CWAG Roundup

March 10, 2016
Greetings! 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
 
SAVE THE DATE
 
CWAG Chair, Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum, announces that she will hold her CWAG Chair Initiative on May 24, 2016, in Portland, Oregon: STUDENT DEBT: THE OBLIGATION OF A LIFETIME? A registration packet is attached and an agenda is under development.
 
There is no greater category of consumer debt today than education-related debt. Even credit card debt has been surpassed by the 1.3 trillion dollars of outstanding debt owed by former students and their families today.
 
Never before have college students entered the workforce with such a staggering debt burden as they do today. This burden is crushing young people's hopes to move on in their lives in the ways many of us who went to school in a bygone era simply took for granted: getting married, starting a family, buying a car -- buying a home -- starting a business, etc. How ironic it is that, rather than improving young people's chances to advance in life, incurring significant debt in order to go to school may be having the opposite effect and stopping -- or at least slowing down-- this advancement.
 
What can we, as state Attorneys General, do to address and help resolve this crisis? After all, we do not want our families or the people we serve to be stuck with these student debt obligations for their entire lifetime. Right?
 
First and foremost, we can inform ourselves about it and discuss options and strategies that AG's can use to address it. That's what this conference will do. It will be worth your time -- I promise!
 
We play an important role in protecting consumers -- which includes students, and former students -- from misleading, unfair and deceptive practices. These practices may involve those who work for educational institutions as well as in the loan industry itself. In this context, they could involve debt servicing, debt consolidation, debt collection and loan underwriting. They might involve loan co-signers and issues pertaining to discharging a student loan through bankruptcy. Complaints relating to veterans being targeted by educational institutions for enrollment in programs that are not likely to lead to the jobs they are hoping for, but instead only to burdensome debt, will be discussed as well. I think we can all agree that our veterans, who may have put off their education in order to serve our country, deserve a very hard look at whether they have been treated deceptively and unfairly.
 
Please join me to help explore the problems that have brought us to this untenable situation. We will have speakers discussing all aspects of this issue of educational debt. They will describe the problem and offer constructive recommendations for best practices to be employed by educational institutions, the loan industry and government regulators.
 
Together, we can work toward helping to ensure that students and their families make wise and informed choices when deciding to take on educational debt; and that when the time comes to pay it back, the former student has graduated and is gainfully employed and prepared to repay his or her loans in amounts and on a schedule that works for everyone. Only then can we rest assured that education-related debt will NOT be the obligation of a lifetime!
 
Thanks for considering this important invitation. I hope to see you in Portland and I promise to show you a good time here in addition to putting on a fabulous conference.
 
Ellen F. Rosenblum
Attorney General
State of Oregon
Chair of CWAG
 
CWAG ANNUAL MEETING REGISTRATION NOW OPEN
 
The Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG), Oregon Attorney General and CWAG Chair Ellen Rosenblum along with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden invite you to join your colleagues for the CWAG Annual Meeting, July 17-20, 2016 in Sun Valley, Idaho at the Sun Valley Resort.
 
Please note the important dates and information below:
 
To register online or download and print the registration information in a PDF form to register manually use the following link: https://www.cwagweb.org/sunvalley/registration
 
If you have attended an annual meeting in the past few years your contact information has been saved in the registration system. Please review your contact information during the registration process to make sure it is current.
 
To register, go to "Sign In" and enter the email address and password you or your assistant previously provided. If you can't recall your password, click on the "Forgot Password" link and your password will be sent to the email that is saved in the system.
 
If you have not previously registered for the annual meeting go to "New Registration", enter your email and create a personal password to be used for future registrations.
 
Early Bird Registration: The cutoff date for Early Bird registration is Friday, June 3, 2016 at 5:00p (PT). Your online registration must be finalized or your manual registration form received via fax or email to the CWAG office by 5:00p (PT) on June 3. All registrations received after this time and date will be charged the regular registration fee.
 
Onsite Registration: Pre-registering for primary attendees and guests who would like to attend any of the substantive or social opportunities is required. CWAG must make commitments to the hotel and activity vendors based on pre-registered guests prior to our arrival. The registration fees cover the cost of activities and meals at the conference which have been pre-arranged. Given the necessity of pre planning, we will not be accepting any onsite registrations.
 
