Data Breaches and other Outrages


Staff Reports



Call for Investigation into Equifax Contract

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – leaders of the Senate Subcommittee of Social Security – are demanding answers following reports that the Social Security Administration (SSA) contracted with Equifax for the online portal, known as mySocialSecurity. Equifax’s own system was hacked in July, exposing 143 million Americans to identify theft.

According to public records, SSA contracted with Equifax to develop, maintain and support SSA’s E-Authentication program starting on February 25, 2015. According to a press release sent by Equifax on February 10, 2016, SSA had “completed integration,” with Equifax.

Brown and Cassidy are asking SSA to provide a detailed accounting of all steps the Administration has taken to ensure Americans’ data is secure within five business days, and outline whether additional resources are needed to effectively assess potential compromises to the SSA online system. The Senators are also seeking information as to the nature of Equifax’s work for SSA, including whether the Apache web application, which was implicated in the Equifax breach, has been used at SSA. They also seek an outline of all contingency plans SSA has in place to protect Americans’ data if a breach were to occur. The Senators say SSA should conduct a full investigation into Equifax’s contract to determine whether SSA should take steps to nullify that contract and consider recommending Equifax for debarment from all federal contracts in order to protect Americans’ data and taxpayer dollars.

“Given Equifax’s recent security breach, this partnership raises serious questions as to whether the personal data SSA maintains on behalf of all Americans may be at risk of identity theft or other cybersecurity threats. In addition to an immediate threat assessment, we request information regarding the steps you will take to remedy any potential breach of SSA’s online systems and what resources are necessary for SSA to ensure that the data of every single American is safe,” the Senators wrote to SSA Acting Commissioner Nancy Berryhill.

In light of the Equifax breach and ongoing questions about the security of online data, the Senators are also asking SSA to reconsider its Vision 2020 program, which intends to force more Americans to interact with SSA online by downsizing staff and field offices.

Complete text of the Senators’ letter to SSA Acting Commissioner Nancy Berryhill is below.

Nancy Berryhill

Acting Commissioner

Office of the Commissioner

Social Security Administration

6401 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, Maryland 21235-6401

Dear Acting Commissioner Berryhill:

We are writing in regards to the partnership between the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Equifax, reported by various news outlets in recent days. Given Equifax’s recent security breach, this partnership raises serious questions as to whether the personal data SSA maintains on behalf of all Americans may be at risk of identity theft or other cybersecurity threats. In addition to an immediate threat assessment, we request information regarding the steps you will take to remedy any potential breach of SSA’s online systems and what resources are necessary for SSA to ensure that the data of every single American is safe.

According to public records, SSA contracted with Equifax to develop, maintain, and support SSA’s E-Authentication program starting on February 25, 2015. According to a February 10, 2016, Equifax press release, SSA had “completed integration,” with Equifax.

On September 7, 2017, Equifax notified the public and Congress that it had been subject to an enormous security breach that compromised the personal data of 143 million Americans. While investigations are ongoing, it appears that Equifax failed to undertake routine security patches, allowing hackers to gain continuous access to extremely sensitive personal data for weeks.

As a result, nearly half of all Americans are exposed to potential credit and identity fraud due to Equifax’s failure to follow security protocols and its delayed and ineffective response to these breaches. While Equifax claims it has resolved this particular security flaw as of July 29, 2017, it has not explained how its network and information security policies allowed for this lapse in the first place.

On September 8, 2017, the following statement was posted to SSA.gov, “Although we sometimes use Equifax to help verify your identity when setting up a mySocial Security account, Social Security never shares Social Security numbers with Equifax. For concerns regarding the Equifax data breach, please contact Equifax directly …”

We are concerned, however, that the statement, may not comprehensively describe the relationship between Equifax and SSA. Instead, it appears Equifax built, maintained, and supported, SSA platforms. If that is the case, SAA’s users could be vulnerable to the same breach that targeted Equifax, whether or not SSA proactively shared Social Security numbers with the company.

In light of these circumstances, we respectfully ask that you promptly provide us with detailed answers to the questions below.

Our questions are as follows:

1. What assurances can SSA provide that the data SSA maintains on behalf of all Americans is safe following the Equifax breach?

a. What threat assessments has SSA conducted to determine whether online data of all Americans is at risk due to its partnership with Equifax and what are the results of those assessments?

b. Please describe all steps being taken and the timeline for those steps, including whether SSA conducted an internal investigation or hired outside consultants to determine potential compromises to the E-Authentication system.

c. If no such steps have been taken, why not? When does SSA intend to take such steps?

d. Does SSA have the necessary resources to effectively assess potential compromises to the E-Authentication system? If not, please describe what additional resources are needed.

2. When did Equifax notify SSA of the breach to its own system? Who in your office was notified and what information was provided to your office? Did Equifax express any concerns about the security of SSA’s data given this breach?

3. Has Equifax provided SSA any information about the components used in developing SSA’s E-Authentication? Specifically, was the Apache web application that was breached in the Equifax hack used in the SSA E-Authentication? If so, is it still being used and has it been consistently monitored and patched?

4. Has SSA quantified how many customers could be potentially compromised if the E-authentication system were to be breached? If not, why no? If so, what is that number?

5. Has SSA partnered with Equifax beyond the E-Authentication system? If so, please provide complete details of each project undertaken with Equifax.

6. Has SSA alerted the Treasury Department, the IRS, and the Office of Management and Budget about this potential breach, and has SSA offered to brief them on potential vulnerabilities, or provide assurances as to how SSA can confirm Americans’ data is safe? Please provide the dates and nature of these communications.

7. If SSA determines that there are potential threats to all Americans’ personal data, should the online portal be taken offline to protect that data?

8. If it were determined that taking the portal offline was needed to protect the security of all Americans’ data, how would such a shutdown impact SSA’s customers?

a. What resources would SSA need to augment staffing and hours in field offices and phone centers to ensure continued quality of customer service?

