Brown presses VA secretary on efforts to prevent veteran suicide in Ohio
Senator has Worked to Bolster Efforts to Prevent with Two Bills Signed into Law
WASHINGTON, D.C. — During a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) pressed U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin on the department’s efforts to prevent veteran suicide. In 2014, 244 Ohio veterans took their own lives.
“Even one veteran losing his or her life to suicide is too many,” said Brown. “This is a public health crisis, and we should treat it as such. I urge Secretary Shulkin and the Administration to provide the necessary resources to healthcare providers as well as veterans and their families as we work towards meaningful action to reduce veteran suicide.”
On Friday, Sept. 15th at 5 p.m., the VA released state-by-state data on veteran suicide for 2014. Brown asked Secretary Shulkin about efforts to engage veterans who seek healthcare outside the VA health system, and plans to ensure the data collected from last week’s report is disseminated to local VA medical centers and community providers. Brown also questioned the Secretary on why this information was released late in the afternoon on a Friday.
In 2015, Brown’s bill, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (Clay Hunt SAV) Act, was signed into law. The Clay Hunt SAV Act requires an independent system-wide assessment of existing VA mental health programs to better determine areas for improvement and consolidation. The legislation created a pilot loan repayment program to help recruit additional VA psychiatrists while strengthening relationships between the VA and non-profit mental health organizations as a way to better serve veterans.
Brown’s bipartisan Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act was also signed into law last year. The legislation expands the VA’s yearly evaluation of mental health and suicide prevention programs to include metrics specific to female veterans. It also requires the VA to measure which programs are most effective for female veterans.
Brown encourages any veterans, servicemembers, or their families who are in crisis to seek help and assistance by contacting the Veterans Crisis Line – a confidential resource that connects veterans, their family, or friends, with qualified VA responders – at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.
A Great First Contract
Columbus security officers won their historic FIRST union contract! This agreement will raise standards for officers at our area’s largest office buildings. They made history for the state of Ohio, and we hope you will join us in celebration!
It has been a lot of hard work and dedication for the SEIU Local 1 Security Officers in Columbus, Ohio, but their achievements and advancements for their profession and working people in Columbus was massive.
Ohio local government workers’ comp rate decrease approved
COLUMBUS – Ohio public employers will pay an average of 6.1 percent less in workers’ compensation premiums beginning Jan. 1. The cut will decrease the amount the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) collects from these employers by $11.8 million next year.
BWC’s Board of Directors voted today to accept Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison’s recommendation to lower rates for Ohio’s 3,700 school districts, cities, counties and other public entities covered by the State Insurance Fund.
“This latest reduction shows our continued commitment to help employers succeed by keeping their rates as low and fair as possible,” said Morrison. “We know the less they spend on premiums, the more they can invest in their communities and into safer work environments for their employees.”
All told, BWC will have lowered public employer rates by an average of 33.9 percent since the start of 2011, bringing the combined statewide financial impact to $434 million. Local governments also received more than $135 million in “Third Billion Back” rebate checks this year, following similar rebates in 2013 and 2014.
The 6.1 percent reduction represents the average decrease for public employer taxing districts statewide. Actual premium changes for individual public entities will differ based on several factors, including their manual classification, recent claims history and participation in various BWC programs.
Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Board of Directors
Chairman Nicholas Zuk, SI Employers | Chan A. Cochran, Public | Peggy Griffith, Employees | Kenneth Haffey, CPA | David W. Johnson, Large Employers | Stephen E. Lehecka, Actuary | Peter McLinden, Employee Organizations | Mark J. Palmer, Investment & Securities | Tracie Sanchez, Small Employers | Dewey R. Stokes, Employee Organizations | Frederick J. Treuhaft, Investment & Securities
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.
U.S. Senate Candidate Mike Gibbons Signs Term Limit Pedge
Cleveland, OH – U.S. Senate Candidate Mike Gibbons announced that he has signed the U.S. Term Limits Amendment Pledge and that he would only serve a maximum of two terms in the U.S. Senate. He is the only major candidate in the race that is not a career politician.
