Maryland’s Montgomery County Joins Jurisdictions Increasing Minimum Wage to $15.00

Montgomery County, Maryland, where the minimum wage already is $11.50, is set to join two states (California and New York), the neighboring District of Columbia and at least six local jurisdictions (Flagstaff (Arizona), Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Jose, SeaTac and Seattle) that have enacted legislation increasing the minimum wage for some or all private sector employees to $15 over the next several years.

On November 7, 2017 the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed Bill 28-17, which increases the minimum wage for “large employers” — those with 51 or more employees in the county — to $15.00 by July 1, 2021, with intermediate increases to $12.25 on July 1, 2018, $13.00 on July 1, 2019, and $14.00 on July 1, 2020.

The bill also increases the minimum wage to $15.00 by July 1, 2023 for “mid-sized employers,” those who (1) employ 11 to 50 employees; (2) have tax exempt status under IRC Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; or (3) provide “home health services” or “home or community based services,” as defined under federal Medicaid regulations and receive at least 75% of gross revenues through state and federal medical programs.

The bill additionally increases the minimum wage to $15.00 by July 1, 2024 for “small employers” — those with 10 or fewer employee (including non-profits and Medicaid funded home health and home or community based service providers of that size) — with intermediate increases to $12.00 on July 1, 2018, $12.50 on July 1, 2019, $13.00 on July 1, 2020, $13.50 on July 1, 2020, $14.00 on July 1, 2022 and $14.50 on July 1, 2023.

Notably, the rates of increases  is considerably slower than in the neighboring District of Columbia, which is already at $12.50 and will reach $15.00 on July 1, 2020 for all private sector employers.

In addition, the bill includes an “opportunity wage” that allows payment of a wage equal to 85% of the County minimum wage to an employee under the age of 20 for the first six months of employment.

The bill further adopts provisions to automatically adjust the minimum wage rate (1) for large employers annually starting July 1, 2022 to reflect average increases in the CPI-W for Washington-Baltimore for the previous year, and (2) for mid-sized and small employers starting July 1, 2024 and 2025, respectively, to reflect the same CPI-W increase for the previous year, plus one percent of the previous year’s required minimum wage, up to a total increase of $0.50, until the rate is equal to the amount for large employers. An employer’s size is calculated as of the time it first becomes subject to the law, and it remains subject to the applicable schedule regardless of the number of employees employed in subsequent years.

In addition, the Director of Finance must make certifications by January 31 of each year from 2018 through 2022 regarding certain reductions in county private employment, negative growth in the gross domestic product, or whether the U.S. economy is in recession. If certain targets are for that year, for no more than two times.

The bill specifically addresses concerns the County Executive expressed in vetoing a prior version of the bill that passed by a narrow majority in January 2017, by postponing the prior effective dates for large and small employers by one and two years, respectively; increasing from 26 to 51 the number of employees required to be a larger employer; creating a new mid-size employer category of 11 to 50 employees and defining a small employer as one with ten or fewer employees; and adding non-profits and Medicaid funded home health and home health services providers with more than ten employees to the extended schedule for mid-size employers. The County Executive has stated that he will sign the bill.

Notably, it is likely that an effort will be made in the upcoming state legislative session to further increase the state minimum wage, already at $9.25 and set to go to $10.10 on July 1, 2018.

This post was written by Brian W. Steinbach of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.,©2017

For more Labor & Employment legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Death and Taxes: House Bill Eliminates “Death” Tax in 2024

On November 2, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee released its proposal for tax reform via the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The House’s draft legislation contains a number of provisions that, if enacted, would significantly change the wealth transfer landscape, including the total repeal of the estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes as of January 1, 2024.

Under the proposal, commencing on January 1, 2018, the individual lifetime gift and estate tax exemption amount will be doubled to $10 million ($20 million for married couples), indexed for inflation—$11.2 million per person in 2018 ($22.4 million for married couples). This increase in the exemption amount also applies to the generation-skipping transfer tax.

