Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tax Bill Goes to Conference

Washington, D.C. - December 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Monday to send the Tax Bill to conference with the Senate to hammer out their differences. Reactions vary.

Below are some of them:

Julia Brownly (D-CA, 26th):

“I firmly believe that we need to overhaul the U.S. tax code. Tax reform that makes the system fairer for middle-class families, helps small businesses, and encourages entrepreneurship and innovation is long overdue. Unfortunately, if you look at the House and Senate bills, they don’t achieve these goals.

“While there are differences between the two bills that Republicans are trying to work out, nonpartisan economists have already shown that when you add the different provisions up, the Ryan-McConnell plan raises taxes on millions of middle-class families. To make matters worse, the Senate version also undermines our healthcare system, driving up premiums for working families – all to give a kick-back to wealthy donors, Washington special interests, and corporations that ship jobs overseas.

“I want middle-class families and small businesses to get a tax cut, so I will keep fighting for real tax reform.”

Jack Bergman (R-MI, 1st):

"We are one step closer to providing tax relief for the hard-working people of Michigan's First District. Congress has been hard at work crafting legislation to make our tax code simple and fair, and today I voted to send the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to conference to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions to produce the best results for all Americans.

"The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will create over 25,000 new Michigan jobs, save the average Michigander $1182 dollars per year, and lower the small business tax rate to no more than 25%. Our goal is to give the hard-working people of Michigan’s First District tax relief going into 2018."

Nanette Barragan (D-CA, 44th):

"House Republicans took another step tonight in ramming through a massive tax cut for the wealthy and corporations that the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t want. The GOP tax scam hurts hardworking Americans to give massive tax breaks to the top 1 percent and corporations.

Just this past Saturday, the Senate passed its own version of tax cuts for the wealthy, hastily written and passed in the dead of night. We should instead be working on bipartisan legislation that grows the economy and helps working Americans."

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Supreme Court Travel Ban Decision Praised

Washington, D.C. - December 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- The United States Supreme Court ruled President Trump’s travel pause may go forward while appeals continue.

Lou Barletta (R-PA, 11th) released the following statement:

“President Trump is fighting to prevent terrorists from entering the American homeland. The Supreme Court made the right decision. Those who oppose the actions our president is taking to keep American citizens safe are fighting against the man, not the policy. Until radical Islamic terrorism ceases to threaten the United States, I will continue to support President Trump’s clear authority to use all legal tools at his disposal to prevent terrorists from entering the American homeland.”

PEN America Washington Director Gabe Rottman released the following statement:

“At most, this is a temporary victory for the administration. Challenges to this unprecedented, divisive, and cruel Muslim ban will continue to work their way through the courts, and we will fight to ensure that every American can exercise their constitutional right to meet face-to-face with writers and artists from around the world. We should be a beacon for the free flow of ideas, and a haven for those who are persecuted for their beliefs, not a country that tears families apart for no reason other than hate and spite.”

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Supreme Court Hears New Jersey Sports Betting Case

Washington, D.C. - December 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Bob Menendez released the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on New Jersey’s case to legalize sports betting:

“Six years ago, the people of New Jersey spoke out overwhelmingly by referendum in favor of legalizing sports betting in the Garden State. After years of legal wrangling, they were finally heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Whether we like it or not, and despite well-intentioned federal restrictions on sports betting, fans across the nation continue to place wagers on their favorite sports teams. But it’s time to bring sports gaming into the light, so that states like New Jersey can protect against underground and dangerous operations while collecting much needed revenue.

“By continuing to challenge New Jersey state’s rights even after partnering with daily fantasy sports—gambling by any other name—the professional sports leagues have made clear their true intentions: they care less about the so-called sanctity of their games, but rather about protecting their own money-making, cottage gaming industry.

“It is my hope that the nation’s highest court will uphold the will of the people and allow New Jersey to legislate its own affairs.”

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Senators Demand Google Answer Questions About Covert Collection of User Location Data from Android Devices

Washington, D.C. - December 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- After an investigation by technology publication Quartz revealed Google collects Android users’ location data – even when location services are disabled – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai to demand answers.

According to the Quartz investigation, Android devices are continually and covertly collecting users’ location information and sending this information to Google – including when location services are disabled, the phone has been reset to factory condition, no apps are running, or the SIM card is removed. These practices, which Google confirmed in the article, are alarming – and possibly in violation of Americans’ privacy rights.

Google’s response to the November 21 Quartz investigation was a pledge to no longer send “cell-tower location data to Google” by the end of November. It is not clear if the company has upheld its promise. In addition, Google has not indicated whether it would also commit to not sending back location data derived from other kinds of technologies used to determine location.

