It’s a Tax. It’s Not a Tax.
State Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) says that his SB 50 is not a tax increase, but it’s named, “CS/SB 50: Sales and Use Tax,” tells a different story.
Huh? What? Que?
So, we are going to go with its a tax, as the measure has just passed the Senate Appropriations Committee (18-0), it looks like SB 50 will make its way to a final vote and eventually get signed into law.
The bill calls for Non-Florida online retailers that rack up more than $100K in sales, to have to pay a tax.
Would DeSantis sign off on this “Sales and Use Tax” bill in order to cut into the huge budget gap caused by the lack of tax revenue as a result of the pandemic?
Remember, DeSantis is one of those ‘Less Taxes, No New Taxes’ governors.
Sen. Jason Pizzo (D-Miami) is one of the Democrats who support this sales tax.
Florida Legislators are wrestling with legislation that would protect health care businesses from facing liability and potential litigation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) saw his SB 74 squeak by with a 5-4 vote in the Health Policy Committee.
Sen. Brandes wants potential plaintiffs to prove that whatever health care provider they are suing as a result of the pandemic, must prove the defendant acted with “gross negligence.
Brandes told The Floridian that he was happy to see his bill move along. Trial lawyers are not happy, as you can imagine.
Speaking of Brandes, Florida’s Pot King’ told The Floridian that he believes that the legalization of recreational marijuana will happen in Florida. Brandes points to the surging poll numbers that show that the majority of Floridians approve of legalizing pot for recreational use. READ MORE
State Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R) is holding an event on Monday, March 8 to presumably announce his run for the U.S. Congress.
The Floridian first broke the story last weekend that Rep. Sabatini was strongly considering the run. READ MORE
Sabatini did not say if he was definitely going to run for Congress. We speculate that he will primary challenge Reps. Daniel Webster or Scott Franklin.
AG Ashley Moody @AGAshleyMoody–Tax season is in full swing and scammers are working overtime to steal your personal information. Stop tax identity theft in its tracks by reading our Scams at a Glance: Tax Identity Theft brochure today!
Lauren Melo @LaurenMeloFL-Today, I had the honor of presenting my first bill in committee! The Consumer-First Workforce System Bill will consolidate workforce services so that they may be accessed through one site and more. Thanks to Chair @RepMcClain and my colleagues for a unanimous vote! #BeMoreDoMore
Cyndi Stevenson @RepStevenson-I was honored to have my son join me earlier this week as the Doctor of the Day on the Opening day for the 123rd Session of the Florida House of Representatives!
Rep. Anna V. Eskamani @AnnaForFlorida–The Inspector General’s report on Florida’s broken unemployment system demonstrates a serious failure on all fronts and reinforces what we already knew to be true: CONNECT was set up to fail.
“Fried Calls For FBI ‘To Step In’ On DeSantis’ Vaccine Rollout,“ by The Floridian’s Daniel Molina— Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (D), who’s expected to launch her gubernatorial run against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) after the 2021 legislative session concludes, held a press conference this week to discuss COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans that the state has taken to address the pandemic.
“Brandes On Legalized Recreational Marijuana Use in FL: ‘It’s Gonna Happen’, by The Floridian’s Jim McCool — Across the country, state legislatures have made leaps and bounds to change their statutes on marijuana, medicinal and recreational. Florida could quite possibly join states among the ranks of Colorado and California to fully legalize recreational marijuana with SB 710 (Availability of Marijuana for Adult Use).
“FL CFO Patronis Backs Consumer Protection House Bill,“ by The Floridian’s Jim McCool
“Cuomo Accuser Charlotte Bennett Speaks Out: ‘The Governor’s Trying To Sleep With Me’ by The Floridian’s Mona Salama
“White House Defends Biden’s ‘Neanderthal Thinking’ Attack On GOP Governors,” by the Floridian’s Mona Salama
“Psaki Refuses To Give Trump’s Operation Warp Speed Credit For COVID Vaccines,“ by The Floridian’s Mona Salama — White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki flatly refused to give credit to the Trump administration for developing the Coronavirus vaccine at record time and getting the ball rolling with implementing the playbook on vaccine distribution that occurred before President Biden took office.