“As an outsider I know how sick and tired voters are of career politicians who don’t get anything done and break their promises,” Mike Gibbons said. “I’m not running for Senate as the next step in my political career, I’m running to get things done. My opponents have spent nearly their entire adult lives running for one office and the next. I’m not a professional politician and I’ll keep my promises to the voters.”
The U.S. Term Limits Amendment Pledge is a promise to sponsor and vote for an Amendment that would limit Senators to two terms.
Sherrod Brown: Has been a professional politician for 43 years.
Josh Mandel: Has run 7 campaigns over the last 14 years.
DeWine Forms Insurer Task Force Regarding Opioid Abuse
COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today announced that he is forming a new task force to foster discussion on how health insurance companies in Ohio can help combat the opioid epidemic. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Insurer Taskforce on Opioid Reduction will meet on Oct. 4th at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 150 East Gay Street, 18th Floor, in Columbus.
“The financial burden of the opioid epidemic has costs which are paid by health insurance subscribers and taxpayers alike,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “Because fighting this problem requires a multifaceted approach, insurers are important partners in addressing the opioid epidemic.”
The Ohio Department of Medicaid reports that in 2016, the State of Ohio spent more than $939 million on the opioid crisis and that Medicaid drug addiction and behavioral health services accounted for 70 percent of that cost. Private insurers also saw an increased financial burden. A report published by FAIR Health found that private insurance claims in Ohio involving opioid dependence-related diagnoses increased 770 percent from 2007 to 2014.
The task force will examine topics including, but not limited to:
Exploring coverage options to reduce patient reliance on opioids.
Analyzing prescription claims data to identify members at high risk for opioid abuse.
Creating pharmacy or provider “lock-in” programs for members at high risk for opioid abuse.
Evaluating the medical necessity of pre-authorizations for buprenorphine and other medications utilized in medication assisted treatment (MAT).
Adopting guidelines that reduce the number of opioid prescriptions while still ensuring that patients receive safe and effective pain management.
The task force will consist of representatives from the following health insurers, which represent the vast majority of health insurance coverage offered in Ohio:
Buckeye Health Plan
Canarycast Builds on Brown’s Plan to Restore the Value of Work
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) launched his new podcast, “Canarycast,” which features discussions moderated by Brown on how to restore the value of work in America.
“On this podcast, we are going to talk about what we can do to make hard work pay off once again,” said Brown. “The fact is all workers across this country are feeling squeezed. So we’ll be talking to a broad cross-section of folks from different industries, incomes, and backgrounds about what to do about it.”
In the first episode of Brown’s podcast — available on iTunes here or on Soundcloud here — he talks with Ohio workers from the Whirlpool plant in Clyde. Brown joined these Whirlpool workers when he testified on their behalf in a trade case at the International Trade Commission (ITC).
The podcast is named Canarycast, a nod to the canary pin Brown wears on his lapel instead of the official Senate pin. An Ohio steelworker gave Brown the pin. He wears it as a reminder of the progress the country has made since the days when all coal miners had to protect them was a canary – and all the work still left to do to ensure American workers are valued.
In March, Brown unveiled a plan to make hard work pay off for Ohioans. For more than a year, Brown and his office studied the challenges facing workers in Ohio and across the country and compiled a comprehensive agenda of solutions. Brown has introduced legislation to implement his plan and Canarycast will build on many of Brown’s ideas.
Brown has introduced legislation to encourage corporations to invest in their workers, provide employees advanced notice of their work schedules, expand two anti-poverty tax credits that help put money back in the pockets of working Ohioans and families, and provide paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave.
ProgressOhio Urges NO Vote on Gonidakis Appointment to Medical Board
COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate Health Committee is expected to vote on the re-appointment of Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis to the State Medical Board of Ohio. Gov. Kasich has selected Gonidakis to serve in a seat reserved for a “consumer” representative.
