Commentary: Federalism is Key to Surviving a Divided Nation

We live in a divided nation. Our politics have become not just polarized, but toxic. For a country founded on the principles of individual liberty, democratic choice in representative government, and republican protection of natural rights, America has seemingly lost its way. American politics have devolved into a zero-sum game power struggle between two wings of the same establishment—with the prize being the privilege of exploiting the American working class. We are a long way, both figuratively and literally, from the raging fires of liberty that opposed the crown’s Stamp Act in 1765. 

Like all empires, America’s decline, or “transformation” in the words of our 44th president, was the result of poor decisions by both elected leaders and the citizens who elected them. Corruption on the part of a rent-seeking elite and apathy on the part of the citizens have delivered us to our present situation. Although it is important to understand the mistakes that we made along the road to our failing empire, the real question we should be asking now is what are we to do about our current predicament. 

In David Reaboi’s essay in the Claremont Institute’s The American Mind, he discusses the importance of ending traditional America’s favorite pastime of arguing the same ground with the political opposition over and over again—as if minds are not already made up and just one more pithy tweet or witty meme would finally produce a tidal wave of political defections. Instead, he states, we should consider the work we must do in order to salvage some form of republican society that appreciates and protects the founding principles of America’s charter and our way of life. 

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Voter I.D. Constitutional Amendment Proposed in Pennsylvania

People in line, waiting to vote

A pair of Pennsylvania lawmakers said Friday that state residents themselves should decide the stringency of the state’s voter identification law.

The push comes after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he’d never support strengthening existing voter I.D. law – one of the top priorities for Republicans in their election reform proposal unveiled Thursday. 

Sen. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, and Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Williamsport, both support their party’s proposal to require identification each and every time a resident casts a ballot in-person. Current law stipulates identification only for first time voters in a precinct. 

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Biden Bureau of Land Management Nominee Tracy Stone-Manning Was Involved in ‘Eco-Terrorism’ Case, Resulted in College Roommate’s Conviction, Prison Sentence, Court Records Show

Tracy Stone-Manning

President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning, received legal immunity to testify in a 1993 criminal trial, court documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation show. The trial resulted in a 17 month prison sentence for tree spiking, a violent tactic used to prevent logging.

Stone-Manning testified that she sent an anonymous and threatening letter to the Forest Service in 1989 on behalf of John P. Blount, who she identified as her former roommate and a member of her circle of friends, court documents show. The letter warned that a local forest in Idaho set to be logged had been sabotaged with tree spikes, according to the documents.

“P.S. You bastards go in there anyway and a lot of people could get hurt,” the letter stated.

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New York Mayoral Candidate Refuses to Answer Whether She Thinks the U.S. Is Comparable to the Taliban

Screen capture from video of Democratic candidate for NY mayor

New York City mayoral candidate Maya Wiley would not say whether she thinks the U.S. is comparable to the Taliban Thursday, video shows.

Wiley was questioned about Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments comparing the U.S. and Israel to the Taliban and Hamas, video shows. She refused to answer and added that she was proud of her multiple congressional endorsements.

“I am not going to answer this question because I have been, actually, just come out of the debate, I appreciate you asking,” Wiley said in the video.

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Ohio Republicans at Odds Over Householder Ouster

Larry Householder

The Ohio House’s first bipartisan public move to try to expel indicted former Speaker of the House Larry Householder highlighted the divide among Republicans after Householder’s reelection following federal charges of racketeering, bribery and money laundering.

House Resolution 69 received its first hearing in front of the House Rules and Reference Committee, which is chaired by current House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima. Cupp consistently has said Householder, R-Glendale, should resign.

“Representative Householder is under indictment for selling legislation, and Ohioans cannot fathom how he remains in a position to continue to introduce legislation under those circumstances,” Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, testified Thursday. “Virtually everyone associated with this scandal lost their jobs a long time ago. The only person who has not lost their job is the only person indicted for being the mastermind of the whole scandal.”

