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- The fight against privatizing the Huntsville, Texas library continues.
- Florida hopes to expand school voucher program.
- A once-touted P3 brings red ink on Maryland’s Purple Line project.
First, the Good News…
1) National: The Department of Homeland Security is beefing up its enforcement of labor law. DHS has “announced a streamlined and expedited process for labor and employment agency-related requests for deferred action, as part of an effort to support labor law enforcement operations to empower workers and improve workplace conditions.” The National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, has applauded the move, saying ‘the enhancements to DHS’s processes are critical to ensuring that immigrant workers, and all workers, can safely exercise their labor rights and participate in the NLRB’s enforcement operations without fear of immigration-related retaliation from their employer. I will continue to utilize DHS’s processes to the fullest extent necessary to ensure that we can effectively enforce labor law in every workplace where workers are protected by the National Labor Relations Act.’”
“The NLRB has also issued a fact sheet, in English and Spanish, with important information about NLRB investigations for immigrant workers, which makes clear that immigration status is not relevant to whether there has been a violation of the NLRA, that information obtained during NLRB investigations is protected, and that the NLRB will consider, on a case-by-case basis, seeking protection for employees at worksites where it is necessary to safeguard employees exercising their labor rights or participating in NLRB processes.”
2) National/Louisiana: Grist’s Gabriela Aoun Angueira tells a story about how a campaign to replace privatized bike sharing in New Orleans is succeeding. “Of the nearly 300 bike-share and scooter-share programs in North America, more than half are privately owned, a figure that is quickly growing. That leaves most micromobility programs vulnerable to market whims, a precarious position for a mode of transportation upon which many people depend. Lime’s departure could have been the end of bike sharing in New Orleans. Instead, Coats began devising a plan to bring it back. But this time, he decided, Blue Bikes would be run by the community it served.”
3) National: School boards are limiting public comment. Will that erode trust? “Any policies on comments should be ‘content-neutral’ so it doesn’t seem that the board is censoring criticism or disagreement, said [Marc Terry, an attorney who represents school districts in Massachusetts]. Even limitations on ‘defamatory comments’ or incivility have been difficult for some boards to legally enforce. Policies should focus on simple limitations like the length of individual comments, total time allowed for comments at a given meeting, and how to sign up to participate, Terry said.”
4) Minnesota: “I would carry a ring to the heart of Mordor for my library,” says Dan Burns. “Libraries, and librarians, will persevere, with our support. I love libraries. Among other things my college work-study job was in one of the campus libraries. It’s no accident that it remains the only job I’ve ever had that I actually, honestly liked. I find being in the presence of many, many books to be inherently comforting. Perhaps that partly has to do with what many have pointed out, to the effect that they can’t take education and knowledge away from you. But ‘they’ can sure try, however ineffectual their noxious defunding and book banning efforts ultimately turn out to be.’”
5) Texas: Huntsville citizens are blasting the official response to public outrage over the city’s privatization of the public library to a private, for-profit company, LSSI. Donald MacCormack writes, “First, I want to compliment the Huntsville Item on keeping the story about the Privatization of the Huntsville Library alive!! Second, in response to Mayor Andy Brauninger’s letter in the Tuesday edition of the Huntsville Item, asking for the Citizens of Huntsville to give the ‘privatization of the library’ a chance, I say did he and the City Council give its Citizens, the Library Staff, the Library Board and other concerned individual a chance to review this ‘behind closed doors’ decision to change—the answer is no! Did the Public Library need ‘enhancement’? The answer is no! Did the Public Library need to be ‘expanded’? The answer is no! Do the Mayor and City Council ‘love the Public Library’? The answer is no! Will a change in management place greater emphasis on the growth and development of ‘our cherished Library’? The answer is no! It will only provide for censorship by our elected and appointed officials! Are comments about the actions of the Mayor and City Council ‘hurtful’? The answer is no! What is hurtful is firing the Library Staff just before Christmas. Scrooge anyone! Are the Citizens of Huntsville ‘uninformed,’ well if you consider that the Mayor and City Council have been working on privatizing the Public Library for 6 mos. in secret, then maybe yes!”
