NC REPUBLICANS PUSH TRANSGENDER SPORTS BILL: On the fifth anniversary of state lawmakers passing HB2, Republican legislators gathered again at the North Carolina General Assembly to push a new bill involving transgender people. “This bill seeks to promote an absolute truth, which is that gender identity at birth counts,” said Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Duplin County Republican, during a press conference Tuesday. The “Save Women’s Sports Act” would keep transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams in school. It’s unclear if that has happened in North Carolina, although the N.C. High School Athletic Association has a framework in place to allow for it. This bill, however, would put a stop to that. “It’s beyond disheartening to see that the North Carolina General Assembly has not learned the lessons of five years ago,” Rebby Kern, the education policy director at Equality NC, said in a press release.
SENATE REPUBLICANS (WHO WON THEIR ELECTIONS) HARASS NCBOE DIRECTOR KAREN BRINSON BELL: Senate Republicans told North Carolina Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell on Tuesday that she shook public confidence in elections last year when her board settled a lawsuit and changed state absentee ballot rules six weeks before the November election. GOP lawmakers pressed Brinson Bell for more than two hours, seeking answers on that settlement. Anger from committee Republicans was evident, held in check by some, expressed more freely by others. “Why shouldn’t we demand your resignation?" Sen. Carl Ford, R-Rowan, asked as the hearing crossed the two-hour mark. The settlement came in September in response to lawsuits filed by Marc Elias, the Democratic Party's go-to attorney on election issues. It sought changes to account for the pandemic, and worries of a U.S. Postal Service slowdown. Daniel also asked, more than half a dozen times, about Brinson Bell's Twitter account, which she deactivated before taking the elections director's job. The insinuation was that she made her opposition to Republicans clear on that account.
GOP LEGISLATORS MOVE TO (ONCE AGAIN) EXPAND PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHER PROGRAM: The House Education Committee on Tuesday backed legislation that makes several revisions to the state’s three voucher programs, including raising the $4,200 per year award in the Opportunity Scholarship program. House Bill 32 would also expand who could receive a voucher and give funding priority this year to families who left public schools to attend private schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Private schools have been more likely than public schools to be open for in-person instruction this school year. The Opportunity Scholarship program has been controversial since it was created in 2014. This year, the program is providing $60.6 million to 15,970 students to attend private schools. Last year, lawmakers approved changes such as increasing the income eligibility limits so that, for instance, a family of four earning $72,000 a year can qualify. Legislators also lifted the cap on the number of kindergarten and first-grade students who can get vouchers. Opponents have filed a lawsuit saying the program is unconstitutional, in part because it provides funding to schools that discriminate against students or their families on religious grounds, The News & Observer previously reported.
AS DEADLINE LOOMS, BIDEN ADMINISTRATION MAY EXTEND EVICTION MORATORIUM TO JULY: The extension under discussion could run at least through July, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a decision that isn’t yet final. Without it, the federal eviction ban is set to lapse in seven days, opening the door for some Americans to be removed from their homes. The issue has taken on fresh urgency at a time when the federal government is racing to distribute roughly $47 billion in new coronavirus relief to families still struggling to pay off back-due rent and ever-mounting utility bills. Lawmakers authorized roughly half of the aid as part of the stimulus adopted in December, and the rest through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that Biden signed into law this month — yet most of the money has not reached those who need it most as a result of implementation delays. Some renters aren’t aware the moratorium exists, while others who have sought to take advantage of it have encountered stiff opposition from landlords that have filed eviction proceedings against them anyway. Nationally, landlord groups also have filed a dizzying array of lawsuits challenging the CDC’s orders, arguing that they are unconstitutional. “Generally speaking, the moratorium has done what it is intended to do,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. But, she acknowledged, “it has a lot of flaws and shortcomings that undermine its public-health purpose and have allowed an alarming number of evictions to proceed.” The debate over the extension comes weeks after lawmakers adopted another tranche of coronavirus aid under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which set aside $25 billion to help renters catch up on their past-due balances. The measure ultimately did not include a more robust, congressionally authorized eviction moratorium because lawmakers relied on a special budget maneuver known as reconciliation to pass it.
2 YEARS, 4 ELECTIONS: ISRAELIS GROW FRUSTRATED WITH DEADLOCKED GOVERNMENT: With 90 percent of the votes counted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing alliance had 52 seats, while his opponents had 56 — both sides several seats short of the 61 needed to form a coalition government with a majority in Parliament. If those counts stand, they could prolong by months the political deadlock that has paralyzed the country for two years. That prospect was already forcing Israelis to confront questions about the viability of their electoral system, the functionality of their government and whether the divisions between the country’s various polities — secular and devout, right-wing and leftist, Jewish and Arab — have made the country unmanageable. “It’s not getting any better. It’s even getting worse — and everyone is so tired,” said Rachel Azaria, a centrist former lawmaker who chairs an alliance of environment-focused civil society groups. “The entire country is going crazy.” Israeli commentators and analysts were locked in debate on Wednesday about changes to the electoral system that could break the deadlock. Some argued for the need to raise the 3.25 percent threshold of votes required for parties to enter Parliament. That would make it harder for smaller factions to gain seats and wield disproportionate power in negotiations to form coalition governments. Others proposed establishing multiple voting districts in Israel, instead of the current setup of one nationwide voting district, which they say would encourage smaller parties to merge into larger ones. And one expert suggested simply anointing the leader of the largest party as prime minister, without the need for them to win the support of a parliamentary majority — a move that would at least ensure that Israel had a government following elections.