Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
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U.S. to Offer Boosters to All Currently Vaccinated
The Biden administration will start offering booster shots in late September to all vaccinated Americans as the coronavirus delta variant continues its nationwide spread. In a joint statement Wednesday, the top U.S. public health officials said a third dose of Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. shots “will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”
“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout,” according to the statement citing health officials including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, Food and Drug Administration Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.
The U.S. will begin issuing more booster shots as soon as Sept. 20 to people who received their second shot at least eight months earlier, according to the statement. The plan is still subject to an independent evaluation and clearance by the FDA.
Health officials are still studying a possible booster for the roughly 14 million Americans who received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, which didn’t use the same mRNA technology as Pfizer and Moderna. But the officials said they anticipate boosters for the J&J shot “likely will be needed.”
The CDC published three studies showing that messenger RNA vaccines continue to provide strong protection against hospitalization from the virus, even as efficacy at preventing infections has waned somewhat in the face of the highly infectious delta variant.
In one study, published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Wednesday, researchers found that the vaccines remained 95% effective at preventing hospitalization in New York at the end of July, after delta had taken over, compared to the same rate of effectiveness against hospitalization in early May.
A second study, published in the same journal, found the vaccine’s ability to prevent hospitalizations held up well from March through July, with no statistical lowering of efficacy in the second half of the period compared to the first. There was also no statistically meaningful drop-off in efficacy in preventing hospitalizations in the elderly, those with multiple chronic medical conditions, or other subgroups of patients, the real-world study found.
In a third report, researchers found that vaccine efficacy in preventing infections in nursing homes dropped from 74.7% before delta took over in the spring to 53.1% after delta became predominant in June and July. The study could not distinguish between symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. But the authors concluded that “additional doses might be considered” in nursing home residents.
The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on booster shots through September to enable poorer countries to catch up on vaccination rates. A spokesperson for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which co-leads the Covax sharing program, said that rich countries giving boosters will only exacerbate inequities and called on countries to share all excess doses with Covax.
“The divide between the haves and have-nots will only grow larger if manufacturers and leaders prioritize booster shots over supply to low and middle income countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing in Geneva.
Tedros pressed for Johnson & Johnson, which is manufacturing some vaccines in Africa, to distribute doses there before sending them to Western countries that have already immunized large portions of their populations.
The move Wednesday marks a massive expansion of the U.S.’s vaccine plan, which had so far only included boosters for people with compromised immune systems. The CDC said separately that it will launch a new outbreak analysis and forecast center, picking a group of outsiders from academia and the private sector to lead the new initiative.
City of Chicago Announces Indoor Mask Mandate for Everyone
Chicago officials announced Tuesday that an indoor mask mandate will return to the city, more than two months after most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted but as a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus drives a late summer surge.
Starting Friday, anyone age 2 and older will have to wear a face mask in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccine status, Chicago public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a news conference. She cited the far more transmissible delta variant and its role in pushing the city into the higher risk category of more than 400 new daily COVID-19 cases — but she added that residents need not panic.
The rule comes as the city case numbers puts it in the CDC’s high-risk category for community transmission. To give businesses time to comply, the universal mask mandate is delayed a few days rather than immediate.
The average number of new cases per day was 419 as of Aug. 12. That’s up 21 percent from the previous week. Hospitalizations and deaths—which are lagging indicators—were down 18 percent and 24 percent, respectively. “I want to be clear: That risk is especially for people who are unvaccinated,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said earlier today. “As the vaccine has come into the picture, what we’ve seen is the other indicators we follow have stayed at that lower risk level. . . .Our hospitalizations and deaths remain low, and that’s because the vaccine is available for adults.”
This latest city rule would enforce mask wearing in all public indoor settings, going further than the current Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommendation that applies to areas with substantial transmission risk.
Under nationwide CDC guidelines, areas of substantial transmission are those with 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, while areas of high transmission are those with more than 100 cases per 100,000. Chicago is currently high risk. Substantial risk areas are encouraged to mask up indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
How’s the Vote Lining Up
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team are busy planning for the House’s return next week. And it’s clear the gloves are starting to come off as leadership loses patience with a band of centrists threatening to derail Pelosi’s two-track plan to muscle through President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill and a massive social spending package this fall.
