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AG Reyes Continues to Advocate for Federal Pandemic Liability Protections, Leading Effort to Urge Congress to Consider Safe to Work Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 13, 2020


ATTORNEY GENERAL REYES CONTINUES TO ADVOCATE FOR FEDERAL PANDEMIC LIABILITY PROTECTIONS, LEADING EFFORT TO URGE CONGRESS TO CONSIDER SAFE TO WORK ACT

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes is leading a coalition with Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr and 20 more state attorneys general who this week co-signed a letter to Congress urging the adoption of the protections contained in the Safe to Work Act. This is the latest action by Attorney General Reyes and his colleagues to help mitigate the threat of frivolous COVID-related litigation for much-needed goods and services while still ensuring victims have necessary legal redress for legitimate claims.
 
“In the midst of this devastating crisis, the extension of appropriate civil liability protections to small and large businesses, frontline healthcare facilities, schools, colleges, universities, philanthropic and religious non-profits, local government and other critical providers is crucial,” said Attorney General Reyes. “Utah has already put legal safeguards in place. But our economy needs these protections at both the state and federal level to provide stability for those trying to provide much-needed services while dealing with evolving science, differing standards and changing government guidelines or mandates. This bill deters expensive and frivolous lawsuits while still allowing meritorious and deserving claims to go forward. ”
 
An excerpt from the letter is below:
 
“The undersigned Attorneys General, representing 22 states, are encouraged to see the introduction of S. 4317, the Safe to Work Act, by U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, and we urge you to adopt the COVID-19 civil liability protections included in this important legislation. As we wrote in our previous letter dated May 11, 2020, we believe this framework for federal pandemic liability protections will benefit all of our states and citizens as we continue working to slow the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the detrimental impact it has had on our state economies.
 
“Attorneys General have a responsibility to protect the interests of the residents of our states. Notably, it is the role of the Attorney General to help maintain a stable legal and regulatory environment. We have seen the tragedies and widespread loss of life that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in our states. We have also observed firsthand the livelihoods that have been lost due to joblessness, business closures, and the abandonment of traditional activities in daily lives and places of work.
 
“As the economies in our states have started reopening, and as we continue to work to protect public health, safety, and the economic security of our residents, the need for a stable, predictable legal environment has never been greater. In order to avoid even greater damage to our economy and people’s livelihoods, it is important that we are able to continue the operation of our free enterprise system, safely and appropriately, and to protect schools, colleges, and nonprofit organizations.
 
“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to create a surge in frivolous civil litigation targeting well-intentioned businesses, educational institutions and non-profit organizations that have implemented and utilized applicable pandemic mitigation measures. In fact, lawsuits are already being filed. We know that in order for our economy to fully recover, customers and employees have to have the confidence to return to the marketplace, students need to be able to safely return to school, and at the same time, entities of all types that follow applicable guidelines need to be protected from devastating civil liability litigation concerning baseless COVID-related claims.  Therefore, we are encouraged by this common-sense framework to provide federal liability protections for much-needed goods and services while still ensuring victims are able to seek legal redress and compensation where appropriate.
 
“As you are probably aware, states across the country have taken steps to address the need for timely, targeted and temporary civil liability protections in light of the pandemic, but the need for a uniform national baseline of liability protection still exists. As such, we are very encouraged by the introduction and consideration of this important framework for federal pandemic liability protections while still preserving states’ autonomy to tailor protections based on each one’s unique circumstances.
 
“If adopted, these important protections will lead to meaningful results for our states, and we look forward to supporting the implementation of this type of legislation in any way we can.”
 
Joining Utah, the following state attorneys general also signed on to the letter: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

A copy of the full letter is attached here.

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Attorney General Reyes Joins Effort to Protect Senior Victims of Fraud, Urges Congress to Pass Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 12, 2020

Attorney General Reyes Joins Effort to Protect Senior Victims of Fraud Urging Congress to Pass Legislation; Joins Bipartisan Group of 44 AGs

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes is urging the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to include Edith’s Bill in COVID-19 relief legislation. This bipartisan legislation would amend the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA) to include victims of senior fraud as eligible for reimbursement by the Crime Victims Fund for states that provide compensation to victims. Scam artists know that seniors are especially at risk from COVID-19 and they are targeting seniors who are isolated at home, separated from families and support networks.

Edith’s Bill, or the Edith Shorougian Senior Victims of Fraud Compensation Act (S. 3487/H.R. 7620) will also amend VOCA so that penalties and fines from deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, which can include white collar criminal conduct against seniors, are deposited into the Crime Victims Fund. The bill is being led by Sen. Baldwin of Wisconsin and Sen. Cassidy of Louisiana in the Senate and Rep. Bonamici of Oregon and Rep. King of New York in the House, who both co-chair the Elder Justice Caucus.

