Week in Review

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Government shutdown continues, Pelosi reclaims House Speaker position, and more…

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  • The partial shutdown of the federal government continued this week. Three major websites that provide public information about pending rules and regulations—regulations.gov, reginfo.gov, and federalregister.gov—have stopped publishing new information. Professor Bridget C.E. Dooling of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center reportedly stated that “agencies could provide additional time” for public comment on proposed rules after the shutdown but that is “not guaranteed.” Dooling suggested that concerns about the effect of the shutdown on specific proposed rules and comment periods should be communicated to agencies “directly.”
  • U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reclaimed her former position as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Under her leadership Democrats are expected to create new campaign finance and ethics rules, and work on infrastructure legislation. Shortly after Pelosi’s swearing-in, the House passed legislation to end the government shutdown, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly stated that “the Senate will not waste its time” considering proposals that do not include funding for a border wall.
  • U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced that she has launched “an exploratory committee for President” aimed at the 2020 presidential election. In her announcement, she highlighted her role in establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate the financial sector after the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Ryan Zinke stepped down from his position as Secretary of the Interior, following ethics investigations into his conduct as Secretary. Zinke stated that the U.S. Department of the Interior had “restored public lands” and “improved public access” to these lands. David Bernhardt, Deputy Secretary of the Interior, will serve as Acting Secretary until President Donald J. Trump announces a nominee for the position.
  • The Democratic majority of the U.S. House of Representatives created the Select Committee on Climate Crisis to study and develop policy recommendations on “activities that contribute to the climate crisis.” Likely Committee Chairwoman Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) reportedly stated that the Committee would be “clearly in the spirit of the Green New Deal,” but U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) criticized the Committee for its lack of legislative or subpoena power. “It will be in an even weaker position than the select climate committee of 10 years ago,” she said.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted Google a waiver for its radar-based motion sensors—or “Soli sensors”—that would allow the sensors to be operated on aircraft and exceed currently allowed power levels. Soli sensors enable users to control devices like smartphones with hand gestures without physically touching the device, and they are designed for users with mobility or speech impairments. FCC stated that Soli sensors were “innovative device control features” and that granting the waiver “will serve the public interest.”
  • The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed a suit alleging that Twitter, Google, and Facebook “aided and abetted international terrorism” during the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting. U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show that the social media companies “intended to further ISIS’s activities.” Judge Beeler did not address whether social media platforms are also protected from suit under the Communications Decency Act, which was designed to leave the Internet “unfettered by federal or state regulation.”
  • A law allowing a gender-neutral designation on birth certificates went into effect in New York City. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the provision into law in October, stating that New Yorkers should “be able to tell the government who they are and not the other way around.” In addition to New York City, the states of Oregon, Washington, California, and New Jersey allow residents to select a non-binary option on birth certificates.
  • Reportedly in response to a request by a Saudi regulator, Netflix blocked access in Saudi Arabia to an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s show that criticized the Saudi crown prince for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi regulator reportedly cited a law banning the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order” over the Internet. Karen Attiah of The Washington Post, who was Khashoggi’s editor, tweeted that Netflix’s decision was “quite outrageous” and praised Minhaj for being a “strong, honest and (funny) voice challenging Saudi Arabia.”
  • The Japanese Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency approved a new condom created by Starpharma, which includes a coating that can “inactivate up to 99.9% of HIV, HSV, and HPV” viruses. Dr. Jackie Fairley, Starpharma’s chief executive officer, called the approval a “regulatory achievement” and “key commercial milestone” in the Japanese market. The device is already approved for sale in Australia and Canada.
  • Two officials of the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO)—the agency responsible for printing the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations, and other government documents—are under investigation from the GPO’s Office of Inspector General. The Inspector General charged Acting Deputy Director Andrew M. Sherman and Chief Administrative Officer Herbert H. Jackson, Jr. with cronyism—hiring “otherwise ineligible employees” for GPO positions—at a cost to taxpayers of more than $400,000.


  • 2018 was “indelibly marked by school shootings,” leading to an increase in new gun safety laws, wrote Adam Harris in an article for The Atlantic. Harris noted that 26 states and the District of Columbia passed 67 “gun safety” laws, while the Trump Administration banned bump-stocks and gun control groups “outspent” gun advocacy groups. But Harris wrote that the Trump Administration’s response to school shootings—which he said “downplayed the role of guns”—signaled that “even though the conversation has shifted somewhat, the changes are marginal.”
  • In a recent paper, Dan Ciuriak and Bianca Wylie, senior fellows at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, laid out several issues about data and digital rights that “need to be addressed” to regulate the data-driven economy. For example, Ciuriak and Wylie questioned whether proper standards can be set for “information integrity,” distinguishing facts from disinformation. Although Ciuriak and Wylie did not advocate for a particular method, they suggested several possibilities, including information verification by blockchain technology and regulatory “carrots” for good information providers or “sticks” for disinformation providers.
  • Regulatory reform in Canada may encourage economic competition and contribute to long-term economic growth, wrote Mark Febrizio, policy analyst at the George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, in an article. Febrizio observed three main themes in Canadian regulatory reform: “prioritizing economic growth-oriented regulation”; “improving regulatory tools”; and more thorough review of existing regulations. He concluded that the United States would benefit from a similar focus on retrospective reviews, particularly in light of President Trump’s “one in, two out” executive order.