The following is a statement from ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis in opposition to his reappointment:
“As a lobbyist, Mike Gonidakis represents American Power & Light – a firm that buys electricity and water from utilities, then sells them to unsuspecting customers at a huge increase. The practice is so predatory that is banned in many other states. Mike Gonidakis is no champion of consumers. The Senate should vote NO on his confirmation and Gov. Kasich should find a real consumer advocate to serve on the state medical board.’’
According to an investigation by the Columbus Dispatch:
Unlike most states, Ohio allows unregulated, third-party “submeter” companies to make big profits by reselling electricity and water to residents of apartments and condominiums.
A 10-month investigation by The Dispatch found that residents pay markups of 5 percent to 40 percent when their landlords enter into contracts with certain submeter companies. If the customer fails to pay, the companies sometimes resort to collection tactics that would be illegal for regulated utilities, including shutting off heat in winter and even eviction.
Leading the charge against these submeter firms has been the Office of Consumers’ Counsel, which advocates for residential utility customers, the Ohio Poverty Law Center and Legal Aid Columbus. Gonidakis has helped to defeat legislation to reform the submetering industry.
Tax Reform & Entrepreneurship // JEC Hearing with Chairman Tiberi
As chairman of the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), Rep. Tiberi is holding a hearing Tuesday reforming our broken tax code to revive American entrepreneurship. This comes on the heels of last week’s unveiling of the unified GOP tax reform framework and will build off of the committee’s previous hearing on encouraging entrepreneurship, not growing Washington’s bureaucracy.
On background, this JEC hearing will focus on how pro-growth tax reform will help entrepreneurs and startups open their doors, succeed and create jobs. It also continues Chairman Tiberi’s efforts to invite Ohio voices to Washington to share their expertise and insights with the committee. Falon Donohue, CEO of VentureOhio, is one of tomorrow’s witnesses.
Additional resources for tomorrow:
· Hearing Details & Full Witness List
· Tiberi Statement on the Unified Framework to Fix our Broken Tax Code
· A livestream will be available on JEC.Senate.Gov
Key excerpts of Tiberi’s opening statement, embargoed until delivery:
“The Joint Economic Committee is holding this hearing because entrepreneurship matters. It matters because startup businesses drive the innovation that fuels economic growth and opportunity – innovation that can improve or even save lives. In fact, anyone who uses a cell phone today should thank an entrepreneur. And very importantly, entrepreneurs matter because nearly all the gains in job creation come from businesses less than a year old – true startups.”
“Tax reform done right will grow jobs and grow paychecks, helping restore the virtuous cycle that gives entrepreneurs the confidence to take a risk and reach for the American dream. Tax reform done right will provide them with more capital, the lifeblood of entrepreneurs. And it will help make America the best place in the world to invest and start a business. Our future prosperity depends on it.”
Senator: Give Customers their Day in Court
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – demanded answers from Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan today about the company’s failure to detect millions of fraudulent accounts opened in customers’ names, as well as the company’s practice of forcing unwanted insurance on auto loan borrowers.
Brown cited multiple examples that demonstrate Wells Fargo has failed to institute significant changes in order to earn back customer trust. Wells Fargo only recently disclosed that the number of fraudulent accounts was 70 percent higher than it originally reported. And, while Wells Fargo told Congress the problems were limited to its community bank, the auto loan division stuck 800,000 customers with auto insurance policies without the customers’ consent.
Brown pressed Sloan on Wells Fargo’s use of so-called forced arbitration clauses to block customers from seeking justice in the court system. While Wells Fargo has insisted it is no longer using forced arbitration clauses to cover fake accounts, Brown pointed to a case in Utah within the last three weeks.
