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Coronavirus roundup: Deaths pass 6,500, jobless rate rises, other developments

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WASHINGTON — There are now 257,773 cases of the coronavirus and 6,574 deaths due to the pandemic in the United States as of Friday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering data dashboard.

The White House coronavirus task force advises that as many as 240,000 Americans will be killed by the virus.

The US sees a large unemployment rate increase
The national unemployment rate has seen a dramatic spike, up from 3.5% to 4.4% in just a month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The coronavirus pandemic has led to millions of Americans losing their jobs within the last few weeks.

This is the highest monthly increase in the rate in 45 years, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, pointed out in a statement Friday.


“Today’s unprecedented job losses will be tomorrow’s record of a resurgence, accompanied by stories of courage and perseverance as we banded together to defeat this virus and defeat this virus and save countless lives,” Hoyer said.

“Those numbers and those hardships are going to get worse before they get better, but that’s an acknowledgment,” President Donald Trump said on the unemployment numbers.

Maryland requests urgent medical supplies from FEMA as COVID-19 cases soar
The Maryland congressional delegation is pleading for more resources to fight COVID-19 from FEMA, including ventilators, PPE, test kits and mobile labs. The request is a response to a rise in cases of the virus in Maryland and across the Washington metropolitan region.

“The first Maryland hospital reported that it will need additional ventilators because it is running extremely low,” the lawmakers’ letter to FEMA reads. “A lack of this precious resource will result in the deaths of patients who could have survived.”

They added that it’s “much easier and clinically efficient to manage the COVID-19 hospital surge if testing is scaled up and PPE can be distributed to those with the highest need.”

Because labs don’t currently have access to necessary testing chemicals, many aren’t operating at their full ability.

“Maryland has been proactive in setting up multiple testing sites around the state; however, Maryland lacks the testing supplies to test patients appropriately and stem the tide of this disease,” the delegation said in their letter addressed to FEMA Region III Administrator MaryAnn Tierney.

According to the delegation, mobile test sites, which are currently lacking in Maryland, are “critical for the state’s Alternate Care Sites” in that they provide a quick, on-site response to sick individuals relying on the system to help.

“Doctors cannot determine what support or treatment is needed for sick patients without laboratory capability,” the letter says. “A simple blood test can mean the difference between life and death when planning a patient’s treatment.”

The delegation is working to get these necessary supplies and more, according to the statement.

The delegation is also requesting approval of the Crisis Counseling Program (CCP) in Maryland, which assists communities in recovering from events declared major disasters by the president through educational services and community outreach. The state received a federal disaster declaration on March 27.

Maryland’s department of corrections taking precautions amid coronavirus
Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is stepping up precautions to protect prison inmates and staff from an outbreak of the coronavirus.

The department has canceled all visits to inmates, implemented grab-and-go meals and limited inmate movement throughout the facilities, according to spokesman Mark Vernarelli.

“We have undertaken enhanced cleaning procedures and given inmates extra soap at no cost,” Vernarelli said. The facilities have also “extended recreation periods, and have social workers and mental health professionals on the tiers to assist the incarcerated,” he said in an email.

Additionally, the corrections agency has implemented temperature checks for employees before shift changes. These changes were put in place “weeks ago,” according to Vernarelli.

But this has not stopped cases of coronavirus from entering prisons. Two members of a parole board, four correctional officers, three inmates, and eight contracted employees have been infected by the virus in Maryland facilities as of Friday, according to Gov. Larry Hogan.

Inmates at Maryland prisons are also making personal protective equipment for staff and the community. They have produced 4,000 face masks, 5,000 face shields, gowns, and hand sanitizer, according to DPSCS Secretary Robert Green.

Hogan offers coronavirus update
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Friday to prohibit mortgage lenders from beginning the foreclosure process. Marylanders will also have expanded access to telehealth services during the pandemic.

Disabled services personnel are now going to be recognized as health care providers and will be deemed essential, the governor also said.

Hogan also announced during a Friday press conference that there are currently 2,758 cases of COVID-19 and 42 deaths in Maryland.

“We now have a widespread community transmission. The virus is everywhere,” Hogan said. The number of Maryland cases of coronavirus has tripled in the last week.

“We simply don’t know how long this will be or how bad it will get,” the governor said.