939 people have signed the petition to stop the privatization as of Privatization Report’s publication time. When it gets to 1,000, only 61 more, it will be recommended by change.org. Go Huntsville!
6) National/International: The first Native American woman in space ventured out on a spacewalk Friday to prepare the International Space Station for more solar panels. “NASA astronaut Nicole Mann emerged alongside Japan’s Koichi Wakata, lugging an equipment bag. Their job was to install support struts and brackets for new solar panels launching in the summer, part of a continuing effort by NASA to expand the space station’s power grid.”
7) Upcoming Meeting: The American Bar Association will be considering justice reform and reproductive rights at its upcoming Midyear Meeting in New Orleans Feb. 2-6. The meeting is online. On Friday, February 3, a panel will be held on “‘The Demise of Public Schools’—Academic and legal practitioners in U.S. education discuss the legal foundations that underpin charter schools, vouchers and privatization, as well as the vulnerability of these movements to incidents of discrimination, breaches of special education laws, due process violations and other legal claims.” [CLE available]
James C. Hanks, Des Moines, IA, is the moderator, and panelists include Victor Jones, Education Special Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), Adjunct Legal Analysis and Writing Professor at Southern University Law Center, New Orleans, LA; Caitlin A. Millat, Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA; and Kimberly Norwood, Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law, Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, MO.
8) National/Florida: Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) stood before an audience at a private, Christian all-boys school, ostensibly to celebrate the life of slain civil rights hero Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “DeSantis made no mention of how King might feel about a letter the Florida Department of Education sent to the College Board earlier this month, banning a new Advanced Placement course in African American studies now being piloted in 60 U.S. schools. DeSantis’ education department is claiming the course is not ‘historically accurate’ and is ‘inexplicably contrary to Florida law,’ while saying it ‘lacks educational value.’”
“What just happened in Florida is coming your way. This suppression of Black history is going to become a national thing if DeSantis and people who support him gain control of the federal government and the White House,” said [Dr. Marvin Dunn, a former professor of psychology at Florida International University and a specialist in the state’s Black history]. “I say: You’ve been warned.”
“I don’t really see where the solution is. I mean, aside from the erosion of traditional public education, it just feels like there’s an erosion of democracy,” [Hillsborough County School Board member Jessica Vaughn, who represents District 3 in Tampa] told Insider. “When you’re choosing that teachers can’t teach history or can’t have inclusive classrooms that support all of their students or you don’t want anything taught that resembles socialism—even though that’s a basic form of government, you should be studying all of them—then I don’t really understand how that’s different than fascism,” she added.
State Rep. Angie Nixon (D) says “I think it’s important to highlight that yes DeSantis is attacking Black history in schools, but what’s even worse, he’s seeking to defund and bankrupt the entire public school system. He’s using these attacks on Black curriculum as a distraction for something more insidious.”
9) Arizona: A battle is looming over school vouchers, The Mohave Daily News reports. “Arizona’s new Democratic governor on Friday rolled out a $17.1 billion state budget proposal that pours new cash into tax credits for low-income parents and takes aim at a housing crisis that has triggered a big increase in homelessness, while also targeting two of her predecessor’s top priorities—a newly-enacted universal school voucher program and the state police’s border strike force. Gov. Katie Hobbs’ elimination of the massive school voucher program expansion would free up the more than $144 million expected to go this school year to parents whose children are newly eligible for Empowerment Scholarship Account vouchers. The expansion was a major priority of Republican Doug Ducey when he was governor.” The budget has Republicans vowing to fight back.
10) Florida: As its quest to funnel taxpayer dollars out of the public schools and into private schools continues, Gov. DeSantis’ close ally, House Speaker Paul Renner, has announced a proposal to make every student in Florida eligible for school vouchers. “House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, criticized the measure, calling it a “continuation of Republican attacks on our public education system that helped create the American Dream by providing education to the poor and rich alike,” “This sets our state backwards. This is school choice for schools and not for Florida families. This will also probably leave a price tag for the difference that the parents must pay, when the voucher doesn’t cover the full cost of tuition,” Driskell told reporters.”