Across all states, there has been a surge in COVID-19 scams targeting vulnerable seniors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General has warned that fraudsters “are offering COVID-19 tests to Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for personal details, including Medicare information.” This is unfortunately just one of many COVID-19 scams targeting seniors.

Even after the pandemic, it is widely expected that seniors will continue to be targeted by fraudsters. By using this legislation to add senior fraud as an eligible reimbursement expense under VOCA, states will be able to help victims receive the financial relief they deserve. States would be incentivized but not mandated by this legislation to provide compensation to victims of senior fraud.

A copy of the letter can be found here.  

# # #

AG Reyes Urges Federal Government Action to Increase Access and Affordability for Remdesivir

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 6, 2020

Attorney General Reyes Joins Bipartisan Coalition Urging Federal Government Action to Increase Access and Affordability for Remdesivir

Remdesivir is an anti-viral drug showing promising results for those hospitalized due to COVID-19

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes joined a bipartisan multistate coalition in sending a letter request to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), urging them to use their legal authority under the Bayh-Dole Act to increase the availability of Remdesivir. Remdesivir, a drug manufactured by Gilead Sciences, Inc. (Gilead), has shown promising results in reducing mortality and hospitalization from COVID-19.

“Even though Remdesivir is not a miracle cure for COVID-19, it does show promise in reducing the severity of symptoms and shortening hospital stays,” said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes.  “Given that glimmer of hope, I feel the drug should be accessible to as many people as possible, under the care of their doctor.  Until a vaccine is available, this appears to be one of our best courses of action.”

Remdesivir is an FDA fast-tracked antiviral drug that was produced with the benefit of millions of dollars of federal funding and the time and expertise of CDC and military scientists. Despite the substantial federal funding provided to its manufacturer, Gilead has been unable to assure a supply of Remdesivir sufficient to alleviate the health and safety needs of the country amid the pandemic. 

As of August 3, 2020, more than 4.64 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 AND 154,000 have died. Yet, by the end of this year, Gilead is expected to produce only two million treatments, or enough Remdesivir to cover about half of the current confirmed COVID-19 patients in the U.S. Before this crisis is over and a vaccine made available, many more Americans may become sick, and their recovery may hinge on the availability and affordability of Remdesivir.

In the letter, the bipartisan coalition urges the federal government to exercise its rights under the Bayh-Dole Act, which allows the NIH and FDA to ensure Americans can afford and have reasonable access to a sufficient supply of Remdesivir during this pandemic. Despite a manufacturing cost of between $1 and $5, Gilead has set the price of the drug at an outrageous and unconscionable $3,200 per treatment course. Under the Bayh-Dole Act, the NIH and FDA has the authority to license Remdesivir to third party manufacturers to scale up production and distribution and ensure the drug is made available to all those in need at a reasonable price. If these agencies are unwilling to exercise this authority, the states request that the agencies assign this authority for the states to use. The bipartisan coalition stands ready to ensure that drug manufacturers are licensed to meet market demand during this public health crisis.

Attorney General Reyes joined the attorneys general of California, Louisiana and 33 other states in sending the letter.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

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Utah Attorney General’s Office Delivers PPE to Over 100 Agencies in Utah

May 21, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Utah Attorney General’s Office has partnered with a number of local businesses to collect and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) to rescue and law enforcement agencies who were running out.

Together, PPE was secured and distributed statewide when PPE was not readily available to first responders. There was a huge need based on the scarcity of PPE and the desire to help keep law enforcement agencies and other first responders safe.

So far, PPE has been delivered to over 100 law enforcement agencies and Children’s Justice Centers statewide. This has included:

  • 14,300 N95 masks
  • 500 KN90 masks
  • 1,200 bottles of hand sanitizer
  • 4,100 gloves

Over 200 hours and nearly 10,000 miles have been driven by Attorney General’s Office agents delivering PPE statewide.

COVID-19 Liability Protections: AG Reyes, 20 State Attorneys General Ask Congress to Help Stop Frivolous Lawsuits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 14, 2020

COVID-19 Liability Protections: Attorney General Reyes and 20 Other State Attorneys General Ask Congress to Help Stop Frivolous Lawsuits

SALT LAKE CITY –Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes has joined a 21-state coalition in urging Congress to protect businesses who provide much-needed goods and services from frivolous lawsuits specific to COVID-related litigation. In the wake of this unprecedented crisis, the extension of appropriate post-pandemic liability protections is needed at both the state and federal levels for businesses, manufacturers of personal protective equipment, first responders, healthcare workers, healthcare facilities and members of law enforcement, among others.

The letter also underscores the need to ensure that victims are able to seek legal redress and compensation where appropriate.

