Tag: broke

Tomlinson: Government insurance for hurricanes and floods going broke

Real estate is the most valuable asset most people will ever possess, and insuring against natural disasters like floods and storms is common sense.

Or so you might think. Two government-mandated programs are in financial straits, with critics asking if they should exist at all.

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is still kicking the financial can down the road to avoid raising rates because coastal property owners do not want to pay their fair share. Meanwhile, San Antonio-area homeowners are allowing their federal flood insurance to lapse as memories of past floods fade.

When disaster strikes—and we know it will—taxpayers will be left picking up the tab for others’ foolish decisions.

TOMLINSON’S TAKE: Unscrupulous developers will strike back against flood measures

The windstorm association, a quasi-government entity known as TWIA (TWEE-ah), provides coverage to more than 190,000 properties in 15 coastal counties that no private company will insure. That includes 57,433 properties in Galveston, 36,691 in Nueces, 29,524 in Brazoria and 24,311 in Jefferson.

TWIA requires property insurers to contribute to the association to lower the costs for high-risk property owners. But the Legislature also requires the owners to pay their fair share, and lately, they have been getting a considerable discount.

Hurricane Harvey and other storms have drained TWIA’s cash reserves, and the growing severity of hurricanes means premiums need to go up. In December, TWIA’s actuaries determined that TWIA needed to raise premiums 44 percent on residences and 49 percent on businesses.

TWIA’s staff recommended the board begin by raising rates just 5 percent to put the insurer on the path to solvency. But property owners reacted as if TWIA planned to evacuate the Texas coast permanently.

State Rep. Todd Hunter led an angry crowd into the Dec. 10 board meeting in Corpus Christi. They demanded an independent assessment of the adequacy of the current premiums, and the board agreed.

Guess what? Independent actuary Willis Towers Watson ran the numbers and last month announced that TWIA needs a 32 percent increase on residential premiums and a 42 percent increase on business properties.

TWIA’s board is legally obligated to charge an appropriate premium, but the board remains under enormous political pressure. Last month, it did what politicized boards frequently do and sent TWIA staff and Willis Towers Watson to get even more information.

Meanwhile, disgraced Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen of Angleton put Hunter on the Legislature’s TWIA Funding Structure Oversight Board. Hunter has promised to do everything possible to keep the board from raising premiums.

This is a clear case of regulatory capture. TWIA’s board is supposed to keep the insurer solvent, but the only people who show up to meetings are people who refuse to pay their fair share. Hunter is in a position to make sure rates don’t rise.

When a big storm hits the coast, TWIA will go bankrupt, and our tax dollars will end up bailing out people who choose to live in harm’s way. Stupidly, we will probably allow them to rebuild in

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Perdue’s Trump advocacy broke law, federal watchdog says

From staff and news services
Published 12:41 p.m. CT Oct. 9, 2020 | Updated 12:43 p.m. CT Oct. 9, 2020

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At a stop in Radcliffe, US Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue announced he is designating 18 counties as primary natural disaster areas making them eligible for loans.

Des Moines Register

A federal watchdog agency has concluded that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue violated the law in advocating for the reelection of President Donald Trump during an August official visit to North Carolina.

The news came as Perdue was visiting Mason City and Ankeny on Thursday to make an announcement on new grants to promote the use of ethanol — a key issue for farmers in Iowa, a hotly contested state in the presidential race.

The Office of Special Counsel called on Perdue to reimburse the government for costs associated with his participation in the North Carolina event.

Former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge called Perdue’s visits “election-eve stunts” designed to gain favor in rural states.

“Secretary Perdue should absolutely pay back the taxpayers, but he should also just plain know better,” said Judge, who co-founded Focus on Rural America, a nonprofit group of Democrats that has been critical of Trump.

Perdue during Thursday’s trip announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture would provide retailers in 14 states, including Iowa, $22 million in grants to upgrade fuel pumps so consumers would have improved access to higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel — major Iowa agricultural products. As part of his trip, he visited a Casey’s gas station and convenience store in Ankeny, as well as an ethanol production facility in Mason City.

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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speaks on Stolee farms after touring the facilities conservation efforts with Republican Senator Joni Ernst, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 in Radcliffe. Perdue announced that he is designating 18 counties as primary natural disaster areas enabling farm operators to apply for assistance from the Farm Service Agency. Farmers will have eight months to apply for the emergency loans. (Photo: Brian Powers/The Register)

The Hatch Act prevents federal employees from engaging in political activities while they are on the job. The Trump White House has been dismissive of alleged violations of the act by other administration figures and the president himself.

Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Politico in late August that “nobody outside of the Beltway really cares” about Hatch Act concerns that were raised during the GOP nominating convention, when figures including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made political speeches and Trump used the White House for his acceptance speech. The White House also declined to act on the Office of Special Counsel’s calls last year to fire then-senior presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway for being a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act. Conway has since left the White House.

The Office of Special Counsel said it is permissible for Perdue to refer to the president’s actions and how the administration

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UK Government’s Department For Education Broke GDPR Data Protection Laws

The UK’s Department for Eduction (DfE) breaches GDPR in the way it handles pupil data, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has found.

The ICO first began probing the DfE last year after it became the subject of numerous complaints. Human rights groups Liberty and DefendDigitalMe raised complaints about the department for failing to allow parents to see their child’s record in the National Pupil Data, its refusal to correct inaccurate date, and for “secretly” sharing information belonging to minors with the UK Home Office.

At the time, the ICO said: “DFE is failing to comply fully with its data protection obligations, primarily in the areas of transparency and accountability, where there are far-reaching issues, impacting a huge number of individuals in a variety of ways.”

The ICO released the findings of its months-long audit this week and has concluded that there are widespread data protection failings at the DfE. Of its 139 recommendations for improvement, 60% are classed as urgent or high priority.

It found, for example, that the DfE is not providing “sufficient privacy information to data subjects”, that no data protection impact assessments (DPIAs) are being carried out at the correct and early stages of cases, and that no experts are involved in the creation of data storage or retention record system.

The ICO also found that there is a lack of awareness among staff of data protection, “potentially upping the risk of data breaches”.

“There is no formal proactive oversight of any function of information governance, including data protection, records management, risk management, data sharing and information security within the DfE, which along with a lack of formal documentation, means the DfE cannot demonstrate accountability to the GDPR,” the ICO’s report noted.

“Limited reporting lines, monitoring activity and reporting means there is no central oversight of data processing activities. As a result, there are no controls in place to provide assurance that all personal data processing activities are carried out in line with legislative requirements.”

In a statement, the DfE said it treats the handling of personal data “extremely seriously” and “thanks the ICO for its report which will help us further improve in this area.”

“Since the ICO completed its audit, we’ve taken a number of steps to address the findings and recommendations, including a review of all processes for the use of personal data and significantly increasing the number of staff dedicated to the effective management of it,” a DfE spokesperson said.

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Court: Trump administration policing panel broke transparency law

What it means: Given that one of the judge’s explicit requirements is that the membership of the panel be revamped, his ruling Thursday may well postpone the panel’s report until after the November election.

The background: Much of Bates’ 45-page ruling focuses on a requirement in the 1972 transparency law that federal advisory committees be “fairly balanced” in their make-up. The George W. Bush appointee said a commission consisting entirely of law enforcement could not meet that standard.

“The Court is hard pressed to think of a starker example of non-compliance with FACA’s fair balance requirement than a commission charged with examining broad issues of policing in today’s America that is composed entirely of past and present law enforcement officials,” wrote Bates, ruling on a lawsuit filed in April by the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund (LDF).

“The Commission includes no members from civil rights groups like LDF. Nor does it include any criminal defense attorney, academic, civic leader, or representative of a community organization or social service organization. Instead, all eighteen Commissioners are current or former law enforcement,” Bates added. “This is precisely the type of imbalance that FACA sought to prevent.”

Bates noted that one appeals court, the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, has held that the “fair balance” requirement in FACA to too vague for courts to enforce. But he said the weight of legal precedent comes down in favor of the provision being susceptible to enforcement by judges, especially in egregious cases.

Bates rejected the Justice Department’s arguments that the panel was exempt from the transparency statute under an exemption created in 1995 for committees dealing solely with issues of joint responsibility between the federal government and state, local or tribal governments. He said that defining that exemption as broadly as the Justice Department suggested would have “no limiting principle” and would essentially gut the law.

Many of the panel’s meetings have been held publicly by teleconference since the coronavirus pandemic began to spread earlier this year. The Justice Department’s website lists 14 hearing sessions and provides a transcript and audio recording for most of them.

However, the judge’s ruling says the department conceded that the meetings would be considered closed if the transparency statute applied. The sessions were also not announced in advance in the Federal Register, as the law requires, Bates said.

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Trump administration policing panel broke transparency law

What happened: A blue-ribbon law enforcement panel created at the direction of President Donald Trump broke a federal open meeting law and must halt its work until it comes into compliance with the statute, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge John Bates said the administration violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act by placing only current and former law-enforcement personnel on the 18-member commission and by holding closed meetings without advance public notice.

The commission’s final report was set to go to Attorney General William Barr later this month, but Bates said no recommendations can be submitted until the panel remedies the legal violations.

What it means: Given that one of the judge’s explicit requirements is that the membership of the panel be revamped, his ruling Thursday may well postpone the panel’s report until after the November election.

The background: Much of Bates’ 45-page ruling focuses on a requirement in the 1972 transparency law that federal advisory committees be “fairly balanced” in their make-up. The George W. Bush appointee said a commission consisting entirely of law enforcement could not meet that standard.

“The Court is hard pressed to think of a starker example of non-compliance with FACA’s fair balance requirement than a commission charged with examining broad issues of policing in today’s America that is composed entirely of past and present law enforcement officials,” wrote Bates, ruling on a lawsuit filed in April by the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund (LDF).

“The Commission includes no members from civil rights groups like LDF. Nor does it include any criminal defense attorney, academic, civic leader, or representative of a community organization or social service organization. Instead, all eighteen Commissioners are current or former law enforcement,” Bates added. “This is precisely the type of imbalance that FACA sought to prevent.”

Bates noted that one appeals court, the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, has held that the “fair balance” requirement in FACA to too vague for courts to enforce. But he said the weight of legal precedent comes down in favor of the provision being susceptible to enforcement by judges, especially in egregious cases.

Bates rejected the Justice Department’s arguments that the panel was exempt from the transparency statute under an exemption created in 1995 for committees dealing solely with issues of joint responsibility between the federal government and state, local or tribal governments. He said that defining that exemption as broadly as the Justice Department suggested would have “no limiting principle” and would essentially gut the law.

Many of the panel’s meetings have been held publicly by teleconference since the coronavirus pandemic began to spread earlier this year. The Justice Department’s website lists 14 hearing sessions and provides a transcript and audio recording for most of them.

However, the judge’s ruling says the department conceded that the meetings would be considered closed if the transparency statute applied. The sessions were also not announced in advance in the Federal Register, as the law requires, Bates said.

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