National Roundup 04-28: Illinois House OK’s $25M Anti-Terrorism, Non-Profit Security Bill; 100 Senators Sign Rubio-Coons Letter to UN
The following is a round-up of national news from several major states across the country that will be featured on our site on a daily basis:
Amtrak Promises More Penn Station Repairs, and Unpleasantness, to Come: As Amtrak closes tracks to repair an increasingly failure-prone Penn Station starting this summer, the busiest rail station in North America will be less pleasant than normal.
Precisely what the contours of that unpleasantness will look like, however, remains to be seen. “Obviously, it will have some an impact on folks this summer,” said Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman in a Thursday morning telephone call with reporters. “That remains to be spelled out as to exactly what it will be.”
Moorman said he also cannot guarantee that in the interim there won’t be future disruptions of the sort that have plagued Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit riders in recent weeks. “The reason we are accelerating this work is that I can get closer to getting you that guarantee,” said Moorman. “We are maintaining the station today at an adequate level but I don’t make any guarantees about disruptions. As you know, not all the disruptions at Penn Station are necessarily track-caused or Amtrak-caused. So that’s the best answer I can give you for that.”
On Thursday’s call, Moorman said that the railroad, which owns Penn Station, the tunnels that lead to it, and the tracks underneath, would be undertaking accelerated repairs starting this summer in an effort to eliminate future unplanned outages. [Politico]
New Jersey University Students Vote Down BDS Resolution: The student government at Montclair State University reportedly voted down a resolution calling on the school to boycott Israel.
The measure was defeated Wednesday by a vote of 11-1, with six abstentions. An earlier survey aimed at gauging student support for the measure found that 64 percent of students at the New Jersey school were opposed.
The defeat of the resolution, which was initiated by the university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, was commended by the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, which is active on college campuses. [JTA]
Illinois House OK’s $25 Million Anti-Terrorism, Non-Profit Security Bill: The Illinois House on Wednesday approved legislation, 72-41, to authorize a $25 million anti-terrorism program that provide grants to non-profit groups to bolster security at their facilities.
In the wake of bomb threats nationally to Jewish Centers, Jewish schools, including Chicago, and vandalized Jewish cemeteries, House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie) rolled out the legislation, House Bill 4011, that would establish a $25 million grant making program in the Illinois Secretary of State’s office to provide financial assistance “on an emergency basis” to Illinois non-profits to blunt or respond to “acts of terrorism” against their facilities.
“In the aftermath of a presidential campaign in which anti-Semitic dog whistles were blown – and tweeted – regularly by Donald Trump, his white supremacist supporters have felt emboldened to lob hoax bomb threats at Jewish institutions,” said Lang. “I am unwilling to risk that domestic terrorists will be content with hoax bomb threats; so, that’s why I am pushing a fast-track, program to enhance security at non-profit facilities targeted by terrorism.”
According to the legislation, the Secretary of State can authorize a grant of any amount based on a detailed threat assessment submitted by non-profit applicants. [Chicago Tribune]
Obama Says Obamacare is More Popular Than Trump: Former President Barack Obama hailed the political resilience of his signature health care law at a private event Thursday, pointing out that Obamacare is now more popular than his successor trying to repeal it: President Donald Trump.
As Republicans in Washington sputtered again this week in their efforts to undo the law, Obama noted to an audience in midtown Manhattan that “the Affordable Care Act has never been more popular — and it’s more popular than the current president,” according to a person in the room who paraphrased the comments.
Obama also predicted Thursday that it will be challenging for Trump and fellow Republicans to make any sweeping changes to a law that now provides health insurance for so many people, as he remarked how difficult it was for him to get Obamacare enacted into law in 2009.
Thursday’s event featuring Obama was closed-press and off-the-record, and hosted by the A&E network for a private audience, according to a source. Obama was interviewed by famed author and historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, with the question-and-answer portion lasting about one hour. [CNN]
Behind Closed Doors, Florida Legislators Reach Budget Deal: Florida’s top two Republican legislative leaders, negotiating in secret over the past few days, have reached a sweeping deal on a new state budget and other high-priority items ranging from public employee benefits to building a reservoir to deal with toxic algae discharges. The move announced Thursday appears to ensure that the Florida Legislature will end its session on time next week.
But by reaching the deal, top lawmakers jettisoned many of the highest priorities of Gov. Rick Scott, raising the possibility that he may veto the entire budget and force legislators to return to the capital later this year. Scott sharply criticized legislators for ignoring some of his top requests, including using $200 million in state money to speed up repairs to the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee. He also said the decision to slash money that now goes to the state’s tourism marketing agency would lead to fewer jobs.
“I can tell you what: I ran on jobs,” Scott said. “I’m going to keep fighting for jobs. I feel like this Legislature is turning their backs on their constituents.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron forged an agreement that will result in a nearly $83 billion state budget for the coming year. The budget will include across-the-board pay raises for state workers as well as money to begin paying for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that was a top priority for Negron. The reservoir will be used to store water and reduce the need for discharges along Florida’s coasts, which have blamed for guacamole-thick algal blooms. The deal also calls for the Legislature to go along with Corcoran’s $200 million push for “Schools of Hope,” an ambitious plan to shift students from chronically failing schools to charter schools run by private organizations. [JCFloridian]
100 Senators Sign Rubio-Authored Letter Urging UN to Change Attitude Towards Israel: All 100 U.S. senators signed a letter released Friday asking U.N. Secretary General António Guterres to address what the lawmakers call entrenched bias against Israel at the world body.
The unanimous message notes that the United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations but does not threaten the withholding of U.S. dues. Still, it uses strong language to insist that the United Nations rectify what the senators said is unequal treatment of Israel on human rights and other grounds. “Through words and actions, we urge you to ensure that Israel is treated neither better nor worse than any other U.N. member in good standing,” the letter said.
The senators asked Guterres, who assumed leadership of the world body in January, to seek such institutional changes as the removal of a standing agenda item for the U.N. Human Rights Commission sessions that has been used as a forum to denounce Israel. The senators also want a change to the rules for membership on the human rights panel to broaden participation beyond what U.S. officials have said is often a narrow and self-interested group of countries.
The unusual unanimity expands on the fierce denunciation of U.N. treatment of Israel mounted by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, this year. The letter praises Haley for that effort, which she has said is intended to show that the United States will not “put up with” the bashing of its close ally.
The Senate letter reflects what the letter’s authors, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), said are encouraging signs that Guterres may be willing to change some U.N. procedures that Israel and the United States say amount to discrimination. [Washington Post]