Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Center Square

The Sunday Read: Pushback on Biden administration begins in the states

Elections have consequences.

Don’t believe that? Well, start stretching your brain because the mental hot yoga has commenced and you’re at least one sunrise salutation behind.

After a completely overblown military display that led President Joe Biden through his inauguration on Wednesday, our 46th president went right to work on undoing as much of the past four years as he could with the precision of a jackhammer.

In his first two days in office, Biden issued 17 executive orders, and he hasn't slowed down just yet.

In almost every case, the order sought to specifically undo something that had been done during the tenure of his predecessor, 45th President Donald Trump.

In the private sector, businesses pressured – internally or externally – to change direction often succumb to a practice of hiring an opposite in roles of authority and leadership. Subconsciously or consciously, these companies hire people whose talents, attitudes, and personalities are precisely the opposite of the person who previously held the position.

We may have done precisely this as a nation. How do these hires ultimately work out? Not well, because there is so much energy spent reversing course in the water that the tide itself pushes the department or division off of its intended course.

Elections – specifically the actions of those elected – have ramifications.

Don’t believe that? Well, let’s check in again in January 2025.

Maybe take a snap of your current state property tax bill, 401k statement and bank account this morning, print them out and then stuff it all in a filing cabinet that you’ll be able to access four years from now.

Welcome to The Sunday Read.

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As mainstream media outlets mostly fawned over Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, The Center Square reported on how the new administration's policy decisions would have real-life impacts on jobs and the economy. Biden last week ordered a temporary halt to new leases and permits for oil and gas development on federal land, something critics said would cost thousands of jobs and lead to a renewed reliance on foreign energy providers. Our reporting also noted that a federal lease moratorium would result in a $639.7 billion hit to gross domestic product (GDP) in Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, California and Alaska by 2040.

Biden revoked the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which led Canadian company TC Energy to halt construction. The pipeline, if finished, would carry approximately 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast. Passing through six U.S. states, the project has faced multiple legal challenges. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he was “deeply concerned” about Biden’s repeal. “Doing so would kill jobs on both sides of the border, weaken the critically important Canada-U.S. relationship, and undermine U.S. national security,” Kenney said.

In Texas, the governor and attorney general announced plans to sue the Biden administration over several executive orders recently issued – and immigration policy is front and center. “A new crop of Texas-led lawsuits awaits Joe Biden's White House,” Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted. “Texas will take action whenever the federal government encroaches on state's rights, or interferes with constitutional rights, or private property rights or the right to earn a living.” Texas, along with California, leads the states in the number of times it has sued the federal government. Arguing against federal government overreach and in favor of the Tenth Amendment, Texas’ legal actions have ranged from suing the federal government over the Affordable Care Act, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), the Clean Power Plan, and many other issues. Now immigration is policy is the target.

In Ohio, Biden's Keystone XL action drew concerns from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who said it will cost jobs and hurt the economy. On Wednesday, Biden signed an order rescinding the presidential permit that allowed for construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Before the order, TC Energy announced it had suspended work on the 1,700-mile pipeline. Portman, an Ohio Republican, said he wants to work with the new administration and called the order unfortunate.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis does not want more help from the federal government in administering COVID-19 vaccinations. Instead, he just wants more doses sent to Florida. DeSantis called Biden’s plan “a big mistake.” “I saw some of this stuff Biden’s putting out, that he’s going to create these FEMA camps. I can tell you, that’s not necessary in Florida,” DeSantis said. “All we need is more vaccine. Just get us more vaccine.”

In Kentucky, a Republican Party county chapter voted unanimously to censure U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell for comments he made on the Senate floor. McConnell said President Trump “provoked” the group that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and interrupted the counting of the Electoral College votes to confirm Biden as the new President. It was broadly reported Friday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, will transmit the article of impeachment to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday. A trial could begin as soon as February 1.

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Elsewhere in America…

INDIANA

In what may be the first attempt at reforming state-level election laws in the U.S. since the November 2020 election, Indiana legislators introduced a bill calling for the formation of a Commission on Election Integrity that would review the security of all voting machines used in the state and consider whether election laws should be changed to increase confidence in the vote. The commission would be tasked with finding outside experts to assess the security of all voting machines and also look at whether absentee voting laws should be tightened, with fewer reasons for voting absentee allowed and early voting possibly curbed.

MICHIGAN

For the past 83 years, Peter Tomassoni’s family has run Recreation Lanes and the Antoin Room Banquet and Convention Center in Iron Mountain. Less than one year under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, however, it could close, through no fault of the family. On Wednesday, the Michigan Independent Bowling & Entertainment Centers Association (IBECA) filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Michigan, claiming the state owes five businesses compensation for the takings of their respective businesses for public use without just compensation since March of 2020.