There are now two drive-thru style coronavirus testing sites, which are in White Oak in Montgomery County and Columbia in Howard County.
CASA to host car parade to protect incarcerated from virus

The non-profit organization CASA of Maryland will be hosting a car parade Sunday to persuade Howard County government officials to take measures to protect incarcerated individuals and undocumented immigrants at the Howard County Detention Center during the pandemic.

The choice to host a car parade is an effort on the part of community leaders and activists to practice social distancing while still fighting for change. The organization said its goal is to ensure the release of undocumented immigrants currently being detained by ICE in the detention center as well as improving protection against COVID-19 inside the facility.

Maryland gas prices drop during the pandemic
The price of gas per gallon in Maryland is now less than $2. Gas prices in Maryland have seen a significant drop of six cents in the last week, 40 cents in the last month and 66 cents since this time last year.

The national average for gas has dropped to $2 per gallon for the first time in four years, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

By MALIKA BUDD, ANNA HOVEY, and BRYAN GALLION
Capital News Service

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Maryland’s Van Hollen wants Congress to address medical debt practices

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WASHINGTON – Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, hopes to reform medical debt practices by introducing legislation that would curb unfair policies and protect consumers.
Van Hollen and co-sponsor Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, announced the bill on Nov. 30.

The Maryland lawmaker and Murphy first sponsored the legislation in 2020. The bill called the Strengthening Consumer Protections and Medical Debt Transparency Act failed to pass before the end of 2020.

“When folks are sick or in the hospital, the last thing they should be worried about is whether they’ll lose their house or their wages for seeking care,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “This legislation puts safeguards in place to ensure transparency, cap interest rates, and keep the focus on patient’s health and wellbeing so they can get the care they need.”

If passed, the measure would require healthcare institutions to communicate about debt with consumers and cap the annual interest rate growth for the medical debt at 5%.


The legislation also calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to create a database for public information about medical debt collection practices from hospitals and other providers.

Additionally, the bill includes consumer protections like checking for insurance coverage assistance before a provider sends the debt to collection agencies and that healthcare entities must provide patients with itemized bills and payment receipts.

“Forcing people to go bankrupt just because they get sick is immoral — plain and simple,” Murphy said in a statement. “We need to shed light on the hospitals out there who are abusing patients with overly aggressive debt collection practices.”

In 2021, 12% of Maryland residents had medical debts in collection, according to a study by the Urban Institute.

A 2020 Gonzales poll by Economic Action Maryland showed that 34% of Marylanders would not be able to pay an unexpected $500 medical bill.

Medical debt also disproportionately affects Black people. In Maryland, 24% of Black residents said they delayed seeking medical care because of costs compared to 12% of white people.

“Unlike many other debts, no one chooses to get sick,” said Marceline White, director of Economic Action Maryland, an organization that has helped pass legislation targeting unfair medical debt practices.

“You can’t cost-comparison shop when you’re in an ambulance on the way to a hospital,” she said. “So many families simply don’t have the resources to absorb that kind of unexpected financial blow, which can be catastrophic.”

White said the new bill by Van Hollen and Murphy is a positive step for the country and targets the “most egregious” medical debt practices.

She stressed the importance of reform with the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and said there has been broad support in Maryland for this type of legislation.

“I think we are going to see continued strains on our health care system and on many families who are having chronic illnesses sort of post-pandemic post-COVID,” White said. “I think this should be something that most Americans and most members of Congress can agree upon. At least, I would certainly hope so.”

RIP Medical Debt is a charity established to reduce the burden of medical debt on low-income families using donations, paying off over $7 billion of debt since 2014 for over 4 million people. CEO and president of RIP Medical Debt, Allison Sesso, is enthusiastic about federal attention to the topic.

“We must do more to protect patients from medical debt and ensure people get the health care they need without fear of incurring debt,” Sesso said in a statement to Capital News Service. “(The bill) takes positive steps toward addressing the data challenges we face in understanding the prevalence of medical debt so we can better target policy solutions and more closely monitor the use of extraordinary collection actions.”

 

By GRACE YARROW
Capital News Service

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Marriage equality bill heads to Biden’s desk following bipartisan U.S. House vote

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved a marriage equality bill Thursday that would ensure same-sex and interracial couples continue holding many of the rights they have now, should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the cases that established those constitutional protections.