9. What contingency plans does SSA have in place to protect Americans if SSA data were breached?

10. In light of these events – does SSA intend to reevaluate or withdraw the Vision 2020 program, which intends to force more Americans to interact with SSA online by downsizing staff and field offices?

11. What resources will SSA require to meet any unforeseen needs associated with potential threats to the security of Americans’ online information? Can these needs be met with SSA’s currently anticipated funding levels for Fiscal Year 2018? If not, how soon can SSA present Congress and the White House with a revised appropriation request?

Finally, in addition to prompt and thorough responses to the following questions, we ask for your assurance that after a thorough investigation, SSA will take any and all appropriate actions that the fact pattern warrants including taking steps to nullify its contract with Equifax and assess whether a new contractor would be better equipped to address potential vulnerabilities as well as consideration of the merits of a recommendation of debarment of Equifax to the GSA Interagency Suspension & Debarment Committee – preventing the company from soliciting offers for, obtaining additional, and renewing federal contracts. If any of these steps have already been taken, please provide additional details, including the dates of such steps.

Due to the time sensitive nature of these issues we ask that you transmit answers to us no later than five business days following the receipt of this letter. Thank you for prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

U.S Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Social Security

U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Social Security

VoteVets supporter –

I have been an advisor to VoteVets since the organization first launched eleven years ago. And over the course of that decade, we’ve fought and won on a number of important issues, and in a number of important elections.

But throughout our time together, it’s hard to imagine a more important time to elevate the voices of veterans in the legislative fights and political campaigns ahead.

There is probably no more important and trustworthy voice for progressives than the veterans and military family members who count themselves as VoteVets supporters. When they appear in ads, people listen. When they write letters to local newspapers, people read them.

So as VoteVets closes out its September fundraising drive, I want to ask:

Can I count on you to make a $3 donation to VoteVets before their September fundraising drives ends at midnight tonight?

I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, so thank you for stepping up when it matters most.

All my best,

General (Ret.) Wes Clark

VoteVets.org

Did you see this? Momentum for Medicare for All is building! Add your name and join Tim in supporting universal health care.

Friend,

Tim has long supported the “Medicare for All” proposal for universal health care in the U.S. House. Now, momentum for the plan is building.

Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker have signed on as co-sponsors of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill in the U.S. Senate. Can you join them as a “citizen co-sponsor” and send a message that it’s time for universal healthcare?

Join Tim, Elizabeth, Bernie, Kirsten, Kamala and Democratic leaders — sign on as a citizen co-sponsor of Medicare for All.

Tim believes healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. That’s why he has signed on to Rep. John Conyers’ Medicare for All bill in the U.S. House since the 110th Congress.

As Tim says: “We are the richest country on Earth, there is no reason each and every citizens should not have health coverage.”

We’re thrilled that a movement is building nationwide for a health care system that leaves no one behind. Sign on now as a citizen co-sponsor of Medicare for All.

Thanks for standing with us,

—Tim Ryan for Congress

Connie Pillich Unveils ‘Education Stimulus Package,’ Including Plans for Debt Free College, Universal Pre-K

Cincinnati — Democratic candidate for governor Connie Pillich announced a detailed “Education Stimulus” plan to spur economic growth and attract workers and businesses to the state by making investment in education a top priority in Ohio.

“I’m proud to unveil my ‘Education Stimulus Package’ that calls for Ohio to rebuild our public schools, support our students and teachers, and make higher education and job training available to every Ohioan,” said Connie Pillich. “This transformative investment in our education system would make Ohio’s education system the best in the nation — making Ohio the go-to state to get an education and find a job. This plan is not just a blueprint for economic growth, it’s a testament to the values and vision I will fight for on the campaign trail and as Ohio’s next governor.”

Connie’s SCHOOLS Plan (short for Strengthening Curricula and Handing Ohioans Opportunity for Lasting Success) outlines proposals to strengthen and support all levels of education in Ohio.

The proposal begins with calling for an investment in Universal Pre-Kindergarten by acknowledging the importance of starting education early. The plan also outlines new priorities for Ohio’s K-12 schools, including new and equitable funding formulas, investing in STEM programs like “coding in the classroom, cracking down on charter schools, and reducing the reliance on and number of standardized tests.

The SCHOOLS Plan would let Ohio compete with other states that are taking steps to eliminate tuitions for middle class students. Connie’s proposal would grant students from families making less than $100k annually, a ten-year deferred loan covering the cost of public university tuition. If, after the ten-year period, the graduate is still living and working in Ohio, the full loan would be forgiven.

Connie’s blueprint also recognizes that college isn’t for everybody. That’s why the education package prioritizes funding for workforce training and a $1,000 tax credit for businesses that hire union-trained apprentices.

Connie’s ‘Education Stimulus Package’ is part of the Pillich campaign’s focus on offering voters a bold vision and innovative policy solutions to strengthen Ohio’s economy and support its working families.

Click here to read the full plan: https://www.conniepillich.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Pillich_EducationPlan_L7-2.pdf

To learn more visit ConniePillich.Com and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Ballot Board Certifies Prevention of Puppy Mills Amendment As Single Ballot Issue

COLUMBUS – The Ohio Ballot Board certified the proposed constitutional amendment regarding the prevention of puppy mills as a single ballot issue.

Petitioners will now need to collect 305,591 signatures, which is equal to 10 percent of the total vote cast for governor in 2014, in order to place the issue on the ballot.

As part of the total number of signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot, petitioners must also have collected signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, and within each of those counties, collect enough signatures equal to five percent of the total vote cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election, 2014.

Secretary Husted serves as the Chairman of the Ohio Ballot Board in his official capacity as the Ohio Secretary of State. Other members include State Senator Jay Hottinger, State Senator Michael Skindell, State Representative Kathleen Clyde and Mr. William Morgan. Ballot Board meetings are open to the public.

