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Industry Regulation

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An investigation by The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline” has documented a sophisticated Russian-run smuggling operation that has used falsified manifests and seaborne subterfuge to steal Ukrainian grain worth at least $530 million. The AP and “Frontline” used satellite imagery and marine radio transponder data to track three dozen ships making more than 50 voyages carrying grain from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine to ports in the Middle East. The ongoing theft is being carried out by wealthy businessmen and state-owned companies in Russia and Syria. Some of them already face financial sanctions from the United States and European Union. Legal experts say the theft is a potential war crime.

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The lights are out at a coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico that has provided electricity to millions of people across the southwestern U.S. for nearly a half-century. The closure of the San Juan Generating Station follows years of legal battles by environmentalists and mounting regulatory pressures aimed at curbing pollution and climate change. The realities of closing the plant and the adjacent mine are now setting in for surrounding communities, many of which are home to Native Americans. Hundreds of good-paying jobs are evaporating along with tens of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue that's used to fund local schools.

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U.S. officials celebrated at the start of September when top allies agreed to back an audacious, never-before-tried plan to clamp down on Vladimir Putin’s access to cash. The countries would pay only cut-rate prices for Russian oil. That would deprive Putin of money to keep prosecuting his war in Ukraine, but also ensure that oil kept gushing out of Russia and kept global prices low. But nearly a month later, the organization made up of some of the world’s leading economies, the Group of Seven, is still figuring out how to execute their plan and gather participants.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom has called on state regulators to relax rules on oil refineries in an effort to lower soaring fuel prices. According to AAA, the average cost of a gallon of gas in California is $6.30. That's far above the national average of $3.80. Oil refineries have to produce a specific blend of gas in the summer months that is designed to lower pollutants. Newsom wants to allow them to switch to the cheaper winter blend earlier than normal. The oil industry says that's an acknowledgement that state regulations play a role in rising prices. Newsom also called for a new tax on oil company profits.

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Harvest season means long days for U.S. farmworkers — but usually no overtime pay. Federal law exempts farms from rules entitling most workers to 1.5 times their regular wage when they work more than 40 hours in a week. New York is now joining several states that have begun to change this rule. The state’s labor commissioner on Friday approved a recommendation to phase in a 40-hour threshold for farmworker overtime over the next decade. Right now, farmworkers in New York qualify for overtime pay after they have worked 60 hours in a week. Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon called the plan  “the best path forward” for farmworker equity.

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The United States and its allies are hitting back at Russia’s annexation of four more Ukrainian regions, slapping sanctions on more than 1,000 Russian individuals and companies. And President Joe Biden warned Moscow that it won't "get away” with seizing Ukrainian land. Biden also said Friday that the U.S. would support any effort by Ukraine to retake the annexed territories by force, setting the stage for possible further hostilities. The U.S. had previewed the likelihood of more sanctions. But the developments still dramatically increased tensions to a point not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War.

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New safety mandates for elevators inside North Carolina beach and vacation cottages take effect as the calendar turns to October. All or portions of over a dozen or so enacted state laws begin Saturday. The elevator law is named for 7-year-old Weston Androw, a boy from Canton, Ohio, who died last year at an Outer Banks vacation rental when he became trapped between the elevator car and elevator shaft. The law says landlords of these short-term rentals must reduce the gap between elevator landing and car doors and tell the state Insurance Department about the improvements. The other new laws address sexual assault kits, magistrates and some sales tax exemptions.

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The House has approved antitrust legislation targeting the dominance of Big Tech companies by giving states greater power in competition cases and increasing money for federal regulators. The bipartisan measure was separated from more ambitious provisions aimed at reining in Meta, Google, Amazon and Apple and cleared by key House and Senate committees. Those proposals have languished for months, giving the companies time for vigorous lobbying campaigns against them. The Biden administration endorsed the more limited bill this week. House conservatives objected to the proposed revenue increase for the antitrust regulators, arguing there's been brazen overreach by the Federal Trade Commission under President Joe Biden.

