I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain
Sep 19, 2018


State, local, and federal officials around the world are responding to catastrophic weather events again this week.  This week, The Way takes a closer look at some of the events making headlines here and abroad.



Hurricane Florence slammed into the Carolinas Friday.  Florence, the first major hurricane of the Atlantic season, is expected to cause an estimated $18 billion in damage.  The storm is blamed for more than 20 deaths and cut power to 691,000 customers in the Carolinas.  In addition to severe structural and infrastructural damage, the storm is wreaking environmental havoc to waste water facilities and creating other water contaminants.  Given the slow churn of the storm, and the expected cresting of the regional waterways, we’ll keep our eye on the Florence’s progress up the seaboard.



There are 444,000 flood insurance policies in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, totaling $115 billion in flood insurance coverage among them.  Current estimates suggest that Hurricane Florence could expose the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to $44.5 billion in losses.  Pundits estimate that, if just 5% of the policies' limits were needed, the NFIP would expect to pay $6 billion.  This tranche of claims alone would exceed the amount of claims paid since 2013.



On the other side of the world, the strongest storm this year, Typhoon Mangkhut, continued its destruction across Southeast Asia.  The storm made landfall on mainland China on Sunday afternoon.  More than 2.45 million people have been evacuated in China's Guangdong province.  Philippine officials reported that 54 people have died in the storm, many caused by landslides, with dozens more still believed to be buried beneath the deluge in the northern provinces of that country.



Calling attention to the impact of wildfire smoke on public health, and seeking to find ways to improve management of wildfires, Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing this week before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment, entitled, “Air Quality Impacts of Wildfires: Mitigation and Management Strategies.”  The committee heard testimony from local officials and researchers on the deleterious effects of wildfire smoke.   And, on the heels of British Columbia’s most damaging wildfire season on record, Premier John Hogan of British Columbia urges that the region faces serious challenges for public health and called for a policy change in the way the nation responds to wildfire disasters.  British Columbia budgeted $63 million for wildfire suppression for 2018-19, but has already spent $274 million, a sum similar to last year.  We’re keeping tabs on these environmental signals fires.


Agency Action


The National Labor Relations Board proposed a long-awaited rule to roll back an Obama-era decision that companies could be held accountable for labor violations by their franchisees and contractors. The proposed rule would only consider a company a so-called “joint employer” of a separate company’s workers (and therefore liable for labor violations) “if the two employers share or co-determine the employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment, such as hiring, firing, discipline, supervision, and direction.”   The NLRB is collecting public comments on the proposal for the next 60 days.



Also this week, the office of the General Counsel for the NLRB indicated its intent to reverse an Obama-era rule that allows workers to use their employers’ email systems to discuss unionization.  A 2014 decision gave workers the right to use company email for organizing purposes.  In its brief this week, the General Counsel’s office suggests that such email use lowers workplace productivity, compromises digital security, and ignores all the other ways workers can communicate.  We’re tracking these workplace developments.


Making Our Way Around the Country


The Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) proposed new rules to employers in the Lone Star State seeking to transition out of self-insurance and into carrier funded programs.  Under the proposed rule, employers will be permitted to obtain a policy of workers’ compensation coverage to cover all claims, “known and incurred, arising at any time during the period of time that the employer operated as a certified self-insurer.”  Under the current system, employers remain liable for all claims that remain open, even after an employer has opted out of self-insurance. 



The United States Senate approved a sweeping, bipartisan package that would tackle the opioid crisis on multiple fronts, including new steps to stop prescription painkillers from flowing into the U.S. illegally and providing Americans addicted to the drugs with better access to treatment and prevention programs. The Senate bill needs to be reconciled with a similar measure the House passed in June.  Given the broad support for the proposals in Congress and at the White House, we expect the measure to be signed into law before the end of the year.



The California Medical Board released physician guidance on the use of the state’s prescription drug monitoring program called, “The Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System” (CURES).  The system provides an accounting of a patient’s prescriptions, the doctors who prescribed them and the pharmacies that filled them.  Beginning October 2, providers must use the CURES system to query all prescribed controlled substances and run a report known as a “patient activity report” the first time a patient receives a Schedule II, III, or IV drug.



September is National Suicide Awareness Month.  Every year, more than 40,000 people die by suicide, including a growing number of first responders who have sustained psychological trauma related to events witnessed on duty.  A recent report by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that firefighters and law enforcement officers were more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.  We are tracking a number of state legislative initiatives, including in Florida, where legislation take effect on October 1st , to expand workers’ compensation benefits to include post-traumatic stress disorder for firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, and other first responders.  We’re encouraging inner strength to those who show us their utmost bravery every day. 


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