Brown pointed out that forced arbitration favors banks, putting customers at a disadvantage when seeking justice. In fact, despite the fact that Wells Fargo opened 3.5 million fraudulent accounts between 2009 and 2017, the bank was awarded more money through arbitration than it was required to pay to customers during that time, according to publicly available data. The average customer involved in an arbitration case with Wells Fargo ended up being ordered to pay the bank $11,000.
Brown also said that because the arbitration proceedings are private, they allow fraud that may have otherwise been brought to light through the court system to continue in secret.
“Forced arbitration always gives the advantage to the bank, and you are continuing to use forced arbitration to take advantage of your customers. Why should we believe you are committed to changing your practices and being fair to customers when you continue to use closed-door arbitration practices that deny customers their day in court?” Brown questioned Sloan.
As the CEO side-stepped Brown’s question, the Senator interrupted, “Give customers their day in court.”
Click here for production-quality video of Brown’s questions.
Brown is leading legislation in the Senate that would give defrauded Wells Fargo customers their day in court. Brown has also championed a rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would bar banks, payday lenders and other financial institutions from using forced arbitration to block customers from accessing the court system. In July, the House of Representatives voted to overturn the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rule. Brown vowed a ‘hell of a fight’ against Congressional efforts to roll back the rule.
Tomorrow, Brown will question former Chairman and CEO of Equifax, Richard Smith, on the massive data breach, its failure to address a known security flaw, and the consequences of compromising the personal information of more than 145 million Americans.
Brown’s complete opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.
Thank you Chairman Crapo for holding this hearing.
A year ago, then-Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf sat in this hearing room attempting to explain the inexplicable. The bank’s punitive sales goals had pressured its employees into opening over 2 million fraudulent checking and credit card accounts.
In written follow-up questions for the record, Committee Democrats asked Mr. Stumpf if he was confident that this type of fraudulent activity did not exist in other parts of Wells Fargo. We asked about a variety of products, including insurance.
On November 15, 2016, Wells Fargo responded that, “We believe that the activity at issue here was limited to certain team members within the Community Banking Division.”
We have learned over the past year that the problems at Wells Fargo are much larger and more systemic than the bank originally disclosed.
Before being forced to come clean by a multi-agency investigation, Wells Fargo went to great lengths to bury this scandal.
It subjected customers to forced arbitration, preventing them from their day in court, further concealing the fraud. Employees who tried to alert senior management to the treatment of Wells Fargo’s customers were silenced or fired.
In 2013, a California customer sued, claiming Wells had opened several unauthorized accounts in his name. Wells Fargo forced that case out of the courts and into non-public arbitration, claiming that the terms of a real account should govern the fake ones.
In 2015, another customer in California filed a class action against Wells Fargo for the same practices – and the bank used its fine print legalese to fight for the case to be kept under seal.
Has the company changed? Just two months ago, Wells Fargo used its forced arbitration clause to argue that it shouldn’t have to pay customers it cheated on overdraft fees.
In August of this year, Wells Fargo finally disclosed that the number of fraudulent accounts was at least 3.5 million — 70 percent higher than it originally reported. The bank also revealed that it had stuck 800,000 customers with auto insurance policies – without telling them or checking to see if they already had insurance.
The bank was aware of the problems in its auto loan division in July 2016. And yet Wells Fargo told this committee that fraudulent sales practices were limited to the Community Bank.
Mind you, this was not a casual response to a question that caught somebody off guard in a hearing, but a written response that undoubtedly was approved by lawyers and others at the bank. Maybe even you, Mr. Sloan, were among those who saw the response before it was sent to Congress.
A week after last year’s hearing, the Board of Directors initiated its independent review of the company’s sales practices. The report to the Board, whose members are paid an average of $370,000 to prepare for and attend several meetings a year, found that the fault lay elsewhere.
That is cold comfort to the thousands of employees—who make perhaps one-tenth of what the Board does—who were fired for failing to generate enough new accounts.
The Board also chose to limit the scope of the review to the Community Bank, which is troubling. It should have known, or should have wanted to know, that additional problems existed in other divisions.
