Thursday News: Christmas bonus, GOP style


SEVERAL QUARANTINING AFTER PHIL BERGER'S STAPH PARTY: Several people with ties to state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office were in quarantine Wednesday after attending Berger’s recent Christmas party. According to spokesman Pat Ryan, Berger, R-Rockingham, hosts a Christmas party every year for current and former staff members. This year, the senator hosted a smaller celebration with some current staff and guests at a Raleigh restaurant. “The gathering was in line with all relevant restrictions, including capacity limits inside restaurants," Ryan said in a statement to WRAL News. Current pandemic restrictions limit indoor gatherings to 10 people, but restaurants are allowed to seat up to 50 percent of their indoor capacity. Ryan estimated the party had fewer than 30 attendees.

WAKE SCHOOLS BANS DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER STUDENTS AND STAFF: The Wake County school system is expanding anti-discrimination protection to its transgender students and employees, over the objections of conservative groups. The Wake County school board unanimously gave initial approval Tuesday to revisions to the district’s anti-harassment and employment policies to include “transgender or gender identity” among the groups protected against discrimination. The policy changes are based on federal court rulings that have said, among other things, that transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. Wake, which is North Carolina’s largest school system, already prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability or age. The added anti-discrimination language will go into effect after a second and final vote in January.

AIRBNB CRACKS DOWN ON NC "PARTY HOUSES" DURING PANDEMIC: In emails to The Associated Press, the company said 21 listings in the Research Triangle area, which includes Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham, were suspended. Also, 17 listings in the Triad, which includes Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point, were suspended, and in Charlotte, 20 listings were suspended, the company said. “Our actions today address the small minority of hosts who have previously received warnings about hosting responsibly or have otherwise violated our policies,” Viviana Jordan, North Carolina public policy manager for Airbnb, said in a news release in reference to Charlotte. Airbnb said it received complaints of partying at the suspended locations in Charlotte and the Research Triangle. The specific locations were not identified. The company announced a global ban on “party houses” in 2019, as well as a hotline through which neighbors could call Airbnb to express their concerns.

$900 BILLION PARED-DOWN STIMULUS/RELIEF PACKAGE GAINS STEAM: Congressional leaders said Wednesday that they are nearing agreement on a roughly $900 billion economic relief package that would include a second round of stimulus checks and could be completed by the end of this week. The package emerging is expected to include hundreds of billions of dollars in aid for ailing small businesses and jobless Americans; tens of billions of dollars in aid for other critical needs, such as vaccine distribution and schools; and a one-time check of between $600 and $700 for millions of Americans below a certain income threshold. The relief bill is likely to be coupled with several other major legislative efforts — from legislation to fund federal agencies to a bipartisan effort to rein in surprise medical billing — that lawmakers could then pass into law in a matter of days. Lawmakers are racing to pass a deal in part because of widespread signs of economic deterioration in the face of the resurgent pandemic, as well as the imminent expiration of several critical federal aid programs by the end of the year. Nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since this summer, according to a new report, in part because emergency benefit programs expired. More Americans are filing for unemployment benefits, and the pace of hiring has slowed.

TRUMP'S MAR-A-LAGO NEIGHBORS TRY TO BLOCK HIM FROM MAKING IT HIS RESIDENCE: “Per the use agreement of 1993, Mar-a-Lago is a social club, and no one may reside on the property,” wrote Reginald Stambaugh, a lawyer representing the DeMoss family, which has a property next to Mar-a-Lago. “To avoid an embarrassing situation for everyone and to give the president time to make other living arrangements in the area, we trust you will work with his team to remind them of the use agreement parameters,” Mr. Stambaugh wrote. “Palm Beach has many lovely estates for sale, and surely he can find one which meets his needs.” The New York Times reported in 2018 that Mr. Trump had changed his domicile to Mar-a-Lago, in part for tax purposes. Almost immediately, residents of the town began raising questions about the legality of the move, given the agreement the president struck with the town decades ago. Construction has been done on the president’s residential quarters at the club, where Mr. Trump is expected to spend the Christmas holiday and which Mr. Stambaugh argued already violates the use agreement. Part of that use agreement, which was reviewed by The Times, limits how long members can stay there. It says that there cannot be stays for “three nonconsecutive seven-day periods by any one member during the year.” The club is also supposed to file sworn statements with the town each year asserting that a minimum of 50 percent of its members live or work in Palm Beach and that the club has no more than 500 members. Some of those reports have not been filed. And the club has seen a boom in the number of members who have joined in the past few years, according to records reviewed by The Times, although it is not clear if they replaced departing members.