Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Americans United Issues 

Statement to Commemorate 

Civil Rights Leader  

    WASHINGTON, DC - (Americans United) - Jan 16, 2022 - In observance of Martin Luther King Day and in support of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement:
     “As we commemorate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we should remember that as a proud preacher and civil rights leader he said that the church ‘must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.’ Dr. King knew that the wall of separation between church and state protects us all. It makes our country more fair, more equal and more inclusive.
    “As the Supreme Court takes up the case of a football coach who held post-game prayer rallies as a ‘religious freedom’ issue, we should remember that Dr. King also supported the 1962 Supreme Court decision prohibiting enforced prayer in public schools. Americans United is representing the Bremerton School District because the district’s decisions exemplify why real religious freedom is a shield that protects us all, not a sword to harm or exclude others.
    "While we are relieved that the hostages at Congregation Beth Israel were all safely released, we are also reminded that religious and racial minorities are always more at risk from religious extremists, and that extremism can still threaten any of us at any time. We ask Americans to join us in our pledge to uphold our constitutional principle of a secular nation that practices freedom without favor and equality without exception, and that promises dignity and safety to every American.”
 
Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. Learn more at www.au.org.

Crime and Justice

Former Acting Inspector 

General for DHS 

Pleads Guilty to Scheme

Charges Involve Theft of Proprietary Software


     WASHINGTON, D.C. - (DOJ) - 1/14/2022 - A former Acting Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG) pleaded guilty today to federal charges stemming from the theft of proprietary software and sensitive databases from the U.S. government.

    According to court documents, Charles K. Edwards, 61, of Sandy Spring, Maryland, executed a scheme to steal confidential and proprietary software from the government. Edwards worked for DHS-OIG from February 2008 until December 2013, including as Acting Inspector General. Prior to DHS-OIG, he worked at the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (USPS-OIG). At both agencies, Edwards had access to software systems, including one used for case management and other systems holding sensitive personal identifying information of employees.

    After leaving DHS-OIG, Edwards founded Delta Business Solutions Inc., located in Maryland. From at least 2015 until 2017, he stole software from DHS-OIG, along with sensitive government databases containing personal identifying information of DHS and USPS employees, so that his company could develop a commercially-owned version of a case management system to be offered for sale to government agencies.

    Edwards pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to conspiracy to commit theft of government property and theft of government property. A second defendant in the case, Murali Y. Venkata, 56, of Aldie, Virginia, has pleaded not guilty to charges and his case remains pending. Edwards will be sentenced at a later date. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

    Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia, Inspector General Dr. Joseph V. Cuffari of DHS-OIG and Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb of USPS-OIG made the announcement.

    Senior Litigation Counsel Victor R. Salgado of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia are prosecuting the case.

    An indictment is merely an allegation, and Venkata is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Economic Trends

Small Business Hiring Sees 

Growth in December

Index Points to Strong Employment Rebound

    CLEVELAND-- (BUSINESS WIRE) -- 1/9/2022 - The CBIZ Small Business Employment Index (“SBEI”) reported a seasonally adjusted increase of 1.05% in December, offering a positive sign on the heels of the hiring decline seen in November. The CBIZ SBEI tracks payroll and hiring trends for over 3,700 companies that have 300 or fewer employees, providing broad insight into small business trends.

    “December is typically a month where we see positive hiring trends due to the holiday season, and this month was especially strong,”CBIZ, Inc. Executive Vice President Philip Noftsinger said. “It’s possible that workforce safety confidence was a growth factor earlier in the month prior to the omicron variant becoming a larger headline later in the month.”

    The ADP and Moody’s employment report indicated growth in hiring among small, medium-sized and large companies. Its December reading showed an overall increase of 807,000 private-sector jobs for the month, an improvement from the November report. Small businesses accounted for 204,000 of those new jobs on a seasonally adjusted, month-over-month basis. The ADP and Moody’s report counts small businesses as companies with 49 or fewer employees, while the CBIZ SBEI uses data from companies with 300 employees or fewer.

    The CBIZ SBEI reported hiring growth in all four regions measured. The West (1.95%) showed solid growth but less than the previous month, following its robust economic rebound from delta variant-related closures in the late summer. The Central (2.88%), Southeast (2.25%) and Northeast (1.80%) regions all showed impressive growth as well, reflecting a strong recovery from November’s negative readings for these regions.

