Protecting the rights of people with disabilities is not optional

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyAn opinion piece posted Sept. 26 by the Washington Post takes issue with a bill recently advanced in Congress called the ADA Education and Reform Act, noting that it would make the ADA much harder to enforce.

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Michigan lawmakers introduce courthouse violence bill

JCR publications share buttonWSBT 22, Berrien County, Mich., reported on March 6 that three state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would increase the maximum penalties for people who commit or attempt to commit courtroom assaults on a courtroom employee, including judges, prosecutors, police, and court reporters.

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City of Portland, Ore., passes TV caption ordinance

In 2014, a coalition of concerned citizens called Portland: Turn on the Captions Now brought the issue of local businesses not turning the captions on their televisions to the attention of Portland, Ore., City Commissioner Amada Fritz. A year later, on Dec. 18, 2015, an ordinance took effect that requires captions be turned on all the time on televisions in public places throughout the city. The expectation of the coalition: Businesses in Portland will turn on the captions once, and leave them on.

“The members of this coalition found that most often when they would ask for captions to be turned on at places that had televisions, the employees of the business would say they didn’t know how to turn them on, or they could not find the remote control, or it was too hard to do when they were busy,” said NCRA member Carol Studenmund, RDR, CRC, CRC, a broadcast captioner and member of the Portland: Turn on the Captions Now coalition.

“Comcast is the major cable provider in Portland. And turning the captions on through a Comcast box is not always easy to do, even if you know how to work with TV equipment. Some businesses turn on the captions all the time and enjoy having them on. But those businesses are in the minority,” added Studenmund, who also serves on NCRA’s Broadcast and CART Captioning Committee.

Joining Studenmund on the coalition were also Portland residents Jim House and Steve Brown, both deaf and long-time advocates for the deaf community on city, state, and nationals levels, as well as David Viers, a long-time advocate for people with hearing loss who wears two cochlear implants.

According to Studenmund, prior to the ordinance, many businesses with televisions would have them turned on sometimes with the sound on and only sometimes with captions on, 99 percent of the time for entertainment purposes only. However, when emergency coverage goes on the air, the captions need to be visible so that everyone can understand what is being said. “The bottom line of this effort was to make sure all citizens in Portland have access to important information during times of emergency,” she said.

Studenmund said that captions can also help people learn to read and learn the English language. In Multnomah, Ore., for example, County Sheriff Dan Staton ordered that captions be turned on the televisions located in the county jail over two years ago as a way to teach inmates how to read. In addition, when the National Captioning Institute sold caption decoders before televisions were required to have caption decoders built in, more than 40 percent of the people who purchased a decoder reported that it was to help them learn English as a second – or third or fourth – language.

“During the process of getting this ordinance written and passed, the U.S. Department of Transportation implemented a rule requiring all televisions in U.S. airports have the captions turned on all the time. That U.S. DOT rule helped the City Council come to its decision about this local ordinance. The vote of the Council was 5-0,” said Studenmund.

According to Studenmund, businesses should not have to spend any money to accomplish providing captioning on their television sets. Comcast, she noted, is ready to help its business customers turn on the captions. In addition, Portland has created a website with more information and may fine a business up to $500 per day for not turning on captions.

“But it is not the city’s goal to need to impose that fee on any business,” said Studenmund. “The goal is to turn the captions on and leave them on. Any fine would be imposed only after many unsuccessful attempts are made to get the captions turned on.”

Portland: Turn on the Captions Now also created a website with information about its efforts to help ensure the captioning ordinance was approved. In addition, a number of organizations representing people who are deaf, as well as chapters of the Hearing Loss Association of America, are looking to Portland’s efforts as a model for possible legislation around the country. Among those chapters is the Hearing Loss Association of America – Kansas City Chapter, which recently launched the Kansas: Open Caption Initiatives and Kansas: Turn On the TV Captions Now projects. The projects will help build statewide support for a mandate requiring captions on all TVs located in public places, as well as open captioning in movie theaters and at major public events.

