Tag Archives: policies

HRC rates companies for LGBT inclusion, 9 in Wisconsin get perfect scores

An annual report assessing LGBT inclusion in major companies and law firms across the nation gives high marks to a record 517 businesses, including some headquartered in Wisconsin.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual Corporate Equality Index examines corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality and found 517 businesses — spanning nearly every industry and geography — earned a top score of 100 percent and the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

HRC, in a news release, said that record number of perfect scores was achieved despite “demanding new criteria requiring that companies with global operations extend non-discrimination protections for their LGBT workers worldwide.”

In total, 887 companies were officially rated in the CEI, up from 851 in last year’s. The report also unofficially rated 156 Fortune 500 companies, which have yet to respond to the CEI survey about their LGBTQ policies and practices.

The average score for companies and law firms based in Wisconsin is 85 percent.

Of the 16 companies ranked in the state, nine earned 100 percent and 12 earned 90 percent and above.

“Even in the face of relentless attempts to undermine equality, America’s leading companies and law firms remain steadfast and committed to supporting and defending the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “The unprecedented expansion of inclusive workplaces across the country and around the globe not only reflects our progress, it helps drive it.  As we enter a new chapter in our fight for equality, support from the business community will be more critical than ever to protect our historic advancements over the last decade and to continue to push equality forward for workers, customers, and families around the world.”

Here’s a look at the Wisconsin rankings:

Employer Name City State 2017 CEI Score
ManpowerGroup Milwaukee WI 100
American Family Insurance Group Madison WI 100
CUNA Mutual Group Madison WI 100
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Milwaukee WI 100
Foley & Lardner LLP Milwaukee WI 100
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP Milwaukee WI 100
Quarles & Brady LLP Milwaukee WI 100
Rockwell Automation Inc. Milwaukee WI 100
S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. Racine WI 100
Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated Milwaukee WI 95
Kohl’s Corp. Menomonee Falls WI 95
Alliant Energy Corp. Madison WI 90
WEC Energy Group Milwaukee WI 75
Johnson Controls Inc. Milwaukee WI 75
Oshkosh Corp. Oshkosh WI 20
Harley-Davidson Inc. Milwaukee WI 10

 

And here’s some key national findings in the report:

  • 517 companies earned a 100 percent in the 2017 CEI, up from 407 in the 2016 report.
  • 647 companies participating in this year’s CEI now offer transgender workers at least one health care plan that has transgender-inclusive coverage. That’s a 314 percent increase since 2012, when the CEI first included trans-inclusive health care as a requisite for companies to receive a perfect score;
  • Gender identity is now part of non-discrimination policies at 82 percent of Fortune 500 companies, up from just 3 percent in 2002;
  •  387 major employers have adopted supportive inclusion guidelines for transgender workers who are transitioning.
  • 156 Fortune 500 companies were given unofficial scores based on publicly available information.

The CEI rates companies and top law firms on detailed criteria falling under five broad categories:

  1. Non-discrimination policies
  2. Employment benefits
  3. Demonstrated organizational competency and accountability around LGBT diversity and inclusion
  4. Public commitment to LGBT equality
  5. Responsible citizenship

Survey: Major U.S. food retailers flunk out on pesticide test

Of the top U.S. food retailers, 17 have received an “F” for failing to have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators.

Aldi, Costco (COST) and Whole Foods (WFM) received passing grades in this category, according to a report and scorecard released this week that looks at policies and practices regarding pollinator protection, organic offerings and pesticide reduction.

“U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth environmental group. “The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet.”

The report, “Swarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food,” comes amid consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies.

A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations sent a letter urging food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase USDA certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers.

This effort follows a campaign that convinced more than 65 garden retailers, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, to commit to eliminate bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bees and other pollinators are essential for one in three bites of food consumed in the United States. Without pollinators, grocery stores would run short of strawberries, almonds, apples, broccoli and more.

A growing body of science points to the world’s most widely-used insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading factor in pollinator declines, and glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide worldwide, as a key culprit in monarch butterfly declines.

New data from a YouGov Poll released today by Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs found that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture.

Among Americans who grocery shop for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids.

The poll also revealed that 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food, and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store.

“Over 750,000 SumOfUs members have spoken out advocating that U.S. Hardware stores take action to protect our pollinators. And after years of pressure, Home Depot and Lowe’s have finally enacted more bee-friendly policies,” said Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog group. “And the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores too. This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately.”

The report found that while consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to show double-digit growth only four of the top food retailers — Albertsons, Costco, Target (TGT) and Whole Foods — have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food  or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion, part of the Delhaize Group (DEG) and Kroger (KR) disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

None of the retailers have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.

“To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture,” said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production — farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic.”

Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were predominately unresponsive to requests for information via surveys, calls and letters.

Primary sources of information for this scorecard include publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, SEC filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage and industry analyses.

On the Web

The reportSwarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food, survey results, tips for consumers and letters to retailers can be found at www.foe.org/beeaction.

Frustration runs deep for those forced to routinely change health plans

Andrea Schankman’s three-year relationship with her insurer, Coventry Health Care of Missouri, has been contentious, with disputes over what treatments it would pay for. Nonetheless, like other Missourians, Schankman was unnerved to receive a notice from Coventry last month informing her that her policy was not being offered in 2017.

With her specialists spread across different health systems in St. Louis, Schankman, a 64-year-old art consultant and interior designer, said she fears she may not be able to keep them all, given the shrinking offerings on Missouri’s health insurance marketplace. In addition to Aetna, which owns Coventry, paring back its policies, UnitedHealthcare is abandoning the market. The doctor and hospital networks for the remaining insurers will not be revealed until the enrollment period for people buying individual insurance begins Nov. 1.

“We’re all sitting waiting to see what they’re going to offer,” said Schankman, who lives in the village of Westwood. “A lot of [insurance] companies are just gone. It’s such a rush-rush-rush no one can possibly know they’re getting the right policy for themselves.”

Doctor and hospital switching has become a recurring scramble as consumers on the individual market find it difficult or impossible to stay on their same plans amid rising premiums and a revolving door of carriers willing to sell policies. The instability, which preceded the health law, is intensifying in the fourth year of the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces for people buying insurance directly instead of through an employer.

“In 2017, just because of all the carrier exits, there are going to be more people making involuntary changes,” said Katherine Hempstead, a senior adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a New Jersey philanthropy. “I would imagine all things being equal, more people are going to be disappointed this year versus last year.”

Forty-three percent of returning consumers to the federal government’s online exchange, healthcare.gov, switched policies last year. Some were forced to when insurers stopped offering their plans while others sought out cheaper policies. In doing so, consumers saved an average of $42 a month on premiums, according to the government’s analysis. But avoiding higher premiums has cost many patients their choice of doctors.

Jim Berry, who runs an internet directory of accountants with his wife, switched last year from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia to Humana after Blue Cross proposed a 16 percent premium hike.

Despite paying Humana $1,141 in premiums for the couple, Berry, who lives in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta, said they were unable to find a doctor in the network taking new patients. They ended up signing up with a concierge practice that accepts their insurance but also charges them a $2,700 annual membership, a fee he pays out of pocket. Nonetheless, he said he has been satisfied with the policy.

But last month Humana, which is withdrawing from 88 percent of the counties it sold plans in this year, told Berry his policy was not continuing, and he is unsure what choices he will have and how much more they will cost.

“It’s not like if I don’t want to buy Humana or Blue Cross, I have five other people competing for my business,” Berry said. “It just seems like it’s a lot of money every year for what is just basic insurance, basic health care. I understand what you’re paying for is the unknown — that heart attack or stroke — but I don’t know where the break point is.”

To be sure, the same economic forces — cancelled policies, higher premiums and restrictive networks — have been agitating the markets for employer-provided insurance for years. But there is more scrutiny on the individual market, born of the turmoil of the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Patrick Romano, a professor of medicine at the UC Davis Health System in Sacramento, Calif., said the topic has been coming up in focus groups he has been convening about the state insurance marketplace, Covered California. Switching doctors, he said, “is a disruption and can lead to interruptions in medications.”

“Some of it is unintentional because people can have delays getting in” to see their new doctor, he said. “Some of it may be because the new physician isn’t comfortable with the medication the previous physician prescribed.”

Dr. John Meigs, an Alabama physician and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said that whatever the source of insurance, changing doctors disrupts the trust a patient has built with a physician and the knowledge a doctor has about how each patient responds to illnesses. “Not everything is captured in a health record” that can be passed to the next doctor, Meigs said.

There is little research about whether switching doctors leads to worse outcomes, said Dr. Thomas Yackel, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. In some cases, he said, it can offer unexpected benefits: “Having a fresh set of eyes on you as a patient, is that really always a bad thing?”

With the shake-up in the insurance market, access to some top medical systems may be further limited. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, which has included the elite Vanderbilt University Medical Center in its network, is pulling out of the individual marketplace in the state’s three largest metro areas: Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville. Bobby Huffaker, CEO of American Exchange, an insurance firm in Tennessee, said so far, no other carrier includes Vanderbilt in its network in the individual market.

In St. Louis, Emily Bremer, an insurance broker, said only two insurers will be offering plans next year through healthcare.gov. Cigna’s network includes BJC HealthCare and an affiliated physicians’ group, while Anthem provides access to other major hospital systems, including Mercy, but excludes BJC and its preeminent academic medical center Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

“These networks have little or no overlap,” she said. “It means severing a lot of old relationships. I have clients who have doctors across multiple networks who are freaking out.”

Aetna said it will still offer policies off the healthcare.gov exchange. Those are harder to afford as the federal government does not provide subsidies, and Aetna has not revealed what its networks will be. In an email, an Aetna spokesman said the insurer was offering those policies to preserve its option to return to the exchanges in future years; if Aetna had completely stopped selling individual policies, it would be banned from the market for five years under federal rules.

Even before St. Louis’ insurance options shrunk, Bremer said she had to put members of some families on separate policies in order for everyone to keep their physicians. That can cost the families more, because their combined deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket payments can be higher than for a single policy, she said.

“Every year our plan disappears,” said Kurt Whaley, a 49-year-old draftsman in O’Fallon, Mo., near St. Louis. After one change, he said, “I got to keep my primary care physician, but my kids lost their doctors. I had to change doctors for my wife. It took away some of the hospitals we could get into.”

Brad Morrison, a retired warehouse manager in Quincy, Ill., said he has stuck with Coventry despite premium increases — he now pays $709 a month, up from $474 — because the policy has been the cheapest that would let him keep his doctor. “That’s the one thing I insisted on,” he said. “I love the guy.”

With Coventry leaving the Illinois exchanges, Morrison is unsure whether his alternatives will include his physician. His bright spot is that he turns 65 next spring. “I’m trying to hold out until I get to Medicare,” he said.

This report originally appeared in Money. It was made available by Kaiser Health News through a Creative Commons license. KHN is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Horse slaughter controversy still rages

A roadside memorial south of Balmorhea, Texas, includes a metal sculpture of a horse in jaunty pose, a rusty cutout of a dozen steeds in full gallop and an old ranch saddle astride a cottonwood log. Visitors have left more than 100 cards on the fence, each with the same poignant message: “Dedicated to all the slaughter-bound horses, burros and mules that have been hauled down this highway on their last ride.”

Their ride down Texas 17 in crowded stock trailers includes a stop at the stockyards in Presidio, where they are weighed and inspected before continuing south into Mexico.

“Their nightmare journey begins when they enter the slaughter pipeline at the auction house. My ultimate goal would be to keep them all out of those ‘kill-buyer’ trailers,” said Neta Rhyne, 65, of nearby Toyahvale, who erected the memorial last year.

Nearly a decade after the last three horse slaughterhouses closed in the United States — including two in Texas — the trafficking of American horses for slaughter continues and the controversy burns as fiercely as ever.

In 2014, it flared anew when a legislative loophole prompted efforts to open slaughter operations in Oklahoma, New Mexico and elsewhere. That opening since has closed, leaving foreign slaughter the only option.

Since 2007, almost a million American horses have been sent to Mexico and Canada to be killed, butchered and exported to Europe and Asia, where local palettes find the meat a delicacy. A small amount of meat is returned to the U.S. to feed zoo animals.

Last year, the U.S. exported almost 75,000 slaughter horses to Mexico, through Presidio, Eagle Pass, El Paso and New Mexico, and another 40,000 to Canada.

But in the land of Trigger, Black Beauty and My Little Pony, there is a deep aversion to killing and eating what many consider a national cultural icon.

“Public opinion is on the side of the horses,” said Holly Gann of the Humane Society of the United States. “National polling in 2012 showed that 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter for human consumption.”

Opponents, some of whom see the horse as a noble, companion animal, claim the practice of shipping them long distances, with little state or federal oversight, often involves abuse and neglect.

Others, however, say that the roughly 130,000 or more horses exported each year represent an unwanted domestic surplus, and that slaughter, even in Mexico where it can be less than humane, is better than neglect and abandonment at home.

Many of the horses acquired at auctions and shipped by “kill buyers” are young and in good health. And with horse rescue groups already overloaded, there is no obvious way to absorb more unwanted animals.

Repeated legislative attempts to halt the practice have failed since 2006, when the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act was first introduced.

A bill pending in Washington takes a different approach. HR 1942 would declare horse meat unsafe for human consumption because of drugs given to the animals, and also prohibit transportation of horses for human consumption.

If passed, the bill, now lingering in committee, would end horse slaughter.

But for some animal welfare groups already struggling with too many unwanted horses, the prospect of 100,000 or more new animals materializing, year after year, is alarming.

“It’s a terrifying question from a horse rescue person’s perspective. I don’t know what would happen. We would be flooded and we’re already flooded,” said Jennifer Williams, president of Blue Bonnet Equine Humane Society in Austin.

“I think over the course of 10 to 15 years, maybe fewer, it would stabilize. People would realize they don’t have a low-end option to dump all the foals they breed that have no purpose, but that would take time. Horses can live 25 to 30 years,” she said.

