Biden’s COVID Law and the NC Senate Race

Catch up in six minutes: Ashley Christensen’s class-action suit + Frutta Bowls to federal clink + OBX is sinking + NC prisons have to treat hep C + old celibates say no to gay marriage

Tues., March 16, 2021

Hola, amigos, and happy Tuesday. Today marks the one-year anniversary of the last day North Carolina’s bars and restaurants operated without state restrictions. It’s been a long, long year. But, as we’ll see, there’s light on the horizon.

  • Weather: Rain, 44 degrees all day. Don’t hate the messenger.

  • Sorry, folks, you’ll have to get your Bachelor news elsewhere.

Today’s Number: 976

Reported COVID-related hospitalizations in North Carolina as of Monday, the first time this number has dipped below 1,000 since Oct. 6. (N&O)

  • Told you there was light on the horizon.

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1. How Biden’s COVID Law Could Define the NC Senate Race

If you’re a Republican, history is on your side next year.

  • The party in power always faces a headwind going into the midterms.

  • While the GOP faces a difficult Senate map, the Dems’ hold on the House is paper-thin, perhaps enough to be overcome by redistricting alone.

But if you’re a Democrat, you, too, have reasons for optimism.

  • Most Republicans have made a comfortable home inside the epistemically closed confines of the Fox News Cinematic Universe (FNCU), limiting their appeal to those outside of it.

  • More importantly, if the election is going to be a referendum on what Democrats did with power—it will be—they need to deliver. The American Rescue Plan was their chance to put points on the board.

And if you zoom out, Dems have to be happy with what they see.

  • The COVID law makes huge, albeit temporary, improvements to Affordable Care Act marketplaces, vastly increasing the number of Americans eligible for premium subsidies. In North Carolina, a 60-year-old who makes $55,000 a year will see their monthly premium decrease by an average of $705. (KFF)

  • For another publication, I was speaking to an out-of-state insurance broker—no fan of the ACA—about these changes. “This will be huge, if it is what I think it is,” he said. If you want to see how these changes will affect you, here’s the KFF’s subsidy calculator.

  • The law also offers billions of dollars to the 12 states, including North Carolina, that have not expanded Medicaid, trying to make them an offer they can’t refuse. (WaPo)

  • Meanwhile, indicators are pointing in the right direction: By the end of the month, President Biden says, the administration will get 100 million vaccines in arms and 100 million checks in the mail (or bank accounts). (Axios)

  • In North Carolina, the unemployment rate is falling, and kids are going back to school.

Perhaps the clearest indication of how politically potent the COVID law could be is how Republicans are reacting to it:

  • By taking credit: Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississppi claimed credit for a provision helping the restaurant industry. Rep. Maria E. Salazar of Florida proclaimed on Twitter that she was “proud to announce that the Biden Administration has just implemented my bipartisan COVID relief bill.” They both voted against the bill. (Newsweek)

  • By changing the subject: In the FNCU, the biggest story yesterday, by far, was Republican criticism of Biden’s border “crisis.”

  • Up next, legal action: A last-minute provision to the Senate version of the COVID bill bans states from using federal funds to pay for tax cuts, which both makes sense and gets logistically dicey. It might prohibit states that take federal money from enacting any tax cuts through 2024. It might inadvertently block states from expanding their Earned Income Tax Credits. It might be unconstitutional. (Politico)

Dem operatives clearly think it’s a winner. On Monday night, the DNC went on the air in Raleigh with an ad touting the legislation (see below). The party’s two highest-profile announced candidates for the Senate race, Jeff Jackson and Erica Smith, are both cheering on the package. (N&O)

  • The best GOP candidate Mark Walker can offer is this: “$1.9 trillion. We allowed the government to trample on our freedoms in return for a handout that our children and grandchildren will pay for. Chuck Schumer called it ‘one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in decades.’ The only one more excited than Schumer is China.”

  • That, friends, is not a winning message to counter a law with 75% approval—including the approval of nearly 60% of Republicans.


2. Ex-Chapel Hill Man Charged in Assault on Capitol Cop

The feds arrested two men for the Jan. 6 assault on Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died shortly thereafter. One of those men, Julian Khater, live in Chapel Hill, where he co-owned and managed the Frutta Bowls store on West Franklin, until 2019.

  • Authorities say Khater and George Tanios assaulted Sicknick with bear spray; they don’t know if it caused Sicknick’s death.

  • Khater is the man in a video obtained by the FBI that showed him spraying Sicknick and others with bear spray, according to court papers. ‘Give me that bear [expletive],’ Khater said to Tanios on the video, according to court papers. Sicknick and other officers were standing guard near metal bike racks, the papers say.”

  • “Khater then says, ‘they just [expletive] sprayed me,’ as he’s seen holding a white can with a black top that prosecutors said ‘appears to be a can of chemical spray.’ After he sprayed the officers, they ‘immediately retreat from the line, bring their hands to their faces and rush to find water to wash out their eyes,’ according to the court papers.”

