Political news briefs


Staff Reports



Secretary Husted Announces Meeting of the Ohio Board of Voting Machine Examiners

COLUMBUS– Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced a meeting of the Ohio Board of Voting Machine Examiners will be held on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 10 a.m. The meeting was held in the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s Office on the 15th floor of the Continental Plaza Building at 180 East Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215.

The agenda included:

Review of the application for certification of the EVS 5.4.0.0 Voting System, a series of modifications to the EVS 5.2.0.0 Voting System (submitted by Election Systems & Software) and examination of the voting system for certification and approval for use in Ohio elections

Review of the application for certification of the EVS 5.2.2.0 Voting System, a series of modifications to the EVS 5.2.0.0 and EVS 5.2.1.0 Voting Systems (submitted by Election Systems & Software) and examination of the voting system for certification and approval for use in Ohio elections.

This meeting of the Board is open to the public.

Board Members: Jeffrey A. Matthews (Chair; Director, Stark County Board of Elections), Joyce Kale-Pesta (Director, Mahoning County Board of Elections), Shawn Stevens (Member, Delaware County Board of Elections) and William Anthony Jr.

Senator: This is Not a Partisan Issue

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) in holding another bipartisan hearing on next steps on Russia sanctions. Brown is the Ranking Member on the Committee, which has oversight over economic, trade and financial sanctions.

“We should be clear-eyed about this. The Ukrainian community in Ohio and around the world knows firsthand the dangers of unchecked Russian aggression,” said Brown. “We should strengthen – not weaken – Russian sanctions, and the President must work with Congress on a principled, bipartisan Russia policy that firmly counters this aggressive behavior.”

Earlier this year, Brown joined Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and others in introducing legislation to make it harder to roll back current sanctions until Russia cleans up its act. Today’s hearing explored the effectiveness of current sanctions and additional sanctions to hold Russia accountable for cyber-attacks in the U.S. and interference in the 2016 election, Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and military incursions elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, and its repeated efforts to undermine democracy around the world. The U.S. intelligence community unanimously confirmed that Russia interfered in the U.S. election in a declassified report issued in early January.

“This is not a partisan issue,” said Brown. “As their joint report made clear, there was no disagreement within the U.S. intelligence community about what happened here.”

President Donald Trump and senior advisors in his Administration have made repeated comments about the possibility of relaxing existing sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Crimea and military intervention elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, despite the fact that Russia continues to maintain its aggressive posture there.

Brown called the recent escalation of violence by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and the lack of a consistent U.S. policy to deter further Russian aggression dangerous. He pointed out that since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, there have been at least 10,000 dead, 20,000 wounded, and 2 million internally displaced, according to estimates by the United Nations. The situation remains unstable, with nearly 300,000 ceasefire violations in 2016, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In Syria, the United Nations and others have charged Syrian military units and allied Russian forces with war crimes, including attacks on hospitals and an aid convoy, and indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations in eastern Aleppo.

Sen. Portman’s Regulatory Accountability Act Puts Wall St. Interests Ahead of Consumers

Washington – Legislation introduced in Congress by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017, would favor Wall Street and other industry interests over protections for the American public, according to advocates at the National Consumer Law Center.

“This bill would rig the system in favor of Wall Street banks and companies that have dangerous products, making it easier for them to block rules that protect the public from abusive financial practices and health and safety threats,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center.

“The Regulatory Accountability Act would add to government bureaucracy, imposing unnecessary costs and delays before regulations could be enacted to address dangerous practices. The bill guarantees that government will be dramatically slower, more costly to taxpayers, and far less effective at protecting Americans from dangerous and abusive health, safety or financial practices,” she added.

“The 60-page bill is deliberately complicated. But the bottom line is that the Regulatory Accountability Act would hamstring federal agencies from doing their job to serve the American public. We urge Congress to reject this bad bill and to stand up for public protections,” Saunders concluded.

Since 1969, the nonprofit National Consumer Law Center® (NCLC®) has worked for consumer justice and economic security for low-income and other disadvantaged people, including older adults, in the U.S. through its expertise in policy analysis and advocacy, publications, litigation, expert witness services, and training. www.nclc.org

15,000 American Aluminum Production Workers Have Lost Their Jobs in Last Decade

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) applauded reports that President Trump is expected to launch an investigation into the impact of aluminum imports on national security, but cautioned that the investigation must lead to tough action to provide relief for the aluminum supply chain. Today’s announcement follows similar action last week on steel imports.

“It’s good news the Administration is using this tool, but what matters to Ohio workers and the aluminum supply chain is whether it leads to real relief and action against China’s market-distorting policies,” said Brown.

Immediately after President Trump’s election, Brown reached out to his transition team to offer his help on retooling U.S. trade policy. Brown wrote to Trump in November offering specific steps to work together on trade and Trump responded with a handwritten note.

Brown has been fighting to level the playing field for the domestic aluminum industry, which has purged 15,000 jobs in the last decade. In October 2016, Brown wrote to then-U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman along with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) requesting a World Trade Organization (WTO) case against China to address its aluminum overcapacity. Brown testified on behalf of Ohio’s aluminum workers and companies before the International Trade Commission in September 2016.

Brown and Portman have worked to give domestic industries the ability to fight unfair trade practices. In June 2015, the Leveling the Playing Field Act, introduced by Brown and cosponsored by Portman, was signed into law, ushering in the most significant changes to trade remedy law since 2002.

National Poll: Most Voters Support Prevailing Wage on Public Infrastructure Projects

Washington, D.C: A new national survey shows that strong majorities of Democrats and Republicans each oppose the elimination of prevailing wage laws, which establish local-market minimum wages for different skilled crafts on government funded construction projects. The survey of 1,000 2016 voters was conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research (ALG) from February 23-28, with a margin of error of +/-3.2%.

The new polling comes as several states consider changes to their prevailing wage laws, and the Trump Administration prepares to roll out a national infrastructure plan.

“While voters may have disagreed on many issues this past November, they agree that prevailing wage laws should be preserved by a wide margin,” said pollster Brian Stryker. “Only 21% of voters want to eliminate prevailing wage laws—even after hearing a commonly referenced argument for doing so. And support for prevailing wage extends to large majorities of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Trump voters.”

Construction is America’s fourth largest industry, and directly supports more than 6.6 million jobs. About a quarter of annual construction output, or $363 billion, is spent on government owned construction projects—including roads, bridges, schools, transit systems, water projects and municipal buildings.

Prevailing Wages are determined by surveys of existing market wage and benefit rates for skilled craft workers—such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, iron workers, cement masons, heavy equipment operators and others—in more than 3,000 communities across America. The Davis Bacon Act requires prevailing wage on most federally funded construction projects while about thirty states have laws requiring prevailing wages on state or locally funded projects.

Most peer-reviewed research has linked prevailing wage laws with increased local hiring, lower poverty, safer worksites and better economic outcomes. These studies have concluded that prevailing wage laws have no significant impact on public construction costs because they boost workforce productivity and efficiency, while reducing spending on Medicaid, Food Stamps and other public assistance programs for construction workers.

Research has also revealed that these laws disproportionately benefit military veterans, prevent skilled workforce shortages by increasing apprenticeship training, and help to close wage gaps for women and people of color.