Hotel Room Cut Cutoff: The last day to reserve your room within the CWAG room block is Thursday, June 23, 2016. If the room block sells out prior to that time, reservations will be accepted on a space available basis. The reservation number for the Sun Valley Resort is 800.786.8259. Ask for the CWAG room block to receive our discounted rates.
 
HUMAN TRAFFICKING
 
CWAG Associate Attorney General Bill Schuette of Michigan released the 2015 Michigan Human Trafficking Commission Annual Report to the governor and legislature, highlighting the important work the commission has accomplished and setting the stage to continue the fight against this form of modern slavery. "Human trafficking has been one of my top priorities since taking office. The challenging nature of these cases require a focus on the victims and the desperate circumstances they find themselves in," said General Schuette. "And my office has worked closely with law enforcement across the State of Michigan to prosecute traffickers in our state and put an end to their trade."
 
ENERGY
 
Washington's largest utility would be able to create a fund to pay for the eventual shutdown of two coal-powered electricity plants in Montana under a bill approved by the Washington Legislature. Senate Bill 6248 sailed through the House on a 92-5 vote after being easily passed by the Senate in February. It now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk, where it can be signed into law. The bill would let Puget Sound Energy put money aside to cover future decommissioning and remediation costs of the power plants in Colstrip, Montana, if they're closed after 2023. The Colstrip Power Plant has four units, and the utility owns half of the older Colstrip Units 1 and 2. Colstrip is a company town, with a population of 2,300. The plant employs hundreds of people, and four lawmakers from the state told a Washington Senate committee recently that even a partial shutdown would create huge economic consequences for the city and industrial users in Montana that depend on the plant's cheap power.
 
Oregon lawmakers have instructed that state's largest utilities to cut the cord on coal power in the next 19 years, a move that will pull roughly 600,000 homes from Colstrip's customer base. The decision is expected to become law with the signature of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Dubbed the "Clean Electricity and Coal Transition" plan, Oregon Senate Bill 1546B doesn't mention Colstrip specifically, but targets Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, both of which share ownership of Colstrip Units 3 and 4. "For PGE, we can't service our customers from coal generated energy after 2035," said Steve Corson, PGE spokesman. "We have a minor share in the Colstrip plants. We own 20 percent of three and four."
 
OUTLAWING SYNTHETIC DRUGS
 
CWAG Associate Attorney General Pam Bondi of Florida thanked the members of the Florida Senate for voting unanimously to pass SB 1528, sponsored by Senator Wilton Simpson, that will allow for categorically outlawing synthetic drugs. Florida House unanimously voted last week in favor of the companion bill HB 1347, sponsored by Representative Clay Ingram. "Thank you Senator Simpson, Representative Ingram and all the members of our great legislature for voting to pass this life saving legislation that will allow us to categorically outlaw synthetic drugs as a whole," said General Bondi. "This legislation will help bolster our efforts to combat the growing threat of synthetic drug use, keep these dangerous drugs off store shelves and out of the hands of Florida's youth."
 
WASHINGTON PHARMACEUTICAL RULE CHALLENGED
 
CWAG Attorney General Bob Ferguson of Washington asked the United States Supreme Court to decline to review a case challenging state rules ensuring patients have timely access to medication, including emergency contraceptives. After a unanimous ruling in the state's favor by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2015, the plaintiffs in Stormans v. Wiesman filed a petition for review with the high court. The challenged rules, adopted by the Washington Board of Pharmacy (now the Pharmacy Commission), require that pharmacies ensure patients have timely access to medication. The plaintiffs allege that the rules violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. "The appeals court decision keeps decisions regarding medical care, including reproductive rights, where they belong: between a patient and his or her medical professionals," said General Ferguson. "That unanimous ruling should stand."
  