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Six Republican-led states are suing the Biden administration to try and halt its plan to forgive student loan debt for millions of Americans. They're accusing it of overstepping its executive powers. It’s at least the second legal challenge this week to the sweeping proposal laid out by President Joe Biden in late August, when he said his administration would cancel up to $20,000 in education debt for millions of borrowers. As the lawsuit was being filed, the administration quietly scaled back eligibility rules for the debt relief, eliminating a relatively small group of borrowers who are the subject of legal debate in the suit.

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Missouri lawmakers have approved an income tax cut and ditched plans to cut corporate taxes. The Republican-led Missouri House on Thursday voted 98-32 in favor of a bill to cut income taxes from 5.3% to 4.95% beginning next year. The measure now heads to GOP Gov. Mike Parson, who is expected to sign it. Parson had directed lawmakers to cut income taxes during the special session. Parson says he's thrilled by lawmakers' work. The House also on Thursday stripped a last-minute proposal to phase out corporate income taxes.

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A decision by regulators in California has cleared the way for New York to move forward on its goal of requiring all new cars and trucks sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday that the state will craft regulations by the end of the year that will require 35% of new vehicle sales to be zero-emission vehicles in 2026, 68% by 2030, and 100% by 2035. Under the Clean Air Act, states can either abide by the U.S. government’s vehicle emissions standards or choose to follow California’s stricter requirements.

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The Environmental Protection Agency says it will nearly double — to almost $1 billion — the money available for states to acquire electric school buses. It's responding to a flood of requests for money for cleaner models of the familiar yellow buses that about 25 million children ride each school day. The EPA made $500 million available for clean school buses in May, but said Thursday that “overwhelming demand from school districts across the country, including in low-income communities,″ caused it to increase the amount to $965 million. The money is from the agency’s Clean School Bus Program, which includes $5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law. School districts from all 50 states have applied under the program.

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Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus says Australia could have tough new data protection laws in place this year in an urgent response to a cyberattack that stole from a telecommunications company the personal data of 9.8 million customers. Dreyfus said Thursday the government will make “urgent reforms” to the Privacy Act following the unprecedented hack last week on Optus, Australia’s second-largest wireless carrier. Dreyfus says "it’s possible” for the law to be changed in the four remaining weeks that Parliament is scheduled to sit this year. Dreyfus says penalties for failing to protect data have to be increased and companies should have to justify the “absolutely huge amounts” of customer data they hold.

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Florida’s property insurance market was already in peril. Now comes Hurricane Ian. The massive storm, barreling into Florida with 150 mph winds, double digit storm surge and drenching rains, is almost certain to further damage the state’s market, which has strained under billion dollar losses, insurer insolvencies and skyrocketing premiums. The scale and scope of the storm’s damage will become more clear in the coming days. But its impact could potentially exacerbate existing problems and burden a state-run insurer that has already seen a sharp increase in policies as homeowners struggle to find coverage in the private market.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom has approved one of the most contentious bills before him this year. It's a measure aiding efforts by farmworkers to unionize that was backed by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Their support pinned Newsom in a difficult political position after his office previously criticized the proposal. But Newsom negotiated upcoming changes before signing the bill. The law he signed Wednesday gives farmworkers new options to vote to unionize beyond at physical polling places. Proponents say that will help protect workers from union-busting and other intimidation. Farm owners say it lacks necessary safeguards to prevent fraud.

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Two new laws in California will let developers bypass local governments to build housing on commercial land. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed laws Wednesday aimed at increasing housing production. Both laws would let developers bypass local laws to build housing on land set aside for businesses. One law requires a certain amount of the housing units to be affordable. The other law does not require affordable housing but says the project must go through an environmental review process. Local governments largely oppose the laws because of the land's potential for generating corporate tax revenue. Housing would generate lower revenue.

