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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Vows To Ban “Vaccine Passports” in the State

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  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has promised to issue a statewide ban on “vaccine passports” — digital or physical proof of COVID-19 vaccination that would allow people to travel, enter businesses, attend events, and more. 
  • His declaration comes amid reports that President Biden is working with the private sector to develop the passports, though administration officials later clarified that the federal government was just providing guidance, not creating a system.
  • Many people took to social media to condemn the idea, arguing it would violate personal freedoms and privacy.  
  • Others also falsely claimed the passports would violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), causing misinformation to spread online.

DeSantis to Ban “Vaccine Passports”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced on Monday that he will take executive action to prohibit so-called “vaccine passports” in his state.

The announcement comes amid news that the Biden administration is working with the private sector to develop the “passports,” which are standardized credentials that would let people carry proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and allow them to travel or access services that have otherwise been shut down or limited.

Vaccine passports are by no means a new idea. For decades, many parts of the world have required international travelers to provide proof they have been vaccinated against certain diseases and viruses.

Already, a number of similar ideas have been rolled out during the pandemic. This month, the European Union announced plans for a “digital green certificate” which would create a digital system — like a smartphone app — to prove vaccinations, negative tests, or recovery from the virus.

IBM is also working with New York state to implement a similar program using blockchain, and Walmart has backed the idea of certificates as well.

Numerous Republican leaders have condemned the idea, a trend that has grown in recent days since the news of President Joe Biden’s involvement.

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply participate in normal society,” DeSantis said Monday, adding that he believes people “have certain freedoms and individual liberties.”

On Monday, Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to the White House coronavirus team, said that the federal government is not “viewing its role as the place to create a passport, nor a place to hold the data of citizens,” but rather that it will just provide guidance to the private sector.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that Biden shared that sentiment.

HIPAA Trends on Twitter as Misinformation Spreads

Still, other prominent conservative figures have echoed DeSantis’ arguments on social media in recent days.

Some, like former Republican Congressional candidate Chris Bish, falsely claimed on Twitter that vaccine passports would violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the federal statute that prohibits doctors, hospitals, health insurers, and other medical institutions from sharing personal medical information with third parties.

“HIPAA and Vaccine Passports don’t really seem to be able to coexist,” she tweeted. “Am I the only one who still remembers HIPAA?”

Her post prompted misinformation to spread across the platform and pushed “HIPAA” to become a trending topic as other users debunked her claims.

“Wait until y’all find out what Hipaa has always had clauses for public health emergencies,” the top response on her tweet reads. “Wait until you find out people have been having to show their kid’s vaccine cards for 30 years to register them for school. Wait until you find out about employment based Heath screenings.”

Additionally, as The Washington Post points out, HIPAA only applies to doctors and medical institutions. The Biden administration’s plan would give people their own immunization records either digitally (likely through an app) or on paper, which they could then be asked to share to travel or gain access to certain places.

“Under that scenario, HIPAA wouldn’t be relevant because it has to do with people sharing their own medical information,” The Post added.

Legitimate Concerns

However, as The Post also noted, these facts do not negate other legitimate concerns about vaccine passports.

Many experts also worry about possible privacy issues that would come from third-parties accessing this information.

“Ideally I think the goal would be an individual can take their digital card and be responsible for who they share that information with,” Rebecca Coyle, the executive director of the American Immunization Registry Association told the outlet. “I get nervous when I think about immunization data flowing to any third party entities outside the medical space.”

Others have also noted that there are many significant logistical challenges for vaccine passports to be broadly implemented at all. 

Experts have said that in order for the passports to be widely usable, there would need to be standards for the information that is kept, users would need to be convinced to use the same app or set of apps, and those without smartphones would need to be given alternative methods.

Still, according to The Post, there are at least 17 passport initiatives currently underway, which, if implemented will likely be closely watched as litmus tests for broader policy action.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Insider) (CNBC)

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NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud

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The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.


New York Attorney General’s Filing

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”

The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.

The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage. 

The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.

That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.

In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.

While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.

Alleged Direct Involvement

The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.

The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations. 

According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.” 

Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.

While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.

It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.

Response

Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.

“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”

As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”

Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win

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The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.


New Maps Upheld

A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.

Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.

The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.

The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.

In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”

Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.

Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution. 

The Path Ahead

While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.

There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.

A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month

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The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.


New At-Home Testing Policy

The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.

Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.

The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months. 

According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance. 

Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.

Potential Exemptions

All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased. 

In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.

As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.

If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.

During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”

“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.

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

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