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PA Lawmakers Sue Biden, Shapiro, Over Executive Orders on Voting

Twenty-four Pennsylvania legislators filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Thursday against President Joe Biden, Gov. Josh Shapiro, and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt, asking for an injunction to stop changes to voter registration that they claim are unconstitutional.

The Republican lawmakers claim Shapiro and Biden usurped the role of the state legislature to make laws concerning voting.

Last September, Shapiro announced people would automatically be registered to vote when they get their driver’s licenses or state government ID. However, because he did not go to the legislature to ask them to pass a law first, they said his action was unconstitutional.

“The citizens of Pennsylvania have been victimized by the extraordinary overreach of executive officials who have made changes to election laws with no authority to do so. If we don’t take action to stop this, there is no limit to the changes they might make to further erode Pennsylvania’s election system in 2024 and beyond,” said Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York).

On March 7, 2021, Biden signed Executive Order 14019, requiring all federal agencies to develop a plan to increase voter registration and increase voter participation or get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts, the suit said.

The legislators claim that the action was unconstitutional.

In response to EO 14019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced federal health centers located across the country, including Pennsylvania, get involved in voter registration activities. The Department of Education “dear colleague” letter to universities, including those located in Pennsylvania, directing them to use Federal Work Study funds “to support voter registration activities,” whether they occur “on or off-campus.”

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development likewise instructed more than 3,000 public housing authorities, which manage approximately 1.2 million public housing units across the country, including Pennsylvania, to run voter registration drives in those units, the suit said.

Other agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture and the General Services Administration, began similar initiatives, the suit said. The GSA, which administers federally-owned buildings, including those located in Pennsylvania, is now available for voter registration drives by third-party organizations, regardless of whether the agency or agencies that own or operate out of those buildings have received an NVRA designation.

While Keefer chairs the Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus, not all of the legislators involved are members. Also, the group of lawmakers are not using taxpayer funds to pay for the lawsuit, which was filed by Attorney Erick Kaardal, a partner of Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson, along with the nonprofit Election Research Institute.

“Over the past few years, we have seen nonlegislative officials in various states taking it upon themselves to set election rules,” said Karen DiSalvo, attorney and vice president of the Election Research Institute. “This is not the function of the executive branch. This case is an attempt to put an end to that practice in Pennsylvania.”

Keefer said the group chose Erickson because of his track record in the field.

“We talked to a lot of attorneys,” she said. They wanted to bring a federal rather than state lawsuit because of the nature of Pennsylvania courts. The state Supreme Court is majority Democrat. And by waiting until 2024, the legislators have standing since their names will be on the ballot this year.

Keefer is running for state Senate.

“It is abundantly clear that Gov. Shapiro’s commonsense action to securely streamline voter registration and enhance election security is within the administration’s authority. Any suggestion that the administration lacks the authority to implement automatic voter registration is frivolous. This administration looks forward to once again defending our democracy in court against those advancing extreme, undemocratic legal theories,” said Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for Shapiro.

“Gov. Shapiro remains focused on protecting our democracy and ensuring our elections are free, fair, safe, and secure.”

Amy Gulli, spokeswoman for the Department of State, said, “State law grants the Secretaries of the Commonwealth and Transportation broad authority to determine the form of Pennsylvania’s combined driver’s license and voter registration form. Contentions that the changes to the voter registration process through the Department of Transportation in September 2023 – which have resulted in a 44 percent increase in new voter registrations over the same time period two years ago – violate federal or state law are groundless. Those changes are, in fact, consistent with both the National Voter Registration Act and Pennsylvania law.

“With respect to the Department’s HAVA-Matching Directive issued in 2018, that too is fully consistent with applicable law and remains active,” she said.

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Not Much ‘Intelligence’ in Biden’s AI Executive Order, Experts Say

It may be the only presidential executive order ever inspired by Tom Cruise.

