Federal judge says Alabama abortion law is unconstitutional

August 4
ALABAMA
Federal judge blocks state abortion law

A new Alabama law restricting doctors who perform abortions would force several women’s clinics to shut down, placing unconstitutional restrictions on a woman’s right to obtain one, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Several doctors live outside the state and would be unable to gain the privileges to admit patients to local hospitals required by the law, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote in a 172-page opinion and an accompanying order.

Thompson extended an earlier order blocking enforcement of the law and said he would issue a final order after considering more written arguments from lawyers. Similar laws about admitting privileges have been blocked by federal courts in Mississippi, Kansas and Wisconsin, while they have taken effect in Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

— Associated Press

FLORIDA
Judge overturns same-sex marriage ban

A third judge in Florida has overturned the state’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage in a single county but stayed his decision Monday pending an appeal.

The ruling by Broward County Circuit Judge Dale Cohen mirrors decisions made last month by judges in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties. Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a notice of appeal in the Monroe and Miami-Dade cases.

— Associated Press

ENVIRONMENT
Army must disclose data on pollutants

For the first time in its history, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have to disclose the amount of pollutants its dams are sending into waterways in a groundbreaking legal settlement that could have broad implications for the Corps’ hundreds of dams nationwide.

The Corps announced in a settlement Monday that it will immediately notify the conservation group that filed the lawsuit of any oil spills among its eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon and Washington.

The Corps will also apply to the Environmental Protection Agency for pollution permits, something the Corps has never done for the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, ends the year-old consolidated lawsuit by the conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper. As part of the settlement, the Corps admits no wrongdoing, but will pay $143,000 and the consolidated cases were dismissed.

— Associated Press

HEALTH CARE
Hospital operator settles billing inquiry

U.S. hospital operator Community Health Systems said Monday it has agreed to pay more than $89 million to settle a government investigation over billing practices at 119 of its facilities.

The Justice Department since 2011 had been investigating whether Community hospitals charged government health plans, such as Medicare and Medicaid, for expensive short-stay admissions via emergency rooms that should have been billed as outpatient or observation cases. The probe covered the period from January 2005 to December 2010.

Under terms of the settlement, Community agreed to pay about $88.2 million to resolve the federal share of the claims and an additional $892,500 to states for their portion of Medicaid claims, the company said.

The settlement says there was no finding of improper conduct by Community Health Systems or its affiliated hospitals, and the company has denied any wrongdoing, it said.

— Reuters

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