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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, Florida's Legislature begins a new session, and people are watching, in part because of whose agenda they are following.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Governor Ron DeSantis has a Republican supermajority. Its members have largely followed his priorities in the past, and they plan to do it again. So how could they influence Florida and the country?

INSKEEP: WFSU's Lynn Hatter is covering this story from Tallahassee, the state capital. Hey there, Lynn.

LYNN HATTER, BYLINE: Hey, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: What makes this session all about DeSantis?

HATTER: Well, as many people are aware, he is a rumored presidential contender. And he's consolidated power here to the degree that even if some Republicans may disagree with him privately, they're not going to say that publicly. So right now, this is about clearing the path. And we're seeing a lot of bills that align with what the governor has said is his priority, which is combating what he sees as a, quote, "woke ideology" in public education and in government.

INSKEEP: How do lawmakers plan to do that?

HATTER: Well, they have a bill that would further limit what teachers can say in schools. It would expand the state's prohibition on discussing gender and teaching sexual identity from the third grade to the eighth grade. But it also goes further in that it forbids schools from using names and pronouns other than the ones assigned to a child at birth. We're also watching a bill related to public colleges and universities that would ban any major or minor in gender studies, intersectionality and critical race theory. The bill also bans DEI programs, except those that may be required by the federal government or ones that are meant for specific groups like military vets.

And because this is complicated, we should define some of these terms. Gender studies is what it sounds like. Intersectionality is the idea that some people face discrimination in different ways, like Black women. And DEI is diversity, equity and inclusion, and that's the name a lot of companies give to their efforts to include different kinds of people. So this bill would basically block all of that.

INSKEEP: And, of course, strike out at a lot of buzzwords that conservatives will use and criticize. Isn't the Legislature also promoting private schools?

HATTER: Yes. Now, Florida already lets some people use public money to pay for private school. And now the state is about to remove the income caps from those programs. And this would let every child in the state qualify for a private school scholarship or an education savings account that the family can use on related expenses. This is a long-held goal of choice advocates. Traditional school supporters, though, are worried it's going to lead to a drain in public school enrollment and funding.

INSKEEP: What else does the governor want from the Legislature?

HATTER: Well, Governor DeSantis says he's OK with open carry, which would allow people to openly walk around with firearms. And this is what Second Amendment advocates want, but it makes a lot of tourism and business people worried because tourism is our biggest economic sector.

INSKEEP: Sure.

HATTER: And they're worried the state could scare off potential visitors. Now, right now, only concealed permitless carry is under consideration.

We're also watching a lot of bills that deal with journalism, the media and free speech. One of those would presume that anything attributed to an anonymous source is false, and it lowers the threshold for who is considered a public figure. It would also make it easy for traditional public figures, like politicians, to sue journalists for defamation. The other bill would let anyone - or actually it would require anyone who writes about a state official and gets paid to do so to have to file with the state.

INSKEEP: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You'd have to register with the government before you could exercise your First Amendment right?

HATTER: Yes. Now, that bill exempts journalists in traditional media outlets, and it's basically meant for certain types of bloggers. As for whether it could pass, the sponsor is very insistent. But this one appears to have a lot less support than that first bill that targets traditional media.

INSKEEP: Lynn Hatter of WFSU in Tallahassee, thanks for the update.

HATTER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, the Fed has already raised interest rates eight times in the last year, and they could do it some more.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. You see, raising interest rates is supposed to restrain the economy and bring inflation down. Prices are still climbing faster than most people would like, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is sure to be asked about that when he testifies before the Senate Banking Committee today.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley covers the Fed. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How's the Fed doing?

HORSLEY: You know, their job's looking a little tougher now than it did about a month ago, the last time that Fed policymakers met. In the five weeks since that meeting, we've had a killer jobs report showing more than half a million jobs added in January. We've had retail numbers showing people are still spending at a rapid clip, and we've had inflation reports showing prices are not leveling off as much as had been hoped. You know, ordinarily strong job growth and spending would be a sign of economic strength. But when you're wrestling with high inflation, it's not what the Fed wants to see. Here's how Mary Daly, who heads the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, summed it up over the weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARY DALY: It's clear there is more work to do. In order to put this episode of high inflation behind us, further policy tightening, maintained for a longer period, will likely be necessary.

HORSLEY: And other Fed officials have been sounding similar alarms, suggesting that interest rates may have to go up higher and stay up longer in order to get prices under control.

INSKEEP: If, in fact, they do that, what would that mean for the broader economy?

HORSLEY: Well, it means more of a drag on the housing market. We're seeing mortgage rates climbing once again. It means carrying a balance on your credit card would cost more. So far, the Fed's efforts have not hurt the job market. Unemployment in January was the lowest in more than half a century. We're going to find out later this week what happened in February. We're also going to get new inflation numbers next week. So by the time the Fed's rate-setting committee meets in a couple of weeks, they will have a better idea whether all that hot January data was just a fluke or maybe a sign of a longer-run trend.