Despite the overwhelming public support for prevailing wage laws, three states have recently eliminated these standards (West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky) on state funded public works, and proposals to weaken or repeal these laws have been introduced in at least three other states (Missouri, Wisconsin, and Ohio).

The Federal Davis-Bacon Act was written by Republicans and signed into law by Republican President Herbert Hoover in 1931. The law has long enjoyed broad bi-partisan support. In 2015, fifty-four House Republicans joined with Democrats to reaffirm support for the Davis Bacon Act.

Smart Cities Prevail is a non-partisan, national non-profit research and education organization, focused on construction industry wage and contracting standards. Learn more at www.smartcitiesprevail.org.

Brown Asked President Trump to Take Action on Buy America, Fought to Expand Buy America to All American Infrastructure Projects

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is continuing his push for better Buy America policies that ensure that all taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects are built with American steel and iron by American workers.

Brown is a cosponsor of the Made in America Water Infrastructure Act along with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Last week in Wisconsin, President Donald Trump unveiled a new executive order and expressed support for the bill, which would ensure that American steel and iron are used in all projects funded by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Brown has also introduced legislation with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) that would expand Buy America to all federally funded infrastructure and public works projects. Now, Brown, Baldwin, and six of their colleagues are calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barroso to support the effort.

“Given the President’s support, we believe it is time for the Senate to act on S. 880—beginning with consideration in the Environment and Public Works Committee,” wrote Brown and his colleagues. “Americans are tired of the status quo in Washington. We look forward to working with you to ensure that our nation’s drinking water infrastructure is built with American materials by moving this legislation through the Senate.”

U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) also signed the letter sent today. A PDF of the letter is available here.

In January, Brown wrote to Trump asking him to make Buy America rules a top priority when in office and introduced Buy America legislation on Trump’s first day in office.

Brown led the fight last Congress to restore Buy America provisions to the water infrastructure bill that would have permanently changed the law to require the use of American-made iron and steel products in infrastructure projects. While Buy America rules apply to some federal infrastructure programs, many taxpayer-funded projects still lack rules requiring the use of American-made products. Brown’s proposed legislation would ensure Buy America rules apply to all federally-assisted projects.

Traveling Paving Contractors Accused of Ripping Off Southwest Ohio Consumers

CINCINNATI — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a lawsuit against two men accused of operating a driveway paving scheme affecting dozens of consumers in the Cincinnati and Dayton area.

The lawsuit accuses James C. Boswell and Edward Boswell of violating state consumer protection laws by failing to deliver promised services, performing shoddy work, and failing to notify consumers about their cancellation rights.

“We found that the defendants approached people at their homes, claimed to have leftover asphalt, and pressured consumers into paying for services,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Then they did minimal, shoddy work and left.”

According to the lawsuit, the Boswells did business as Discount Paving and operated in Hamilton County and other Ohio counties, including Warren, Butler, Montgomery, and Greene. About 30 consumers filed complaints with local law enforcement or the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, with reported losses totaling about $67,000.

In the lawsuit, filed in the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, the Attorney General seeks reimbursement for affected consumers, an injunction to stop further violations, and an order to prohibit the defendants from entering into any other consumer transactions in Ohio unless they repay consumers in this case.

James C. Boswell is currently incarcerated for similar conduct.

Attorney General DeWine reminded consumers to beware of driveway paving scams and other home improvement schemes, especially during spring and summer months. Consumers should be wary of contractors who show up at their homes unexpectedly, ask for immediate payment, and fail to notify them about their cancellation rights.

Consumers who suspect a scam should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.

Senate Health Committee Will Hold Markup on Scott Gottlieb’s Nomination to Serve as FDA Nominee

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is highlighting Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s troubling record on opioids ahead of a markup in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to vote on Gottlieb’s nomination to head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The hearing follows a report from the Washington Post this week, which found that while at FDA in 2006, Gottlieb worked on behalf of the pharmaceutical Cephalon to try to secure additional supply of fentanyl when the company was running low. According to the Post, the company was under investigation at that time for illegally pushing fentanyl for off-label uses.

“Anyone who thinks we need more fentanyl on the market should visit an Ohio coroner’s office that’s had to bring in extra refrigerated trailers to keep up with the rapidly growing number of bodies from the lives being lost to overdoses and explain themselves to the parents, children and friends who’ve lost loved ones to this deadly drug,” said Brown. “Whoever is in charge of the FDA must put the people’s safety over drug company profits.”

Brown announced his opposition to Gottlieb’s nomination earlier this month, citing his cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry and troubling record on opioids. The Washington Post story raises additional concerns over whether Gottlieb could act in the best interest of Ohioans and use his authority to rein in prescription painkillers. On average, 91 Americans, including 12 Ohioans, die every day from an opioid overdose.

Brown has introduced bipartisan legislation to help keep illegal fentanyl and other deadly synthetic opioids out of the U.S. The INTERDICT Act has garnered the support of several state and national law enforcement organizations.

Dr. Gottlieb has called into question the FDA’s authority to police opioids, despite the fact that these prescription drugs are often sold on the black market. He has supported allowing pharmaceutical companies to rush their drugs – including potentially addictive opioid painkillers – onto the market before properly safety protocols are complete. And he’s defended industry’s efforts to market new drugs and devices with minimal safety oversight, prioritizing industry special interests and profit potential over patient safety.

Brown also expressed concern over Gottlieb’s ability to stand up to big tobacco, particularly when it comes to newer products, like e-cigarettes, which are particularly appealing to kids.

Secretary Zinke Announces $32.6 Million in Historic Preservation Grants to States and Tribes

Offshore Drilling Funds Directed to Help Protect U.S. and Tribal Historic Places, Culture and Traditions

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke with the National Park Service today announced the awarding of $26.9 million in historic preservation grants to every U.S. state, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, and partnering nations, in addition to $5.7 million in grants to more than 160 tribes for cultural and heritage preservation projects on their tribal lands.

“Fees collected from drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf help fund important conservation tools like these grants,” Secretary Zinke said. “The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service are committed to preserving U.S. and tribal history and heritage. Through valuable partnerships we are able to assist communities and tribes in ensuring the diverse historic places, culture and traditions that make our country unique are protected for future generations.”

Administered by the National Park Service on behalf of the Secretary, these funds are a part of annual appropriations from the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). Since its inception in 1977, the HPF has provided more than $1.2 billion in historic preservation grants to states, tribes, local governments and nonprofit organizations. Funding is supported by Outer Continental Shelf oil lease revenues, not tax dollars, with intent to mitigate the loss of a non-renewable resource to benefit the preservation of other irreplaceable resources.

This year’s HPF grant funds were appropriated under the Continuing Resolution Act, 2017, enacted as Public Law 114-254. All funding to the states and District of Columbia requires a 40 percent non-federal match, which leverages state, local and private dollars to do even more with the federal HPF investment. The HPF grants fund preservation programs at state historic preservation offices and ensure support of local preservation with a required 10 percent pass through to Certified Local Governments via competitive subgrants.

The HPF is also an essential funding stream for tribes to preserve their unique cultural and heritage resources through a broad range of activities, including identifying places of cultural significance for planning and protection purposes, public education and training, and leading tribal preservation initiatives.

