Friday morning news – February 19, 2021

Power restored to millions of Texas homes » The lights and heat are back on in millions of Texas homes today. 

On Thursday, about 325,000 Texas homes and businesses remained without power. But that was down from about 3 million the day before.

Gov. Greg Abbott said for those still without power, the problem is no longer the electrical grid, but rather localized problems…

ABBOTT: Power lines that are down or the need to manually reconnect the premises to power. 

But safe drinking water remains a major concern for parts of Texas and other southern states. 

And on the West Coast, more than 100,000 customers remained without power in Oregon on Thursday. Portland General Electric said it expects to have power restored by tonight to more than 90 percent of customers still in the dark.

Meanwhile, more snow and ice is pushing into the northeast. 

New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said today is a good day for residents to huddle up inside and stay off the roads. 

SCACCETTI: Watch a good movie. Frozen is always a good choice. 

And forecasters say another winter front will push into the central part of the country over the weekend, but it is not expected to be a major storm. 

Unemployment applications rise » The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid rose last week despite falling numbers of new COVID-19 cases. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: The Labor Dept. says roughly 861,000 Americans filed jobless claims last week. That was a rise of 13,000 from the week before. 

The jobless figures could be inflated to some degree. Fraudulent claims and potential backlogs of applications may be driving the number higher. 

For example, Ohio this week reported that applications under a program that covers self-employed and gig workers jumped from about 10,000 to more than 230,000! But that could reflect a backlog of applications, because Ohio hadn’t reported data under that program until two weeks ago.

Still, there’s no doubt that the job market continues to struggle under the weight of the pandemic. Employers added just 49,000 jobs in January after cutting workers in December. 

And analysts fear that shutdowns due to winter weather could make matters worse. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin. 

Democrats unveil plan for immigration overhaul » Democrats on Thursday unveiled their plan to overhaul the U.S. immigration system.

Sen. Bob Menendez introduced the legislation, which would, among other things, create an eight-year path to citizenship for those living in the country unlawfully.

MENENDEZ: They live under constant fear of deportation. It’s time to bring all 11 million undocumented out of the shadows, give them the opportunity to pass criminal background and national security checks, secure lawful, prospective immigrant status. 

Eventually, farm workers, immigrants with temporary protected status, and people who arrived in the country illegally as children would become eligible for green cards. 

Others living in the United States as of the beginning of this year could gain temporary legal status after five years and then pursue citizenship three years later.

The White House says President Biden fully supports the plan. 

But political analyst and former congressional staffer Casey Higgins says it’s highly unlikely that the bill will make it to the president’s desk. 

HIGGINS: Instead of giving everyone a reason to vote yes, it gives everyone a reason to vote no, and in the past we’ve seen it collapse under its own weight. So while I think this is a great market for the left to show what their position is, it’s not necessarily a lawmaking exercise. 

The proposal was not well received among Republicans. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has called the plan—his words—massive “blanket amnesty that would gut enforcement of American laws.” He also said it would incentivize more illegal immigration. 

Fed agents seize over 10M phony N95 masks » Federal agents have seized more than 10 million fake 3M brand face masks. WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg has that story. 

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Law enforcement agencies continue to pile up the counterfeit N95 masks as part of an ongoing investigation. Those are the kinds of masks healthcare workers wear to guard against the coronavirus. 

Homeland Security agents this week intercepted hundreds of thousands of fake 3M masks in an East Coast warehouse.

Investigators also notified about 6,000 potential victims, including hospitals, in at least 12 states.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said not only do the knockoffs not provide the N95 level of protection but they’re practically useless.  

Officials say they are planning criminal charges against the suspects who have distributed the fakes. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg. 

South Carolina Gov. McMaster signs heartbeat bill » South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster held a signing ceremony in Columbia on Thursday as he put his signature to new pro-life legislation. 

MCMASTER: I asked the citizens and I asked the general assembly to send me the heartbeat bill and I would sign it, and you have, and now I will. [applause]

Similar to other heartbeat bills, the law would protect the lives of the unborn as soon as a heartbeat is detectable. 

The state house passed the measure on Wednesday on a vote of 79 to 35. And McMaster yesterday became the 12th governor to sign a heartbeat bill into law. But as is the case in other states, he acknowledged that the legal battle over the new law is only just beginning. 

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU immediately sued to block the law from taking effect. 

(AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins) South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster holds up a bill banning almost all abortions in the state after he signed it into law on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C.

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