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New Hampshire Passes Law Allowing Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples

New Hampshire became just the fourth state in the nation to allow same-sex civil unions after the state Senate passed a bill today. Democratic Gov. John Lynch has said that he intends to sign it into law, which would allow the civil unions to begin in 2008.

New Hampshire joins New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont as the only states to approve the civil unions. Nearby Massachusetts is the only state to allow same-sex marriages, although the Rhode Island attorney general ruled earlier this year that the state’s residents can legally pursue same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. New York governor Eliot Spitzer also announced plans to push a same-sex marriage bill through the state legislature. In the states of Washington, California, and Maine, same-sex domestic partnerships have been given varying degrees of legal legitimacy as well, while Oregon plans to follow suit in the near future.
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New York Times: Justice Department to Restrict Attorney Access to Guantanamo Inmates

Even as scandal continues to swirl around Alberto Gonzales and his cronies, the Department of Justice is pushing forward with an aggressive, highly controversial agenda to limit the rights of Guantanamo detainees. The New York Times reported today that the DOJ has filed a petition with a federal appeals court seeking to limit the number of contacts between defense attorneys and Guantanamo inmates. In addition, the filing also seeks to restrict access by defense attorneys to secret evidence that is being used against the detainees.

According to the Times, the DOJ petition makes the claim, “There is no right on the part of counsel to [have] access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country.” “Under the proposal, filed this month in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,” says the paper, “the government would limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client at Guantánamo; there is now no limit. It would permit only a single visit with a detainee to have him authorize a lawyer to handle his case. And it would permit a team of intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in a detainee’s case to read mail sent to him by his lawyer.”
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Washington Post: Virginia Governor Seeks to Strengthen Policies Restricting Gun Sales

According to the Washington Post, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is considering an executive order that would require information about a prospective gun buyer’s mental health to be added to the background data that weapons sellers use. In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, it appears that lawmakers and politicians on both sides of the aisle are willing to restrict weapons sales to keep them out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Says the Post: “A court had found [Seung Hui] Cho to be dangerously mentally ill, but that information was not available in the computer systems used by the outlets that sold Cho the guns. Kaine’s proposal would ensure that such mental health information be in the database.”
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FDA Investigation of Imported Chinese Food Additives to Expand

As fears about melamine contamination continue to grow, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this week that it’s expanding its investigation of imported Chinese food additives. Initially thought to affect only pet food, there are now concerns that the tainted products have made it into livestock feed and perhaps even human food.

Last month, a major recall of pet-food products was initiated after it was revealed that the chemical melamine, a fertilizer and an ingredient used in the manufacture of plastic was found in a wide variety of dog and cat food. The melamine contamination at that time was linked to wheat gluten imported from China. In recent weeks, it was determined that a shipment of Chinese rice protein concentrate was also contaminated with melamine, causing the pet-food recall to expand.
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Study: Lethal Injection Violates Eighth Amendment

New research into capital punishment by lethal injection has determined that method of execution to be not nearly as humane as once believed. According to the authors of the study, “the conventional view of lethal injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is questionable.” The study was published in the current issue of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine. According to the journal’s editors, “The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The results of this paper suggest that current protocols used for lethal injection in the U.S. probably violate this amendment.”

The report, which was led by Dr. Leonidas G. Koniaris of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, concluded, “our findings suggest that current lethal injection protocols may not reliably effect death through the mechanisms intended, indicating a failure of design and implementation.” The problem relates to the particular combination of drugs used in current lethal-injection protocols: the barbiturate thiopental, the neuromuscular blocker pancuronium bromide, and the electrolyte potassium chloride.
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Dey Pharmaceuticals Settles with State of Massachusetts in Pricing Fraud Case

California-based generic-drug manufacturer Dey LP has reached a $2.9 million settlement with the state of Massachusetts with regard to accusations of price inflation and defrauding of the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program. The company has already reached similar settlements with a slew of other states, including Missouri, Ohio, Connecticut, Nevada, West Virginia, Hawaii, and Idaho, but has never acknowledged any wrongdoing in any of the cases.

The origins of the pricing litigation date back to the middle of last decade, when Dey was accused of inflating their wholesale prices when reporting them to the industry meaning that state and federal Medicaid programs were reimbursing the company at much higher rates than they should have been. The alleged scam allows the company to increase its profits while keeping the costs of their pharmaceuticals low for consumers.
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New York Times: Medicare Privatization a “Scam”

In an editorial published this past weekend, the New York Times attacked the federal government for continuing to subsidize private health plans that participate in Medicare. “If private health plans are supposedly so great at delivering high-quality care while holding down costs,” they ask, “why does the government have to keep subsidizing them so lavishly to participate in the Medicare program?”

According to the paper, approximately 20 percent of seniors participate in private “Medicare Advantage” plans. While these private plans have been praised for their lower costs and superior treatment, government subsides meant to help sustain them are putting a tremendous financial strain on the system.
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Legal Rights of Mentally Ill Students Often at Odds with Public Safety

Following the deadly shooting rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech, colleges and universities across the country have been faced with a rather difficult quandary to address going forward: How is it possible for schools to protect the rights of their mentally ill students while simultaneously ensuring the safety of the faculty and the rest of the student body?

The failure to achieve a proper balance on this issue leaves colleges and universities vulnerable to legal action on both sides of the ledger. Schools can face lawsuits if they choose to expel or take disciplinary action against students with mental-health problems; on the other hand, their failure to deal with potential threats from mentally ill students can lead to horrific violence on their campuses that may leave them susceptible to legal action for failing to protect their communities.
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Royal Canin Products Added to Pet-Food Recall

The pet-food-contamination outbreak continues to expand as investigators focus on a new ingredient–rice protein concentrate that has been named as a second source of the problem. The original source of the melamine contamination was wheat gluten imported from China, but FDA officials now say that batches of rice protein concentrate, also imported from China, have been tainted with the dangerous chemical as well.

Yesterday, Royal Canin USA announced that they have discovered a “melamine derivative” in the rice protein concentrate used in some of its dry pet food products. “Although Royal Canin USA has no confirmed cases of illness in pets, we have decided to voluntarily remove all of our dry pet food products containing rice protein concentrate,” the company said in a statement. “We are taking this proactive stance to avoid any confusion for our customers about which Royal Canin USA products are safe and which products may be affected.”
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Controversial Law Under Scrutiny After Virginia Tech Shootings

On October 26, 2005, President Bush signed into law a piece of legislation known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The law was an incredibly generous gift to the gun lobby intended to shield both firearms manufacturers and firearms dealers from liability when violent crimes are committed with their products. In the aftermath of yet another mass killing spree in the United States, the controversial law is once again at the forefront of a heated debate.

According to the Senate’s version of the legislation, the Act was drawn up to “prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages, injunctive or other relief resulting from the misuse of their products by others.”
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