Tag Archives: fines

PETA: Fine too low for death of primates at research facility

The federal government fined a private research facility after 13 primates died of hyperthermia in overheated rooms.

Covance Research Products in Alice was fined $31,500 for four violations of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act following the 2014 deaths of the cynomolgus monkeys, said Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Animal rights activists said the fines were too low.

Espinosa said the maximum penalty for a single violation of the law is $10,000, so the maximum fine Covance faced was $40,000.

Two animals died in September 2014, when a thermostat malfunctioned at the facility.

The other deaths were caused by a similar incident about a month later, when a thermostat override switch failed.

The USDA issued a citation to Covance saying that it “failed to protect the health and well-being” of the animals.

The citation also found other primates suffered in July 2014, when they weren’t given water or proper care after being flown into Texas for Covance experiments.

“Covance directed transporters to travel without stopping to the Covance facility, despite being aware that the airline had not provided water as required, that the transport trailers’ air conditioning units were malfunctioning and that at least five nonhuman primates were weak and in distress,” the citation said.

Animal rights activists said the fines were too low.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said Covance was a “brazen violator” of animal welfare laws and that fines “could and should be substantially higher if they are going to deter violations.”

Covance didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The company has said the Alice facility would be manually monitored until it added electronic temperature monitoring and alerts.

The company has headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey, and provides animal testing to aid in the development of drugs for an array of ailments, from heart disease to diabetes.

“Covance takes very seriously our ethical and regulatory responsibilities to treat research animals with the utmost care and respect,” the company said in a statement following the primate deaths.

Research and other facilities face unannounced USDA inspections each year, Espinosa said.

“We make sure they have fixed those areas of noncompliance, absolutely,” she said.

Sharp drop in inspections lets Wisconsin polluters off scot-free

Balancing environmental sustainability and commercial development is not easy. In fact, it’s one of the thorniest issues that elected officials face. New development is critical to the state’s economy, but our natural resources are also vital to the economy, as well as our health and quality of life.

Environmental and commercial interests don’t have to be at odds. Development can — and often is — handled in sustainable ways. Still, in cases in which the two interests cannot be reconciled, the environment must be given primary consideration. Development is generally transient (look at Detroit), but our natural resources are impossible to replace. Just think of the thousands of extinctions that have been caused by habitat loss.

Under Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s Republican leadership, the environment has been under constant attack, even though support for sustainability is strongly bipartisan. The moneyed interests, as represented by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, fossil fuel companies and the real-estate industry, have gradually gained the upper hand since Wisconsin came under one-party rule in 2011.

Instead of abiding by the state’s strong environmental protections, which were created with input from evidence-based science, Wisconsin’s ruling majority overturned them. When scientists at the Department of Natural Resources presented inconvenient truths about the effects of industrial projects, such as mines, on our air and water, Walker got rid of the scientists.

Wisconsin’s Republican leadership also has dramatically reduced enforcement of environmental regulations that continue to exist. They simply took the teeth out of regulations they couldn’t eliminate.

Data reported earlier this spring by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation shows the extent to which this has happened. The federation obtained figures tracking forfeitures the state Justice Department collected between 2006 and 2015 for infractions involving air and water pollution, farm animal waste and hazardous waste.

The data showed that fines for environmental violations were the lowest in 2015 for any year since 1986. Last year’s environmental fines also were 86 percent lower than the 10-year average of nearly $2.2 million a year, and 78 percent lower than the nearly $1.4 million fines in 2014.

Even unofficial “warnings” issued to illegal polluters dropped 55 percent in 2015, from an average of 516 notices per year to just 233.

Walker has said that declines in the number of violations and fines are positive signs that the DNR is working with businesses and the public to avoid environmental problems.

But neither George Meyer, a former longtime DNR secretary, or Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, are buying Walker’s spin. They say it’s not possible that actual environmental violations could have dropped 80–90 percent in just one year.

More likely, Meyer says, there are fewer DNR inspections being carried out due to agency staffing and budget cuts, a lack of follow-up by the DNR on violations that it does discover, and reductions in the prosecutions for environmental violations handled by the state Department of Justice.

