Seattle City Council Passes Rent Control by Another Name. Is It Legal?

“The Seattle City Council might have found a clever way around Washington state’s ban on local rent control policies. On Monday, it passed two bills that respectively require landlords to give generous notice to their tenants of any rent increases and to provide relocation expenses to low-income renters who do move in response to large rent hikes.
Current city and state law require landlords to give their tenants 60 days’ notice of any rent increase. One bill passed by the council would increase that notification period to 180 days, likely the longest notification period in the country.

And if a low-income tenant decides to move in response to a rent increase of 10 percent or more, landlords will be obligated to provide them with “economic dislocation relocation assistance” equal to three months’ rent, thanks to another bill passed by the council on Monday.

Both are the handiwork of Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party, who argues the twin bills are needed to protect tenants from a post-pandemic upswing in rents—and from capitalism more generally.

“Today’s victories will benefit tens of thousands of renters in Seattle, who are facing skyrocketing rent increases from profit-hungry corporate landlords and the venture capitalists and big banks who are [fueling] a speculative bubble,” said Sawant after the bills passed.

Landlords were less pleased with the bills’ passage, arguing during public comment that they’d raise their costs of doing business and are, per the Seattle Times, tantamount to rent control.

That latter charge could open up the new bills to legal challenges.

Washington state law preempts municipal governments from enacting laws “which regulate the amount of rent to be charged” and instead reserves that power under the state government.”

Australia’s Highest Court Holds Media Outlets Financially Liable for Trolls and Shitposters

“Australia’s highest court has upheld a controversial and potentially destructive ruling that media outlets are legally liable for defamatory statements posted by online commenters on Facebook, a decision that could result in massive amounts of online censorship out of fear of lawsuits.

The case revolves around a television program from 2016 on Australia’s ABC TV (no relation to America’s ABC network) about the mistreatment of youths in Australia’s jail system. Footage of Dylan Voller in a restraining chair was part of the coverage. When media outlets covered this program and posted links to the coverage on Facebook, users made comments about Voller, and this prompted Voller to sue the media outlets. The comments were defamatory, Voller claimed, and he argued that the media outlets themselves were responsible for publishing them.

The media outlets countered that, no, they were not the publishers of third-party comments on Facebook and were not responsible for what they said. The outlets have been appealing to the courts to toss out the lawsuits, and they’ve been losing.”

“The country’s top justices determined that media outlets in the country are, indeed, publishers of the comments that users post on Facebook under stories that they link.

The logic here is absolutely terrible and destructive. Facebook has control over the tools for managing comments on media pages. The media outlets themselves do not, and they can’t “turn off” commenting on their Facebook pages. They do have the power to delete comments after the fact or use filtering tools that target keywords (to stop people from making profane or obscene comments) and can block individual users from the page.

Using these tools to try to prevent defamatory comments requires constant monitoring of the media outlet’s Facebook page and would demand that moderators be so agile as to remove potentially defamatory content the moment it appears before anybody else could see it. Nevertheless, the justices concluded that this is enough control over the comments for media outlets to be considered publishers. Two of the justices were very blunt that simply participating on Facebook made Fairfax Media Publications a publisher of the comments”

“It is easy to assume, as these other justices apparently have, that such a decision could not possibly cause a disastrous amount of online censorship because media outlets should know when a controversial story might lead to defamatory comments. The judges actually note this in the ruling. They seem to think that this is only an issue with certain types of stories and that the appearance of defamatory comments can be predicted in advance.

This is complete rubbish, and anybody with any experience on social media already knows this. Trolls, scammers, and spammers range far and wide (that’s the point of them), and it’s incredibly naive to think that a story that has no controversial elements can’t end up with third parties posting defamatory nonsense under them.”

“it’s why Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which generally protects websites and social media platforms (and you) from liability for comments published by others, is so important. It’s not just to protect media outlets from being held liable for comments from trolls. It’s to allow social media participation to even happen at all. Some large media outlets or companies might be able to afford around-the-clock moderation to attempt to catch problems. But even if they could, let’s be clear that they’re going to avoid as much risk as possible and delete any comment that has a whiff of controversy. Why would they allow it to stand if it could get them sued?

