Another week, another hump day come and gone. It was a pretty decent day, which facilitated getting outside – a must while we remain in COVID-19 quarantine.

Like everyone else, I am counting down the days to May 15. I know we won’t be seeing a full re-opening, and also that everything won’t automatically be better. It will, however, be another step in the right direction, and that is all we can ask for right now.

There has been a lot going on in the news today. Be forewarned: These headlines include some upsetting revelations that have nothing to do with COVID-19.

1) In a shocking and confusing announcement today, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released the final version of the changes that have been underway for how schools and universities are to handle sexual harassment and assault allegations going forward.

During the Obama administration, rules and regulations were put in place that pushed schools to deal swiftly with the increase of these sorts of complaints. DeVos and the Trump administration quickly reversed course, claiming that this approach was unfair to the schools, the accused and even the accusers.

DeVos says the attendant rules she has put in place are not only clear and stringent, but also establish a level playing field.

The result is that most schools will have to significantly overhaul how they respond to these allegations. All complaints will now have to be met with hearings that follow courtroom regulations. The trials can be live or virtual and will be optional for grades K-through-12, but mandatory for colleges.

In the hearings, both the accuser and the accused will be able to call witnesses. They will also be able to challenge the other side’s credibility.  The personnel presiding over these hearings will need to be trained. Establishments will have to decide if they are going to be running their hearings in one of two ways – either with a standard of “clear and convincing” evidence or with a standard that is less stringent and depends on a preponderance of the evidence.

Critics wondered why DeVos felt the need to act now and not wait until the COVID crisis had died down a bit. But DeVos – and the White House – have argued that it was necessary to move forward in the interest of fairness. They are charactering the changes as a return to “due process,” saying that most universities have failed the accused over the past few years, giving the edge to the accuser.

President Donald Trump and the White House have released a “fact sheet” on the new approach, and Trump has been clear that he feels accusers received too much leeway in the past few years and that universities.

“…Have often stacked the deck against the accused, failing to offer protections such as a presumption of innocence or adequate ability to rebut allegations…”
-President Donald Trump

The Education Department says these new Title IX regulations, which take effect Aug. 14, will apply to all off-campus or school-sanctioned housing – including fraternities and sororities.

Opponents say this marks a return to the pre-Obama era when accusers were often too scared to come forward, assuming that their complaints would be ignored, downplayed, or – even worse – used against them.

Supporters, meanwhile, say this will put an end to so-called “kangaroo courts” and reduce false accusations. As for the timing, these supporters also see no reason why COVID should have delayed this release, as Title IX officers are no more busy during the pandemic than they would be at any other time.

There is a deadline approaching, which may explain the timing issue. The next Congress could potentially undo any significant changes to laws, regulations, or practices that are finalized under the Trump administration during the last 60 days of any House or Senate year under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). These new regulations are now shielded from the fast-track to reversal under the CRA.

Experts are predicting wave of lawsuits from the same survivor advocates who sued over the temporary version of these new guidelines. The CEO and president of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), Fatima Goss Graves, has already pledged to fight the matter in court.

2) Eight years ago today, then-Vice President Joe Biden went on NBC’s “Meet the Press”  and declared his support for legalizing same-sex marriage.

Eight years ago, this was one of the most controversial and divisive issues in politics. And it was a big deal for Biden to have gotten out in front of then-President Obama on the issue.

This may seem like ancient history and a settled matter, but speaking from someone who lives in that life every day, believe me, when I tell you – it has gotten worse again since Trump took office.

On the anniversary of this very forward and risky move, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the most prominent national LGBTQ rights organizations, has come out to endorse Biden’s presidential run. Though this endorsement was a given, the date of the official announcement was explicitly chosen. It is meant to underline that before it was trendy or PC, Biden supported the rights of this marginalized group.

Every member of the LGBTQ community and their allies remember that Obama was a little over cautious during much of of his first term, though he eventually followed Biden’s lead in supporting legalizing same-sex marriage and pushing for equal rights for those in the LGBTQ sect. Three days after Biden was on Meet the Press, Obama also gave an interview endorsing same-sex marriage.

Biden has never looked back, becoming a vocal and stalwart ally to the equal rights movement for the LGBTQ community. He has spoken up often since 2017 when the Trump administration and the Republican-run Congress have undone many advancements made in the LGBTQ community and slowed any additional forward momentum.

The HRC also released its strategy for the 2020 election – to target and maximize the turnout of those voters who are sympathetic to their cause. They have added some new states to their list to focus, which now includes Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

In touting the support for Biden, Alphonso David, President of the HRC, said:

“Joe Biden is the leader our community and our country need at this moment. His dedication to advancing LGBTQ equality, even when it was unpopular to do so, has pushed our country and our movement forward.”

3) In Rochester, a drug bust last week resulted in the seizure by federal authorities of $920,000, approximately two kilograms of cocaine and crack cocaine, as well as 3.5 kilograms of fentanyl. They also arrested 17 people for their alleged participation in a Western New York drug ring that was large in scope and very long-standing.

The investigation involved hours of wiretaps and surveillance that led investigators to search 24 residences throughout the area, along with 12 cars associated with the alleged dealers. The searches were coordinated through multiple agencies and took place on April 30. The agencies were led to the ring as a part of the fallout from a 2016 drug bust and involved the Rochester Police, the Greece Police, the State Police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

The agencies allege that JanCarlos Gonzalez-Rivera (one of the 17 charged) was the leader of a cocaine, fentanyl and heroin distribution ring in Rochester and its surrounding areas, according to Assistant US Attorney Everardo Rodriguez.

4) Across New York, there are 64 cases of a mystery inflammatory disease assumed to be linked to COVID-19 in children, according to state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. The DOH has released an advisory regarding the regulation of testing and reporting of more cases.

Hospitals and general health providers will be required to report all cases of inflammatory syndromes in children directly to the DOH. Zucker reiterated that most kids who get COVID will show only mild symptoms, but warned parents to be aware of the possibility that a more serious inflammatory issue can develop in some cases.

The first link of these cases was reported throughout the United Kingdom.

5) Tomorrow and Friday of this week, all frontline workers can get their vehicle interiors cleaned and disinfected by Daigle Cleaning Systems for free.

The company’s president, Derek Foster, has announced that he and his team at Daigle simply wanted to help those who are fighting against COVID on the front lines.

If you want to take advantage of this deal and are a frontline worker, it will be available at their location in Albany at 20 Center Street, from 9 AM to 3 PM. Please go here for more information.

Have a great night everyone, we will be here again tomorrow, same time, same place.

Photo credit: George Fazio.