The measure now heads to the desk of President Joe Biden, who plans to sign it.

The 258-169-1 vote included the backing of 39 Republicans, though many GOP lawmakers argued during the debate there was no reason to pass the legislation since the justices had not agreed to take up any cases that would end legal marriages for interracial or same-sex couples.

All four of Virginia’s Republican congressmen — Reps. Rob Wittman, Bob Good, Ben Cline, and Morgan Griffith — voted against the legislation, while all six of its Democratic representatives voted in favor of it. (Virginia’s 11th representative, Democrat Donald McEachin, died last month.)


Virginia GOP Rep. Bob Good spoke out against the U.S. House passing the bill, saying the legislation did not comply with his religious views on marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Good argued the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide was incorrect, saying the justices were “overriding the will of the people and their elected representatives.”

“Almost everything that plagues our society is a failure to follow God’s design for marriage, morality, and the family,” said Good in a floor speech. “The perfect, omniscient, immutable God knows what he’s doing.”

Democrats countered the legislation is essential to assure Americans that should the conservative-leaning court take up such a case in the future, as it did with abortion rights, same-sex and interracial marriages will still be recognized federally.

They also said religious liberty protections added in the Senate should assuage concerns about potential impacts on people and organizations.

“I’m standing here today because, in the year 2022, families like mine are once again concerned that an activist out-of-step Supreme Court is going to take those rights away,” Minnesota Democratic Rep. Angie Craig said during a floor debate.

Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan argued that his marriage to his husband, Phil, shouldn’t be any different from any other marriage regarding taxes, visiting a spouse in the hospital, Social Security benefits, or retirement.

Pocan urged his colleagues, including Republicans, to back the bill, saying, “it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

He later added that he was sure “no one here would intend to discriminate against my spouse and me, as I would never against you and yours.”

Repeal of Defense of Marriage Act

The bill approved Thursday by the U.S. House would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that had defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The law also allowed states to ignore legal same-sex marriages that were performed in states where the unions were legal.

The current measure would ensure that if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the cases that legalized same-sex and interracial marriages, the federal government will continue recognizing those unions. It would also require states to recognize legal same-sex or interracial marriages between two people performed out-of-state.

The U.S. House voted 267-157 in July to approve the bill’s original version, with 47 GOP lawmakers supporting the measure.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators — Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat; Susan Collins, a Maine Republican; Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican; Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat; and Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican — then began working behind the scenes to add religious liberty protections into the bill and to get the backing of at least 10 Republicans to clear that chamber’s legislative filibuster.

After a few months of negotiations, senators voted 61-36 in late November to send the measure back to the House for final approval.

Following the Senate passage of the bill, Biden said in a written statement that “the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love.”

“For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled,” Biden wrote. “It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

 

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Attempt to help states ease banking for marijuana businesses stumbles in Congress

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The annual Defense Department policy bill members of Congress released late Tuesday did not include measures to loosen federal marijuana restrictions, to the disappointment of advocates.

That leaves few avenues to pass marijuana measures seen as boons to states where the drug is legal before Congress adjourns for the year.

As one of the last must-pass bills Congress would consider while Democrats still control both chambers, the defense bill was a potential target for advocates of legalizing marijuana interested in attaching two bills.

One would clarify that banks lending to legitimate marijuana businesses in states with legal markets do not violate federal law. The other would provide federal funding to help states expunge criminal records of people convicted of offenses before the substance was legalized in the state.


Though most defense bills deal with authorizing Pentagon programs, they are often filled with additional policy measures.

But when 4,400 pages of text for the 2022 bill were released Tuesday night, neither marijuana proposal was included.

With less than two weeks left in the session, the path to passage is now either as part of a year-end spending bill — another popular target for legislation — or on its own, Morgan Fox, the political director for the cannabis advocacy group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in an interview.

“I’m glad that we still have other options,” Fox said Wednesday. “It’s pretty disappointing.”

A vote on a standalone marijuana bill is unlikely, with the Senate in session only a handful of days this year and a list of priorities remaining, including the year-long government funding bill and a measure to clarify election laws.

Split with states

Though the federal government places marijuana on its list of most restricted controlled substances, 21 states have legalized recreational use.