Examples of the diversity of work accomplished with this annual funding include:

Students from Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College in in Michigan will assist conducting oral interviews with elders on tribal traditions and everyday life in a project that also includes an outreach and education exhibit.

A statewide study on Japanese-American settlement coordinated by the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Wisconsin conducted underwater survey evaluations of shipwrecks in Lake Michigan, preparing site plans, and National Register of Historic Places nominations for the S.C. Baldwin and three newly discovered vessels.

Washington’s State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation’s consultation with the U.S. Department of Energy and Native American Tribes on culturally-sensitive Columbia River shoreline with known tribal archaeological resources, historic properties illustrative of post-contact settlement, and Manhattan Project era resources.

In Texas, a youth summit held in conjunction with the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and a series of workshops on historic metal truss bridges in cooperation with the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Department of Transportation.

For more information about the National Park Service historic preservation programs and grants, please visit www.nps.gov/stlpg.

Older Americans and Americans with Disabilities Face Financial Hardship as Federal Government Withholds Social Security Benefits for Skyrocketing Student Loan Payments

WASHINGTON – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the Ranking Member of the Finance Committee Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy Subcommittee, along with eleven Senate Democrats, today introduced a bill to protect Americans who receive Social Security from having their benefits garnished to pay outstanding federal debts, such as student loans.

“Americans shouldn’t see their Social Security checks ripped away because of the increasing burden of student loan debt,” Wyden said. “People who have worked hard and paid into the program count on these benefits just to survive – there ought to be basic protections to defend struggling Americans from having their earned Social Security benefits cut by the federal government.”

“Americans work hard to earn their Social Security and we cannot allow it to be stolen away by student debt,” Brown said. “Instead of going after seniors and the disabled, the government should be working to address the skyrocketing cost of student debt.”

The bill, the “Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act,” would repeal a decades-old change in law that allowed earned benefits to be garnished by the federal government to collect federal debts, like student loans, home loans owed to the Veterans Administration and food stamp overpayments.

The number of Americans who have had their benefits garnished by the federal government has dramatically increased in recent years – from 36,000 in 2002 to a staggering 173,000 in 2015 – nearly a five fold increase. That includes certain people under 65 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance.

Social Security provides vital benefits to millions of Americans who worked and paid into the system. To support the purpose of the program as a fundamental lifeline, the original law protected these earned benefits from attempts to recover all debts. These changes, made in 1996, were never fully debated in Congress, yet they continue to have a profound effect on beneficiaries living on fixed incomes today. Although the 1996 legislation included some provisions to protect the most vulnerable, those protections have not been updated in 20 years. The legislation reestablishes protections in Social Security and other benefit programs, such as Railroad Retirement and Black Lung Benefits, which were in place for more than 40 years before the change was made.

Other original co-sponsors include Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, are also sponsoring the bill.

The bill is supported by Social Security Works, The Arc of the United States, Latinos for a Secure Retirement, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), AFL-CIO, The Economic Opportunity Institute, The National Organization for Women, Justice in Aging, Gray Panthers NYC, Alliance for Retired Americans, The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Global Policy Solutions, AARP, The American Federation of Government Employees, and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW.

Perdue Joins White House “Farmers Roundtable” as President Trump Issues Executive Order on Agriculture

Washington, D.C., April 25, 2017 – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today joined President Trump for a “Farmers Roundtable” at the White House to address issues facing the American agriculture community, as the president signed an Executive Order establishing an Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. The roundtable discussion allowed representatives from all corners of American agriculture to raise concerns and share ideas, just as the task force begins its mission “to promote economic development and revitalization, job growth, infrastructure, innovation, and quality of life issues for rural America,” according to the president’s order. The session capped a busy first day in office for Perdue, who was sworn in by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas as the 31st U.S. Secretary of Agriculture before greeting employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and travelling to the White House for the roundtable.

“The people who are on the front lines of American agriculture don’t have the luxury of waiting to tend to their crops and livestock, so there was no better time to convene this meeting of the minds than on my first day,” Perdue said. “President Trump has made it clear that addressing the needs of rural America will be a top priority, and the message that we want to send to the agriculture community is that we are here, we are working hard, and we are on their side.”

Farmers Roundtable

The Farmers Roundtable featured more than a dozen farmers and representatives of the agriculture community who discussed with President Trump and Secretary Perdue a variety of topics, including agricultural trade, regulatory reform, rural investment and infrastructure, labor issues, and the Farm Bill. Participants in the roundtable included:

• Lisa Johnson-Billy, farmer and former Oklahoma House member, Lindsay, OK

• Luke Brubaker, Brubaker Farms, Mount Joy, PA

• Hank Choate, Choate’s Belly Acres, Cement City, MI

• Tom Demaline, Willoway Nurseries, Avon, OH

• Zippy Duval, President of American Farm Bureau Federation and a farmer from Greensboro, GA

• Valerie Early, National FFA Central Region Vice President and former 4-H member, Wykoff, MN

• Lynetta Usher Griner, Usher Land and Timber, Inc., Fanning Springs, FL (also farms in the state of KS)

• A.G. Kawamura, Orange County Produce, Newport Beach, CA

• James Lamb, Lamb Farms and Prestage Farms, Clinton, NC

• Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and farmer, Spirit Lake, IA

• Jose Rojas, VP of Farm Operations for Hormel, Colorado Springs, CO

• Terry Swanson, Swanson Farms, Walsh, CO

• Maureen Torrey, Torrey Farms, Elba, NY

• Steve Troxler, NC Commissioner of Agriculture and farmer, Browns Summit, NC

“The Farmers Roundtable provided the chance for the President to hear directly from the people on the front lines of American agriculture about what they are dealing with every day,” Secretary Perdue said. “By hosting this discussion, the president has demonstrated his awareness of the plight of American farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers, his intention to seek input, and his determination to help.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will chair a task force on rural prosperity created by an Executive Order signed by President Trump.

President Trump’s Executive Order

President Trump’s Executive Order established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity “to ensure the informed exercise of regulatory authority that impacts agriculture and rural communities.” As Secretary of Agriculture, Perdue will serve as the task force’s chairman.

“It is in the national interest to promote American agriculture while protecting and supporting the rural communities where food, forestry, fiber, and renewable fuels are grown,” the text of the Executive Order reads. “It is further in the national interest to ensure that regulatory burdens do not unnecessarily encumber agricultural production, constrain economic growth, hamper job creation, or increase the cost of food for Americans and our customers around the world.”

The task force will examine and consider, among other issues, current barriers to economic prosperity in rural America and how innovation and technology may play a role in long-term, sustainable rural development. The panel will attempt to strengthen federalism by working with state agencies charged with implementing economic development, agricultural, and environmental programs, while also emphasizing regulatory flexibility for farms and small businesses. With a dependence on sound science, task force members will examine crop protection tools used by farmers and also address concerns regarding labor needed for livestock and year-round agricultural jobs. Additionally, the group will focus on tax policies that allow family farms to remain intact, while also protecting against federal takeover of state-adjudicated water rights, permitting and licensing, and conservation requirements beyond what is provided in law. Finally, members will look to improve food safety and the implementation of food safety laws, but also recognize the unique nature of farming and the diverse business structures of farms.

