House and Senate pass tax plan, European court rules that Uber is a taxi service, and more…
IN THE NEWS
- In a 224-201 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the U.S. Senate’s amended version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The bill contains a provision repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the bill provides “the kind of relief that Americans deserve” and will “get our economy growing to reach its potential.” But U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called the bill “a heist,” and, speaking before the House vote, U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) said the legislation was “probably the worst bill in recent time” and that its proponents are “pillaging the American middle class to benefit the powerful and the privileged.”
- The European Court of Justice ruled that Uber is a taxi service and not “an information society service.” The decision means that Uber will have to adhere to transportation laws. Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said on Twitter that the decision is “not a setback, since we’ve already changed our approach in the EU to follow transportation laws and work with professional drivers.”
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will withdraw Obama-era regulations on how animals should be raised if their meat is to be labeled “certified organic” before the rules go into effect. The rules would have set minimum cage sizes for poultry and required that livestock get sufficient access to the outdoors. USDA said it lacked the authority under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to regulate animal welfare.
- The New York City Council passed a bill that would require buildings greater than 25,000 feet to post their energy efficiency scores presented in easily understood “letter grades” at public entrances. The Council reasoned that “consumers can use this data to make an informed decision when choosing an apartment or commercial space.”
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will seek public comments as it considers “the next regulatory steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions” following the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the regulatory scheme he plans to implement in place of the Clean Power Plan would “limit greenhouse gases in a way that properly stays within the law.” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) has argued that the Clean Power Plan is a “vital tool to slash greenhouse gas emissions” and it should not be repealed without further public input.
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will—for the first time since the government decided to withhold it in October 2014—once again fund research of “enhanced potential pandemic pathogens,” which are diseases that pose an even greater threat than their garden variety versions. NIH Director Francis S. Collins said that the research, which will examine pathogens such as influenza, SARS, and MERS, “is important in helping us identify, understand, and develop strategies and effective countermeasures against rapidly evolving pathogens that pose a threat to public health.”
- EPA released a draft risk assessment concluding that glyphosate, an herbicide, is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” a conclusion at odds with the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) listing. In November, Monsanto, Inc. along with several agricultural industry groups sued the OEHHA for listing glyphosate as a carcinogen following a 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer report listing glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.
- New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy (D) announced his intention to nominate state Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D) as Commissioner of the State of New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, the state’s banking, insurance, and real estate industry regulator. Murphy reportedly stated Caride will be the “watchdog” who will ensure that New Jerseyans’ “health insurance policy is worth the paper it’s printed on” and that the banks will be “stable and viable.”
- Microsoft waived the contractual requirement that forced a segment of its employees to arbitrate sexual harassment claims. This move came after the company endorsed a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make it illegal for companies to force arbitration for sexual harassment or gender dispute allegations, and allow the option to take the claim to court.
WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK
- In a piece for The Guardian, Jon Michaels of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law argued that the government has “generally reconfigured along decidedly businesslike lines.” Michaels pointed to increasing numbers of private contractors, especially in defense and prison industries, and the “marketization” of bureaucrats—reclassifying government employees as at-will “to make government workers internalize the pressures, demands, and incentives of the competitive private labor market.”
- In a paper for the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, Jessica L. Roberts, associate professor at The University of Houston Law Center, and Elizabeth Weeks Leonard, professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, discussed the discrimination and stigma around individuals perceived as being unhealthy—such as smokers and the obese. Roberts and Leonard argued that these groups are specifically targeted for regulation, and that this regulation poses a “disproportionate burden on these populations” and worsens existing health disparities.
- In an article for the UC Davis Law Review, Jane R. Bambauer, a professor at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, examined artificial intelligence (AI) in the field of medicine, specifically “whether health and medical AI should be regulated more like doctors than like devices, and what difference it would make.” Bambauer determined that medical AI should be regulated like doctors because medical “robots” act like doctors. Bambauer identified the “duties to provide confidentiality, to warn, to provide informed consent, and to avoid conflicts of interest” as “the public safety concerns” accompanying robot doctors that regulation will have to address.