“This is no time for amateur hour,” Pelosi told her team on a private call. “There is no way we can pass those bills unless we do so in the order that we originally planned.”
On the call, Pelosi reconfirmed plans to pass a rule next week that would cover the budget resolution, voting rights legislation and the bipartisan infrastructure bill. As Pelosi wrote over the weekend, while Democrats plan to bring the budget resolution and voting rights legislation up for a vote, they are only “advancing” the infrastructure bill through the rule, not voting on passage.
Calling their bluff: As one Democrat put it simply, House leadership will put the budget resolution on the floor and dare moderates to vote no. “For the first time, America’s children have leverage. I will not surrender that leverage,” Pelosi told her leadership team.
It’s unclear how this forceful approach will sit with the centrist Democrats. Right now there are 11 Democrats — including the nine who publicly signed the letter led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) — who are signaling to leadership they will vote against the budget resolution unless the House is allowed an immediate, up or down vote on the Senate infrastructure bill.
Flip or flop: Senior Democrats have privately said they think enough of those members will flip. Remember, Democrats have a three-vote margin on the floor right now.
In either case, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is bracing for a showdown with House Democratic moderates. The chamber plans to move forward next week with voting on the budget blueprint for a $3.5 trillion healthcare, education and climate package, rebuffing demands from a group of centrist Democrats to first vote on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
The size of the $3.5 trillion plan and its attendant tax increases on corporations and high-income households have caused concern from some moderate Democrats in the House and Senate.
Progressives view tying both bills together as a way to pressure moderates into ultimately supporting the final bill.
Supreme Court decision could set off gerrymandering ‘arms race’
Federal judges will no longer play the role of referee when the intensely partisan, once-per-decade fight over congressional mapmaking gets underway this year. As a result of decisions by the Roberts Court, federal courthouses will be forced to turn away even the most egregious cases of partisan gerrymandering, which could make it easier for state lawmakers to lock in politically manipulated voting maps for the next decade.
“Now that the Supreme Court has officially retreated from the area, they’ve set off what will likely be an arms race between the parties to gerrymander to the fullest extent they can in the states where they hold control,” said G. Michael Parsons, a scholar at New York University School of Law.
Gerrymandering has occurred in the U.S. since around the time of its founding. Some scholars say the practice even predates the 1812 event when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry approved a partisan district that was so oddly shaped it was said to resemble a salamander, which, combined with his surname, produced the term “gerrymander.”
The practice of drawing manipulated congressional and legislative districts for political advantage has continued since then with varying intensity, as voting boundaries are redrawn to account for demographic shifts following the once-per-decade census.
According to experts, however, the upcoming redistricting is likely to be even less restrained than in years past. It will combine a new degree of sophistication in map-drawing technology, high levels of partisan polarization and currently no legal recourse to fight partisan gerrymandering in federal courts as a result of decisions by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts.
“The Roberts Court has been a wrecking crew on voting rights,” said David Daley, an expert on partisan gerrymandering. “They really tilted the playing field away from voters and toward those who would manipulate maps for their own political gain.”
Several measures in Congress, including the For the People Act, would ban partisan gerrymandering. But that effort is unlikely to garner enough support from Senate Republicans to overcome a GOP filibuster, particularly before the Census Bureau releases data to the states on Aug. 12.
Legal experts expect much of the fighting will shift to state courts. “In some states, it may be possible to bring lawsuits under state constitutional provisions, as happened successfully in Pennsylvania and North Carolina at the end of the last decade,” said Ned Foley, an election law expert and law professor at the Ohio State University.
The constitutions of 30 states include some form of requirement that elections be “free,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those and similar provisions, at least in theory, could create avenues for challengers to sue over partisan gerrymandering. But in states where judiciaries that have been subject to, and in some cases shaped by, partisan pressure, courts may be hesitant to overrule a gerrymandered map.