“Scott Suggests Secretary Blinken Join Him In Demanding Olympics Get Moved From China,“ by The Floridian’s Javier Manjarres
“Rubio: Border Situation Becoming a ‘Catastrophe’ by The Floridian’s Daniel Molina
New Poll Shows Biden’s Approval Rating Slips In One Month” by The Floridian’s Mona Salama – President Joe Biden’s post-inauguration honeymoon period he briefly enjoyed has come to an end, with his approval rating slipping and his disapproval rising based on his performance within the first month in office, according to a new national poll released Wednesday. In a Monmouth University poll released on Wednesday, Biden currently holds a 51 percent approval rating from Americans, down 3 percent compared to the 54 percent standing the president first received from respondents just days after his inauguration in late January. However, Biden’s disapproval rating has surged double-digits from 30 percent he received just days into his term to now 42 percent from Americans polled in late February. According to Monmouth, the shift is driven based on more Americans now being able to form an opinion of the new president’s first month in office. In January, 16 percent of those surveyed said they had “no opinion” regarding Biden’s job performance, but a month later, only 8 percent expressing no opinion, with those Americans mostly appearing to drift into the “disapproval” of the new president’s job performance mark. “It’s probably not a surprise that Biden’s honeymoon period has closed quickly. He does maintain a net positive rating, but the Covid stimulus package will be the first significant test of how stable that support is,” Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said.
“Biden Blasts Texas and Mississippi ‘Neanderthal Thinking’ For Ending Mask Mandate” by The Floridian’s Mona Salama – President Biden criticized Texas and Mississippi decision for recently lifting statewide mask mandates, calling it a “big mistake” and blasted the two Republican governors decisions as “Neanderthal thinking.” “Texas, I think it’s a big mistake. Look, I hope everybody has realized by now — These masks make a difference,” Biden said when asked if he has a message to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves’ who recently lifted its states’ mask mandates. “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease. The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters,” Biden added. In stoking fear, Biden said that thousands more COVID deaths would occur due to the governors dropping its restrictions and urged Americans to continue to wear masks and follow all public health guidelines. “It’s critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science. Wash your hands, hot water. Do it frequently, wear a mask, and stay socially distanced. And I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it.” Biden in his first day in office signed an executive order requiring mandatory mask-wearing on federal property as well as traveling to and from states, but has little authority to overrule governors and other state officials orders.
“‘Embarrassed’ Cuomo In First Appearance Addresses Sexual Harassment Allegations But Refuses To Resign” by Mona Salama – After over a week in hiding, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reemerged in his first public appearance to address the allegations of sexual harassment brought against him by three women while rebuffing the loud calls from lawmakers on both sides in refusing to resign. “I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone,” Cuomo said 20 minutes into his Coronavirus press briefing Wednesday, addressing the elephant in the room despite his lawyers advising him not to do so. “I feel awful about it and frankly I am embarrassed by it and that’s not easy to say – but that’s the truth,” he added. Cuomo said that he wanted New Yorkers to hear from him “directly on this” issue, begging for patience and to “wait for the facts,” before jumping to any conclusion. “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion,” Cuomo said during the 45-minute presser, the shortest briefing he has ever held in over a year. Cuomo’s office on Monday officially granted New York Attorney General Letitia James a formal referral for her office to move forward with an independent investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against the governor. The referral allows James to select private attorneys to conduct the review and will not provide weekly updates to the governor, given the nature of the investigation.
“Deutch Champions Controversial H.R 1 Bill, Says It Will Remove Political “Dark Money”” by The Floridian’s Daniel Molina – Democrats and Republicans have been at odds since the conclusion of the 2020 presidential election, and the debate regarding election integrity continues. Republicans have made numerous claims that Democrats are trying to implement policies that will damage election integrity such as mail-in ballot voting for elections and having to show no identification to cast a vote. However, Democrats have disregarded the claims as another tactic of implementing voter suppression, and Florida Rep. Ted Deutch (D) warned that there are greater issues being overlooked. In turn, these greater issues can only be resolved by getting “dark money” out of politics. On Twitter, Deutch affirmed that “we need HR 1 to bring dark money into the light of transparency.” He added that “we need HJRes 1, the #DemocractForAll Amendment, to overturn Citizens United and #GetMoneyOut of our elections.” However, since HR 1 was introduced, Republicans have vehemently opposed the bill, calling it dangerous. They warn that the bill would allow ballot harvesting, individuals to vote without having a picture ID and it would also extend mail-in ballot voting.
“Puerto Rico Statehood Legislation Introduced in Congress” by The Floridian’s Daniel Molina – For years, lawmakers have debated whether or not Puerto Rico should gain statehood. This week the effort gained further traction after bipartisan support introduced legislation that would lay the groundwork to admit Puerto Rico as a state of the Union. A group of 51 Congressional members, under the name of “Fighting for Equality and Democracy for our Fellow Americans,” under the leadership of Florida Rep. Darren Soto (D) and Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon (R), announced the legislation. Senator Martin Heinrich (D) is leading a similar effort in the Senate, and Puerto Rico gaining statehood has already received support from Florida leadership like Senator Marco Rubio (R) and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R). In announcing the legislation, Soto detailed that “last November, Americans in Puerto Rico reached a clear consensus: their destiny lies with statehood.” As a result, “our historic legislation will finally end over 120 years of colonialism and provide full rights and representation to more than 3.2 million Americans.” He added that “our quest for statehood is about respecting democracy and equality in Puerto Rico,” and the group is looking “forward to working with President Biden and congressional leaders from both parties and chambers to advance and pass the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act.”
“Scott Urges Biden to Prioritize Everglades Restoration” by The Floridan’s Daniel Molina – Restoring the Florida Everglades has been a concern for Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and Florida Republicans alike. Last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S., Governor Ron DeSantis announced that an agreement had been reached to acquire 20,000 acres of critical Everglades wetlands. With a new administration in the White House, Florida Senator Rick Scott (R) has now directed a letter, urging President Joe Biden (D) to prioritize Florida Everglades restoration projects in congressional budget requests. The request was made because “this funding would build upon the $250 million for Everglades restoration that Senator Scott fought for and secured from the Trump Administration last year.” It would also “ensure continued support for federal and state efforts to preserve and protect Florida’s environment for future generations.” Specifically, the former Governor of Florida highlighted that the funding would “ensure that key projects, like the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project, remain a priority.” This project “will work to clean and store more water south of Lake Okeechobee, helping prevent and mitigate the impacts of harmful algal blooms and naturally-occurring red tide in Florida’s coastal waterways.”
“All Florida teachers, daycare workers now eligible to get COVID-19 vaccine at CVS” by Fox 35 Orlando – All of Florida’s teachers, along with daycare and preschool workers, are now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine and CVS has announced their pharmacies are now accepting appointments. The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program was updated to include teachers and daycare staff after President Joe Biden announced a directive that all states prioritize school staff and childcare workers for COVID-19 vaccination. President Biden also said he expects the country will have enough vaccines available for all adults by the end of May, which is two months earlier than anticipated. Biden said his goal is for every pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade educator, school staff member, and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March. “We’ve aligned with updated Federal Retail Pharmacy Program guidelines by making appointments available to pre-K through 12 educators and staff and childcare workers in all 17 states where we currently offer COVID-19 vaccines,” said CVS spokesperson Tara Burke in a statement sent to FOX 35 News.
“Florida House moves forward on violent protest crackdown” by News 4 Jax’s Kent Justice – The contentious “anti-riot” legislation supported by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis got its second of three committee hearings in the House on Wednesday. Supporters of the bill say it would help crack down on violent protests, while opponents argue it’s an attack on First Amendment rights. The Republican-controlled House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee signed off Wednesday on the House proposal (HB 1) in a party-line vote, after hearing from dozens of people who condemned the measure. State Sen. Danny Burgess, R-District 20, signed on as a sponsor of the combatting public disorder act after seeing a business in his district burned down during the unrest over the summer. “Martin Luther King stood for peaceful protest, plain and simple. And that’s what we’re here to protect and preserve,” said Burgess. Social justice groups argue the bill seeks to silence their ability to protest. “This is an anti-Black bill. This is an anti-brown bill,” said Rep. Michele Rayner, D-District 70. Demonstrators at the Florida Capitol argued the bill, which increases penalties for crimes committed during a riot, will lead to the arrest of peaceful protestors.