That policy split leads to unique challenges for state-legal businesses in areas like banking, where some financial institutions refuse to work with the marijuana industry out of fear they will violate federal law.

The banking bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat retiring at the end of the year, would clarify that federal regulators could not penalize banks for doing business with marijuana retailers operating in compliance with their states’ laws.

The banking bill has passed the House seven times since its first introduction in 2019, but the Senate has never passed it.

The streak in the House may be in danger as Republicans take over next year. Despite its bipartisan support and a 321-101 vote in favor last year, the legislation could face long odds next year if Ohio Republican Jim Jordan becomes chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, as expected. Jordan has consistently voted against marijuana legalization efforts, including against the banking bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, an advocate of liberalizing marijuana laws, told reporters before the defense bill’s text was released Tuesday he was working on getting the banking measure passed.

“It’s a priority for me,” Schumer said. “I’d like to get it done. We’ll try and discuss the best way to get it done.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, opposed including marijuana provisions in the defense bill, listing the banking bill as an item that did not belong there.

“We’re talking about a grab bag of miscellaneous pet priorities — making our financial system more sympathetic to illegal drugs,” he said. “If Democrats wanted these controversial items so badly, they had two years to move them across the floor.”

Colorado support

The bill is a priority for states where legal marijuana businesses constitute major industries, such as Colorado, where marijuana sales started in 2014 and reached $2.2 billion last year.

In a written statement, Conor Cahill, a Colorado Gov. Jared Polis spokesman, commended Perlmutter for his work and predicted passage this year.

“Governor Polis has long advocated for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act, and has repeatedly called upon Congress to pass this important legislation to protect cannabis-related businesses, support minority, women, and veteran-owned small businesses owners, create jobs, and strengthen public safety in Colorado communities and in the states,” Cahill wrote in a Tuesday email. “We hope and expect to see the final passage of his decade-long effort by the end of the lame-duck session.”

Schumer resisted bringing the banking bill to the floor this Congress as he sought to pass instead a broader federal legalization measure he introduced with fellow Senate Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

“Although the SAFE Banking Act is a common-sense policy that I support, it has to be coupled with strong restorative justice provisions that seek to right the many injustices experienced by Black and brown communities as part of our nation’s failed war on drugs,” Booker said in a statement last year.

A spokesman for Booker did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

Fox said Schumer’s advocacy would be crucial to the passage, though the deference to a more comprehensive bill may have hurt its chances this year.

“Having the support of Senate leadership, I think, was really important,” Fox said. “I wish they’d gotten the ball rolling on this way earlier in the session instead of waiting until after the (Schumer-Booker-Wyden bill) was introduced.”

 

by Jacob Fischler, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Supreme Court considers the ultimate power of state legislatures in elections

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Protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court Wednesday as justices heard oral arguments over how much power state legislatures should have over elections. (Destiny Herbers/Capital News Service)

 

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in an election dispute out of North Carolina that could reshape the balance of power in American electoral politics.

The case stems from a dispute between North Carolina’s legislature and state supreme court, which ruled that a gerrymandered redistricting map drawn by legislators was incompatible with the state constitution. The North Carolina State Supreme Court then drew a new map giving equal representation to Republicans and Democrats; the legislature then sued.

Attorneys for the North Carolina legislature are basing their argument on the “independent state legislature” theory, which states that state legislatures can regulate state and federal elections without input from the state courts and over the constraints of state constitutions.


Neither side is arguing that the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled unfairly; rather, attorney David Thompson contended that the state court did not have the authority to weigh in on the map in the first place.

“We say, ‘take the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision on face value and as fairly reflecting North Carolina law,’ and when one does that, we see that there’s a violation of the Elections Clause, and that’s why we’re here,” Thompson said.

Some scholars worry about the potential broader implications of a ruling favoring the independent state legislature theory.

“Although it’s called the independent state legislature theory, really the way it would function is to transfer power, not from state courts to the state legislature, but from state courts to the Supreme Court,” said Carolyn Shapiro, law professor and co-director of the Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

She also filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“The U.S. Supreme Court would become the arbiter of all of these election disputes,” she said.

Justice Elena Kagan echoed those worries during oral arguments.

“This is a theory with big consequences,” she said. “It would say that if a legislature engages in the most extreme forms of gerrymandering, there is no state constitutional remedy for that, even if the courts think that’s a violation of the Constitution.”

