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Mississippi Legislature Votes to Remove Confederate Symbol From State Flag

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Mississippi State Flag at the Capitol in Jackson on Thursday, via Rogelio V. Solis & Associated Press
  • Mississippi is one step closer to changing its state flag, which prominently features the Confederate Battle Flag.
  • On Sunday, the legislature voted in favor of a bill that would remove the emblem. The bill is expected to be signed by the Governor in the coming days.
  • Mississippi will design a new flag for voters to decide on in November.
  • However, Mississippi is not the last state with a flag design that draws heavy inspiration from the Confederacy.

Confederate Flag Change

In a landslide vote on Sunday, the Mississippi legislature agreed to change the state’s flag and remove Confederate imagery. The bill is currently on Governor Tate Reeves’ desk, where it is expected to be signed after the Republican governor made it clear that he would sign any bill that changed the flag.

This is the latest event in a long-running cultural shift regarding figures and symbolism from the breakaway state. Since 2010, there has been increasing support to remove statues of Confederate figures. Particularly because many of these statues weren’t built during the Confederacy, but decades afterwards in the 20th century and Civil Rights era to glorify people who are widely considered racist.

Mississippi’s new bill tackles the same debate from another angle. Mississippi in particular has been fighting over the Confederate symbols within their flag for nearly two decades. Their state flag was adopted in 1894 and clearly features what a lot of people call the Confederate Flag. While that symbol was eventually put on later versions of the official Confederate National flag, it didn’t start out like that. It was originally the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Although Mississippi’s soon-to-be old flag is also influenced by the first national flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars.

The first National Flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars

The recent move to change Mississippi’s flag was relatively quick. On June 9, 2020, Mississippi Today reported that lawmakers were starting efforts to draft legislation and gather support for a change. Republican Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn said if his party could get the support of 40 Republican lawmakers, along with the 45 House Democrats, he’d move to suspend House rules and allow for a bill to change the flag to be introduced. 

Nearly twenty days later on June 27, the House passed Concurrent Resolution 79, which suspended rules in the legislative chambers in order to vote and debate on the flag bill. Later that day the Senate followed suit, and debate over changing the flag officially began.

By the next day, House Bill 1796 was passed by the House in a 91-23 vote and in the Senate by 37-14. The bill would require public institutions to remove the state flag within 15-days of the bill being signed.

The bill does more than just remove the current state flag, it also sets up a mechanism to make a new one. The state will set up a commission to design it and it specifically cannot have any Confederate symbolism. It also requires the words “In God We Trust” to be on the flag. Then in November, voters will have a chance to approve the new flag in a referendum.

This isn’t the first time there’s been a push to change the flag. In 2001, there was an attempt to redesign the flag, but 64% of voters said “No” to the change. In 2015, there were multiple attempts after the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, but they all failed to even get out of committee.

Following Sunday’s vote lawmakers like Democratic State Rep. Jeramey Anderson, Moss Point called it “a beautiful moment of unity.”

Following Saturday’s vote that allowed the bill to be introduced, Bertram Hayes-Davis said on CNN the “battle flag has been hijacked” and “does not represent the entire population of Mississippi.”

He continued by saying, “It is historic and heritage-related, there are a lot of people who look at it that way, and God bless them for that heritage. So put it in a museum and honor it there or put it in your house, but the flag of Mississippi should represent the entire population, and I am thrilled that we’re finally going to make that change.”

Hayes-Davis is the great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

More to the Confederacy Than Mississippi

With this recent vote, it seems like one of the most prominent symbols of the Confederacy is finally leaving the South; however, it doesn’t mean that the South won’t be without reminders still. While the Battle Flag has been tied to racist and white nationalist groups, the Confederacy had other flags and symbols that are prominently displayed on other state flags.

Looking at Mississippi’s flag, if the only change was that the Battle Flag is removed from the corner, it’d still just be the Stars and Bars with a slight color change. Although the law specifically states that no Confederate symbols be used.

Mississippi is just the tip of the iceberg though, because multiple Southern flags draw inspiration from the Confederacy.

Alabama’s flag is a red and white St. Andrews cross. That cross isn’t racist on its own, even Scotland uses it as their flag, but it’s a prominent feature of the Battle Flag. Their flag was adopted in 1895, and in 1915 there was confusion over whether it was supposed to be a rectangle or a square.

At the time, the director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History interviewed people who were around when the flag was introduced. He concluded that the flag was intended to “preserve in permanent form some of the more distinctive features of the Confederate battle flag, particularly the St. Andrew’s Cross.”

From that finding, he noted the flag was to be square like the original Battle Flag. In 1987 the state finally changed it to a rectangle.