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Report: Vax-A-Million Lottery Not Spurring Vaccinations Growth

Millions of dollars, college scholarships and other cash and prize incentives may not be enough to encourage more people around the country to get the COVID-19 vaccination, at least if numbers in Ohio are any indication.

The Associated Press reported the number of new Ohioans receiving at least the first dose of a vaccine fell by nearly half after the state announced its first $1 million and college scholarship winners. After Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement of the vaccine lottery in early May, the report said vaccination numbers increased by 43% over the previous week.

The report said the number of people receiving the vaccine from May 27 through June 2 dropped about 43%. March and April were the state’s highest months for the number of vaccines, according to The AP.

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Feds: Illegal Immigration Continued to Worsen in May

Temporary soft sided facilities are utilized to process noncitizen individuals, noncitizen families and noncitizen unaccompanied children as part of the ongoing response to the current border security and humanitarian effort along the Southwest Border in Donna, Texas, May 4, 2021.

The surge in illegal immigration at the southern border continues to worsen, May numbers show, as the Biden administration takes more criticism for its handling of the issue.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection released new data on the crisis at the southern border, showing the federal law enforcement agency encountered 180,034 people attempting to illegally enter the country last month.

May’s numbers were a 1% increase from the previous month, but illegal immigration since Biden took office has soared.

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Turnout in Virginia Democratic Primary Dropped About 11 Percent

Ralph Northam

Voters from around the commonwealth cast their ballots Tuesday to determine which candidate will represent the Democratic Party in Virginia’s 2021 race for governor, but the turnout dropped by about 11% compared to the 2017 primary.

In total, more than 488,100 people voted in the party’s five-candidate primary, compared to 542,858 in 2017’s two-candidate primary. This shows an 11% drop and more than 50,000 fewer votes cast in 2021.

About 8% of Democratic voters turned out for the primary, which is lower than 2017 when about 10% turned out to cast a vote. However, despite the numbers being low compared to the previous election, they are still higher than average when compared to the other most recent gubernatorial primaries.

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Business Tax Filings Could Get Easier in Ohio

Bill Roemer

A bill passed by the Ohio House would eliminate a step businesses owners must take to file taxes with the state and local governments and free up time for those owners to create more jobs and increase business, according to the bill’s sponsor.

The legislation allows businesses to opt into a system run by the Ohio Department of Taxation to pay net profits taxes to the state, and the state notifies each municipality of the taxes. Currently, business owners can decide to be part of the state’s system but must notify municipalities themselves, instead of a one-time notification.

“The current system for filing municipal net profits tax in Ohio creates unnecessary paperwork for our hard-working business owners,” Rep. Bill Roemer, R-Richfield, said. “As if the complications of the tax code itself weren’t enough, the state also requires businesses to jump through unnecessary administration hoops to meet their tax obligations. This bill streamlines and simplifies this process, so our business owners can spend more time creating jobs and contributing to our local economies, instead of complying with burdensome filing requirements.”

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Arizona Gains 66,000 New Taxpayers, Mostly from California

Phoenix, Arizona cityscape

Taxpayers are coming to Arizona from other states by the tens of thousands and bringing billions of dollars in annual earnings with them. 

The Internal Revenue Service released its annual migration statistics, a record of address changes by filers and their dependents between tax years. The data released in late May reflects changes from the 2018-2019 tax years, which symbolize moves that occurred between 2017 and 2018. Nationwide, 8 million people relocated to either another state or county. 

Arizona gained 218,736 new taxpayers in that time. Having lost 152,769, that’s a net gain of 65,967 exemptions from one tax year to the next. That’s nearly 1,000 more than the previous tax year.

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Ohio Holidays Could Pack More Punch with Fireworks

Fireworks in the night sky

It may not come in time for the Fourth of July, but Ohioans could add some excitement to certain celebrations if a bill passed Wednesday by the Ohio Senate eventually clears the House and gets signed into law.

Senate Bill 113 would allow people to have consumer-grade fireworks in the state and set them off on certain days and holidays.

