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Massachusetts could miss out on same-day voter registration if House leaders get their way

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Massachusetts could miss out on same-day voter registration if House leaders get their way

House lawmakers have teed up debate on a voting rights reform bill that would permanently expand early voting opportunities and make voting-by-mail a standard option in future elections, but excludes same-day registration provisions already approved by the state Senate.

“We’ll listen to the debate and see if someone changes my mind,” House Speaker Ron Mariano said on Monday, when asked if he would support same-day registration. The Quincy Democrat previously voted against the provision last year when it was offered unsuccessfully as an amendment to a broader COVID-19 relief bill.

House members will debate the so-called VOTES Act on Thursday. Unless same-day registration is included, it sets up a showdown with Senate, which in October passed it’s own version of the bill intended to enshrine into law popular changes in voting rules made to minimize health risks amid the pandemic.

While the decision to leave out same-day voter registration puts them at odds with their colleagues in the Senate, it could be a strategy to avoid a potential veto on the larger voting rights expansion package from Gov. Charlie Baker.

The outgoing Republican governor last year knocked “the complexity” of the provision.

But U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who represents parts of Boston, weighed in saying she’s “deeply disappointed” that the House bill excluded same-day voter registration and urged House lawmakers to “swiftly reverse course.”

“Same-day registration is critical to boosting voter turnout, especially among Black, brown, low-income, and immigrant communities, and arbitrary voter registration deadlines should not be a barrier to exercising the right to vote,” Pressley said in a statement.

There’s still a chance House lawmakers could slip same-day registration into the bill via an amendment. Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton had already filed a same-day registration amendment by Wednesday afternoon. And 84 House members co-sponsored the original VOTES Act filed by Rep. John Lawn, of Watertown, which included same-day registration.

“We have talked to so many legislators over the past few days and same-day registration is still so popular, so we are excited about working with many members of the House on an amendment,” said Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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Here’s the $8 billion worth of topics where Minnesota lawmakers need to find common ground

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Here’s the $8 billion worth of topics where Minnesota lawmakers need to find common ground

Minnesota lawmakers need to act fast to find $8 billion worth of bipartisan compromises after leading lawmakers announced a supplemental budget framework Monday.

Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller and House Speaker Melissa Hortman set broad parameters on how lawmakers can spend $8 billion over the next three years. But they left most of the details to members of bipartisan joint committees formed after the House and Senate approved starting positions over the last few weeks.

If the leaders of these so-called conference committees get stuck — on how to allocate money for tax cuts, education, health and human services, public safety, infrastructure projects and other spending — legislative leaders will step in.

“It is going to be tough work. It is going to be around the clock up here,” Walz said at a Monday morning news conference on the Capitol lawn. “They are going to have to reach some compromises.”

In past years, top lawmakers have faced criticism for making last minute budget decisions behind closed doors. Leaders suggested this year the process would be more transparent.

“I don’t think anybody wants just three or four people making these final decisions,” said Sen. Miller, R-Winona. “We’ve heard that loud and clear. We set the framework with some high-level parameters for the conference committees.”

Top Democrats and Republicans both demurred when asked about further specifics of the deal they struck over the weekend and announced Monday. The new spending comes from a $9.25 billion budget surplus and future tax collections that are expected to remain above government forecasts.

“We have people on these conference committees who are subject matter experts,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “They know what can move around in bills to accommodate as many priorities as possible.”

Miller added that lawmakers should: “focus on the areas of agreement. There is not much time to get this done before the end of session.”

Time is a significant hurdle, lawmakers say the more complex bills will need to be agreed to by Wednesday in order for the Office of the Revisor to draft and check legislation.

It’s important to note that, despite the sweeping deal, the state budget doesn’t have to change. The current spending plan expires June 2023.

Here are the top issues included in Monday’s deal:

TAXES

The historic $9.25 billion budget surplus announced earlier this year is mostly due to larger than expected income, corporate and sales taxes. Tax collections also continue to come in higher than forecast, but there is significant caution about the state of the economy.

The budget deal allocates $4 billion for tax reductions over the next three years with $1.4 billion spent next year and $2.4 billion in the 2023-24 budget. That suggests the ongoing impact would lower revenues by about $1.2 billion a year going forward.

Republicans want to cut the first tier income tax that now stands at 5.35 percent. Democrats want credits and write-offs for low- and middle-income families and Walz has pushed for rebate checks to taxpayers.

Both parties support lowering taxes on Social Security benefits.

EDUCATION

School spending will grow by $1 billion over the next three years under the agreement. The commitment comes after lawmakers increased the education budget by about $1 billion last year.

