Public Citizen members and supporters like YOU are making a real difference in helping grow the momentum around the call for a tax on Wall Street transactions.

Last month, we joined in the Million Strong petition push as part of a worldwide action to make sure the eleven European nations that are negotiating a collaborative financial transaction tax stay strong and come out with a good proposal.

Here in the states, the campaign to achieve a tax on Wall Street trades captured an important win when the media last week began asking candidates if they will stand with Main Street or Wall Street when it comes to tamping down high-speed trading and market speculation by instituting a tiny fee on stock, bond, and derivative trades.

And, just last week, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) got a ton of much-deserved press for his proposal to fund free public college tuition by instituting a Wall Street speculation fee. At the same time, Sen. Sanders also introduced a Senate companion bill to U.S. Rep. Ellison’s Inclusive Prosperity Act, the first time the bill has been offered in that chamber. It’s clear that Sen. Sanders’ proposal will do a lot to push the public debate leading up to the 2016 elections toward looking at solutions like a Wall Street tax.

In addition to creating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, a tiny tax on trades on financial products could make a huge difference in taming Wall Street’s volatility.

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Keith Wrightson thumbStatement of Keith Wrightson, Worker Safety and Health Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

This post was updated May 22, 2015

It appears that state and local government workers in Maine will finally get the full range of workplace protections they deserve.

Today, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a proposed rulemaking to form a new occupational safety and health plan for Maine’s state and local employees. Maine had previously adopted some of OSHA’s safety and health standards to protect state and local employees from hazards on the job, but had not formally established its own state OSHA enforcement agency.

The 1970 federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) established OSHA to protect workers from occupational safety and health hazards, but the OSH Act excluded state and local government employees from protection under the law unless a state creates its own occupational safety and health plan.

As of now, 25 states and two U.S. territories have federally approved state OSHA plans. If approved by OSHA, Maine’s state plan would mean that a majority of states have protections for state and local government employees. In April, Public Citizen released the first-ever comprehensive database of state-level worker health and safety rules.

Today’s announcement by OSHA is a clear indicator that Maine has received preliminary approval to create its own occupational safety and health plan. Maine’s state and local employees have been waiting 44 years for full safety and health protections that workers in the private sector enjoy; these new protections will cover over 81,000 workers.

The OSH Act permits states to substitute their own rulemaking and enforcement agencies for federal OSHA as long as the state programs, also known as state OSHA plans, are “at least as effective” as the federal agency. This flexibility allows states to address local needs and unique industries.

It has been estimated by OSHA that in 1970 approximately 14,000 workers were killed on the job. That number fell to approximately 4,340 in 2009. This is evidence that worker health and safety protections save lives, and it shows why these safeguards should not apply exclusively to private-sector workers.

It is the hope that Maine’s state plan will reduce occupational accidents and work-related illnesses and will save lives. The remaining 24 states and territories that do not offer their state and local employees the safety and health protections afforded to their private-sector counterparts should follow Maine’s example and establish their own occupational safety and health plans.

"amit Narang" "Public Citizen"Statement of Amit Narang, Regulatory Policy Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Here are some of the headlines from the past few weeks: 34 million cars outfitted with dangerously defective airbags have been recalled; passenger trains and oil trains have derailed, putting commuters and communities at risk; nail salon workers are being exposed to dangerous conditions and abusive employers. What these stories have in common is a regulatory process that is too slow and too captured by industry to protect Americans. Instead of attacking regulations, Congress should be empaneling committees to investigate why regulations are so slow to be issued and so poorly enforced.

But now a group of U.S. senators led by U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) is calling for a new, permanent, bicameral committee to review and recommend eliminating federal safeguards. The proposed committee could delay rules under consideration for up to one year while it reviews them, provide recommendations for a process to automatically sunset rules and recommend final rules for repeal with a resolution of disapproval – all with subpoena power.

This is exactly the wrong solution at exactly the wrong time. The last thing Congress should be doing is creating more delays for new health, safety, consumer and environmental rules by holding up new rules and forcing agencies to move even slower. The breadth and scope of this committee is vast, encompassing everything from food safety to toy safety to protections from predatory lending and everything in between. The opportunities for mischief against commonsense and popular public protections are endless.

"Robert Weissman" "Public Citizen president"Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that five major banks have agreed to plead guilty to felony charges and pay criminal fines in connection with the foreign exchange market. Four agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to currency manipulation; a fifth will plead guilty to manipulating benchmark interest rates.

There are two messages in today’s plea deal: First, criminality is rampant on Wall Street. Second, the era of too-big-to-jail is alive and well. Even as they beat their chests announcing how tough they are, government regulators refuse to apply to the giant banks the same rules that apply to everyone else.

The illegal acts to which the five banks have admitted wrongdoing weren’t accidents or technical violations. They were intentional violations of the law. They were conducted in concert with purported competitors. And they were hidden through use of code words.

Many of the five banks are repeat lawbreakers, and the Department of Justice deserves credit for revisiting a prior non-prosecution agreement, and now prosecuting prior crimes at the giant company UBS. But the lesson for the DOJ should be that it never should have entered into deferred and non-prosecution agreements in the first place, and it should cease using them for future corporate wrongdoing. They are simply escapes from criminal pleas with no demonstrable deterrent effect.

It is being reported that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has granted a waiver to the banks from rules that would otherwise require the agency to revoke the banks’ authority to undertake certain securities activities. If these reports are accurate, this action is disgraceful and intolerable. Congress must investigate this dereliction of duty at the agency.

Important questions remain about this plea deal: Will individual executives be prosecuted? And did the DOJ charge the parent companies in this case to avoid triggering potential sanctions with real and significant business consequences for the banks, including charter revocation hearings? The public deserves answers to these questions. In that information is some insight into whether the government continues to protect the megabanks – those colloquially labeled “too big to jail.”

What becomes clear is that regulators genuinely are afraid of enforcing the law when it comes to the megabanks. As a result, and notwithstanding today’s announcement and others like it, these banks are not deterred from violating the law – indeed, they are literally not subject to the same standards as other banks and other companies. A democratic society cannot tolerate having banks above the law. There’s a solution to this problem: break them up.

Protections against exposure to beryllium allotted to workers are far too weak, especially in the construction industry, where an estimated 23,000 construction workers come in contact with beryllium every day while performing open-air blasting.

Beryllium levels can be extremely elevated due to high dust concentrations on construction sites and can result in chronic beryllium disorder. Patients gradually develop cough, chest pain, progressive shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue. Loss of appetite, weight loss, lung and right-sided heart failure may occur in people with advanced disease.

On September 4, 2014, the Obama Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) received the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed rule to allow the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update the Beryllium standard. As detailed in Executive Order 12866, OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is required to complete its review of such rules within 90 days of receipt, with an additional 30-day review extension allowed if needed.

But eight months have passed, and there is no sign that OMB is close to completing its review.

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