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CRS — Social Media in the House of Representatives: Frequently Asked Questions (April 2, 2015)

April 16, 2015 Comments off

Social Media in the House of Representatives: Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Recently, the number of Member offices adopting social media as an official communications tool has increased. With the increased use of social media accounts for official representational duties, the House has adopted policies and regulations regarding the creation, content, and use of third-party social media services. This report answers several questions about the regulation of social media accounts in the House of Representatives.

• How does the House define social media?
• How are social media accounts regulated in the House?
• What makes a social media account an official resource?
• Can Members use official funds for social media?
• Is some content prohibited on official social media accounts?
• Do the mass communications regulations apply to social media?

CRS — Free Exercise of Religion by Closely Held Corporations: Implications of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (April 6, 2015)

April 15, 2015 Comments off

Free Exercise of Religion by Closely Held Corporations: Implications of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

A 5-4 decision, issued over a highly critical dissent, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. resolved one of the many challenges raised in response to the contraceptive coverage requirement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Imputing the beliefs of owners of closely held corporations to such corporations, the U.S. Supreme Court found that closely held corporations that hold religious objections to certain contraceptive services cannot be required to provide coverage of those services in employee health plans. The Court’s decision was based on the protections offered under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a statute prohibiting the government from imposing a substantial burden on a person’s religious exercise unless it can show a compelling interest achieved by the least restrictive means. The Court declined to address the constitutional challenge, holding that the companies were protected under RFRA.

In the absence of a definition under RFRA, the majority interpreted the term “person” to include closely held corporations, even if they operated for-profit, and determined that the penalties that such companies would face if they failed to comply with the contraceptive coverage requirement would impose a substantial burden. Though the Court assumed that the government had a compelling interest to require contraceptive coverage under ACA, it found that less restrictive means (e.g., expanding the regulatory accommodation available to nonprofit employers with similar objections) could achieve that interest without requiring companies with religious objections to be subject to the requirement.

CRS — Net Neutrality: Selected Legal Issues Raised by the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order (April 6, 2015)

April 15, 2015 Comments off

Net Neutrality: Selected Legal Issues Raised by the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted an order that will impose rules governing the management of Internet traffic as it passes over broadband Internet access services (BIAS), whether those services are fixed or wireless. The rules are commonly known as “net neutrality” rules. The order was released in March 2015. According to the order, the rules ban the blocking of legal content, forbid paid prioritization of affiliated or proprietary content, and prohibit the throttling of legal content by broadband Internet access service providers (BIAS providers). The rules are subject to reasonable network management, as that term is defined by the FCC.

This is not the first time the FCC has attempted to impose some version of net neutrality rules. Most recently, the FCC issued the Open Internet Order in 2010, which would have created similar rules for the provision of broadband Internet access services. However, the bulk of those rules, with the sole exception of a disclosure rule, were struck down by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Interestingly, the court found that the FCC did have broad enough authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to impose the rules. However, the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, permits only “telecommunications services” to be regulated as common carriers. Broadband Internet access services were classified as “information services” under the act by the FCC. Because the court found some of the rules imposed by the Open Internet Order to be common carrier regulation per se, the court found that the rules could not be applied to broadband Internet access services.

CRS — The No Fly List: Procedural Due Process and Hurdles to Litigation (April 2, 2015)

April 15, 2015 Comments off

The No Fly List: Procedural Due Process and Hurdles to Litigation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In order to protect national security, the government maintains various terrorist watchlists, including the “No Fly” list, which contains the names of individuals to be denied boarding on commercial airline flights. Travelers on the No Fly list are not permitted to board an American airline or any flight on a foreign air carrier that lands or departs from U.S. territory or flies over U.S. airspace. Some persons have claimed that their alleged placement on the list was the result of an erroneous determination by the government that they posed a national security threat. In some cases, it has been reported that persons have been prevented from boarding an aircraft because they were mistakenly believed to be on the No Fly list, sometimes on account of having a name similar to another person who was actually on the list. As a result, various legal challenges to placement on the list have been brought in court.

CRS — Marijuana: Medical and Retail–Selected Legal Issues (April 8, 2015)

April 15, 2015 Comments off

Marijuana: Medical and Retail–Selected Legal Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) outlaws the possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana except for authorized research. More than 20 states have regulatory schemes that allow possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Four have revenue regimes that allow possession, cultivation, and sale generally. The U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause preempts any state law that conflicts with federal law. Although there is some division, the majority of state courts have concluded that the federal-state marijuana law conflict does not require preemption of state medical marijuana laws. The legal consequences of a CSA violation, however, remain in place. Nevertheless, current federal criminal enforcement guidelines counsel confining investigations and prosecutions to the most egregious affront to federal interests.

CRS — Health Coverage Tax Credit (April 2, 2015)

April 15, 2015 Comments off

Health Coverage Tax Credit (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The health coverage tax credit (HCTC) expired on January 1, 2014. This federal income tax credit subsidized most of the cost of qualified health insurance for eligible taxpayers and their family members. The Trade Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-210) first authorized the HCTC. Potential eligibility for the HCTC was limited to three groups of taxpayers, two of whom were individuals eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) allowances because they experienced job loss. The third group consisted of individuals whose defined benefit pension plans were taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation because of financial difficulties. Moreover, these potential HCTC-eligible individuals were allowed to claim the tax credit only if they either could not enroll in certain other health coverage (e.g., Medicaid) or were not eligible for other specified coverage (e.g., Medicare Part A)

To claim the HCTC, eligible taxpayers had to have qualified health insurance (specific categories of coverage, as specified in statute). Several of those categories required state action (statequalified health plans) to become available. As of December 2010, 44 states and the District of Columbia made available at least one of the state-qualified health plans. In the remaining six states, the categories of qualified health insurance that were potentially available were ones that were not dependent on state action (automatically qualified health plans), though not necessarily all persons who were eligible for the HCTC could avail themselves of these options.

Crude Oil Royalty Rates

April 8, 2015 Comments off

Crude Oil Royalty Rates
Source: Law Library of Congress

This chart lists royalty rates for crude oil production in selected countries where production occurs on lands owned or controlled in whole or part by the national government. The countries selected include leading oil-producing countries that impose royalties; countries that do not impose royalties are excluded. While there are other fiscal instruments used to raise revenue from oil production, including corporate income taxes, profit taxes, resource rent taxes, value-added taxes, production sharing, and others, this chart focuses solely on royalties.

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