Bill would allow removal of discriminatory language from property documents

COLUMBUS— State Rep. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) and Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor today announced new legislation to give property owners the freedom to redact discriminatory language from their online housing documents.

The proposed law change follows O’Connor’s discoveries of racially discriminating language, or restrictive covenants, expressed in thousands of property documents that historically barred African Americans, Jews and others from owning a home in some neighborhoods.

“Even though this type of discrimination is not enforceable, I want to make it clear that in Ohio, and certainly in Franklin County, we do not condone offensive or discriminatory language of any kind,” said O’Connor.

Housing discrimination referenced in these property documents has been unlawful and unenforceable since a 1948 Supreme Court ruling and the enactment of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. However, under current Ohio law, county recorders do not hold the authority to edit documents once they have been recorded, regardless of the content.

“As a military veteran and state representative, I believe that protecting our country’s fundamental values of freedom and equality are vital to ensuring a high quality of life for everyone,” said Craig. “This language undermines our strides, advancement and progress as a community and nation. Redacting it is a small, but simple step we can take to further thoughtful dialogue within our communities, while showing would-be residents and businesses that we are not stuck in shadows of our past.”

The proposed legislation would specifically allow property owners, attorneys, title companies and other agents authorized to do business in Ohio to notify their recorder’s office of a potential restrictive covenant, as well as give the recorder permission to redact a restrictive covenant from an online version of the property document. The original document will still be held for historical purposes.

“This is not an attempt to mask or hide from our past mistakes. It is imperative we preserve our history so that we can learn from such blunders and remember how far we have come,” added O’Connor. “I believe this piece of legislation strikes a balance between preserving our past and still being able to be mindful and respectful of those who are affected by such language.”

The legislation comes amidst increased public discourse about how to remember parts of our nation’s history that have been overshadowed by discrimination, hate and racism.

“I believe there is a way to balance remembering the darkest moments in our country without allowing relics of discrimination and injustice to eclipse the progress we have made by working together,” Craig added.

The proposed House bill will be assigned to a House Standing Committee, where it will wait to receive a first hearing.

*Editor’s note: photos of Rep. Hearcel Craig and Recorder O’Connor are attached for your use.

Farmers Union urges Portman ‘No’ Vote on Graham-Cassidy

OFU wants bi-partisan ACA fix that stabilizes marketplaces, protects rural hospitals

COLUMBUS – As the U.S. Senate begins the final week before the deadline to vote on the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill, the Ohio Farmers Union has joined its national organization in urging a ‘no’ vote on the measure.

Graham-Cassidy would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act – so-called Obamacare – and replace it with a system of block grants to states and language that many say would weaken current law regarding pre-existing conditions and the basic content of health insurance policies.

“Many family farmers in Ohio buy their own health insurance. Before ACA, that meant high premiums, high deductibles and many times very little coverage,” said OFU President Joe Logan.

“While not perfect by any stretch, Obamacare has in fact led to overall better coverage and more lives insured in Ohio.”

“Congress needs to get about the hard work of fixing the healthcare marketplaces and ensuring we don’t backslide on critical issues like protecting those with pre-existing conditions and securing the Medicaid expansion,” Logan said.

The National Farmers Union has deemed any final vote by the Senate on passage of Graham-Cassidy as one that will be scored on the organization’s legislative scorecard. NFU is also advocating this latest ACA repeal be rejected.

NFU has sent a letter to all members of the Senate on the bill.

“NFU’s member-driven policy ‘affirms the right of all Americans to have access to affordable, quality health care,’” said NFU President Roger Johnson in the letter.

“The Graham-Cassidy bill does not address the barriers that farmers and ranchers face in accessing health coverage, and it would only make matters worse. We urge you to vote no on the legislation.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, (D-OH), has come out against Graham-Cassidy. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, (R-OH), is in the undecided column. OFU sent him a letter asking him to vote vote ‘no.’

“OFU is very concerned about the Graham-Cassidy bill’s effects on the non-group marketplace. The plan would create even more uncertainty in Ohio’s marketplace, driving insurers out of the state and forcing the remaining companies to increase premiums,” wrote OFU’s Logan.

“The loss of marketplace subsidies in 2020 would make the problem even worse. As Governor Kasich has repeatedly called for, we need a bipartisan, common sense approach to fixing unstable marketplaces like Ohio’s.”

“Instead, this bill would leave the Ohio legislature to devise their own market-stabilizing plan in the face of annual budget decreases,” Logan wrote.

Fight to Hold Wells Fargo, Equifax Accountable

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee – today announced two bipartisan hearings in October to press Wells Fargo and Equifax for answers.

The hearings will be held:

· Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017: “Wells Fargo. One Year Later.” Chief Executive Officer and President of Wells Fargo, Timothy Sloan, will testify about the company’s failure to detect millions of fraudulent accounts opened in customers’ names, as well as the company’s past practice of forcing unwanted insurance on auto loan borrowers.

· Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017: “An Examination of the Equifax Cybersecurity Breach.” Chairman and CEO of Equifax, Richard Smith, will appear to discuss the company’s massive data breach, its failure to address a known security flaw, and the consequences of compromising the personal information of more than 143 million Americans.

“Congress needs to stand on the side of working people, not Wall Street. These hearings are about getting answers for the people we serve,” said Brown.

Brown has vowed to fight in the Senate to protect consumers from financial scams and fraud.

WELLS FARGO

For perhaps a decade, Wells Fargo opened millions of fraudulent accounts – at least 3.5 million bank accounts and credit card accounts – in its customers’ names. And worse – Wells Fargo used forced arbitration clauses it tucked away in the fine print of contracts to cover up cases that would have made the fraud public much earlier.

Following this scandal, Brown called for bipartisan hearings into the phony bank and credit card accounts. He also pressed the CEO during the hearing and followed up with a pointed letter on questions not addressed during the hearing.

