TED CRUZ DEFENDS NC ANTI-ABORTION PROTESTERS ARRESTED FOR COVID 19 VIOLATIONS: In the last week, police in multiple North Carolina cities have arrested anti-abortion protesters who were charged with violating the coronavirus-related order that bans mass gatherings. Arrests of abortion protesters in Greensboro led to the protesters suing city officials there. A few days later, several protesters were arrested at an abortion protest in Charlotte, too. After the Charlotte arrests made national news, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he thought the protesters’ rights had been violated, The Charlotte Observer reported. “This is an unconstitutional arrest,” Cruz tweeted. He added that they have a First Amendment right to protest, and that they were being “fully consistent (with) public safety.” “IF providing abortions is essential, then peacefully giving pregnant women counseling on alternatives to abortion is ALSO ‘essential,’” Cruz tweeted.
NCGA SESSION SET TO BEGIN APRIL 28, FLOOR VOTES MUST BE IN PERSON: The General Assembly is prepping for an April 28 start to its COVID-19 session. In the House, at least, legislative committees will likely meet remotely to shepherd legislation through the process while avoiding mass gatherings, House budget writer Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said Thursday. Floor votes need to be in person, though, and Lambeth said those logistics are still being discussed. It's possible the House will use its upstairs gallery to space members out and hold votes open for hours so representatives can come in and out to cast their votes, much like Congress does. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger told UNC TV this week that the Senate will likely hold votes open as well, far beyond the usual five seconds. Berger said he's not sure yet how debate will proceed or whether the General Assembly building will be open to the public. It's likely the session will be brief and focus only on COVID-19. Ryan said the Senate has "been focusing exclusively on COVID-19, and there's not been discussion of other items."
25% OF CHARLOTTE RESIDENTS FAILED TO PAY THEIR RENT DUE LAST WEEK: A study by a housing nonprofit found nearly 1 in 4 Charlotte-area tenants have missed rent payments due the first week of April as the economy shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The figures, from a national study by the National Multifamily Housing Council, represent an 8% rise in missed payments from the same time last year. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group used rental market data from firms including RealPage, which analyzed local figures for The Charlotte Observer. In the Raleigh-Cary area, close to 1 in 5 tenants missed their April rent payments. The national average was nearly 1 in 3, according to the study, which analyzed only market-rate apartments, not subsidized apartments or rental houses. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Susan Harden told the Observer that this situation should “keep every elected official awake at night.” North Carolina's job losses have soared, with unemployment claims projected to reach nearly 500,000 by the end of this week.
DEMOCRATS WANT VOTE-BY-MAIL FUNDING IN NEXT CORONAVIRUS RELIEF PACKAGE, GOP BALKS: Voting security advocates are sounding the alarm about a shrinking window for the U.S. to prepare for a November presidential election taking place during a global pandemic and they’re calling for vote-by mail options nationwide in case citizens are still advised to avoid public places. But there’s been little action among the 16 states that provide absentee ballots only to voters who meet certain criteria – even though some governors of the states back expanded vote-by-mail. Other Republican governors and state election officials flatly oppose sweeping changes. And there’s no consensus in Washington as President Donald Trump ramps up his opposition, this week calling vote-by-mail “a very dangerous thing for this country,” “horrible” and “corrupt.” Democrats are pushing to make vote-by-mail available nationally – which would cost billions across all 50 states – in the next coronavirus stimulus bill. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it would be premature to discuss what would go in that legislation while the country still implements the $2.2 trillion package that passed last month. In 16 states, voters can receive mail ballots but only if they meet certain exceptions such as being 65 years or older; disabled, out of the county on Election Day and during the early-voting period. But Republican governors in these states face a dilemma to expand further. Trump has slammed universal vote-by-mail, arguing it undermines voter ID laws that many Republican-controlled states have championed and that implementing it on a national scale would hurt GOP candidates. “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said on Fox News last week.
5G CONSPIRACY THEORIES ARE CAUSING PEOPLE TO BURN CELL TOWERS: On April 2, a wireless tower was set ablaze in Birmingham. The next day, a fire was reported at 10 p.m. at a telecommunications box in Liverpool. An hour later, an emergency call came in about another cell tower in Liverpool that was going up in flames. Across Britain, more than 30 acts of arson and vandalism have taken place against wireless towers and other telecom gear this month, according to police reports and a telecom trade group. In roughly 80 other incidents in the country, telecom technicians have been harassed on the job. The attacks were fueled by the same cause, government officials said: an internet conspiracy theory that links the spread of the coronavirus to an ultrafast wireless technology known as 5G. Under the false idea, which has gained momentum in Facebook groups, WhatsApp messages and YouTube videos, radio waves sent by 5G technology are causing small changes to people’s bodies that make them succumb to the virus. The false theory linking 5G to the coronavirus has been especially prominent, amplified by celebrities like John Cusack and Woody Harrelson on social media. It has also been stoked by a vocal anti-5G contingent, who have urged people to take action against telecom gear to protect themselves. Wild claims about 5G are not new. The technology has an outsize political importance because it may provide countries with a competitive edge, with faster wireless speeds enabling more rapid development of driverless cars and other innovations. Internet trolls have seized on 5G and its political implications to sow fear, leading to protests in the United States and elsewhere against the technology in recent years. Russians have pushed claims that 5G signals were linked to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease, all of which lacked scientific support.