Voucher proposals have been around since Jeb Bush was governor, “but the new proposal would mark a vast expansion of eligibility. Under the measure, families could receive vouchers if ‘the student is a resident of this state and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state.’ ‘It does expand (eligibility) to everyone,’ Renner said. ‘And it also adds the extra layer of what’s called an ESA.’”
Rep. Felicia Robinson, D-Miami Gardens, said “this is not acceptable. My concern is that the voucher program does not have the accountability that it needs to have.”
Annie Martin, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel has a great thread on the voucher issue and its key players: “Florida House leaders are touting legislation that would result in a big expansion of Florida’s school voucher program. This is an issue my colleagues and I have spent a great deal of time writing about and researching. Here’s what we’ve found.”
11) Iowa: In a letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register, JoAnn Hardy of Mason City says the new Republican school voucher scheme “is really just about making money.” “The governor is willing to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars of our tax money with no oversight over how they spend it or what this will do to our rural communities. The private schools will choose which students they will accept. What happens to the rest of the kids when there aren’t enough kids left to have a school? And if the private schools decide to kick out kids or close the doors, they’ll do it after the October count so they can keep the money. Is the legislature writing a bill to protect our public schools financially from unscrupulous private schools? This is a terrible plan.”
12) Oklahoma: Public education supporters are gearing up for another battle over school privatization with Gov. Stitt (R). “‘Governor Stitt has been clear about his desire to privatize public education through expanding subsidies using the use of taxpayer dollars for vouchers,’ [Oklahoma Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman] said. “I expect that Governor Stitt will spend a little bit more on public education but will fall short of competitive, to get the votes he needs to fund private school vouchers.” Boren said Stitt is on the path to realize the privatization of schools, which compromises his oath of office. ‘He is on the wrong path if he wants to fulfill our constitutional duty to protect a successful public school system to grow a top ten work force and preserve democracy for future generations,’ she said.”
13) Tennessee: “The school choice movement has a voter problem,” explains Christopher Lubienski in The Tennessean. “Policymakers and choice advocates have largely come down on the side of parent rights in endorsing school choice. Since this puts them in opposition to voters, they largely avoid the electorate on the issue. But policymakers would do well to remember that this is not just a question of who controls education decision-making. After all, they are entrusted with the wise use of taxpayers’ dollars. And recent research is repeatedly showing that the voters may be on to something: that vouchers are not a good investment.”
14) National: The big Republican public land giveaway has begun. Under the new right wing House leadership, two new rules have been adopted that leverage the land giveaways. “The first rule stipulates that for any bill authorizing the transfer of federal public lands to state, local, or tribal governments, Congress wouldn’t have to account for lost revenues. ‘Instead of having to come up with money to pay the government for the loss of that land, it would be completely free to give away public land—and that is as extreme as you can get when it comes to anti-public lands policy,’ said Kate Groetzinger, the communications manager for the conservation group Center for Western Priorities. She said the rule—which the House GOP first adopted in 2017—would make it easier for bills to ‘liquidate and privatize public land.’ The other measure fast-tracks bills that say if the administration wants to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, it has to lease more public land to oil and gas companies. Groetzinger says disposing of public lands and boosting oil and gas drilling goes against most Westerners’ views, citing the center’s most recent Winning the West poll. It found that 59% of likely voters in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada support prioritizing renewables like wind and solar to avoid ‘dangerous, boom-and-bust sources.’”
The Center for Western Priorities has released an updated leasing and drilling dashboard that provides an at-a-glance look at data related to oil and gas leasing and production on public lands under the Biden administration.
15) National: The Congressional Research Service has just produced an interesting paper pushing back against unsound proposals to privatize the national flood insurance program, Private Flood Insurance and the National Flood Insurance Program. “Increasing private insurance, however, may have some downsides compared to the NFIP. Private coverage would not be guaranteed to be available to all floodplain residents, unlike the NFIP, and consumer protections could vary in different states. The role of the NFIP has historically been broader than just providing insurance. As currently authorized, the NFIP also encompasses social goals to provide flood insurance in flood-prone areas to property owners who otherwise would not be able to obtain it, and to reduce government’s cost after floods. Through flood mapping and mitigation efforts, the NFIP has tried to reduce the future impact of floods, and it is unclear how effectively the NFIP could play this broader role if private insurance became a large part of the flood marketplace. Increased private insurance could also have an impact on the subsidies that are provided for some consumers through the NFIP.”
16) Florida: The Duval County Republican Party wants Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to appoint a grand jury to investigate the attempted privatization of JEA, the Jacksonville Electric Authority. “The Republican Executive Committee on Monday unanimously approved a resolution that urges a statewide grand jury to investigate ‘potential violations of Florida law’ and the ‘actions of public officials, private individuals, and business entities who intentionally misled the citizens of Duval County regarding the proposed sale of JEA (and) who concealed material facts regarding the proposed sale.’ (…) ‘With Jacksonville’s municipal elections just around the corner, we think now is the right time for the Duval County Republican Executive Committee to take an official stand on advocating for a statewide grand jury investigation into the JEA scandal. It will show our voters that Republicans are serious about ending the institutional corruption and self-dealing that’s plagued local government in recent years,’ Lumb wrote.”
17) Florida: Is Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), a public agency, in danger of privatization? Tampa City Council member Luis Viera, “a lawyer raised in the Temple Terrace area, recognizes the agency faces a confidence crisis. ‘The public needs to be able to trust us with their hard-earned money,’ he said. The churn among staff, lingering vacancies, and subpar route performance have left some fearful the agency is vulnerable to privatization, including Ruthie Reyes Burckard, whose career in management at HART spanned almost two decades and 10 CEOs. “The expectation was to try our best just to keep the ship afloat,” Reyes Burckard, who retired in 2021, said of her final months working at HART. Viera will also have to contend with a more politically diverse board of directors than in recent years, with two conservative members elected to serve last October, including newly elected vice chairperson Michael Owen, a Republican county commissioner.”
18) Maryland: The Purple Line seems to be the poster boy ‘public-private partnership’ that keeps on giving bad news. The Washington Post reports that the light rail project, now years behind schedule, is facing another seven month delay. “The latest delays, related to moving utility lines, come as the Purple Line project was supposed to be off to a fresh start under a new construction contract that added $1.46 billion in costs. In August, a new lead contractor began revving up construction sites that had sat abandoned for almost two years after the original contractor quit in 2020 amid disputes over hundreds of millions of dollars in delay-related cost overruns. The additional delays also pose immediate challenges for the new administration of Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D). Unless project officials find a way to accelerate work, the originally planned five years of construction would span almost a decade.” P3 boosters often try to argue that private contracting is more efficient than traditional public infrastructure project management, especially in the early phase. As Montgomery County residents look out over some backyards that still look like construction sites, that seems fanciful.
19) Puerto Rico: In a secretive and rushed process, the governing board of Puerto Rico’s power company approved a plan to privatize the operation and maintenance of the electricity grid. The company that won the bid was not named, and the board meeting took place behind closed doors. However, one of the board members, Tomás Torres, who represents the public interest, has objected to the deal. He “told the Associated Press that he saw no need for another multimillion contract with a private power company that would lead to yet another increase in people’s electric bills amid chronic outages. He noted that the current generation units of the island’s Electric Power Authority have been recently maintained and will go offline this decade anyway because many are more than 50 years old. ‘This contract is not necessary,’ he said of the push to privatize the operation and maintenance of units that will eventually be replaced by renewable energy sources. Critics like Torres also oppose the contract given the problems that arose after Puerto Rico’s power company privatized the transmission and distribution of electricity on the island nearly two years ago. He noted that the duration of power outages has since worsened, among other issues. ‘Now we’re risking the same in generation,’ he said.”