For tens of thousands of horses a year, the dusty stockyards east of Presidio, an isolated border city south of Marfa, are the last stop on the way to slaughterhouses in Ciudad Chihuahua and Zacatecas, Mexico.

For most horses, the layover in Presidio is brief: After being inspected by Mexican veterinarians and weighed, they’re reloaded on trailers and sent south on the final leg of the ride.

On a recent morning, about 170 newly arrived horses waited in the pens at the Baeza Cattle and J&R Horse lots, nibbling hay and oat straw.

To the untrained eye, almost all appeared in good health, with only a handful showing signs of aging, neglect or minor injury.

In the subsequent inspections by veterinarians, only one horse was rejected, lot operators said.

“The most common reason for rejection is wounds. The second is ticks. If they can’t walk or are sick, they are rejected,” said Dr. Fernando Trujillo, one of three veterinarians who inspected horses that day at the two lots.

Other horses, Trujillo said, can be turned back because of irregularities in the paperwork and their microchip information.

“Overall, the quality of the horses has improved over the last five years,” he noted.

Horses rejected by Mexican inspectors must stay behind in Texas, and, having suddenly lost most of their commercial value, can be returned to their owners or face a still more uncertain fate.

Five years ago, 46 carcasses were found in a creek bed behind C4 Cattle Co., which went defunct. The illegal dumping prompted an investigation by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, although no citations were issued.

Earlier that year, an animal welfare group complained about hundreds of starving horses and cattle in the Alvarado pens.

The county sheriff concluded the animal cruelty claims were unfounded but sequestered 300 hungry horses until their owners could claim them.

This spring, as first reported in the Big Bend Sentinel, Presidio was forced to confront an extraordinary surge of large animal carcasses being brought to its municipal landfill.

In 2012, city officials say, 12.5 tons of dead horses and donkeys were disposed of there. Over the next three years, 330 tons of carcasses — representing about 1,000 dead animals — were dumped, almost all by the exporters.

City officials said the longstanding charge of $22.50 a carcass is much too low and that the life expectancy of the small landfill is being shortened by the flood of large dead animals.

“Very few other places have this problem. It was really created by the USDA stopping the butchering of horses in the United States. So that forced them down here on the border,” said Brad Newton, Presidio’s economic development director.

Each dead horse, he said, requires a large hole and 3 feet of dirt cover, while normal trash needs only 6 inches. The space taken up by each dead horse could hold $200 worth of compacted trash.

“I guess the people who were trying to protect the horses actually made things worse for them. These are not Presidio horses, we’re just the end of the trail,” he said.

After much haggling with the horse pen operators, the City Council last month approved an increase in the dumping charge to $60 for the first eight horses delivered each month, and $70 each for all beyond that.

The reason for the dramatic 10-fold increase in dead animals in Presidio remains unclear.

Ruben Brito, who runs the J&R Horse pens east of town, which in November alone dumped 75 animals, attributed the sharp rise to normal attrition during a period of very high volume.

In November, J&R shipped 110 loads of horses — representing about 3,300 animals — to Mexico. All told, J&R disposed of more than 400 dead horses and donkeys in 2015, according to city figures.

“I have been accused of being a horse-killer,” said Brito, who has had confrontations with animal protection people on his lot. “The thing that bugs me is they accuse me of all kinds of things, but it’s all just a game to get people to send more money.”

He said the horses end up in Presidio because they’re apparently unwanted elsewhere.

“What are you going to do with these horses here?” he asked.

Pointing to a large black and white paint leaning curiously over the pen fence, he noted: “This mare has never been ridden. Look at its shoes. It’s gentle but it’s not broken, and its never been bred. Who is gonna buy this horse?”

Motioning to another, a stout gelding with numbers branded into its hip, he said, “That’s a rodeo horse, but if you don’t buck, what then? It’s like everything else.”

And because the nearest veterinarian is an hour and a half away, if an injured horse must be euthanized, it gets a bullet in the head, a practice some others have found shocking, he noted.

“We’ve got too much regulation, too many goody-goodies. You can’t be a rancher without having a lawyer by your side,” he complained.

The other currently active operation, Baeza Cattle, is far smaller and disposed of only about 50 animals last year, the city’s figures show.

“If a horse is broke down, if it can’t make it into the truck, you have to put it out of its misery,” said Salvador Baeza, most of whose business is importing cattle from Mexico.

“I’m not in the horse business. I never buy horses. I never own horses,” he said, adding he merely provides a temporary way-station at a charge of $6.50 a horse.

“Our suppliers send us good horses. Do you see horses that have been mistreated?” Baeza asked. “Anytime you put horses in a trailer they can get hurt.”