The changes Mr. Sloan and his team have made are not sufficient to reform a corporate culture that is willing to abuse its customers and employees in an effort to pad its numbers and increase executive compensation.
In light of the millions of Americans defrauded by Wells Fargo, the recent Equifax breach that compromised 145 million Americans’ personal financial information, and the SEC breach that led to insider trading, it is no wonder the public doesn’t trust our financial system.
We need strong rules to guard against abuses in forced arbitration, payday lending, debt collection, mortgage servicing, and credit reporting accuracy.
Rather than working to roll back consumer protections, we should be supporting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other financial watchdogs that stand up for hardworking Americans when big companies take advantage of them.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Clermont County Dealership Accused of Failing to Deliver Titles
(BATAVIA, Ohio)— Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a lawsuit against a Clermont County car dealer accused of failing to deliver motor vehicle titles to consumers.
According to the lawsuit, Brandon Doughman, who currently operates BDS Auto Sales and Service at 1001 College Dr. in Batavia, failed to provide consumers with titles for vehicles they purchased. The business is still operating, and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office is still receiving complaints.
Claims totaling $2,700 have been paid from the Title Defect Recision fund, which helps resolve consumers’ title issues.
The lawsuit, filed in Clermont County Court of Common Pleas, accuses BDS Auto Sales and Service of violating Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act and Certificate of Motor Vehicle Title Act. It also seeks reimbursement to the Title Defect Recision Fund and to prevent Donnerberg from obtaining a car dealer or salesperson license in the future.
Consumers who experience car title problems or who have other consumer complaints should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.
DeWine Announces 13,000 Rape Kits Tested as Part of Special Initiative
Newark Sex Offender Indicted for 1998 Rape, Attempted Murder After SAK Initiative DNA Match
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that more than 13,000 sexual assault kits have now been analyzed as part of a special Attorney General’s Office initiative to test thousands of previously untested rape kits in the state of Ohio.
Nearly 300 local law enforcement agencies submitted a total of 13,931 sexual assault kits for analysis as part of Attorney General DeWine’s Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Testing Initiative. As of October 1, 2017, 13,145 of the submitted kits – or 94 percent – have been tested by forensic scientists with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).
“This initiative is helping to hold accountable sexual predators who may have thought they had long ago gotten away with their crimes,” said Attorney General DeWine. “Ohio is now a national leader in addressing the problem of untested rape kits, and we are nearing completion of this very important effort. Victims of sexual assault deserve no less.”
DNA testing conducted as part of this initiative recently helped investigators with the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office make an arrest in connection with a 1998 sexual assault. John Iden, 43, of Newark, was recently indicted by a Muskingum County grand jury. The registered sex offender was indicted on two counts of kidnapping and one count each of rape, attempted murder, and felonious assault.
Attorney General DeWine launched the SAK Testing initiative in 2011 after learning that many law enforcement agencies across the state were in possession of rape kits that had never been sent to a DNA lab for testing. He then asked law enforcement officials to voluntarily send their kits to BCI for DNA testing at no cost to them.
So far, DNA testing conducted as part of the initiative has led to 4,768 hits in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
In Cuyahoga County alone, more than 620 defendants have been indicted following DNA testing conducted as part of the effort.
To ensure the timely analysis of the thousands of kits submitted as part of the SAK Testing Initiative, Attorney General DeWine hired 10 additional forensic scientists to test the older kits as quickly as possible, without slowing down the testing of the more than 13,740 rape kits associated with recent crimes tested by BCI as part of their regular casework since 2011.
Senate Bill 316, which went into effect on March 23, 2015, required law enforcement to submit any remaining older kits to a crime laboratory within one year. Of the nearly 14,000 kits submitted to BCI as part of the SAK Testing Initiative, 4,601 were submitted after the law went into effect. The law also requires that all newly collected rape kits be submitted to a crime lab within 30 days after law enforcement determines a crime has been committed.