Staring down the barrel of a projected $1.2 billion tax revenue shortfall, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has asked the state legislature to approve $5.6 billion in COVID-19 relief programs. The programs will flood federal stimulus money to education and businesses sectors. In the meantime, the state’s bars and restaurants have remained closed to in-person patrons since mid-November, although the governor has stated the industry may open at 25% capacity up to a limit of 100 customers and must observe a 10 p.m. curfew on Monday, Feb. 1. Data from the industry reports 5% of bars and restaurants have been forced to close permanently because of state-imposed shutdown orders. A total of 27% of the state’s bars and restaurants may be forced to close permanently by the end of February, industry analysts project.

ILLINOIS

The Illinois Board of Higher Education has approved a $2.1 billion budget request, a 4.5 percent increase over the prior year at a time when enrollment is nearly flat and the state faces a multi-billion dollar budget gap. The 2022 fiscal year budget proposal is $2.1 billion dollars and would reflect a 4.5 percent increase for general funds, excluding the State University Retirement System. State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he is skeptical about increasing funding during a pandemic. “The situation we find ourselves in with COVID and with so many other pressures on the budget, I don’t foresee anything more than hopefully even a stable year for higher education let alone what potentially could be cuts,” Brady said.

Under Gov. J.B. Pritzker's COVID-19 rules, the state's 11 regions were under four different classes of mitigations, leading to confusion among lawmakers and local officials. State Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said restaurants are ready to do it right, but the governor isn’t listening to the industry, or to state lawmakers. “I think if the administration were to listen to those restaurants, there might be a happy medium, somewhere where they can meet and the restaurants can somehow stay afloat,” Crespo said.

WISCONSIN

There is another call for lawmakers in Madison to gut an emergency order and mask requirement from Gov. Tony Evers. Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, on Friday said the governor once again overstepped his authority when he extended his emergency order until mid-March. “The time has come for the Wisconsin Legislature to stand up for civil liberties and put an end to the excessive actions of Governor Evers to control the people of this state with unending Covid-19 emergency declarations,” Nass said in a statement.

PENNSYLVANIA

The Keystone State’s Independent Fiscal Office is a nonpartisan agency that’s tasked with looking at the state economy and government spending and providing reports and analysis so that lawmakers and citizens can have an accurate, unbiased look at what’s really happening. The IFO’s latest report, providing a five-year forecast that factors in the effects of the pandemic and Gov. Tom Wolf’s economic restrictions, paints a gloomy picture. The agency anticipates that COVID-19 will create a $2 billion structural deficit for state government, and that many of the jobs lost in 2020 will still not have returned by 2026.

NEW YORK

A Democratic New York lawmaker is eager to see mobile sports gambling legalized in the state to establish a new source of revenue for a state government hungry for dollars. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants a much bigger cut of the proceeds and is eying the format used in New Hampshire, which would see the betting run by a single company that would be required to share perhaps as much as half of the take with the state. “This is not a moneymaker for private interests to collect just more tax revenue,” Cuomo said in his budget address Tuesday. “We want the actual revenue from sports betting.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE

The new Republican majority in the Granite State’s Legislature is looking to consider a bill that would trim the state’s taxes on business, which one policy expert described as some of the highest in the country. While New Hampshire famously levies no income tax, its business profits tax comes in at 7.7% and its business enterprise tax at 0.6%. The legislation from new House Speaker Sherman Packard would cut the former to 7.5% and the latter to 0.5% over the course of the next two years.

MAINE

Ranked-choice voting in Maine was a controversial aspect of the November 2020 presidential election, the first time it was used in the state. Democrats argue that it better reflects the will of the voters, while Republicans say it violates the principle of “one person, one vote.” Now, the majority Democrats in the Legislature hope to amend the state’s constitution to allow the use of ranked-choice voting in state races. Maine is the only state to use the voting scheme for all federal races; Massachusetts voters rejected a referendum on using it in November.

TENNESSEE

Republican leadership in the Tennessee Legislature filed a bill during last week's special session on education that would allow the state to withhold funding from school districts that refuse to provide an in-person learning option for students. The bill would give the Tennessee Education Commissioner authority to withhold all or a part of state funding from school districts if they fail to provide a minimum of 70 days of in-person learning this school year and the full 180 days of in-person learning next school year for all kindergarten through eighth-grade students. The legislation did not advance during the special session, but House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, said he plans to file it again.

VIRGINIA

Democrats in the Virginia Legislature are pushing legislation to make sure federal Paycheck Protection Program loans are not exempt from taxes for Virginia businesses that received them. The loans are exempt at the federal level. Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, said during a committee meeting last week that fully conforming to the federal income tax code would cause a $1 billion budget deficit for the state. The National Federation of Independent Business cautioned that not exempting PPP loans would have a negative effect on the 113 businesses that took out these loans.

NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina experienced the sixth-highest percentage of inbound migration (60%) in 2020, according to the United Van Lines' National Movers Study. North Carolina ranked 10th for inbound moves related to retirement. The state exempts Social Security benefits from income taxes.