Ohioans would be allowed to set off fireworks on New Year’s Day; Chinese New Year; Cinco de Mayo; Memorial Day weekend; Juneteenth; July 3, 4 and 5, along with the Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays preceding and following; Labor Day weekend; Diwali; and New Year’s eve. Local communities, however, can eliminate any of those days or ban the practice entirely.

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High Court Hears Arguments on Tennessee’s School-Choice Program

ORNL Traveling Science Fair at the TN 4th Annual Tennessee STEM Innovation Summit and STEMx Event, Nashville, TN

Tennessee’s highest court heard arguments on a disputed school choice program.

Tennessee’s Education Savings Accounts (ESA) pilot program, approved by the state Legislature in 2019, would provide state-funded scholarships of about $7,100 to low-income students in Nashville and Memphis – home to the state’s two lowest-performing school districts. Students would be able to use the funds to attend nonpublic schools of their choice.

A district court ruled the program unconstitutional when the two counties sued the state to stop the program. The state Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, and the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

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Michigan State Health Director Backs COVID-19 Nursing Home Death Numbers Despite Undercounting Allegations

The Michigan House Oversight Committee on Thursday heard opposing testimony related to whether Michigan is undercounting COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

For over a year, Republicans have alleged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order to place COVID-19 infected patients into nursing homes with non-infected seniors contributed to an excess number of deaths than otherwise would have happened. In March, more than 50 lawmakers asked the federal government to investigate Whitmer’s policy. The death data from Michigan’s nursing homes could be compared to states with similar senior populations that didn’t pursue similar nursing home policy. 

Steve Delie, an attorney for the Mackinac Center For Public Policy, sued the Michigan Department for Health and Human Services (MDHHS) on behalf of reporter Charlie LeDuff, testified before the committee on Thursday. Delie argued the nursing home and long-term care COVID-19 death count in Michigan isn’t accurate, saying MDHHS enacted an accountability check between March 1 and June 30 of 2020, where it located 648 deaths out of a pool of 1,468 vital records deaths that could be traced back to a nursing home facility.

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IRS: California Shrank by 165K Taxpayers, $8.8 Billion in Gross Income

Aerial shot of a California suburb

California residents of all ages and incomes are leaving for more tax friendly climates, and they’re taking billions of dollars in annual income with them.

The Internal Revenue Service recently released its latest taxpayer migration figures from tax years 2018 and 2019. They reflect migratory taxpayers who had filed in a different state or county between 2017 and 2018, of which 8 million did in that timespan.

California, the nation’s most-populous state, lost more tax filers and dependents on net than any other state.

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Nevada Bill Would Knock Iowa from Being the First Presidential Primary State

Nevada Legislature Building, Carson City, Nevada

The Nevada legislature passed a bill Monday seeking to make the state the first in the country to hold its presidential primary.

If adopted, it would upend a decades-long political tradition that saw Iowa and New Hampshire go first and second during primary season respectively. The change would likely result in pushback from Iowa and New Hampshire in order to keep their coveted spots.

The bill passed the state Assembly Wednesday 30-11 and the state Senate Monday 15-6, and awaits the signature of Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. However, the bill would need the approval of both the Republican and Democratic parties to actually take shape ahead of 2024.

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Third Virginia Sheriff Switches from Democrat to Republican over Policing Reforms

Police lights on top of car

In response to legislative Democrats enacting a series of police reforms, three Southwest Virginia sheriffs elected as Democrats have changed their party to become Republicans.

Sheriff Chip Shuler of Smyth County, who was elected as a Democrat in 2015, was the most recent addition to the Republican Party. In a news release, Shuler said law enforcement has faced relentless attacks from Democrats in Washington and Richmond.

In 2015, Shuler was elected with slightly more than 59% of the vote and was re-elected in 2019 with slightly more than 60% of the vote. Smyth County is a mostly Republican district in which more than three-fourths of votes backed former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

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Gov. Lee’s Signature Makes Tennessee a Second Amendment Sanctuary

Guy shooting hand gun at gun range

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill Wednesday that makes the state a Second Amendment sanctuary.