Brito said that lately, the horse traffic to Mexico has slumped significantly.

“We were doing 15 to 20 loads a week, but now were down to seven or eight. It’s the devaluation of the peso,” he said.

Last year, the number of horses exported to Mexico dropped by about 20,000 to just under 75,000. This year, the pace of exports is even slower, with only about 25,500 horses exported through May.

One reason for the slowdown was a move last year by the European Union to stop accepting horse meat from Mexico. It acted over fears of drug contamination and claims by activists of cruelty and neglect.

The decision came after a welfare group called Animals’ Angels, which regularly does on-the-scene investigations of the trade, from the auction to the slaughterhouse in Mexico, shared its findings with the Europeans.

Its reports, which sometimes include graphic photos of badly injured, starving or abused animals, include accounts of visits made to the border stock pens.

“The Presidio slaughter horse export pens in Texas have a long, sordid history of violating environmental laws, illegal carcass dumping and animal cruelty,” Animals’ Angels wrote in one recent assessment.

In late 2014, Animals Angels’ submitted a thick report to the European Union detailing abuses and possible contamination by pharmaceuticals of horse meat processed in Mexico.

“We flew to Brussels and I met with the European Commission myself,” said Sonja Meadows, founder of the Maryland-based group.

“We showed a video of our findings for the past seven years. We gave them a 100-page report highlighting the transport issue and the food-safety issue,” she said. “I could see they were truly appalled and surprised at the amount of cruelty they saw. I think it kind of caught them by surprise.”

In early 2015, the EU, which had also sent its own inspectors to Mexico and the U.S., including to the stock pens in Presidio, imposed a ban on horse meat from Mexico.

Noting that 87 percent of the Mexican horse meat came from U.S. horses, the final report cited “animal welfare problems” and a lack of confidence in the system designed to ensure the animals have a clean drug history.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not take responsibility for the reliability of affidavits issued for horses originating in the US, and the FVO audit team found very many affidavits which were invalid or of questionable validity,” read the report.

Where Europe had regularly imported most of the horse meat produced in Mexico, that market has vanished. Now, Mexican horse meat is believed to be going elsewhere, and consumed domestically.

“We have found they have shifted to the Russian market, and some to Vietnam,” Meadows said.

Despite its nearly 200 co-sponsors, and fervent support from the Humane Society, ASPCA and other animal welfare groups, HR 1942, the so-called Safeguard American Food Exports Act, appears mired in the political mud of Washington.

Nevertheless, ASPCA vice president Nancy Perry said, the bill has brought progress in the public and political realms on the underlying issue.

“The administration has been overtly supportive of a ban on horse slaughter. (Hillary) Clinton has an animal welfare platform that includes a prohibition on horse slaughter. It just hasn’t been part of the dialogue at that level before,” she said.

And, she said, the ASPCA is convinced that millions of Americans would adopt horses if they were no longer being exported for the benefit of the horse industry.

“Yes there would be disarray and chaos, but the horses would be better off. If we quit incentivizing overbreeding and discarding horses, the market would adjust to the circumstances,” she added.

But some groups that oppose the bill believe it would create bigger problems.

“It’s strictly an animal welfare issue for us,” said Ward Stutz of the American Quarter Horse Association, which, along with the Farm Bureau of America and others opposes HR 1942.

“What do you do with all those horses if that act should pass? I just think the potential for abandonment and neglect is much greater,” Stutz said.

Things probably were better for horses before the closures of the domestic slaughter plants effectively ended oversight by USDA inspectors of the industry, he said.

“For both sides, the humane treatment of horses is paramount. It’s just that some don’t agree that a horse should be euthanized and processed for food,” he added.

Even the American Veterinary Medical Association opposes a legislative ban on horse slaughter without adding protections for the surplus, unwanted horses.

An operator of a North Texas horse auction, who has been involved in the business for 30 years and has sold thousands of horses to the “kill buyers,” says the current impasse will likely continue.

“I think nothing is going to change about this situation. There are people who want horse plants back in the States. That is not going to happen,” he said. “There are people who want to stop the horses from going to Mexico and Canada. That is not going to happen.”

The auctioneer, who asked that his name not be used or business be identified, said the issue has become an untouchable third rail for politicians.

“It’s too controversial. No one will vote for it. No one will vote against it. It doesn’t matter which way they go, people are going to be upset. So, these bills will continue to lay there,” he said of pending legislation.

The closing of the U.S. slaughterhouses in 2007, the economic crash of 2008, and the multiyear drought that followed all have conspired to force the price of horses to record lows, he said.

“They went from about 60 cents a pound to about 20 cents a pound. Now we are running into a shortage of horses. We are lower than anytime in 15 years,” he added of market bottom horses.

Mostly, he said, he just wishes the whole thorny issue, which is bad for business, would just go away.

