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►  National legal network formed to combat sex discrimination

A prominent women’s rights advocacy group has recruited more than 70 attorneys from 15 states to form a national legal network intended to assist women and girls who are victims of sex discrimination.

Fatima Goss Graves, president of the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center, announced the formation of the Legal Network for Gender Equity on Wednesday, depicting it as the first of its kind. She said the initiative was prompted by growing concerns that protections against sex discrimination were being weakened under the Trump administration.

“We’ve seen a surge of gender-based hostility and harassment across the nation,” said Goss Graves, who decried “escalating federal rollbacks to critical protections in education, the workplace, and health care.”

Among the administration’s actions cited by the law center:

— Allowing more categories of employers, including publicly traded companies, to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections.

— Revoking Obama-era guidance on investigating campus sexual assault, replacing it with new instructions that allow universities to require higher standards of evidence when handling complaints.

— Halting efforts by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect data from large companies about what they pay their employees by job category, gender, race and ethnicity.

Several high-profile gender discrimination lawsuits have been filed in recent months. Targets include Google and the prestigious Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. Both disputed the allegations.

There have also been numerous high-profile sexual harassment scandals this year, including those that led to the recent firing of movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the ouster of Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes at Fox News.

Creation of the new legal network was welcomed by Lenora Lapidus, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project.

“Bringing in more attorneys to really focus on these cases is a good idea,” she said. “We become like a tide that can push change more rapidly.”

The Women’s Rights Project, often assisted by lawyers from the ACLU’s state affiliates, has been litigating more than a dozen pregnancy discrimination cases recently and has gone to court seeking to learn why the EEOC’s data collection effort was blocked.

“That data could help close the gender wage gap,” Lapidus said. “We have no idea what made them decide this was not a worthy effort.”

Even before its official launch, the new legal network already had assigned its first case — a pregnancy discrimination case being handled by the Spiggle Law Firm of Arlington, Virginia. The client is a law enforcement officer who says a county sheriff’s office in Virginia refused her requests for work accommodations during her pregnancies and required her to take unpaid leave even though she had paid leave time in reserve.

Goss Graves said her goal is to have attorneys affiliating with the network in all 50 states.

The National Women’s Law Center will serve as the network’s hub, providing women and girls with legal resources and names of attorneys who are willing to take on cases. It also will serve as a clearinghouse for information on legal developments.

Among the attorneys enlisting with the network is Debra Katz of the Katz, Marshall & Banks law firm in Washington, which specializes in cases of sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

“We need one another,” Katz said. “This network will provide people who participate with critical camaraderie and support to be zealous in their advocacy.”

►  Woman who dug up dad’s grave for real will gets prison again

A New Hampshire woman who spent time in prison for digging up her father’s grave in search of his “real will” has been sent back after violating her parole conditions.

The Caledonian-Record reports Melanie Nash was sentenced to 1½ to three years in prison after a hearing September 26. Prosecutors say Nash violated her parole when she contacted her sister, Suzie Nash, and threatened her over their father’s estate.

Nash had previously been sentenced to 1½ to three years in 2015 for ransacking her father’s grave in Colebrook. Police said Nash felt she was shorted in her share of the inheritance after her father, businessman Eddie Nash, died in 2004.

Nash had been released early in 2016.

►  Eminem looks to ‘stomp’ Trump with lyrical tirade

Eminem has unleashed a lyrical tirade against Donald Trump, saying he “came to stomp.”

The rapper took aim at Trump in a 4½-minute freestyle rap video that aired as part of BET’s Hip Hop Awards on Tuesday night. Eminem focused several times on Trump’s ongoing campaign against NFL national anthem protests, rapping: “so we focus on that instead of talking Puerto Rico or gun reform for Nevada. All these horrible tragedies and he’s bored and would rather cause a Twitter storm with the Packers.” Eminem also derided Trump as “a kamikaze who will probably cause a nuclear holocaust.”

Eminem closed the piece by saying people who don’t support the president love the military and the country, but “hate Trump.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

►  How Trump tax plan would alter mortgage interest deduction

Each year, taxpayers subsidize America’s homeowners by roughly $70 billion, with the benefits flowing disproportionately to coastal areas with high incomes and pricey homes, from New York and Washington to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The subsidy for homeowners comes in the form of a deduction from their taxes for the interest they pay on their mortgages. An affluent New Yorker, for example, would have saved an average of $3,694 in 2015, according to an analysis of IRS data released Wednesday by the real estate company Apartment List. In metro Los Angeles, the deduction was worth an average of $4,568, in San Francisco still more: $5,500.

But under Donald Trump’s tax proposal, some Americans would likely be steered away from this tax break. Here’s why: Trump’s plan would double the standard deduction, which taxpayers can take if they don’t itemize deductions. The doubled standard deduction could exceed the savings many receive now from itemizing their expenses for housing, state and local taxes and related costs.

But the Trump plan would also eliminate many existing itemized deductions, including those for state and local taxes, so that some people who now itemize might end up paying more.

The president’s proposal would essentially marginalize the use of the mortgage interest deduction, which is the government’s primary form of direct housing assistance: It distributes three times more money this way than it does in the form of vouchers for impoverished renters.

Trump administration officials say their tax plan is designed to benefit the middle class. Yet it’s not clear from the scant details of the framework released so far how many families would enjoy lower tax bills and how many would face higher bills.

Even though the Trump measure would preserve the mortgage interest deduction, it’s confronting resistance from the real estate industry because it would likely reduce the number of people seeking the deduction.

Estimates by the real estate firm Zillow suggest that someone buying a home worth at least $305,000 today would still qualify for the deduction. But under the Trump plan, only homes worth $801,000 or more would receive the deduction.

This has led the industry to push back against the plan.

“We don’t want to go backwards — we don’t want to lose what incentives that we have,” said Jamie Gregory, deputy chief lobbyist for the National Association of Realtors.

The National Association of Homebuilders says it might be open to eliminating the mortgage interest deduction so long as homeownership was protected elsewhere in the tax code through the use of a possibly more generous tax credit. (A credit, which is subtracted from the amount of tax someone owes, is more generous than a deduction, which reduces the amount of income to be taxed.)

The advantage of moving to a credit is that more homeowners would be eligible to claim it than the 34 million who receive the mortgage interest deduction, said Rob Dietz, the homebuilder association’s chief economist. But there are no signs that the idea of a credit has gained traction within Congress or the White House.

Trump proclaimed in June that his tax plan would accelerate economic growth to ensure that “hard-working Americans enjoy a fair chance at becoming homeowners.”

Chris Salviati, a housing economist at Apartment List, noted that the main effect of the mortgage interest deduction is to enable people to spend more on homes rather than to increase ownership, which is near a 51-year low.

Though the benefits of tax breaks for housing skew most toward people in the top 20 percent of income, they also tend to help middle class Americans. Roughly half the households in metro Washington with incomes between $74,000 and $112,000 — a group that could be considered middle class in that area — take the mortgage interest deduction and saved an average $2,530 in 2015. The average home price in the Washington area is just below $400,000.

Areas with lower home values tend to benefit less from the deduction. A similar group of middle-income households in Indianapolis — where the average home cost around $140,000 — saved only $655 on average in 2015, and just 19 percent of them took the deduction. The savings for middle-income households are just $691 in Cleveland, $666 in Little Rock, Arkansas, and $673 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Yet the Apartment List analysis also indicates that Trump’s tax plan would do little for lower-income households. A mere 11 percent of households with income below 80 percent of the national median qualify for the mortgage interest deduction or rental housing vouchers.

--> Thursday, October 12, 2017
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