4/16/21: Nuclear deals, pigs, and legal weed

Welcome to the fourth edition of High Impact Policy Review, or HIPR! This biweekly (every 2 weeks) newsletter provides updates on U.S. policies relevant to potentially high-impact cause areas, such as foreign aid, farmed animal welfare, and criminal justice reform and informs you of potentially high-impact U.S. policy opportunities that I see around! These past two weeks were eventful, so let's dive right in!

Updates

COVID

  • The NIH’s COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN) is recruiting for COVID vaccine human challenge trials! You can sign-up here. Volunteers over age 70 in particular are needed for US vaccine trials.

  • The good news: COVID vaccination rate is 3.3M per day, which is impressive and would have been a huge cause for celebration just a few weeks ago. The bad news: everything else I’m about to list here.

  • Michigan is still suffering through a huge COVID outbreak and calls for a vaccine surge to the state senselessly continue to be ignored.

  • The pause instituted Tuesday on the J&J vaccine after 6-7 cases of blood clots has been discussed to death; it will obviously have some effects on the US vaccination effort in the coming weeks. The pause is expected to last at least another week, as the CDC advisory panel meets again to discuss next week. It will likely have a serious impact on vaccine outreach to rural areas and in-home vaccinations, as it’s the only approved vaccine in the US that’s one shot and doesn’t require extreme cold storage.

  • The pause may not make a huge difference because Johnson and Johnson vaccine supply would have fallen by 86% this week anyways due to a mixup at a vaccine manufacturing facility, which led to 15M doses needing to be discarded. It’s especially disappointing as senior government officials knew about problems with this plant long before contracting them for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing.

  • The US continues to hoard vaccines; not only are we failing to send vaccines to other countries after having secured enough for ourselves, but we are also restricting exporting raw materials that other countries need to make vaccines themselves. The rules were instituted in early March, which HIPR missed at the time, but the effects are showing now, as Indian vaccine manufacturer SII complains about the ban’s impact on their vaccine production, and is slowing its own vaccine exports to other countries.

  • The US is also continuing to ignore recommendations to delay the second vaccine shot to 12 weeks, as Britain has done, and focus on getting more people their first shots.

Climate

  • We talked about the infrastructure bill last week and the exciting climate spending, but a huge part that I missed is that the bill includes an end to fossil fuel subsidies! HEATED’s discussion of the true cost of fossil fuel subsidies is an interesting look at the impact of this.

  • An executive order is planned for April 23rd to that “will require companies to be more transparent about the threats they face from climate change”, and that will require the government to come up with a strategy on climate-related risks for public and private financial assets. We’ll discuss more in the next issue when it comes out but polls show voters support these initiatives, at 62% and 63% respectively.

  • Maryland’s ambitious Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021 failed to pass as the Maryland House and Senate were not able to reach a compromise and the legislative session for the year ended last night.

Foreign Aid

  • U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced more than $596 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance to Syria — $100 million less than last year.

  • The Biden Administration is renewing $235M of aid to Palestine, which had been cut by the previous administration.

  • Rep McCollum is introducing legislation to restrict US aid to Israel from subsidizing an array of Israel’s occupation tactics in Palestine. However, it seems unlikely to even get a hearing in House committees.

Foreign Policy

  • President Biden announced US troops will be leaving Afghanistan by Sept 11, 2021. Unlike previous commitments from previous presidents, it seems more likely to actually happen because it’s time based, not conditions based. This seems probably good but the details will matter, and some argue that it’ll lead to Taliban control of Afghanistan.

  • Iran and the US re-entered talks on a nuclear deal last week in Vienna. Israel’s attack on Iran’s primary nuclear fuel production plant over the weekend has shifted the circumstances, but appears unlikely to derail talks. Iran has stated they will begin enriching uranium to a level of 60% purity - closer to what’s needed to make a nuclear weapon - but after the attack on Sunday, experts believe they are unlikely to have the ability to produce one in the near future.

Farmed Animal Welfare

  • The Good Food Institute, along with 60 other nonprofits, trade associations, and companies, requested that Congress fund alternative protein research and development in the FY22 budget.