Senate Bill 1335 prevents any “law, treaty, executive order, rule, or regulation of the United States government” that violates the Tennessee Constitution or the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution from being enforced in the state.

That violation would have to be determined by either the Tennessee or U.S. Supreme Court. The stipulation was added during debate of the bill in the Tennessee House, and the Senate concurred.

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Missouri’s Treasurer Opposes Biden Administration’s Influence on Divesting in Fuel Companies

Gas station at night

Missouri Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick and 14 other Republican state treasurers are questioning President Joe Biden’s administration pressuring of U.S. banks and financial institutions to not lend to or invest in fossil fuel companies.

The group of chief financial officers sent a letter to presidential climate envoy John Kerry this week expressing concern about a reported strategy to eliminate the coal, oil and natural gas industries by cutting off loans or investments.

“While the pursuit of more renewable sources of energy is a noble cause, the fact is that fossil fuels remain critical to our country and the entire world,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “The Biden Administration’s failure to acknowledge this will result in increased costs for consumers and businesses. An energy independent America is vital for national security and strengthens our economy which impacts all Americans – especially our poorest citizens who feel rising prices at the gas pump and the checkout line most. Attempts to pressure financial institutions to cut off the fossil fuel industry amounts to nothing less than an abuse of power by the federal government and should not be tolerated by states.”

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Two Ohio Lawmakers Want State to Call for Convention of States

Rep. Riordan McClain

Two Ohio lawmakers plan to introduce a resolution next week calling for a convention of states to address the size of the federal government.  

State Reps. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky, and Craig Riedel, R-Defiance, said they plan to introduce the resolution, which would create a convention that could discuss the topics of “limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, term limits for Congress and other government officials, and fiscal restraints for the federal government.”

“The size and scope of the federal government have long been unsustainable, and we have waited long enough for Congress to fix itself,” McClain said.

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Michigan Undercounted Nursing Home COVID-19 Deaths, Reporter Says

Staff member at nursing home showing smartphone to elderly woman

ulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff says Michigan has undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

The accusation follows a settlement between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and LeDuff with legal services provided by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. LeDuff and the MCPP sued the government when it failed to provide public records as required by law.

“This data is an essential part of accurately understanding the effects of this pandemic and the public policy implemented in response,” Steve Delie, an attorney and the Mackinac Center’s FOIA expert, said in a May 21 statement. “It also leaves open the possibility that the state is undercounting the number of deaths of those in nursing homes.”

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Commentary: Conservatives and Republicans Must Reclaim Memorial Day

Veteran cemetery with table set for lives lost who served America

In the face of the Far Left’s attempts to rewrite American history through the now-discredited 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory, Republicans and conservatives must reclaim the key dates and events in American history and there is no better place to start than Memorial Day 2021.

Memorial Day was created not as a “holiday” or an excuse for corporate merchants to advertise sales, but as a solemn commemoration of the dead of both sides in the American Civil War.

In that context Memorial Day commemorates a number of constitutional conservative values, not the least of which is the inviolability of the Constitution itself.

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After National Criticism, Whitmer’s Campaign to Pay for Florida Flight

Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Months after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer flew on a secret trip to Florida, Michiganders are starting to find answers.

Whitmer’s campaign committee will pay for her March Florida flight to visit her father after she initially attempted to use a nonprofit to charter the flight through a separate company.

The flight sparked an Federal Aviation Agency investigation, because the jet company was not authorized to operate charter flights.

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Businesses, Republicans Raise the Alarm over Biden Taxes

Local icecream shop with chalkboard menu

As President Joe Biden promotes his several trillion dollars in proposed federal spending, Republicans and small businesses are raising the alarm, arguing the taxes needed to pay for those spending plans are a threat to the economy.

The House Ways and Means Committee met Thursday to discuss infrastructure development and in particular the impact of proposed tax increases to pay for it. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the ranking member on the committee, argued that only 7% of Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill goes to infrastructure and that raising taxes would incentivize employers to take jobs overseas.

