Hello fellow Kentuckians and other friends! This week in the newsletter, Jazmin and Robert both looked at two topics each: Jazmin explained a court case where Daniel Cameron's office won an initial ruling against the federal government's vaccine mandates, and she looked at two stories about Louisville's West End. Robert wrote about the most recent news regarding redistricting and the strategic implications to both parties, as well as a COVID update.
Over the past three weeks, we've had different candidates for Louisville Mayor on the show – we will have more in the future, but if you missed any of Shameka Parrish-Wright, Carla Dearing, or Tim Findley, be sure to listen up!
Redistricting update - Robert
We’ve talked about redistricting several times recently. Many states have wrapped up their state maps, but Kentucky requires the legislature to pass redistricting maps during a legislative session.
Republicans control the legislature with a veto proof majority, and therefore have total control over the process. Their maps will pass over any objections from Democrats so long as their caucus holds together.
- Earlier speculation had made it seem like some of the compromises that needed to be made were going to cause the process to be delayed by a year. Eastern and Western Kentucky stand to lose a significant number of seats, and all but a few seats in those regions are held by Republicans. Determining who would lose their seats is tough.
Reporting from the Herald-Leader earlier this week quoted David Osborne (Speaker of the House) and Damon Thayer (Majority Leader in the Senate) who said they were “very close” to having their maps completed. Similar to the recent past, Republicans said they hoped to have a special session to pass the maps.
On November 30th, Senate President Robert Stivers weighed in, saying that the legislature would pass maps in the regular session. Asked why a special session wasn’t going to happen, Stivers said that Gov. Beshear asked to see the maps before calling a special session. His response, according to WFPL: “It is not his role to set policy. It is ours. And where the districts are is our prerogative. And he can either veto it or not. If he does in the regular session we’ll override.” Joe Sonka of the Courier-Journal tweeted that Stivers thought that seeing the maps was an unreasonable request.
- There is a lot to chew on here. The 2020 legislative session was full of complaints by the legislature that the Governor was using too much of his power and that the legislature needed to be included in many of the decisions that the Governor was making. Given Stivers’ response about the delineation of “roles” in redistricting, it’s clear that everything he said in 2020 was just rhetoric.
- However, Stivers is not wrong, and the legislature certainly has the right to pass maps without the Governor’s input – they just can’t do it with a special session. So, the upshot is that now Democrats don’t know where the districts are, while Republicans do.
Robert Stivers also said that the filing deadline would be moved back (as it stands, the filing deadline is just days after the legislative session starts). However, he said it would only be moved back “just for a short period of time.”
- This puts Republicans at a significant advantage, as they know who is eligible to run in which districts. Democrats have been working hard on recruitment this cycle, but it’s highly possible that multiple candidates they’ve convinced to run might be in the same (new) district.
This whole process is way too political and is rife with the worst kind of gamesmanship. This is the way it’s been done in the past by both Republicans and Democrats, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good system – it’s clearly very bad. It should be reformed, but without a federal mandate, it probably won’t be.
Judge blocks part of the federal vaccine mandate - Jazmin
On Tuesday, Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove issued an opinion granting Daniel Cameron’s request for a preliminary injunction to block Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors.
Van Tatenhove is an Eastern District of Kentucky judge who was appointed by George W. Bush. He also issued the ruling about in-person worship in 2020.
“This is not a case about whether vaccines are effective. They are. … Nor is this a case about whether the government, at some level, and in some circumstances, can require citizens to obtain vaccines. It can.”
The holding: “Can the president use congressionally delegated authority to manage the federal procurement of goods and services to impose vaccines on the employees of federal contractors and subcontractors? In all likelihood, the answer to that question is no.”
Van Tatenhove took issue with Biden’s use of the procurement statute to require vaccines for employees of federal contractors.
- “If a vaccination mandate has a close enough nexus to economy and efficiency in federal procurement, then the statute could be used to enact virtually any measure at the president’s whim under the guise of economy and efficiency.”
The injunction applies to Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, but shortly after the E.D.Ky ruling, a Louisiana judge issued a nationwide injunction for certain healthcare workers.