“It used to be that people in agriculture feared disease and drought as the greatest threats to their livelihoods and their mission of feeding America and the world,” Perdue said. “While those hazards remain, too often now it is the government – through interference and regulation – that poses the most existential threat to American farming. We aim to put a stop to that.”

The task force will seek input from stakeholders in the agricultural community and is required to issue a report with recommendations for legislative or administrative actions within 180 days. The task force will consist of representatives from the following cabinet agencies and executive branch departments:

• Secretary of the Treasury;

• Secretary of Defense;

• Attorney General;

• Secretary of the Interior;

• Secretary of Commerce;

• Secretary of Labor;

• Secretary of Health and Human Services;

• Secretary of Transportation;

• Secretary of Energy;

• Secretary of Education;

• Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency;

• Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission;

• Director of the Office of Management and Budget;

• Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy;

• Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy;

• Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers;

• Director of the Domestic Policy Council;

• Director of the National Economic Council;

• Administrator of the Small Business Administration;

• United States Trade Representative;

• Director of the National Science Foundation; and

• Heads of such other executive departments, agencies, and offices as the President or the Secretary of Agriculture may, from time to time, designate.

Sonny Perdue, the 31st U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, came by his knowledge of agriculture the old fashioned way: he was born into a farming family in Bonaire, Georgia. From childhood, and through his life in business and elected office, Perdue has experienced the industry from every possible perspective. Under Secretary Perdue, the USDA is facts-based and data-driven, with a decision-making mindset that is customer-focused. As the former governor of Georgia, he is a strong believer in good government who will seek solutions to problems and not lament that the agency might be faced with difficult challenges. His four guiding principles are clear: to maximize the ability of American agriculture to create jobs, sell foods and fiber, and feed and clothe the world; to prioritize customer service for the taxpayers; to ensure that our food supply is safe and secure; and to maintain good stewardship of the natural resources that provide us with our miraculous bounty. And understanding that we live in a global economy where trade is of top importance, Secretary Perdue has pledged to be an unapologetic advocate for American agriculture.

Senator Vows to Continue Fight for Pensions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) helped secure permanent healthcare security for Ohio coal miners in the government funding package agreed to late last night (April 30).

Without this deal, thousands of coal miners across the country would have lost their health care at the end of the week. Brown has been working on legislation for several years to give miners permanent healthcare without costing taxpayers a dime, and worked with his Republican and Democratic colleagues to include the permanent solution in the continuing resolution.

Brown vowed to continue fighting for a solution to secure miners’ failing pensions. He secured a commitment from Republican Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), to work together on a bipartisan plan before the end of the year.

“Our miners sacrificed their backs and lungs to power our country and we are finally making good on the promise made decades ago that their healthcare would always be there for them,” said Brown. “The miners are responsible for this victory, and it’s been an honor to stand with them throughout this fight. But we’ve got more work to do to ensure that these miners have access to the pensions they’ve earned.”

Ohio-based auto lender specializing in loans to service members is fined $1.25 million

Washington, D.C. — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) took action against Security National Automotive Acceptance Company (SNAAC), an auto lender with headquarters in Ohio, specializing in loans to service members, for violating a CFPB consent order. In 2015, the CFPB ordered SNAAC to pay penalties for illegal debt collection tactics, including making threats to contact service members’ commanding officers about debts and exaggerating the consequences of not paying. SNAAC violated the 2015 order by failing to provide more than $1 million in refunds and credits, affecting more than 1,000 consumers. Today’s consent order requires SNAAC to make good on the refunds and credits it owes and pay an additional $1.25 million penalty.

“This ruling is the latest in a long line of actions that the CFPB, through its Office of Servicemember Affairs, has taken to protect the financial well-being of those who serve our country,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center. Saunders discusses the “consumer watchdog’s” record looking out for servicemembers and veterans in USA Today.

SNAAC, based in Mason, Ohio, is an auto-finance company that operates in more than two dozen states and specializes in loans to service members, primarily to buy used vehicles. In June 2015, the CFPB sued SNAAC for aggressive collection tactics against consumers who fell behind on their loans. If service members lagged behind on payments, SNAAC’s collectors would threaten to contact—and in many cases did contact—their chain of command about their debts. Also, the company exaggerated the consequences of not paying. For instance, they told some consumers that failure to pay could result in action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, demotion, discharge, or loss of security clearance.

That same year, a CFPB consent order found that SNAAC had engaged in unfair and deceptive acts and practices while collecting on these auto loans. The order required SNAAC to pay $2.275 million in consumer redress through credits and refunds, and a $1 million civil penalty. Acting on a tip from a service member’s father, the CFPB discovered that SNAAC had issued worthless “credits” to hundreds of consumers and failed to provide proper redress to many more.

The CFPB’s consent order is available at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201704_SNAAC-consent-order.pdf

BROWN ON TRUMP TAX PLAN

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said today he needs to see more details on President Trump’s tax plan, but he is supportive of cuts for child care, workers and small businesses. At the same time, Brown warned against cuts for multi-billion dollar corporations and pass-through business entities, which are estimated to add at least $3 trillion to the deficit at a time when President Trump has yet to follow through on the $1 trillion investment in infrastructure he promised.

“I want to cut taxes for working people and small businesses, not give handouts to multi-billion dollar corporations and their CEOs,” Brown said. “Instead of blowing holes in the deficit, we should be closing corporate loopholes and putting Americans back to work by investing in rebuilding our roads and bridges.”

NAMI Ohio Commends the Ohio House for Leadership on State Budget Investments in Behavioral Health

COLUMBUS — The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Ohio commends the members of the Ohio House of Representatives for demonstrating a commitment to investing in solutions to improve the lives of people suffering from mental illnesses and/or addictions in our state. These new investments, coupled with the Governor and House’s commitment to maintaining the Medicaid expansion in Ohio, will improve the lives of millions of Ohioans impacted by mental illness or addiction.

The investments made by the Ohio House of Representatives in the current state biennial budget total $171 M in new dollars to address Ohio’s behavioral health crisis. These investments include new funding for 9 substance use disorder detox centers, 6 mental health crisis stabilization centers, drug court and mental health court programs, addiction recovery housing, mental health housing and behavioral health prevention services. In addition to these investments, the Ohio House has more than doubled the state’s assistance to Public Children Services Agencies (PCSAs) to address the significant influx of children in need of care due to Ohio’s opiate crisis.

For this, NAMI Ohio extends our sincere appreciation.

NAMI Ohio urges the Ohio Senate to support the investments made by the Ohio House of Representatives as well as supporting the continuation of Medicaid expansion in our state. Ohio families and people impacted by mental illness and addiction are in desperate need of this support.

Through their leadership, the entire Ohio General Assembly and our Governor can empower local communities to address the needs of families and people with mental illnesses and addictions in Ohio. We urge all members of our state’s legislature to follow through with these commitments and meet the needs of our loved ones across this state.

About NAMI Ohio

NAMI Ohio is the statewide alliance that serves as the voice on mental illness. The organization is comprised of thousands of family members, individuals, advocates and professionals working together to ensure that Ohioans with mental illness and their loved ones receive the treatment and support they need. Serious mental illness includes such illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression.