“We need this deal to quiet down as much as possible. There’s a lot of rescue people who come and buy horses, and we’re OK with that. Anyone is welcome. We sell to the highest bidder and we want the highest prices possible,” he added.

Federal oil, gas leases stall over sage grouse concerns

Concerns over the greater sage grouse, a bird that ranges across the American West, continue to delay federal oil and gas lease sales, five months after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell proclaimed the Obama administration had found a way to balance drilling and conservation.

The Interior Department said it will defer the sale of almost 60,000 acres of leases that were nominated by companies in eastern Montana as the agency works on new policies for greater sage grouse.

More than 8 million acres of leases previously were deferred in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. It remains unclear when those will be freed up for sales or removed from consideration.

Jewell said in September that Endangered Species Act protections were not needed for the grouse, a chicken-sized bird that inhabits sage brush ecosystems spread across 11 Western states. Grouse numbers declined significantly over the past several decades because of the loss of habitat.

Officials said the decision to forgo protections avoided the need for draconian restrictions on drilling, livestock grazing and other activities that help drive the region’s economy.

It followed a sweeping overhaul of federal public land management plans to limit drilling near grouse breeding areas and allowing oil and gas exploration to proceed elsewhere.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management still is crafting policies to put those plans into effect, agency spokesman Al Nash said. Completion of that work is several months away, he said.

A lawsuit challenging the plans as too weak is pending in U.S. District Court in Idaho. Environmental groups behind the lawsuit contend the land plans are riddled with loopholes that could further drive down the bird’s numbers.

Erik Molvar with WildEarth Guardians said the block on new leases over the past several years — coupled with low oil and gas prices — was doing more to protect grouse than any other factor.

But state officials who applauded Jewell’s September announcement said there’s no need to delay any longer on those sales.

“Leasing falls short of development,” said Tim Baker, natural resources adviser to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat. He added that any concerns could be addressed before drilling occurs, by adding conditions to leases before they are issued.

Montana Petroleum Association executive director Alan Olson said the lease deferrals represent “more excuses” to block development on public lands.

The Bureau of Land Management was moving forward with plans to sell leases on as many as 93 parcels totaling almost 20,100 acres during an Oct. 18 auction. Those are outside sage brush habitat, but had been deferred until the land management plans were completed, Nash said.

“Each respective plan talks at great length about the need for us to address concerns about the habitat,” he said. “But the guidance we’re going to get goes into detail on how we move forward.”

LGBT buying for ‘equality’ index delivered for Black Friday

Just in time for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, the Human Rights Campaign released its consumer guide to hundreds of American companies rated on their LGBT-inclusive policies and practices.

The Buying for Workplace Equality guide, first issued more than a decade ago, provides consumer information based on company scores reported in HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index, as well as HRC-researched data on additional well-known companies and their brands.

Through the CEI, the HRC Foundation proactively rates Fortune 500 companies and top law firms on LGBT-inclusive workplace policies and practices, and urges smaller companies to also participate. This year, new CEI criteria required that all participating  companies extend explicit LGBT non-discrimination protections to their employees worldwide.  

“Our annual Buying for Workplace Equality guide provides quick, user-friendly help in selecting everything from groceries to cars with LGBT equality in mind,” said Deena Fidas, director of HRC Foundation’s workplace equality program. “With the LGBT community’s buying power in the U.S. edging close to $900 billion, it just makes good business sense to embrace LGBT workplace inclusion.  Every year we hear from members of  the LGBT community and many other fair-minded consumers who want to choose brands that align with their priorities of workplace fairness. They check the buyer’s guide to ensure that their dollars go to businesses that support equality.”

The guide sorts businesses by sectors, assigning them a score ranging from zero to 100 based on LGBT workplace equality, as measured by the CEI and HRC-researched data.

The categories include:

  • Apparel & Accessories
  • Banking & Finance
  • Food & Beverage
  • Home & Garden
  • Restaurants
  • Technology

Businesses and their products are divided based on their rating into red, yellow and green categories so that consumers can easily determine which brands support LGBT workplace equality:

  • Green (80-100): Businesses/brands with the highest workplace equality scores.
  • Yellow (46-79): Businesses/brands that have taken steps toward a fair-minded workplace and receive a moderate workplace equality score.
  • Red (0-45): Businesses/brands that receive our lowest workplace equality scores

The new guide includes more than 570 companies — 449 of those are rated in the CEI and an additional 121 have been independently researched by the HRC Foundation. A total of 5,496 affiliated businesses and brands are featured in this year’s report. Companies independently researched have declined invitations to actively participate in the CEI; their scores are based on publicly-verifiable information.

Prep for tonight’s Democratic debate? | A background guide

The Democrats’ debate lineup is down to a tidy trio, now that two of their presidential candidates have quit the race.

