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Progressive Ballot Measures Passed in 2014

Significant Results of the Mid-Term Elections & State Ballot Measures of 2014

The mid-term elections of 2014 were a massacre against the Democratic Party. Not since World War II have the republicans controlled the majority of the House by a margin so large. They also currently control the Senate.

2014 election ballot measuresAs a result of the republican’s newfound control, Congress will be on the offensive to repeal many of the advances made to provide the country with better health care and equal rights. Democrats will respond by filibustering and the country will be at a stand-still.

However, hope is not lost for the progressive movement. The following is a summary of the progressive state ballot measures that passed in the mid-term elections:

Alaska: Marijuana was decriminalized, minimum wage was set to one of the highest in the country, and salmon were protected from mining projects.

Arkansas: Minimum wage increased to $8.50 and limits were set on campaign donations and gifts from big business.

California: $7 billion in funding was approved for the state’s water system and most nonviolent crimes were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.

Colorado: Open school board meetings are now required when bargaining with public employee unions and race-track gambling was not extended to fund schools.

Florida: Although the passage of legalizing medical marijuana failed, 58% voted yes. The measure required a 60% threshold.

Georgia: The maximum state income-tax rate will not be raised.

Illinois: Coverage of prescription birth control was approved, the minimum wage increased, and a millionaire tax was approved to fund schools. Unfortunately, with the exception of the minimum wage increase, the laws are not quite in effect, as they were only an advisory to gauge public opinion.

Massachusetts: No automatic increase in the gas tax will occur and extended paid sick time will be mandatory if a company has more than 11 employees.

Nebraska: Minimum wage increase to $9 an hour.

New Jersey: Lower-risk defendants who are unable to afford bail will be released.

New York: A commission was established to redraw political districts for state and congressional seats. Also the state legislature now has the ability to veto the commission’s maps with two public votes.

North Dakota: A measure was rejected that presumed life begins at conception and a restriction was set on non-pharmacists owning a pharmacy.

Oregon: Marijuana was legalized and equal rights are guaranteed with no regard to gender.

South Dakota: Minimum wage was increased to $8.50.

Virginia: When a member of the military is killed in action, the place of residence owned by their spouse will be exempt from taxation.

Washington: A new law mandates background checks on all gun sales and transfers, “including at gun shows and online,” and exempts “weapons transferred within families and for the purchase of antique guns.”

In review, progressives have made leeway in gun control, raising the state minimum wage, rejecting anti- abortion laws, providing paid sick leave, expanding environmental protections, and legalizing marijuana.

LegalMatch.com provides blogs, forums, and thousands of articles dedicated to keeping up with the trends in the law. Also, check out our LinkedIn site for additional resources.

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Brittany Maynard’s Story: Dying with Dignity Laws

Brittany Maynard was a well-educated, caring, and compassionate young woman. Her path in life changed dramatically when she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Her life mission was then to educate others about Death With Dignity laws.

dying with dignityWhy Did Brittany Chose to Die with Dignity?
On January 1, 2014, at the age of 29, Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and had 6 months to live. Her treatment plan included radiation therapy that would leave her with first-degree burns. But since Brittany wanted to enjoy the remainder of her life, she chose to die on her own terms. Thus, she moved from California to Oregon to take an advantage of their legal system.

Brittany then consulted physicians to obtain a physician-assisted death. She was prescribed a lethal dose of medicine, which she used to pass away in the comfort of her own home. If it were not for the Death With Dignity law, Brittany would have endured more suffering and would have painfully lost her memory and physical abilities.

Which States Have Death with Dignity Laws?
The concept of Death With Dignity arose around 1993 in Portland, Oregon. After many legal challenges, the law finally became effective on October 27, 1997. Since then, four other states have followed Oregon’s liberal law. Currently, terminally ill residents of Oregon, Washington, Vermont, New Mexico, and Montana may obtain physician-assisted suicides.

What Is the Criteria for Dying with Dignity?
In addition to residing in one of one of the above-mentioned states, you must be at least 18 years of age, mentally competent to make your own health care decisions, and be diagnosed with a terminal illness with 6 months to live. After that, there will be doctor consultations and a wait period before the doctor will prescribe you the lethal medicine.

With that said, Brittany’s message is that suicide is not the answer to all of our lives’ problems. But instead, to embrace every living moment of it, and to live life to its fullest.

Peeping Toms Can Legally Take Photos up Women’s Skirts

Hey ladies, you know that creepy guy who tries to peek up your skirt ? Well it’s now legal for him to take a photo of you as well.

upskirt photos legalOne such creep, Christopher Hunt Cleveland, was arrested last June at the Lincoln Memorial on two counts of attempted voyeurism. Park police were suspicious of Cleveland when they spotted him taking photos of women on the steps above him rather than the giant statute of the bearded man. When police searched Cleveland’s camera and car, they found several hundred photos of women’s “private parts.”