GEORGIA

Georgia's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic should be strong and swift, the state's fiscal economist said Tuesday. Georgia's economy has been supported by federal aid, a recovering job market and business owners' improvisation, state economist Jeffrey Dorfman told the House and Senate appropriations committees during a joint meeting Tuesday. "The federal government has passed out a lot of free money, and that has held our sales tax collections up. Withholding on the unemployment benefits has helped hold our income tax collections up," Dorfman said. "Frankly, I think we need to put a lot of credit where it belongs. Business owners in Georgia, small and large, have done a tremendous job at finding ways to still carry out business and keep their businesses operating during a pandemic."

LOUISIANA

Louisiana’s two open seats in Congress drew crowded fields of contenders during qualifying, with 28 candidates in total filing to run. Among the highest-profile candidates to qualify was Republican Julia Letlow, who will compete in the 5th Congressional District. She is the widow of Luke Letlow, who won the seat in December but died following a COVID-19 diagnosis days before taking office. Julia Letlow works in marketing and communications at UL-Monroe.

CALIFORNIA

The state that has led population growth nationally for the past 170 years, reported a population loss under Gov. Gavin Newsom – the state's first since 1850, according to newly published Census Bureau data. Until 2020, California had gained population in every year since 1900.

ARIZONA

In Arizona, a handful of Republicans want to make their state the fifth to keep state resources from assisting in any federal activity they consider contrary to the Second Amendment. State Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, filed the Second Amendment Firearm Freedoms Act on Jan. 14. Like other measures, it would ban the use of local resources from enforcing any federal law or executive rule that could be seen as running afoul the constitutional right to bear arms. The bill also declares any federal measure deemed to run up against the 2nd Amendment to be “null, void and unenforceable in this state,” but federal laws supersede state-enacted measures. Other similar resolutions have been seen as symbolic.

OREGON

Oregon saw 25,500 jobs lost in December, marking the biggest employment dip since last April, the Oregon Employment Department reports. Data from the agency's most recent report on Wednesday shows the job losses resulted from the state’s unemployment rate rising from 6.0% in November to 6.4% in December.

WASHINGTON

A bipartisan bill in the Washington Legislature seeking to reopen much of the state is driving a wedge between business owners and frontline health care workers exhausted by the pandemic. Effective Jan. 11, Gov. Jay Inslee moved the state to a phased reopening plan requiring counties to meet four health metrics to progress between phases. Those metrics include two-week declines in new COVID-19 cases and hospital admission rates per 100,000 people in addition to week-long positivity rates of less than 10% and ICU bed capacity of less than 90%.

Chris Krug is publisher of The Center Square. Executive Editor Dan McCaleb, regional editors J.D. Davidson, Derek Draplin, Cole Lauterbach, Delphine Luneau, Brett Rowland, Jason Schaumburg and Bruce Walker contributed to this column.

Wisconsin saw a more than 500% hike in jobless claims during COVID-19 era

From mid-March of 2020 through the first full week of 2021, Wisconsin reported a spike in its weekly unemployment claims of 522.53%, compared to the same period a year earlier, according to a new analysis from the WalletHub website.

Using that metric, Wisconsin had the 42nd highest number of jobless claims among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the WalletHub analysis found.

Using another metric, however, the state ranked 31st highest based on a recent number of weekly unemployment claims. That metric combines comparisons of the jobless claims during the week of Jan. 4 of this year with the first week of 2019 and the first week of 2020, the study states

Nationally, 10.7 million Americans are jobless as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. During the week of Jan. 4, 965,000 new jobless claims were filed across the nation, which is 86% below the 6.9 million claims that were made at the height of the crisis, according to 24/7 Wall St.

Coronavirus restrictions have hurt the job markets in states around the nation, the study said. Only two jurisdictions, Washington, D.C., and Kentucky, had jobless claims during the week of Jan. 4 that were under the claims filed during the first week of 2019, the researchers reported.

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States With Biggest Spikes in Jobless Claims

