The Legal Insider

October 2014

Notable State Ballot Measures of 2014

notable-state-ballot-measuresVoters sometimes see midterm elections as a referendum on the President’s policies and performance. However, midterm elections also give voters the opportunity to approve or disapprove state initiatives that could impact the voters’ lives more than most Presidential decisions.

Since these initiatives usually come directly from voters, the ballot measures offer an interesting snapshot of the political landscape. Here are some interesting ballot measures that you can vote for or against this November 4:

Minimum Wage

There are five states with initiatives offering to raise the minimum wage in their states.

  • Alaska Measure 3: Raises the minimum wage from $7.75 to $9.75 by 2016 and ties the minimum wage to inflation.
  • Arkansas Issue 5: Raises the minimum wage from $6.25 hourly to $8.50 hourly by 2017. (Note that Arkansas is below the federal minimum wage so employers in Arkansas pay more than $6.25 an hour).
  • Nebraska Initiative 5: Raises the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 hourly by 2017.
  • South Dakota Measure 18: Raises the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 and ties the minimum wage to inflation.


There are three states which may change their drug policies. One initiative deals with alcohol while the other two attempt to legalize recreational marijuana.

  • Alaska Measure 2: Legalizes recreational marijuana for adults 21 years old or older.
  • Oregon Measure 91: Legalizes recreational marijuana for adults 21 years old or older.
  • Arkansas Issue 4: Legalizes manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol statewide. Currently, alcohol is regulated by individual counties in Arkansas. This issue would regulate alcohol at the state level.

State Court Recognition of Sharia Law

Alabama’s Amendment 1 would amend the state constitution so that the state, including state courts, cannot recognize laws which violate the state’s policies, including all foreign laws. This amendment is primarily aimed at Sharia Law. The amendment is worded broadly in an effort to avoid court challenges regarding discrimination.

Medical Malpractice Caps

California’s Proposition 46 would raise the damage cap on medical negligence suits up to $1 million. The proposition would also require drug and alcohol testingfor doctors.

Right to Bear Arms

There are two states which might change their laws regarding firearms after November 4th.

  • Alabama Amendment 3: Requires strict scrutiny of any restriction on the right to bear arms. Strict scrutiny means that courts will closely examine a state law if that law would restrict a citizen’s right to bear arms.
  • Washington Initiative 591: A citizen’s firearm cannot be confiscated by the state without due process. The Initiative also calls for a more extensive background check of gun owners than the background checkconducted by the federal government.
  • Washington Initiative 594: Requires background checks on all gun purchases.


Three states will have ballot measures regarding abortions.

  • Colorado Amendment 67: State constitution will be amended so that unborn children are legal persons.
  • North Dakota Measure 1: State constitution will be amended so that the state recognizes that life begins at conception.
  • Tennessee Amendment 1: State constitution will be amended so that the legislature will be empowered to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortions.

Steps to Take before Building on Your Property

It may seem unnecessary to ask, “Can I build on my property?” However, asking this question can save you a lot of trouble in the long run. For example, if you unknowingly violate zoning laws or building codes, you may be subject to fines or other legal penalties.

The following is a short list of the things you should do before building:

  1. Learn Local Zoning Laws – This may be the most tedious step of all, but may also save you from headaches, fines, and even lawsuits. What’s more, these laws can vary from municipality to municipality, and even based on the uniqueness of the property of area the property is located in.

    Say, for example, your neighbor lives in a kit house, but your home is a historic Victorian. It is likely that different zoning laws apply to your house than your neighbors.

    Regardless of whether or not you will need clearance to build or add to your property aside, the specific type of structure you are building may need to comply with certain zoning ordinances. For example, an in-law unit will likely need to meet all the amenities of a free-standing, studio apartment.
  2. Apply for Permits – Depending on the type of construction, needing the necessary permits may seem obvious. However, some zoning laws require any structure over a designated height to be approved by permit. So, that wood fence you thought would be a quick weekend project may turn into a nightmare without the necessary paper work.
  3. Expect Bumps in the Road – Expenses may arise. Inspectors may drop in. Weather may happen. It’s important to plan and account for additional expenses and potentially more time than you originally think may be needed.
  4. Consult with a Lawyer – It may seem excessive, but a local real estate lawyer will be able to expedite the process of examining all the necessary paper work, zoning laws, and other hassles a lot quicker than you will. And at the end of the day, knowing it is being done right makes that flat rate or those few hours you were billed worth their weight in gold.

Employing Au Pairs – What You Need to Know

In the United States, families can hire an au pair to take care of their children. Unfortunately, not everyone is allowed to hire an au pair. Also, there are many legal complications that should be considered before employing an au pair rather than a typical babysitter or nanny.

What Is an Au Pair?

An au pair is an educated foreigner who comes to the United States to take care of the host family’s children. The au pair lives with the host family and receives a wage. Their visas typically allow them to stay with the host family for 1 to 2 years.

An au pair must be between 18 and 26 years of age and must have a secondary degree. Au pairs are hired through an agency.

Can I Host an Au Pair?

Not everyone is eligible to host an au pair. Typically, an eligible family must:

  • Live within one hour of an au pair agency
  • Go through an au pair agency’s interview process
  • Pass a background check
  • Be fluent in English
  • Have the financial means to pay the au pair’s wage
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Not have a child under 3 months
  • Not have the au pair care for a special needs child
  • Have space to provide the au pair with his or her own room

What Are My Obligations to My Au Pair?

Au pairs have legal rights. The host family’s obligations include:

  • Giving them supervision
  • Pay of $195.75 per week
  • Working a max of 45 hours per week, which includes a max of 10 hours days
  • Including and paying for the au pair’s participation in family activities
  • Paying for au pair’s cost in family meals
  • Giving the au pair at least one weekend off per month
  • Two weeks paid vacation per year worked
  • Arranging and paying for the au pair’s English and cultural immersion classes
  • Attending an au pair agency’s conference

Consulting an Attorney

If you are faced with violating the au pair laws, please contact an employment lawyer. Your lawyer will protect your best interests and ensure that your rights are protected.

My Spouse Has Bad Credit. How Does It Affect Me?

Getting married mean not only sharing your future with the person you love, it also means sharing your finances. Things can get tricky when one spouse has good credit and the other has bad credit.

Do Credit Reports Merge after Marriage?

Getting married does not mean your credit report will be joined together. Your individual credit report will only be linked to your social security number. So, you may still get lines of credit individually as if you were not married.

One Spouse Can Affect Joint Credit

If you and your spouse with bad credit decide to apply for credit or rental property jointly, then the bad credit will affect your good credit as well. In those circumstances, your good line of credit may either be lower or even denied. Nevertheless, the credit report will list which spouse has the bad credit, in which it will not affect your separate credit report.

Alternative Methods to Get Credit

If you are denied credit, you generally have three options.

  • You can have separate finances and separate bank accounts. This way, your spouse’s bad financial decisions will remain their responsibility. You will be able to get your own separate line of credit.
  • You can make your spouse either a designated user or joint user of your bank accounts. If the spouse is merely a designated user, the spouse will not be liable for any future debts in that account. On the other hand, if the spouse is a joint user, then he or she will be liable for any debt.
  • You can get a cosigner to accept responsibility of your debt. A cosigner is liable where you do not repay your debt.

Consulting a Lawyer

A family law attorney can help you straighten out your debts and financial responsibilities. For couples with excessive debts prior to marriage, a prenuptial agreement may be wise to keep assists clearly defined.

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