That should make it easier to keep the debaters straight: the woman, the socialist and … who’s that other guy? Oh yeah, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. 

The new math gives O’Malley, barely registering in polls so far, better odds of getting noticed Saturday night in this second go-round for Democrats.

A guide to the personalities taking the stage in Des Moines, Iowa, for the CBS broadcast.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON

Key features: Nearly everybody recognizes her. She’s the only candidate who’s lived in the White House already, as first lady.

A quick sketch:

_ Daughter of a fabric store owner and a homemaker living in the Chicago suburbs.

_ Met her future husband and future president, Bill Clinton, at Yale Law School.

_ After serving as first lady of Arkansas and then of the U.S., elected to Senate from New York.

_ Early Democratic front-runner in 2008, lost presidential nomination to Barack Obama.

_ Both praised and criticized in four years as Obama’s secretary of state.

Also of note:

Clinton has hung onto her front-runner status in the party despite congressional investigations into her use of a private email server as secretary of state and the fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, on her watch. She’s also faced questions about big donations from foreigners accepted by the Clinton family’s charitable foundation.

Might Clinton be for you?

Perhaps yes, if you prefer a Democrat who has a more aggressive foreign policy than Obama.

Perhaps no, if you want a president who comes into office untarnished by congressional probes. 

Some other distinguishing issues:

_ Make public universities affordable and community colleges tuition-free.

_ Tighten gun laws by expanding background checks and allowing lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

_ Opposes an Obama initiative that she once supported: the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

In a nutshell:

Early favorite. Second-timer. Establishment.

BERNIE SANDERS

Key features: He’s an independent senator from Vermont who calls himself a Scandinavian-style democratic socialist.

A quick sketch:

_ Son of a Polish immigrant father; raised in Brooklyn with the accent to prove it.

_ A student civil rights activist at the University of Chicago in the `60s.

_ Unseated the Democratic mayor of Burlington, Vermont, by 10 votes in 1981.

_ Elected to U.S. House in 1990; Congress’ longest-serving independent.

_ Early and vocal opponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Also of note:

Sanders is running for the Democratic nomination, but he’s never been a Democrat. He represented an anti-war third party in four unsuccessful races for office in Vermont in the 1970s. He was elected Burlington mayor as an independent. He caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, but he’s called both the Democratic and Republican parties tools of the wealthy.

Might Sanders be for you?

Perhaps yes, if you want a president to tackle income inequality as “the great moral issue of our time.”

Perhaps no, if you want government to get smaller, not bigger.

Some other distinguishing issues:

_ Create a “Medicare for all” single-payer universal health care program.

_ Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

_ Make tuition free at public colleges and universities.

In a nutshell:

Socialist. Populist. Politically independent.

MARTIN O’MALLEY

Key features: He’s a former Maryland governor who champions data-driven leadership — and sings, too.

A quick sketch:

_ Father was a suburban D.C. lawyer; mother’s been a congressional staffer for nearly three decades.

_ Met his wife while they were University of Maryland law students.

_ Elected Baltimore mayor at age 36, he took a statistics-heavy approach to reducing crime.

_ During two terms as governor, ending in January, he signed laws legalizing gay marriage, repealing the death penalty.

_ The longtime frontman of a Celtic rock band, he sometimes sings and plays guitar at campaign events.

Also of note:

One of the achievements O’Malley boasts about — dramatically reducing Baltimore’s high crime rate as mayor — is getting new scrutiny in a time of national Black Lives Matter protests. Critics contend that O’Malley’s zero-tolerance anti-crime policies fostered a culture of harassment and abuse of black citizens that they blame for the death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody in April.

Might O’Malley be for you?

Perhaps yes, if you want to shield people in the country without legal documents from deportation until immigration law is overhauled.

Perhaps no, if you dislike his history of raising taxes.

Some other distinguishing issues:

_ Increase Social Security benefits for seniors by raising payroll taxes on high earners.

_ Toughen gun laws, including requiring a background check with fingerprints for every gun sale.

_ Tighten banking rules and break up big banks to end potential for bailouts.

In a nutshell:

Policy wonk. Liberal. Young voter strategy.

On the Web…

For details on how to watch the debate, go to CBS News. 

Illinois House approves statewide rules for police body cameras

Illinois could soon establish statewide rules for the use of police body cameras, but the proposed legislation would not require officers to have the devices.

A package of police reforms passed the Illinois House on May 28 with a 107-3 vote and was headed back to a Senate committee.

Supporters of the bipartisan package say it is designed to help improve relations between police departments and the community.

Many of the ideas in it came in response to killings by police in Ferguson, Missouri., and elsewhere. Backers of the Illinois measure said the state would be the first in the country to implement statewide rules for police body cameras.

