The Legal Insider

January 2014

Important Laws of 2014

Many new laws were implemented the moment the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 2014. The following summary provides an overview of the most important new laws.

Obamacare

First, most of Obamacare is set to go into effect in 2014. This includes the individual mandate, the contraceptive mandate, the Medicaid tax hike, and small business tax credits. Employers are not expected to provide healthcare insurance for their employees until 2015.

Illinois’s Compassionate Use Act

Illinois’s Compassionate Use Act (CUA) for marijuana is also set to take effect in 2014. The CUA allows registered persons in Illinois to use marijuana for medical purposes without criminal prosecution. Employers cannot penalize employees for using medical marijuana, although employees can still be punished if they use marijuana at work.

New York Estate Taxes

In recent years, states have loosened their estate taxes in anticipation of baby boomer retirement. Most states which use estate taxes create a threshold where taxes are collected. For example, New York forces estates to pay 16% if the estate is over $1 million. If the estate is less than $1 million, no tax is levied.

However, in 2014, New York legislators will consider raising the threshold from $1 million to $5.34 million. In addition, New York might also reduce the estate tax from 16% to 10%. Similarly, in 2014 Tennessee’s estate tax threshold will go from $1.25 million to $2 million. In the future, look for states to eliminate their estate taxes entirely, like Ohio did last year.

Labor Protections in California

California extends its labor protections to new groups which have not previously been protected. Military veterans will be given the same legal protection as individuals who have legal issues concerning race or gender. Employers are also prohibited from reporting or threatening to report an employee’s immigrant status if the employee asserts his or her rights under California’s labor laws.

Protections for Victims of Stalking, Domestic Abuse, and Sexual Assault

Victims of stalking, domestic abuse, and sexual assault are protected if they take time off to testify in legal proceedings or seek medical/mental treatment. These victims are protected from employer penalization or retaliation if the employees take time off for the permitted reason. Victims of drunk driving, hit and run accidents, and vehicular manslaughter are also protected if they take time off to testify in a legal proceeding.

Same-Sex Marriage in Hawaii and Illinois

Finally, Hawaii and Illinois will recognize same-sex marriage in 2014. Actually, Hawaii already started in 2013, but same-sex couples in Illinois will have to wait until June 2014 to get married.


3 Bizarre Licensing Laws

Most licenses or permits are perfectly reasonable. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you need a license. If you want to drive a car or sell alcohol, you need a license. However, after the Great Depression, courts stopped protecting economic liberties and state and local governments abused their power to license by requiring licenses for otherwise harmless activities:

1. A License to Dance

A cabaret license is a permit which allows the business owner to have three or more people dancing on its property. That’s right: it’s a license to dance. Bear in mind that cabaret licenses are different from liquor licenses. As a result, it was not uncommon for bars to put up signs saying “No Dancing.” Cabaret licenses were originally enacted in the 1920’s as an adjunction to Prohibition, but enforcement faded after Prohibition ended.

In 1997 though, Mayor Giuliani revived the cabaret licenses in an effort to improve the “quality of life.” The official justification was that the noise could get out of hand, even though most nightclubs, restaurants, and bars were located away from residential areas.

In 2008, Mayor Bloomberg proposed to end the cabaret license requirements, but no further move has been made. 181 cabaret licenses have been issued in New York, most of them in Manhattan.

2. Fortune Tellers and Palm Readers

The City of Selma in California requires that fortune tellers and palm readers carry a business license if strangers want to pay to have their fortunes read. Compared to the cabaret license though, Selma’s fortune telling license is brand new. Until 2013, Selma had banned fortune telling in its city limits. The ban was enacted in 1979, but it was declared unconstitutional by state courts in 1989.

Still, Selma refused to repel its law until 2012 when Stephanie Davis sought to open a palm-reading business in the city. In 2013, Selma’s city council replaced the ban with a licensing requirement. The weirdest part about Selma’s law is that the city’s residents aren’t concerned about possible fraud, but that “these fortune-telling people are not of God.”

Sadly, Davis is still barred from opening her harmless palm-reading business because of a legal technicality.

3. Floral Arrangements

Louisiana requires a license to make floral arrangements. In order to obtain one of these licenses, the state required the licensee pass a practical and a written exam. Thankfully, in 2010, the state eliminated the practical portion of the exam. However, would be florists in Louisiana still have to pass the written test.