That could impact federal elections on lots of levels, Kagan added.

“It would say legislatures could enact all manner of restrictions on voting, get rid of all kinds of voter protections that the state constitution in fact prohibits,” the justice said. “It might allow the legislatures to insert themselves, to give themselves a role in the certification of elections and the way election results are calculated.”

Shapiro worries this could create chaos in determining the results of the 2024 elections.

“You could imagine how things might have gone differently in Arizona, for example, in 2020, if the legislature had been in charge of deciding who really won, as opposed to having election professionals do, and courts oversee the process,” she said.

This argument has drawn broad criticism from the right and left alike, but the previously obscure theory has gained new currency in conservative legal circles. Shapiro said that justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito previously expressed support for the theory.

“But all those opinions were written when cases were on the shadow docket, and there was no full briefing and argument,” she said. “Moreover, since 2020, there has been an enormous amount of scholarship, particularly historical research, on the ISLT. That research demonstrates overwhelmingly that neither original intent, nor original public meaning, nor longstanding practice before and after the Constitution was drafted and ratified, support the ISLT.”

Attorneys for private and state respondents argued that the independent state legislature’s theory significantly deviates from centuries of precedent.

“For 233 years, this court has never second-guessed a state court interpretation of its own constitution in any context,” said former Solicitor General Neal Katyal, arguing on behalf of voting rights groups.

Thomas appeared skeptical.

“Let me ask this, just as it may be a bit unfair,” he said during arguments. “If the state legislature had been very, very generous to minority voters in their redistricting, and the state supreme court said under that this violated the state constitution of North Carolina, would you are making the same argument?”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson expressed concerns about state legislatures superseding the authority of state constitutions.

“I guess I don’t understand how you can cut the state constitution out of the equation when it is giving the state legislature the authority to exercise legislative power,” she said. “It’s the state constitution that is telling the legislature when and under what circumstances it can actually act as the legislature.”

“Since Gorsuch, Thomas, and (Brett) Kavanaugh, at least, are self-professed originalists, they should be willing to take a second look at their positions in light of all this new information,” Shapiro said.

 

By KATE SELTZER and HUNTER SAVERY
Capital News Service

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New House Democratic leaders look ahead to being in the minority in January

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Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York (center), Katherine Clark of Massachusetts (right), and Pete Aguilar of California, the new Democratic House leadership, held a press conference on Tuesday to discuss their future plans for the party. (Courtney Cohn/Capital News Service)

 

WASHINGTON — As Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy struggles to gain support to become speaker, Democrats have rallied around their new leaders, Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar, after the dust settled from the 2022 midterm election.

“It’s all wine and roses right now…because we are coming off a historic over-performance in terms of the House of Representatives,” Jeffries, who will be the first Black man to lead the House Democrats in January and represents New York’s 8th District, told reporters Tuesday.

As minority leader, Jeffries will be tasked with uniting the progressives and moderates of the party, who have clashed over policies in the past.


Specifically, “the squad” – progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; Cori Bush of Missouri, and Jamaal Bowman of New York – have been vocal in their criticisms of the moderate sector of the party.

Jeffries said that it should not be difficult to find a level of unity among them.

“At the end of the day, what unites us is our genuine, authentic commitment to putting people over politics, to fighting for lower costs for better-paying jobs for safer communities, defending democracy, fighting for freedom, protecting the public interest and showing economic opportunity in every corner of America,” Jeffries said.

Another question many observers have is how the new Democratic leadership will work to bridge the gap with Republicans dominated by pro-Trump and far-right ideologues.

The House Republicans are struggling to coalesce around a leader. McCarthy is believed to be short of the 218 votes he needs to become speaker, largely because a handful of the most conservative members of his caucus have vowed to oppose him.

McCarthy’s path to the speakership may have been further complicated on Tuesday when Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, announced he would challenge McCarthy for the top post. Biggs called McCarthy “a creature of the establishment status quo.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 38% of Americans believe that partisan relations in Congress will worsen.

“We are genuinely interested in trying to find common ground with the other side of the aisle to advance priorities that make life better for everyday Americans,” Jeffries said.

However, common ground may be difficult since Democrats have continued to bash the Republican Party’s recent push for abortion bans and refusals to condemn those endangering democracy.

