This Week in Health Care

MA Enacts Comprehensive Healthcare Bill: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed a comprehensive healthcare bill (SB 2984) this month that addresses several of the priorities included in legislation filed by his administration in 2019.

Among other things, the legislation strengthens insurance coverage for telehealth services; expands the scope of practice for several types of health care professionals, including nurse practitioners and optometrists; helps protect consumers from surprise medical billing; and extends requirements for all insurance carriers in the state to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment.

“Massachusetts has long been a leader in ensuring health care quality and access and with this new law, we are making further progress in building a strong, accessible and affordable health care system, a goal that is more important now than ever,” Baker said. (MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNORS OFFICE)

Becoming COVID-19 Vaccinator ‘Big Lift’ for AK Pharmacies, Doctors’ Offices: Alaska has been transitioning its COVID-19 vaccine distribution from hospitals and clinics to pharmacies and individual doctors’ offices. But limited vaccine supply isn’t the only hindrance to that effort. Another challenge is the limited number of providers opting to become vaccinators, due to the extra training, complicated logistics and amount of data entry involved.

Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said it isn’t like a single-dose flu vaccine.

“It’s very finicky,” she said. “It has to be stored at the right temperatures. It has to be used in a certain period of time. We have to track what goes in and comes out. There’s a lot of processes to that. And so particularly those that don’t vaccinate regularly, it’s a big lift.”

Zink said exhaustion is another factor.

“These are also people who have been, you know, sprinting since last year,” she said. (KTOO [JUNEAU])

Health in Brief

NV COVID-19 Vaccination Program Reassures Immigrant Community About Privacy Protections: The Nevada Governor’s Office for New Americans (ONA) issued a statement last week indicating the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program can’t share personally identifiable information with federal agencies. The statement was prompted by concerns raised by the state’s immigrant community about the program’s privacy protections. (NEVADA INDEPENDENT [LAS VEGAS])

CA Expands Eligibility for COVID-19 Vaccine to Seniors: California Gov. Gavin Newson (D) announced last week that residents 65 and older can now get COVID-19 vaccines. But it could take weeks to inoculate those additional 6 million people, with the state’s vaccine distribution network already strained. (LOS ANGELES TIMES)

RI Bucking Federal Advice to Start Vaccinating Seniors: Rhode Island isn’t planning to follow the Trump administration’s directive to open COVID-19 vaccinations to individuals 65 and older. The state doesn’t intend to even allow those 75 and older to start getting vaccinated until at least next month. (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL)

Cuomo Pressures NY Hospitals to Speed Up Vaccination Rollout: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said many of the state’s hospital networks aren’t distributing COVID-19 vaccines quickly enough, and he threatened to fine them or deny them access to future doses if they don’t pick up the pace. Over the last three weeks, about 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered across the state, 47 percent of the state’s total vaccine allocation. (ALBANY TIMES UNION)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

This Week in Technology

Big Tech Cracks Down on Extremist Content: Shortly after supporters of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Twitter and Facebook suspended the president’s accounts, and Apple and Google removed the right-wing social media network Parler from their app stores, while Amazon kicked that platform off its cloud computing service. It was a show of force the tech companies have largely avoided the past four years, despite seemingly clear violations of their rules prohibiting harassment and violence.

Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for the national civil rights organization Muslim Advocates, attributed the tech giants’ recent actions to the political shift in Washington.

“Up until now, they’ve come up with excuse after excuse” for allowing hate speech and other extremist content, she said.

But she said now the companies are worried about potential regulation from a Congress and White House controlled by Democrats.

“This is a business decision for them,” she said.

President-elect Biden has, in fact, called for greater regulation of the tech industry, including the revocation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a foundational internet law protecting social media platforms from being sued for the content their users post.

“It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company,” he told the New York Times last year. “It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false.”

Tech companies may not find many allies on the other side of the aisle either. Conservatives have long charged that the companies are biased against them. And many say the companies’ latest actions silencing the president amount to censorship.

Attention was already on the big tech companies, said Jonathon Hauenschild, director of the communications and technology task force for the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

“Now the spotlight is fully on,” he said. (WASHINGTON POST, VERGE, NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL)

Reform of Internet Liability Shield Possible After Biden’s First 100 Days: Some legal experts think changes may be coming for the law that provides internet companies broad protections for user-generated content, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

The push for those changes isn’t likely to come in the first 100 days of the Biden administration, however.

“Their focus will be on nominations, COVID response and vaccinations,” said June DeHart, a partner at the Manatt law firm who specializes in federal government affairs and public policy.

And cybersecurity law expert Jeff Kosseff said there was also a lack of consensus about what to do about Section 230.