Earlier this year at Camp David, President Joe Biden settled down to watch the latest “Mission Impossible” movie installment. In the film, Cruise and his IMF team face off against a rogue, sentient artificial intelligence (AI) that threatens all of humanity. The movie reportedly left the president shaken.

“If he hadn’t already been concerned about what could go wrong with AI before that movie, he saw plenty more to worry about,” said White House Deputy Chief of Staff Bruce Reed.

Reed said Biden is “impressed and alarmed” by what he has seen from AI. “He saw fake AI images of himself, of his dog… he’s seen and heard the incredible and terrifying technology of voice cloning, which can take three seconds of your voice and turn it into an entire fake conversation.”

Given that the cutting-edge communications technology when Biden was born was black-and-white television, it’s no surprise he is awed by the power of AI. His order adds additional layers of government regulation to this quickly developing, cutting-edge tech.

For example, Biden will “require that developers of the most powerful AI systems share their safety test results and other critical information with the U.S. government.” It also instructs federal agencies to establish guidelines “for developing and deploying safe, secure, and trustworthy AI systems.” And companies doing that cutting-edge work that can keep the U.S. competitive with China are required to notify the federal government when they are training their models and share the results of “red-team safety tests.”

According to Reason Magazine’s science reporter Ronald Bailey, “Red-teaming is the practice of creating adversarial squads of hackers to attack AI systems with the goal of uncovering weaknesses, biases, and security flaws. As it happens, the leading AI tech companies— OpenAI, Google, Meta—have been red-teaming their models all along.”

Tech experts say that movies from the multiplex aren’t necessarily the best sources for setting public policy.

“I just don’t understand why that’s where people’s heads go,” Shane Tews, a cybersecurity Nonresident Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said. “And I do think it really is because they don’t have a lot of examples to replace that ‘Terminator’ feeling.

“I think as we start to understand how to have a better human-machine relationship, that it’ll work better,” Tews added. “I’m not sure that people will necessarily get it, but people are kind of in a crazy moment in their heads right now.”

The White House has embraced the crazy, critics say, spreading fear about existential threats.

“When people around the world cannot discern fact from fiction because of a flood of AI-enabled mis- and disinformation, I ask, is that not existential for democracy?” said Vice President Kamala Harris during a speech at the United Kingdom’s AI Safety Summit. In her mind, a variety of issues need to be addressed to manage the growing AI industry. “We must consider and address the full spectrum of AI risk — threats to humanity as a whole, as well as threats to individuals, communities, to our institutions, and to our most vulnerable populations.”

Biden’s proposal was praised by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The digital rights nonprofit supports regulating the use of AI in certain situations, like housing, but not the technology itself.

“AI has extraordinary potential to change lives, for good and ill,” Karen Gullo, an EFF analyst, said. “We’re glad to see the White House calling out algorithmic discrimination in housing, criminal justice, policing, the workplace, and other areas where bias in AI promotes inequity in outcomes. We’re also glad to see that the executive order calls for strengthening privacy-preserving technologies and cryptographic tools. The order is full of ‘guidance’ and ‘best practices,’ so only time will tell how it’s implemented.”

Other technology policy analysts, like Adam Thierer, panned the executive order.

“Biden’s EO is a blueprint for back door computing regulation that could stifle America’s technology base,” said Thierer, a resident senior fellow, Technology & Innovation, for R Street Institute. “It will accelerate bureaucratic micro-management of crucial technologies that we need to be promoting, not punishing, as we begin a global race with China and other nations for supremacy in next-generation information and computational capabilities.”

He has argued people shouldn’t be pessimistic about new technology or attempt to go into what he calls “technological stasis.”

And Doug Kelly, CEO of the American Edge Project, said the temptation of Washington, D.C., to overregulate could cost the U.S. economy.

“A report by PwC estimates the global economic effect of AI to be $14 trillion by 2030, with China and North America projected to be the biggest winners in terms of economic gain,” Kelly wrote for DCJournal. “But if regulators in Washington or Europe tie the hands of AI innovators, we run the risk of falling behind in AI leadership to China, which has invested hundreds of billions in an attempt to gain global AI superiority.”