“These practices…are alarming, and the public deserves a full explanation from the company’s CEO of the reason behind this data collection. To date, Google’s explanation for this location tracking behavior has been inadequate,” Blumenthal and Markey wrote to Pichai. “The American public is growing increasingly uneasy about the amount of data collected on them. It is important that they are fully aware of exactly when, how, and why their location information is being collected by the companies that they have put their trust in.”

Blumenthal is Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Markey is a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The full text of the Senators’ letter to Google is available for download here

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Lawmakers Blast President Trump’s Attempt to Shrink National Monuments

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) released the following statement after President Trump announced he would drastically shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, both created under the 1906 Antiquities Act:

“Once again, President Trump is taking an unprecedented step—this time, by trying to roll back public land protections and gut the time-honored Antiquities Act-- as a gift to Big Oil and other multi-national corporations. This is deeply disappointing but hardly surprising. Whether we are talking tax cuts, health care or any other issue, it is clear the Trump Administration will leave no stone unturned in its quest to make the rich richer, even if that means chipping away at tribal treaty rights, undermining efforts to combat climate change, or leaving middle class Americans behind.”

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the lead Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Interior Department’s budget, issued the following response to President Trump’s decision to massively roll back protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments.

“Let’s get one thing clear: Donald Trump’s decision to roll back Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments by over 80 percent isn’t a reconfiguration of the boundaries. His proclamation revokes the original monument boundaries, eviscerating protections for the lands and artifacts found upon them, and amounts to the largest frontal assault on public lands in history. These are lands of stunning natural beauty, unique ecology, and sacred meaning that the United States holds in trust for all of the American people. And today, the president attacked their cultural and historical significance, the outdoor recreation jobs in Southeastern Utah that depend on the monuments, and the stunning natural heritage we preserve for future generations.

“Most serious of all, the president’s actions are deeply insulting to the Native American Tribes who worked over many years to establish Bears Ears National Monument and now co-manage the monument. The Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, and Hopi tribes urged protection to shield sacred land and cultural sites from looting, vandalism, and energy development. The president is lifting protections for tens of thousands of Native American sacred sites, putting them at risk, and opening them for coal, oil and gas development. Trump’s decision to rescind protections and create new boundaries was made in secret — the public had no opportunity to review the plans or the decision-making process, and the Tribes were not consulted. Donald Trump’s ignorance and repeated disrespect for Native Americans diminish the office of the president of the United States.

“For all of these reasons, I believe this attack on public lands and heritage will not stand up to scrutiny. President Trump doesn’t have the legal authority to diminish a monument. He is using never-tested and dubious legal theories to try to reverse designations, and he will be challenged in court. I support the legal fight, and I will fight the president every step of the way in my capacity as the Democratic leader on Senate Indian Affairs and the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) today released the following statement on Trump’s executive order to dramatically shrink the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah:

“This is an unprecedented and arguably illegal move that threatens our heritage. These places, like so many other public lands (including Oregon’s own Cascade-Siskiyou), hold cultural, environmental, economic, and recreational value that belong to all Americans, not just a select few. Honoring Native American cultural artifacts and celebrating the incredible biodiversity of these places should be of paramount importance for our nation’s leaders. Instead, the administration is opening the door for private industry to strip them bare.

“Americans overwhelmingly support protections for these remarkable treasures—and we will continue our fight to keep public lands in public hands.”

The Fight is on Against the Opioid Crisis: Manufacturers and Distributors Being Sued; Lawmakers Working Overtime

Washington, D.C. - December 4, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- According to a story in TwinCities.com, "Minnesota county attorneys from across the state plan to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors for allegedly using marketing tactics akin to the tobacco industry to flood communities with addictive and deadly narcotics." They aren't the only states suing.

There's been a lot of cases brought against Opioid manufacturers and distributors recently, and many of those cases won. A few of these cases are listed below, courtesy of Attorney Levin Papantonio at Levinlaw.com:

In 2017, McKesson Corporation, one of the nation’s largest distributors of pharmaceuticals, paid a $150 million civil penalty for violations of the Controlled Substances Act. McKesson was failing to report “suspicious orders” for oxycodone and hydrocodone, such as orders that were suspicious in frequency, size, or other patterns. To read more, click Justice Department McKesson

In 2017, Mallinckrodt Plc, a manufacturer of oxycodone, agreed to pay $35 million to resolve U.S. investigations into its monitoring and reporting of suspicious orders of controlled substances. To read more, click Reuters

In 2017, Costco Wholesale reached an $11.75 million settlement to resolve allegations that its pharmacies violated the Controlled Substances Act when they improperly filled prescriptions for controlled substances. To read more, click Justice Department Cosco

In 2017, Cardinal Health reached a settlement in the amount of $20 million with the state of West Virginia regarding the company's distribution of opioids in state between 2007 and 2012. "Cardinal and other wholesalers in a six-year period sent 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia – 433 per state resident . . . . In that time, there were 1,728 fatal overdoses from the addictive painkillers.” To read more, click Columbus Business First