Gear up for the NCRA Legislative Boot Camp

State affiliates gear up for 2016 NCRA Legislative Boot Camp

State affiliates from across the country are making plans to participate in the 2016 NCRA Legislative Boot Camp being held March 20-22 at the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Va. The event is sponsored by NCRA’s government relations department.

The schedule for this year’s event will include seminars on the political climate on a state and national level, as well as ways to promote the profession to external audiences and consumer groups. Attendees will also be trained how to testify before legislators, partake in rigorous roleplaying exercises, and receive an intensive overview of the current legislative and regulatory issues at hand. The two-day training culminates with a trip to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where attendees will have the opportunity to walk through the building, meet with their respective legislators and their professional staff members, and gain experience in lobbying. Attendees will also have the opportunity to attend a political fundraiser for one of NCRA’s major supporters.

“The NCRA Legislative Boot Camp is one of the most important benefits of membership in the Association because it provides training in the skills needed to successfully advocate and participate in the legislative and regulatory processes when issues in either of those arenas arise that could hinder or help the future of the court reporting and captioning professions,” said NCRA President Stephen A. Zinone, RPR, an official court reporter from Pittsford, N.Y.

“If you are in the business of making the record and preserving history or providing valuable captioning services to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, then you are in the business of protecting our profession,” said Zinone.

Online registration is now open for the 2016 Legislative Boot Camp at NCRA.org/bootcamp. The cost is $175 per attendee. For more information, contact Adam Finkel, NCRA Director of Government Relations, at afinkel@ncra.org.

California Court Reporters Association fights electronic reporting

The California Court Reporters Association issued a call to action Jan. 8 asking members to help support AB 749 (Bloom), a two-year bill that mandates that a court reporter report all family proceedings. This came in response to the 2016 proposed budget released by the state’s governor that calls for the “development of electronic recordings in family courts.”

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John Zandonella Act of 2015 now law in California

Effective Jan. 1, legal professionals in California who prepare deposition notices have new disclosure obligations under the John Zandonella Act of 2015, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The Deposition Reporters Association of California has launched an informative website to help educate court reporters, court reporting firms, and legal professionals about the law’s requirements and ramifications.

This new legislation should serve as a reminder that the practice of court reporting can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to the next. It is therefore incumbent on all reporters to be aware of the rules, regulations, and laws governing the proceedings they are reporting.

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New York governor signs bill to provide CART services in state courtrooms

Sponsor_StudentIn September 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed bill S5533-B, referred to as the CART bill, which expands provisions to enable people who are deaf or hard of hearing with access to court proceedings.

NCRA member Adam H. Alweis, RPR, a senior court reporter from Syracuse, N.Y., and a board member for the New York State Court Reporters Association, provided the following information on what the CART bill was, the events leading up to its signing, and how the bill may be implemented in the New York courts.

The JCR first wrote about the CART bill in July.

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The CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) bill was created by the Association of Surrogates and Supreme Court Reporters union down in New York City, namely, President Brian DiGiovanna, RPR, CRR, CMRS, and Legislative Chairperson John Cardillo, as well as the NYSCRA Legislative Chairperson Myron Calderon. These individuals deserve high praise for their efforts in this regard.

The bill provides for having a realtime court reporter present in any situation within the court system where a juror, litigant, judge, family member, etc. who is deaf or hard of hearing is in need of realtime access in order to be more fully able to participate in the proceedings in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

New York State Senator John DeFrancisco was approached by DiGiovanna initially to put forward this bill in the New York state legislature. Both Sen. DeFrancisco and Assemblyperson Helene Weinstein sponsored the bill, which eventually passed through both houses.

In July, DiGiovanna had contacted me in Syracuse about doing a press conference to outline for the press and the public what this bill’s intentions were and its positive impact on the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. After meeting with the senator’s staff, along with their assistance, we set up a wireless realtime demonstration for the press conference using two iPads for display to the audience.

The press conference occurred in late July in the Onondaga County Courthouse in Syracuse. Sen. DeFrancisco spoke to those who attended along with a representative from the hard-of-hearing community. A sign language interpreter was also present. At the end of the conference, I gave a brief outline as to how the realtime worked using a wireless Internet device.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill on Sept. 25.