“As bad as the wasteful spending is, worse yet, it’s poisoned with crippling tax increases that sabotage America’s jobs recovery, hurts working families and Main Street businesses, and drives U.S. jobs overseas,”  Brady said. “We cannot fund infrastructure on the backs of American workers.”

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Ohio Democrats Walk out on Voting Bill Debate

Close up of mail in ballot

A bill that would eliminate early voting in Ohio the day before an election and stop the mailing of absentee ballots 10 days before Election Day got its first hearing in the Ohio, and it came with controversy.

Democratic lawmakers walked out of the House Government Oversight Committee on Thursday after they say committee Chair Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, threatened to cut off debate.

“What we saw today was unsettling – Republicans unwilling to engage in civil discourse on their bill that would silence the voices of Ohioans by rolling back the right to vote,” said House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron. “If Republicans are unwilling to hear the people out, Democrats are going to take this issue to the people.”

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Watermarked Absentee Ballots Coming to Tennessee in 2022

Woman voting at booth

Tennessee’s absentee ballots will have a watermark, starting in elections in 2022.

Gov. Bill Lee signed Senate Bill 1315, the Tennessee Election Integrity Act, which was passed by the Tennessee Legislature last month and will put an approved watermark on all absentee ballots with the goal of providing more security to the election process.

The watermark does not apply to military electronic absentee ballots, which are not printed onto paper. Local election authorities will be required to dispose of previously purchased ballot paper at the end of 2021.

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Whitmer to Ease Michigan’s COVID-19 Restrictions June 1

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced outdoor capacity limits will disappear after June 1, when indoor capacity limits will increase to 50% under updated public health restrictions.

The state will lift the broad mask and gathering orders July 1, Whitmer said Thursday at Dow Diamond In Midland.

“We look at this as the last moment of this type of orders,” Whitmer said after Michigan has battled COVID-19 for 14 months via a wide range of emergency orders.

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Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Gets $100K Raise

Commissioner: Russell R. McMurry

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry has received a $100,000 raise, making him one of the highest-paid unelected state officials in Georgia.

The State Transportation Board unanimously approved McMurry’s 29% raise Thursday without debate, increasing his salary from $350,000 to $450,000.

McMurry started his career with the department in 1990. He was the planning director before being appointed commissioner by the board in 2015.

McMurry’s salary in fiscal year 2015 was more than $165,000. McMurry’s salary climbed from $185,000 in fiscal year 2016 to $250,000 in fiscal year 2017 and $336,000 in fiscal year 2018. He used an average of $6,900 in travel expenses over the past six year

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Senior Fellow of Real Clear Foundation Rupert Darwall Sees the Polity of Businesses Becoming Armed Tools of Political Agendas

Friday morning on the Tennessee Star Report, host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed Senior Fellow at Real Clear Foundation Rupert Darwall to the newsmakers line to discuss capitalism, socialism, and what he calls ESG investing.

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Most Americans with Children to Receive Monthly Federal Payments Starting in July

Man with two children

Millions of American families will receive hundreds of dollars in regular federal payments beginning next month, the Internal Revenue Service said Monday.

The IRS announced July 15 as the start date for monthly child tax credit payments that would affect the vast majority of Americans with children.

“Eligible families will receive a payment of up to $300 per month for each child under age 6 and up to $250 per month for each child age 6 and above,” the IRS said in a statement.

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Michigan Business Leaders Expect Robust Economic Recovery, Return to Partial In-Person Work

Man in business suit walking on crosswalk in city

Michigan’s business leaders anticipate robust growth in the state’s economy within the next year.

They also plan a return to in-person office work in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2021, according to a quarterly economic survey completed by Business Leaders for Michigan.

Approximately 92% of survey respondents say the state’s economy will likely remain strong and growing during the next six to 12 months.

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Minnesota to End Statewide Mask Mandate Friday

Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday announced the end of Minnesota’s statewide mask requirement starting Friday, aligning Minnesota with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on face coverings.