The official justification for keeping people from earning a living by selling flowers is that consumers might buy flowers for someone else, but never see the final product. Or to prevent bacteria from growing in dirt; it is not clear what value the state attorney saw in defending the floral arrangement law.

Either way, public safety can’t be the justification. Every state except Louisiana does not require a floral arrangement permit and the rest of the country seems perfectly fine. The real purpose of the permit is to protect the state’s floral industry from new competition.


Dangerous Consumer Products

Every year, a large portion of personal injury cases result from dangerous products. One way to prevent personal injuries due to dangerous products is to understand which products are subject to greater regulation. The more a product is regulated, the more likely it is that there are safety issues associated with that product.

Some products that are very highly regulated include:

  • Dangerous automobile accessories: Every state has different laws with regards to vehicle accessories such as tinted windows, exhaust pipes, body kits, exhaust mufflers, and engine alterations.
  • Dangerous toys: Replica guns and knives can cause legal issues. Also, BB guns and Airsoft weapons can lead to serious injury.
  • Weapons and weapon-related products: Of course, real weapons are subject to intense state and federal regulation in terms of ownership, licenses, and carrying laws.
  • Novelty items, such as pocket bikes (mini-motorcycles): Newer items can cause legal issues because laws may be few on the newer products.

Additionally, the never-ending slew of new pharmaceutical drugs continues to be one of the most highly regulated areas of the products and services industry. This includes both over-the-counter and prescription products.

While legal issues with these types of items can be common, legal disputes can be reduced or prevented by applying some basic concepts. For instance, when dealing with dangerous and highly regulated products, you should:

  • Keep an eye and ear out for product recalls or bans. These are often issued in the news, online, or on the website of the manufacturer.
  • Always read the warning labels and instruction manuals—many product-related injuries result from a lack of understanding as to how the products work.
  • Always handle the product with care, even if you’ve owned it for a long time already. Don’t be afraid to ask the retailer questions if you’re uncertain about any terms or conditions.

Product lawsuits often revolve around warning labels and instruction manuals. Be sure to keep copies of your receipt and the packaging if possible if you think you have a legal issue.


The How to Recognize Workplace Discrimination

Many employment discrimination cases go unreported simply because employment discrimination can be difficult to recognize. Discrimination is a phenomenon that often occurs behind the scenes in a subtle way. A lack of understanding of federal employment discrimination laws can also result in many unreported cases. For instance, many people tend to focus on discrimination during the hiring process even though discrimination can happen at all stages of employment. This includes aspects of work such as promotions, benefits, retirement, and termination.

The following are some tips on recognizing employment discrimination. If you feel you are being discriminated against in the workplace, you need to ask yourself:

  • Do I belong to a “Protected Class”? Anti-discrimination laws base protected class categories on fundamental aspects of a person’s identity, such as their race, age, sex, gender, nationality, political affiliation, and in some cases, sexual preference. It’s against the law to discriminate against workers based on these classes.
  • Am I being treated differently on account of my membership in a protected class? In order to prove discrimination, you need to show that you were treated unfairly or differently on account of your membership in a protected class. For instance, you may have a case if you were fired solely because of your age. However, you might not have a case if you were fired simply due to poor work performance.
  • Are other groups of people being treated differently at the expense of a protected class? Isolated instances of individual discrimination can be more challenging to recognize. However, one group getting preferential treatment at the expense of another group is often a tell-tale sign of discrimination. This is especially true if both groups are listed at the same pay rate or have the same job descriptions.

Some employees can mistake normal difficulties associated with work as mistreatment or unfairness. It’s important to note that filing a frivolous lawsuit is also a no-no, and can lead to severe legal consequences for the one filing such a claim. Thus, you should be sure you have a solid case before considering bringing an employment lawsuit. One way to avoid a frivolous lawsuit is to have the ability to prove that you’ve experienced measurable losses, such as lost wages or revoked benefits.

That being said, employers are not allowed to engage in retaliation, i.e. firing a worker who has reported a discrimination violation. Thus, if you think you might have a viable case for employment discrimination, don’t be afraid to speak up. In many cases, the initiative of one employee to begin an investigation can have positive effects on many other workers who may be caught up in similar situations.


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