“There is an essential question facing Republicans. Do they have an affirmative vision for our country? Or is their only plan to divide us, suspend our Constitution, and roll the clock back on liberty?” said Clark, the incoming minority whip.
Former President Donald Trump posted on TruthSocial on Saturday that “a Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.” The post about terminating the Constitution has sowed even deeper divisions between the two parties, and Democrats continue to criticize those GOP colleagues who have not yet condemned Trump’s statement.

“It should not be that complicated to denounce the former president,” Jeffries said.

Democrats also doubt that a Republican House can pass legislation raising the debt ceiling and keep the government open.

“We also talked about the importance of preventing a GOP-led government shutdown,” said Pete Aguilar, the incoming House Democratic Caucus chairman.

Jeffries and other party leaders, including President Joe Biden, have specifically been targeting the MAGA wing of the GOP. party.

“The notion that extreme MAGA Republicans would threaten to default on our nation’s debt for the first time in American history in order to blow up Social Security and Medicare is stunning. It’s catastrophic,” Jeffries said.

 

By COURTNEY COHN
Capital News Service

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Late vote count topples five conservative school board candidates in Maryland

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Five socially conservative school board candidates in Maryland who were leading just after Election Night ended up losing when the counting of mail-in and provisional ballots was concluded this week.

Those changes meant that 20 of the 41 socially conservative candidates identified by Capital News Service came out ahead in their races, down from 25 right after last month’s election, according to unofficial results posted on the Maryland Board of Elections website.

Still, nearly half of the conservative board candidates ended up ahead in a state where a Democrat, Wes Moore, won the gubernatorial election by 20 points to become Maryland’s first Black governor.

Conservatives won school board races throughout much of the state, with the largest number elected in Wicomico County, followed by Harford, Baltimore, Carroll, and Washington counties.


But the five social conservatives who fell behind after mail-in and provisional ballots were counted were:
• Dennis Barry, who lost in Harford County’s District B to Wade Sewell.
• Tanya Tyo, who lost in Harford County’s District E to Carol Pitt Bruce.
• James Miller, who lost in Carroll County to Patricia Ann Dorsey.
• Cindy Rose, who lost the last open board seat in Frederick County to Dean Rose.
• John Abbott, who lost in Worcester County’s District 1 to Bill Buchanan.

An earlier version of this story indicated that 25 socially conservative candidates appeared headed to victory. But that was before the final count of mail-in and provisional ballots, which had to be done after Election Day under Maryland state law.

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a measure that would have allowed the earlier counting of mail-in ballots. As a result, some Maryland counties didn’t report final results until this week.

The Local News Network at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism identified the conservative candidates by coding their responses to a Capital News Service survey on important issues in the campaign. The Local News Network also scoured the social media of the candidates who did not respond, as well as media coverage of the races and endorsements by conservative organizations, to identify other conservative candidates.

While school board elections are nonpartisan, the conservative candidates’ platforms focused on what they called a fight for parents’ rights in schooling. The conservative candidates often raise the sort of concerns that Maggie Litz Domanowski, a candidate who won her race in Baltimore County’s District 3, mentioned in an interview.

She wants schools to focus on basic subjects and avoid anything students ought to learn at home.

“We need to let our parents do the moral guiding,” she said. “My kids are my kids, and I don’t want someone teaching them a moral or anything about sexuality before I have a chance to teach it to them.”

Domanowski also said parents should have full access to school curricula.

“If it needs to be hidden, then why does it need to be taught?” she asked.

Not surprisingly, the right-leaning candidates saw the most success in conservative parts of Maryland.

Overall, they found seats on the school boards of 14 counties across the state, ranging from Garrett County in western Maryland to Worcester County on the Eastern Shore.

But social conservatives weren’t even on the ballot in three of the state’s largest population centers: Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County.

In Frederick County, a conservative “Education Not Indoctrination” slate campaigned on taking a close look at the district’s curriculum.

“School boards have been abdicating their responsibilities and duties to do what is best for a child’s education,” Cindy Rose, an Education Not Indoctrination slate member who lost her bid for a school board seat in Frederick County, said in response to a CNS survey. “There is too much focus on emotions, sexuality, racial division, and political activism. I want to remove all of that from the classroom. These are family topics of discussion, not government school discussions.”

