Week in Review

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President Trump announces initiative to fight opioid epidemic, U.S. House of Representatives passes spending bill, and more…

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  • President Donald Trump announced an initiative to fight the opioid epidemic, which included a request to the U.S. Department of Justice to seek capital punishment “against drug traffickers, where appropriate.” The following day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance “strongly” recommending the death penalty “in appropriate cases” involving “certain drug-related crimes.” Sessions justified the guidance by noting the “unprecedented toll” that the opioid epidemic has taken. But executive director of Justice Action Network Holly Harris reportedly said that increasing death penalty cases “would be a huge burden on judges, on prosecutors, on public defenders.” University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack also reportedly said that the death penalty would not necessarily reduce the presence of drugs.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed a spending bill, which includes a provision that would prohibit employers from saving their workers’ tips “for any purposes.” The provision would invalidate a proposed rule issued by the U.S. Department of Labor in December. The proposed rule would would allow employers to hold onto their workers’ tips but would reportedly cost employees at least millions of dollars’ worth of tips—a statistic the Labor Department failed to include in its proposed rule. The Labor Department also reportedly had Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), ignore Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Neomi Rao’s protestations about the proposed rule and issue it without the statistic on workers’ tip loss.
  • The trial in the Justice Department’s attempt to block a proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner began. The Justice Department challenged the merger because it anticipates that the combination of Time Warner’s content-producing and AT&T’s distribution capacities, the merger would drive up prices for consumers and squeeze out competitors.
  • The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) announced that its inspectors will conduct longer examinations of offshore oil and gas facilities “while reducing taxpayer burden by nearly $20 million” over the next three and a half years. BSEE Director Scott A. Angelle praised the plan as “a smarter, safer strategy.” Last month, BSEE cautioned the facilities about the “catastrophic consequences” of crane failures after four such incidents occurred from October to December of 2017. Eric Lipton of The New York Times examined the context surrounding offshore inspection policies and their political and safety ramifications.
  • Following news that Cambridge Analytica, a political research firm, used data from 50 million Facebook users in the 2016 election, lawmakers are calling on Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer of Facebook, to explain its privacy practices. U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Kennedy (R-La.) said, “The lack of oversight on how data is stored and how political advertisements are sold raises concerns about the integrity of American elections as well as privacy rights.”
  • The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the National Women’s Law Center  sued to get OMB to turn over documents relating to OMB’s decision to withdraw an Obama-era rule that would have required businesses to report pay data information. Dariely Rodriguez of the Lawyers’ Committee said, “The Administration’s move to suspend the collection of pay data from employers threatens to turn the clock back on efforts to identify and eliminate pay discrimination.”
  • U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) introduced legislation, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence Act, that would create an independent commission to study artificial intelligence (AI) with a focus on its national security risks and benefits. Stefanik said that AI “is a constantly developing technology that will likely touch every aspect of our lives” and that the legislation “will develop a commission to review advances in AI, identify our nation’s AI needs and make actionable recommendations of what direction we need to take.”
  • The state of Arkansas sued dozens of drug makers and distributors, including Purdue Pharma Inc., over their role in the opioid epidemic. In its complaint, the state alleged that “drug manufacturers and wholesale distributors have ensured that opioid supplies abound in Arkansas” and that manufacturers and distributors supplied a staggering “two billion milligrams of opioids” in 2015.
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Health published temporary regulations expanding patient access to medical marijuana and enhancing the state’s medical marijuana program through medical marijuana clinical research. The regulations outline the process accredited medical schools must undergo to become an approved academic clinical research center, the application for clinical participants and how they will interact with the commercial market, and how research studies are reviewed and approved.