Florida also prominently features a St. Andrew’s cross, although there is debate over whether its cross is supposed to be a callback to the Confederacy. The flag was adopted in 1900 by their then-governor who served in the Confederate army. It might just be a coincidence that it was adopted during a time where Jim Crow laws were being instituted.

There’s another possibility, though; Florida’s flag may be a callback to the flag of the Vice-royalty of New Spain, which included Florida when the Spanish colonized it.

The flag of the Vice-royalty of New Spain

Another flag with controversial symbolism is Arkansas. It was adopted in 1913 and features a motif that riffs on the colors of the battle flag. The three stars below the state’s name represent France, Spain, and the U.S.

The star on top of the word “Arkansas” represents the Confederacy, but it’s not from the original design. It was added later in the 1920s and reaffirmed by a 1987 signed by then-Governor Bill Clinton.

Tennessee’s may look like it’s inspired by the Battle Flag, with its similar coloration, but there isn’t much historical evidence to suggest that it is based on Confederate symbolism.

North Carolina’s flag is very similar to the flag they adopted after seceding from the Union and was an intentional callback when it was adopted in 1885. It later had its proportions altered in 1991.

North Carolina’s Civil War-era flag, from 1861 to 1885.

Finally, there’s Georgia’s flag. The flag is just the Stars and Bars with the state’s emblem in the corner. Unlike many of the other flags listed, Georgia’s flag is recent, designed in 2003. Before then, the state’s flag, which was adopted in 1956, had a Battle Flag that put Mississippi’s to shame. It took up over two-thirds of the flag.

Georgia’s Flag from 1956-2001. It was adopted to feature Confederate symbolism during the Civil Rights era.

In 2001 the state decided the flag needed to be changed, so they made a new one that featured all of its older flags. In a 2001 survey that ranked all U.S. State and Canadian Provincial flag designs by the North American Vexillological Association, it ranked dead last.

After public outrage, in 2004 the current flag beat the 2001 version in a referendum where over 70% of voters preferred the Stars and Bars.

While the Battle Flag has clear ties to extremist and racist groups, these other symbols of the Confederacy are often ignored.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNN) (CBSNews) (Washington Post)

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Amazon Backs GOP Bill to Legalize Marijuana in Effort to Ramp Up Lobbying

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The proposal is the first Republican-sponsored marijuana bill Amazon has backed since the company first began lobbying for legalization last summer.


Amazon Endorses States Reform Act

Amazon announced Tuesday that it is endorsing a Republican-backed proposal to legalize marijuana.

The move comes as the e-commerce giant has ramped up its efforts to legalize cannabis on the federal level since it came out in support of the idea last summer. Amazon argues that the move would remove hiring barriers — which disproportionately impact people of color — and, in turn, could increase the company’s application pool and boost employee retention.

The company has previously backed similar proposals by forward by Democrats, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time Amazon has put its support behind a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at addressing the issue.

The legislation, called the States Reform Act, was authored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Among other measures, it would remove cannabis as a Schedule I substance, allow states to create their own laws, impose an excise tax, and regulate the drug in a similar fashion to alcohol.

While Mace’s bill is fundamentally very similar to others put forth by Democrats, by proposing it herself, the Republican hopes to rally other members of her party around the idea that legalization is pro-business, pro-state’s rights, and anti-big government.

The measure has already received support from the highly influential conservative group, American’s for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch brothers.

Potential Momentum

Mace and Amazon have painted the company’s endorsement as a game-changer for garnering more support — both from other large corporations and politicians on either side of the aisle. Mace specifically told reporters she believes Amazon’s decision will push other companies to do the same. If more major corporations like Amazon back the effort, other Republicans may be more persuaded to jump on board.

That sentiment was echoed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, who said in an interview with The Washington Post that the company was “particularly excited by Congresswoman Mace’s bill because it shows that there’s bipartisan support for this issue.”

Huseman also emphasized that, as part of its decision to back her bill, Amazon will use its powerful influence in Washington to try and drum up bipartisan support.

“We are talking with members of both parties, including Republicans, about why we think this is the right thing to do, especially from the standpoint of a major employer and what this means for our business and our employees and broadening the employee base,” he continued.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (Marijuana Moment)

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CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron

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Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.


A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron

COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.

The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.

One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week. 

In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.

Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization. 

By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.

Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.

Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates

Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.

Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection. 

The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.

While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.

Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.

Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent

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Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19. 


State Senator Proposes Legislation

Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California. 

“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”

“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”

Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians. 

Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.

“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”

Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15. 

Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.

In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.” 

In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate. 

The Fight to Vaccinate California

This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”

“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”

While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail. 

“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News) (Sacramento Bee)

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