New census figures spark new congressional map chatter
That latest batch of census figures released late last week appears to be giving a little more oomph to Democratic efforts in Springfield to redraw congressional districts to their liking.
The newest indication comes from a new set of maps floated by Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman. They update an earlier version that, as previously reported, has received very approving attention from some key insiders in the Legislature, which will actually adopt the new map.
In a weekend tweet, Wasserman says population losses in downstate, heavily Republican areas, combined with Democratic gains in the Chicago area will make it easier for the Dems to craft maps designed to strip the Illinois GOP of two of its current five congressional seats.
He particularly talks about the seat held by second-term Democratic incumbent Lauren Underwood, which under the map he discusses would go from a district that went for Trump by 2 percentage points to one that would have gone for Biden by 7 points, assuming everyone votes like they did in the 2020 presidential race.
That shift would occur because, as per the earlier version, GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s current district would disappear, with Democratic portions being carved off to help Underwood and fellow Democratic colleague Marie Newman and GOP sections handed off to population-light Republican-dominated districts farther south.
The newest version also again proposes creating a snake-like downstate district running from the Metro East area up as far as Bloomington and Champaign via Decatur. Dems may hope that will give them a new seat and force GOP Rep. Rodney Davis either into retirement or a contest against fellow Republican Mary Miller in a district that’s mostly included in her current district. Davis has said he might run for governor against Democratic incumbent J.B. Pritzker if lawmakers do that.
The actual mapmaking won’t occur until at least September, when the U.S. Census Bureau is due to release one last batch of very detailed figures.
GOP analysis shows Democrats’ statehouse map deviates up to 30%
New U.S. Census data could require changes to the political maps the state’s Democrat-controlled legislature approved earlier this year. The map already approved for Illinois statehouse seats may have to be redone. Illinois statehouse Republicans say the courts have no choice to usher in a bipartisan mapmaking commission.
Democrats drew and passed statehouse seats this spring. Gov. J.B. Pritzker enacted the maps. The maps were drawn after the U.S. Census released state-level numbers. Those numbers didn’t break down population on a local level, something integral to drawing maps with equal representation. The new data released last week does.
Basing the legislative maps on American Community Survey estimates was highlighted by legal challenges this summer. On Monday, Republican analysts said the latest block-level data the Census released last week shows the Democrats’ maps go beyond allowed deviations.
“Just as we predicted, the maps that were drawn by Illinois Democrats in a closed room and without public input, and signed by Governor Pritzker, have proven to be unusable and unlawful given the release of the U.S. Census data,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs.
“In fact, the biggest variants between the smallest district and the largest district are 30%, which is way out of whack,” state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said at an unrelated event on Monday. “So what we contend … is that these maps are not valid, were not valid.”
The GOP analysis says the Democrats’ approved maps’ “House districts have population counts ranging from 92,390 (District 83) to 124,836 (District 5) – a difference of 32,446. Based on a test directed by the U.S. Supreme Court, that difference represents a total population range of 29.88%, which is three times the maximum range allowed by federal law.”
Pritzker on Monday said lawmakers may have to rework things. “And to the extent that there are changes that will need to be made, that’s certainly something the Legislature will need to take up and I’ll consider,” Pritzker said.
He said something similar this spring before approving the maps. “I think there will be Census data that comes out and there may need to be some adjustments made as a result of that Census data,” Pritzker said June 1.
On Monday, Butler said that since the constitutional deadline of June 30 for action from lawmakers has passed, a commission must take over. “That means it goes to this bipartisan commission that’s spelled out in the constitution, an eight-member commission,” Butler said. “Leader Durkin has made his appointments to that commission and I think that that’s the avenue that we should go down.”
He said he expects that’ll be a case made to the courts by Republicans. “I think that’s what we’re going to ask the federal courts to do and this means that the governor signed a bill that really was invalid, and they knew it all the time,” Butler said. “They knew that the ACS data was going to come back like this.”
The Illinois House Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch’s office said, “experts are analyzing data,” but had no immediate updates “at this time.”
The Senate President’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry