Medicaid expansion group loses ballot timeline challenge

Medicaid expansion group loses ballot timeline challenge

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By STEPHEN GROVES

Associated Press

Thursday, May 6, 2021

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) – The South Dakota Supreme Court has rejected an effort by Medicaid supporters to challenge a constitutional amendment that would make it more difficult to expand the federal program to more people in need.

The ruling Wednesday is the latest setback for the Medicaid expansion group, Dakotans for Health, in a series of back-and-forth tussles with the Legislature. The group wants South Dakota voters to pass a constitutional amendment in November 2022 to make Medicaid health insurance available to people who live below 133% of the federal poverty level.

But the Legislature this year proposed its own constitutional amendment that would require ballot initiatives such as the proposed Medicaid expansion to meet a 60% vote requirement if they introduce or adjust taxes, or spend more than $10 million in any of the five years after enactment.

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Constitutional amendments must be approved by a majority of voters and ordinarily would appear in the November general election. But lawmakers, with an eye on the Medicaid expansion vote, pushed their constitutional amendment proposal onto next June’s primary election ballot, when fewer voters are expected to take part.

Democrats and some Republicans have criticized the resolution as an “unfair” move to head off ballot initiative campaigns already in progress. Nonetheless, the resolution passed.

Dakotans for Health filed a petition in March with the Secretary of State to challenge the Legislature’s action through a popular vote in the November 2022 election – a move that would have postponed the vote on the proposed constitutional amendment and ensured Medicaid expansion needed a simple majority to pass. But the Secretary of State rejected the petition, reasoning that the Legislature’s proposal – known as House Joint Resolution 5003 – cannot be challenged at the ballot as if it was a law.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled in support of that decision.

“HJR 5003 is not a law enacted by the Legislature, and as a result, there is nothing in HJR 5003 to refer to the electors at the November 2022 general election,” wrote Chief Justice Steven Jensen.

The ruling means voters will consider the Legislature’s constitutional amendment in the June 2022 primary election. If it is approved, the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative will face a 60% vote threshold to pass later that year.

Rick Weiland, the co-founder of Dakotans for Health, said the Legislature’s resolution was a political maneuver that sets a poor precedent, but given the legal defeat, the group will focus its efforts on mounting an opposition campaign in the June 2022 primary election.

“We’re not going to disarm and call it good,” he said. “We’re just going to double down and move forward.”

Weiland said the Medicaid expansion proposal would help up to 42,500 people who often scrape by, struggling to pay for health care. It would also make the state eligible to receive more federal funds for Medicaid. But conservative lawmakers have argued that voters who want to pass laws that spend government funds should face a similar hurdle for approval to what the Legislature faces. They are required to get a two-thirds majority for bills that spend funds or raise taxes.

General: China’s Africa outreach poses threat from Atlantic

New submarine threat: Top U.S. general says China is pursuing Atlantic naval base in west Africa

'They're looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict.'

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In this Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, then-Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend talks with an Iraqi officer during a tour north of Baghdad, Iraq. Townsen, now a general, says a growing military threat from China may well come from Americas … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 6, 2021

China is moving behind-the-scenes toward establishing a major naval port on the west coast of Africa that would host Chinese submarines and aircraft carriers capable of projecting Beijing’s military power directly into the Atlantic, a top U.S. military official warned on Thursday.

The top commander for U.S. military operations in Africa said Chinese officials have been approaching countries stretching from Mauritania to south of Namibia in search of where to position the naval facility.

“They’re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict,” U.S. Gen. Stephen Townsend said in an interview with The Associated Press.

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Gen. Townsend, who heads the Pentagon’s Africa Command, added that China‘s military is already close to establishing such a facility in Djibouti, which is situated more than 2,000 miles away in the Horn of Africa on the Indian Ocean side of the continent.

“Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there,” the general said in the interview.

The news agency noted that the warning comes as the Pentagon shifts its focus from the counterterrorism wars of the last two decades to the Indo-Pacific region and threats from great power adversaries like China and Russia. 

Biden admin plans to amnesty researchers compromised by China, warn GOP senators

Biden offering free pass to crook researchers in bed with China, warn GOP senators

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President Joe Biden waves as he boards Air Force One upon departure, Thursday, May 6, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Biden is en route to Louisiana. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) more >

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By Ryan Lovelace

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A group of Republican senators is warning that the Biden administration is preparing to amnesty researchers and scientists compromised by China and other foreign governments.

The proposed amnesty program would let academics and scientists who knowingly defrauded U.S. taxpayers disclose their crimes without worrying about prosecution, according to the office of Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican.

Eight Republican senators, including Mr. Portman, wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday that they learned the Justice Department was readying the amnesty program for those compromised by foreign powers in the “next few weeks.”

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“We applaud federal prosecutors for bringing more than a dozen criminal cases against researchers and professors who allegedly stole intellectual property or failed to disclose partnerships with foreign governments, including with the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” the senators wrote. “We are concerned about the effect that this amnesty program will have on those ongoing criminal cases and the signal that it sends to future researchers contemplating breaking U.S. law to steal research or hide affiliations with foreign governments or militaries.”

Last month, the National Institutes of Health told Congress that more than 500 federally funded scientists are under investigation for being compromised by China and other foreign adversaries. On Thursday, the senators said that the Justice Department had not contacted the inspector general community — including at the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation — about its alleged amnesty program.

The Justice Department also did not consult with Congress about the alleged amnesty program, said the eight Republican senators, including Mr. Portman, and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Todd Young of Indiana and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UN releases $65 million to aid Ethiopia, most for Tigray

UN releases $65 million to aid Ethiopia, most for Tigray

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A displaced Tigrayan boy runs up stairs past graffiti reading "God is better than any thing" at the Hadnet General Secondary School which has become a makeshift home to thousands displaced by the conflict, in Mekele, in the Tigray region … more >

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By

Associated Press

Thursday, May 6, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United Nations announced Thursday it has released $65 million for humanitarian aid in Ethiopia, including $40 million for the Tigray region where a military operation launched in November has escalated into a war in which widespread atrocities are reported and thousands have been killed.

The U.N. humanitarian office said the remaining $25 million will fund aid operations in the rest of Ethiopia, including in response to drought in the Somali and Oromia regions. It said funds will be used to treat children with severe acute malnutrition, rehabilitate water systems and supply water to drought-affected communities and to pre-position humanitarian supplies.

“Ethiopian lives and livelihoods are being destroyed by drought, and children are suffering from malnutrition,” U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said in a statement. “And six months into the conflict in Tigray, civilians continue to bear the brunt.”

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“Women and girls are being targeted with horrific sexual violence, and millions are struggling to access essential services and food, especially in some rural areas that are completely cut off. We need to scale up the humanitarian response now,” Lowcock said.

The humanitarian office known as OCHA said the $40 million for Tigray will fund emergency shelter, clean water, health care, prevention efforts and response to sexual and gender-based violence, and emergency telecommunications to support the humanitarian response.

OCHA said access to those in need in Tigray “remains a challenge” and aid officials are trying to reach inaccessible areas in the southeast.

Last week, OCHA said, a U.N. humanitarian convoy managed to reach Samre town, where it delivered emergency food and nutrition supplies and organized a mobile health clinic in the Samre hospital.

OCHA urged additional funding for humanitarian aid in Tigray and elsewhere in Ethiopia as well as access to all those in need.

Somalia says it has resumed diplomatic ties with Kenya

Somalia says it has resumed diplomatic ties with Kenya

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By HASSAN BARISE

Associated Press

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Mogadishu, Somalia (AP) – Somalia says it has resumed diplomatic ties with neighboring Kenya after severing relations late last year.

A government statement on Thursday thanked Qatar for its mediation efforts. Kenya‘s presidency tweeted only that President Uhuru Kenyatta had received a “special message” from Qatar’s leader delivered by the foreign minister’s special envoy for “mediation of conflict resolution.”

Somalia had accused Kenya of interfering in its affairs as the Horn of Africa nation struggled with talks on how to carry out a national election – a vote that has been delayed since early February. Somalia‘s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed recently caused an uproar by approving a controversial two-year term extension. That move brought extraordinary scenes of rival groups of soldiers firing on each other in the capital, Mogadishu. The president later backed off.

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Somalia‘s federal government had accused Kenya of meddling in politics in the country’s south, where Kenya has soldiers fighting the al-Shabab extremist group.

Somalia’s new statement said it and Kenya were resuming ties on the basis of “non-interference in each other’s affairs.”

Among other issues that have caused tensions have been Kenya’s warm relationship with Somalia’s breakaway territory of Somaliland and a dispute over waters off the countries’ coastline.

Pfizer, IOC strike vaccine deal for Summer Games in Tokyo

Summer Games athletes eligible for Pfizer vaccine under deal with IOC

Athletes, officials can access shots before heading to Japan

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This April 12, 2021, file photo shows the Olympic rings floating in the water in the Odaiba section in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File) **FILE** more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Olympics organizers struck a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech on Thursday that will offer a COVID-19 vaccine to athletes before they head to the Summer Games in Tokyo.

The International Olympic Committee said offering a vaccine to participants in the Olympic and Paralympic Games will make the events safer and protect Japanese residents as they welcome visitors.

Donated doses will be added to global supplies and not siphoned out of any country’s planned deliveries, the committee said.

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Japan and the IOC are under intense pressure to hold a safe Olympics from July 23 to Aug. 8 after they had to postpone the games by a year. Some experts are worried, citing outbreaks in Tokyo and other heavily populated areas and Japan’s sluggish vaccine rollout.

Foreign fans will be barred from attending Olympic events and athletes will be tested regularly, among other safety precautions.

“This donation of the vaccine is another tool in our toolbox of measures to help make the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 safe and secure for all participants, and to show solidarity with our gracious Japanese hosts,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.

Vaccination isn’t mandatory ahead of the games but organizers hope athletes will “lead by example and accept the vaccine where and when possible.”

“By taking the vaccine, they can send a powerful message that vaccination is not only about personal health, but also about solidarity and consideration of the wellbeing of others in their communities,” Bach said.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla highlighted the importance of the games in offering the company’s vaccine.

“The return of the Olympic and Paralympic Games represents a monumental moment of world unity and peace after a grueling year of isolation and devastation,” he said. “We are proud to play a role in providing vaccines to athletes and their national Olympic delegations where possible.”

EU open to COVID-19 vaccine waiver after Biden move

EU open to COVID-19 vaccine waiver after Biden move

Ursula von der Leyen: 'Ready to discuss' intellectual property-sharing idea

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen removes her protective face mask prior to meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Yves Herman, Pool via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The European Union said Thursday it is ready to consider waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines after President Biden threw his support behind the idea.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the organization is open to ideas that wrangle the pandemic in an “effective and pragmatic manner.”

“That is why we are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective,” she said during a speech in Italy.

SEE ALSO: Biden administration backs IP waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

Europe has been wary of proposals before the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property (IP) rights on vaccines, though Mr. Biden’s position might soften opposition elsewhere.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the administration will work with the WTO, which is meeting this week, to find a way forward, though cautioned the process will take time.

Advocates of the waiver say poorer nations need trade secrets from drugmakers to make generic versions of effective vaccines that are helping the U.S. and other rich countries.

Opponents of the waiver say it will be counterproductive. Vaccine-sharing programs exist, and it will take time for other places to build the operations needed to put vaccine recipes to use.

Congressional Republicans say the main beneficiaries will be rivals such as Russia and China because they have the ability to leverage knowledge from the West. They also said drugmakers will be reluctant to step forward and offer cures in a future pandemic if their IP is given away.

Pfizer and BioNTech to donate vaccines for Olympic athletes

Pfizer and BioNTech to donate vaccines for Olympic athletes

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FILE – In this Feb. 24, 2020, photo, the Olympics rings are reflected on the window of a hotel restaurant as a server with a mask sets up a table, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. The vaccine rollout in … more >

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By

Associated Press

Thursday, May 6, 2021

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) – Vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech will donate doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC said Thursday.

Delivery of doses is set to begin this month to give Olympic delegations time to be fully vaccinated with a second shot before arriving in Tokyo for the games, which open on July 23.

It’s the second major vaccination deal for the International Olympic Committee. An agreement was announced in March between the IOC and Olympic officials in China to buy and distribute Chinese vaccines ahead of the Tokyo Games and next year’s Beijing Winter Games.

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The new Pfizer offer gives the IOC greater coverage worldwide ahead of Tokyo with most countries yet to authorize emergency use of Chinese vaccines.

“We are inviting the athletes and participating delegations of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games to lead by example and accept the vaccine where and when possible,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.

The Pfizer donation followed talks between the firm’s chairman and CEO, Albert Bourla, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“Following this conversation, the Japanese government had a meeting with the IOC and now the donation plan has been realized,” Pfizer said in a statement.

The IOC said any vaccination program must be done “in accordance with each country’s vaccination guidelines and consistent with local regulations.”

The IOC-China vaccine deal includes two doses being made available to the general public for each dose received by an Olympic participant in that country.

The Spanish Olympic Committee said Thursday the nearly 600 members of its delegation traveling to Japan will start being vaccinated with Pfizer doses this month. Other countries, including Australia, South Korea and Italy, have also been making arrangements to vaccinate their teams.

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

International Criminal Court sentences Ugandan rebel to 25 years in prison for 61 war crimes and cri

International Criminal Court sentences Ugandan rebel to 25 years in prison for 61 war crimes and cri

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – International Criminal Court sentences Ugandan rebel to 25 years in prison for 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity.