An Alabama law banning gender-affirming care takes effect, the Senate fails to pass abortion legislation, and more…
IN THE NEWS
- An Alabama law that bans gender-affirming care for individuals under 19 years old took effect on May 8, 2022. Parents of transgender minors challenged the constitutionality of the law and had asked the court to block its enforcement, but the court has yet to issue a ruling, allowing the law to go into effect. The Alabama law criminalizes providing gender-affirming care, including the prescription of hormones and puberty blockers, as a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The law also prohibits public school employees and staff from withholding information about a minor’s gender identity from their family with the same penalty.
- In a 48-46 vote, with 6 senators not voting, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill that would have prohibited governmental restrictions on abortion. If it had passed, the bill would have banned certain abortion requirements, such as requiring patients to make “medically unnecessary in-person visits” and requiring doctors to provide inaccurate medical information. Some senators in favor of the bill called for the removal of the filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation, to pass the abortion bill.
- A federal appeals court reinstated a Texas law prohibiting social media companies from moderating content on their sites, such as by banning or restricting users who violate codes of conduct. A lower court had previously blocked the law as violative of social media companies’ First Amendment right to freedom of expression, which includes editorial discretion. The lower court had also found that Texas lawmakers, in passing this law, “intended to target large social media platforms perceived as being biased against conservative views.” Yet the appeals court did not provide any reasoning in its split decision to reinstate the law. In an amicus brief opposing the law, the Knight First Amendment Institute argued that the law “would give the government sweeping authority over the digital public sphere and impede social media companies from addressing real harms online.”
- The Biden-Harris Administration released a Permitting Action Plan that seeks to speed up the federal review process for environmental permits for infrastructure projects. The Biden-Harris Administration outlined that the plan will accelerate the permitting process by increasing hiring and cross-agency coordination and communicating earlier with states, tribal nations, and local communities. According to the Administration, the plan is designed to “result in better permitting outcomes, enhanced predictability for project sponsors, and increased accountability across Federal agencies.”
- The U.S. Department of Energy issued a request for comments on how to structure a $2.5 billion program to build and update transmission lines for the U.S. electric grid. The project seeks to build out new transmission lines to support more clean energy projects. In addition, the project will improve existing infrastructure because, as the Energy Department noted, most grid transmission lines are vulnerable and outdated. Energy Department Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm stated that transmission expansion and upgrades are necessary to “reach our climate goals and ultimately bring down energy costs.”
- Two federal judges asked Congress to pass laws that would enhance personal security for judges and cybersecurity for courts’ computer systems. Several governors and state attorneys general also wrote letters to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice better protect the safety of U.S. Supreme Court justices. Such requests arose following the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion indicating that the Court may strike down Roe v. Wade, calling the right to privacy into question. Proponents of increased security measures expressed fear that Supreme Court justices, other federal judges, and their families are particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks.
- After a voluntary recall of baby formula—which has produced a nationwide shortage—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it is working with formula manufacturers to expedite approvals, maximize production, and monitor supply chains. Furthermore, FDA is allowing urgent use of formula manufactured by the facility from which formula was recalled, noting that the benefits would outweigh the risks. In addition, FDA established a working group to ensure long-term stability of baby formula supply in the future.
- Senator Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) introduced a bill that would establish a federal watchdog to regulate “Big Tech”—the largest technology companies in the United States. If enacted, the Act would empower a federal commission to set new rules mandating decision making transparency in how tech companies moderate content. The proposed bill follows Democrats’ requests for increased funding for the Federal Trade Commission to regulate large tech companies better.
WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK
- In a report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that firearm homicides increased by almost 35 percent in 2020, reaching its highest rate in over 25 years. The CDC explained that from 2019 to 2020, the increase in gun-related homicides disproportionately impacted people of color, with the highest incidence occurring among Black males. In addition, the CDC noted that American Indian and Alaska Native persons experienced the largest increase in firearm suicide rate and the highest overall incidence of firearm suicide among any racial or ethnic subgroup. The CDC emphasized that counties with the highest poverty levels experienced the greatest increase in firearm homicide and suicide rates. The CDC urged state and local governments to address “physical, social, and structural conditions that contribute to violence and disparities” to prevent firearm violence and death.
- In a forthcoming article in the Boston College Law Review, Felix Mormann, professor at Texas A&M School of Law, argued that policymakers should target not only institutional decision making, but also individual decision making, when it comes to climate policy. Mormann contended that changes in individual behavior improve stakeholders’ climate decision making. Mormann posited that nudges—a structure that encourages certain choices by making them more convenient—are “nimbler than most conventional regulations,” improve the public’s participation in policy, and catalyze private climate action. Mormann acknowledged that nudges can detract from stakeholder autonomy but contended that climate nudges would correct information asymmetry and give stakeholders more information to make decisions.
- A recent staff report issued by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found that Emergent Biosolutions, a vaccine manufacturing company, destroyed 400 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The Subcommittee discussed how the Trump Administration awarded Emergent a multi-million dollar contract to manufacture COVID vaccines, despite the company’s history of failing to meet regulatory and compliance standards. The Subcommittee outlined that Emergent continued production of vaccines even after FDA regulators identified several deficiencies at Emergent’s manufacturing facility. The Subcommittee concluded that Emergent’s failures cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and raise “questions about whether additional contracting controls could have prevented the destruction of nearly 400 million doses” of COVID-19 vaccines.
- In an essay in The Regulatory Review, Anthony A. Braga, now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Philip J. Cook, professor emeritus at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, argued that the type of gun used in an assault is a determining factor in whether a shooting is fatal. Braga and Cook explained that death was over twice as likely to result from assaults involving medium-caliber guns and over five times as likely from those involving large-caliber guns as compared to those involving small-caliber guns. Braga and Cook contended that the relationship between gun use and fatality is “foundational to the debate over gun control” and cautioned that the relationship should be treated as a fact, not an opinion.