The following would be my understanding on how this will work. Those working in the New York state courts should check with their individual supervisors for more information.

For a juror who is deaf or hard of hearing, a realtime court reporter will have to shadow that juror throughout his or her participation in the proceedings. What that means is that, most likely, you would need two court reporters in the courtroom at the same time: one who is recording the proceedings and the other who is shadowing the juror.

If none of the court reporters within the court system are available to do this shadowing, then the court system will be responsible for finding someone from outside to handle this.

As far as litigants in need for realtime, I would imagine that would be handled by the supervisors in each office as to how to implement that.

If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to contact the officers and directors of NYSCRA and/or the officers of the ASSCR.

NCRA urges sponsorship of legislation critical to aiding courts in recovering funding

In a letter sent June 24, NCRA President Sarah E. Nageotte, RDR, CRR, CBC, urged Sen. John Thune to become an original sponsor of the Crime Victim Restitution and Court Fee Intercept Act. The legislation would allow for interception of individuals’ federal income tax returns to pay for existing court fees that the individual may owe.

In the letter, Nageotte notes that the concept already exists in federal law as related to child support, state tax, and other federal debts. She said the legislation would have a tremendous and immediate impact on court budgets nationwide and would help to alleviate many of the stresses that have accumulated within the court systems since the late-2000s.

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The future of tax reform

In early December, I was able to attend a Bloomberg Government panel discussion on tax reform on behalf of NCRA. Robert Litan, Jennifer Blouin, William Gale, and Doug Holtz-Eakin were speakers on the panel, all providing insightful perspectives from their fields.  Tax reform remains one of the most discussed issues on Capitol Hill and understanding the issue is important with potential changes coming in the near future.

When the tax code was created, 100 years ago, it was less than 500 pages. Today the tax code is more than 70,000 pages, creating confusion and providing thousands of specific exemptions. Tax reform remains a key issue for several reasons, mainly that American corporations are unable to stay competitive in today’s market and the increasingly complex code needs to be simplified. The United States has not seen a major overhaul to the tax code since 1986, when President Ronald Reagan was able to work with House Speaker Tip O’Neil and achieve a major legislative victory simplifying the tax code.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., released a new plan to fix our country’s corporate taxes, especially uncollected offshore income, in an effort to move along tax reform legislation. Baucus suggests a one-time minimum tax on offshore profits to bring revenue back into the country.  He took major heat from Republicans because of the timing of his plan which was introduced when both sides were focused on getting a budget done before the government shutdown that would occur in January, if nothing is passed. With a rough political climate right now and a president with weak political capital after a failed rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are worried about conceding too much in any potential deal with primaries early next year. Political pundits point to 2015 as the year tax reform would be more likely since the 2014 elections will give both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee new chairmen. The president will also be looking for a second term legislative victory to put his name on, something that looks gloomy until after midterm elections.

During the last several years, both parties have agreed that tax reform is a critical issue for the country to address. However, Republicans have been wary of agreeing to more tax increases while Democrats have been insistent that revenues be raised somehow. It seems unlikely that a tax reform bill will pass this year, but many businesses are hopeful that the tax code will be simplified. While economists continue to note that the U.S. is losing money every year because of our tax code, money is not being reinvested back in the U.S. because of the high tax rates.  Each side has their own policy that they believe will be best for the country.

Baucus and the White House are pushing to keep one of our current policies known as the international tax, a tax that is only used by the United States. As an example of our current system: Starbucks, an international company, is taxed in the United States and then must pay taxes on certain gains after it pays a territorial tax (income tax in the country the business is located) in another country. Oftentimes, most companies never pay the tax or hide gains in tax loopholes because companies are not taxed upfront under current tax code. Under the Democrats’ proposal, Baucus would keep the current international tax system while providing a tax holiday and lower overall tax rates for business.

On the Republican side, David Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, has floated a proposal that would change two major parts of the current tax policy. First, Camp suggests changing the top tax bracket for high income earners and businesses to 25%, which is lower than Baucus’ proposal. This would make the U.S. more competitive on the business front, as the U.S. currently has one of the highest corporate tax rates. The second part of the plan would move the country to a territorial tax system from an international tax system. Most other developed nations run their tax system on a territorial system. A territorial system is believed to help change how companies operate outside the U.S.