The draft legislation calls for a total repeal of the estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes as of January 1, 2024, while preserving the ability of beneficiaries to obtain a basis adjustment as to inherited property. Although the gift tax is set to remain in place, a reduction in the rate from 40% to 35% is provided for. Similarly, the annual exclusion—scheduled to increase to $15,000 per individual in 2018 ($30,000 for married couples who elect to split their gifts)—looks certain to survive.

This post was written by the Tax, Estate Planning & Administration  of Jones Walker LLP., © 2017
For more Family, Estates & Trusts legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Telemedicine – Are There Increased Risks With Virtual Doctor Visits?

“Telemedicine” or “Telehealth” are the terms most often used when referring to clinical diagnosis and monitoring that is delivered by technology. Telemedicine encompasses healthcare provided via real time two-way video conferencing; file sharing, including transmission of health history, x-rays, films, or photos; remote patient monitoring; and consumer mobile health apps on smart phones, tablets, and devices that collect data and transmit it to a healthcare provider. Telemedicine is increasingly being used for everything from diagnosing common viruses to monitoring patients with serious long-term health issues.

The American Telemedicine Association reports that majority of hospitals now use some form of telemedicine. Two years ago, there were approximately 20 million telemedicine video consultations; that number is expected to increase to about 160 million by 2020. An estimated one-third of employer group plans already cover some type of telehealth.

Telemedicine implicates legal and regulatory issues as licensing, prescribing, credentialing, and cybersecurity. Pennsylvania recently passed legislation joining the Interstate Medical Licensing Compact, an agreement whereby licensed physicians can qualify to practice medicine across state lines within the Compact if they meet the eligibility requirements. The Compact enables physicians to obtain licenses to practice in multiple states, while strengthening public protection through the sharing of investigative and disciplinary information.

Federal and state laws and regulations may differ in their definitions and regulation of telemedicine. New Jersey recently passed legislation authorizing health care providers to engage in telemedicine and telehealth. The law establishes telemedicine practice standards, requirements for health care providers, and telehealth coverage requirements for various types of health insurance plans. Earlier this year, Texas became the last state to abolish the requirement that patient-physician relationships must first be established during an in-person patient/doctor visit before a telemedicine visit.

As telemedicine use increases, there will likely be an increase in related professional liability claims. One legal issue that arises in the context of telemedicine involves the standard of care that applies. The New Jersey statute states that the doctor is held to the same standard of care as applies to in-person settings. If that is not possible, the health care provider is required direct the patient to seek in-person care. However, the standard of care for telemedicine is neither clear nor uniform across the states.

Another issue that arises in the context of telemedicine is informed consent, especially in terms of communication, and keeping in mind that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently held that only the doctor, and not staff members, can obtain informed consent from patients. Miscommunication between a healthcare provider and patient is often an underlying cause of medical malpractice allegations in terms of whether informed consent was obtained.

In addition, equipment deficiencies or malfunctions can mask symptoms that would be evident during an in-person examination or result in the failure to transmit data accurately or timely, affecting the diagnosis or treatment of the patient.

Some of these issues will likely ultimately be addressed by legislative or regulatory bodies but others may end up in the courts. According to one medical malpractice insurer, claims relating to telemedicine have resulted from situations involving the remote reading of x-rays and fetal monitor strips by physicians, attempts to diagnose a patient via telemedicine, delays in treatment, and failure to order medication.

recent Pennsylvania case illustrates how telemedicine may also impact the way medical malpractice claims are treated in the courts. In Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred. Transferring venue back to Philadelphia County, the Superior Court in Pennsylvania found that alleged medical malpractice occurred in Philadelphia — where the physician and staff failed to timely transmit the physician’s interpretation of an infant’s echocardiogram to the hospital in another county where the infant was being treated.

The use of telemedicine will likely have wide-reaching implications for health care and health care law, including medical malpractice.

