to churches and places of worship.

“This is a momentous day for churches in America,” Ché Ahn said, adding “this case will act as a precedent, not only in our state, but also in our nation.”

Abbott: Amount of fentanyl seized at southwest border could kill every person in New York

Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor, May 17, 2021

(The Center Square) – Texas is defending the border, doing the federal government’s job, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, argues, having launched Operation Lone Star to thwart criminal activities resulting from President Joe Biden’s open border policies.

While Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued the Biden administration several times over alleged immigration law violations, until these issues are resolved in court, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is working around the clock to keep Texans, and Americans, safe, Abbott said.

Since Operation Lone Star began in early March, Texas DPS from March 4 through May 6, made more than 30,500 referrals to U.S. Border Patrol, a spokesperson told The Center Square by email.

(The Center Square) – Texas is defending the border, doing the federal government’s job, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, argues, having launched Operation Lone Star to thwart criminal activities resulting from President Joe Biden’s open border policies.

While Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued the Biden administration several times over alleged immigration law violations, until these issues are resolved in court, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is working around the clock to keep Texans, and Americans, safe, Abbott said.

Since Operation Lone Star began in early March, Texas DPS from March 4 through May 6, made more than 30,500 referrals to U.S. Border Patrol, a spokesperson told The Center Square by email.

CBP seized 639 pounds of fentanyl in March 2021, more than it seized in the first quarter of last year (629 pounds).

These numbers only represent what law enforcement has seized, not what has evaded capture, Abbott said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl has become the deadliest drug in the nation. It was first approved by the FDA in 1968, but its role in the opioid epidemic can be traced to 2013. From 2011 to 2017, the fentanyl death rate increased by 1,125%, according to CDC data.

Mexican transnational criminal organizations continue to supply most of the fentanyl (as well as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin) smuggled into the country, DEA Acting Administrator Chris Evans said in a news release. “While violent street gangs dominate the retail sale and distribution of these illicit drugs at the local level.”

Fentanyl and other drugs primarily come into the U.S. from Mexican cartels: the Sinaloa Cartel and Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, known as CJNG, the DEA reports.

Fentanyl is sometimes dyed blue and stamped to look like the prescription pill oxycodone or OxyContin, the DEA says. The pill is known as “Mexican Oxy” or “M30s” on the streets because on each side of the pill is stamped a “30” and “M.”

In 2019, the Trump administration considered classifying fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.

Texas voters will decide amendment prohibiting restrictions on religious gatherings and organizations in November

Victoria Antram | Ballotpedia via The Center Square, May 17, 2021

The Texas State Legislature voted to refer its first constitutional amendment to the November ballot. The amendment would add a section to the state constitution prohibiting the state or any political subdivision from issuing or enacting a statute, order, or rule that prohibits or limits religious services, including religious services conducted in churches.

The amendment was proposed in response to the restrictions put in place requiring religious institutions to refrain from meeting in person in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Texas cities and counties issued stay-at-home orders requiring religious gatherings to stream their services. On March 31, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order that included “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship” in the definition of “essential services.”

Rep. Scott Sanford (R), who voted in favor of the amendment, said, “Churches provide essential spiritual, mental and physical support in a time of crisis. Closing churches not only eliminated these critical ministries and services, but it violated their religious freedom, guaranteed by our laws and Constitution.”

Douglas Laycock, professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, opposes the measure and similar bills considered by the legislature: “There are very few occasions or reasons on which it would ever be necessary to shut down a place of worship, but COVID is one.”

As of May 10, Ballotpedia has identified 10 measures appearing on statewide ballots that were proposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and coronavirus-related regulations. On May 18, 2021, Pennsylvanians will decide on two constitutional amendments on the governor’s emergency powers, which have been a point of conflict between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf during the pandemic. The other ballot measures, which will be decided in 2022, concern changes to election procedures, convening state legislatures, and increasing appropriations limits during emergencies.

In Texas, to put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67%) supermajority vote is required in both the Texas State Senate and the Texas House of Representatives. This requirement amounts to 100 votes in the House and 21 votes in the Senate.

The amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 27 on January 25, 2021. On March 25, 2021, the state Senate passed SJR 27 in a vote of 28-2 with one absent. All but two Democratic members voted in favor of the amendment. On May 11, 2021, the House approved the amendment by a vote of 108-33, with nine not voting or absent. In the House, 27 Democrats joined the Republican majority, and 33 Democrats were in the minority.

At the general election on November 3, 2020, Republicans retained control of the House and Senate. They maintained their 83-67 majority in the House and lost one seat in the Senate. The new majority in the Senate following the election was 18-13, which means support from at least three Democrats is needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the Senate.

During the 2021 legislative session, 218 constitutional amendments were filed in the Texas State Legislature. Legislators were permitted to file constitutional amendments through March 12, 2021, unless permission was given to introduce an amendment after the deadline. Democrats filed 92 (42.2%) of the constitutional amendments. Republicans filed 126 (57.8%) of the constitutional amendments. The legislature has until May 31st when it adjourns to refer a measure to the ballot.

%d bloggers like this: