Certain Aspects of the Law
Last Updated (Monday, 13 April 2015 17:27)
After NYC Fire Tragedy, Jewish Traditions Scrutinized
March 31--As a mother of seven children, Josephine Basher was in tears when she heard about the horrific house fire in Brooklyn that killed seven children.
The children died when a hot plate malfunctioned after it was left on overnnight to keep the family's food warm on the Jewish Sabbath.
"It could have been any of us," said Basher, who lives in Northeast Miami-Dade and bserves the Sabbath weekly, lighting candles and leaving a slow cooker on for at least 24 hours. "They were a regular family, doing their regular thing on a regular Shabbat."
The tragedy in New York two weeks ago brought together observant Jews and Miami-Dade firefighters this week. A workshop on Monday night workshop at Young Israel in North Miami Beach offered advice on keeping safe while adhering to tradition.
Basher, who refrains from using electricity every Friday evening through Saturday night, brought her 16-year-old daughter, Reena, to the workshop.
"Truth be told we would probably not be here if that tragedy didn't just happen," Basher said.
With the eight-day Passover holiday starting Friday, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue workers and members of Hatzalah, a Jewish emergency response service, teamed up to offer fire-safety tips to the faithful. Some of the advice included basic safety reminders: Come up with a fire escape plan, never leave candles burning unattended, check smoke detectors twice a year.
Like many Jewish holidays, Passover -- which commemorates the Jewish exodus from Egypt -- involves candles and burning as part of religious symbolism and the retelling of the ancient story.
"Every religion has traditions and customs they follow and when following those customs they need to make sure they are doing them in the safest manner," said Miami-Dade Fire spokeswoman Michelle Fayed.
For Passover, observant Jews burn bread, light candles and thoroughly clean their homes, some using a blow torch, to get ready for the holiday. And candles also are lit every Friday night for the Sabbath. The most observant follow the ancient rule of not using electricity for more than 24 hours. That means slow cookers, ovens and hot plates are left on, some set on a timer.
So the risk of fire is always there.
"Safety always needs to come first," said Howard Sickles, a retired deputy fire chief with New York City Fire Department and a paramedic with Hazalah in New York who came to South Florida to speak at the workshop.
Sickles was a first responder at the Brooklyn fire just after midnight March 21. He said there were no smoke detectors near the bedrooms of the old house.
"As I walked up they were pulling the children out," he said. "I have dealt with a lot of tragedy in my career but this had to be one of the worst cases."
Sickles' message was simple: "Safety first."
The workshop gave Sorah Ross some things to think about. Ross, who has six children ages 4 to 15, said the Northeast Miami-Dade home they are renting does not have smoke detectors.
"We are going to get our own and install them right away," she said, adding that fire safety has always been a concern of hers.
"We always wait for the candles to be out before we go to sleep," she said.
Zalman Cohen, director of operations for Hatzalah Miami-Dade, said it's common to hear about kitchen and candle fires. Hatzalah Executive Director Baruch Sandhaus said many fires can be avoided by following safety guidelines.
"You can still follow traditions and be safe," Sandhaus said.
Fayed of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said the county doesn't keep track of fires caused by hot plates, candles or other holiday rituals, but they do happen. In 2007, a fire that started amid Hanukkah doughnut-making at a Northeast Miami-Dade synagogue caused $100,000 in damage. More than three years ago, a fire in an Aventura condo started when holiday candles ignited curtains.
Cohen said the community needs a reminder on what could happen.
"If one fire could be avoided the whole thing was worth it."
Copyright 2015 - The Miami Herald
Historic Texas Senate Bill Filed to Abolish Death Penalty in Texas
Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr has filed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Texas. This is the first time a state senator has ever filed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Texas. It happened because organizations in Texas held the Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty on March 3 and death row survivors Ron Keine and Sabrina Butler from Witness to Innocence and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network met with Senator Lucio's general counsel and requested that the Senator file abolition legislation.
Here is a report from the Austin American-Statesman on our successful lobby day, which was widely covered in the media, including the Dallas Morning News, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of people in Texas with our message.
Last summer, Senator Lucio attended the Democrats Against the Death Penalty caucus at the Texas Democratic Party state convention. The caucus has been held every year since 2004 when it was started by Scott Cobb. The caucus has proven to be an effective method for persuading Texas Democrats to make abolishing the death penalty a higher priority among both elected officials and ordinary people in the Texas Democratic Party.
In the coming weeks, we will be working with Senator Lucio's staff as well as staff of the House sponsor of the abolition bill, to prepare for committee hearings on the abolition bills. When a hearing is held in the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, it will be the first time ever for a hearing on abolishing the death penalty in Texas. It will be up to the chair of the committee to decide if a hearing is scheduled.
Federal Sunshine Act/Open Payments Program
Legal Recourse for HIPAA Violations
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a set of complex federal rules and regulations that govern how medical institutions and their business associates treat your private health information, known as "PHI." Penalties for HIPAA violations can be substantial, ranging from fines to criminal prosecution and imprisonment.
Penalties for Violations
Claims of HIPAA violations are investigated by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a division of the U.S. Department of Labor. The two most important HIPAA sections addressing violations are Federal Public Law Sections 104-191 and 1177.
Under HIPAA Law Section 104-191, "General Penalty for Failure to Comply with Requirements and Standards," the U.S. Department of Labor can impose fines beginning at $100 on an individual for each day the violation continues, up to a maximum of $25,000 per year.
Under HIPAA Law Section 1177, "Wrongful Disclosure of Individually Identifiable Health Information," the U.S. Department of Labor can impose fines beginning at $50,000 and/or up to a year in jail, all the way up to a fine of $250,000 and/or up to ten years in jail for an individual. Under HIPAA rules, an "individual" can be a medical entity, institution, or an executive of either.
HIPAA applies to the following four medical entities:
Health plan organizations
Health plans include HMOs, PPOs, Medicaid, Medicare, and other individuals or medical groups that pay the cost of medical care for their insured.
Health care clearinghouses
Health care clearinghouses include individuals or companies which are paid to process individuals' personal health information (PHI). This includes billing service companies, health information systems, transaction facilitators, and other entities that handle PHI.
Health care providers
Health care providers include any person or organization that charges patients for providing treatment. This includes medical doctors, osteopathic doctors, dentists, chiropractors, nurses, lab technicians, and medical administrators supporting these providers.
Business associates are extensions of the previous three groups. Examples of business associates are CPAs whose accounting services include a review of PHI, attorneys whose legal services include access to PHI, and pharmacists with similar access to PHI.
Why We Need HIPAA Laws
HIPAA exists for two main reasons, to ensure you maintain health insurance when changing jobs, and to protect the privacy of your personal health information. Let's discuss these protections, known as Title I and Title II.
Title one ensures that if you change jobs, you can maintain your health insurance without being penalized.
In the past, people with health problems were afraid if they left their jobs or were fired, they wouldn't be able to get health insurance with their new employer, or if they were able to get insurance, their pre-existing condition would be excluded.
This meant if you started your new job with a pre-existing injury or illness, your new HMO or PPO could exclude coverage for that prior medical condition. Even if you were to find another health insurance company to cover your pre-existing condition, the premiums would be extremely high.
Today, health insurance companies cannot refuse to provide medical coverage based on a pre-existing condition. Nor can they charge higher premiums based on your condition.
Title two protects your personal health information from being released to third parties without your express consent.
HIPAA's "Privacy Rule" covers a person's private health information, which includes medical bills, claim information, prescriptions, lab results, medical opinions, and all other protected forms of PHI. Under this section, your PHI cannot be distributed without your written authorization.
It's important to know the difference between patient consent and patient authorization. Consent generally means giving permission to have a medical procedure performed, or for medical information to be shared with doctors during treatment. Authorization generally means giving permission to have one's PHI distributed to third parties, other than the original medical facility providing treatment.
To be a legitimate authorization, there must be a written document, signed by the patient, giving the named medical facility permission to use specific PHI for matters other than medical treatment, payment, or surgeries. The authorization applies when a patient's PHI will be disclosed to a third party, such as an insurance company, billing company, or even another doctor.
The patient authorization must include a description of the specific PHI to be disclosed, the person or company to whom the PHI will be sent, an expiration date for the authorization, and the purpose of the disclosure. Disclosure of any portion of the patient's PHI without authorization is a potential violation of HIPAA laws.
Legal Recourse for HIPAA Rights Violations
Contrary to what many people believe, you cannot sue a medical entity for violating your HIPAA rights. Your only recourse against a HIPAA violation is to file a complaint with the Department of Labor's Office of Civil Rights, after which an investigator will investigate your allegations and determine if a HIPAA violation took place. If so, the violator may be fined or subject to criminal prosecution.
To report a HIPAA violation, go to this webpage. There you can download the form to file your complaint by written mail, email, or via fax. Provide the name(s) of the medical entity that violated your HIPAA rights, and write a brief explanation of the facts surrounding the violation, including the evidence you having proving the violation occurred.
Private Legal Remedies
If the violation resulted in damages, meaning you suffered some kind of verifiable financial loss, you may have a civil claim against the individual who violated your HIPAA rights.
In this instance, Jane could sue her doctor for the damages caused by his HIPAA violation. She'd likely have the basis of a "tortious interference with contract" case. She'd need to prove that the withdrawal of the employment offer was directly related to the disclosure of her medical records. Jane's damages would be the loss of income and benefits she would have been entitled to if she'd been hired.
Further, if after the OCR investigated her complaint, they found the doctor to have violated HIPAA laws, Jane could use that finding as strong evidence in the trial. Additionally, Jane could contact the State Medical Board and file a complaint of unethical practice.
If an unauthorized release of your PHI resulted in financial damages, you should consult an attorney with extensive experience in HIPAA law. In some cases, depending on your damages, an attorney may accept your case on a contingency fee basis, meaning you won't have to pay any money until, and unless the attorney settles your case or wins it at trial.