Democrats have pushed for spending new money on student supports with a big focus on mental health. Many students continue to struggle after two years of the coronavirus pandemic — when schools faced closures and many were forced to learn remotely.

Republicans say they want to focus on improving student literacy. They fear the state is losing ground after recent proficiency tests showed a little more than half of students met reading standards.

School districts have lobbied lawmakers for years to increase funding for special education services, which are mandated by the state and federal government, but not fully funded. They’ve also asked for more money for student supports, including for those learning English.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Lawmakers committed $450 million over the next three years in new spending for public safety and the judiciary.

There’s already bipartisan support for pay raises for court workers and public defenders. Lawmakers also want to spend money on recruiting and retaining police officers and to help departments purchase body cameras.

Big differences remain on how to make policing more equitable and how respond to rising crime rates. Republicans want stiffer penalties, while Democrats think solutions need to address root causes of crime.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

About $1 billion of the budget surplus will be used over the next three years to continue the state’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Minnesota faces a dire staffing crisis of both medical workers and workers in long-term care.

Both Democrats and Republicans have proposed using state money to raise the wages of long-term care workers, personal care attendants and those who care for people with disabilities.

Long-term care advocates said last week there are more than 23,000 open positions statewide. About 40 nursing homes and 400 assisted living facilities risk closure if their financial situations do not improve.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Walz and legislative leaders have agreed to spend $1.5 billion on capital improvement projects under the budget bill, but so far they haven’t said what projects they will fund. About $1.4 billion will be in state borrowing and $150 million will come from the surplus.

The agreed-to amount would only cover about one-fourth of the $5.5 billion that state agencies and cities, counties and townships requested this year. Walz proposed a $2.7 billion package of land and building improvements in January.

Neither the House nor the Senate has unveiled what is commonly called a “bonding bill” so far this year.

House Capital Investment Committee Chair Fue Lee of Minneapolis said House DFLers could support an even more “robust” public infrastructure bill than Walz proposed, but Senate bonding committee Chair Tom Bakk, an independent from Cook, said he plans to focus on repairing and maintaining the state’s existing buildings and lands. “Let’s fix what we own,” he said, not new buildings.

For local governments, Bakk said he favors funding sewer and water projects, and roads and bridges.

OTHER SPENDING

About $1.3 billion of the budget deal will go toward other supplemental spending over the next three years. Legislative leaders did not provide specifics on how that money would be allocated.

There are a long list of priorities debated during this legislative session that were not mentioned by top lawmakers Monday when they laid out their plans. They include things like paid leave, lowering health care costs, aid for farmers, environmental protections and others.

The plans also leave a significant amount on the bottom-line for the next Legislature to allocate. State officials project a $4 billion surplus during the 2023-24 biennium if tax collections continue to outpace estimates.

Time is short to find agreement on the details of the deal announced Monday. The Legislature must adjourn next Monday and Walz has said he doesn’t want to call lawmakers back for a special session.

The Democratic governor expressed optimism the work could get done in the time allowed, but acknowledged there would be “some hard decisions.”

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US reaches deal to reopen shuttered baby formula plant

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US reaches deal to reopen shuttered baby formula plant

By ZEKE MILLER and MATTHEW PERRONE

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials on Monday reached an agreement to allow baby formula maker Abbott to restart its largest domestic factory, though it will be two months or more before any new products ship from the site to help alleviate the national shortage facing parents.

Under the agreement, Abbott must work with outside experts to upgrade its standards and reduce bacterial contamination at the Sturgis, Michigan, facility, which the Food and Drug Administration has been investigating since early this year. The deal, which must be reviewed by a federal judge, amounts to a legally binding agreement between the FDA and the company on steps needed to reopen the factory.

The agreement was filed in court by the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the FDA.

After production resumes, Abbott said it will take eight to ten weeks before new products begin arriving in stores. The company didn’t set a timeline to restart manufacturing, which must be cleared with the FDA.

The FDA is expected to announce additional steps Monday evening to allow more foreign imports into the U.S. to address the supply problems. It comes as the administration of President Joe Biden faces intense pressure to do more to ease the shortage that has left many parents hunting for formula online or at food banks.

Abbott’s plant came under scrutiny in January when the FDA began investigating four bacterial infections among infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant. Two of the babies died.

In February, the company halted production and recalled several brands of powdered formula, squeezing supplies that had already been tightened by supply chain disruptions and stockpiling during COVID-19. The shortage has led retailers like CVS and Walgreen’s to limit how many containers customers can purchase per visit.

Outrage over the issue has quickly snowballed and handed Republicans a fresh talking point to use against Biden ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Abbott is one of just four companies that produce roughly 90% of U.S. formula, and its brands account for nearly half that market.