Brown introduced legislation to prevent Wells Fargo from using ‘forced arbitration’ clauses that were tucked away in the fine print of contracts customers signed when they opened legitimate accounts to block them from suing over fraudulent accounts that were created without their consent. Brown has been leading the charge in the Senate to push Wells Fargo to stop the practice.

In July, Brown pressed Wells Fargo for answers after news the bank forced unwanted insurance on auto loan borrowers, potentially pushing thousands into default and repossession. Brown said the scandal is further proof why the Administration’s efforts to roll back consumer protections are dangerous. He also called for hearings on the matter.

EQUIFAX

Following a security breach disclosed to the public earlier this month, Equifax initially included forced arbitration clauses in the terms of use agreement customers must sign in order to get free credit monitoring and identity theft services it is offering. At Brown’s urging, Equifax removed forced arbitration clauses from its credit monitoring and identity protection services offered to customers. Last week, Brown announced his plan to introduce legislation that will provide Equifax victims with 10 years of free credit monitoring and make it easy and affordable for customers to freeze their credit reports.

Brown also joined a bipartisan group of 36 senators in a letter to the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agencies to investigate the sale of nearly $2 million in Equifax securities held by high-level Equifax executives shortly after the company learned of its massive cybersecurity breach.

Senator is Alerting Ohioans to Efforts to Deny Day in Court to Wronged Customers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference call alerting Ohioans to forced arbitration clauses used in the fine print of contacts by banks, nursing homes, for-profit colleges, payday lenders, and other organizations to deny customers access to the court system when they’ve been cheated or harmed. Brown has fought to ban forced arbitration clauses that deny Ohioans their day in court.

“Ohioans need to be alert to these clauses that are tucked into the fine print of contracts of all kinds – from nursing homes to for-profit colleges to credit cards – and that prevent Ohioans from seeking justice in court if the company cheats them,” said Brown. “It’s our job to protect the people we serve – not corporations trying to scam consumers.”

Current efforts to roll back protections for Ohioans against harmful forced arbitration clauses include:

Financial Services

In July, the House of Representatives voted to overturn the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rule that would block banks and payday lenders from using so-called “forced arbitration” clauses to deny customers access to the court system when they’ve been cheated. The Consumer Protection Bureau’s rule would block financial institutions from using forced arbitration and guarantee consumers the right to their day in court.

Brown vowed a ‘hell of a fight’ against Congressional efforts to roll back the rule.

Wells Fargo has also used forced arbitration clauses to prevent defrauded customers from taking them to court over fake accounts that were brought to light last year. Brown is leading legislation in the Senate that would give defrauded Wells Fargo customers their day in court.

Nursing Homes

In October 2016, the Obama Administration finalized a rule that would have protected nursing home patients by prohibiting long-term care facilities from including forced arbitration clauses in their contracts. This rule is currently under attack from the Trump Administration, which has proposed to reverse this rule, standing on the side of corporations against residents and their families who have faced a wide range of potential harms.

Brown was joined on the call by George Dutton from Mentor, whose wife experienced neglect and abuse in a nursing home. Mr. Dutton was unable to take legal action after his wife was mistreated due to the forced arbitration clause included in the nursing home contract.

“These forced arbitration clauses need to be removed. It will improve the care of people in these institutions, if they can sue them for neglect and abuse,” said Mr. Dutton.

In August, Brown wrote to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, urging her to put the health and safety of nursing home residents first and allow those who have been wronged to seek justice in a court of law.

Education

Education Secretary Betsy Devos is also blocking a rule from taking effect that would protect students from mandatory arbitration clauses in college enrollment agreements, mostly utilized by for-profit colleges. While the rule was supposed to take effect in July, Secretary DeVos is restarting the negotiated rulemaking process.

In March, Brown reintroduced legislation, the Court Legal Access & Student Support (CLASS) Act to ensure that Ohio students defrauded by for-profit colleges can have their day in court. Forced arbitration clauses deny students the ability to hold for-profit colleges accountable for their misconduct.

Equifax Breach

Following a security breach earlier this month, Equifax initially included forced arbitration clauses in the terms of use agreement customers must sign in order to get free credit monitoring and identity theft services it is offering. At Brown’s urging, Equifax removed forced arbitration clauses from its credit monitoring and identity protection services offered to customers this week.

Columbus, OH – Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency, has recently announced a security breach potentially affecting over 143 million consumers in the United States. Extremely sensitive personal information has been compromised, including Social Security Numbers, addresses, birth dates, credit card account numbers – all of which can be used to steal your identity and wreak havoc on your personal life.

“This breach could expose you to identity theft for a long time to come,” said BBB president, Kip Morse, “Always be vigilant and check bank and credit card statements carefully and report irregularities quickly. Make it a habit to get your free copies of credit reports every year. If you see any suspicious activity, report it immediately to the credit reporting agency.” BBB also advises that you could be at risk for tax ID theft and other consequences in the future from this type of breach.

Better Business Bureau offers these steps:

Get a security freeze on your credit reports. A freeze will put your information on lockdown, meaning the credit bureaus can’t give it out without your permission making it more difficult for an identity thief to open an account in your name. A security freeze will not impact your credit score or impair your ability to use your existing credit cards. To be effective, a freeze must be set up with all three credit bureaus. Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html; Transunion https://freeze.transunion.com; Equifax: https://www.freeze.equifax.com. There is a $5 fee for each freeze. If you need to give access to a creditor, you can request a “thaw” on the report later for a specific creditor or specific period of time for an additional $5 fee.

Monitor your accounts regularly. Check every charge on your statements. Scammers often test cards with smaller charges before racking up large bills. Confirm each charge on your account line by line.

Sign up for alerts on your credit card, debit, and bank accounts.

Accept or enroll in free identity protection services that breached companies offer you. Equifax has created equifaxsecurity2017.com to visit to determine if you were impacted and to enroll in free credit monitoring.

Check your credit report. Go to annualcredit report.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You are entitled to one free report from each credit reporting agency annually.

