Friday, June 23, 2017

Long-Term Lawsuit

Although UC employees are not under CalPERS, at one time when CalPERS began offering long-term care policies, UC employees were invited to take out the insurance. Long-term care is offered by various commercial insurance companies. But the problem is that a subscriber is inherently trusting such firms - many years in the future - to do right by them when they are not in a position to ensure compliance. The fact that CalPERS would be the offerer seemed to resolve that problem and a significant number of older UC employees subscribed. But then CalPERS substantially jacked up the premiums. Was it because they had low-balled to get participants? Or did they simply underestimate the costs? Whatever the answer, many subscribers either dropped the coverage or had to take cut-rate policies to lower the premiums. Now there is a lawsuit:  (from the Sacramento Bee)

A class-action lawsuit against CalPERS filed on behalf of more than 130,000 California government workers and retirees can move forward to trial, a Los Angeles judge has ruled.

The lawsuit challenges a sharp increase in fees that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System levied on people who bought insurance for long-term health care through the pension fund. It argues that the rate hike was different in scale and purpose than any previous fee increase on those policy holders.

A lawyer for the group suing CalPERS cast the decision by Judge Ann Jones as a “very positive event moving forward to trial.”

It was “the largest obstacle standing in our way,” attorney Mike Bidart said.

The lawsuit stems from a series of rate increases that CalPERS adopted for long-term care insurance beginning in 2013, peaking with an 85 percent rate hike in 2015. People with those plans could have avoided the rate hikes if they dropped lifetime coverage and inflation protection policies that they also bought, according to documents cited by Jones in her ruling.

Bidart contends that the structure of the rate increases breached the contracts people signed when they bought the policies. Those agreements included assurances that rate hikes would be spread among those who bought long-term care insurance, and that people who bought inflation protection policies would not see their rates increase because of expanded benefits.

The judge wrote that structuring the rate increases in such a way that they deterred people from continuing lifetime care plans suggested that “a driving reason behind the 85 percent premium increase was to do away with the inflation protection and/or lifetime benefits.”

Her ruling followed motions from CalPERS to dismiss the case. CalPERS argued that the contracts allowed rate increases and that policy holders did not protest significant rates hike in 2003 and 2007.

Jones dismissed a part of the lawsuit that named individual members of the CalPERS Board of Administration. The lawsuit had claimed that they failed in their responsibility to effectively manage funds for long-term care policy holders. The remaining case centers on breach-of-contract claims.

Jones “did not rule on the merits of these claims, which CalPERS looks forward to disproving at trial,” CalPERS General Counsel Matt Jacobs said in a written statement.

Bidart said the lawsuit, known as Sanchez vs. CalPERS, likely will go to trial in the first half 2018.


Travel Ban


Newsweek  6-23-17

California has expanded the scope of a travel ban that took effect in January to include states that have laws discriminating against LGBTQ people.

The ban forbids state-funded travel to states that, since June 26, 2015, have enacted laws discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra added four more states to the travel ban on Thursday—Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota and Texas—doubling the number of the blacklisted states initially included in the legislation.

California’s AB 1887 legislation was signed into law in September 2016, after North Carolina passed the controversial “bathroom bill,” which barred people from using bathrooms in government buildings that do not correspond to their sex assigned at birth.

California enacted the bill in January under Becerra’s predecessor Kamela Harris. It originally included North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kansas but it provided for the Attorney General to update the blacklist as necessary. The four other southern states were added to the list after they passed legislation discriminating against sexual minorities and their families.

In Alabama, South Dakota and Texas, laws enacted in the past three months target prospective LGBT parents, potentially preventing them from adopting or becoming foster parents. In Kentucky, legislation SB 17, enacted in March, could allow student-run organizations in colleges and public schools to discriminate against classmates based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Our country has made great strides in dismantling prejudicial laws that have deprived too many of our fellow Americans of their precious rights. Sadly, that is not the case in all parts of our nation, even in the 21st century," Becerra said  in a statement. “Discriminatory laws in any part of our country send all of us several steps back. That's why when California said we would not tolerate discrimination against LGBTQ members of our community, we meant it.”

California legislator Evan Low, who authored the original bill, praised Becerra’s decision. “AB 1887 was enacted to ensure our taxpayer dollars do not fund bigotry or hatred. Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s action today sends a strong message that discrimination beyond our borders will not be tolerated,” he said in a statement.

Critics, however, believe the travel ban hurts students who need state funds to pay for their travel to those states for academic or athletic purposes. “The law is a juvenile but well-intended reaction to a real problem,” Mark Rivera, a UC Davis senior majoring in religious studies and cognitive science, told the L.A. Times in February. “Instead of discouraging travel to supposedly backward places, we should encourage travel; otherwise, campuses will become more insular and make the problem worse.”


Note: Because the ban applies to state-funded travel, UC academic travel funded by non-state external grants can occur. However, certain student and athletic travel is affected, according to an earlier report:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Costly Facts

From Matier and Ross, San Francisco Chronicle:

In keeping with its tradition of big-name and big-bucks investigations, the University of California will pay up to $210,000 for an independent look into allegations that President Janet Napolitano’s office interfered with a recent state audit into its spending habits.