Although President-elect Biden has called for the outright revocation of the law, Richard Lawson, a partner at the law firm of Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort, said that seemed “unlikely,” given that it “would be a big lift to overcome the industry opposition, and the path of extending regulatory oversight will be much easier by comparison.”

Daphne Keller, who directs Stanford Law School’s Program on Platform Regulation, said she hopes the Democrats “will take the time to craft thoughtful legislation, perhaps modeled in part on the EU’s major new draft law, the Digital Services Act, and on last term’s PACT Act, which was the smartest of the bills.”

She added that many of the bills considered last year “were the product of time pressure and political theater,” but the Democrats “should be able to take a breath and be more deliberate now.”

Scott Shackelford, an associate professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University, noted that even reform of Section 230 wasn’t “a foregone conclusion.”

“There are powerful interest groups, and lobbying outfits funded by tech firms that enjoy some of the deepest pockets in the world,” he said. “Still, given the outcome in Georgia, and the pronouncements by President-elect Biden on this topic, I think the safe money is that there will be a push to reform the tech regulatory landscape with Section 230 being one aspect of that effort.” (BUSINESS INSIDER)

Big Changes Could Be Ahead at Federal Agencies that Regulate Tech: Thanks to their victories in the presidential race and Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs on Jan. 5, Democrats will soon be able to fill key seats at federal agencies that regulate the tech industry.

One of those agencies, the Federal Trade Commission, is currently litigating an antitrust case against Facebook and launching a major review of the data collection practices of social media and streaming companies. And in the past, Democrats at the agency have pushed for tougher penalties on Facebook and YouTube for privacy violations.

A Democratic majority at the Federal Communications Commission, meanwhile, would be able to make changes to net neutrality rules and subsidy programs to help close the digital divide.

Former FCC adviser Gigi Sohn also pointed out the agencies would be “fully staffed, and that’s not a small thing.”

“The agencies will act boldly,” she said.

It will probably be months, however, before there are Democratic majorities at the agencies. (AXIOS)

Tech in Brief

Airbnb Halting D.C. Rentals During Inauguration Week: Airbnb announced last week that it would be canceling existing reservations and blocking new ones in the Washington, D.C. area during the week of President-elect Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. The vacation rental platform’s move was in response to local and federal authorities’ requests that people not travel to D.C. to attend the event, in light of the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. (CNET)

FL to Weigh Divesting from Tech Companies after Trump Bans: The administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will consider whether the state should divest from technology companies that suspended the social media accounts of President Trump. State Rep. Randy Fine (R) reportedly sent a letter to DeSantis demanding that action. (CENTER SQUARE [CHICAGO])

Google Blocks Political Ads Until After Presidential Inauguration: Google has blocked all political advertising on its platforms, including YouTube, in response to this month’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. The ban will remain in place until at least Jan. 21, the day after President-elect Biden's inauguration. (CNET)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

This Week Under the Domes

Governors Brace for Capitol Violence: Governors across the country are preparing for the possibility of attacks on statehouses similar to the violent rampage by supporters of since-impeached President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Five deaths are attributed to that insurgency, including a Capitol police officer.

With the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden set for the 20th, thousands of National Guard troops have been stationed in and around the U.S. Capitol to protect against another attack there. But in a report issued by federal authorities last week, the greatest threat might now be aimed at state capitols.

According to an internal FBI memo, the law enforcement agency expects armed protests from pro-Trump, anti-government groups at all 50 state capitols, starting before and extending through Biden’s inauguration. An earlier memo noted the concern that legislatures might also be a target for extremist attacks.

To that end, governors and legislative leaders of both parties have taken steps to increase security around capitol buildings. Statehouse windows have been boarded up in Wisconsin. A SWAT team patrols the Capitol grounds in Georgia. A state commission has banned guns on Capitol grounds in Michigan. Cement barriers have been erected around the statehouse in Albany, New York.

Governors in at least seven states – California, Washington, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Minnesota and Pennsylvania – have activated National Guard units to protect capitols and other government infrastructure. More are expected to follow suit in the coming days.

“We’re keeping a look across the entire country to make sure that we’re monitoring, and that our Guards in every state are in close coordination with their local law enforcement agencies to provide any support requested,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters last Monday.

Some law enforcement officials say the current condition has been building for years, stoked by the president’s inflammatory rhetoric, anger over social justice protests that exploded in numerous cities around the country over the summer, and the ongoing economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is a situation former FBI agent Michael German, now with the Brennan Center for Justice, calls “a real nightmare” scenario.