    On an industry level, the most notable increases were seen in Insurance, Non-profit, Financial Services, Healthcare, Construction, and Retail. Education and Agriculture experienced hiring declines.

    “The December reading points to a positive indicator that the labor shortage is waning,” Noftsinger said. “The continued increase in COVID-19 cases could cause a slowdown in the momentum we’re seeing, but with the adoption of booster vaccines and the increased availability of treatments to mitigate severe symptoms, employees are likely to feel more confident returning to work.”

    To view an infographic with data from the employment index, see CBIZ.

    Additional takeaways from the December SBEI include:

  • December’s snapshot: 28% of companies in the index expanded employment, 53% made no change to their headcounts and 19% reduced staffing.
  • Industries at a glance: Hiring gains were seen in Insurance, Non-profit, Financial Services, Healthcare, Construction, and Retail. Meanwhile, declines were reported in Education and Agriculture.
  • Geographical hiring: The Central (2.88%), Southeast (2.25%), West (1.95%) and Northeast (1.80%) regions all experienced hiring increases.


    What’s next? Small businesses are growing their workforces despite the labor shortage and pandemic-related economic volatility. In 2022, this momentum should continue as other factors like supply chain issues and stagflation abate. 

    CBIZ is one of the largest accounting and insurance brokerage providers in the U.S. For more information, visit www.cbiz.com

 

Law and Politics

Groups Call New Ohio 

Congressional Map 

Unconstitutional and Partisan


    COLUMBUS, Ohio -
(ACLU) - 12/3/2021 - The ACLU of Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Covington & Burling LLP filed a lawsuit on Nov. 30 challenging Senate Bill 258, which establishes new congressional districts for Ohio, giving Republicans an unconstitutional partisan advantage. This proposal was signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine on November 20.

    The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and several individuals.

    Earlier this month, the Ohio General Assembly voted to enact the map along strict party lines, with nearly all Republicans, but no Democrat, voting in favor. The enacted plan is heavily skewed to favor the Republican Party; it awards Republicans 67%-80% of Ohio’s congressional seats, although the party receives only 55% of Ohioans’ votes. Because this proposal received no support from the minority party, it will only be in place for four years, according to the terms of Article XIX, Section 1, of the Ohio Constitution.

    This is the second Ohio redistricting lawsuit filed this year by the ACLU and plaintiffs — the first was brought in September, to challenge the state House and Senate districts, which are also severely gerrymandered. Oral arguments in that case are set for December 8.

“Our elected officials have once again flagrantly violated the will of Ohioans, who have repeatedly voted for fair districts. Judicial intervention is critical to prevent these self-serving officials from perpetuating the terrible tradition of extreme partisan gerrymandering in our state. A core principle of republican government is that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,” noted Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio. “For the second time in two months, we ask the state’s highest court to enforce the Ohio Constitution, and ensure that Ohio voters are able to have a voice in their government.”

    Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, commented: “Here we go again. Ohio politicians are making another brazen attempt to undermine voters, who amended their state Constitution to prevent gerrymandering. Yet try as they may, politicians do not get to choose their voters — voters get to choose their politicians.”

    As stated in the lawsuit: “The map unduly splits governmental units in the urban and suburban areas of southwestern and northeastern Ohio. In particular, the Enacted Plan splits counties and communities in Hamilton, Cuyahoga, and Summit — splits that are unnecessary for any purpose other than to minimize the efficacy of Democratic votes.”

    Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, critized mapmakers for defying voter desire for a bipartisan map.

    “The newly adopted congressional map is an affront to the Ohio Constitution and our democracy. Despite demanding reforms at the ballot box in 2018, Ohio voters are facing an even more extreme gerrymander than the congressional districts that they've been forced to live with for the past decade,” noted Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “From start to finish, mapmakers shamefully defied voter expectations of having a transparent, bipartisan, and public process that resulted in congressional districts that serve voters — not politicians. Ohioans deserve better.”

    “Under the enacted plan the Republicans can anticipate winning 67 percent to 80 percent of the congressional seats — even though they are only likely to obtain about 55 percent of the vote. The Ohio Constitution flatly prohibits that outcome,” Robert Fram of Covington & Burling LLP said.

    The case, League of Women Voters of Ohio et al v. Governor DeWine, was filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Complaint: https://www.acluohio.org/sites/default/files/leagueofwomenvotersofohioetal-v-governordewineetal_complaint_2021-1130.pdf