Congress returns to debate COVID relief, aid to Ukraine
Spring break is over for Congress. Legislators return to Washington on Monday with several big problems on their plate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said her chamber would agree to President Joe Biden’s request for $800 million in additional military aid to Ukraine as soon as possible this week, though the leader Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., has said he wants to tie Ukraine aid to a stalled $10 billion COVID-19 relief package. That package was put on hold ahead of Spring Break when Republicans tried to add amendments related to Biden’s decision to overturn Title 42, the Trump-era pandemic order that barred migrants applying for asylum from crossing the US-Mexico border.
Biden’s Ukrainian refugee program begins
From Monday, U.S. citizens and groups will be able to apply to sponsor Ukrainian refugees as part of the United for Ukraine program. They can apply through an online portal which will be available on the Department of Homeland Security website. Ukrainians who are allowed to travel to the United States under the program will go through a streamlined approval process that will allow them to live and work here for up to two years. To be eligible, they must have resided in Ukraine as of February 11 and have a US sponsor. They will have to submit to a background check, pass biometric checks, complete vaccinations and meet other public health requirements. Sponsors must undergo background checks to ensure they are able to support refugees and are not exploiting or abusing them.
Supreme Court to hear case of praying coach who lost his job after kneeling on the pitch
Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on Monday in high school football coach’s case who lost his job after kneeling at the 50-yard line in prayer after his former team’s football matches. Joseph Kennedy claims Bremerton High School in Washington violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to renew his contract after prayers. One of the issues the Supreme Court must decide is whether Kennedy was praying as a private citizen or as an assistant coach and school employee. The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco ruled last year that Kennedy was acting as a public employee and therefore his prayers were not protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that public schools cannot offer prayers, even if student participation is voluntary. A decision in the Kennedy case expected this summer.
French President Emmanuel Macron wins a second term
French President Emmanuel Macron comfortably won a second term on Sunday, fending off a stronger-than-expected challenge from Marine Le Pen, a far-right populist who has attacked the European Union and NATO and voiced support for Russia. Le Pen quickly conceded defeat but still scored his best election performance ever. Acknowledging that “many” voters voted for him simply to keep Le Pen out, Macron pledged to reunite the country and work to assuage the anger of French voters who fueled Le Pen’s campaign. Five years ago, Macron beat Le Pen with more than 66% of the vote. Macron, who built his own political party to run for president in 2017, won again despite a first term plagued by protests over his economic policies, the COVID-19 pandemic and, most recently, the Russian invasion. of Ukraine which has troubled diplomatic relations across the globe.
Kansas Legislature to Discuss Religious Exemptions for Childhood Vaccine Requirements
Kansas bills with language-expanding religious exemptions for childhood vaccine requirements passed the state Senate in March and now face the House when the legislature reconvenes on Monday. They are among more than 520 vaccine-related bills introduced in state houses across the country since Jan. 1, and of those bills, 66 relate specifically to childhood vaccine requirements in 25 states. A pending Kansas bill would require vaccine exemption requests to be granted without review if they are based on religion or personal beliefs. Currently, the state leaves it up to child care centers and school districts to accept requests for religious exemptions. State Senator Mark Steffen supports amendments he pushed overruling Kansas vaccine requirements for children. The Republican, who said he was “not an anti-vaxxer in any form,” lamented the mandates and suggested that individual rights replace mandates designed to protect public health.