Posts

Texas State Capitol

Texas Lawmakers Present Permit-Free Gun Carrying Law To Governor 

Texas legislators approved the final version of a bill that will allow residents to openly carry a handgun without a permit. Now, the bill is making its way to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk for his review and signature. 

House Bill 1927 would allow any individual who is legally allowed to possess a firearm in the state to carry a handgun in public spaces without a permit. Texas isn’t the first conservative state to pass measures such as this this year either. Meanwhile President Joe Biden has been taking action to strengthen gun restrictions in wake of the multiple mass shootings that have occurred this year. 

Once signed, the bill will go into effect in September, making Texas the largest state to allow its gun owners to carry weapons in public without a license. Abbott already claimed that he would be signing the bill once it made it through the legislature. 

Embed from Getty Images

“I’ll be signing it. I support it and I believe it should reach my desk and we should have ‘constitutional carry’ in Texas.”

The bill itself passed through Texas legislative chambers earlier this month but was later sent to a separate conference committee to negotiate changes from both parties. The committee reached a final agreement on the bill this past Friday, and the Texas Senate approved the bill on Monday after the Texas House passed it on Sunday. 

Texas already allows citizens to carry rifles openly without a license, but the current law states that residents must have a license in order to carry an open or concealed handgun. Part of the licensing process includes residents submitting a fingerprint, undergoing a background check, participating in a training course, and passing a shooting proficiency test. 

Embed from Getty Images

The Texas Department of Public Safety will now be required to also post a free online course on firearm safety and handling on its website as a part of the new bill. 

Many republican supporters of the bill refer to it as a “constitutional carry,” and have always argued that the licensing requirement to carry a gun should be removed as it represents an “artificial barrier” to residents’ second amendment right to bear arms. 

Democrats and law enforcement officials, however, have been adamant about the fact that the bill also eliminates mandatory firearms training that works to help protect the public. Additionally, law enforcement are worried about how much more difficult it’s going to be to determine who’s unlawfully carrying a weapon. 

Iowa, Tennessee, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming have all passed legislation this year that allows residents to carry without a permit. Nineteen states currently allow permitless carry as well.

Man Listening to Music at Home

Paul McCartney Joins Call From Musicians To Change Music Streaming Payments

Over 150 musicians signed an open letter to change the 1988 Copyright Act which prevents many musicians from receiving proper payments for their work on streaming services.

Democrats Introduce Bill To Shift $1 Billion From Missile Funding To Vaccine Development

Democrats have introduced legislation that would transfer $1 billion in funding from a “controversial” new intercontinental ballistic missile to instead be used to develop a universal Covid-19 vaccine.

Hong Kong Protest

Hong Kong Protests Escalate As 1,000 Citizens Detained at University

The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have been ongoing for several months now and show no signs of slowing anytime soon, and are in fact escalating in intensity as a Hong Kong university was transformed into a battlefield between police and demonstrators, which ended with hundreds of young people jailed. Roughly a dozen protestors remain inside the school after heavily armed police officers surrounded the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, arresting many protestors who eventually surrendered to the authorities. Some students were able to escape without being captured by police by rappelling from a bridge to be rescued by motorbike drivers, while others unsuccessfully attempted to use a sewage pipe to escape. 

Embed from Getty Images

The protests began as a response to proposed legislation to make it easier to extradite Hong Kong residents to China which was feared to impact Hong Kong’s independence and political freedoms. While the legislation in question has since been withdrawn, the aim of the protests has expanded to demand a stronger democracy in Hong Kong, further independence from China, and greater police accountability. The police have escalated their attempts to quell the protestors, using live ammunition on multiple occasions. These actions have only emboldened protesters, who have used bows and arrows and homemade weapons such as molotov cocktails in their ongoing battles with the police. At PolyU, police used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets against protestors, who retaliated with violence. As the battle at the university concluded, protestors were searched by police and those who were older than 18 were arrested. According to Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, around 200 of the protestors were minors.

The recent events at PolyU resulted in the greatest number of arrests in a single day since the protests began several months ago, and many protesters received serious charges such as rioting and possession of offensive weapons

The dozen protestors who remain, many of whom are high school and university students, have said that they will neither leave the university nor surrender to police, in essence waiting for officers to enter the university and arrest them. Except for the few remaining protesters, the campus has been totally deserted, with debris littered throughout, and unused petrol bombs and pro-democracy grafitti were found on the campus. Roughly 80 people were treated for injuries at the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, and around 200 people were sent to other hospitals. Protesters have set fire to bridges connecting the university to a nearby train station and have destroyed other property as well. The recent events at PolyU resulted in the greatest number of arrests in a single day since the protests began several months ago, and many protesters received serious charges such as rioting and possession of offensive weapons, which carries the threat of serious prison time, leading to reluctance on the part of protesters to surrender to police.

