President Biden releases a winter COVID-19 plan, restricts travel from several African countries, and more…
IN THE NEWS
- President Joseph R. Biden released his winter COVID-19 plan, which will require private health insurers to reimburse individuals for at-home rapid COVID-19 tests. The plan also includes steps to increase access to COVID-19 booster shots and at-home tests, stockpile antiviral pills, and prepare federal response teams to help states manage outbreaks. In addition, President Biden extended a mask mandate for travelers until March. The mandate, which was set to expire in January, applies to individuals on airplanes, trains, and public transportation, and in transportation hubs. The Biden Administration will also require all international travelers to take a COVID-19 test within one day of departing for the United States.
- President Biden issued a proclamation restricting travel to the United States from South Africa and seven other African nations following the emergence of the coronavirus Omicron variant. The travel restrictions exempt U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and noncitizen spouses, children, or parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents. The restrictions will remain “until terminated by the President.” The Biden Administration’s action follows the World Health Organization’s designation of the Omicron variant as one “of concern.” This designation means a variant is associated with increased transmissibility, increased virulence, or decreased effectiveness of public health measures, such as vaccines.
- Federal judges in Missouri, Louisiana, and Kentucky each issued rulings blocking parts of the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, which would require about two-thirds of all workers in the United States to receive either vaccinations or weekly tests. In Missouri, the judge blocked the rule requiring health care workers to receive vaccines in Missouri and the nine other states that sued, holding that potential staffing shortages would cause irreparable harm. The judge’s ruling in Louisiana effectively extended the holding to health care facilities that receive federal funding nationwide. The ruling in Kentucky only blocked the mandate from taking effect in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, but it applied to federal contractors generally, rather than only health care workers. The U.S. Department of Justice sought reversals of the orders, reportedly arguing that the “threat to human life and health far exceeds the potential indirect harms to patients resulting from workers who may quit rather than receive the vaccine.”
- The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case that challenges the Court’s holding in Roe v. Wade. In what some commentators call the most important abortion case in decades, the Supreme Court will determine if Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks is constitutional. In Roe, the Court held that states cannot ban abortion before fetal viability, typically around 24 weeks. In Dobbs, lawyers for Mississippi have asked the Court to determine “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
- The U.S. Department of the Interior released a report on federal practices related to oil and gas leases and permits. The report sets the groundwork for the Biden Administration to increase the amount of money fossil fuel companies must pay to drill on federal land. The Interior Department report recommends increasing the royalty rate for oil and gas that companies must pay the federal government. The report also advocates raising the rate for the bonds that companies must post to cover cleanup costs in the event the company can no longer pay for cleanup costs, such as when a company enters bankruptcy. The Interior Department issued its report in response to the Administration’s earlier executive order on climate change that encouraged a review of oil and gas leasing practices.
- A federal judge blocked a Texas law that would prevent social media platforms from banning users based on their viewpoints. The judge held that the Texas law would prevent social media platforms from moderating all content, which would “radically upset how platforms work” and harm the public. A representative for one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said that the order “upholds the First Amendment and protects internet users.”
- A federal appeals court upheld California’s ban on large-capacity firearm magazines, finding that the ban did not violate the Second Amendment. The majority opinion explained that the statute did not limit a weapon itself but merely the weapon’s magazine size, a limitation that was reasonable given the state’s important interest in reducing gun violence. California Attorney General Rob Bonta called the decision “a victory for public safety in California,” and noted that the decision still allows “law-abiding gun owners to exercise their constitutional rights.”
- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued guidance on company disclosures of spring-loaded awards to executives. With spring-loaded awards, companies grant compensation in the form of “stock options or other awards” just before they announce information that could impact the value of those awards, such as a positive earnings release or the announcement of a major transaction. Experts note that, although not illegal, spring-loaded awards are controversial because they can gain instant value based on insider information. The SEC concluded that, to comply with federal securities law, companies reporting the compensation cost of spring-loaded awards should include the additional value executives will receive due to the announcement of material information.
WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK
- In a report published by the Center for American Progress, Erin Simpson and Adam Conner proposed a framework for regulating online services. Simpson and Conner explained that online services such as social media have become “an essential part of American lives,” but have created opportunities for exploitation, digital surveillance, fraud, misinformation, and other harms. Robust regulation, the authors urged, is needed to combat these issues, including bipartisan tech antitrust bills, privacy laws, and a hybrid approach that combines proactive consumer protection with statutes that prohibit the most serious problematic practices. Simpson and Conner argued that these approaches could be implemented in part by expanding the powers of the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission or by forming a new federal agency to oversee online services.
- In a report to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Justice Department and the Interior Department failed to comply with statutory requirements to address the missing or murdered Indigenous women crisis. In the United States, violence is committed against Indigenous women at disproportionately high rates. Yet, according to GAO, the full scope of the crisis is unknown because federal databases do not accurately track the number of missing or murdered Indigenous women nationwide. GAO recommended that the Justice Department create a plan to complete data analyses on missing or murdered Indigenous women and confer with tribal organizations about their ability to submit missing persons data to federal databases. GAO also urged both agencies to share a plan for establishing the Joint Commission on Reducing Violent Crime Against Indians, an overdue statutory obligation.
- In a report for the American Council on Renewable Energy, Rob Gramlich, president of Grid Strategies, discussed “resource adequacy,” which is the ability of utility companies to manage electricity demand given changing energy sources. Gramlich argued that resource adequacy is in need of a “fundamental re-assessment” if utilities are to maintain reliability and affordability as they transition to clean energy. He concluded with nine recommendations for regulators, such as measuring the risks and capacity of renewable sources by the same standards as fossil fuel sources.
- In an essay in The Regulatory Review, David Spence, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, discussed the possibility of giving the federal government the authority to choose sites for electricity transmission lines. Spence argued that the need for state permission to determine the location of transmission lines slows the deployment of renewable energy projects. Spence also argued that politicians and special interests from across the political spectrum have thwarted efforts to give the federal government authority over transmission siting. Spence concluded that fossil fuels will continue to benefit from the existing regulatory framework because the current regime makes it harder to transition electrical grids to include more renewable energy sources.