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Laws And Litigation

SEATTLE — Three of the nation’s largest mobile phone carriers — AT&T Mobility, Sprint and T-Mobile — will no longer charge their customers for commercial Premium Short Messaging Services, also known as PSMS or premium text messages. PSMS is the platform that third-party content providers use to charge consumers via their cell phone bills, a practice known as “cramming.” Examples of PSMS charges include those for horoscopes, weather information, dating advice, sports alerts, and similar services.

“This is a victory for cell phone users in Washington and across the nation,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a news release. “I am hopeful other phone carriers will follow this lead. My office will continue to work with other states for industry reforms and to recover money for consumers victimized by unauthorized mobile charges.” read more »

 

Members of the public voiced their opposition at a hearing last week to the recent wave of Catholic and secular hospital mergers and affiliations, calling for greater transparency on hospital services and changes that occur as a result of the partnerships.

The Department of Health held the hearing in Olympia to obtain public comment on a proposed rule that would subject merging hospitals to the Certificate of Need application process, which is used to decide whether new hospitals or hospital expansions are needed. Several dozen people testified at the hearing and nearly 900 comments have been received online.

The rule would also require hospitals to disclose policies related to abortion, fertility treatments and assisted suicide — a result of growing concern that Catholic hospitals are restricting access to services that are against Catholic beliefs. read more »

 

Now that SeaTac city voters have given them a pay raise, some airport workers already are entertaining hopes of a better lifestyle.

To some airport workers, the nationally watched minimum wage increase that goes into effect Jan. 1 - assuming it withstands legal challenges and a recount — could change everything from weaning their families off the local food bank to being able to afford housing closer to where they work.

“I wouldn’t have to take a two-hour commute,” said Eric Frank, a baggage handler who lives in the Pierce County town of Lakewood, an hour each way by bus from the airport.

Elections officials certified the 77-vote victory margin for the SeaTac minimum wage measure on Nov. 24, but business-led opposition groups are seeking a recount and challenging the measure in court. read more »

 

Puget Sound Business Journal

As part of a nationwide $17 million settlement, Google Inc. will pay $610,600 to Washington state for tracking information on Apple’s Safari web browser.

The state Attorney General’s Office said “Google altered its coding to circumvent the Safari default privacy settings, without consumers’ knowledge or consent. This allowed advertisers to set third-party cookies on consumers’ Safari browsers, despite the fact those users believed their privacy settings protected them.”

“Washington and other states alleged that Google failed to inform Safari users that it was circumventing their privacy settings,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.

 

WASHINGTON — After months of tense negotiations, the Justice Department finalized a record $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase to resolve allegations that the bank knowingly sold faulty mortgage securities that contributed to the financial crisis.

This marks the largest penalty ever levied against a single company and represents a colossal win for the government after years of public criticism over its struggle to hold Wall Street accountable for crisis-era sins. It is also a tremendous black eye for a bank once lauded as the nation’s strongest financial institution to emerge from the crisis.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is a member of President Obama’s mortgage task force that helped negotiate the deal, announced the details of the settlement Nov. 19. read more »

 

NEW YORK — Google’s project to digitally copy millions of books for online searches doesn’t violate copyright law, a federal judge ruled Nov. 14, dismissing an 8-year-old lawsuit against the largest search-engine company.

Google Books provides a public benefit and is a fair use of copyrighted material, Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan ruled. The project, which has scanned more than 20 million books so far, doesn’t harm authors or inventors of original works, Chin said.

“Google Books provides significant public benefits,” Chin wrote. “It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders.” read more »

 

OLYMPIA — Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler issued the following statement Nov. 14 in response to modifications to the Affordable Care Act announced by President Obama:

“We have worked for three years to implement the Affordable Care Act in a way that works best for Washingtonians. One goal of our efforts has been to build a stable, fair and competitive individual health insurance market.

I know that many people who buy their own health insurance have struggled to keep their coverage. That is why we have worked so hard to make these significant changes. We have brought meaningful benefits to this market that the rest of us with employer-sponsored health plans have enjoyed for years; benefits like prescription drug coverage, maternity care, and reasonable limits on out-of-pocket costs. Our state-based exchange — Wahealthplanfinder.org — is up and running and successfully enrolling thousands of consumers. read more »

 

Chicago Tribune

Starbucks Corp. said it will restate fourth-quarter results to show an operating loss of $2.12 billion to reflect damages related to its dispute with Kraft Foods.

An arbitrator on Nov. 12 ordered Starbucks to pay Kraft’s former parent Mondelez International $2.23 billion in damages plus $527 million in prejudgment interest and attorneys fees after the coffee chain’s early termination of a grocery deal.

Kraft began selling bags of Starbucks coffee in grocery stores beginning in September 1998. Starbucks prematurely ended the contract in March 2011 and gave the business to privately held Acosta Inc. read more »

 

If your business operates as a partnership, such as an S corporation or LLC, your odds of being audited appear to be rising.

The Internal Revenue Service plans to shift its business auditing focus away from corporations and concentrate more on “pass-through” entities in coming years, Faris Fink, head of the IRS’s Small Business/Self-Employed Division, recently told conference attendees. The reason: Partnerships are becoming more complex, and the IRS sees them as a type of business ripe for tax-fraud potential.

“The Service has for a long time focused its energy on corporations,” Fink said at the American Institute of CPAs’ National Tax Conference, according to Bloomberg. “Frankly, we’re a little bit behind the curve in getting around to developing a partnership strategy.” read more »

 
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