For more information on NAMI Ohio please visit www.namiohio.org or call 800-686-2646.

BROWN: ALEXANDER ACOSTA WON’T STAND UP FOR OHIO WORKERS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) voted against confirming Alexander Acosta to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Labor, citing his refusal to commit to defending the overtime rule that would give more than 130,000 Ohioans a raise and his refusal to make addressing the gender pay gap a priority.

“Alexander Acosta has provided no proof that he will stand up for Ohio workers,” said Brown. “It’s unacceptable that he’s refused to answer basic questions about whether he’ll defend the overtime rule and address the gender pay gap. President Trump promised to put American workers first and honoring that commitment demands a Labor Secretary who stands ready to raise wages and improve our workplaces. Mr. Acosta falls short.”

Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota

This spring, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is celebrating its 70th anniversary!

Unfortunately, California-based Meridian Energy Group wants to give the park a different kind of birthday gift: a 55,000-gallon-per-day crude oil refinery just 3 miles from President Roosevelt’s namesake park. Emissions from the refinery would threaten the air and scenic views for visitors at this iconic national park.

We need your help to stop this project.

President Roosevelt lived and developed his conservation vision on the land now known as Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. His conservation ethic lives on in the 230 million acres of public lands he set aside for the American people.

Together, let’s make sure Theodore Roosevelt National Park is protected in perpetuity. Meridian Energy Group is currently working on getting the necessary permits to begin construction of the refinery, but it is not too late to say NO.

The lasting damage this facility would have on the park dishonors the legacy of President Roosevelt and others who spent generations protecting this land.

Take Action: Tell Meridian Energy Group CEO William Prentice that an oil refinery has no place next to a national park.

Thank you for taking action today to protect the park that honors one of America’s greatest conservation presidents.

Meigs County Joins Ohio START Program

COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that Meigs County is now the newest county to join a pilot program created to serve families harmed by parental opioid abuse in southern Ohio.

A total of 19 counties are now participating in the Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment, and Reducing Trauma) program.

Attorney General DeWine announced the creation of Ohio START last month. The program will provide specialized victim services to children who have been abused or neglected due to parental drug use.

“We welcome Meigs County to the program and look forward to helping them provide important victim services to children impacted by parental opioid addiction,” said Attorney General DeWine. “Children are often the silent victims of this epidemic, and they deserve the best possible support and care.”

Ohio START will also provide drug treatment for parents of children referred to the program.

Because Meigs County is now participating in Ohio START, Attorney General DeWine allotted an additional $233,750 in Victim of Crime Act grants to the program. The Public Children Services Association of Ohio, which is administering the grants on behalf of each county, will now receive a total of $4,829,000 to launch the southern Ohio pilot program across all 19 counties.

Other counties participating in the program are: Adams, Athens, Brown, Clermont, Clinton, Fairfield, Fayette, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Lawrence, Perry, Pickaway, Pike, Hocking, Ross, Scioto, and Vinton.

If shown to be successful, Ohio START could expand to more counties in other regions of the state.

More information on Ohio START can be found on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.

–30–

Castle Mountains National Monument

On April 26, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order instructing the Department of the Interior to review national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres in size, or where Interior Secretary Zinke determines the designation was made without adequate public outreach or support.

Questioning the value of our public lands is unacceptable. They tell the stories of our diverse history and wild lands; they protect magnificent landscapes like the deserts of Castle Mountains in California and the countless Native American artifacts at sites like Bears Ears in Utah. Learn more.

Send a message to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Urge him to protect the lands that our communities hold so dear and guarantee full protection for these national monuments and all our public lands.

Message

Protect our national monuments

Dear [Decision Maker],

National parks and monuments are a promise to the American people, that the stories, lands and waters that define who we are as a nation will be protected today and into the future. I urge you not to break that promise by revoking or changing any of the national monuments under your protection.

* Personalize your message

The Executive Order recently signed by President Trump undermines and questions one of the nation’s most important conservation tools. The Antiquities Act was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to safeguard and preserve federal lands and cultural and historic sites for all Americans to enjoy.

The same law used to protect Bears Ears National Monument and Castle Mountains National Monument was used to protect the Statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon and Muir Woods. These are places that deserve to be safeguarded and stories that deserve to be told. Their value to the American people should not be questioned or threatened with diminished protection.

National monuments belong to all Americans. And it is up to all Americans to protect them, from citizens to our elected leaders. That includes the law used to create them. These sites, and all who visit them, deserve nothing less.

Please protect our public lands, and do not diminish any of our national monuments.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

[Your Address]

[City, State ZIP]

Senate Regulatory Bill Would Block Public Health Protections

WASHINGTON (April 26, 2017) ––Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) introduced legislation that would cripple the government’s ability to protect people from dirty air, contaminated food, polluted waters and other serious health threats. The House passed a version of the bill, the so-called Regulatory Accountability Act, in January.

The following is a statement by Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, followed by those of two residents of Ohio.

“This bill would tilt the scales in favor of polluters at the public’s expense. It would make it virtually impossible to safeguard the public from dirty air, unsafe drinking water and other health threats,” said Slesinger.

“We need more, and stronger, protections—not fewer,” said Jeff Napier, a resident of Guilford Township, Ohio, whose mother died from salmonella poisoning after eating contaminated peanut butter. “Nobody should ever lose a loved one this way.” Napier and his family want Congress to strengthen food protection laws.

“It’s time for Congress to protect us—not corporations that care mostly about making a big profit,” said Robin Tucker, who lives outside Cleveland, Ohio. “If a proposal like this one became law, there would be more people like me and my family.” Tucker’s father died as a result of workplace exposure to asbestos, a deadly carcinogen.

The bill would make it all but impossible to put in place protections that could avert future tragedies like those that struck the Napier and Tucker families.

Napier and Tucker are in Washington to urge Congress to reject the Regulatory Accountability Act and other measures to eviscerate countless, decades-old public health safeguards and to block new safeguards.

The House has already passed several bills that would undermine or destroy the regulatory system, and President Trump’s executive order requiring at least two rules to be eliminated for each new one would also raise major barriers to protecting the public. NRDC, along with other groups, has sued to block that order, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

Bill Would Allow Local Farmers and Wastewater Sites to Access Capital Needed to Use Biogas Technology

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced bipartisan legislation to invest in biogas technologies, giving farmers and wastewater plants new opportunities to turn waste into useable products like biogas. This bill would create jobs and help keep water sources free of animal and other waste.

“Keeping animal waste out of our water is one of the easiest ways we can guard against polluted runoff that causes harmful algal blooms and pollutes Lake Erie,” said Brown. “This will not only be good for our water, but will help create jobs by providing new opportunities for farmers and wastewater sites to tap into the biogas market.”

“The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation supports tax incentives to help farmers invest in their futures to use biogas and nutrient recovery systems to generate renewable energy, produce high-value products or deliver renewable fuels,” said Yvonne Lesicko, Vice President of Public Policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau. “Nutrient management is an important task and we welcome farmers having opportunities to use the systems or tools which best fit their farms. We applaud Senator Brown and Senator Roberts for helping to promote an innovative approach to nutrient management with this incentive.”