“So, those peacetime emergencies are done and the business mitigations are coming to an end. I want to be clear it’s not the end of the pandemic, but it is the end of the pandemic for a  lot of vaccinated folks,” he told reporters.

Minnesotans who aren’t fully vaccinated are strongly recommended to wear face coverings indoors.

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Bill Would Make Ohio State School Board Completely Elected

Rep. Miller speaks with Rep. Adam Miller (D-Columbus) before House session

Two members of the Ohio House want the state’s board of education to be more connected to the public by reducing the number of members and eliminating nonelected members.

Eight of the current 19 members receive appointments from the governor, but House Bill 298 eliminates each of those positions when current terms expire, reducing the board to its 1995 level of 11 members.

“The State Board of Education is an important body and the members of its Board should be accountable to the voters,” Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, said. “Right now, 42% of the members of the State Board of Education are not elected and, therefore, not accountable to anyone. To have almost half the board unelected and unaccountable does not reflect the transparency and responsiveness that Ohioans need and deserve.”

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Critics of Biden’s Proposed Oil-and-Gas Industry Taxes Fueled by Gas Shortages

Gas shortage "out of service" stickers

Gas shortages on the East Coast have helped rally Congressional opposition to the portions of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan that would force oil and gas companies to pay more in taxes.

House Republicans sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., calling on Democrats to oppose Biden’s plan to “eliminate tax preferences for fossil fuels.”

The letter, signed by 55 Republicans, came after a cyber attack of Colonial Pipeline shut down a major pipeline on the East Coast and led to fear-driven gasoline shortages. The attack also raised questions about the nation’s energy infrastructure and vulnerability to attack.

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Controversy Surrounds Whitmer’s Secret Florida Flight

Gov. Whitmer

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is once again under fire for a Florida trip she took months ago.

The trip was partially paid for by a 501(c)4 group, which critics say presents legal questions.

Whitmer used funds from an inauguration-related nonprofit to pay for a $27,521 trip to Florida to visit her ailing father in March, MIRS News reported. “She continued to carry out her duties as governor while she assisted her father [in Florida] with household duties like cooking and cleaning,” JoAnne Huls, the governor’s chief of staff, wrote in a memo. “The governor’s flight was not a gift, not paid for at taxpayer expense, and was done in compliance with the law.”

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Pipeline Hack Revives Call for Florida to Create Its Own Stash of Gas

Gary Farmer

The ransomware attack that paralyzed the Colonial Pipeline for nearly a week, causing gas shortages throughout the Southeast, including Florida’s Panhandle, may revive one senator’s multi-year effort to convince the Sunshine State to establish its own petroleum stockpile.

Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, has filed bills since 2018 seeking to create a Florida Strategic Fuel Reserve Task Force to study creating a fuel stash similar in concept, if not in size, to the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Farmer Thursday called on Republican statehouse leaders to add his 2021 proposal, Senate Bill 1454, to the agenda when the Legislature convenes Monday for a special session to vet a proposed 30-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

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More Than $60 Million to Go to Virginia Schools to Offset Pandemic Learning Losses

To offset learning losses caused by the shutdown of in-person public education, Virginia will be spending more than $60 million in recovery grants for public schools, Gov. Ralph Northam announced.

After public schools in the commonwealth were completely shut down for in-person classes for a period of time, the governor implemented restrictions that required hybrid teaching models that included both virtual and in-person learning for months. Since those guidelines have been lifted, some schools have returned to fully in-person education, while some are still using a hybrid model.

To minimize the learning gaps caused by the closures, the state will provide $62.7 million in LEARNS Education Recovery grants. About $55 million of the funding will come from federal relief and the remaining $7.7 million will come from state funds.

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Ohio Legislature Keeps Pressure on Michigan to Keep Pipeline Open

Ohio state Rep. Brian Baldridge, R-Winchester

Ohio lawmakers continue to pressure Michigan’s governor to keep open a pipeline that affects more than 20,000 Ohio jobs and nearly $14 billion in state economic activity.