“Florida school resource officer fired after being caught on bodycam using racial slurs” by WFLA/Nexstar Media Wire – An officer was fired from the Tampa Police Department after a body camera captured him using a racial slur, according to a department spokesman. Delvin White was terminated this week for “violations of policy that prohibit discriminatory conduct,” Public Information Officer Eddy Durkin said. According to a news release from the police department, body camera video captured White using the n-word and referencing a group of people as “ghetto” while on a phone call. Police said the incident happened on Nov. 13. While he was under investigation for that incident, authorities said White told his supervisor that there was another incident that happened on Nov. 30 in which he used the n-word while making an arrest. According to Durkin, White was caught on body camera “using the derogatory language” twice while making a trespassing arrest. “Derogatory statements made by police officers jeopardize the trust that our department works to establish with our community,” Police Chief Brian Dugan said in a statement. “Tampa Police officers are held to a higher standard and incidents like this negatively impact the entire law enforcement profession.”
“COVID-19 lawsuit bill would help shield Florida health providers” by WPTV’s Forrest Saunders – A measure making it harder to file a lawsuit against hospitals and nursing homes for COVID-19 negligence has cleared another committee hurdle in the Florida legislature. It’s a major agenda item for the GOP majority this session, with versions moving in both the House and the Senate. Sponsors have said they want to protect health providers who were there for residents when the pandemic began. When the pandemic began, personal protective equipment and tests were almost impossible to get. For months, health providers like nursing homes did what they could to endure. “The best tool they had was a thermometer, which I think we would all agree is a crude tool as a COVID test,” said State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version (SB 74), which he said aims to protect those who acted in good faith. Plaintiffs would have to provide overwhelming evidence to prove negligence. Providers would be shielded if they couldn’t get what was needed to comply with COVID-19 standards. “For some of these facilities, there was no amount of money they could have spent to get PPE,” Brandes said. “There was no amount of money they could have spent to get COVID tests because they simply didn’t exist.”
“Trumps Aim for Hefty Profit on $49 Million Palm Beach, Florida, Mansion” by Mansion Global’s Liz Lucking – A Palm Beach mansion opposite former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and with longstanding ties to his family has hit the market for $49 million. The Bermuda-style oceanfront spread, which emerged on the market on Monday, is owned by a limited liability company managed by Eric Trump that lists the Trump Organization headquarters at Trump Tower in Manhattan as its mailing address, according to Palm Beach property records. The younger Mr. Trump, 37, touted the new listing on his personal twitter account Wednesday morning. The mansion’s price tag is a sizable jump from the $18.5 million that the entity paid for the property in 2018, when it was purchased from former President Donald Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired federal appellate judge. Ms. Barry, 83, had owned the home since 2004, when she bought it for $11.5 million through a trust, public records accessed on PropertyShark show. At the time of the purchase back in 2018, Mr. Trump told Mansion Global in a statement that it was “a great honor to have purchased one of the finest mansions in Palm Beach.”
“Florida considers letting kids pass regardless of state testing scores” by Fox 13 Tampa Bay’s Lloyd Sower – Studies show students nationwide have learned less this school year, relative to other years, because of the pandemic. Now some Florida lawmakers are considering whether there should be options for parents and students to minimize the impacts, long-term. One proposal would throw out certain test scores and cancel school grades. Another proposal the state is considering would allow parents to have their children repeat a grade in elementary or middle school. If that bill passes parents would have until June 30 to make their request to the school district. If you ask the parents around Tampa Bay, many will tell you this has been a lost school year. “I think this year’s done,” says Joseph Gonzales, whose children are in middle school and high school. “We can’t do anything about it. Hopefully, they’ll be able to recoup next year.” Others believe they can salvage the year. “We transitioned back into face-to-face learning and it’s smooth sailing,” says Jenny Borders, an educator and mother of four. She says it’s been challenging at times. They had to quarantine because her children were in proximity of others who were infected with COVID-19.