BBB offers more tips at: go.bbb.org/breach and go.bbb.org/creditfreeze

Consumers can visit the link above to see if they have been affected by the breach and to learn more about the identity theft protection program.

For more information, follow your BBB on Facebook, Twitter, and at bbb.org.

About BBB

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central Ohio, which was founded in 1921 and serves 21 counties in Central Ohio.

September 8, 2017

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Dan Tierney: 614-466-3840

Eve Mueller: 614-466-3840

Attorney General DeWine Offers Consumer Tips Following Equifax Breach Announcement

(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today offered tips for consumers following the recent announcement by Equifax, one of the country’s three main credit reporting bureaus, of a data breach affecting some 143 million United States consumers.

Equifax has reported that the information was compromised between May and July of this year and includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers. The data breach also included the credit card numbers of approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers, according to Equifax.

“Data breaches involving Social Security numbers are especially serious,” Attorney General DeWine said. “If your information has been compromised, take the time to understand what that means and how you can better protect yourself moving forward.”

To see if your personal information was impacted by the breach, visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. You will be prompted to enter your last name and part of your Social Security number, at which point Equifax will inform you if your information was involved in the breach.

Regardless of whether or not your information was accessed, Equifax is offering one year of free enrollment in “TrustedID Premier” for all U.S. customers if you enroll by November 21, 2017. TrustedID is a credit monitoring service that monitors all three major credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – as well as provides you with copies of your Equifax credit report. You can sign up for this feature by visiting www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.

Tips for affected consumers include:

  • Check your credit report. Monitoring your credit report can help you identify signs of potential identity theft. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com to access those reports. You can pull all three at once, or you can stagger pulling your reports throughout the year.
  • Place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion — to place an initial fraud alert, which will stay on your credit report for 90 days. The alert is free of charge and will make it more difficult for someone to open credit in your name.
  • Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. A security freeze essentially puts a lock on your credit so that most third parties can’t access your report. This helps protect you from unauthorized accounts being opened in your name. In Ohio, security freezes are permanent until you lift them. You can be charged a $5 fee per credit reporting agency to place or remove a freeze. Contact each credit reporting agency separately to place a freeze. Note that Equifax is offering a free “freeze” for one year with enrollment in their TrustedID program; however, this will not freeze your reports at Experian or TransUnion.
  • Beware of scams related to the breach. Con artists may pretend to have information about the breach or they may falsely claim to want to help you. Some calls or messages may be scams designed to steal your money or personal information. Don’t give out personal information to those who contact you unexpectedly (even if they say they want to help you) and be wary about clicking on links or downloading attachments in messages.
  • Monitor your bank accounts. Look for suspicious activity. If you find errors, immediately notify your bank or credit provider.
  • When it’s tax season, consider filing early. File your taxes as soon as you have all of the information necessary to file so that there is less of a chance for someone to fraudulently file on your behalf. This is especially important if you know your information has been compromised.

Signs of possible identity theft may include:

  • Unexpected mail about accounts you did not open.
  • Credit card charges you never made.
  • Unexpected collection calls.
  • Another person’s name showing up in your background check or credit report.
  • Credit reporting errors or a lower-than-expected credit score.

Victims of identity theft should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or www.OhioProtects.org. Please note that the Ohio Attorney General recommends checking your credit reports first, and then contacting the Ohio Attorney General’s Office only if your information appears to have been misused.

Senator Warns Victims: Read Carefully before Signing away your Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – is calling on Equifax to immediately remove forced arbitration from all services offered to customers following a data breach that exposed 143 million Americans to identify theft. Equifax is currently touting free credit monitoring and identify protection services for victims of the breach through its TrustedID product. However, Equifax included forced arbitration clauses in the terms of use agreement customers must agree to when signing up for the services – effectively forcing victims of the breach to sign away their rights to seek access to court.

“It’s shameful that Equifax would take advantage of victims by forcing people to sign over their rights in order to get credit monitoring services they wouldn’t even need if Equifax hadn’t put them at risk in the first place. If Equifax is genuine about wanting to protect customers, it must remove forced arbitration immediately from TrustedID and any other services offered to victims of the data breach,” Brown said. “This is just one more example why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rule banning forced arbitration is badly needed to protect the rights of working Americans.”

Many victims of the Equifax breach were likely enrolled through their credit card company or another third-party credit provider, and may not even know they are customers of Equifax.

Brown is cautioning victims of the breach to carefully read all fine print before signing up for TrustedID or other Equifax products.

The arbitration clauses contained in Equifax’s terms of use agreement to TrustedID are highlighted below. The complete agreement is available here: https://www.trustedid.com/premier/terms-of-use.php.

TrustedID Premier Terms of Use

Effective Date: September 6, 2017

TrustedID, Inc. (“TrustedID,” “we,” “us,” “our”), an Equifax company, provides its products to you (“You,” “Your”) through various websites (including www.TrustedID.com) and its related applications and products (collectively, the “Product(s)” which term includes any new features, products and applications offered by us from time to time), subject to the following Terms of Use (as amended from time to time, the “Agreement”).

YOU MUST ACCEPT THIS AGREEMENT, INCLUDING ITS “ARBITRATION” SECTION BELOW, BEFORE YOU WILL BE PERMITTED TO REGISTER FOR, USE OR PURCHASE ANY PRODUCT. BY REGISTERING ON THIS WEBSITE AND SUBMITTING YOUR ORDER, YOU ARE ACKNOWLEDGING ELECTRONIC RECEIPT OF, AND YOUR AGREEMENT TO BE BOUND BY, THIS AGREEMENT. YOU ALSO AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THIS AGREEMENT BY USING OR PAYING FOR OUR PRODUCTS OR TAKING OTHER ACTIONS THAT INDICATE ACCEPTANCE OF THIS AGREEMENT.