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The University of Oklahoma Medical Center says it is ceasing some gender-affirming treatments after state lawmakers threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal funding. OU Health said in a statement Wednesday that it is stopping “certain gender medicine services." Officials did not confirm exactly which medical treatments it was halting. The Republican-controlled Legislature returned for a special session Wednesday to appropriate $1.87 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. The Legislature this year has targeted transgender young people with new laws that restrict their ability to play sports or use school bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

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Sen. Joe Manchin has abandoned his push to speed up the permitting process for energy projects. His decision eases the Senate’s path toward passing a stopgap spending bill that would keep the federal government running when the fiscal year ends at midnight Friday and provide more aid to Ukraine.  A procedural vote advancing the effort cleared easily, 72-23, after Democrats announced that Manchin’s proposal would be stripped from the final legislation. While lawmakers are waiting once again until the final moments of the fiscal year to keep the government running, they are confident they will do so.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed more than a dozen laws aiming to make California an abortion sanctuary state. Several of the new laws would clash with restrictions in other states. They would block some out-of-state subpoenas and empower California's insurance commissioner to penalize health insurance companies that divulge information to out-of-state entities. Other states have passed laws allowing people to sue anyone who performs or aids in an abortion. Conflicts seem inevitable as more people travel for abortion services. One law professor says there is a lot of gray area when reconciling conflicting state laws.

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The Arizona Supreme Court says the state utility regulation commission can't prevent a single member from issuing subpoenas to investigate companies the panel oversees. The former commissioner who filed the case, Bob Burns, says Tuesday's decision will prevent others on the panel from uniting to shield utilities from scrutiny. Burns has fought for years to get the state’s largest electric utility to acknowledge that it spent millions to elect two Arizona Corporation Commission members in the 2014 election. Subpoenas he issued in 2016 to Arizona Public Service Co. seeking to prove that it was spending to elect its own regulators were blocked by the four other commissioners. APS later admitted it spent millions on commission races.

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A trial is underway in the federal government's lawsuit aiming to kill a partnership between American Airlines and JetBlue Airways in the Northeast. The government says the deal is, in effect, a merger that will cost consumers $700 million a year in higher fares. But the airlines say the pact — which has been in place for 18 months — is already letting them open new routes that are good for travelers. They say the deal boosts competition by helping American and JetBlue compete with Delta and United, especially in the New York area.

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A federal judge in Iowa has struck down the third attempt in recent years by the Iowa Legislature to stop animal welfare groups from secretly filming livestock abuse, finding once gain that the law passed last year violates free speech rights in the U.S. Constitution. The decision Monday rejected the law approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in April 2021 that makes it a crime to trespass on a property to place a camera to record or transmit images. The law made the first offense punishable by up to two years in prison and subsequent offenses a felony. The case is one of many so-called ag-gag laws that have surfaced in the U.S. in recent years that pit the right of farmers to protect their property from trespassers against animal welfare advocates.

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Biogen has agreed to pay $900 million to resolve allegations that it violated federal law by paying kickbacks to doctors in the form of speakers and consulting fees to persuade them to prescribe its multiple sclerosis drugs. Federal prosecutors in Boston say the agreement announced Monday settles a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former Biogen employee. Under the settlement, Biogen will pay more than $843 million to the federal government and more than $56 million to 15 states for overbilling Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs. Biogen said the settlement is not an admission of liability and believes at all times it acted lawfully.

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There's a little-known practice in the U.S. known as “gooning.” Brawny men show up under the cover of darkness and force a teenager into a vehicle, taking them against their will to a boarding school, foster home or treatment center. The process is typically initiated by parents at their wit’s ends over a child they perceive as troubled. For the kids, it’s the traumatic first leg of a journey to placements that can be hundreds of miles from home. Teens who resist might be handcuffed or blindfolded. One secure transport operator was indicted last month, but criminal charges are rare because the industry is virtually unregulated.

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