EPA Seeks Regulatory Reform Input through May 15

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public commentary for its Regulatory Reform Task Force as it reassesses existing regulations. Announced on April 13 in the Federal Register, the commentary period runs through May 15.

The announcement explains:

Through this notice, EPA is soliciting such input from the public to inform its Task Force’s evaluation of existing regulations. Although the agency will not respond to individual comments, the EPA values public feedback and will give careful consideration to all input that it receives. EPA will also be conducting outreach on this same topic.

A recent executive order called for the task force to evaluate existing regulations and recommend which should be repealed, replaced or modified.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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OSHA Website Resumes Reporting Violators and Citations

From Jan. 18 until just this past week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website turned strangely silent on announcing results of its investigations, sticking to a few mundane press releases about partnerships and a delay in the beryllium standard.

Then on April 12, a press release was posted announcing the agency had cited the Atlantic Drain Service Co. Inc. for 18 violations associated with a fatal trench collapse, proposing $1,475,813 in penalties.

Under the Obama administration, a press release was generally issued whenever a fine totaled $40,000 or more, according to Jordan Barab, an assistant OSHA director during the Obama years. On a blog he maintains, Barab says there have been at least 200 citations with fines of $40,000 since Jan. 18.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Safety Stand-Downs Being Organized Today and Tomorrow in the Southeast

ATLANTA — Fatalities among workers in the landscaping industry are a growing concern in the Southeast. From 2012 to 2016, 64 people employed in the industry in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi died as a result of workplace injuries. In Florida, industry fatalities have nearly tripled since 2012.

To stem the tide, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), industry associations and employers are banding together to sponsor a one-hour Safety Stand-Down in April to focus and educate workers about industry hazards which most commonly cause injury or death. The events will be held at worksites throughout the region on either April 17 or 18, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. EDT.

Fatalities in the landscaping industry have workplace safety officials and employers concerned. In Florida, the number of workers who died on the job has nearly tripled since 2012. A collaborative effort is underway to help workers better understand the hazards they face, and how to work more safely.

At the Safety Stand-Downs, employers will stop work voluntarily and conduct safety training on injury prevention with workers at risk of falls and being crushed or hit by objects – two leading causes of industry deaths. They will also focus on electrical hazards, another common injury risk.

“We are confident that, with the proper knowledge, workers can avoid unnecessary injuries or worse, and return home at the end of each work day. Failing to develop, implement and maintain an effective safety and health program puts workers at risk of being injured on the job,” said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional administrator for the Southeast.

The Associated General Contractors of Georgia Inc., OSHA and employers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi are organizing the effort.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS Announces Limited ‘Fixes’ to Obamacare

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) yesterday announced a set of limited “fixes” to the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) going forward.

“While these steps will help stabilize the individual and small group markets, they are not a long-term cure for the problems that the Affordable Care Act has created in our health care system,” Seema Verma, the Trump administration official responsible for the markets, said in a statement.

Four changes were announced:

  • The open enrollment period for 2018 will be cut in half, to 45 days.
  • Controls and curbs will be placed on special enrollment periods, a system allowing individuals to buy insurance outside of open enrollment, which insurers say has been routinely abused.
  • Insurers will be allowed to collect past premiums due before issuing a new, or renewed, policy.
  • Insurers will be allowed to design skinnier, less expensive plans for young adults.

A final rule establishing these ACA changes was published in the Federal Register on April 18, with an effective date of June 19, 2017. You can read the final rule here.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Trump Signs Resolution Reversing DOL Rule on City-Run Private Retirement Plans

President Trump has signed a Congressional Resolution reversing a Department of Labor (DOL) rule allowing cities and municipalities to set up retirement plans for private businesses exempt from the rules of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

The resolution was carried out through the Congressional Review Act (CRA). A second resolution overturning a similar DOL rule allowing states to set up private retirement plans has passed the House of Representatives and awaits Senate action when it reconvenes after the spring break.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Seeks Public Input on Reforming the Agency and Government in General

The Department of Labor (DOL) will begin taking actions to develop a comprehensive agency reform plan, as directed by guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The goal is to create a more efficient and accountable department that works for job seekers, workers, employers and retirees across the U.S.

The resulting Government-wide Reform Plan will be delivered as part of the president’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget and will draw on three primary sources: Agency Reform Plans, OMB-coordinated crosscutting reforms and public input.

The department encourages all citizens to share their ideas on improving the government at https://whitehouse.gov/reorganizing-the-executive-branch.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Trump HHS to Continue Obamacare Insurance Company Subsidies … for Now

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has confirmed to the New York Times that the agency will continue providing cost-sharing subsides to health insurers participating in the Obamacare exchanges, pending a lawsuit appeal that will be heard next month.

The subsidies, totaling about $7 billion a year, are provided to the insurers for lowering premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for low-income consumers. However, a lawsuit filed by Republicans in the House of Representatives claims the payments are illegal because the House never appropriated the funds for them (all spending measures must begin in that chamber, according to the Constitution). This past May a judge agreed with the Republicans, but put her ruling on hold while the Obama administration appealed.

That appeal is set to be heard next month, but the Trump administration could decide to withdraw it, so the subsidies may expire soon.

The spokesman explained it this way to the Times: “The precedent is that while the lawsuit is being litigated, the cost-sharing subsidies will be funded. It would be fair for you to report that there has been no policy change in the current administration.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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OSHA Delays Crystalline Silica Standard Until Sept. 23

The  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today announced a delay in enforcement of the crystalline silica standard that applies to the construction industry to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.

The agency has determined that additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements in the construction standard. Originally scheduled to begin June 23, 2017, enforcement will now begin Sept. 23, 2017.

OSHA says it expects employers in the construction industry to continue to take steps either to come into compliance with the new permissible exposure limit, or to implement specific dust controls for certain operations as provided in Table 1 of the standard. Construction employers should also continue to prepare to implement the standard’s other requirements, including exposure assessment, medical surveillance and employee training.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Fiduciary Rule Delay to Be Published in Federal Register

The Department of Labor (DOL) has delayed its Fiduciary Rule for retirement plan firms and advisers by 60 days. Set to take effect on April 10, the start date is now June 9.

The rule requires those who advise on and market retirement plans put the interests of their clients foremost.

The announcement follows a Feb. 3, 2017, presidential memorandum which directed the department to examine the fiduciary rule to ensure that it does not adversely affect the ability of Americans to gain access to retirement information and financial advice.

Under the terms of the extension, advisers to retirement investors will be treated as fiduciaries and have an obligation to give advice that adheres to “impartial conduct standards” beginning on June 9 rather than on April 10, 2017, as originally scheduled. These fiduciary standards require advisers to adhere to a best interest standard when making investment recommendations, charge no more than reasonable compensation for their services and refrain from making misleading statements.

The department has requested comments on the issues raised by the presidential memorandum, and related questions. The department urges commenters to submit data, information and analyses responsive to the requests, so that it can complete its work pursuant to the memorandum as carefully, thoughtfully and expeditiously as possible.

(more…)


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Supreme Court Clarifies EEOC’s Subpoena Power

By a 7-to-1 vote, the Supreme Court has ruled that trial judges can review and limit the subpoena power of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The decision reverses a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had overturned a trial judge’s decision that the EEOC was overstepping its investigative authority.

The ruling affirms that trial judges, who are more familiar with the cases in question, should be the ones deciding when the EEOC is overstepping its subpoena powers, not appellate justices. Appellate courts should review lower courts’ decisions on EEOC investigations solely for abuse of discretion, the Supreme Court ruled.

The case was McLane v. EEOC.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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