“Florida moves toward junking unemployment system, perhaps with a boost in benefits” by Orlando Sun Sentinel’s Gray Rohrer – Florida lawmakers appear ready to junk the state’s unemployment benefits system, CONNECT, over its failures to process payments at the height of the pandemic, but GOP leaders have rebuffed Democratic proposals to address other issues with the system that paid out paltry benefits even before the coronavirus hit. That could be changing, at least in the Senate, where Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said he’s open to increasing the payments. At the same time, a bill is advancing to punish Deloitte, the main contractor for CONNECT. Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, has filed a bill to increase the maximum weekly benefit from $275, one of the lowest in the country, to $375. The measure, SB 1906, also increases the minimum weekly payment from $32 to $100. “One of the complaints that I heard during the campaign is that Florida is at the lowest rate for unemployment for payments to those who are seeking claims,” Brodeur said. The $375 maximum level isn’t as big of an increase as Democratic bills to raise it to $500, but Brodeur said he picked $375 because that’s the national average among states. He would’ve done an analysis of Florida’s cost of living to determine the appropriate amount for weekly benefits if he had more time, he said.
“School to police records pipeline could end in Florida” by WCJB Staff – A controversial three-year-old agreement that has Pasco County Schools sharing student data with the Sheriff’s Office could soon end under legislation moving in the State Capitol. A last minute amendment to a parents’ rights bill would require parents to give their permission before schools could share data with law enforcement. The 2002 movie Minority Report portrayed futuristic police using predictive technology to stop crimes before they happen. For three years, Pasco Schools have been providing the Pasco Sheriffs office with student data, then cross referenced for any law enforcement contact and possible follow up. But that process could be severely curtailed under an amendment approved in the State Capitol. “Parents should have to affirmatively consent to allowing the school district to release their child’s grades to local law enforcement,” said amendment sponsor Senator Jeff Brandes. The amendment would require every school district, not just Pasco, to get permission from a parent before sharing a student’s information with police or anyone else. Democratic Senator Tina Polsky voted for the amendment, but against the bill. “Good amendment, and I voted for the amendment. Obviously, I knew the bill would pass but I am glad the amendment is there,” said Polsky. Dennis Baxley, whose family has ties to law enforcement, said the amendment is about putting parents first.
“US Department of Health rejected Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s call for more vaccines to account for snowbirds” by WTSP – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s request for more COVID-19 vaccines to account for the state’s seasonal population. In a letter back in January, Rubio and other Florida leaders asked Operation Warp Speed to increase the state’s supply of the vaccine, citing the nearly 1 million visitors who call Florida their “temporary home” as the reason. The letter claimed doing so would improve Floridian’s access to the vaccine. Nearly a week later, the U.S. Department of Health responded and rejected the senator’s request. The department said its vaccine rollout has been based on each jurisdiction’s population, adding that state and local leaders should coordinate vaccine plans to account for their own transient populations. “Our team of experts within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been in constant communication with your state health officials and they remain available to share best practices on options to accelerate COVID-19 administration across Florida,” the Department of Health wrote. In a statement, Rubio called the rejection “ridiculous.” “The Department of Health and Human Services’ response to my request for additional vaccines to account for Florida’s seasonal residents is ridiculous,” Rubio said. “The expectation that our state should try to snatch vaccines from other states is stupid and only serves to punish Florida. The administration should recognize the seasonal population and increase vaccines for Florida.”
“House cancels Thursday votes amid security threats at Capitol” by Fox News’ Marisa Schultz, Chad Pergram, Jacqui Heinrich – The House of Representatives canceled votes Thursday in Washington amid new security threats at the Capitol and members will work late into the evening Wednesday. House leadership announced the sudden change in plans Wednesday. The House was to vote Thursday on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but instead the House will vote on that police reform measure late Wednesday and cancel votes for the remainder of the week. The change was due, in part, to a potential security threat at the Capitol Thursday Fox News has learned from multiple sources. March 4 is a date that far-right conspiracy theorists believe that former President Trump could return to power. A senior House Democratic leadership source told Fox News that the decision was made to cancel votes for the rest of the week “partially” due to the risks of the threat presented to lawmakers by the United States Capitol Police. Police announced Wednesday increased security at the Capitol amid new potential threats to lawmakers and the Capitol complex. “We have obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4,” the U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement. “We have already made significant security upgrades to include establishing a physical structure and increasing manpower to ensure the protection of Congress, the public and our police officers.”