WLCV says very few polluters pay penalties, even when they’re caught. Instead, they’re getting off scot-free.

WLVC recently put out a statement stressing its commitment to exposing Walker every time his administration fails to enforce a law meant to protect Wisconsinites, and WiG will continue to highlight his failures. That exposure must prompt us to react by putting pressure on the administration and our state representatives to enforce our air, water and public health laws.

Ultimately, the future of our natural resources depends on us.

Opponents of ‘ag-gag’ law plead case to judge

Animal rights lawyers are asking a federal judge to strike down an Idaho law aiming to stop people from secretly filming animal abuse in the state’s agricultural facilities.

The law’s opponents asked U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill this week for a summary judgment — a fast-tracked way for a judge to rule on a lopsided case without having a full trial.

Justin Marceau from the Animal Legal Defense Fund said the statute — dubbed the “ag gag” law — stifles free speech. 

But Carl Withroe from the Idaho Attorney General’s office said that the law doesn’t hinder whistleblowers. “The statute was designed to protect private property and to protect agricultural operations, not to target journalists or would-be whistleblowers,” Withroe said.

But Marceau argued that the law was actually inspired by animus toward journalists and whistleblowers, citing comments from lawmakers during the debate.

“The state can’t just wave the wand of private property and protect any law it wants,” said Marceau, who is also backed by a coalition of food safety groups and individual rights advocates.

Winmill said he hopes to issue his ruling next week. If he rejects the arguments, the case will likely head to a full trial.

Idaho is one of seven states with ag gag legislation, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Similar litigation — also prompted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund — is currently underway in Utah.

Lawmakers passed the statute last February after a Los Angeles-based vegetarian and animal-rights group called Mercy for Animals released a video showing animal abuse at one of Idaho’s largest dairies. The video of workers at Bettencourt Dairies shows workers stomping, beating, dragging and sexual abusing the cows.

But Idaho’s dairy industry says that the group used its videos to unfairly hurt Bettencourt’s business — not try to stop abuse.

Winmill already denied Idaho’s request to dismiss the lawsuit last September.

“This is really the cutting edge of the interstitial boundaries of First Amendment law,” he said. “The decision here has no politics and has no economic interests. It’s just a question of what the First Amendment means and how it should be applied.”

People convicted under the law face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Union, NFL at odds over personal conduct policy

Saying the NFL is “making things up as they go along,” players’ union chief DeMaurice Smith wants the league and its owners to take disciplining players out of the hands of Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Already at odds over the process used to punish Ray Rice, the dispute heightened this week when the league suspended Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for the rest of the season for using a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son.

The central issue remains the same for both sides: Finding a way to fairly hold players accountable for transgressions that damage the credibility and image of the league and its players. The union wants disciplinary power now held by Goodell to be handled by a neutral arbitrator. The league, so far, doesn’t agree.

And while both the league and the NFL Players Association want to change the personal conduct policy, the sides disagree on how to do it. The union wants to bargain for changes to the policy, while the NFL wants to implement changes with union input the same way it changes rules on the field, like when it moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line. 

Smith told The Associated Press in an email that the league indicated it was open to discussing the policy as recently as two months ago, but didn’t follow through in coming to the table. He said those discussions were distinct from the union representing Peterson in his case, though on a parallel track. 

“There is one fact that does make those things similar though, and that is the NFL is clearly making things up as they go along,” Smith said Tuesday night. “Our goal is to pursue a new personal conduct policy that is fair, transparent and consistent. The only way that happens is if the NFL and the owners commit to collective bargaining.”

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, countered that Goodell’s authority was collectively bargained with the union in 2011, while the personal conduct policy in place nearly 20 years has never been part of contract negotiations.

“The union agreed to the Commissioner maintaining authority to discipline. The league believes it is in the best interest of football to retain that authority,” Vincent said. “The league is following the process dictated by the CBA.”

The union and players helped revise the personal conduct policy in 2007, Vincent said. He said the league has had multiple meetings with the union this year on revising the policy using the same approach.

The rules in place now have some players and agents wondering if the NFL has too much power and whether the union fell short by agreeing to give Goodell central power over discipline in 2011.