U.S. livestock and dairy producers possess a valuable biogas resource that is not being used to its full potential. Biogas digester systems – currently used at 2,100 farms and wastewater treatment plants in the U.S. – can turn organic material like manure, food scraps, agricultural residue, and wastewater solids into raw biogas or solids and liquids. Biogas can be used to produce heat, electricity, fuel and can be injected into natural gas pipelines. The solids and liquids can be used to produce fertilizer, compost, soil amendments, and animal bedding. Biogas systems can also be used to process wastewater up stream reducing containments that can impact potable water in many communities.

Too many farms and wastewater sites cannot take advantage of this technology because they lack the upfront cost to install a digester. The Agriculture Environmental Stewardship Act would make these systems eligible for a 30 percent investment tax credit to help farmers and wastewater treatment facilities offset the upfront costs associated with installing a digester system.

Illegal, union-boosting OSHA rule is canceled after suit by PLF and NFIB

Washington, D.C.: In the wake of a lawsuit by Pacific Legal Foundation, representing the National Federal of Independent Business, the U.S. Department of Labor has now withdrawn the union “walk-around” rule — an illegal mandate, adopted in 2013 that foisted union organizers on non-union businesses through an abuse of workplace inspections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Because the Trump Administration has rescinded the Obama-era rule, PLF and NFIB have just formally withdrawn the legal challenge that they filed last year. The rule’s rescission comes after a federal judge, in December, rejected government attorneys’ attempt to have the PLF/NFIB lawsuit dismissed.

“The withdrawal of the walk-around rule is a victory for the integrity of the OSHA inspection process,” said PLF Senior Attorney Joshua Thompson. “The rule perverted and hijacked health and safety reviews by allowing them to become a vehicle for proselytizing and recruitment by organized labor. PLF was proud to join with NFIB to challenge — and help end — this illegal attack on the rights of non-union businesses and their employees.”

“With the withdrawal of the walk-around rule, the rule of law has been affirmed,” said PLF Senior Attorney Damien Schiff. “This agenda-driven, union-promoting mandate was imposed not through an orderly process of broad-based deliberations and public input, but by one official’s arbitrary fiat. Freedom cannot survive if citizens are subject to raw bureaucratic power, with unelected administrators able to impose any edicts they like, unaccountable to anyone but themselves.”

“The new Department of Labor memorandum is a clear win for small businesses,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan. “The 2013 memo gave unions a pathway to intimidate small business owners. Congress never intended that OSHA should open the door to unionization efforts. The Obama administration was on thin legal ground with their order, and we applaud the Trump administration for properly recognizing the rights of small business owners.”

Illegal ‘walk-around’ rule empowered unions at the expense of businesses’ rights

The union walk-around rule allowed union officials to participate in OSHA workplace inspections — even for businesses that are not unionized and regardless of any technical or other relevant expertise the representative may (or may not) have had. As the PLF/NFIB lawsuit drove home, this revolutionary distortion of the inspection process was illegal because it was imposed by one OSHA official’s edict — through a letter called the “Fairfax Memo” — rather than through the extended notice and comment process that federal law requires for new regulations. Moreover, the rule violated OSHA’s existing regulations, by introducing union officials into inspection teams, whether or not they had the required health and safety expertise.

Politicizing the OSHA inspection process

“The walk-around rule essentially provided cover for what amounted to trespassing by union officials,” said Thompson. “It gave union organizers the power to intrude on private workplaces and button-hole non-union employees, by deputizing these officials as government inspectors. Our lawsuit highlighted this subversion of the process, and the court recognized the weight of our claims by rejecting the government’s efforts to dismiss them.”

“It was a privilege to work with NFIB in defeating this attempt to politicize OSHA’s core health and safety oversight responsibilities,” added Schiff.

The case is NFIB v. OSHA. More information, including the opening legal filing, the dismissal, and an explanatory blog post, is available at: www.pacificlegal.org. NFIB’s Underground Regulation report is available at: http://www.nfib.com/pdfs/fourth-branch-underground-regulations-nfib.pdf.

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation, America’s most powerful ally for justice, litigates in courts nationwide for limited government, property rights, and economic liberty. PLF represents all clients without charge.

Tiberi: Eight Years of Obama Administration’s Policies Have Constrained Our Economic Potential

U. S. Congressman Pat Tiberi (R-OH), Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, released the following statement about the report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis that the U.S. economy grew 0.7 percent at an annualized rate in the first quarter of 2017:

“While disappointing, today’s GDP report is not surprising. The report serves as a reminder that eight years of the Obama administration’s regulatory onslaught and our outdated tax system have constrained our economic potential. Bad weather in March may have contributed to the low GDP growth rate, but by continuing to reduce burdensome regulations and overhauling our tax code, we will restore our potential going forward.”

The pre-Obama 50-year average quarterly growth at annualized rates was 3.2 percent compared with the Obama administration’s average of 1.8 percent.

Lt. Governor Taylor, BWC announce $44 million investment in workplace safety and wellness

COLUMBUS — Lt. Governor Mary Taylor and Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison announced a $44 million investment in workplace safety, health and wellness.

The safety initiative is part of the $1 billion rebate plan proposed by Gov. John Kasich last month and approved by BWC’s board of directors this morning.

Taylor and Morrison were joined by State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers and Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities Director John Martin for the announcement at the Wesley Glen Retirement Community in Worthington. Methodist ElderCare, which operates Wesley Glen, received a healthy worksite award at the Ohio Business Council’s annual Healthy Worksite Awards ceremony in January

“Each day, millions of Ohioans leave their homes to go to work, provide for their families and drive economic growth in Ohio,” said Lt. Governor Mary Taylor. “We owe it to Ohio’s workers and their families to ensure our workplaces are safe and that those workers are able to return home each day after their shift.”

The new initiative calls for $44 million over two years to improve wellness and safety for workers across Ohio. This includes a new wellness program, funding for specific programs to help firefighters and those who work with children and adults with disabilities, and an education campaign to address common injuries at work and in the home.

“We at BWC have a strong history of promoting safety in the workplace, as evidenced by record-low claims,” said Morrison. “This program is about expanding that effort directly to workers and creating a culture of safety among all Ohioans.”

The initiative is expected to launch in January and includes:

$6 million annually for a new health and wellness program for Ohioans working for small employers (50 or fewer employees) in specific high-risk industries, as well as injured workers with certain types of injuries. Services include smoking cessation programs, health coaching and chronic disease management.

An extension of the current annual funding level of $15 million for Safety Intervention Grants, setting aside $4 million a year for two high-risk occupations:

$2 million for fire departments to purchase equipment, including personal protective equipment, to minimize exposure to dangerous environmental elements;

$2 million for employers that serve disabled children and adults; funds will support training and equipment aimed at preventing injuries among social and health care workers providing these services.

A $2 million statewide safety awareness and education campaign for slips, trips and falls, overexertion and motor vehicle accidents, which are responsible for more than 60 percent of workplace injuries. The effort will include online and mobile training resources that address safety at home and at work.

With this morning’s green light by its board of directors, BWC will move forward with its Third Billion Back rebate plan the agency announced in March. BWC will prepare to send more than $1 billion in rebates to more than 200,000 private and public employers. Eligible employers will begin receiving checks in July totaling 66 percent of premiums for the policy year that ended June 30, 2016 (calendar year 2015 for public employers).