UC will pay the law firm of Hueston Hennigan a “blended” rate of $595 an hour for partners who work on the investigation and $395 an hour for associates. The tab will be capped at $165,000, unless the UC regents give the OK to spend more. In addition, UC is tapping former state Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno to help with the investigation for a fee “not to exceed $45,000.”

The investigation was prompted by a state audit that found that Napolitano’s office had squirreled away $175 million and had tampered with campuses’ responses to a state survey on the effectiveness of programs run by the president’s office. While $210,000 for an investigation is a hefty price, it is just a fraction of the $1 million that the president’s office spent investigating allegations of wrongdoing by former UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. That probe, headed by former U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, led to Katehi’s resignation in August.

In 2012, UC paid $445,879 to the security consulting firm Kroll Associates to help with a task force headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso looking into the pepper spaying of student demonstrators by UC Davis police.

More recently, the president’s office spent $57,671 on the probe into how outgoing UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks received a free campus gym membership, personal training sessions and an elliptical machine — perks that totaled all of about $5,000.

Monica Lozano, who chairs the Board of Regents, declined to discuss the review of the president’s office while it is under way. As for the other investigations, UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said UC had “a legal and ethical responsibility to determine the facts when there is credible evidence that might suggest improper activity.”


Senate Hearing

The Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. Senate held a hearing yesterday on "Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses." As the title suggests, it focused on complaints over incidents (such as at Berkeley) in which speakers were prevented from speaking and related matters. Blog readers can see the hearings at:

Witness statements are at:

Witnesses: Mr. Zachary R. Wood, Student, Williams College; Mr. Frederick M. Lawrence, Secretary And CEO, Phi Beta Kappa Society; Mr. Isaac Smith, Student, University Of Cincinnati College of Law, Graduate Of Ohio University; Dr. Fanta Aw, Interim Vice President Of Campus Life, American University; Professor Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law; Mr. Richard Cohen, President, Southern Poverty Law Center; Mr. Floyd Abrams, Senior Counsel, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP.

No specific legislation was discussed. Readers might have an interest in remarks by Sen. Diane Feinstein of California who raised the question of what university officials were expected to do when violence is threatened.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

UC CRISPR Patent in China

West Wing of  Old Patent Office Building, c1900
Intellia holds rights to CRISPR intellectual property developed by the Regents of the University of California (UC), the University of Vienna, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, Ph.D., a director at the Max-Planck Institute in Berlin, through a 2014 license agreement with Caribou Biosciences, the exclusive licensee of the UC and University of Vienna. Those rights include human therapeutic, prophylactic, and palliative uses (including companion diagnostics), excluding antifungal and antimicrobial applications.
CRISPR ownership has been at the heart of a bitter legal battle royal with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. A researcher based at the Institute, Feng Zhang, Ph.D., is listed an inventor on 12 patents related to CRISPR technology awarded in the U.S.
In February, the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) sided with the Broad Institute by finding “no interference in fact” between the 12 patents, and a patent application by Dr. Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., of UC Berkeley. UC, University of Vienna, and Dr. Charpentier are appealing the PTAB decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
China’s plans to grant a patent for CRISPR come less than a year after the nation has seen two clinical trials involving the technology...
“SIPO’s decision further expands our IP portfolio and is further global recognition that Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and their team are the pioneers in the application of CRISPR/Cas9 in all cell types,” Nessan Bermingham, Ph.D., Intellia’s CEO and president, said in a statement.
In March, Intellia and Caribou—co-founded by one of the original CRISPR researchers, Dr. Doudna, of UC Berkeley—joined ERS Genomics and CRISPR Therapeutics in signing a global cross-consent and invention management agreement for the foundational intellectual property covering CRISPR/Cas9 with the Regents of UC, the University of Vienna, and Dr. Charpentier.
That intellectual property underlies patents awarded by the European Patent Office and the United Kingdom’s Intellectual Property Office earlier this year. Those patents were issued from an international patent application based on the same U.S. priority applications filed by UC, University of Vienna, and Dr. Doudna on May 25, 2012.
The EPO acted on European patent application No. 13793997, which had been challenged by parties that include the Broad Institute.

Monday, June 19, 2017

What is the actual status of DREAMERs?

We earlier posted the statement of UC prez Janet Napolitano heralding the president's decision to continue the DREAMER program.* After that time, there have been reports on conservative websites that the president didn't in fact make such a decision. However, the official government (Dept. of Homeland Security) statement says otherwise (kind of):

Q. Does this mean that DACA recipients will not be able to apply for a three-year work authorization, as established in the DAPA memorandum?

A. DACA recipients will continue to be eligible as outlined in the June 15, 2012 memorandum. DACA recipients who were issued three-year extensions before the district court’s injunction will not be affected, and will be eligible to seek a two-year extension upon their expiration. No work permits will be terminated prior to their current expiration dates. 
Of course, the president, at some future date, could change the policy. But at present, the policy is as above. So:

"DAPA and DACA are two different programs,” a spokeswoman for DHS said. “Yesterday, based on litigation, the administration decided to rescind DAPA. The fact that DACA [DREAMER program] was not rescinded by the same memo should not be interpreted as bearing any relevance on the long-term future of that program.” She continued, “The future of the DACA program continues to be under review with the administration.”