“Many of the people committing violence at these rallies have been conditioned to believe that law enforcement will allow it to happen,” he recently told Time magazine. “They believe they’re the shock troops of the United States. Not just organized groups, but a lot of people you have taught that acting violently against their political enemies is okay. It’s hard to put that back into the bottle.” (WASHINGTON POST, TIME, NEW YORK TIMES, LOS ANGELES TIMES, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Former MI Gov to Face Charges Over Flint Water: Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) was among nine people charged last week for their role in the lead poisoning of Flint’s water supply.

Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty. Eight other officials from his administration are also facing a wide variety of charges, including nine counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of willful neglect of duty against former state Department of Health and Human Services Nick Lyon. He faces up to 15 years in prison on each manslaughter count.

Snyder’s lawyer called the case against the former governor “flimsy,” saying “It would be a travesty to waste additional taxpayer dollars pursuing these bogus misdemeanor charges.”

Flint, a majority Black city, has faced exposure to extremely high levels of lead since 2014 when state and local officials enacted what was supposed to be a temporary switch of the city’s water supply from the Detroit Water System to the highly contaminated Flint River. The move was made in an effort to cut costs, but the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality failed to treat the corrosive water, which then ate into the city’s iron and lead water pipes and leached into the drinking water. That led to two outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of pneumonia caused by bacteria, and at least 12 deaths. (CNN, NBC NEWS, WASHINGTON POST)

Cuomo Will Push for Cannabis, Mobile Betting Taxes: Facing a $15 billion budget gap, NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he is again asking lawmakers to legalize – and tax – recreational marijuana and mobile sports betting. Under Cuomo’s proposal, the state gaming commission would license private sector mobile and online operators directly, thus enabling the state to collect a larger share of the gaming revenue in taxes. The governor believes his plan could generate $500 million a year in new tax revenue. He believes legalizing recreational weed will produce another $300 million annually, though experts caution that could take years to fully develop. (LAW360, NEW YORK POST, NEW YORK TIMES)

Northam Intros Legal Weed Bill in VA: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) proposed legislation last week that would legalize recreational marijuana use in the Old Dominion.

Under the legislation formally authored by state Sens. Louise Lucas (D) and Adam Ebbin (D), sales would be taxed at 21 percent, which would come on top of any local sales tax. Local governments would also be allowed to impose an additional 3 percent tax on retailers. Licensure would come in five different categories: cultivation, processing, distribution/wholesale, retail and testing.

A recent study by the state Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission estimated the state could glean up to $564 million in new tax revenue over the first five years of legal cannabis sales. The measure Northam has proposed would be parceled out to a range of purposes, including affordable preschool programs and reparations programs for communities harmed by disparate enforcement of the state’s previous drug laws. (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, VIRGINIAN-PILOT [NORFOLK], MARIJUANA MOMENT, RICHMOND FREE PRESS)

Under the Domes in Brief

Whitmer Signs MI Jail Reforms: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed a bipartisan 20-bill package of criminal justice reform legislation that collectively prioritize alternatives to jail, expand officer discretion to issue appearance tickets rather than make arrests, and reshape penalties for traffic offenses. In a statement, Whitmer said it was critical “to take steps toward a smarter and more equitable justice system that not only saves taxpayer money, but keeps people in their communities.” (DETROIT FREE PRESS, MICHIGAN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

GA Senators Pay Price for Supporting Election Challenge: Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R) has stripped three Republican state senators who supported President Donald Trump’s Quixotic attempt to overturn the Peach State’s election results of their committee assignments. Sen. Brandon Beach lost his chairmanship of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Burt Jones lost his chairmanship of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee, and Sen. Matt Brass was reassigned to run a banking committee, a significantly less influential post than his previous position as the chairman of the committee that will manage redistricting. (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

WI Reeps Shoot Down Gov’s Unemployment Fix: The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature quickly rejected a proposal from Gov. Tony Evers (D) to take up a $5 million plan that would allow his administration to start upgrading the state’s beleaguered unemployment system. The current system has been blamed for failing to quickly deliver benefits to thousands of residents left jobless during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers nixed the request, saying the governor should use money already available for the computer upgrades, though only one of the funds they pointed to actually has the money necessary to start the work. (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL)

Noem Backs Suit to Block SD Cannabis: South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) confirmed she is backing a lawsuit seeking to overturn a voter-approved ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis use in the Coyote State. The ballot measure in question passed with 54 percent approval last November, but Noem says the manner in which the question was placed on the ballot was unconstitutional. (LAW360)

PA GOP Seeks to Limit Gov’s EO Power: The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania House is advancing a constitutional amendment that would require the governor to seek approval to continue an emergency order after 21 days and give lawmakers the ability to end such a declaration unilaterally at any time. The measure cleared the House State Government Committee last Wednesday, but it is unclear when it would go before the full House, which doesn’t return until Jan. 25th. The proposal would have to gain approval from lawmakers in two consecutive sessions and then be approved by voters before it could become law. (SPOTLIGHT PA)