ARBITRATION. PLEASE READ THIS ENTIRE SECTION CAREFULLY BECAUSE IT AFFECTS YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS BY REQUIRING ARBITRATION OF DISPUTES (EXCEPT AS SET FORTH BELOW) AND A WAIVER OF THE ABILITY TO BRING OR PARTICIPATE IN A CLASS ACTION, CLASS ARBITRATION, OR OTHER REPRESENTATIVE ACTION. ARBITRATION PROVIDES A QUICK AND COST EFFECTIVE MECHANISM FOR RESOLVING DISPUTES, BUT YOU SHOULD BE AWARE THAT IT ALSO LIMITS YOUR RIGHTS TO DISCOVERY AND APPEAL.

Except as otherwise expressly provided in this Agreement, all claims, disputes, or controversies raised by either You or TrustedID, Inc. arising from or relating to the subject matter of this Agreement or the Products (“Claim” or “Claims”) shall be finally settled by arbitration in the county (or parish) where you live or where You and TrustedID, Inc. otherwise agree using the English language in accordance with the Arbitration Rules and Procedures of JAMS then in effect, by one commercial arbitrator with substantial experience in resolving complex commercial contract disputes, who may or may not be selected from the appropriate list of JAMS arbitrators.

This arbitration will be conducted as an individual arbitration. Neither You nor We consent or agree to any arbitration on a class or representative basis, and the arbitrator shall have no authority to proceed with arbitration on a class or representative basis. No arbitration will be consolidated with any other arbitration proceeding without the consent of all parties. This class action waiver provision applies to and includes any Claims made and remedies sought as part of any class action, private attorney general action, or other representative action. By consenting to submit Your Claims to arbitration, You will be forfeiting Your right to bring or participate in any class action (whether as a named plaintiff or a class member) or to share in any class action awards, including class claims where a class has not yet been certified, even if the facts and circumstances upon which the Claims are based already occurred or existed.

ENTIRE AGREEMENT BETWEEN US. This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between You and Us regarding the Products and information contained on or acquired through this website or provided by Us, including through other linked third party Internet sites… .

Black women denounce suspension of Obama investigative rules on campus rape

Statement of In Our Own Voice Founder and Executive Director Marcela Howell

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos announced plans to end the Obama administration’s rules for investigating allegations of sexual violence on campus. In criticizing President Obama’s policy, Devos said that “[i]nstead of working with schools on behalf of students, the prior administration weaponized the Office for Civil Rights to work against schools and against students.”

Marcela Howell, founder and executive director of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, issued the following statement in response:

“The Trump administration’s latest effort to dismantle the legacy of President Obama promises to put women at risk and embolden campus rapists. The plan that weakens Title IX protections will disparately impact Black women and girls.

“Black women face cultural and societal barriers to reporting sexual assault and accessing resources after an attack. The administration’s position will make it even harder for Black women to feel safe as they access higher education.

“While we’re not surprised that a president who bragged about sexually assaulting women would gut policies to stop sexual assault, we are no less outraged. We demand that college and university administrators, as well as state and local officials, stand up to the Trump administration by holding perpetrators accountable and implementing programs to change rape culture on campuses.”

In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda is a national reproductive justice organization focused on lifting up the voices of Black women at the national and regional levels in our ongoing policy fight to secure reproductive justice for all women and girls. Our eight strategic partners include Black Women for Wellness, Black Women’s Health Imperative, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, SisterLove, Inc. SisterReach, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, The Afiya Center and Women With A Vision.

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Stands with

Survivors of Sexual Harassment and Assault

Secretary of Education Moves To Gut Core Protections Under Title IX That Protect the Civil Rights of All Students

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law issued the following statements after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the U.S. Department of Education plans to pull federal policy guidance clarifying schools’ responsibility to prevent and address sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972:

“The administration’s decision to pull the policy guidance addressing sexual assault under Title IX represents an attack on survivors of sexual assault under the guise of protecting ‘due process for all.’ This is a farce, and one with serious consequences for sexual assault survivors,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “While Secretary Devos’s announcement does not change the letter of the law, it opens the door to uncertainty and confusion that ultimately could lead to fewer protections for students. This cannot stand. Title IX guarantees that all students are entitled to a higher education experience in a safe environment free of sex discrimination.”

“Current law is very clear that the due process protections of both parties in sexual violence cases must be protected. With her decision to pull clear guidelines underscoring this reality, Secretary DeVos has created a culture of confusion on campuses across the country that ultimately puts the civil rights of students in jeopardy,” said Brenda Shum, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “If Secretary DeVos meaningfully seeks public input, we are confident it will further demonstrate the need for continued enforcement of the guidelines interpreting sex discrimination protections. And if the Department of Education issues any regulation inconsistent with Title IX, we are prepared to take legal action to protect those who the administration seeks to undermine.”

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.

Colorado Baker Seeks Protection of Free Expression Rights from US Supreme Court

Thomas More Society Supports Wedding Cake Designer Who Refused to Celebrate Homosexual Marriage

(September 8, 2017 – Washington, DC) Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the freedom to express that beauty – or not to – is a right protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Thomas More Society has filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of Jack Phillips, a Denver, Colorado, cake artist who has been denied his constitutional rights of self-expression and free exercise of religion by the State of Colorado. Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was hauled into court by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because he declined to use his artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex marriage ceremony in violation of his sincerely held religious beliefs.

“There is no question that a designer of custom wedding cakes is an artist,” explained Joan Mannix, Thomas More Society Special Counsel. “Requiring Phillips to create a custom wedding cake for a wedding to which he objects on the basis of his religious beliefs, impermissibly compels him to convey an unmistakable message that a marriage has occurred and approval of the wedding as an event to be celebrated.”

Mannix added that the United States Supreme Court and the United States Courts of Appeals have consistently recognized that the First Amendment affords expansive protection to all forms of expression, including nonverbal art forms like painting, music and dance.