Puerto Rico’s privatization-friendly laws do not require the power company’s board “to provide details about its meeting, nor a copy of the contract or the name of the company chosen. Board president Fernando Gil said only that the contract is for 10 years and can be revised in the fifth year.” For the backstory watch Why there are still so many outages in Puerto Rico [Video, about 17 minutes]
20) National: Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, comments on the mixed picture on mass incarceration and immigration detention. “While some states are doubling down on their use of private prisons, others are turning away from them.” And while the Biden administration has moved to reduce the privately incarcerated prison population, it continues to use for-profit corporations for immigration detention.
“Private corrections companies say that they can ‘do it cheaper,’ Cohen notes, “but the higher profits for the contractors who score these lucrative contracts have come at a great cost to the incarcerated—worse conditions and care, and price gouging of vulnerable families.’”
21) National: Physicians are telling Biden’s HHS to end his Medicare privatization pilot. “In a Tuesday letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) argued that ACO REACH ‘presents a threat to the integrity of traditional Medicare, and an opportunity for corporations to take money from taxpayers while denying care to beneficiaries.’ The group, which advocates for a single-payer healthcare system, voiced alarm over the Biden administration’s decision to let companies with records of fraud and other abuses take part in the ACO REACH pilot, which automatically assigns traditional Medicare patients to private entities without their consent. (…) Among the concerning examples PNHP cited was Clover Health, which has operated so-called Direct Contracting Entities (DCEs)—the name of private middlemen under the Trump-era version of the Medicare pilot—in more than a dozen states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and New York.”
22) National: Government Executive has an overview piece on the state of federal employee unions, in particular how they’re recovering from Trump’s hostile assault. “Matt Biggs, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said that although he has encountered pockets of resistance within some agencies’ labor relations offices, the Office of Personnel Management, which was briefly slated for abolition during the Trump administration, has stepped up in a big way. ‘OPM has been very aggressive in encouraging these agencies to follow the lead of the worker empowerment task force, and to sit down and bargain in good faith with unions,’ Biggs said. ‘There are still challenges in some places, and there are still anti-union managers embedded in some of these different agencies, but it’s been very successful with our union, anyway.’ Biggs described OPM’s proactivity as a new phenomenon, perhaps related to the agency’s embrace of a report from the National Academy of Public Administration, which called for the HR agency to focus less on ensuring transactional compliance with regulations by agencies and more on becoming a governmentwide leader on human capital issues.”
23) National: Kenny Stancil of Common Dreams reports that “Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday slammed right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s widely panned proposal to explore slashing Social Security benefits as part of a debt ceiling pact with Republicans. During a Wednesday interview with Fox Business at the ruling class’s annual gathering in Davos for the World Economic Forum, Manchin (W.Va.) suggested that members of both major U.S. political parties ‘work together’ on solving the nation’s so-called ‘debt problem.’ Although Manchin didn’t explicitly demand cuts to Social Security and expressed opposition to GOP calls for privatization, he singled out the program for intervention, saying that Congress ‘should be able to solidify it.’ Given that Republicans are currently threatening to tank the global economy unless Democrats agree to reduce social spending, Manchin’s unilateral call for appeasement has set off alarm bells.”
24) National: How much money from private prison company GEO Group’s tax payments to the states (if any) makes a round trip straight back to the company’s coffers in the form of taxpayer-funded subsidies and rebates? Perhaps some idea can be gleaned from Good Jobs First’s Subsidy Tracker, which lists multiple subsidy values stretching back to 2008. The total? $6,520,738.
25) National: When public benefit programs get privatized, it doesn’t stop there. Often the private, for-profit companies that get the contracts in turn outsource aspects of the program to other private companies. That can lead to train wrecks. “Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is hiring more than 300 people as it prepares to bring back in-house work on Medicaid and related state public health programs that it started outsourcing in 2018. The transition was rocky after Eagan-based Blue Cross awarded the contract for the back-office work to Amerigroup, a subsidiary of the large Indiana-based health insurer Elevance Health. Records obtained this month by the Star Tribune show the Minnesota Department of Human Services issued eight corrective action plans between 2018 and 2020 against the HMO division at Blue Cross, fining the company a total of $13.15 million. [sub needed]
Dana Erickson, the chief executive at Blue Cross of Minnesota, did not mention the troubles in an interview, saying the decision to bring the claims processing and customer service work back in-house reflected her focus on growth at the state’s largest nonprofit health insurer.”