“Biden won’t deliver speech to Congress until after vote on coronavirus bill, Psaki says” by Fox News’ Brooke Singman – White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden will wait to address a joint session of Congress until after Congress decides on the American Rescue Plan, his coronavirus relief package. No date for the address has yet been scheduled, even though the president had suggested it would take place in February. Psaki, during Wednesday’s briefing, explained the delay. “When it became clear, which it should have been from the beginning, that the American Rescue Plan would take until about, hopefully, about mid-March to get passed and signed into law, we made a decision internally that we weren’t going to have the president propose his forward looking agenda beyond that,” Psaki said, noting that parts of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda are “still being determined” and that there are still discussions ongoing “internally.” Psaki maintained, though, that he would not deliver his address “until after that bill is signed, until after those checks are going out to Americans, until after that vaccine money is going out, and after the money is going out to schools.” Psaki’s comments come after the president endorsed a plan from moderate Democrats to narrow income eligibility for the third round of stimulus checks in his nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, a Democratic source said Wednesday. Under the latest proposal, Americans earning $75,000 or less would receive the fully promised $1,400 payment. But the checks would phase out faster for individuals at higher income levels than in the version passed Saturday by House Democrats, with individuals making $80,000 a year or more and couples making $160,000 a year, or higher, no longer qualifying for the money.
“AOC invokes Denmark in minimum wage debate — critics point out Denmark doesn’t have a federal minimum wage” by Fox News’ Houston Keene – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., omitted a key detail on Wednesday while comparing the U.S. federal minimum wage to the wage paid to Danish McDonald’s workers. The New York congresswoman called the discussion around raising the federal minimum wage “utterly embarrassing” in a tweet published Tuesday night. She then called on the Senate to “[o]verride the parliamentarian and raise the wage” to $15 an hour and pointed to the wage McDonald’s workers in Denmark are paid to back her demand. She also claimed the $15 minimum wage hike was “a deep compromise” after demanding the Senate override the chamber’s parliamentarian — a nonpartisan officer who oversees rules and procedures in the legislative body. “[McDonald’s] workers in Denmark are paid $22/hr [plus] 6 [weeks] paid vacation. $15/hr is a deep compromise – a big one, considering the phase in,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. There is one thing Ocasio-Cortez’s argument left out, though: Denmark doesn’t have a nationally mandated minimum wage. Typically, trade unions work to keep wages above $20, but there is no federal wage, USA Today noted in a fact check last month. Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
“Cuomo apologizes, says he didn’t know he was making women uncomfortable and rejects calls to resign” by CNN’s Gregory Krieg and Brian Vitagliano – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo emerged on Wednesday after more than a week away from the cameras to apologize for his behavior after two women accused him of sexual harassment and another alleged an unwanted advance, saying he didn’t know he was “making anyone feel uncomfortable.” But the Democrat flatly rejected calls for his resignation and pleaded with New Yorkers to wait for the state attorney general to issue a report on the matter before forming an opinion on his alleged transgressions. The pending inquiry, though, could take months to complete and Cuomo seized the news conference spotlight in an effort to push back against calls for him to immediately step down. “I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never touched anyone inappropriately,” Cuomo said in his first public remarks addressing the scandal. “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable. I never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable.” Cuomo started his briefing speaking about Covid-19 numbers in the state before acknowledging the elephant in the room and pivoting to a statement on the allegations. “I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this. First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward. And I think it should be encouraged in every way,” said the governor, who had not taken questions for more than a week. “I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say but that’s the truth.”
“Senate bill will narrow income eligibility for $1,400 stimulus checks” by CNN’s Katie Lobosco – President Joe Biden has agreed to a compromise with moderate Democrats to narrow the income eligibility for the next round of $1,400 stimulus checks that are included in a bill the Senate is expected to take up this week, a Democratic source told CNN Wednesday. That means 7 million fewer families will receive a partial payment than would have under the House version of the bill, according to an estimate from the Penn Wharton Budget Model. The new proposal will completely cut off those who earn more than $160,000 a year and individuals who earn more than $80,000 a year. The House legislation, which passed Saturday, set the income caps at $200,000 for couples and $100,000 for individuals. But the same households will receive the full payment of $1,400 per person, including children. Individuals earning less than $75,000 and couples earning less than $150,000 will — just as in the House bill. Then, the payments will phase out faster for those earning more. Unlike the previous two rounds, adult dependents — including college students — are expected to be eligible for the payments. The House bill had already narrowed the eligibility compared earlier rounds of stimulus payments. It still would have sent money to more than 93% of tax filers, according to estimates from both the Penn Wharton Budget Model and the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. The Senate version will deliver money to about 90% of families.
“House to vote on bill named in honor of George Floyd aimed at preventing police misconduct” by CNN’s Clare Foran – The House of Representatives is slated to vote Wednesday on legislation aimed at preventing police misconduct that Democrats named in honor of George Floyd, whose death in police custody sparked nationwide calls to overhaul policing and address racial injustice. House Democrats originally introduced and passed the bill — titled the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — last year in the wake of Floyd’s death, but it never passed in the Senate, which was under Republican control at the time. Supporters of the bill say it would improve law enforcement accountability and work to root out racial bias in policing.
Democrats have reintroduced the legislation and are on track to approve the measure for a second time with their House majority. Democrats now control the Senate, which has a 50-50 partisan split with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tie breaker. But most legislation in that chamber still requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and it’s not clear there would be enough Republican support to get the legislation across the finish line in the Senate. Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat who is leading police overhaul efforts in the House, told reporters on Wednesday, “We are still trying to transform policing in the United States” and said that she is “confident that we will be able to have a bipartisan bill in the Senate that will reach President Biden’s desk.” The legislation would set up a national registry of police misconduct to stop officers from evading consequences for their actions by moving to another jurisdiction. It would ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels, and it would overhaul qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that critics say shields law enforcement from accountability.
“House Defeats Effort to Expand Voting to 16-Year-Olds” by WSJ’s Siobhan Hughes – Some teenagers are going to have to wait a couple more years to vote. The House rejected a liberal lawmaker’s proposal to lower the voting age to 16 years old for congressional and presidential elections, in a vote that exposed divisions among Democrats over how far to go in expanding the franchise to more people. The measure from Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.), one of the most progressive members of the House, drew 125 in favor to 302 against. No Republicans supported the measure, which was part of a larger, sweeping voting-rights package set to be voted on later in the day. Currently, citizens 18 years and older have the right to vote. Progressives argued that young people were working and politically engaged and had earned the right to help shape the country’s future, and noted that many work and have their driver’s license at 16. Republicans noted that the law treats people younger than 18 as juveniles in the criminal courts, which Democrats haven’t proposed changing. “Elections are about the future and no one has more at stake in that future than our youth,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.). “Often the objection is simply that 16-year-olds are too young to exercise good judgment. This is really a patronizing thought.” Republicans pointed to 1970s-era efforts that resulted in lowering the voting age to 18 years of age from 21, a movement that followed backlash during the Vietnam War, when 18-year-olds were drafted into military service but simultaneously unable to vote.
“Google to Stop Selling Ads Based on Your Specific Web Browsing” by WSJ’s Sam Schechner and Keach Hagey – Google plans to stop selling ads based on individuals’ browsing across multiple websites, a change that could hasten upheaval in the digital advertising industry. The Alphabet Inc. company said Wednesday that it plans next year to stop using or investing in tracking technologies that uniquely identify web users as they move from site to site across the internet. The decision, coming from the world’s biggest digital advertising company, could help push the industry away from the use of such individualized tracking, which has come under increasing criticism from privacy advocates and faces scrutiny from regulators. Google’s heft means the change could reshape the digital ad business, where many companies rely on tracking individuals to target their ads, measure the ads’ effectiveness and stop fraud. Google accounted for 52% of last year’s global digital ad spending of $292 billion, according to Jounce Media, a digital ad consultancy. About 40% of the money that flows from advertisers to publishers on the open internet—meaning digital advertising outside of closed systems such as Google Search, YouTube or Facebook—goes through Google’s ad buying tools, according to Jounce. “If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web,” David Temkin, the Google product manager leading the change, said in a blog post Wednesday. Google had already announced last year that in 2022 it would remove the most widely used such tracking technology, called third-party cookies. But now the company is saying it won’t build alternative tracking technologies, or use those being developed by other entities, for its own ad buying tools to replace third-party cookies.
“Rockets Hit Iraq Base Hosting U.S. Troops Amid Tension With Iran” by WSJ’s Jared Malsin and Ghassan Adnan – Ten rockets struck a military base used by U.S. forces in Iraq amid heightened tensions between Washington and Iran-backed militant groups in the country. A U.S. civilian contractor suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering during the attack and died, according to Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby. No U.S. servicemembers were hurt in the attack on Iraq’s Al Asad base, Mr. Kirby said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. An Iraqi news agency, Sabreen, which supports Iranian-allied militias, published photos and initial reports of the attack. President Biden said Wednesday that his administration is looking into the rocket attack. “Thank God, no one was killed by the rocket,” he said. “One individual, a contractor, died of a heart attack. But we’re identifying who’s responsible and will make judgments from that point.” The rocket barrage comes less than a week after a U.S. airstrike targeted Iranian-allied Iraqi militias in neighboring Syria. The strike was a response to a deadly rocket attack on a U.S. air base in northern Iraq that was claimed by an Iranian-backed militia. The attacks threaten to add pressure on the Biden administration as it attempts to start negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program. Iran over the weekend rejected a European Union offer to hold informal talks, which the U.S. would attend as a guest, aimed at reviving a 2015 agreement that limits Iranian nuclear activity in return for sanctions relief. Mr. Biden has said he intends to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and use it as a platform for follow-on discussions about Iran’s conventional military footprint, including its missile program and support for militias in the Middle East. Iranian officials insist that any discussion of regional security issues must be separate from nuclear talks, as they were in the negotiations leading up to the 2015 agreement.
“U.S. suspends federal agent who joined crowd outside Capitol during rampage, lawyer says” by Reuters’ Brad Heath – The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has suspended an agent who was outside the Capitol when a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the building, his lawyer said, in the first known case of authorities examining the conduct of a fellow federal agent during the deadly riot. The agent, Mark Ibrahim, declined to comment other than to say in a phone interview that he “never entered the building,” when the crowd breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, setting off violence that left five dead. One of Ibrahim’s lawyers, Gretchen Gaspari, said DEA officials told Ibrahim that they were putting him on leave and suspending his security clearance “because of his presence on Jan. 6.” She said Ibrahim, who was off duty but carrying his service weapon at the time, was part of the crowd outside the Capitol as Trump supporters stormed the building in a bid to stop Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. A DEA spokeswoman declined to comment on Ibrahim’s suspension. He has not been charged with a crime. Officials declined to say whether any other agents were present.
“U.S. House set to pass sweeping election bill, Senate prospects unclear” by Reuters’ Makini Brice – The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday is expected to pass its flagship election reform bill, which would update voting procedures and require states to turn over the task of redrawing congressional districts to independent commissions. The legislation, whose number “H.R. 1” indicates the importance Democrats attach to it, “is designed to restore the voices of Americans who felt left out and locked out for too long,” Representative John Sarbanes, the original sponsor of the legislation, said in remarks outside the U.S. Capitol. The bill is one of many the House Democrats are voting on early in the Congress on a number of priorities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, policing and the environment. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has said he would sign the bill into law if it cleared both the House and the Senate. But the bills face long odds in the Senate, where all 48 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them would need to be joined by 10 Republican senators to overcome a filibuster. Already, some Democrats have trained fire on the filibuster and called for its elimination. Representatives Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat, called the filibuster “undemocratic” at a news conference on Tuesday and James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat, described how the filibuster had been used to deny rights to Black citizens.
“U.S. DOJ declined to investigate Trump transport chief after inspector general review” by Reuters’ David Shepardson – The U.S. Justice Department declined to investigate or prosecute then-Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao after the inspector general’s office referred allegations of potential misuse of office for review, a report made public on Wednesday said. The report included allegations that Chao directed staff to research or purchase personal items for her online using her personal credit card or performed other personal errands for her or her father. The report focused largely on Chao’s actions related to her family’s shipping business, the Foremost Group, which was founded by her father and whose current chief executive is her sister. The report confirmed Chao made extensive plans to include family members in events during a planned, but later canceled, official trip to China in November 2017 that included intended stops at schools that received support from her family’s business. The report also said Chao had tasked political appointees to contact Homeland Security (DHS) officials on behalf of a foreign student who was the recipient of Chao family philanthropy. The report also found DOT staff “provided various media and public affairs support” to Chao’s father in 2017 and 2018, including facilitating the booking of a private Amtrak car for Chao’s father and guests to travel from New York to Washington for a DOT event.