safety last
September 25, 2020

Florida's coronavirus recovery isn't going so well. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) apparently didn't notice.

DeSantis announced Friday the whole state would move to the third and final phase of its reopening plan. That means businesses, including bars and restaurants, will be allowed to operate at full capacity even as the state continues to see thousands of new COVID-19 cases each day.

Until DeSantis' announcement at a press conference, bar and restaurant capacity was limited to 50 percent throughout the state. Local municipalities can still limit capacity between 50 and 100 percent, but will have to clear those restrictions with the state, DeSantis said.

DeSantis credited a drop in daily coronavirus infections and deaths for the decision, and it's true that Florida's coronavirus outlook has improved since a huge spike in July. But it still is seeing thousands of new cases and deaths each day; Florida reported 162 deaths since Thursday, the highest count of any state. Coronavirus hospitalizations have also stopped dropping steadily like they had been since the summer, and instead seem to have flattened, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Reopening restaurants and bars — places the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated are exceptionally risky during the pandemic — won't help Florida's coronavirus fight. Kathryn Krawczyk

April 7, 2020

Wisconsin's local elections and presidential primaries will likely proceed on Tuesday after the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down an executive order Monday from Gov. Tony Evers (D) to delay the election to June 9 due to the coronavirus outbreak. There are open questions about how many polling places will be open and how many people will be able to vote by absentee ballot. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Monday night that Wisconsin voters must hand-deliver their absentee ballots by Tuesday evening or have them postmarked April 7, overruling a lower court that had extended absentee voting for six days.

The U.S. Supreme Court, like the state court, split along ideological lines, siding with the state and national Republican Party. In the dissent for the four liberals on the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg warned of "massive disenfranchisement" due to the conservative majority's "eleventh hour" intervention "to prevent voters who have timely requested absentee ballots from casting their votes." As of Monday, only 57 percent of the 1.3 million requested absentee ballots had been returned, The Associated Press reports, and "it’s unclear how many of the outstanding 539,000 ballots will be in voters' hands by Tuesday to meet the April 7 postmark deadline."

The court conservatives said Ginsberg's "entirely misplaced" dissent "completely overlooks" that the court is allowing the absentee ballots to be received by April 13, so long as they are postmarked April 7. But that changes Wisconsin election law, says Matthew DeFour, state politics editor for the Wisconsin State Journal.

The state Supreme Court — one of whose 5 conservative members recused himself because he's on Tuesday's ballot — said Evers lacked the authority to change the election date. Evers had called the GOP-controlled legislature into special session over the weekend to shift the date or switch to all-mail-in-ballots, like Ohio did, but the Republican leaders gaveled in and out of season without taking any action, NPR News reports. Thousands of poll workers have refused to participate in the election over COVID-19 fears; heavily Democratic Milwaukee, for example, will have just five polling sites, not its planned 180. The National Guard has been asked to help. Peter Weber

April 1, 2019

President Trump may have let his questionable security practices slip beyond the family.

On Monday, House Democrats said a whistleblower told them at least 25 people headed for the Trump White House had been denied security clearances, but somehow ended up with clearances anyway. The House Oversight and Reform Committee is now investigating those alleged security sidesteppers, and National Security Adviser John Bolton is on the list, The New York Times reports.

Trump has been criticized for what some call seemingly lax security standards since early in his presidency. His son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has come under the most scrutiny, with a January NBC News report saying Kushner was denied clearance after an FBI background check, but that Trump's personnel security head granted Kushner top secret access anyway. Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and senior adviser who's married to Kushner, faced similar skepticism.

After hearing whistleblower Tricia Newbold's account last month, House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) requested summaries of just how Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Bolton got their clearances. Newbold said she or someone else in the White House's Personnel Security Office denied clearances for at least two people who are now Trump "senior officials," per the Times. Kushner appears to be at least one of the officials, but the other, who was denied for "possible foreign influence," is unclear.

Bolton has held major roles in several Republican administrations, presumably with a solid clearance under his belt, but Democrats seem to think he's in shakier territory this time around. Read more at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

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