- In November, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued an interim final rule (IFR) mandating vaccines for Medicare and Medicaid certified providers and the Louisiana court issued an injunction to block that rule. Cameron also joined that suit.
- The Fifth Circuit has also blocked the OSHA mandate. Several challenges to the OSHA mandate will be heard by the 6th Circuit (our Circuit), which leans conservative. When there are several federal lawsuits with common questions of fact, they are consolidated into one petition and they draw the court at random.
Louisville West End TIF/Waterfront Park - Jazmin
The Courier Journal did a piece about the West End TIF and its proponents and opponents.
- 300 people have signed a #StopTheTIF petition.
- Many fear the TIF will let rich developers use tax dollars to more cheaply and easily build homes and rental properties that will drive up the value of the property and force people out of their homes. Though the bill contained some protection for homeowners, there is no protection for renters.
- Sen. Gerald Neal, who helped craft the legislation, has said that protections for renters couldn’t be done as part of the bill but there are things that can be done to keep renters in their homes, like creating pathways to homeownership.
- Sen. Neal and Rep. Pamela Stevenson have been holding twice-weekly conference meetings to discuss the partnership and the TIF.
- Shameka Parrish-Wright and Councilman Jecorey Arthur have both signed the petition opposing the TIF.
Beshear proposes extending the Waterfront to the West End
- On Tuesday, the Governor held a press conference in Louisville where he proposed budgeting $10 million over two years to extend Waterfront Park to the West End. The expansion would cost a total of $50 million.
- His budget has to be approved by the Republican General Assembly.
COVID - Robert
Since last week was a holiday, it’s really hard to say how accurate the data was for COVID. If we take the data at face value, it’s good. Cases were down, and deaths were down. But, it’s likely that there were some reporting anomalies last week. Other signs point to a scarier situation.
The 7-day and 14-day case averages are down from last week, but show signs of coming back up. The positivity rate, though, has been going up quite a bit. I looked into that, and it looks like the reason for that is due to a collapse in PCR testing.
- While the positivity rate fluctuates up and down a bit, the number of tests and the number of positive cases usually move together. That wasn’t true last week, when we saw a drop of almost 20,000 in our 7 day testing average (a drop of 20%).
- I have no idea what is behind that – it could be a holiday thing, a reporting thing, or maybe a growth in the use of rapid tests. But, the connection between the data points that make up the positivity rate has broken down, making it potentially a less reliable data point.
There are 44 orange counties and 3 counties in the yellow zone. (Orange: 10-25 cases/100K population, yellow: 1-10). That’s less red than last week, which is good.
- As of Tuesday, Louisville was showing up as red on the state’s map. On the city’s data portal, last week was an “orange” week, with about 1300 cases. That’s better than the past two weeks, but only slightly. For the past 4 weeks, Louisville has seen between 1300 and 1600 cases. However, deaths remain quite low, there have been 21 total deaths over the past *month* in Jefferson County, and there was one *week* in October with that many deaths. It’s great if we can continue to decouple deaths from cases.
- Lexington also remains in a plateau, but their rate is lower than Louisville’s – Fayette County is solidly in the “orange” zone while Louisville fluctuates between orange and red.
Vaccinations fell substantially last week. It could be that all the data from the holiday week is quirky and that vaccinations will go back up, or it could be that all the 5-12 year old children with parents who were eager to get their kids vaccinated have now done so. Our 14-day average is now at 4300 (the 7-day average is almost 1000 less than that). Kentucky’s vaccination rate is again above 60%.
Unfortunately, our hospitalization rate went up substantially last week. We are climbing pretty rapidly, too. We are at a 7-day average of 975 hospitalizations, up from a recent minimum of 758 (almost a 30% increase). We are still way below the high we saw a few months ago (2,616) but big increases are not good.
The omicron variant is freaking everybody out, but it is not here yet. It will be soon, but it’s important to remember that we don’t know much about it yet. It’s concerning but there is nothing we can do right now except watch and wait for more data and information. And do our best to stay safe.
With the holidays impacting us, it was a weird week for COVID. Hopefully the data settles down, and people keep getting vaccinated and boosted.
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