26) Florida: Tomorrow Citrus County will be receiving a report back from CoreCivic on staffing issues at its jail. “Last year, after the county began fining CoreCivic for contractually failing to bring critical-level employees up to acceptable levels at the privately run detention facility in Lecanto, the board requested the reports. Commissioners last month expressed frustration that CoreCivic has made limited progress in hiring, despite the monetary hit. After lengthy discussion, board members voted unanimously to continue assessing the fines. But acting on a recommendation from Commissioner Rebecca Bays, they agreed to revisit this at a future meeting to figure out ways the county can work matters out with Tennessee-based CoreCivic. The county assesses CoreCivic a non-performance assessment of $3,750 per day if it fails to meet a required number of staff.”
27) New York: New York City doesn’t have nearly enough free bathrooms, declares Theodora Siegel (@teddy_siegel), an opera student and founder of @got2gonyc. Her platform advocates for public, sanitary and accessible bathrooms throughout New York City. “I took a video of the McDonald’s and posted it on TikTok under the handle @got2gonyc. I hoped sharing the bathroom location would offer relief to at least one other person. By the next day, my comment section was full of locations of other publicly available bathrooms throughout New York City, in hotels, restaurants, and stores. This isn’t surprising. New York City, for decades, has left the provision of bathrooms primarily to private establishments. The struggle to find an accessible bathroom is a public health issue—one that is a direct product of decades of neglect and failed infrastructure projects. To make sure everyone has a place to go, New York City needs to treat public bathroom access as an infrastructure problem deserving of an immediate, robust response.”
28) International: The incoming leader of the Ontario NDP, Marit Stiles, vows to fight Premier Doug Ford’s efforts to privatize the health service. “‘People are very deeply concerned—we’ve seen enough of a drain of healthcare workers here in Windsor into the U.S,’ said Stiles. Stiles added, ‘We cannot afford to lose those nurses and other healthcare workers. The crisis in healthcare is a staffing crisis. There’s no question. The solutions are investment and bold and innovative solutions in the public system.’”
29) National/Think Tanks: The Congressional Research Service has just published a paper on Unemployment Insurance: Legislative Issues in the 117th Congress, Second Session. “The Unemployment Insurance (UI) system is a joint federal-state partnership that consists of two types of benefits: (1) permanently authorized programs including the Unemployment Compensation (UC) and the Extended Benefit (EB) programs and (2) temporary federal UI benefits created by congressional action to supplement the UC and EB programs during recessions. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) provides oversight of state UC programs and the state administration of federal UI benefits. Although there are broad requirements under federal law regarding UC benefits and financing, the specifics are set out under each state’s laws, resulting in 53 different UC programs operated in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
30) National: Government Executive expects a sharp legal battle over the Federal Trade Commission’s new drive to rein in noncompete clauses. [See Donald Cohen’s column on this last week]. Employment attorney Michael Fallings joined Government Executive’s daily podcast to discuss a rule that could affect workers and employers. [Audio, about 11 minutes]. See also American Prospect’s Employers Contemplate Life Without Noncompetes, and States Should Celebrate the FTC’s Noncompete Ban … and Then Pass Their Own.
31) Mississippi: Is Mississippi going to privatize its wildlife along with the Jackson water system? “The sale of white-tailed deer has long been illegal in Mississippi, but a recent opinion from the state’s Attorney General’s Office states the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks has the ability to make it legal, and a representative of a landowner group said he’ll ask the commission to do just that. It’s a possible move that some say is illegal, could facilitate disease transmission, and contradicts basic conservation principles. And a key Mississippi legislator stated he will take action against it if the commission so much as entertains it.”