StateIncreased Most Using Most Recent DataIncreased Most Since Start of COVID-19 CrisisChange in Jobless Claims (Week of Jan. 4, 2021, Compared to First Week of 2019)Change in Unemployment Claims (Week of Jan. 4, 2021, Compared to First Week of 2020)Change in Unemployment Claims (Since Start of COVID-19 Crisis vs. Same Period One Year Earlier)Kansas152996.12%3220.01%1261.64%New Mexico213782.51%1737.92%952.67%Florida32646.01%1533.69%1683.09%Louisiana44686.90%1124.49%1400.65%Illinois530669.58%720.67%710.11%Virginia66550.52%875.38%1239.87%Mississippi711522.35%687.18%1032.18%Tennessee814463.85%612.68%874.13%Colorado912418.26%555.99%972.23%Arizona1037304.12%507.85%605.65%Maryland1121311.70%447.66%788.25%Rhode Island1235356.94%289.05%642.93%Nebraska1324314.30%369.34%761.19%Indiana148289.08%324.27%1141.82%New Hampshire143279.58%344.49%1423.08%California1633239.27%394.49%671.78%Nevada1718243.90%351.90%812.25%Delaware1834234.30%306.51%656.15%Texas1929194.11%387.35%710.30%Ohio2028254.32%234.85%717.54%Massachusetts2125249.23%228.78%753.97%North Carolina229196.75%313.65%1125.97%Alabama2315203.53%178.57%854.24%Washington2422203.47%176.77%773.16%Alaska2531131.30%325.59%699.46%Hawaii2617196.22%179.18%840.07%Minnesota2726202.19%139.96%751.68%New York2832234.50%61.61%683.87%Georgia291178.94%114.93%1793.44%Vermont3046155.79%153.53%475.87%Wisconsin3142182.06%75.31%522.53%Utah3239120.66%163.11%582.41%Oklahoma337131.10%102.51%1185.19%Arkansas3441118.26%116.23%566.73%Maine3516117.53%114.13%853.96%Oregon3651113.00%88.61%422.73%North Dakota374070.81%151.32%577.25%District of Columbia3820-0.97%304.37%795.45%South Dakota392365.15%127.39%771.56%Montana404573.86%99.36%494.60%Missouri413687.17%52.44%616.47%Iowa425073.79%66.55%433.73%Connecticut434983.96%31.15%444.16%Wyoming444857.51%83.69%458.22%Pennsylvania454471.46%49.31%495.20%Idaho463871.69%47.07%598.71%South Carolina471977.64%15.58%799.31%Michigan482746.21%78.34%734.25%West Virginia494321.89%116.43%514.65%New Jersey504745.68%34.67%463.38%Kentucky5110-1.10%116.79%1123.23%

Source: WalletHub.com

Landmarks in 24 states will light up for National School Choice Week

(The Center Square) – Parents looking to alternatives to educate their children, unhappy with state lockdowns and public school system approaches to learning can find resources available through National School Choice Week 2021 events being held all this week.

The events and resources are designed to empower parents with information about the best educational environments and options for their children.

National School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30) celebrates all of the K-12 education options that parents can choose – or want to be able to choose – for their children. They include traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies and homeschooling.

The week is held every January to help parents at the beginning of the year begin the process of selecting the right school for their children by knowing all of their options. Resources explaining education options and state laws and types of school are available by state.

According to the Center for Education Reform, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota are the top states for their school choice programs. Rounding out the top 10 are the District of Columbia, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah and South Carolina.

This year, roughly 24 landmarks will have light displays of yellow and red to raise awareness for National School Choice Week 2021.

Iconic landmarks and notable buildings will display red or yellow lights to participate in “Shine for School Choice,” one of more than 33,000 virtual or socially distanced celebrations across the country. Families are encouraged to participate in social media contests, drive-in movie screenings, scavenger hunts, and virtual school fairs – in order to spread awareness of school choice and scholarship opportunities.

Some of the buildings will have light displays for one day or for the entire week. National School Choice has a complete list on its website, with links to locations and times. Each state has a page for events being held statewide.

Perhaps most spectacular will be the lighting of Niagara Falls in upstate New York, which will glow in red and yellow for 15 minutes from 10 to 10:15 p.m. Jan. 24.

The only governor’s mansion to light up all week will be in South Carolina. The Sky Wheel in Myrtle Beach will also be lit yellow and red from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Jan. 24.

The only state capitol to light up will be in Nashville, from dusk to dawn Jan. 22-24.

In other states, civic centers, court houses and cultural places are joining the celebration.

In Colorado, the McNichols Civic Center in Denver will light up in red from dusk to dawn all week.

In Florida, the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach will light up in red and yellow from 6 to 11:59 p.m. all week.

In Illinois, the spire of Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago will light up in red at sunset all week.

In Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will light up in red from dusk to dawn all week, and Terminal Tower will light up in red and yellow on Jan. 24.

In Texas, the McLennan County Courthouse in Waco will light up in yellow all week.

This year marks the 11th annual celebration of National School Choice Week; the first celebrations held were in January 2011.

Texas sues Biden over deportation policy change

(The Center Square) – The state of Texas sued the Biden administration in response to the Department of Homeland Security announcing it would be suspending for 100 days the deportations of people in the U.S. illegally.

“On its first day in office, the Biden Administration cast aside congressionally enacted immigration laws and suspended the removal of illegal aliens whose removal is compelled by those very laws. In doing so, it ignored basic constitutional principles and violated its written pledge to work cooperatively with the State of Texas to address shared immigration enforcement concerns,” the lawsuit states.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Victoria Division.

Texas sued David Pekoske, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as the agency, Troy Miller, senior official performing the duties of the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the agency, Tae Johnson, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the agency, Tracy Renaud, senior official performing the duties of the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the agency.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not released a statement on the lawsuit.