AI is already used in autocorrect, autocomplete, chatbots, translation software, and programmable things like robot vacuums or automatic coffee makers. Popular sci-fi characters like C-3PO, R2D2, and JARVIS are also AI-driven.

Tews suggests people get frustrated when technology doesn’t work as it should. “I think people project that onto what happens when I get into these situations where it’s me and this machine that’s not acting appropriately – I’m not getting the net result of what I want, and I don’t want there to be more of that my life.”

PA Gov. Wolf Issues Executive Orders on Minimum Wage, Worker Safety

Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Thursday raising the minimum wage for workers at companies that receive state grants, loans, or tax relief to $13.50 an hour. It is now the minimum hourly rate for state employees.

At a press conference near Pittsburgh Thursday, Wolf pointed out the current $7.25 minimum wage in Pennsylvania is less than workers are paid in all surrounding states. New Jersey’s minimum wage is $12. New York’s is $13.20, Ohio’s is $9.30, and West Virginia’s is $8.75.

Wolf also called on the state legislature to pass laws requiring paid sick leave, institute federal workplace protections, and raise the minimum wage for all workers to $12.00 with a path toward $15 an hour by 2024.

“With our economy on the comeback, there are so many job openings that people can select the option that is best for their family. This has created a tremendous moment for workers,” said Wolf in a press release. “With Pennsylvanians’ renowned work ethic, this is an opportunity to improve jobs and workplaces. My workforce plan will create safer workplaces, guarantee paid leave, and promote higher wages for workers.”

But Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Nate Benefield said Wolf’s actions were unnecessary because wages are already rising.

“Everything in Wolf’s action Thursday was meaningless and unnecessary,” said Benefield. “Wages have consistently risen in Pennsylvania because of market forces, and are rising now due to high demand for labor. Government mandates are neither helpful in raising wages or helping employers fill jobs. All this activity was simply virtue signaling to appeal to Wolf’s campaign donors (government union bosses).”

And  Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) said, “Pennsylvanians are tired of still dealing with the effects of the political agenda forced on them throughout the pandemic. From selective business closures, to mask and vaccine mandates, to breaching Pennsylvanians’ personal health information, as well as the inability to properly process unemployment claims, Pennsylvanians are worn out by the uncertainty presented by the Wolf administration.”

Wolf’s announcement is “one more attempt to bypass the voice of the people,” Ward added. “The efforts outlined today to protect Pennsylvania workplaces is a ruse that further opens the door to executive branch overreach, crushes small businesses, and generates greater confusion for employers to keep their employees employed and safe. Pennsylvanians have already spoken when it comes to government interference in our lives and workplaces when they voted to limit the governor’s executive powers with the passage of the constitutional amendment in the primary.”

Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce CEO Gene Barr said the Chamber “appreciates the governor’s intent” but warned of unintended consequences. “For example, requiring strict wage and benefit standards for employers to qualify for state aid may not impact larger corporations but could pull critical lifelines from small businesses already struggling through pandemic and workforce crises,” Barr warned in a statement.

“The governor has also called for public shaming of employers who violate labor laws,” Barr said.  “We certainly support holding accountable those who skirt the law, harming employees and creating an unfair advantage over law-abiding competitors. At the same time, policymakers should recognize that violations are often unintentional and eventually remedied. Employment laws and regulations are notoriously complicated; such as similar federal and state laws that include subtle differences creating what’s known as the ‘compliance trap.’

The governor mentioned employers owing unemployment compensation back taxes, but some may not even be aware they owe, especially after the chaos of the last year and a half.  We would hope a public list of ‘bad actors’ only includes companies who violate the law and willfully fail to comply after exhausting appeals or any administrative resolution process,” Barr said. “We look forward to working with the administration as it further develops these policies.”