In 2016, Cardinal Health, Inc. agreed to pay $44 million to the United States to resolve allegations that it violated the Controlled Substances Act in Maryland, Florida and New York by failing to report suspicious orders of controlled substances to pharmacies located in those states. To read more, click Justice Department Cardinal Health

In 2015, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to pay the state of Kentucky $24 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the company of misleading the public about the addictiveness of the prescription opioid. To read more, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/kentucky-settles-lawsuit-with-oxycontin-maker-for-24-million/

Another law firm, Haygood, Orr and Pearson, who've dubbed themselves the "Painkiller Overdose Lawyers", work like the traditional "ambulance chaser" lawyers with their ad page which says,

If you have lost a loved one to an overdose caused by opioid painkillers, you may qualify to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the drug or the doctor or hospital that issued the prescription. The first step in taking legal action is to discuss your case with an attorney to learn more your legal rights and review the first steps in filing a case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have filed hundreds of lawsuits on behalf of patients who harmed by opioid painkillers. Our law firm has settled more cases involving the powerful opioid fentanyl than all other law firms in the U.S. combined. Heygood, Orr & Pearson has also represented hundreds of patients who were victims of an opioid overdose.

For more information about filing an opioid overdose lawsuit and to find out whether you may be eligible to file a case, contact Heygood, Orr & Pearson...

According to Cohen and Malad, LLP Blog, "Consolidated City of Indianapolis hired Cohen & Malad, LLP to pursue legal action against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The mayor stated at an October 5, 2017 press conference that this legal action is an additional resource for the city in the fight against the opioid addiction epidemic sweeping across the United States and ravaging our communities."

These are only a few examples of the war against opioids going on.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has released a statement following the announcement that Minnesota county attorneys have announced lawsuits against drug manufacturers and distributors for the public cost of the opioid crisis:

“The Minnesota Department of Health reported that 637 Minnesotans died from drug overdoses last year alone—and this crisis is not just in our state, it’s all over the country. Drug manufacturers and distributors spent years misleading the public about the addictive nature of their prescription drugs, contributing to the epidemic that has been officially deemed a public health emergency. These companies should be held accountable for their role in this crisis – and help pay for drug treatment for the people they got addicted.”

As a former Hennepin County Attorney, Klobuchar has long led local and national efforts to curb drug abuse and help people overcome addiction. Klobuchar was one of four senators, along with Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), to lead the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). This bipartisan bill, which was signed into law in July 2016, encourages states and local communities to pursue a full array of proven strategies in the fight against opioid addiction. At the end of 2016, $1 billion was made available by Congress to fund the national effort. To build on the monumental first step of CARA, Klobuchar introduced the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, which would require the use of strong prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) in all states that receive certain federal funding to combat opioid abuse and also requires states to make their PDMP data available to other states.

Earlier this year, she and ten other senators introduced the Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment (LifeBOAT) Act, which would establish a reliable funding stream to provide and expand access to substance abuse treatment. She and a bipartisan group of senators also introduced the Synthetic Abuse and Labeling of Toxic Substances (SALTS) Act and the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act. The SALTS Act would make it easier to prosecute the sale of “analogue” drugs, which are synthetic substances that are substantially similar to illegal drugs. The STOP Act would help close a loophole in the U.S. postal system to stop dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil from being shipped through our borders to drug traffickers in the U.S.

In September 2014, the DEA implemented Klobuchar’s bipartisan Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act. Under the legislation, consumers are provided with more safe and responsible ways to dispose of unused prescription medications and controlled substances.

It will be interesting to see how it all turns out...

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Washington, D.C. - December 5, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee joined a bipartisan bill to help halt the flow of illicit fentanyl from Mexico, China and other nations around the world into the United States. The International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology (INTERDICT) Act would provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tools such as hi-tech chemical screening devices to help detect and interdict fentanyl and other illicit synthetic opioids.

“The INTERDICT Act is an important step in combatting the opioid crisis by restricting the flow of illicit fentanyl that is trafficked into the United States,” Kaine said. “The bill would ensure that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has the resources necessary to intercept and block the unlawful importation of fentanyl.”

Drug overdoses have been the leading cause of unnatural death across Virginia since 2013. Last year, more than 75% of fatal drug overdoses in Virginia were a result of opioid overdose.

Specifically, the INTERDICT Act:

  • Ensures that CBP will have additional portable chemical screening devices available at ports of entry and mail and express consignment facilities, and additional fixed chemical screening devices available in CBP laboratories.
  • Provides CBP with sufficient resources, personnel, and facilities – including scientists available during all operational hours – to interpret screening test results from the field.
  • Authorizes – based on CBP guidance – the appropriation of $15 million for hundreds of new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel for support during all operational hours.

    A copy of the International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology (INTERDICT) Act can be found HERE.

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