EDUCATION
 
CWAG Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt of Nevada filed a brief in the Nevada Supreme Court asking to reverse a lower court's ruling that halted Nevada's Education Savings Account (ESA) program. The ESA program, designed to give more educational options to families in Nevada, provides funds to parents and students who wish to pursue their educational needs outside of the public school system, including through private schooling, tutoring, test taking, textbooks or online learning. The brief addresses a lawsuit backed by the Education Law Center headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. The lower court in this suit rejected two of the plaintiffs' constitutional challenges, but agreed with plaintiffs that the ESA program impermissibly spends funds that the legislature has earmarked for public schools. Nevada's brief argues that the ESA program does not, in fact, rely on money set aside for the public schools, and that Nevada's Constitution broadly empowers the Legislature to "encourage education" by "all suitable means," including the ESA program. "This injunction has disrupted more than 4,000 Nevada families who hoped to benefit from this innovative program," said General Laxalt. "While I believe the harm cited by the plaintiffs is pure conjecture at best, my Office continues to work diligently to get a final answer on the constitutionality of ESAs as quickly and efficiently as possible."
 
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
 
CWAG Attorney General Sean Reyes of Utah applauded the jury verdict in the Department of Justice case against Colorado City and Hildale. "This is an important step toward ensuring that citizens in Hildale and Colorado City are treated equally by the cities regardless of their religious beliefs," said General Reyes. "Over the past several years, residents outside the FLDS fold along with former members of the FLDS faith, have complained of discriminatory treatment by city officials. Many former members left or were expelled because of their criticism of Warren Jeffs and certain practices under his leadership. We feel for the victims and hope this verdict will begin to allow change in the communities and alleviate to some degree the sense of oppression many have endured. The DOJ case complements our own efforts." The court will now consider what remedies are appropriate to address the systemic constitutional violations the jury identified. The remedy the federal court fashions to address law enforcement violating citizens' Constitutional rights will be closely watched by the Attorney General's Office. One possible remedy would be disbanding the current Marshal's Office and replacing it with county sheriffs. The Attorney General has supported disbanding the marshal's office if adequate law enforcement resources can be found as a replacement.
 
PROTECTING ANIMALS
 
CWAG Associate Attorney General Roy Cooper of North Carolina announced the start of a telephone hotline in his office to take reports of animal cruelty. Cruelty toward animals is illegal under state law. North Carolinians can report animals experiencing physical harm under the care of an individual, pet shop, kennel or animal shelter to the North Carolina Attorney General's Animal Welfare Hotline. "As a pet owner, I understand how important it is that our animal companions get the care they need," General Cooper said. "I encourage North Carolinians to use this new tool if they have information to report about animals being harmed." The Attorney General's Office will review animal welfare complaints submitted via the hotline and refer them when applicable to the appropriate authority. Depending on the details of the complaint, local animal control officials, the local Sheriff, or the N.C. Department of Agriculture may have the authority to take action.
 
Legislation filed at the request of CWAG Associate Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin of Rhode Island that would increase criminal penalties for malicious injury to or killing of animals is scheduled for hearings. The act amends section 4-1-5 ("malicious injury to or killing of animals") by increasing the imprisonment penalty for violation from no than two years to no more than five years. Currently, at least 30 jurisdictions have longer imprisonment periods for malicious injury or killing of animals. Of those 30 jurisdictions, 21 jurisdictions have an imprisonment period of five years or more and 17 of the jurisdictions' imprisonment periods are up to five years. The act also increases the community service requirement from 10 hours to fifty 50 hours. "In many instances, the defendant charged with felony animal abuse has seen previous contact with the criminal justice system, most commonly for domestic violence offenses," said General Kilmartin. "The abuse towards a helpless, innocent animal is deplorable, and strict penalties are warranted."
 
FANTASY SPORTS
 
CWAG Associate Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas announced Texas has reached a settlement with online daily fantasy sports site FanDuel, under which the company will stop accepting paid entries for cash prizes in the state on May 2. This agreement follows Attorney General Paxton's January 19 opinion stating that paid online daily fantasy sports contests, like those FanDuel operates, are illegal under current Texas law. "I commend FanDuel for responsibly and pro-actively working with us to reach this settlement," General Paxton said. "This will spare both the company and the taxpayers of Texas the expense of an extensive lawsuit that I believe would only affirm what my office has already determined."
Chris Coppin
Legal Director
Conference of Western Attorneys General
1300 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
505-589-5101 (cell)
817-615-9335 (fax)
Chris.coppin@cwagweb.org

Conference of Western Attorneys General | 1300 I Street | Sacramento | CA | 95814