This post was written by Michael C. Ksiazek of STARK & STARK, COPYRIGHT ©
2017
For more Health Care legal analysis, go to The National Law Review 

GM Labeling Update: Ingredient Disclosure Debate

  • As previously reported on this blog, legislation requiring labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods and food ingredients was signed into law on July 29, 2016.  This law directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop regulations and standards to create mandatory disclosure requirements for bio-engineered foods by July 2018. On June 28, 2017, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) posted a list of 30 questions to obtain stakeholder input to facilitate the drafting of mandatory disclosure requirements to implement the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law. One of those questions is:
    • “Will AMS require disclosure for food that contains highly refined products, such as oils or sugars derived from bioengineered crops?”
  • USDA has not yet posted the comments it has received, which were due by August 25, 2017; however, several organizations have posted the comments they submitted in response to the questions. Among the organizations supporting disclosure were the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. (GMA), the International Dairy Foods Assn. (IDFA)and the Consumers Union. Noting that excluding highly refined ingredients (HRI) from the scope of the mandatory disclosure standard would result in roughly 80% fewer products being subject to the disclosure requirements under the federal law, GMA wrote, “A clear, simple, and consistent mandatory disclosure standard that includes HRI will assist manufacturers in educating consumers about biotechnology as a safe and beneficial method of plant breeding.”
  • In contrast, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) are opposed to mandatory disclosure of HRI. ITIF suggested that some refined products do not contain residual DNA sequences and that “[t]here are not analytical methods that would allow such products to be identified as coming from ‘GM’ plants or animals vs. others.”
  • While USDA develops mandatory disclosure requirements for bio-engineered foods, a number of class action laws suit have been filed suggesting that products containing GM ingredients are falsely labeled as natural. For example, last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a bid by Conagra Brands Inc. to avoid a class-action lawsuit concerning cooking oil labeled 100% natural that contains GM ingredients (see S. News). And earlier this month, Frito-Lay North America agreed to not make any non-GMO claims on certain products “unless the claim is certified by an independent third-party certification organization”(see Food Navigator).
  • We will continue to monitor developments on the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard and report them to you here.
This post was written by the Food and Drug Law at Keller and Heckman of Keller and Heckman LLP., © 2017
For more Biotech, Food & Drug legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Positive Developments – EUTM

Trademark owners should take note of two new types of trademark protection available in the European Community as of October 1, 2017.

1. Certification Marks – although it has always been possible to register certification marks in a few individual EU member states, it was previously not possible to register a certification mark, for certification services, with the EUIPO.  This will change as of October 1, 2017 when it will now it will be possible to register certification with the EUIPO, covering all EU member states.  European Union certification marks are defined as marks that are “capable of distinguishing goods or services which are certified by the proprietor of the mark in respect of material, mode of manufacture of goods or performance of services, quality, accuracy or other characteristics, with the exception of geographical origin, from goods and services which are not so certified.”

2. Marks no Longer Need Graphic Representation – it will now be possible to file for sound, hologram, motion, and multimedia marks; marks can now be represented in any form using generally available technologies.  Unfortunately, it is still not possible to file for tactile, smell, and taste marks in the EU.

This post was written by Monica Riva Talley of Sterne Kessler © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Effects of Insurance Marketplace Uncertainty

Even as Senators continue to consider “Graham-Cassidy,” the latest Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal legislation, insurance markets are already reacting to uncertainty and instability brought about by persistent GOP efforts to upend the post-ACA insurance landscape. Between the Trump Administration’s ongoing refusal to commit to long-term funding of the ACA’s cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) and legislative overtures to repeal key portions of the ACA, premiums have increased, insurers have exited state exchanges, and access to health care coverage has been compromised.

As the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated, insurers are expected to “raise premiums for marketplace plans in 2018 by an average of roughly 15 percent, largely because of uncertainty about whether the federal government will continue to fund CSR payments and because of an increase in the percentage of the population living in areas with only one insurer.” Speaking to the latter factor, CBO notes that a number of insurers have withdrawn from healthcare exchanges established under the ACA, spurred, at least in part, by “uncertainty about the enforcement of the individual mandate, and uncertainty about the federal government’s future payments for [CSRs].” Although ACA proponents’ (and critics’) most dire predictions were narrowly avoided – that some counties would have no insurers offering marketplace plans – there is little doubt that insurer participation has been adversely impacted by market uncertainty, with pocketbook repercussions for policy-holders.