After a six-week inspection, FDA investigators published a list of problems in March, including lax safety and sanitary standards and a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant.

Chicago-based Abbott has emphasized that its products have not been directly linked to the bacterial infections in children. Samples of the bacteria found at its plant did not match the strains collected from the babies by federal investigators. The company has repeatedly stated it is ready to resume manufacturing, pending an FDA decision.

Former FDA officials say fixing the type of problems uncovered at Abbott’s plant takes time, and infant formula facilities receive more scrutiny than other food facilities. Companies need to exhaustively clean the facility and equipment, retrain staff, repeatedly test and document there is no contamination.

On Monday, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told ABC News that an announcement was forthcoming about importing baby formula from abroad. The key issue is making sure the instructions for the formula are in languages that mothers and caregivers can understand, he noted.

Pediatricians say baby formulas produced in Canada and Europe are roughly equivalent to those in the U.S. But traditionally, 98% of the infant formula supply in the U.S. is made domestically. Companies seeking to enter the U.S. face several major hurdles, including rigorous research and manufacturing standards imposed by the FDA.

San Diego father Steven Hyde has faced heart-wrenching challenges finding formula for his medical fragile daughter, who was on an Abbott formula but has had to switch with the recall and subsequent shortages in other brands.

Zoie Hyde was born 19 months ago with no kidneys, a rare life-threatening condition that requires dialysis and a feeding tube until she weighs enough for a kidney transplant.

Hyde said he used an organic brand from overseas until costs and customs hurdles made that too difficult. Friends and strangers from out of state have sent him other brands, but each time she switches requires more blood tests and monitoring, Davis said.

Despite her challenges, Zoie is walking, talking and “doing pretty good’ on other developmental milestones, Davis said.

“She’s a shining light in my life,’ he said.

___

AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner contributed to this story from Three Oaks, Michigan.

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Why Elon Musk Is Having Second Thoughts About Buying Twitter, According to a Top Tesla Analyst

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Why Elon Musk Is Having Second Thoughts About Buying Twitter, According to a Top Tesla Analyst

Why Elon Musk Is Having Second Thoughts About Buying Twitter

Elon Musk says his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter is temporarily on hold because he is investigating how many of the platform’s users are real. It’s possible the world’s richest man didn’t conduct proper due diligence before submitting his offer. Or perhaps he’s having second thoughts about buying Twitter and looking for an excuse to back out.

The takeover, which has involved multiple investment banks and more than a dozen co-investors, now has a less than 50 percent chance of going through, according to Dan Ives, a Wedbush Securities analyst known for his coverage of Tesla stock.

“Our view is while Musk is committed to the deal, the massive pressure on Tesla’s stock since the deal, a changing stock market/risk environment the last month, and a number of other financing factors has caused Musk to get ‘cold feet’ on the Twitter deal,” Ives’ team wrote in a note to clients on May 16.

Ives added that the proportion of spam account on Twitter, which Musk claims is slowing down the deal, is “not a new issue and likely more of a scapegoat to push for a lower price.”

Under Musk’s agreement with Twitter, he will have to pay $1 billion in breakup fee if the deal falls apart.

Pushing for a lower price might be necessary, given Musk’s struggle finding the money to pay for the deal.

Tesla’s falling share prices complicates Musk’s plans

Musk has said he plans to sell $21 billion worth of his Tesla stock to fund the Twitter purchase. Tesla’s share price has fallen sharply in recent weeks, meaning that he would have to sell a lot more shares than he initially wanted to get the cash.

Tesla’s share price is down 28 percent since the acquisition was announced on April 24. The anticipation of Musk’s heavy unloading of his shares, Tesla’s manufacturing turmoil in China, and a broad market selloff all contributed to Tesla’s decline.

Yet Musk is pointing at Twitter for pausing the deal. He suspects bot accounts make up a bigger portion of Twitter users than the less than 5 percent claimed by the company. Since Musk said removing bot accounts is a key goal once he owns Twitter, he won’t move forward until he has definitive information about its user makeup.

The exact number of bot accounts is something that can only be calculated internally because it requires the use of private user information, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal explained in a series of tweets on May 16.

“We don’t believe that this specific estimation can be performed externally,” Agrawal wrote in one of the tweets, adding that, without private data such as geolocation and IP addresses, it’s not even possible to know which accounts are counted as daily active users.

Musk dismissed Agrawal’s arguments by replying with a turd emoji. In a text response later, he suggested bot information should be at least available to Twitter’s advertisers. “So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter,” Musk tweeted.

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