Inslee Pitches WA Business Tax Relief: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said the Evergreen State should offer $1.7 billion in unemployment insurance tax relief for businesses struggling with mass layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s plan would adjust the unemployment insurance tax formula to spread rate increases over five years and waive employer charges related to benefits given during the state’s stay-at-home orders. (LAW360)

Baker Signs Huge MA Economic Development Bill: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed a $626 million economic development bill he said would “drive economic growth and improve housing stability, neighborhood stabilization and transit oriented development.” He vetoed severalmother elementsof the omnibus package, however, including one that would have required housing development projects benefiting from a housing development incentive program tax credit to have at least 10 percent affordable units. (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE [BOSTON]) 

- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: OHIO Gov. Mike Dewine (R) signs HB 674, which allows Buckeye State bars and restaurants to deliver distilled liquor and spirits, as long as the beverages are in their original container. The measure will also end prohibitions on the sale of alcohol on Sundays and holidays and allow local governments to permit the 24-hour sale of liquor in their communities (WTOL [TOLEDO]). OHIO Gov. DeWine also signs HB 352, a bill that shortens the period under which employment discrimination lawsuits must be brought to two years, rather than six years as under previous state law (CNN). OHIO Gov. Gov. DeWine also signs HB 295, which establishes statewide rules for the rental, use and insurance of electric scooters (CNN). MICHIGAN Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signs SB 991, which allows Wolverine State online poker operators to share a player and liquidity pool with other states. Three other states – NEVADA, NEW JERSEY and DELAWARE – have formed their own compact, but it is not clear if Michigan will join them or form a new compact with other neighboring states that allow online poker (CARD PLAYER).

Education: OHIO Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signs HB 231, which permits public schools to create food allergy training programs for staff. It also requires the Ohio Department of Education to provide schools with an annual list of organizations and companies that offer free and reduced cost epinephrine autoinjectors (CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER)

Social Policy: The Supreme Court of the United States reinstates a Trump administration rule that requires women seeking medication abortions to obtain the pills in-person from a medical provider. The court had previously declined to take up a challenge to the rule, which had been overturned by a lower court (POLITICO). OHIO Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signs HB 33, which requires veterinarians, law-enforcement officers, therapists, social workers, and other social-service professionals to immediately alert authorities when they find or suspect abuse of dogs, cats, or other companion animals (CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER).

Local Front: MASSACHUSETTS Gov. Charlie baker (R) signs HB 4921, a bill that requires cities and towns to send, at minimum, email or text alerts to residents if sewage or industrial waste has been or is being discharged into local harbors, rivers and coastal waters (STANDARD TIMES [NEW BEDFORD]).

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Once Around

Careful What You Wish For: After years of negotiations and probably trillions of words being written or said about it, Great Britain is finally moving ahead with its exit from the European Union, aka Brexit. But the practical applications of the new policy are only now beginning to hit everyday Brits. As Reuters reports, this includes tourists trying to enter a Dutch port having their sandwiches confiscated over the Netherlands’ strict rules regarding the import of meat, fruit, vegetables and fish from outside the EU. And it’s not just lunch – at least 80 Brits have been denied entry entirely since Jan. 1 alone. As one Dutch customs officer put it, “Welcome to Brexit, sir.”

A True Sucker Punch: Cats and dogs. Lions and hyenas. Bugs and Daffy. Reeps and Dems. Octopuses and fish. Wait, what? Octopuses and fish have issues with each other? The answer is yes, according to recently published research in Ecology, the journal of the Ecological Society of America. As shown in video accumulated in that research, the eight-tentacled octopuses are prone to just hauling off and smacking any fish that ventures too close. Researchers believe it might be part of an octopus hunting ritual, but admit it’s really just a guess. They may not ever know why octopuses are so quick to throw hands, uh...tentacles, but they have to admit the soft-bodied mollusks can throw a mean jab.

Because We Will Always Love Her: Everybody loves Dolly Parton, and for good reason. Aside from being one of the most successful and respected singers and songwriters in music history, the pride of Locust Ridge, Tennessee is also a successful actress, author and businesswoman, as well as a prolific philanthropist who played a big role in getting a COVID vaccine off the ground. If that sounds like someone who ought to have a statue for her somewhere, read on. Because as the Associated Press reports, Tennessee Rep. John Mark Windle has introduced a bill to have just such a monument to Parton added to the grounds at the Volunteer State Capitol in Nashville. As Windle said, “At this point in history, is there a better example, not just in America but in the world, of a leader that is [a] kind, decent, passionate human being?” Now who can argue with that?

- By RICH EHISEN