The memo issued by Pekoske to Homeland Security agencies on Jan. 20 directed “an immediate pause on removals of any noncitizen with a final order of removal (except as noted below) for 100 days.” The exceptions include anyone perceived as a threat to national security.

According to Texas’ lawsuit, Pekoske’s memo affects nearly all illegal immigrants with pending deportations “including those whose removal was ordered following a full and fair hearing and those who are not entitled – and do not claim to be entitled – to further immigration benefits.”

Paxton argues that the order violates an agreement between DHS and Texas and asks the court to declare the directives in the memo unlawful and block them from being executed.

“This unlawful reversal will cause Texas immediate and irreparable harm if it is not enjoined,” the lawsuit claims.

“In one of its first of dozens of steps that harm Texas and the nation as a whole, the Biden administration directed DHS to violate federal immigration law and breach an agreement to consult and cooperate with Texas on that law. Our state defends the largest section of the southern border in the nation. Failure to properly enforce the law will directly and immediately endanger our citizens and law enforcement personnel,” Paxton said in a statement.

“DHS itself has previously acknowledged that such a freeze on deportations will cause concrete injuries to Texas. I am confident that these unlawful and perilous actions cannot stand.”

In response to the deportation plan, Gov. Greg Abbott said, “Biden is trying to halt deportations of illegal aliens who already have a final order of removal from the U.S. This abandons the obligation to enforce federal immigration laws. Texas is fighting this attempt to grant blanket amnesty.”

Biden plans to reverse abortion policies of previous administration

(The Center Square) – Just days after former President Donald Trump declared Jan. 22 as National Sanctity of Human Life Day, newly sworn-in President Joe Biden disregarded the designation and pledged to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law to prevent any changes that might occur if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges that respect foundational precedents like Roe,” a statement put out by the White House states.

Just days before, Trump’s proclamation declared that the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was a “constitutionally flawed ruling [that] overturned State laws that banned abortion, and has resulted in the loss of more than 50 million innocent lives. … Because of the devotion of countless pro-life pioneers, the call for every person to recognize the sanctity of life is resounding more loudly in America than ever before. Over the last decade, the rate of abortions has steadily decreased, and today, more than three out of every four Americans support restrictions on abortion.”

But according to the Biden administration, “In the past four years, reproductive health, including the right to choose, has been under relentless and extreme attack.”

On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute banning abortion, effectively legalizing abortion nationwide. The court held that a woman’s right to an abortion was implicit in the right to privacy protected by the 14th Amendment. Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortion had been illegal nationwide since the late 19th century.

Former President Ronald Reagan declared the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day on Jan. 13, 1984. It was continued under both Bush presidencies and discontinued for eight years each under presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Trump was the only president to attend and speak at a March for Life Rally in Washington, D.C.

In response to Trump’s proclamation, Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said, “President Trump has been a champion in seeking to protect unborn children. We are grateful for his dedication to the right to life and the work his administration has done on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.”

The Biden administration also plans to reverse Trump policies that prevented taxpayer dollars from funding Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

In 2019 alone, Planned Parenthood lost $60 million after it withdrew from the Title X Family Planning Program, which had previously used taxpayer funds for contraceptive services for low-income individuals. The Trump administration changed the policy to exclude any organization that offers abortion services, resulting in Planned Parenthood withdrawing from the program.

Last year, Planned Parenthood spent more than $27.4 million through a super PAC to support Biden’s election. Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said the fund will work "in partnership with the Biden-Harris administration and the pro-reproductive health care majority in Congress” to “not only reverse the attacks of the past four years, but boldly expand sexual and reproductive health care and rights for all people in the U.S. and across the globe.”

The fund supports the Biden administration's priority to institute taxpayer funding of abortions in the United States and abroad, as well as reversing the funding restrictions the Trump administration instituted on the global Family Planning Program. It has also recommended nearly 200 staffers for key positions in the administration.

Biden’s plan to codify abortion is consistent with Democrats’ efforts in May 2019 when they introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act in Congress.

The bill “guarantees a pregnant person’s right to access an abortion – and the right of an abortion provider to deliver these abortion services – free from medically unnecessary restrictions that interfere with a patient’s individual choice or the provider-patient relationship.”

Cosponsors included Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and then-Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Wisconsin GDP dropped 2.9% during COVID-19 era, study finds

The growth domestic product of Wisconsin dropped 2.9% between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2020, the 26th best economic performance among the 50 states, according to a new ranking by the website 24/7 Wall St.

Nationwide, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. economic output declined 2.8% over that same time period, and only three states saw their economies expand, 24/7 Wall St. reported.

In Wisconsin, the fastest-growing industries during the period were agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, while arts, entertainment and recreation were judged the fastest-shrinking industries, according to the analysis. The November unemployment rate in the state came in at 5%.

The states in the worst economic shape as the coronavirus pandemic wore on tended to rely heavily on industries such as energy resource extraction, food services and accommodation, and the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, the study found.