Embed from Getty Images

Last week, protestors clashed with the police at another university, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Over 3,900 Molotov Cocktails were seized at this university, and Kwok Ka-chuen, a spokesman for the police, described the university as a “manufacturing base” for these weapons. At the same time as this drama unfolded at these Hong Kong universities, a Hong Kong court overturned a ban on face masks instituted by Beijing in an attempt to curb the tremendously disruptive protests. The Hong Kong High Court found that this ban violated the constitution of the Hong Kong territory, which is called the Basic Law. The Congress has taken the unusual step of criticizing the court’s decision, saying that the finding “seriously weakened the lawful governing power” of Hong Kong’s government. While this would be an extreme step, the National People’s Congress has the authority to change the Basic Law, meaning they could institute changes that would make the face mask ban legal, potentially having broader implications for civil liberties in the territory generally. 

Uber

New California Legislation Forces Gig Economy Companies to Treat Workers as Employees

The explosion in popularity of services such as Lyft, Uber, and DoorDash has given rise to a new type of occupation, where workers make their own hours and can use their personal vehicles as part of their job, but are beholden to the operation of a smartphone app instead of working for a traditional employer. These workers, in the so-called “gig economy,” are currently legally classified as contractors, not employees, meaning they lack the protections and rights granted in more traditional jobs. In California, however, that is due to change, as new legislation which is expected to go into effect on January 1st reclassifies these workers as employees, fundamentally changing how these businesses must be run in the state. This pioneering legislation, known as Assembly Bill 5, has the potential to bring about change in other states as well, as employee rights advocacy groups lobby for similar laws to be passed in states like New York, Washington State, and Oregon.

Although the app-based companies that would be affected attempted to negotiate an exemption from the bill, this attempt failed, and the bill in question passed 29 to 11 in the California State Senate. After the bill goes through the State Assembly, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, is expected to sign the bill into law, as he endorsed the bill this month. According to the New York Times, the law would designate workers “as employees instead of contractors if a company exerts control over how they perform their tasks or if their work is part of a company’s regular business.” Classifying workers as employees rather than as contractors means they would be granted protections such as a right to a minimum wage and unemployment insurance, among other benefits. Because of the broad phrasing of the bill, several industries, including custodial services, nail salons, and construction could be affected.

Embed from Getty Images

Companies that have built their business on the cheap labor afforded by contract work have fiercely opposed the bill, spending $90 million in a failed attempt to defeat it. These companies have argued that contract work gives people more flexibility and independent, and have claimed that this legislation has the potential to destroy their businesses. Although these “gig companies” have provided a tremendous amount of innovation by making it quicker and easier for smartphone users to request goods and services, they have done so by taking advantage of the loose restrictions placed on hiring contractors, many of whom complain about being underpaid, unfairly let go, or burdened by the costs of upkeep and maintenance the job imposes. Contractors for these companies, most notably ride-hailing drivers, are unsurprisingly supportive of the bill’s passage.

The passage of Assembly Bill 5 represents a major victory for contract workers for Uber, Lyft, and Doordash, who have fought for years to be classified as employees. A number of lawsuits have been brought against these companies from drivers arguing that they have the legal right to the same rights as employees, and the companies have responded by settling these lawsuits out of court. The companies have also worked to secure exemptions to rules threatening the contractors’ freelancer status in a number of states.

Embed from Getty Images

While the specifics of how gig economy companies will react to the new law is unclear, it is estimated that treating workers as employees could raise costs by 20 to 30 percent, and Uber and Lyft claim that the law would require them to schedule drivers in advance, prohibiting their freedom to choose when and where to work. Experts, however, disagree, and claim that the companies are free to leave their system of scheduling workers the way that it is. Not all drivers are in favor of the bill, as they fear the law will limit their flexibility, and Uber and Lyft urged drivers to call their legislators to oppose the bill.

Reaction to the concept of reclassifying contractors as employees nationwide generally varies along the political spectrum, with people on the left praising the bill for the benefits it grants workers and people on the right complaining that the bill represents excessive government interference in the affairs of private businesses. In any case, the passage of the bill in California is sure to provide a valuable test case for how similar legislation in other states would impact workers, businesses, and consumers.