Four board members were elected in Frederick County, with only one from the Education Not Indoctrination slate: Nancy Allen.

One of the other winning candidates, Rae Gallagher, said she didn’t share the concerns of the Education Not Indoctrination slate regarding the district’s curriculum as well as the books available in school libraries. Now, though, she said it is time for board members on opposite sides of those issues to get past their differences.

“I think any of us who are on the board or in elected positions have to be really aware of some of the polarizing discussions that happened throughout the election cycle,” Gallagher said in an interview. “And we have to work together and be able to listen to all of those views. … But ultimately, for the board, we must come together and make the best decisions for our schools and our kids.”

In Wicomico County, four candidates ran on an Education Not Indoctrination slate, and two of them won: Susan Beauchamp and Kristin Hazel. So did conservative candidate John Palmer, who wrote in the Capital News Service survey that he has “deep concerns about the way U.S. history is being changed and deleted by the woke movement.”

An incumbent, Palmer finished more than 18 percentage points ahead of Jake Blank, an Education Not Indoctrination candidate.

Leonard Arvi, a more progressive candidate, trailed Beauchamp by more than 32 percentage points in Wicomico’s District 3 race.

In an interview, Arvi said that moderate voices on the board will outnumber the three conservatives elected this week. Arvi also noted that most of the district’s funding comes from the state, as do the parameters of the schools’ curriculum, thereby limiting the board’s power.

“I think most of the candidates are moderate once they go on the board because the board itself does not have a lot of leeways,” Arvi said.

Michael Guessford, a conservative candidate who joined the Washington County school board in 2018 and won his reelection Tuesday, credited the COVID-19 pandemic with getting more parents to take a closer look at what was happening in local schools.

“Once [parents and grandparents] started seeing the curriculum that is being taught in our schools … they’re finally stepping up,” Guessford said in an interview. “They’re saying: ‘Whoa, whoa, let’s get back to teaching the basics. We don’t need all these other clubs. We don’t need all this other rhetoric in our schools right now.’”

In the Capital News Service survey, Guessford indicated that he wanted a committee of parents to review all books present in school libraries.

But other candidates are wary of allowing parents to have too much control over what’s happening in the schools. Among those candidates is Samay Singh Kindra, who fell three points short of his opponent, Brenda Hatcher-Savoy, in Baltimore County’s District 4.

“I think that it’s hard to address parental rights as a topic because that encompasses a lot,” he said in an interview. For some people, “that means more transparency with the board of education in terms of just being communicative. For others, that means parents getting a say directly over the curriculum of every subject, and that’s something that, obviously, I’m not in favor of. We have a board of education in the school system for a reason.”

 

By JENNA BLOOM and DANIELLE HODES
Capital News Service

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Thank You to our Local Business Participants:

@AHIER

Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Avery-Hess Realty, Marilyn King

Beaver Tree Services

Blake and Co. Hair Spa

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Card My Yard

CBM Mortgage, Michelle Napier

Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

Mountain View Music

National Media Services

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

St. Luke Community Clinic

Strites Doughnuts

Studio Verde

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Vetbuilder.com

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warren County DSS Job Development

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

Front Royal
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Upcoming Events

Dec
10
Sat
10:00 am 10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 10 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area Journey back in time and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a Civil War Encampment during the holidays. Interact with the 10th VA Infantry, also known as the Valley Guards,[...]
Dec
14
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Dec 14 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Dec
17
Sat
1:00 pm The Nutcracker 2022 @ Skyline High School
The Nutcracker 2022 @ Skyline High School
Dec 17 @ 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
The Nutcracker 2022 @ Skyline High School
Italia Performing Arts is pleased to announce its own student production of the seasonal ballet The Nutcracker, to be presented in Front Royal, VA, on Saturday December 17th 2022. Tickets: $35 and $25 Under 16:[...]
Dec
21
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Dec 21 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Dec
28
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Dec 28 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Jan
1
Sun
5:30 am First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
Jan 1 @ 5:30 am – 3:00 pm
First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. While the American tradition of celebrating the New Year occurs at midnight on New Year’s Eve, other cultures celebrate by enjoying the sunrise on New Year’s Day. As part of the continuing American[...]
Jan
4
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Jan 4 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]