Right now, most investors are betting that the Fed is going to raise interest rates by another quarter percentage point at its next meeting. But the odds of a larger rate hike have gone up in the last month. Back in December, the average Fed policymaker was predicting that interest rates would top out at just over 5%, or about half a point higher than they are right now. Given what we've seen and heard in the last few weeks, it's now possible that policymakers will have to nudge that peak interest rate a little bit higher.

INSKEEP: OK. So Jerome Powell testifies today. He's a guy that can use an adjective in the wrong way and it moves markets. So what else will you be listening for?

HORSLEY: Well, I'll be curious whether Powell gets any pushback from the senators over the Fed's aggressive interest rate hikes. So far, most lawmakers have been giving the central bank a lot of latitude. They and their constituents really want to see inflation come down, too. But we'll see if there's any change in that support this morning. As you know, Steve, Congress is under pressure to raise the federal debt ceiling or - sometime this summer or maybe fall. The government won't be able to pay all of its own bills. House Republicans are demanding unspecified spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit. Usually, Powell tries to steer clear of partisan battles like this, but he has said that lawmakers must raise the debt limit. And he's warned that if they don't, and if there's a government default, no one should expect the Fed to step in and limit the fallout.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks for joining us so early once again. Appreciate it.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, France is preparing for a ritual there - a massive protest that shuts down the country.

MARTÍNEZ: And that's what labor unions are attempting, to protest President Emmanuel Macron's plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Now, they've held other strikes this year, but now plan for an open-ended strike that could last for days. This is a business student in Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: (Speaking French).

MARTÍNEZ: What she's saying there is a day, once in a while - that's fine. But you shouldn't block the economy either, and that's not how we will progress.

INSKEEP: NPR correspondent Eleanor Beardsley is in the streets of Paris. Hey there, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, guys.

INSKEEP: Where are you exactly, and what are you seeing?

BEARDSLEY: Well, I'm in the street in the 15th arrondissement. And actually, what I'm seeing is a calmer day than usual. There seems to be less traffic. Almost feels like a normal day, but it's not. With the public transport all but shut down, people are getting to work on bike and foot, and many companies told employees just to work from home today. Now, the big protest marches in Paris and in more than 200 cities across the country start this afternoon, but the chaos has already begun, really. Many schools are closed as teachers and students join the protest. Oil refineries are blocked, and truckers have started blocking roads in what's known as an operation escargot. It means you drive slowly in every lane, block the highway and force the traffic to crawl along at a snail's pace.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) It sounds so much more classy when you say escargot instead of snails. So how long will this last?

BEARDSLEY: It could last one day, two days, all week or even longer. At the end of the day, the unions will vote to decide whether it continues. But they seem determined. We think it's going to continue. Here is the head of the hard-line union, the CGT, Philippe Martinez, speaking on the radio. He's talked about the movement going into higher gear. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHILIPPE MARTINEZ: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: So basically, he said the responsibility for this mess is totally the French government's, which is trying to ignore this massive protest movement. And he says, we won't stop until this bill is withdrawn completely.

INSKEEP: Is the government likely to back off on its proposed pension changes?

BEARDSLEY: So far, no. The bill is in the Senate, where it should be approved today. You know, they say that the - with people living longer, people just have to work a little bit longer to keep the system. It's kind of like our Social Security system. You pay in - people who work pay in for those who are retired. And, you know, they say we have to raise the minimum - it's the minimum retirement age - 62 to 64. Most people retire at 64. But that will mean that everybody works a little longer. And so, no, this is likely to be a big standoff that goes on.

INSKEEP: Well, I suppose the politicians must be listening to the people and presuming that they have some public support somewhere, even though there's all these people who are going to protest. So do you have a good sense of where the French people really stand on all this?

BEARDSLEY: Well, they elected Macron, and he said he wanted to reform the retirement system. So there's that, and that's what he always says. But actually, a big majority of the French do support this - you know, getting rid of this reform. They say the budget gaps can be filled in other ways, like taxing the super rich. And they say, actually, the system is not about to collapse. And it was - it did have a surplus last year. And more broadly, they say it's the choice of society. They want a society of equality and solidarity. Progress doesn't mean working until you keel over. So the people I've been talking to - 59% of the French actually want to see the economy paralyzed to get rid of this reform bill.

INSKEEP: Wow. Just very briefly, just to clarify, most people voted for Macron, who said he wanted to reform the system, but most people oppose the reforms, right?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, because there's the government and then there's the street in France.

INSKEEP: Okay, that's democracy. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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