Both sides seem willing to allow an exemption of a low tax or no tax if companies bring back the money from overseas by a certain date. This was last used by President George Bush. Under the “Tax Holiday,” Bush allowed companies to use offshore income to reinvest in America under a lower tax rate, bringing back $360 billion. This would be something both sides seem willing to do again in the future to try to get the economy moving again. Scholars have different opinions on the amount of money that would be reinvested this time around but believe it to be a significant amount, as many companies have significant amounts of capital housed in overseas accounts.

Despite these proposals and some positive overtures by both parties, tax reform seems to be unlikely this year. If tax reform happens, 2015 seems to be the most likely opportunity.

NCRA and you: What the Affordable Care Act means for you

Jim CudahyBecause such a high percentage of court reporters are self-employed or run small businesses, it is not surprising that in any member needs assessment we conduct, we hear from a fair number of folks who are seeking low-cost health insurance. Having run a small business myself for a few years, I had to purchase health coverage for my family during that time, so I know first-hand that the costs to do so as an individual or as a family can be exorbitant.

It is beyond unfortunate that the politi­cal debate surrounding the launch of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” has served to confuse — rather than to explain — the impact of the new laws on individuals. Indeed, that political landscape made me think twice about whether I should focus a column on this important issue at all. That approach, however, would be a disservice to you, the membership.

Politics aside, let me suggest to those members who have been looking for af­fordable healthcare coverage for yourself and/or your family, Obamacare, which takes effect January 1, 2014, provides you with the answer. In January, in each state and the District of Columbia, exchanges will go into effect that will allow you to purchase individual and/or family health­care coverage at rates that individuals likely could not get on their own. This coverage will be provided by health insurance com­panies that choose to offer programs to those individuals who join the exchange. You likely have heard that a number of state governments, 35 actually, have decided not to operate such exchanges. In those cases, the U.S. government will operate the ex­changes, but the net effect for the individ­ual is the same. There will be an exchange in your state that you can join and from which you can get health insurance at a lower rate than you could get on your own.

Keep in mind that you still will have many options at your disposal that will affect rates. Bronze programs with higher deductibles and fewer bells and whistles will cost less; silver, gold, and platinum programs with lower deductibles and more bells and whistles will cost proportionally more.

Some people will be justifiably skepti­cal and will ask how all this is possible. In the past, insurance companies have gener­ally assumed that if you are seeking health­care coverage as an individual or as a fam­ily, you are doing so to address a pressing health concern, meaning there would be significant financial risk to offer coverage to that person or family. So they jacked their rates for that individual or family even if there was no evidence of pre-exist­ing conditions. If there was a documented pre-existing condition involved, the rates would be even more expensive. It now will be illegal for health insurance companies to discriminate against the individual/family in terms of rates, even in the case of there being pre-existing conditions. Effectively, the exchanges—with many thousands of individuals and families enrolled—allow for the insurance companies to distribute their financial risk across a large pool. The thinking here is that with substantially more younger individuals paying for cov­erage, those premiums will offset the costs of those who are older or who have pre-ex­isting conditions, with the younger crowd costing substantially less for the insurance companies to cover.

All that said, there is no requirement for you to participate in an exchange. If you already have healthcare coverage with which you’re satisfied, say through an em­ployer, you can keep it. Or, if you simply don’t wish to purchase health coverage at all, you can do so; however, you will be as­sessed a new penalty, which you will pay through your annual tax return. This pen­alty will be calculated based on a number of factors, but mainly on individual/family income.

Even in trying to offer a simplistic explanation of what will transpire with re­gard to implementation of the Affordable Care Act, things get complicated. I strongly encourage you to develop an understand­ing of how things will work in your own state based on your personal circumstanc­es. There are any number of places you can go to develop such understanding, but please be careful that you are dealing with a trusted source of information such as www.healthcare.govBy the way, the deadline for enrollment to have new coverage begin on Jan. 1 is Dec. 17.