Established in 1912, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation provides workers’ compensation insurance to 244,000 public and private Ohio employers. With nearly 1,900 employees and assets of approximately $27 billion, BWC is the largest state-run insurance system in the United States. Our mission is to protect Ohio’s workers and employers through the prevention, care and management of workplace injuries and illnesses at fair rates. For more, visit www.bwc.ohio.gov.

This marks the 47th anniversary of the implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), in which the AFL-CIO and organized labor recognize as Workers Memorial Day.

As a result of OSHA and vigilance in pursuit of policies that protects the health and safety of workers, many gains have been made, including new rules and standards on dangerous silica and coal dust.

While workplace protections have advanced significantly, one work related death is too many and any gains that have been made for worker safety can quickly reverse. I make this point as the Trump Administration and Congress consider rolling back safety rules and defunding safety and enforcement budgets. Let me be clear, any attempts to turn back the clock on workplace safety and enforcement will be met with great resistance from organized labor and working people of Ohio.

This includes so-called Right to Work laws that take away worker rights and freedoms, and in doing so, creates dangerous workplaces. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, states with so-called Right to Work laws have 49% higher workplace fatality rates. We will not let this happen here in Ohio. We will not allow the lives of workers to be sacrificed for political purposes and power grabs. Workplace safety should not and cannot be a partisan issue, so it is up to us all to make sure Ohioans understand that Right to Work is Wrong.

Workers Memorial Day is a time to honor the fallen and reflect on the incredible contributions and sacrifices of working people. It is our people that make this state great and we must protect our most valuable resource — our human resource. We must do all we can to protect our workers whether they be in factories or fields, construction sites or classrooms. I believe we can find common purpose to protect those that toil in our cities and at our ports, those that connect us, keep us safe, transport and power our communities.

Workers Memorial Day is also a time to review how far we’ve come and how much work lays ahead to protect our workers. To this end, let us recommit to working together, labor and business, in bipartisan spirit to achieve the ultimate goal — that our loved ones come home safe and sound at the end of their work day.

So this Workers Memorial Day, let us honor those that have lost their lives in the line of work, and continue to fight for the living.

In solidarity,

Tim

——————

Tim Burga, President

Ohio AFL-CIO

Dayton Man, Company Ordered to Pay $1.4 Million

COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that a Dayton-area certified alcohol and drug outpatient treatment provider and its owner have been ordered to pay more than $1.4 million after an investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit found that the provider billed for services that were never actually provided.

The investigation found that between August 10, 2012 and December 31, 2015, The Morrow Group, LLC, by and through its owner Clifford Morrow, 68, of Dayton, intentionally billed and obtained money by deception from the Ohio Department of Medicaid for services not rendered and/or not authorized.

“Our investigation found that this defendant ordered his staff to bill for services that were never provided and fired employees when they questioned his illegal billing practices,” said Attorney General DeWine. “We found that he and his corporation even billed for services they claimed were provided to clients who were hospitalized or dead. This kind of blatant abuse of the Medicaid system will not be overlooked.”

The investigation found that Morrow ordered staff to falsify client notes and billing records to make it appear that they provided counseling and crisis intervention treatments that clients never actually received.

Investigators also found that Morrow operated The Morrow Group as a nutrition and food program rather than a drug and alcohol treatment program. The corporation provided some meals to clients, but claimed in billing records to be providing medication.

Morrow and The Morrow Group, LLC, both pleaded guilty to one felony count of Medicaid fraud and were sentenced by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Julie Lynch to pay $1,414,622 in restitution to the Ohio Department of Medicaid. Bank accounts containing these funds were frozen as part of the investigation, and upon the filing of a forfeiture order, the Ohio Department of Medicaid will immediately receive the full restitution.

Judge Lynch also ordered Morrow and the corporation to serve one year of community control. If Morrow or the company violate the terms of the community control, Morrow would face prison time.

As a result of the investigation, the Ohio Department of Medicaid terminated its provider contract with The Morrow Group, LLC, which was located on Frederick Pike in Dayton.

The case was prosecuted by attorneys with Attorney General DeWine’s Health Care Fraud Section.

BROWN, PORTMAN ANNOUNCE $300 MILLION FOR GREAT LAKES IN FUNDING PACKAGE

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) today (May 1) announced that the government funding measure finalized late last night includes $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) for this fiscal year. Brown and Portman raised concerns over the GLRI’s future after the Administration’s 2018 budget request eliminated the program, and the Senators vowed to keep fighting to protect the program.

“Investing in Lake Erie means investing in local jobs and ensuring clean drinking water for Ohio,” said Brown. “I’m proud to see Ohio Republicans and Democrats coming together to support our Great Lake and do what’s right for Ohio.”

“Winning full funding for this bipartisan initiative is a victory for Lake Erie, the Great Lakes and Ohio. Lake Erie is critical to Ohio for tourism, for our fishing industry, and for the drinking water of three million Ohioans,” Portman said. “The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been an effective public-private program protecting the Lake from threats like harmful algae and invasive species like Asian carp. When the Obama Administration tried to cut funding for this program, I fought that proposal at every turn until we fully funded it each year and then we extended the program for five years. I will continue to work with my bipartisan colleagues to protect this program in the future.”

Brown has Worked with Members of Both Parties to Secure Federal Resources, Address Opioid Crisis in Ohio Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today (May 1) announced more than $160 million in federal resources to combat the opioid crisis in states like Ohio that have been hardest hit by the epidemic. The funding was included as part of the government funding package agreed to late last night.

“As individuals, families and communities across the country continue to be devastated by the opioid epidemic, I’m glad to see more federal resources for individuals and families to get the treatment they need and for law enforcement to combat the flow of these deadly drugs into our communities,” said Brown. “Stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic in Ohio will require the cooperation of federal, state, and local partners, and we know there is more work to be done. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to make sure local communities have the resources they need as we work to tackle the opioid epidemic in Ohio.”

The $160 million includes $10 million funding for statewide anti-heroin task forces, as well as funding for treatment and prevention programs. The bill also fully funds the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which Brown supported. CARA included Brown’s provision to prevent potential overprescribing and misuse of opioids within Medicare by locking those at risk of addiction into one prescriber and one pharmacy to help mitigate the risk of prescribing opioids to at-risk patients. Funding is also included for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to implement the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, a bill introduced by Brown and Sen. Baldwin (D-WI), which passed into law as part of CARA and will help provide safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans.

Last month, Brown announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released $26 million in grant funding to Ohio to bolster efforts to combat the opioid epidemic after he joined Senate colleagues in in a letter to President Trump calling for the release of critical resources that have been designated to address the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Brown urged Governor George “Sonny” Perdue, President Trump’s nominee to serve as the Secretary of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to continue USDA’s efforts to fight the opioid epidemic in Ohio communities. USDA has helped in the fight against opioids through its Rural Development grant programs, like the Community Facilities Program—which helps rural communities expand local resources like medical facilities and public safety services. Brown also supported a strong Rural Development title in the 2014 Farm Bill to provide economic support to rural communities.

