NEWS BRIEFS

Garden City Telegram

SC House approves open carrying of firearms with restrictions

COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolinians could soon openly carry a handgun with a permit under a proposal passed Wednesday by the state House.

The House passed the legislation in a 82-33 vote, after attaching new requirements that outline where a trained gun owner could carry in the Palmetto State and blocking an attempt to expand the proposal even further by removing the permit requirement entirely.

The proposal calls for allowing trained gun owners who hold a permit to carry their firearms out in the open but only in public and in businesses where allowed. That means, for example, a legal gun owner could not carry on State House grounds or inside a school where guns are forbidden. They also could not carry inside businesses that have clear gun restrictions outlined in a sign on the premises.

An amendment added to the bill Wednesday also would allow local municipalities to ban open carry at certain permitted events like parades, festivals and carnivals.

The state Senate will get the legislation after the House gives it a perfunctory third reading Thursday, though how fast it will move through the upper chamber entirely depends on the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, state Sen. Luke Rankin, a Horry Republican, who told The State the bill is likelier to get a hearing next year before the two-year session ends.

Republicans argue that the bill is essential to allow people to protect themselves in public with a firearm. They add that 45 states already allow for open carry. - The State

New coronavirus strains officially ‘variants of concern,’ CDC says

Mutated strains of coronavirus emerging all over the world, most recently in California, have added an extra layer of urgency in the race to inoculate the public against the fast-spreading disease.

Two new strains of COVID-19, initially detected in the Golden State, were officially dubbed “variants of concern” on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control. The agency said early data revealed that they could be up to 20% more transmissible than the initial strain and warned some coronavirus treatments may not protect as well against the mutations.

While initial studies showed antibodies from vaccinated people appear to be less effective at neutralizing the mutation, the CDC stopped short of saying the shots would be ineffective against the variants. Researchers noted that the lower level of antibodies could still be enough to protect against the strains.

Three other variants - one first detected in the United Kingdom, another in South Africa and another in Japan and Brazil - are also on the CDC’s list of variants of concern. They’ve proven to be 50% more transmissible than the initial coronavirus strain, according to the agency.

Another three have been dubbed “variants of interest,” but none has yet fallen under the CDC’s most dire classification of “variant of high consequence.”

The shape-shifting coronavirus has sent officials scrambling to speed up vaccine distribution with the hope that citizens can achieve herd immunity before the virus transforms into something more deadly. While numbers have been mostly in decline in the United States in recent weeks, experts have expressed worry that variants could reverse the positive trajectory. - New York Daily News

House Republican Conference votes to bring back earmarks

WASHINGTON - House Republicans lifted their decade-old ban on earmarks Wednesday during a closed-door vote, freeing their members up to request “congressionally directed spending” under the new process Democrats announced last month.

The vote ends weeks of internal debate among House GOP lawmakers about whether the party should participate in the process that will kick off later this year when the House Appropriations Committee begins drafting fiscal 2022 spending bills.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that “members want to have a say in their own district” and that many Republicans have “a real concern about the administration directing where money goes.”

The House Republican Conference rules change, authored by Alabama’s Mike D. Rogers, includes several elements outlined by Democrats when they announced a restoration of earmarking last month.

Under the resolution adopted behind closed doors Wednesday morning, GOP members must publicly disclose their earmark requests when submitted and affirm that neither the lawmaker or their immediate family members have a financial interest in such projects

But Republicans put in additional guardrails, requiring that members explain in writing why the earmark they request is an “appropriate use of taxpayer funds.” The conference rules amendment also says that committee and party leaders “shall not give consideration to a member’s seniority, committee assignments, or position in the elected leadership when facilitating a request.” - CQ-Roll Call

John Magufuli, Tanzanian leader who scoffed at COVID-19, dies

Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who drew widespread criticism for his denialism of the coronavirus pandemic, has died only five months after he won a second term in a disputed election. He was 61.

“We have lost our courageous leader, President John Magufuli, who has died from a heart illness,” Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on state television on Wednesday. She announced 14 days of national mourning.

Nicknamed "The Bulldozer" for his aggressive leadership style, Magufuli won early praise for tackling corruption, reducing wasteful government spending and improving the lives of peasant farmers by waiving dozens of taxes. He also spearheaded the development of new transport links, power plants and more than 1,700 health centers, investments that helped Tanzania’s economy become one of the world’s top performers.

Magufuli also drove through controversial reforms aimed at ensuring the nation derived greater benefit from its natural resources, which put his administration on a collision course with foreign mining companies. In 2017, the authorities asked Barrick Gold Corp.’s local unit to pay a whopping $190 billion tax bill — a dispute the company settled by paying $300 million and creating a mining joint venture with the state.

Magufuli became increasingly authoritarian as his first term progressed - he centralized power in the presidency and unapologetically cracked down on dissent and media freedom. He secured a second five-year term in October when he garnered 84% of the vote, the widest victory margin of any presidential candidate in almost three decades of multiparty elections in Tanzania. - Bloomberg News