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Dems seek criminal penalties against companies that fail to notify workers on use of Hobby Lobby ruling

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 10: Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) participates in a news conference to announce that Democrats will fast-track new legislation to prevent for-profit employers from refusing to cover health benefits for religious reasons at the U.S. Capitol July 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. Co-authored by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the legislation would override the Supreme Court's recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case and compel for-profit business to cover contraception for their employees, as required by the Affordable Care Act. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Democrats want to impose criminal penalties, including the possibility of years in prison, against company executives that fail to tell workers that they won't receive coverage for certain contraceptives as part of their health insurance.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) proposed the Preventive Care Coverage Notification Act, which is the Democrats' latest reaction to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. That decision said closely held for-profit companies don't have to provide contraception that violates the religious beliefs of their owners.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has proposed legislation that would make it a crime for companies not to tell workers that they're using the Hobby Lobby decision to limit access to contraceptives. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democrats have rejected that decision as one that discriminates against women, and have been looking to pass legislation to reverse it or mitigate it. Just last week, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic attempt to force companies to provide all forms of contraceptive coverage regardless of their religious beliefs.

Durbin's bill is a more narrow effort to mitigate the ruling by imposing a notification requirement on companies. Under his bill, companies would be required to tell their workers if they plan to use the Hobby Lobby decision as a basis for not providing some forms of contraception covered by Obamacare.

"Workers should be informed if their employers are restricting the availability of coverage for contraception or any other health care service guaranteed under law," Durbin said last week.

Durbin's bill would also apply to prospective employees, and would be backed by the threat of criminal penalties against companies that fail to comply. Specifically, failure to notify current or future workers about reduced coverage could lead to a criminal fine of up to $100,000, or a prison term of up to 10 years.

The bill that failed in the Senate last week also sought to impose criminal penalties against companies.

Durbin's bill was proposed just a day after the Department of Labor said it believes companies are required under current law to notify employees about changes in contraceptive coverage due to the Hobby Lobby decision.

Labor did not put out a new rule, but instead released a new "frequently asked question" on its website last week that sought to clarify the situation. The question was whether decisions by change or remove contraceptive coverage triggers a notification requirement to workers.

Labor's answer to its own question was, "yes," after which it explained that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act requires disclosure of changes to preventive health services.

If passed into law, Durbin's bill would back up that supposed requirement with criminal penalties and other fines. But while Senate Democrats may try to move the legislation, it's unlikely that House Republicans would consider the bill at all.

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