REPUBLICANS PUSH BILLS TO INCREASE SPECTATORS AT SPORTING EVENTS: High schools and colleges would be allowed to fill up their stands to half capacity during the coronavirus pandemic under a bill approved Wednesday by the state House. The state Senate has passed its own bill expanding capacity at school events. And both Republican-controlled chambers are pushing ahead with separate legislation that could bypass the Democratic governor. The House voted 77-42 to allow up to 50% capacity at indoor and outdoor sporting events and graduations at UNC System schools, community colleges and K-12 schools. The bill comes after Gov. Roy Cooper recently eased COVID-19 restrictions to allow up to 15% capacity at indoor venues and 30% capacity at outdoor venues.
THE VETO GARAGE IS BACK, NO SCHEDULE FOR 2ND VETO OVERRIDE VOTE ON SCHOOLS BILL: The North Carolina Senate brought back to life Wednesday legislation meant to force more school systems to hold in-person classes. Now it's a waiting game for the next step: A second attempt to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of the bill. That effort, backed by Republicans who hold the majority at the General Assembly, fell one vote shy Monday. But one potential vote was missing: Sen. Ben Clark's. Clark, D-Hoke, was the measure's lone Democratic sponsor and one of three Democrats who voted for the bill as it first wound its way through the legislature. He was absent when the veto override came up Monday evening, later telling The Associated Press he had to work. Republican leaders called him out for the absence by moving for "reconsideration," a parliamentary move that amounts to a re-do. When that re-do may come remains to be seen. Nothing was announced Wednesday. Senate rules require 24 hours' notice on an override vote, and the legislature isn't slated to meet Friday, so next week is the likeliest window.
ACTIVISTS HOPE TO SEE ACTION IN THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON CASH BAIL REFORM: "People can be poor and remain in jail or have money and be released from jail," Powers said. "It is the criminalization of poverty. People are remaining in jail because they are poor. The only difference is if they have money or not. You can be innocent and poor and remain in jail longer than if you are rich and guilty." While the governor may have the ability to pass some of the suggested policy prescriptions, others like bail reform will likely have to go through the General Assembly. Not all lawmakers are as dedicated to criminal justice reform as others, but some lawmakers are hopeful. "There are growing calls from leaders across NC, including the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (TREC), to modify our cash bail practices by eliminating cash bail for certain classes of misdemeanors unless they pose a risk to public safety," Rep. Ricky Hurtado said. "I know criminal justice reform has received bipartisan support in the past and it is my hope we can continue working together to improve our accountability practices across the state."
U.S. HOUSE PASSES COMPREHENSIVE VOTING RIGHTS BILL: The House late Wednesday night passed expansive legislation to create uniform national voting standards, overhaul campaign finance laws and outlaw partisan redistricting, advancing a centerpiece of the Democratic voting rights agenda amid fierce Republican attacks that threaten to stop it cold in the Senate. The bill, titled the “For the People Act,” was given the symbolic designation of H.R. 1 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and it largely mirrors a bill passed two years ago in the early weeks of the House Democratic majority. This year, however, the bill has taken on additional significance because of the new Democratic majority in the Senate and President Biden’s November win, as well as the efforts underway in dozens of Republican-controlled state legislatures to roll back voting access in reaction to former president Donald Trump’s loss and his subsequent campaign to question the election results. “The right to vote is under attack,” said Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.). “Voter suppression is alive and well. Old battles have become new again. The legacy of the foot soldiers like John Lewis requires that we pick up that baton — the baton of voter access, the baton of voter equality — and we continue the next leg. Their cause is now our cause, too.” The bill’s voting provisions would guarantee no-excuse mail voting and at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections; require states to use their existing government records to automatically register citizens to vote; restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences; and mandate the use of paper ballots.
CAPITOL ON HIGH ALERT OVER QANON CONSPIRACY TRUMP WILL BE SWORN IN TODAY AFTER COUP: The Capitol Police force is preparing for another assault on the Capitol building on Thursday after obtaining intelligence of a potential plot by a militia group, just two months after a mob of Trump loyalists and extremists attacked the building, leaving five dead and hundreds injured. Leaving nothing to chance, House leaders on Wednesday abruptly moved a vote on policing legislation from Thursday to Wednesday night, so lawmakers could leave town, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the planning. The “possible” plot, as described by the Capitol Police, appeared to be inspired by the pro-Trump conspiracy theory known as QAnon, according to a senior administration official who reviewed the intelligence warning. Intelligence analysts had spent weeks tracking online chatter by some QAnon adherents who have latched on to March 4 — the original inauguration date set in the Constitution — as the day Donald J. Trump would be restored to the presidency and renew his crusade against America’s enemies. Skittish lawmakers, many still rattled by the January attack that sent them fleeing, were given plenty of warning this time. Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police, told lawmakers on Wednesday that the agency had received “concerning” intelligence about possible threats against the Capitol on March 4, adding that threats against lawmakers were “through the roof.” The Capitol Police later sent an alert to lawmakers warning that the force was “monitoring various reports referencing potential First Amendment activities from March 4 to March 6.” Melissa Smislova, the acting under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence branch, told senators on Wednesday that the department and the F.B.I. had the night before issued an intelligence bulletin about “extremists discussing March 4 and March 6.”