But smaller companies and outlets—and there’s no reason to think this ruling applies only to media outlets—will either have to hope Facebook gives them better tools to control who posts on their page or just not have social media presences at all.”

Let’s Make it Easier for Distillers To Ship Alcohol Directly to Adult Consumers

“Congress effectively prohibits the U.S. Postal Service from transporting beer, wine, or spirits directly to consumers. Such shipments must be made through FedEx, UPS, and other private shippers, which are often more expensive than USPS. A bipartisan bill introduced this summer, the USPS Shipping Equity Act, would end that ban and allow the USPS to ship alcohol from licensed producers to consumers of legal drinking age.

The second issue is that even though nearly every state allows DTC shipments of wine, and many allow DTC shipments of beer—directly from brewers and vintners, respectively, to consumers—only nine states currently permit direct shipments of liquor from distillers to consumers. While some states have temporarily relaxed DTC liquor shipment rules during the pandemic, in most cases there’s no promise those measures will remain in place going forward.”

“the three-tier system, a Prohibition relic under which states generally prohibit direct alcohol sales from a brewer, vintner, or distiller to a consumer. The three-tier system mandates these alcohol producers first sell to a distributor or retailer—a mandatory middleman—who can then sell to actual drinkers.”

“It makes no sense for Congress to (rightly) allow FedEx and UPS to deliver alcohol but not permit USPS to do the same. It’s equally bizarre for states to treat liquor shipments differently than shipments of wine, beer, or cider. In order to protect and create jobs, level the playing field for alcohol producers, and ensure consumers have more choices, Congress and state lawmakers must get to work.”

Biden’s Green Agenda Meets Environmental Red Tape

“One test is unfolding in Nevada in a fight over a planned lithium mine and a rare desert wildflower. A mining company, ioneer Ltd., has proposed building a large-scale lithium-boron mine in western Nevada (the first of its kind in the United States) to supply materials for electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines, and other clean-energy technologies. If approved, the mine could quadruple domestic lithium production and help build 400,000 electric cars each year, according to the company’s estimates, helping to advance Biden’s goal “to win the EV market.”

But a rare plant may stop the project from breaking ground. The site is also home to Tiehm’s buckwheat, a pale yellow wildflower that is only found on a 10-acre patch of lithium-rich soil within the project area. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity, a litigious environmental group, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demanding emergency protections for the buckwheat to block the mine. On Thursday, in response to a court order, the service proposed listing the buckwheat under the Endangered Species Act. The Biden administration now has until September 30 to issue a proposed rule to protect the plant, which could all but doom the lithium mine.

It’s a familiar story: A tangled web of environmental laws and regulations gives litigious groups ample opportunities to stall development projects or thwart them altogether. That strategy works well when environmentalists’ goal is to stop things from happening, but it’s likely to be a major obstacle to building the infrastructure and technological capacity to achieve Biden’s clean-energy vision, which will require many new mining operations, solar and wind farms, transmission lines, and other forms of development.”

Arbitrary THC Limits Could Wipe Out Much of the Cannabis Industry

“The marijuana in that pipe was quite different from the black-market stuff I had smoked during college, when I could go through a whole bowl without experiencing the same effect. From my perspective, the Colorado cannabis was better, delivering a more pleasant experience in exchange for less effort and less exposure to combustion products. In that sense, it was also healthier.

Many politicians, by contrast, view stronger marijuana as ipso facto worse. Unimpressed by the minimization of respiratory hazards, they focus on contentious claims about the psychological impact of potent pot: It is more addictive, they say, or more likely to trigger psychotic reactions. They therefore want to legally restrict the potency of cannabis products sold by state-licensed retailers, which they claim will protect public health and safety.”