  • A federal judge in Minnesota invalidated a 2019 Trump-era rule allowing processing plants to slaughter pigs as fast as they want.

  • A federal district court has cleared the way for a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s allegedly dangerous response to outbreaks of bird flu.

Democracy/Voting

  • A new law will enable all formerly incarcerated Washingtonians to vote. Signed into law by the governor in April, it will enfranchise people on probation and parole. Washington is the 20th state to adopt such a law.

  • The House Oversight Committee approved a bill to make DC the nation's 51st state. It's expected to pass in the House, but will fail in the Senate without filibuster reform.

  • The Judicial Act of 2021, which seeks to expand the Supreme Court from 9 justices to 13, was introduced yesterday. It only requires a simple majority to pass in both houses, but it still seems very unlikely to pass, as Speaker Pelosi has stated she will not bring it to a vote in the House. If passed, it would shift the current 6-3 conservative tilt of the court to a 6-7 slight liberal advantage, with large implications for future rulings of the court.

  • Oregon lawmakers struck a deal to give Republican and Democrat lawmakers equal control over redistricting in the state; previously it was under exclusive control of the majority party (Democrats). This could lead to 2-3 seat swing towards Republicans for House races in 2022. With only a 6 seat margin in the House at the moment, this could seriously change the 2022 House race.

Justice Reform

  • The Biden Administration is supporting temporarily extending mandatory minimum drug sentencing enacted during the Trump administration. The extension will require congressional approval to pass.

  • New York adopted a strict law against solitary confinement, as mentioned in our last issue, and my partner wrote a fantastic piece on the law and the fight of activists over the past few years to make it happen.

  • Virginia and New Mexico both enacted marijuanalegalization laws last week. After New York did the same a few weeks ago, they are the 16th and 17th US states (plus DC) to legalize weed. The law will go into effect on July 1 in Virginia, and June 29 in NM (both allowing usage and personal growing). Businesses can begin retail sales in 2024 in Virginia and 2022 in New Mexico. More than 40% of Americans now live in a state where marijuana has been fully legalized.

  • New Mexico ended qualified immunity for state actors (like police officers) - a huge step to actually being able to hold them accountable for misconduct. It’s the third state to do so, after Colorado and Connecticut last year (New York City also passed a similar law last month for police officers).

  • Maryland ended life sentences without parole for people being convicted of crimes when they were minors. Maryland is the 25th state in the country to end these sentences, after Virginia last year and Ohio in January. The law also allows anyone who has served at least 20 years for a crime that occured when they were a minor to petition the court for a sentence reduction - more than 400 people are eligible for resentencing under the new law. Gov Hogan of Maryland has expressed opposition to, and a likely veto of, a bill removes the governor’s role in the parole process for people serving life sentences in prison, saying that it would put too much power in the hands of the Maryland Parole Commission. However it passed with enough of a margin in the legislature that lawmakers can overturn the veto and pass the bill if desired.

Immigration

  • President Biden was limiting the number of refugees admitted this year to 15000, the historically low level previously set by the Trump Administration, breaking his earlier promise to raise the cap to allow 60,000 refugees. About an hour before sending this newsletter, the White House reversed course and said they would announce an increased cap by May 15.

  • Gov Hogan of Maryland has vowed to veto a bill that bans jails from being paid to house immigration detainees, and that limits when local and state government can provide information to immigration authorities. However it passed with enough of a margin in the legislature that lawmakers can overturn the veto and pass the bill if desired.

Tech

  • Virginia introduced the nation's second data privacy law. However, critics say the big tech-backed law doesn't go far enough. With an 70 percent of world’s internet traffic flowing through servers in Virginia, it’s an important state for tech policy. The new law however only impacts Virginia consumers.

Opportunities

Interested in learning more on how to increase your engagement with high-impact U.S. policy? Check out a list of resources on the HIPR website!

Fill out this form or email hello@highimpactpolicy.review with any feedback! And feel free to forward any news that you think should be included in the next edition. If this was forwarded to you, you can subscribe here!

Until next time,

Arushi 📋🖋