As a result of the crisis, most states have lost tens of thousands of jobs and have seen their unemployment rates move upward, according to 24/7 Wall St.

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Which States Have Fared the Best During the COVID-19 Era?

RankState1-year GDP ChangeFastest-Growing IndustryFastest-Shrinking IndustryNovember 2020 Jobless Rate1Utah1.1%ConstructionArts, entertainment and recreation4.3%2Washington0.5%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation6.0%3Idaho0.1%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation4.8%4Arizona-0.1%Management of companiesArts, entertainment and recreation7.8%5Colorado-1.4%InformationArts, entertainment and recreation6.4%6Iowa-1.4%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation3.6%7South Dakota-1.5%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation3.5%8Georgia-1.7%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation5.7%9North Carolina-1.7%Finance and insuranceArts, entertainment and recreation6.2%10Arkansas-1.8%UtilitiesAccommodation and food services6.2%11Alabama-1.8%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation4.4%12Indiana-1.9%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation5.0%13Mississippi-1.9%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation6.4%14Oregon-1.9%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation6.0%15Maryland-1.9%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation6.8%16Kansas-1.9%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation5.6%17Florida-2.0%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation6.4%18Nebraska-2.0%Mining, quarrying, and oil and gasArts, entertainment and recreation3.1%19Virginia-2.0%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation4.9%20California-2.1%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation8.2%21Kentucky-2.6%UtilitiesMining, quarrying, and oil and gas5.6%22Delaware-2.7%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation5.1%23Missouri-2.7%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation4.4%24Minnesota-2.8%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation4.4%25Montana-2.8%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation4.9%26Wisconsin-2.9%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation5.0%27Rhode Island-2.9%Finance and insuranceArts, entertainment and recreation7.3%28Illinois-3.0%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation6.9%29South Carolina-3.1%Finance and insuranceArts, entertainment and recreation4.4%30Ohio-3.2%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation5.7%31Connecticut-3.3%InformationArts, entertainment and recreation8.2%32Massachusetts-3.3%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation6.7%33Maine-3.4%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation5.0%34North Dakota-3.4%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation4.5%35Texas-3.4%Finance and insuranceArts, entertainment and recreation8.1%36New Jersey-3.5%InformationArts, entertainment and recreation10.2%37New Hampshire-3.6%Finance and insuranceArts, entertainment and recreation3.8%38Nevada-3.7%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation10.1%39New Mexico-3.7%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation7.5%40Pennsylvania-3.9%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation6.6%41Vermont-4.3%Management of companiesArts, entertainment and recreation3.1%42Tennessee-4.3%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation5.3%43Michigan-4.4%Agriculture, forestry, fishing and huntingArts, entertainment and recreation6.9%44Alaska-4.9%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation8.1%45Louisiana-5.0%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation8.3%46West Virginia-5.0%UtilitiesAccommodation and food services6.2%47New York-5.8%InformationArts, entertainment and recreation8.4%48Oklahoma-6.3%Management of companiesMining, quarrying, and oil and gas5.9%49Wyoming-7.9%UtilitiesAgriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting5.1%50Hawaii-8.2%UtilitiesArts, entertainment and recreation10.1%

Source: 24/7 Wall St.

Utah Native American tribe asks Biden administration for energy lease order to be ‘withdrawn or amended’

(The Center Square) – The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uinta and Ouray Reservation in Utah sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) this week asking for the agency’s recent order that temporarily halts leases and permits for energy development on federal land to be “withdrawn or amended.”

Luke Duncan, the tribe’s chairman, sent the letter on Thursday asking the DOI to amend its order “to provide an exception for energy permits and approvals on Indian lands.”

“The Ute Indian Tribe and other energy producing tribes rely on energy development to fund our governments and provide services to our members,” said the letter, which was obtained by The Center Square.

The letter comes after Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega signed an order Wednesday that halts approvals of new federal land leases and drilling permits for 60 days.

The order was among other moves President Joe Biden made in the first days of his presidency to reinstate stricter environmental regulations that were rolled back under the Trump administration. Biden revoked the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit and rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, among other executive orders he signed this week.

The DOI’s order says it “continues its existing operations – including operations necessary for health, safety, and national security matters – consistent with all legal obligations and policy goals to uphold trust and treaty responsibility to tribal nations.”

Duncan, however, says in the letter that the order “is a direct attack on our economy, sovereignty, and our right to self-determination,” and alleges it violates the U.S.’ treaty with the tribe, which has 2,970 members.

“Indian lands are not federal public lands,” he added. “Any action on our lands and interests can only be taken after effective tribal consultation.”

“The Order must be withdrawn or amended to comply with Federal law and policies,” the letter said.