The Phillips saga is fraught with irony. In 2012, David Mullins and Charlie Craig got married in Massachusetts, because Colorado would not grant them a license. When Jack Phillips wouldn’t bake a wedding cake for their Denver reception, they bought one from another Colorado bakery. The same state that forced Mullins and Craig to travel 2,000 miles to wed insists that Phillips had a legal obligation to bake a cake to celebrate the marriage that Colorado itself refused to recognize.

During the same period that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission declared Phillip’s actions unlawful, it reviewed and found no wrongdoing on the part of three separate bakers who declined to create cakes bearing biblical messages, because they found those messages offensive.

“Jack Phillips told Mullins and Craig that he would gladly sell them anything in his store, but that he would be unable to design them a custom wedding cake,” Mannix added. Rather than violate his religious beliefs, Phillips has stopped designing wedding cakes altogether, with the resulting loss of 40% of his income. “Phillips’ religious conviction that marriage is a husband-wife union would not allow him to celebrate an event that directly conflicts with his Christian beliefs. Our laws grant him that prerogative.”

Read the amicus brief filed by the Thomas More Society on September 7, 2017, with the United States Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, U. S. Supreme Court, here [https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/16-111-tsac-Thomas-More-Society.pdf].

About the Thomas More Society

The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago and Omaha, the Thomas More Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. For more information, visit thomasmoresociety.org.

Bipartisan Letter Calls on SEC, DOJ, and FTC to Investigate Stock Sales by Equifax Execs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined a bipartisan group of 36 senators in a letter to the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agencies to investigate the sale of nearly $2 million in Equifax securities held by high-level Equifax executives shortly after the company learned of a massive cybersecurity breach.

Equifax, a major consumer credit reporting agency, recently disclosed that unauthorized parties had obtained sensitive information – such as Social Security numbers, addresses, and driver’s license numbers — for as many as 143 million people. The breach is believed to have occurred in May and was discovered internally by Equifax in late July. Within days of Equifax’s internal discovery of the breach, three top level Equifax executives — the Chief Financial Officer; the President of U.S. Information Solutions; and the President of Workforce Solutions — sold large amounts of their shares of Equifax stock, though its customers and the public were not notified until September 7.

Equifax has stated that the three executives were not notified of the breach when they sold shares and exercised options.

“As part of your investigations, we request that you conduct a thorough examination of any unusual trading, including any atypical options trading, for violations of insider trading law. To the extent that your investigations uncover any information regarding whether Equifax management employed reasonable measures to ensure the security of the now compromised data prior to this cyber breach, we would appreciate your sharing these details,” wrote the senators. “We request that you spare no effort in your investigations and in enforcing the law to the fullest extent against anyone who is found to be at fault.”

Brown joined U.S. Senators Reed (D-RI), Kennedy (R-LA), Baldwin (D-WI), Heller (R-NV), Blumenthal (D-CT), Collins (R-ME), Booker (D-NJ), Casey (D-PA), Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Donnelly (D-IN), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Hassan (D-NH), Harris (D-CA), Heitkamp (D-ND), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Manchin (D-WV), Markey (D-MA), McCaskill (D-MO), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Murray (D-WA), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (D-HI), Shaheen (D-NH), Tester (D-MT), Udall (D-NM), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warner (D-VA), Warren (D-MA), Whitehouse (D-RI), and Wyden (D-OR) in sending the letter.

Full text of the letter is below.

September 12, 2017

Dear Chairman Clayton, Attorney General Sessions, and Acting Chairman Ohlhausen:

We write to request that the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission investigate disturbing reports that senior Equifax executives sold more than $1.5 million in Equifax securities within days of a cybersecurity breach that may have compromised the personal information, including Social Security numbers, of as many as 143 million Americans. In addition, there are reports that Equifax “also lost control of an unspecified number of driver’s license numbers, along with the credit card numbers for 209,000 consumers and credit dispute documents for 182,000.”

As part of your investigations, we request that you conduct a thorough examination of any unusual trading, including any atypical options trading, for violations of insider trading law. To the extent that your investigations uncover any information regarding whether Equifax management employed reasonable measures to ensure the security of the now compromised data prior to this cyber breach, we would appreciate your sharing these details.

We request that you spare no effort in your investigations and in enforcing the law to the fullest extent against anyone who is found to be at fault.

We thank you for your consideration, and we request periodic updates on your progress.

Sincerely,

Cassidy-Graham-Heller Plan Will Gut Health Coverage Funding in Ohio

By 2027, the Cassidy-Graham-Heller healthcare repeal plan will cut funding in Ohio by $10.2 billion, leaving more Ohio families struggling to find affordable high quality health care coverage.

“It’s clear that the Cassidy-Graham-Heller bill is just as bad, if not worse, than all the other Republican health care repeal plans. This bill guts Medicaid, cuts crucial funding all across the country and makes it more expensive for seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children to access quality health care,” said DNC Spokesperson Mandy McClure. “Donald Trump and Senator Portman have tried this before and Ohioans have sent them a clear message: they have had enough of Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

If passed, the Cassidy-Graham-Heller plan would:

· Cut funding in Ohio by $10.2 billion in 2027 alone, leaving more Ohio families struggling to find affordable high quality health care coverage.

· Make it more difficult for low- and middle-income families to obtain coverage by eliminating the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies – and ending Medicaid as we know it.

· Gut funding for millions of families with children, people with disabilities and seniors by 2020.

HHS commits $144.1 million in additional funding for opioid crisis

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded an additional $144.1 million in grants to prevent and treat opioid addiction in support of President Trump’s commitment to combat the opioid crisis. The grants will be administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“Those supporting prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts in our local communities are heroes in our nation’s battle against the opioid crisis,” said HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D. “On our nationwide listening tour, we have heard how critical federal resources can empower their efforts to meet the challenges of substance abuse and addiction, especially with the opioid crisis. These grants will help expand treatment and recovery services to pregnant and postpartum women who are struggling with substance abuse, train our first responders to effectively use overdose reversing drugs, improve access to medication-assisted treatment, and increase long term recovery services. Together, we can heal communities and save lives.”