Agent Jerrold Colton, who represents four-time All-Pro tackle Jahri Evans of the Saints, Steelers cornerback William Gay and six-time Pro Bowl kicker David Akers, said the union’s failure to negotiate changes to the personal conduct policy in 2011 was a “tremendous oversight.”

“I felt strongly at the time that it was a mistake and clearly it’s turned out to be one for the players the way it’s played out and we’re stuck with it for another six years,” said Colton, who said he thinks the players and league absolutely need an independent, third-party arbitrator. “Due process exists in most places in the United States except in the NFL.”

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell said the personal conduct policy needs more well-defined terms and clear guidelines based on precedent.

“Right now it’s kind of you know, one man has all the power and I don’t know if that’s ever really a good thing. I think Roger does his best to do the best that he can but I know he’s got a lot on his plate that he has to control,” Mitchell said. “I’m not just trying to bash him or come down on him but I think players would feel better if he wasn’t just judge, jury and executioner.”

Peterson pleaded no contest Nov. 4 to misdemeanor reckless assault in Texas for injuries to his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch. He said he intended no harm, only discipline.

Goodell told Peterson he will not be considered for reinstatement before April 15 for his violation of the personal conduct policy — the first example of a crackdown on players involved with domestic violence since stricter rules were put in place earlier this season.  

The union, which announced it plans an appeal on behalf of Peterson, is demanding a neutral arbitrator oversee the hearing in the same way Rice’s case was handled. Rice is waiting for an arbirtrator to decide whether his indefinite suspension should be upheld or overturned. Goodell made Rice’s suspension more severe when video of Rice hitting his then-fiancee was released online.

Goodell has said he hopes to have a new personal conduct policy ready before the Super Bowl.

Vincent said the league’s internal process _ including investigation, consulting independent experts, suspending players with pay and ultimately determining discipline _ has been fair and transparent while following the collective bargaining agreement.

“In reality, those who are most upset with the personal conduct policy are those who violate it,” Vincent said. “The vast majority of players do not come into contact with the discipline process.”

Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick said he disagreed with Peterson’s punishment by the NFL, saying it showed how much scrutiny NFL players face over personal actions.

“It’s great and unfortunate that we’re at the forefront of America showing how to do good and bad. It’s a responsibility placed on us,” he said.

AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Will Graves and Steven Wine contributed to this report.


D.C. votes to decriminalize marijuana

The District of Columbia City Council on March 4 voted to remove criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana in amounts of one ounce or less.

The bill would treat such possession as a civil offense.

It still needs the approval of Mayor Vincent Gray and then Congress.

The council vote was 10 to 1, with one abstention.

“This vote is proof: The people of Washington, DC, are tired of living in a city where a Black person is eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, despite similar rates of use,” said Seema Sadanandan of the ACLU. “This legislation is a victory for racial justice — a crucial step towards eliminating racial profiling in the enforcement of drug laws and the disproportionate punishments suffered by people of color in this city.”

Last year, the ACLU released a report showing the the severe racial disparities in arrests in the district for marijuana possession.

Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said, “With its decriminalization bill, Washington, D.C., joins the ever-growing number of cities and states enacting marijuana reform. We look forward to the day when the whole country has rejected marijuana prohibition and the unfair burdens it places on people of color.”

The bill, titled the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014, would allow police to fine a person $25 for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, while also requiring forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia connected to personal consumption or transport.

California’s anti-gay Prop 8 proponents facing fines

California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 campaign committee is facing $49,000 in fines for its handling and reporting of political contributions.

The enforcement staff of the California Fair Political Practices Commission has proposed the fines on 18 counts against ProtectMarriage.com – Yes on 8.

The Los Angeles Times says the committee failed to properly file public reports disclosing late contributions and contributions of more than $5,000. The committee also failed to properly disclose an anonymous $10,000 contribution.

The Fair Political Practices Commission will consider the enforcement staff recommendation on Aug. 16.

The committee has agreed to the violations and fines.

Proposition 8, passed by voters in 2008, amends the state constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman. It was struck down by a federal appeals court.