The turbulent political climate is also likely to reduce the number of insured individuals in 2018. CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation anticipate lower insurance enrollment as a result of reductions in federal-sponsored advertising and outreach. Department of Health and Human Services officials recently indicated that the advertising budget for the open enrollment period commencing in November would be reduced to $10 million, amounting to a 90% reduction when compared to spending in the last year of the Obama Administration. Grants to “navigators” – nonprofit groups that assist people with marketplace insurance plan enrollment – will be reduced from approximately $63 million to $36 million.

Whether or not the worst is yet to come will hinge on the fate of Graham-Cassidy and the presently-stalled efforts to reach consensus on a bipartisan ACA stabilization bill. In what is turning out to be a recurring theme in 2017, we may have to wait several weeks for the dust to settle and reasoned prognostication to be possible.

This post was written by Matthew J. Goldman & Jordan E. Grushkin of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP., Copyright © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review 

Trump Administration Issues New Guidance for Automated Driving Systems

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced yesterday the Trump administration’s first significant guidance concerning autonomous vehicles and Automated Driving Systems (ADS).

The new voluntary guidelines, titled Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety, are intended to encourage innovation in the industry and are being touted as the administration’s “new, non-regulatory approach to promoting the safe testing and development of automated vehicles.” One of the most important aspects of these guidelines is the NHTSA’s clarification of its view of the delineation between the roles of the states and the federal government with respect to ADS technology.

The new guidelines replace the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy (FAVP), which was released by the Obama administration in 2016A Vision for Safety comprises voluntary guidance for vehicle manufacturers, best practices for state legislatures when drafting ADS legislation, and a request for further comment.

Autonomous-vehicle manufacturers are asked to undertake a voluntary self-assessment addressing 12 safety elements discussed in the new guidance. That is a slight departure from the FAVP, which detailed a 15-point safety assessment. The safety self-assessment remains voluntary, and NHTSA emphasizes that there is no mechanism to compel manufacturers to participate. The agency also stated that the testing or deployment of new ADS technologies need not be delayed to complete a self-assessment.

In what may be the most significant component of the guidance, NHTSA made clear its role as the primary regulator of ADS technology by “strongly encourage[ing] States not to codify th[e] Voluntary Guidance . . . as a legal requirement for any phases of development, testing, or deployment of ADSs.”

Further acknowledging the potential problems associated with a patchwork of state laws, the agency expressed its belief that “[a]llowing NHTSA alone to regulate the safety design and performance aspects of ADS technology will help avoid conflicting Federal and State laws and regulations that could impede deployment.” States are instead tasked by A Vision for Safety with regulating licensing of human drivers, motor vehicle registration, traffic laws, safety inspections, and insurance.

The new guidance comes just one week after the House of Representatives passed the SELF-DRIVE Act designed to eliminate legal obstacles that could interfere with the deployment of autonomous vehicles. However, as NHTSA and Congress are seeking to speed up ADS development by removing regulatory and legal impediments, it is noteworthy that on the same day NHTSA announced A Vision for Safety, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for NHTSA to require automakers to install “system safeguards to limit the use of automated vehicle systems to those conditions for which they were designed.”

In an abstract of its forthcoming final report on the 2016 fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S operating in semi-autonomous mode, the NTSB concluded that “operational limitations” in the Tesla’s system played a major role in the fatal crash and that the vehicle’s semi-autonomous system lacked the safeguards necessary to ensure that the system was not misused. These recent developments only underscore the uncertainty facing the industry as regulators attempt to keep pace with fast-developing technology.

This post was written by Neal Walters and Casey G. Watkins of  Ballard Spahr LLP Copyright ©
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review