In the letter, the attorneys general wrote:

“Civil liability protections should not, however, be extended to businesses engaging in willful misconduct, reckless infliction of harm or intentional infliction of harm We believe criminal penalties, regulatory fines and agency oversight should be able to capture bad actors and civil lawsuits should be available for any citizens hurt by a business or individual acting with disregard for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Attorney General Reyes said, “Right now, as our economies reopen, we need a stable, predictable legal environment more than ever.  Our economy will only recover if customers and employees have the confidence to return to the marketplace.

“At the same time, we must ensure people don’t try to take advantage of this crisis by stifling the economy with a glut of plaintiffs cases targeting well-intentioned businesses for taking reasonable pandemic measures. 

“My colleagues and I feel this nation needs a common sense framework to ensure our states have a legal and regulatory environment that balances protecting consumers while allowing free enterprise to thrive.

“Certainly, there must be some redress for wrongs suffered. But not every injury has a remedy in the courts. And opportunistic, aggressive plaintiff lawsuits that rely less on facts or the law than on the burden of defending litigation will impede economic recovery and end up hurting long term the very class of plaintiffs they are purporting to help.

“Thus, we call on Congress to ensure businesses have clearly defined expectations for the safe and appropriate continuance of operations while being protected from devastating civil liability litigation concerning baseless COVID-related claims.”

States across the country have recognized the need for timely, targeted and tailored civil liability protections in light of the pandemic. To date, over 20 states have enacted liability protections for first responders and healthcare workers.

The following states’ attorneys general signed onto the letter: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

Read a copy of the letter here.

Woman Charged, Arrested for Sexually Abusing Child

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our communities and worlds have changed. We have adjusted to a new normal as workplaces and schools closed. During this time, the Investigation Division of the Utah Attorney General’s Office continued to work tirelessly on protecting Utahns and our communities. Below is a case Attorney General Investigators were involved in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

May 13, 2020

An investigation was opened when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children discovered child pornography being distributed between Facebook accounts. After identifying Mary Jean Royce as a suspect, Utah Attorney General’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force investigators traveled to Beaver, Utah and partnered with the Beaver County Sheriff’s Office deputies engaged in saving a 2-year-old child. 

Royce, the mother of the 2-year-old girl, had filmed herself abusing the toddler in order to maintain a relationship with a man she had never met in real life. The mother was arrested and charged in March 2020 with two counts of Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child and 10 counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Minor. The girl was taken into custody by the Utah Department of Child and Family Services.  Shortly thereafter, the man with whom the videos were shared, was contacted by the New York ICAC Task Force in coordination with Utah Attorney General’s Office’s investigation. 

The Utah Attorney General’s Office ICAC Task Force reviews and investigates thousands of these cases in Utah every year.  This is an example of a success story from the dozens received and investigated by the Attorney General’s Office.

Media coverage:

KSL: Woman filmed herself sexually abusing child, agents say

Cedar City News: In separate, unrelated cases, police arrest 2 Beaver residents on child porn charges

West Jordan Man Charged and Arrested in Child Porn Investigation During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our communities and worlds have changed. We have adjusted to a new normal as workplaces and schools closed. During this time, the Investigation Division of the Utah Attorney General’s Office continued to work tirelessly on protecting Utahns and our communities. Below is a case Attorney General Investigators were involved in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

May 12, 2020

In March 2020, two weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, special agents with the Utah Attorney General’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force worked with their affiliates in West Jordan, Utah to investigate and remove a threat to a 13-year-old girl. The adult boyfriend of a relative also living in the same house was covertly sexually exploiting the girl while she slept.  

ICAC investigators received a tip that child pornography had been uploaded to Twitter. Investigators were then able to trace the Twitter account to a home in West Jordan. Upon investigation, the keen eyes of ICAC investigators observed distinctive markings on the hands of the person taking the pictures and matched them to the boyfriend, Gorge Angel Solorsano, who was then arrested and charged in the 3rd District Court with Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child, a first degree felony; 10 counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Minor, a second-degree felony; and Voyeurism, a class A misdemeanor. Further investigation revealed over 270 files of child pornography on the social media account belonging to Solorsano. The process of helping the victim continues.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office ICAC Task Force reviews and investigates thousands of these cases in Utah every year.  This is an example of a success story from the dozens received and investigated by the Attorney General’s Office.

Media coverage:

KSL: West Jordan man charged in child porn investigation

Deseret News: West Jordan man charged in child porn investigation

Resources and Support During COVID-19 for Mental Health Awareness Month

May 6, 2020

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and in a year dominated by a pandemic, it is crucial to be kind to ourselves and vigilant and aware of our personal mental well-being. We should also pay attention to friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors.  We are all in this together. 

