- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mommy tax

When Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and Senate Finance Committee chairman, proposed taxing medical devices to raise $40 billion over the next 10 years for his health care plan, opponents started digging in and looking at what would be taxed.

It turned out feminine products, like tampons, were classified as “class I medical devices” and thus, the “tampon tax” was born.

The backlash was quick and severe enough against the idea that the committee quickly drafted new language that would exempt those necessities from the tax, along with all other class I devices, like tongue depressors, and decided to only tax class II medical devices and higher that cost more than $100.

But, just wait for the revolt to start again because women will still pay a price under the new structure, such as new moms who want to use a powered breast pump to bottle milk for their babies. Those devices, labeled class II, typically retails for more than $100.

And all the rest of the more expensive, higher-class medical devices used by both men and women - such as pacemakers, ventilators, X-ray machines, powered wheelchairs and surgical needles - will also be taxed whether purchased by patients or doctors.

Wanda Moebius, vice president of policy communications at the Advanced Medical Technology Association, said, “There was an effort to protect consumers from a tax on a $6.95 box of tampons, but what about the patients who will pay taxes on devices in surgical situations? Health care reform is supposed to make it more affordable, not raising costs, through taxes on the end user.”

She also noted that the proposed taxes would be based on a medical-device producer’s revenue, not profit, which will require businesses to pay more money to the government than a tax on profits.

FTC fines

The Federal Trade Commission has expanded truth-in-advertising rules to target bloggers who favorably review products without disclosing ties to associated businesses or advertisers.

The FTC approved this week a rule by a 4-0 vote to require bloggers to do so or risk paying a stiff penalty, up to $16,000.

The rule will go into effect Dec. 1.

FTC spokesman Betsy Lordan explained in an e-mail: “If it is determined after a full investigation that a violation of the FTC Act’s prohibition against deceptive and unfair practices has occurred - and that it is in the public interest to pursue enforcement - the end result is a final Commission order. Monetary penalties are only imposed to deter further violations if that order is violated.”

A news release posted on their Web site Monday explained why bloggers should be subjected to these rules. It said: “The post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”

An example of someone who could be fined for not following disclosure guidelines was given in a 81-page guide written by the FTC about the new rule, which also covers celebrity endorsements and other advertisers. The example said:

“A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or ‘blog’ where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review.

“Because his review is disseminated via a form of consumer-generated media in which his relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious, readers are unlikely to know that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact likely would materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge.”

Bible banner ban

High school cheerleaders attending Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe in Catoosa County, Ga., have been forbidden from using Bible passages on their inspirational sports banners.

A ban on Bible-themed banners was enacted after a single complaint was made, and now the American Family Association is working with First Amendment legal experts to have it overturned.

A rally against the ban was held Tuesday and a Facebook group called “We support the LFO Cheerleaders! Let them have their signs back!” has more than 13,000 members.

At a football game last Friday attendees supporting both the hometown team and its opponents carried signs blasting the ban. One said, “You took him off our sign but you will never take him out of our hearts.”

The woman who filed the complaint, Donna Jackson, describes herself as a Christian and graduated from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, is not opposed to the Bible. She has told the press she was trying to help the school avoid a lawsuit.

But a statement released by Catoosa County officials and published by the Chattanooga Times Free Press about the complaint doesn’t sound so even-handed. The statement, attributed to Superintendent Denia Reese said, “Donna Jackson called me on Sept. 23, 2009, and made the accusation that the school system was breaking the law and that it needed to be stopped.

“On Sept. 29, 2009, after the telephone conversation, (Ms.) Jackson filed an open records request for financial documentation for the purchase of the supplies used to make the banners,” Mrs. Reese said.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@ washingtontimes.com.

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