DOI did not respond to a request for comment on whether it would amend or rescind the order.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and the state’s congressional delegation also criticized the Biden administration in a statement, calling the order “a serious mistake that will harm” small businesses in the state that are struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Although it is routine for an incoming administration to pause high-level agency decisions while agency leaders get into place, such a widespread suspension of routine permitting decisions normally made in the field is unprecedented,” read the statement.

Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, Utah Reps. John Curtis, Blake Moore, Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens, state Senate President Stuart Adams, state House Speaker Brad Wilson and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes were all part of the joint statement.

"The economic impacts of this decision will be felt nation-wide and couldn’t come at a worse time for Utah’s rural communities, tribes, and small businesses,” the statement continued. “Our energy industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Utahns previously employed in the energy sector have lost their jobs in historic numbers. This decision only exacerbates the problem.”

Utah is estimated to lose a total of $1.5 billion in oil and gas tax revenues by 2040 from a lease moratorium on federal land, according to a report commissioned by the Wyoming Legislature.

If Men Were Angels

If there is any possibility of finding common ground and restoring civic health in our dangerously divided nation today, we must begin talking to one another again.

If we cannot do this, there is no American future.

The Father of the Constitution, James Madison, knew well that men were not angels. It is because we are not angels – because we possess both the potential for depravity and for virtue – that government is necessary, and good government is possible.

The age-old problem of injustice and faction, Madison taught, stems from the selfishness and prejudices that too often take up space in our hearts and minds. They are forms of narrow self-interest and irrational bias that cause conflict, division, volatility, and rancor within the political community.

But rather than attempt to remove these causes of faction from man’s nature (which could mean destroying liberty), or force people to think and feel the same way (an impossibility), Madison argued that we should control the effects of faction by establishing representative democratic government over a large territory, thereby encompassing a greater number and diversity of interests and views. In this new, extended republican system, narrow interests and biased views can be weeded out over time and through the layered processes required to achieve a majority opinion.

The American constitutional system Madison helped construct was not meant to shut down communication, but rather to encourage debate and deliberation, and ultimately consensus. It was intended to refine and enlarge public views, resulting in a just and reasonable public opinion.

In other words, Madison emphatically rejected what today is called “cancel culture,” the suppression of opinions that one doesn’t like. Even if you think someone’s views are false, bigoted, pernicious, or politically dangerous, Madison counseled taking great caution before considering censorship or making accusations of sedition. Facts are slippery things, he noted, for “opinions, and inferences, and conjectural observations, are . . . in many cases inseparable from the facts.”

For Madison, the fulcrum of the American constitutional system was the free communication of opinions among citizens, the suppression of which should be viewed with universal alarm, for such acts in time will “destroy our free system of government, or prepare a convulsion that might prove equally fatal to it.”

In a word, it is critically important that we allow the expression and exchange of ideas to play out freely. This is not only how liberty is preserved but also how people learn to refine and broaden their views. It is how we live and govern together and build a healthy and vibrant political community.

The effort to force people into agreement by silencing them is precisely the tactic utilized by despots to prevent subversion and maintain power. Thwarting communication is the stratagem of tyrants, whether they be public officials or leaders in private industry, CEOs of big tech companies or university deans and provosts.

Those of us – on both sides of the political spectrum – worried about the future of America and whether the chasm separating us politically can ever be bridged do not have the luxury of digging our heels in too deeply. We are in the midst of a crisis of civic trust, and our first order of business must be to squelch the urge to “cancel” our fellow Americans who have different views. Instead, we must engage with them in the public discourse necessary to save our nation.

Like Madison, Abraham Lincoln also understood that men are not angels. He, too, understood his task as a statesman to be that of combatting civic prejudice and leading and uniting public opinion on the basis of a just regard for the rights of all people.

“In your hands . . . and not in mine,” Lincoln told his “dissatisfied countrymen,” was the decision of the nation’s future. Then as now, the country was split into two camps that not only disagreed but distrusted and loathed each other. “We must not be enemies,” Lincoln pleaded. Passions and prejudice had surely strained, but they must not break the bonds of affection that unite us, he counseled.

Now, as then, it is worth remembering the “mystic chords” of our shared civic past, stretching from Valley Forge to every living heart and home in our land today, with hope that they might be made to resonate, one more time, if touched by “the better angels of our nature.”

Biden’s Keystone XL Pipeline shutdown could have unintended consequences, economist warns

(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden revoked the Keystone XL pipeline’s federal permit, a move that an economist says could have far-reaching and hidden unintended consequences.

The revocation suspended the 1,200-mile pipeline project, which, if finished, was projected to carry approximately 800,000-barrels of oil per day through Canada and the United States.

Keystone XL President Richard Prior said more than 1,000 jobs, mostly unionized, will be eliminated.

“We will begin a safe and orderly shut-down of construction at our U.S. pump station sites and we will conclude the Canadian pipeline scope in the coming weeks,” Prior said in a statement.

Gary Wolfram, an economics and public policy professor at Hillsdale College, told The Center Square that the cancellation will increase prices of fuel and petroleum derivatives.