Rep. Brian Baldridge, R-Winchester, who testified before the Ohio Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this week, said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continues to make poor decisions at a time when energy security remains in question after a cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline that continues to leave the Southeast with gasoline shortages and higher prices.

Baldridge also testified recently before Michigan’s Senate Energy Committee and met with the state’s Senate leadership in response to Ohio Resolution 13, which urges Michigan to keep the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline operating.

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Federal Government Awards Virginia Money for Damage from February Winter Storms

Sidewalk covered in snow and parked vehicles

The federal government will award the Commonwealth of Virginia and local governments money related to the costs of damages from winter storms in mid-February, President Joe Biden announced.

Biden declared a major disaster for severe weather storms that happened between Feb. 11 and Feb. 13. Federal assistance will be available for the state, tribal and local recovery efforts related to the storms.

Funding is also available to some private nonprofits for the cost of emergency work and repair or replacement of facilities.

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House Democrats Prepared to Offer Ohio Redistricting Proposal

Rep. Hicks-Hudson speaks on the House floor in support of House Bill 1

Ohio House Democrats plan to offer their own solutions to potential redistricting issues caused by late census data, and it centers around following the state constitution and providing more public access to the process.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced last month redistricting data will not be available until September, creating a constitutional issue for Ohio. The state must meet certain requirements by the end of September.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has sued the U.S. Census Bureau to release information sooner, and Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, floated a constitutional amendment change last month.

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Minnesota House Approves Legal Marijuana; Dead Upon Arrival in Senate

green cannabis plant

The Minnesota House voted 72-61 to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and expunge minor marijuana convictions.

The Senate leader, however, designated the bill dead upon arrival.

“The war on drugs is a failed policy,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said. “The harms caused by current cannabis laws cannot be allowed to continue. Minnesota’s illegal cannabis market creates bad outcomes for everyone. Responsible regulations and safeguards to prevent youth access are a better solution to address the harms our current laws fail to address.”

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Lawmakers Reach Deal on Bipartisan 9/11-Style Commission to Investigate Capitol Riot

The two top lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee reached an agreement Friday on legislation that would create a bipartisan, 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The bill, authored by Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson and New York Republican Rep. John Katko, is focused exclusively on the attack and not other episodes of political violence as multiple Republicans earlier insisted. Though it has the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it is unclear whether Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other members of his caucus support it.

“I haven’t read through it,” McCarthy told reporters when asked about the bill Friday morning.

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Whitmer Ends Statewide Mask Mandate for Fully Vaccinated Starting Saturday

group of people wearing masks

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday announced the state health department will align its policy with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance on face coverings starting Saturday at 9 a.m.

“For more than a year, we’ve been following the best data and science to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The vast majority of us have trusted the scientists and experts to keep us safe during the pandemic, and it has worked. With millions of Michiganders fully vaccinated, we can now safely and confidently take the next step to get back to normal. The message is clear: vaccines work to protect you and your loved ones. If you have not yet received your vaccine, now is the time to sign up. This pandemic has been one of the toughest challenges of our lifetimes, but we came together as a state to persevere. We have all been working incredibly hard toward getting back to some sense of normalcy, and today’s news makes all of that work worthwhile.”

On Thursday, the CDC released updated guidance recommending “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

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McConnell Says He Supports $800 Billion Package Focusing on ‘Traditional’ Infrastructure

Sen Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that Republicans could back an infrastructure package costing up to $800 billion, a higher total than a plan Senate Republicans put forward in April.

Speaking with Kentucky Educational Television Sunday, McConnell reaffirmed Republicans’ opposition to President Joe Biden’s sweeping $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which covers both traditional infrastructure and Democratic priorities like child care, affordable housing and climate change. McConnell said that any package must be limited to “traditional” infrastructure items like roads, bridges and ports to gain GOP support.

“The proper price tag for what most of us think of as infrastructure is about $600-800 billion,” McConnell said.

