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WECA Political Update November 11, 2021

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Reapportionment Blues Preliminary visualizations for California’s new congressional districts would put Central Valley Reps. Devin Nunes and Josh Harder in more challenging elections in 2022 for their seats in the United States House of Representatives, experts say. The visualizations, released last Wednesday, are the first time viewers could see the puzzle pieces of various legislative districts put together. Drafts will change multiple times over the next couple of months before the nonpartisan commission charged with making them sends a final one to California’s secretary of state for certification. Redistricting, the process by which legislative boundaries are redrawn following population shifts revealed by the Census, can alter the makeup of voter preferences in an area. California lost one seat in the U.S. House because of sluggish population growth, dropping its legislative delegation to 52. Story

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act The House passed the President’s Infrastructure proposal. Here is what it may mean for California.

·        Highways and Bridges Based on formula funding alone, California would expect to receive $25.3 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $4.2 billion for bridge replacement and repairs over five years.
·        Transit Based on formula funding alone, California would expect to receive $9.45 billion over five years under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to improve public transportation options across the state. 
·        Electric Charging Stations California would expect to receive $384 million over five years to support the expansion of an EV charging network in the state. California also could apply for the $2.5 billion in grant funding dedicated to electric vehicle charging.
·        Broadband California should receive a minimum allocation of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 545,000 Californians who currently lack it.
·        Wildfires and Cyberattacks Based on historical formula funding levels, California will expect to receive $84 million over five years to protect against wildfires and $40 million to protect against cyberattacks.
·        Drinking Water Based on the traditional state revolving fund formula, California will expect to receive $3.5 billion over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is available in all communities. 
·        Airports in California could receive approximately $1.5 billion for infrastructure development for airports over five years. 
Court Blocks Vaccine Rule: A federal court in Louisiana has blocked the Biden administration’s newly issued emergency mandate that private-sector workers at businesses with more than 100 employees get vaccinated against Covid-19 or be tested weekly according to POLITICO. More than two dozen states have filed multiple legal challenges in federal court against the Biden administration’s vaccinate-or-test mandate for private businesses, arguing that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t have the authority to issue the requirements. The four lawsuits were filed by groups of 26 states in the 8th Circuit, 11th Circuit, 6th Circuit and 5th Circuit over the past few days. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Sunday defended the regulation post-ruling. Citing historical precedents dating back to George Washington during the American Revolution, Murthy said Biden had faith in both the legality of the mandate and the effectiveness of such requirements. The small business group Job Creators Network, as well as the Republican National Committee, have also said they plan to file lawsuits.

The Biden administration yesterday urged the court not to block the coronavirus vaccine mandate for large employers. The administration argued that blocking the mandate now was “premature,” given that its major deadlines are still at least a month away. But it also said that a delay in imposing the new rule “would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.” The plaintiffs’ case: OSHA overstepped its bounds as a regulatory agency, the challengers argued. The vaccine mandate is “a quintessential legislative act — and one wholly unrelated to the purpose of OSHA itself, which is protecting workplace safety,” according to the suit. “Nowhere in OSHA’s enabling legislation does Congress confer upon it the power to end pandemics.”

The administration’s response: The federal government has the authority to pass an “emergency temporary standard” under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, provided it can show that workers are exposed to a “grave danger” and that the rule is necessary. In its submission to the court, the administration argued that the coronavirus is a “workplace hazard,” since “employees gather in one place and interact, thus risking workplace transmission of a highly contagious virus.”

The historical precedent: The last time OSHA issued an emergency standard was in 1983, to lower the permissible legal level of asbestos exposure. The Fifth Circuit knocked it down as unnecessary, but, importantly, held that judges should not question OSHA’s authority to label asbestos a “grave danger.” In doing so, “the court intimated that hazards much less dangerous than Covid-19 could be deemed a grave danger,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

What happens next? If the Fifth Circuit grants a permanent stay, the Justice Department could appeal to the Supreme Court, which has so far acted in favor of vaccine mandates. Trade groups like the National Retail Federation have argued that the administration is moving too quickly — they are asking to push the mandate deadlines further beyond the holiday shopping season. Drawn-out legal challenges, even if unsuccessful, could achieve this. The White House, for its part, is urging companies to adopt mandates now, as they have proven effective at convincing the hesitant to get vaccinated. Both sides agree, then, that timing is crucial.

But Construction Dive urges caution here Should employers wait out OSHA's vaccine mandate? 'If you're a gambler.'
EEOC Updates Rules Regarding The Religious Exemption From Mandatory COVID Vaccination On October 25 and 28, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its technical assistance manual to address how the federal anti-discrimination law applies when an applicant or employee requests an exception from an employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement because of their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. Key updates to the EEOC’s technical assistance include that employees and applicants must inform their employers if they seek an exception to an employer’s mandatory vaccine requirement, employers must consider requests for religious accommodations, but need not consider the requestor’s social, political, economic views, or personal preferences, and employers that demonstrate “undue hardship” are not required to accommodate a request for a religious accommodation. Story 

We’re taking a break – please watch for our Political Update Bulletin to resume on December 9. Happy Thanksgiving!