  • “Sicknick collapsed later on and died at a hospital on Jan. 7. The Justice Department opened a federal murder investigation into his death, but prosecutors are still evaluating what other specific charges could be brought in the case and the probe continues, officials have said. The medical examiner’s report on Sicknick’s death is incomplete. Capitol Police say they are awaiting toxicology results.” (N&O)


  • A federal judge sentenced a Raleigh man to 30 months in prison for setting a cop car on fire as a George Floyd protest turned out of control last summer. (N&O)

  • Related to that: The Wadesboro Police Department is investigating a sergeant who flashed a white power sign in a photo with his son. (WRAL)

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3. Ashley Christensen Files Biz Interruption Suit

Last year, Durham restaurant owners Matt Kelly (Mateo Tapas, Vin Rouge) and Giorgios Bakatsias (Parizade, Kipos) won a somewhat novel business-interruption lawsuit against their insurer, The Cincinnati Insurance Co., which promptly appealed.

  • Yesterday, Raleigh restaurateur Ashley Christensen, represented by the same law firm, followed with a claim of her own—which she intends to make a class-action on behalf of all North Carolina restaurant owners covered by Cincinnati.

  • “On March 17, 2020, with entry of the first government shutdown order, Ms. Christensen was forced to shutter all of her restaurants. According to the lawsuit, Ms. Christensen’s operations went from 300 employees to around 50, virtually overnight. Ms. Christensen and her team purchased insurance coverage for this very kind of business interruption.”

  • “But as the lawsuit explains, ‘Cincinnati has not paid and never had any intention of paying insurance claims filed by Plaintiffs and the class. Cincinnati’s premeditated strategy to deny all COVID-19-related claims applies even where an insured’s policy has no virus exclusion.’”

In the first case, Cincinatti argued that its business interruption policies do not include pandemics, and that it will not be able to cover restaurateurs’ losses. The state’s Department of Insurance has supported Cincinnati’s position.

  • From the lawsuit: “Cincinnati promises that ‘[w]hen it comes to paying claims, we’ll look for coverage—not exceptions, helping to keep your business running in the event of a claim.’ Cincinnati markets its business interruption insurance as helping to cover ‘loss of income and necessary extra expenses you incur to keep your business operating,’ including lost profits, payroll, taxes, and other operating expenses. Cincinnati assures prospective customers that Cincinnati is “everything insurance should be.’”

  • “Nevertheless, Cincinnati has reflexively denied claims made by its policyholders. Cincinnati had already decided—even before any claims were filed—that all claims related to government orders limiting the use of or access to covered property are invalid—even where no virus exclusion exists. Simply put, Plaintiffs and the Class did not get what they paid for.”

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4. OBX Town Faces Massive Tax Hike to Fight Sea Rise

It’s no secret that the Outer Banks has a sea-level-rise problem. Nor is it a secret that this problem is getting worse by the year. For the town of Avon, this means $11 million to keep its main street from washing out. But that, however, will require a massive property tax hike—up to 50% for some residents.

The New York Times has the fascinating story:

  • “People gave [Dare County manager David] Outten their own ideas about who should pay to protect their town: the federal government. The state government. The rest of the county. Tourists. People who rent to tourists. The view for many seemed to be, anyone but them.”

  • “Mr. Outten kept responding with the same message: There’s nobody coming to the rescue. We have only ourselves.”

  • “The risk to tiny Avon from climate change is particularly dire—it is, after all, located on a mere sandbar of an island chain, in a relentlessly rising Atlantic. But people in the town are facing a question that is starting to echo along the American coastline as seas rise and storms intensify. What price can be put on saving a town, a neighborhood, a home where generations have built their lives?”

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5. After Settlement, NC Prisons Have to Test for, Treat Hep C

In 2018, three North Carolina prisoners sued the Department of Public Safety, alleging that they were denied treatment for hepatitis C because they weren’t sick enough. (Insurance companies once used the same logic to deny hep C patients access to new, very expensive drugs that cured the disease.) Last week, DPS settled their case.

  • “According to the agreement, DPS will offer education on hepatitis C and spread awareness on how the virus is transmitted.”

  • “Any inmate can now be tested for hepatitis C by asking for it through a sick call or during a routine medical appointment. … DPS will test all inmates when they come into prison, after being transferred to another facility within the prison system, and during routine physicals.”

  • “Any person in DPS custody who tests positive for chronic hepatitis C and has time to complete the course of treatment before their release date will now be eligible to receive treatment. If an inmate tests positive too close to their release date, DPS will arrange a connection to treatment in the community.” (NC Health News)

6. Old Celibates Say No to Gay Marriage

Pope Francis has done much to bring the Catholic Church into something approaching modernity—among other things, changing canon law to give women access to non-clerical positions heretofore reserved for men—and refocus the church on addressing poverty and social justice.

  • “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods,” he told an interview soon after becoming pope. “… The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

  • Asked about whether there was a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, he told a different reporter, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

  • In a 2019 interview for a documentary released last year, he seemed to indicate support for civil unions: “Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to create is a civil union law.”

  • The Vatican said he was taken (somewhat) out of context, and those comments reflected his own views about a controversy in his native Argentina rather than a change in church position.

Whatever softening of doctrine rigidity has come with Francis’s papacy only goes so far, it turns out.

  • “The Roman Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex marriages, no matter how stable or positive the couples' relationships are, the Vatican said on Monday. The message, approved by Pope Francis, came in response to questions about whether the church should reflect the increasing social and legal acceptance of same-sex unions.”

  • The church would like you to know its discriminatory position is not at all discriminatory: “The Vatican said on Monday that its declaration is not meant to be ‘unjust discrimination.’ It called on Catholics ‘to welcome with respect and sensitivity persons with homosexual inclinations.’”

  • If we’re on a sensitivity trip, guys, maybe lose the “homosexual inclinations” language. That term’s been out of date since the seventies.