COVID-19 has altered our lives, our routines, and created a new normal in our lives. It is crucial that we all take time to acknowledge that fact in order to maintain balance in our lives.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about many changes and the uncertainty has been stressful for many people. Anxiety and unease have been prevalent and with the quick pace of newly implemented protocols and changing environments, uncertainty has followed. As social distancing measures were put in place, many suffered from loneliness and were inundated with an information overload from social media, news, and internet sites.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all suffering from various levels of anxiety, sadness, fear, and loneliness. For those who already struggled with mental health issues, those feelings are potentially more acute and the world may have felt especially difficult and heavy.

Please know that this is normal, and you are not alone. During this pandemic, we want to make sure that you are not just looking out for your physical health, but your mental health as well. Know that there are ways that you can help manage your stress and be attentive to your mental health. We can all weather this storm together.

Below are some self-care tips:

  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Perhaps the most important thing to taking care of you and your mental health is making sure you are getting enough sleep.
  • Stick with your normal routines. Get up when you normally would get ready for the day, even if you are staying at home, and get to bed on time.
  • Take breaks. Step away from your electronic devices throughout the day. Constantly hearing about the pandemic and frequently visiting social media platforms can be upsetting.
  • Stay in touch with others. Just because you are physically social distancing, does not mean you have to mentally or emotionally distance yourself. Stay in touch with friends and family and talk to people you trust about your concerns.
  • Make sure you are getting exercise. Even if it is just going for walks, make sure you are getting up and moving around throughout the day.

Please know that if you need help with emotional support, there are resources available to you.

  • SafeUT – Download the free SafeUT app to message a crisis counselor. Available 24/7.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Available 24/7.
  • Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741. Available 24/7.
  • Intermountain Health Care, free emotional health relief hotline – 833-442-2211. Available 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week.
  • University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) warm line – 801-587-1055. Available 8am to 11pm, 7 days a week.
  • University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) crisis line – 801-587-3000. Available 24/7.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office is proud to partner with organizations dedicated to looking out for the mental health of Utahns including Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nami Utah, Jason Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Utah Chapter, SafeUT Commission, Life’s Worth Living Foundation, University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI), Veterans Crisis Line.

For more information on mental health and tips to look out for you and others during this time, check out these resources:

Additional Resources on Digital Safety for Parents

April 23, 2020

Earlier this month, the Utah Attorney General’s Office released online safety tips for parents during the COVID-19 crisis to help keep children safe while they access the internet more than normal while attending online classrooms and keeping in touch with friends in a socially distant environment. These tips included keeping an open dialogue with your children about online safety, being aware of the apps and internet sites your children frequent, and understanding the behavioral changes to look out for in your children that may indicate abuse, cyberbullying, or grooming by a predator.

Organizations with a primary focus on online safety, such as Digital Respons-Ability, provide up to date resources and training for you and your children. Digital Respons-Ability recently released additional resources for parents to help refresh on digital citizenship and help you create family plans for digital technology usage. These resources include:

For more information, contact Digital Respons-Ability at contact@respons-ability.net.

Utah Fraud Squad: Watch Out for Stimulus Package Scams

April 15, 2020

Today, the Utah Department of Commerce launched a new website aimed at informing Utahns of the latest COVID-19 scams, such as scams involving the federal stimulus package. View the Utah Fraud Squad website here.

Starting this week, most Utahns will receive money as the result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion stimulus package providing emergency assistance to the American people, businesses and health care providers amid the response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The package includes a one-time direct cash payment to individuals and families across the country to help them financially weather this crisis.

Unfortunately, the bill’s passage has opened up a brand-new opportunity for scammers to take advantage of vulnerable people during an emergency situation.

Taxpayers should be advised that the Internal Revenue Service will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. There are no fees or charges associated with receiving the payment. No one from the federal government will call, email or text message you and ask for your Social Security number, bank account information or credit card number. Anyone who does this is a scammer.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the checks will be sent out for people who have been working and paying taxes since 2018.  Anyone calling and telling you they can get the check to you sooner is a scammer. We advise you to not answer calls, emails or text messages from phone numbers or email addresses you do not know. Do not click on links from unsolicited emails or text messages. If you do answer a phone call and realize it is not someone you know, just hang up.

The Treasury Department plans to run a public awareness campaign for those who have not filed a tax return for either 2018 or 2019. Information will be posted as it becomes available online on www.irs.gov/coronavirus.

Stay aware of the latest scams by visiting the Utah Department of Commerce Utah Fraud Squad website.

To report scams, call the Utah Division of Consumer protection at 801-530-6601 or 1-800-721-7233, or visit them online at: consumerprotection.utah.gov.

Read the Department of Commerce press release regarding the Utah Fraud Squad website here.

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