However, the cameras aren’t seen by all as a magic solution for solving difficulties between law enforcement and the public.

“These cameras will not be the panacea that many people think they will,” said Sean Smoot, director of the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois. “They’re not going to be the Pandora’s box that officers fear.”

Smoot serves on President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which recently released a report featuring several recommendations that were incorporated into the Illinois measure.

The body cameras run all the time, but officers have to push a button to start recording. Videos would not be subject to viewing by the public except in notable cases, according to the measure, which also mandates how long the videos would be kept and when the camera needs to be turned on or off.

The proposal also prohibits police from using chokeholds, except when deadly force is justified.

Last year, a grand jury decided not to indict a New York City officer who used a prohibited chokehold in the death of Eric Garner.

Other reforms include requiring independent review of officer-involved deaths and annual training for officers. It also clarifies the state’s eavesdropping law.

Milwaukee committee to discuss body cameras for police

The Milwaukee Public Safety Committee may take up the issue of body-worn cameras for the Milwaukee Police Department and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is weighing in on the issue.

The city committee could consider the issue as early as Oct. 2.

In mid-September, Police Chief Edward Flynn indicated that MPD wanted to move forward with a pilot program to test body cameras, with the use of 50 cameras. Flynn, according to an ACLU announcement, suggested that policies “would be rolled out over time.”

In a letter this week to Ald. Terry L. Witkowski, ACLU of Wisconsin executive director Christopher Ahmuty said such equipment, when used properly, has a role in increasing police accountability.

However, Ahmuty said, the civil liberties group has two suggestions for city officials:

• MPD should be encouraged to develop protocols for the pilot program and for standard operating procedures that take into account “serious privacy considerations affecting both police officers and subjects. Privacy can be protected without significantly diminishing the potential body-worn cameras hold for enhancing police accountability.”

• The MPD should conduct its pilot program in “a timely fashion and move to deploy more than 50 body-worn cameras (and adequately train substantial numbers of officers in their use) within a year. The pilot should determine which system, cameras and policies best suit the MPD and emerging best practices.”

Ahmuty added, “In my opinion, the MPD is budgeting too much for data storage. The ACLU-WI will urge the Finance and Personnel Committee to move more funds from data storage to body-worn cameras.”

The letter continued, “Robust police accountability improves police community relations. Good police community relations are essential if we are to work together to make our neighborhoods safe. Body-worn cameras should be used to enhance police accountability. They must not be used for surveillance. The data collected by body-worn cameras (and MDVRs as well) should not be used alone or matched with other databases for forensic purposes unless there is a warrant. It should also not be analyzed in a way that impinges on the First Amendment, associational and free speech, rights of law abiding Americans, such as anti-abortion demonstrators, politicians, or demonstrators protesting police misconduct. 

“The ACLU-WI believes that body-worn cameras have an important role to play in increasing police accountability. However, as with any law enforcement technology, we cannot let human values and civil liberties become subservient to the technology. We should put the technology to work for us. You and your committee have an important oversight role to play. We urge you to thoroughly review this complicated issue to make sure that the residents of Milwaukee will benefit from this expenditure.”

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Federal court blocks enforcement of Louisiana anti-abortion law

A Louisiana state law intended to close abortion clinics across the state will not be enforced on Sept. 1, according to a federal district court ruling issued over the weekend.

Louisiana health care providers filed a suit in federal district court in Baton Rouge last week seeking an immediate injunction against House Bill 388, which requires a doctor who provides abortion care to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. With the federal decision, physicians providing abortion services will not be forced to comply with the law if they are in the process of applying for hospital admitting privileges.

Admitting privileges requirements were pushed around the country, including in Wisconsin, by anti-choice politicians. Yet, studies show that admitting privileges provide no increased benefits for the fewer than 1 percent of abortion patients who experience complications. Also, privileges can often be impossible to obtain due to individual hospital policies or biases toward abortion providers for reasons not related to the doctors’ qualifications.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the federal ruling “ensures Louisiana women are safe from an underhanded law that seeks to strip them of their health and rights. Politicians cannot be given free rein to lie about their motives without recourse, and expect women and their families to pay the consequences.”

She continued, “As the flimsy façade of these laws grows thinner by the day, we continue to look to the courts to uphold the Constitution and protect access to safe and legal abortion for all women regardless of where they happen to live.”

Ilene Jaroslaw of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Demme Doufekias of Morrison & Foerster and William E. Rittenberg of Rittenberg, Samuel, and Phillips, LLC represent Hope Medical Group for Women, Causeway Medical Clinic and Bossier City Medical Suite in the legal challenge to the Louisiana law.

If the law had been put into effect on Sept. 1, at least three of the state’s five clinics would have been forced to stop providing abortion services or close.