“As long as consumers understand what they are getting, you might think, they can decide for themselves which products meet their tastes and preferences, and they can adjust their consumption accordingly: Just as drinkers tend to consume smaller volumes when they drink liquor than they do when they drink beer, cannabis consumers tend to stop when they achieve the effect they want, which means they take fewer puffs of stronger pot. But politicians who favor THC limits do not trust consumers to make those decisions.”

“Vermont is the only state with a legal cap on THC content. Recreational stores have not opened there yet, but when they do they will not be allowed to sell flower that exceeds 30 percent THC or concentrates that exceed 60 percent.

A proposed limit in Florida, where marijuana is legal only for medical use, is far more onerous. It also would cap the THC content of concentrates at 60 percent, but it would limit flower to 10 percent. A bill to that effect was approved by a state House committee on a party-line vote last month; a similar Senate bill has not advanced yet.”

“In Massachusetts, HD 2841 would likewise limit THC in flower to 10 percent”

“A Montana bill described as “probably dead” would establish a 15 percent cap for all cannabis products.

In Colorado, state Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D–Adams County) this year wrote a bill that would have imposed the same 15-percent rule but shelved it in response to the uproar it provoked.”

“Legislators who support such limits think potent pot appeals to many consumers, which is why they want to ban it. But if they are right, their proposals will invite a resurgence of the black market that legalization aims to displace.”

Voters back Joe Biden’s gun control plan. It’s not clear if the evidence does.

“The fundamental reality about the US gun problem is that it’s a function of how many guns Americans have. Heavily reducing that stockpile may be the only way to significantly reduce America’s out of control gun deaths”

“”Gun control policies that don’t confront the core issue — that America simply has too many guns — are doomed to merely nibble around the edges. Everywhere in the world, people get into arguments. Every country has residents who are dangerous to themselves or others because of mental illness. Every country has bigots and extremists. But here, it’s uniquely easy for a person to obtain a gun, letting otherwise tense but nonlethal conflicts escalate into deadly violence.””

“Roughly 39,000 Americans die from guns every year. Mass shootings draw attention to this problem, but everyday suicides and violent confrontations that unnecessarily escalate to homicide due to the easy availability of guns are the norm in the United States. If policymakers are serious about changing this, dramatically reducing the number of guns is the path forward.”

The Supreme Court’s coming war with Joe Biden, explained

“On February 9, 2016 — the last Tuesday of Scalia’s life — the Supreme Court handed down an unexpected order announcing a stay of the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon emissions rules for many power plants. The vote was 5-4, along party lines, with Scalia joining his fellow conservatives in the majority.

The environmental regulations blocked by this order were commonly known as the Clean Power Plan, and they were the Obama administration’s most ambitious effort to fight climate change. Had the Clean Power Plan taken effect, the EPA predicted that by 2030 it would have reduced overall carbon dioxide emissions from utility power plants 32 percent from where they were in 2005.

But the Clean Power Plan never took effect. Though the Supreme Court’s order halting the plan was temporary, Donald Trump’s 2016 victory all but ensured that it would not be revived. Even if the Trump administration hadn’t replaced this Obama-era policy with a significantly weaker rule, the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s vacant seat signaled the Supreme Court would be highly likely to strike down the Clean Power Plan permanently if given the chance.

The problem for Democrats is that the legal defeat of the Clean Power Plan is likely not a one-off. This fight over the federal government’s power to address a slow-moving catastrophe is just one battle in a multi-front war over federal agencies’ power to regulate. As Stephen Bannon, then the White House’s chief strategist, told the Conservative Political Action Conference a month after Trump took office, one of the Trump administration’s primary goals would be “deconstruction of the administrative state.””

“It wasn’t always this way. In the late 1980s, Justice Scalia was one of the Court’s staunchest defenders of a strong administrative state. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush delivered three landslide victories in a row to Republicans, and the GOP was at the apex of its ability to gain power the old-fashioned way — by winning elections.
So conservatives benefited from court decisions that gave the Reagan and Bush administrations broad leeway to set federal policy. Both administrations could use this leeway to deregulate.