According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2016 an estimated 11.8 million people misused opioids in the past year, including prescription pain relievers and heroin. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2016 suggests the number of drug overdose deaths, most of them due to opioids will likely top 60,000.

“Opioid use disorders continue to plague our nation,” said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. “These funds will support and expand prevention, treatment and recovery services in America’s communities.”

The first four of the six grant programs listed below were authorized in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016, (P.L. 114-198). CARA authorized funding to fight the opioid epidemic through prevention, treatment, recovery, overdose reversal, and other efforts. The fifth grant program listed, Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), received an increase in funding for opioids in the fiscal year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill.

SAMHSA is issuing the funding through the six grant programs listed below in the following amounts:

First Responders – Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act – $44.7 million. The purpose of this program is to provide training and medication for emergency treatment of opioid overdose. >https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/awards/2017/SP-17-005<

State Pilot Grant for Treatment of Pregnant and Postpartum Women – Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act – $9.8 million. The purpose of the program is to support family-based services for pregnant and postpartum women with a primary diagnosis of a substance use disorder, including opioid use disorders. >https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/awards/2017/TI-17-016<

Building Communities of Recovery – Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act – $4.6 million. The purpose of this program is to increase the availability of long-term recovery support for substance abuse and addiction. >https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/awards/2017/TI-17-015<

Improving Access to Overdose Treatment – Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act – $1 million. The purpose of this program is to expand access to FDA-approved drugs or devices for emergency treatment of opioid overdose. >https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/awards/2017/SP-17-006<

Targeted Capacity Expansion: Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) – Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction – $35 million. The purpose of this program is to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for persons with an opioid use disorder seeking treatment. >https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/awards/2017/TI-17-017<

Services Grant Program for Residential Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women – $49 million. The purpose of this program is to expand services for women and their children in residential substance abuse treatment facilities, among other services. >https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/awards/2017/TI-17-007<

The funding will be distributed to 58 recipients, including states, cities, healthcare providers and community organizations. The funds will be awarded for three to five years, subject to availability and depending on the program.

Earlier this year, HHS Secretary Price outlined five strategies to provide the Department with a comprehensive framework to combat the ongoing opioid crisis: improving access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services, including the full range of MAT; targeting the availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs; strengthening public health data and reporting; supporting cutting-edge research on pain and addiction; and advancing the practice of pain management.

These awards follow a separate award of $485 million in grants in April 2017 – provided by the 21st Century Cures Act – to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, and the free associated states of Palau and Micronesia by SAMHSA for opioid abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery.

ACT NOW: TrumpCare is back and even worse

Republicans in Congress are at it again: They’re trying to rush through a highly partisan, last-ditch bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The latest proposal being considered in the Senate, the so-called Graham-Cassidy bill, is just as bad as previous health care repeal bills — if not worse.

The latest proposal would cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance, increase out-of-pocket costs, end Medicaid as we know it, undermine women’s health, and weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Republicans in the Senate are getting closer to having enough votes to pass this disastrous bill — but they aren’t there yet. That’s why Ohioans need to make their voices heard by calling Senator Rob Portman and demanding he oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill.

It’s time to let our opposition be known. Click the buttons below to let Senator Portman hear your voice by tweeting at him or calling his office at 202-224-3353.

As National Hate Groups Cause Increased Clinic Violence

Lawmakers Renew Calls for Passage of Law to Protect Workers & Patients

COLUMBUS — A national hate group calling itself the “Bible Believers” is using increasingly aggressive tactics to harass abortion clinic patients and workers in Ohio, prompting renewed calls for state legislators to pass a bill that would protect employees and patients from violence and intimidation.

House Bill 234 would make it a crime to impede access to a reproductive health care facility and harass or intimidate its employees. The bill remains stalled in the House Criminal Justice Committee, despite a rise in violent conduct at abortion clinics across Ohio.

Just this past weekend, the Founders Women’s Health Center in Columbus was targeted by the “Bible Believers,” an organization recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Protesters used megaphones to call patients “whores,” railed against “homo sex” and attempted to physically prevent patients and staff from entering the facility.

You can see video of the protest here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWQkmFsYomU

“Ohio needs to take a stand against the increasing violence and pass this bill,” said Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat and one of the bill’s main sponsors. “We can protect the protesters’ free-speech rights, but we also have an obligation to address their violent conduct and protect the rights of patients to access healthcare.”

Columbus City Council members responded to a spike in violence and vandalism targeting their city’s clinic by unanimously passing a law that establishes a 15-foot buffer zone around clinics. Toledo City Council is debating a similar ordinance for the City of Toledo.

State Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, supports local governments’ efforts but argued that a statewide law is needed.

“All Ohio women need the freedom to access healthcare – just as all clinic employees need the freedom to access their workplace – without fear of violence or intimidation,” Fedor said.

Howse agreed, pointing out that clinic violence is on the rise across Ohio. Preterm, which is Cleveland’s last abortion provider, has also been the subject of repeated vandalism. Surveillance cameras caught a man throwing a brick through the clinic’s window. Preterm officials believe he is responsible for the center’s 10 other broken windows this year, but no arrests have been made.

“The protests are getting larger, louder and more aggressive,” said Chris France, executive director of Preterm. “There is no doubt that their conduct constitutes harassment and intimidation, not free speech.”

The 2016 National Clinic Violence Survey found that anti-abortion violence in 2016 was higher than it’s been in two decades. It found that 34.2 percent of US abortion providers reported “severe violence or threats of violence” in the first half of 2016, compared with 19.7 percent in 2014. Before that, the highest recent peaks were in the mid-1990s.

Ohio was among four states targeted nationally by protesters using intimidation tactics this past weekend. Huffington Post reported that Michigan, Virginia and New Mexico were targeted as well, with protesters in some states storming waiting rooms and refusing to leave.

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Staff Reports