Last month, Brown also worked with his colleagues Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to introduce bipartisan legislation to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) keep the deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl, out of the country. Brown’s bill, the INTERDICT Act, would provide CBP with additional high-tech screening equipment and lab resources to detect fentanyl before it enters the U.S. According to a report from the Ohio Department of Health, fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Ohio more than doubled from 503 in 2014 to 1,155 in 2015. Several state and national law enforcement organizations have endorsed Brown’s bill.

Last Congress, Brown introduced legislation that would address the opioid epidemic from prevention to recovery, filling in gaps that would help: boost prevention, improve tools for crisis response for those who fall through the cracks, expand access to treatment, and provide support for lifelong recovery.

BROWN RELEASES FOUR-POINT PLAN FOR NAFTA RENEGOTIATION

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) wrote to President Trump outlining a strategy for renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Brown released a four-point plan for securing the best deal for American workers:

1. Secure Anti-Outsourcing and Buy America Provisions Up Front

2. Don’t Pit American Workers and Industries against Each Other in Negotiations

3. Build Enforcement Tools that Favor American Workers, Not Foreign Corporations if the Deal is Violated

4. Include Workers in the Negotiations

Brown held a series of roundtables with Ohio workers in recent weeks to get their input on what the priorities should be for a renegotiated NAFTA. Brown spoke with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last week as the White House reaffirmed its commitment to renegotiating NAFTA, and today’s letter continues Brown’s efforts to work with President Trump to fulfill the President’s campaign promises on trade.

“American jobs shouldn’t be up for negotiation and American workers can’t be traded away as bargaining chips,” Brown said. “By setting high standards, putting workers ahead of corporations and refusing to compromise on outsourcing, we can create the best possible deal for all American workers.”

Brown’s plan outlines two new strategies that the U.S. has not used in negotiations over past trade deals. First, he calls on the White House to secure commitments from Mexico and Canada on anti-outsourcing provisions and Buy America protections before even beginning negotiations. Second, he’s urging the Administration to develop individualized negotiation strategies for manufacturing sectors that have been hurt by outsourcing. The goal is to ensure that American workers aren’t pitted against each other as bargaining chips in a negotiation.

Next, Brown says any new deal must include more meaningful enforcement mechanisms for American workers and do away with special courts that allow multi-national corporations to undermine U.S. laws and take advantage of American workers.

Finally, Brown says the Administration must be inclusive and transparent throughout the negotiations to ensure American workers and consumers have an equal seat at the table with multi-national corporations. A PDF of Brown’s letter to Trump is available here.

Immediately after President Trump’s election, Brown reached out to his transition team to offer his help on retooling U.S. trade policy. Brown wrote to Trump in November offering specific steps to work together on trade and Trump responded with a handwritten note. Since then, Brown has spoken with the President about Buy American and had multiple conversations with top White House trade advisers, including Ross and USTR nominee Robert Lighthizer.

Brown opposed NAFTA when it was first passed. He now sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade agreements.

NAFTA RENEGOTIATION

Brown’s Four Point Plan for Securing the Best Deal for American Workers

1. SECURE ANTI-OUTSOURCING AND BUY AMERICA PROVISIONS UP FRONT

We know what causes outsourcing: low wages, exploited workers and weak, or non-existent, environmental protections in other countries encourage companies to relocate where it’s cheaper to do business. This has created a race to the bottom that hurts all workers, brings down wages and jeopardizes clean air and water. So Brown’s plan calls on the Administration to secure commitments from Mexico and Canada to enforce strict worker and environmental protections before even sitting down at the negotiating table.

In the past, U.S. trade negotiators have used up their leverage without securing strong enough standards to protect American jobs. By securing strong anti-outsourcing provisions up front, Brown’s plan ensures American jobs aren’t up for negotiation.

In addition to tough worker and environmental protections, Brown’s plan insists that Mexico and Canada agree up front that Buy America standards will not be weakened in negotiations.

2. DON’T PIT AMERICAN WORKERS AND INDUSTRIES AGAINST EACH OTHER IN THE NEGOTIATIONS

Too often, U.S. trade negotiators have pitted American workers and industries against each other as bargaining chips in the negotiation. For example, auto industry priorities get weighed against the needs of farmers. American workers shouldn’t be horse-traded simply for the sake of cutting a deal. A renegotiated NAFTA must be a good deal for all workers.

So, Brown’s plan calls on the White House to develop individualized negotiation strategies for manufacturing sectors that have been hurt by outsourcing. Identifying sectors that are susceptible to outsourcing and developing plans to address their unique needs and vulnerabilities in advance will ensure American workers and industries aren’t sacrificed during negotiations.

3. BUILD ENFORCEMENT TOOLS THAT FAVOR AMERICAN WORKERS, NOT FOREIGN CORPORATIONS WHEN THE DEAL IS VIOLATED

Even good trade deals don’t mean anything if they aren’t enforced. For too long, U.S. free trade agreements have included ineffective procedures for workers to challenge violations and super-sized procedures for corporations. Investor-state dispute settlement provisions have created private, C-suite courts that allow foreign corporations to undermine U.S. laws and take advantage of American workers, while workers wait years for trade violations to be addressed – if they are addressed at all.

Brown’s plan would do away with special courts for corporations and create a better process for workers to get remedies if Mexico and Canada violate the agreement.

4. INCLUDE WORKERS IN THE NEGOTIATIONS

Time after time, we’ve seen corporate lobbyists writing trade deals behind closed doors, while American workers are locked out.

Brown’s plan calls on the White House to make U.S. proposals public before and after each negotiating round and give workers, consumers and public interest advocates equal representations with corporations on Trade Advisory Committees that wield special influence in negotiations.

Senator Rob Portman Hosts Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in Ohio

On April 24, Senator Portman welcomed Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to Ohio to visit the Transportation Research Center (TRC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Vehicle Research and Test Center (VRTC) in East Liberty. Secretary Chao saw firsthand how TRC Ohio has become a global leader in autonomous vehicle research development.

“Secretary Chao has been a friend for decades and I want to thank her for coming to East Liberty to see this amazing facility firsthand. The country is fortunate to have her in this leadership role. I want thank everyone at the Transportation Research Center and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the discussion and tour. I know how important this testing center is to East Liberty and this region. When the GSA announced a couple years back it was looking at moving the location of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I worked to help protect this community by urging the GSA to keep its facility there, and they did.

“Central Ohio is quickly becoming a model for the nation on how to use smart, 21st-century transportation to help create economic growth and expand opportunity—as evidenced by Columbus winning the Smart Cities award. TRC Ohio is playing a big role in that, and has become a global leader in autonomous vehicle research development. I’m pleased that Secretary Chao was able to see firsthand the great work that TRC Ohio is doing on behalf of our state, and I look forward to continuing my work with them in the future.”

NOTE: Portman invited Secretary Chao to see the facility firsthand during a phone conversation on March 30. This facility has significant importance to Senator Portman because he worked to protect the NHTSA testing center by urging the General Services Administration (GSA) to keep its facility there after plans had been made to change locations. Following Portman’s letter, the GSA announced that the location would stay. Portman is also working to promote the facility to take advantage of future growth opportunities, so he is pleased that Secretary Chao will visit Ohio and see the facility firsthand. Portman last visited the facility earlier this year on February 21.

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Staff Reports

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