But the right’s approach to federal agencies shifted drastically during the Obama administration. With the GOP’s grip on the presidency waning at the very same time that they had a firm hold on the judiciary, conservatives had an obvious interest in increasing the judiciary’s power to strike down new rules pushed by federal agencies.”

“Congress is a slow-moving body, and federal laws are difficult to amend. If, in the 1970s, Congress had commanded power plants to use the best emissions reduction technology that existed at the time, it could have potentially locked these plants into using obsolete tech that is vastly inferior to the technology available now. At a minimum, Congress would have struggled to stay on top of new developments and to update this law as new methods of reducing emissions were invented.

For this reason, Congress may also regulate businesses in a second way. It can pass a law that lays out a broad federal policy but leave the details of how to implement that policy up to a federal agency. Often, such delegation means giving that agency a fair amount of authority to determine how businesses operate, so long as the agency uses this authority to advance the policy goal enacted by Congress.”

“Ideally, laws like the Clean Air Act make complex lawmaking possible without having to sacrifice democratic accountability. Regulation allows our laws to be both democratic and dynamic. Such laws are democratic because the goals of federal policy — goals such as ensuring that power plants use the best emission reduction technology available — are still set by the people’s elected representatives in Congress. But they are dynamic because it allows federal rules to be updated without requiring Congress to enact a new law every time a new innovation is developed.”

“the very idea that Congress should be free to delegate power in this way has many enemies within the conservative legal movement. In a 2016 opinion, for example, then-Judge Gorsuch wrote that two foundational Supreme Court decisions preserving agencies’ ability to regulate “permit executive bureaucracies to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design.””

“early American lawmakers — many of whom were the same people who drafted the Constitution — delegated tremendous power to executive branch officials.”

“As a practical matter, when the Supreme Court hands down a vague and open-ended legal standard like the one Gorsuch articulated in his Gundy opinion, the Court is shifting power to itself. What does it mean for a statute to be “sufficiently definite and precise” that the public can “ascertain whether Congress’s guidance has been followed”?

The answer is that the courts — and, ultimately, the Supreme Court — will decide for themselves what this vague language means. The courts will gain a broad new power to strike down federal regulations, on the grounds that they exceed Congress’s power to delegate authority.”

“If five justices get behind it, the nondelegation doctrine would give a Republican supermajority on the Supreme Court the ability to veto nearly any regulation handed down by a Democratic administration.”

Is America Too Bound by Red Tape to Support Space Entrepreneurs?

“As the test flights continue, so do disputes between SpaceX and the FAA.

“Unlike its aircraft division, which is fine, the FAA space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure,” Musk protested before the SN9 launch. “Their rules are meant for a handful of expendable launches per year from a few government facilities. Under those rules, humanity will never get to Mars.”

The SpaceX founder isn’t alone in pointing out that regulators haven’t kept up with the times when it comes to the changing nature of ventures into space.

“The era of commercial space travel and the rise of abundant spacefaring nations has led to an increase in space activity, which has outpaced international space laws—laws that were originally imagined for state-sponsored space travel in an arena with only two spacefaring states,” Juan Davalos wrote in a 2015 article for Emory International Law Review.

“Existing space law has not kept up with the growth in the private sector, and the United States lacks a comprehensive regulatory regime,” Brianna Rauenzahn, Jasmine Wang, Jamison Chung, Peter Jacobs, Aaron Kaufman, and Hannah Pugh chimed in last summer in the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s The Regulatory Review.

Worse, the regulatory regime that the U.S. does have, inherited from an era of government-dominance of space, lends itself (as do all intrusive rules) to abuse. That can come from “you will respect mah authoritah” resentment of anybody who bucks bureaucracy. But it can also reflect government seat warmers’ discomfort with the unfamiliar and threatening world of private entrepreneurial activity.”

“even the FAA’s political masters recognize that the agency needs to change. The FAA is under orders “to streamline the regulations governing commercial space launch and reentry licensing” under rulemaking that “replaces prescriptive requirements with performance-based criteria.”

But there’s no assurance that “streamline” means easing regulation rather than making it more restrictive.”