Week in Review

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President Biden signs a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, the CDC says fully vaccinated people can congregate indoors, and more…

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IN THE NEWS

  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in a partisan 220-211 vote, sending the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package to President Joe Biden for his signature. The Act includes $1,400 stimulus checks to qualifying households, continues $300 supplemental unemployment insurance payments, and increases the child tax credit to $3,000 per child. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) reportedly criticized the bill as “a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic.” House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) reportedly retorted that Republicans opposing the package would be “the first ones in line at the press conferences to announce the money for their cities and towns and for struggling families.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its first set of public health recommendations for people fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The CDC announced that fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or physical distancing, visit with low-risk, unvaccinated people from a single household without wearing masks or physical distancing, and refrain from quarantine and testing following exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear face masks in public places, practice physical distancing in public settings, and get tested for COVID-19 if they are experiencing symptoms. Bill Walsh, vice president for communications for American Association for Retired Persons, reportedly praised the guidance, adding that “after nearly a year of the pandemic, we are grateful for any signs of return to life as we know it.”
  • President Biden signed an executive order attempting to secure access to voting. The President ordered heads of government agencies to evaluate how the agencies could promote voter registration and remove obstacles to voting. President Biden praised the unprecedented voter turnout in the 2020 election, but warned that the country is facing a “never-before-seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people.” President Biden signed the executive order after the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act of 2021, which would create universal national voting standards, overhaul campaign finance laws, and outlaw partisan gerrymandering, but is less likely to pass the Senate.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court held that documents related to agency deliberation on regulatory actions are not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act because they do not qualify as a final agency decision. The documents at issue in the case were draft opinions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service that assessed whether a proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule on cooling water intake structure would be harmful to wildlife. The Sierra Club sought access under the Freedom of Information Act to these draft opinions, arguing that they should be considered “final” because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded to them as if they were final although they had been labeled as drafts. The Court rejected that argument in a reversal of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, holding that the proper test is whether an agency’s decision-makers were “free to change their minds” on the agency’s position.
  • Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced that Venezuelan nationals—or noncitizens who lived in Venezuela before moving to the United States—are now eligible to apply for temporary legal status. Mayorkas stated that the United States would step “forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here, while their home country” combats widespread food insecurity and violence from armed groups. U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) added that the policy is “striking a blow” to the current corrupt Venezuelan presidential regime and sending a signal “that the United States is once again committed to the cause of democracy.”
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will retain a final rule on hemp production that was issued in the final days of the Trump Administration. The rule establishes a federal hemp production licensing plan administered by USDA and requires that samples of hemp from each producer are tested for the content of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in a laboratory registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). USDA explained that it had reviewed the rule in accordance with President Biden’s executive order to reconsider all new agency rules that were not yet in effect. Jody McGinnes, executive director of the Hemp Industries Association, reportedly expressed relief that USDA backed off tougher regulations considered in an earlier proposed rule but still viewed the requirement to test samples in a DEA-registered laboratory as unfairly strict. McGinnes reportedly responded to the January announcement of the rule by saying that “whenever you’re dealing with federal regulation or policy, you almost always end up settling for half a loaf.”
  • The U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it has rescinded a legal opinion that made it easier for businesses to escape penalties for killing birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The opinion formed the basis of a final rule that removed penalties for businesses that cause bird deaths incidental to their operations that took effect this week. Last week, the National Wildlife Federation sent a published letter to the Interior Department on behalf of its more than 6 million members, asking for a full restoration of rules against incidental killing of birds and new standards that balance industry interests and the interests of wildlife protection. Tyler Cherry, press secretary of the Interior Department, reportedly said that the Trump Administration legal opinion “overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity.” Cherry also reportedly announced that the Interior Department intends to issue a new rule that will better protect migratory birds.
  • A bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Homeland and Cyber Threat Act in the House of Representatives, which would allow Americans to sue foreign governments and individuals for cyberattacks. The lawmakers announced the legislation in the wake of a Russian cyberattack against “at least nine federal agencies and 100 private sector companies.” Representative Colin Allred (D-Texas)—one of the sponsors of the bill—stated that the bill was intended to “give Americans the tools they need to fight back against foreign attacks.”
  • Representatives Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) sent a letter to the Chairperson of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, Representative Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), requesting a hearing on the legality of certain court-ordered conservatorships. Jordan and Gaetz sent the letter in response to growing “public concern about the use of conservatorships to effectively deprive individuals of personal freedoms.” Concerns about the negative consequences of conservatorships have arisen following the release of Framing Britney Spears, a New York Times documentary examining the conservatorship over Britney Spears and her estate. Jordan and Gaetz referenced Britney Spears’s conservatorship as an example of the potential constitutional rights violations from court-ordered conservatorships.

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • In a policy brief, Mark Febrizio, policy analyst at George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, analyzed recent changes made to the website regulations.gov and recommended ways to modernize the online service. Febrizio explained that the U.S. General Services Administration designed the website to organize documents related to rulemaking and to invite public comments on proposed rules. Febrizio argued that the changes to the site’s search function and document organization structure have made the site more accessible for the general public but less useful for researchers. In particular, he criticized the website for introducing a download limit of 5,000 documents per search, which makes analyzing rules with tens or hundreds of thousands of comments more difficult. Febrizio suggested that the website needs additional modernization, including compatibility with other government databases such as the Federal Register and RegInfo.gov.
  • In a recent paper, Stacia West, assistant professor at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work, and her coauthors published a preliminary analysis of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, an initiative that gave 125 residents of Stockton, California $500 per month for 24 months. West and her coauthors found that the guaranteed income reduced month-to-month income fluctuations, increased recipients’ full-time employment, and decreased recipients’ anxiety and depression. West and her coauthors praised the success of the program but cautioned that guaranteed income cannot be the only measure to promote residents’ economic stability and well-being.
  • In a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Andreas Grunewald, economics professor at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, and his coauthors explored how auto dealers’ ability to set auto loan prices harms consumers. Grunewald and his coauthors found that consumers are willing to pay higher car loan prices for a lower vehicle price because they either do not know they can negotiate loan terms or they “do not correctly assess loan prices.” Because auto loan dealers can profit from offering high loan prices to unsuspecting consumers, Grunewald and his coauthors argued that regulations limiting auto dealers’ ability to set loan prices would benefit consumers.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

  • In an essay in The Regulatory Review, Shen Kui, professor of constitutional and administrative law at Peking University Law School, discussed the Wuhan government’s delayed response to COVID-19. Kui pointed out that under current Chinese law, Wuhan’s government has no legal duty or power to issue early warnings of infectious disease. Kui encouraged the Chinese government to adopt a legal system that can guarantee a fast response that prevents public panic amid a viral outbreak.