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Gov. Whitmer Signs $37 Million Bill Funding 76 Projects Statewide

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday signed House Bill 4469 which appropriates $37.8 million in Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants for 76 recreation projects and land purchases throughout Michigan.

“The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund supports quality outdoor recreation, giving Michiganders the ability to safely enjoy the outdoors and boosting local economies,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This funding is crucial to helping communities utilize their natural resources and make Michigan’s public spaces more accessible and attractive to residents and visitors. I am proud to sign this piece of bipartisan legislation into law and support Michigan’s recreational resources and economy.” 

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund is a restricted fund established in 1976 to provide funding for public acquisition of lands for resource conservation and outdoor recreation.

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Discharging Fireworks in Ohio Moves Closer to Reality

Brian Baldridge

 The Fourth of July for Ohioans could come with a little more bang in 2022 if the General Assembly comes together on a pair of bills that would move the state closer to legalizing the discharge of fireworks.

While coming up short of allowing fireworks throughout the state, House Bill 253 would allow cities to legalize fireworks over July 3, 4 and 5, and it requires the state fire marshal to develop rules on how and when fireworks can be used. House Bill 172, which passed the House on Thursday, removes the statewide ban on the discharge of fireworks.

“Every year, the 4th of July is marked with family picnics and parades as a way to celebrate our nation’s birthday and the many freedoms we enjoy as Americans,” Rep. Brian Baldridge, R-Winchester, said. “Even with all this, each and every year brings disappointment when Ohio’s citizens cannot legally and honestly discharge fireworks as a means of celebrating with family, friends and neighbors.”

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Wyoming Becomes Latest State to Ban Vaccine Passports

People walking in airport

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday issued a directive blocking state agencies from using vaccine passports.

The directive requires state agencies, boards and commissions to “provide full access to state spaces and state services, regardless of a constituent’s COVID-19 vaccination status.”

The directive also urges local governments and private businesses to align their policies and practices with the state.

“Vaccine passport programs have the potential to politicize a decision that should not be politicized,” Gordon, a Republican, said in a statement. “They would divide our citizens at a time when unity in fighting the virus is essential, and harm those who are medically unable to receive the vaccine. While I strongly encourage Wyomingites over the age of 16 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it is a personal choice based upon personal circumstances.”

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Michigan House Oversight Committee Considers Legislation to Ban Vaccine Passports

Mask on passport Vaccination card on blue background

The Michigan House Oversight Committee convened Thursday to discuss a bill that aims to ban vaccination passports, sparking heated debate on the topic.

The committee specifically focused its discussion on House Bill 4667. Introduced by bill sponsor Rep. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, the bill would prohibit “a governmental entity from producing, issuing or providing an incentive for a COVID-19 vaccination passport.”

However, the meeting also prompted testimony from a variety of guests who defended their personal decisions to not receive any of the three available COVID-19 vaccines. Most cited the Federal Drug Administration’s emergency authorization of the vaccines does not equate to the agency’s explicit approval.

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Business Fairness Act Would Allow Ohio Businesses to Stay Open During Emergencies

Mike DeWine

Ohio businesses would be able to continue to operate during a public health emergency if a bill passed by the Ohio House clears the Senate and is signed by Gov. Mike DeWine.

House Bill 215 would require businesses to comply with safety standards from government orders or regulations to stay open, but it does provide an avenue to keep businesses up in running in times of emergency.

“Small business owners had their worlds turned upside down when they were forced to shut down last year,” Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, said. “Getting this bill signed into law will send a strong message that Ohio will remain open for business and keep our economy moving forward.”

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Proposed Tennessee Constitutional Amendment on Slavery Wording to Go Before Voters

Tennessee Senate Chamber

The Tennessee House has approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the state constitution’s wording to allow for prisoners to work without it being considered slavery.

The proposed amendment passed, 81-2, on Tuesday and will be on the statewide ballot in November 2022.

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, said the bill language came directly from the Tennessee Department of Corrections and was intended to eliminate any confusion about whether work from prisoners, who are paid, could fall under the slavery ban.

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