“The halting of the Keystone pipeline is going to increase the cost of natural gas and oil ... that will result in less output,” Wolfram said in a phone interview. “So the question is, what’s the opportunity cost of stopping the pipeline?”

Oil doesn’t just fuel cars, Wolfram said. Petrochemical products range from generating heat, electricity, inputs in plastics, synthetic materials and asphalt, personal protective equipment, COVID-19 vaccine vials, and even timed-release capsules in aspirin.

Blocking the pipeline will increase prices for all of the above, Wolfram warned.

Wolfram said blocking the pipeline won’t necessarily stop oil transportation — it’ll just be shifted to more costly and less efficient methods, like by rail or truck, that could lead to higher emission output relative to using the Keystone pipeline.

Assume transportation of the same amount of oil.

For example, an 84-car train will carry 60,000 barrels of oil, Wolfram said. So it would take 1,000 train cars to haul the same amount of oil that the pipeline would deliver in one day.

A 2013 Manhattan Institute report found that pipeline transportation of oil is safer than road or rail.

Additionally, TC Energy had already pledged to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

But Minnesota lawmakers DFL Reps. Jamie Becker-Finn, of Roseville and Heather Keeler of Moorhead, and at least 14 other DFL members called the announcement “great news” for the environment, indigenous people, and landowners along the route.

“Like Keystone, Line 3 and Dakota Access would endanger our valuable water resources, cause irrevocable harm to our climate, and have been pushed forward despite opposition from impacted tribal communities," the lawmakers said in a statement.

"As a state and nation, we must strive for a green energy future and make decisive steps to address the harm to our environment perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry.”

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said the order will affect 8,000 union jobs and members' retirement and health benefits, and they “strongly oppose” the decision.

"This executive order doesn't just affect U.S. Teamsters; it hurts our Canadian brothers and sisters as well who work on this project,” Hoffa said in a statement. “It will reduce good-paying union jobs that allow workers to provide a middle-class standard of living to their families. America needs access to various forms of energy that can keep its economy running in the years ahead. This decision will hurt that effort.”

Thomas Pyle, the president of the American Energy Alliance, said in a statement the move further divided the nation.

“My mother taught me to judge people by their actions, not their words.... President Biden read a nice speech calling for unity then immediately signed a flurry of executive actions that thumbed his nose at half of the country and squarely took aim at affordable energy, the families that benefit from it, and the American workers who produce it.”

“The Keystone pipeline is nearly completely built and an important link for North America’s economic security. The decision today to rescind the permit makes it crystal clear that Mr. Biden stands with the extreme green lobby and not average Americans.”

Wisconsin Republican resolution to overrule Evers’ emergency order could get vote

(The Center Square) – The pressure for lawmakers to cancel Gov. Tony Evers’ coronavirus emergency order is growing.

Twenty-seven Republican senators and representatives in Madison on Friday signed a resolution tp overturn the governor's order to keep coronavirus restrictions in place until mid-March.

“Given that legislative oversight is vital to ensuring the governor's proper exercise of the emergency powers granted by section 323.12 of the statutes, legislative oversight is rendered useless if the governor ignores the temporal limitations on the emergency powers by continuously reissuing emergency declarations for the same emergency,” the resolution states.

Wisconsin law allows the legislature to overturn a governor’s emergency order by resolution. The Wisconsin Senate has placed the resolution on its calendar for next Tuesday.

Gov. Evers on Friday side-stepped questions about his ability to continue the emergency order, or even if it is necessary given Wisconsin’s falling coronavirus numbers. Instead the governor said coronavirus restrictions, and the state’s mask mandate are popular.

“You’ll recall the last time the MU Law Poll asked about support for face coverings in October 2020: ‘In October, 72% agree that masks should be required in public places, while 26% disagree with requiring masks. In August, 69% supported a mask requirement and 29% were opposed,’,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “‘Support for a mask requirement exceeds 60% in all regions of the state.’.”

The governor added: “Ending the public health emergency would eliminate one of the few tools left the state has to mitigate the spread of the virus that is killing our friends, families, and fellow Wisconsinites while we work to distribute the vaccine across our state.”

But the Republican lawmakers say the issue is not the popularity of a mask requirement or other coronavirus restrictions, rather the governor’s abuse of power.

New Republican Senator Julian Bradley, R-Franklin, called the governor’s emergency order ”unconstitutional.”

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly agreed.

“Regardless of political persuasion, everyone should be greatly troubled by a governor who steadfastly refuses to recognize limits on his authority,” Justice Kelly told The Center Square. “Instead of gracefully recognizing the limits placed on him by the law, Gov. Evers has issued a string of executive orders, each declaring the same emergency over and over again, as if they were incantations for bringing expired powers back to life. His executive orders are nothing but camouflage for straight-up power grabs.”

This is not the first time Republicans have called to override Gov. Evers’ emergency orders, but it is the first time their call has been placed on the legislative calendar for a vote.

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