At this point, most would expect a plea bargain if not an outright conviction. Unfortunately for decent people, Cleveland’s lawyer convinced Judge Juliet McKenna to suppress the evidence. Judge McKenna ruled that Cleveland’s photographs could not be used as evidence against him because “there is no evidence Mr. Cleveland positioned his camera in any way or employed photographic techniques or illumination, so as to capture images that were not already on public display.” In other words, the photographs were inadmissible as evidence because somehow the women’s crotches were already visible to the naked eye. Score one for the perverts.

Halfway across the country, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals came to a similar, although slightly different, conclusion. Ronald Thompson was arrested in 2011 after he was caught taking underwater pictures of children in swimsuits. Although police couldn’t charge him with child pornography (the children were clothed), they did try to convict him under a statute which prohibited improper photography or visual recording acquired in public for sexual gratification.

In an 8-1 decision, the Court ruled that the law banning improper photography for sexual gratification violated the free speech clause of the Constitution. The Court agreed that the law was trying to protect citizens from dirty sexual thoughts, but regulation of thoughts is exactly what the First Amendment is designed to protect against.

Is It Always the Woman’s Fault?

Although the two cases and the outcomes were similar, the two courts took two different paths to arrive at these disturbing results. Internet commentators have condemned both rulings as cases that destroy women’s privacy. The outrage is understandable, but criminal prosecution isn’t the route society should take to stop this kind of behavior.

The D.C. Court ruled that the voyeur’s photos were not evidence of a violation of the law because the pictures were not depictions of anything illegal. Judge McKenna didn’t rule that women have no privacy, but that their privacy had not been violated. Indeed, it would be odd if the judge had ruled that women have no privacy because Judge McKenna is only a trial level judge without the authority to make that kind of ruling. Moreover, Judge McKenna is a women; it’s hard to argue that “male privilege” was a factor when the decision comes from a judge who might one day be on the wrong end of her own ruling.

The Texas case is a different beast altogether. Unlike Cleveland, Thompson was already guilty of violating a law. The Appeals Court overturned the law his conviction was built on because the law itself violated free speech. The free speech argument is particularly clever because it subtly shifts the focus of the case from the women’s privacy to the defendant’s right to express himself. In D.C., women’s privacy wasn’t violated. In Texas, women’s privacy was a secondary concern.

What Now?

If criminal prosecution isn’t the answer, what is? Free speech only limits government action. If you feel your privacy has been violated, you’re free to bring a lawsuit yourself. Such a lawsuit could produce a court order to make the pervert stop. The problem is that the camera guy would have to take pictures of the same woman repeatedly for her to bring suit, and voyeurs like Cleveland target different women every day.

On the other hand, if someone like Thompson is taking pictures at a private facility like a water park, the business itself can ban the pedophile from entering. If someone is taking pictures of you or you see someone taking pictures at a restaurant or private park, you should definitely complain to management and/or the owners.

 

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Should Islamic Laws Be Allowed in US Courts?

Sharia Law’s Impact on the United States

A few years ago, voters were outraged when they heard that a judge had denied a woman a protective order after her husband had raped her because the husband was a Muslim who claimed that marital rape was legal under Islamic, or Sharia law. The decision was overturned on appeal, but anti-Sharia laws have popped up over the country since that case.

Sharia Islam Law In AmericaConflicts between Sharia law and American law largely arise in family law, typically when couples from countries that recognize Sharia law migrant to the United States. These couples file for divorce and will argue over domestic violence and/or property distribution. One of the spouses, usually the husband, will use belief in Islam as a justification for a legal conclusion that favors the spouse.

Alternatively, that same spouse, usually the husband, will argue that the prenuptial agreement signed in the original country was recognized under Sharia law, and the agreement should thus be recognized in the United States.

Sharia law also comes up in contract disputes and religious arbitrations involving Muslims.

Why We Should Discuss This Issue

Although conflicts between Sharia law and American law have existed since the 1970s, if not earlier, the idea of American courts applying Sharia law didn’t become explosive until the September 11 attacks. Seven states, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee, have enacted anti-Sharia laws. Alabama will vote on the issue this November.

Anti-Sharia laws have not gone unopposed. Oklahoma’s constitution amendment banning Sharia law was ruled unconstitutional because it was considered discriminatory. Missouri’s anti-Sharia bill was vetoed by Missouri’s governor because it would make international adoptions too difficult.

Many legal experts have dismissed the efforts to ban Sharia law as solutions in search of a problem. Ironically, they are making the same mistake as the hotheads who enact these anti-Sharia laws: they are dismissing the issue without giving the matter much thought. The issues with Sharia law are small, but we should examine rather than trivialize such cases. My cursory research into Sharia law in the United States has drawn me to these observations:

  1. Family cases involving Sharia law are limited to the facts. It would be difficult for Sharia law to “creep” into American case law because most of the cases involving Sharia law are distinguishable based on facts which don’t often arise outside of the Islamic community. In cases where American judges acted consistently with Sharia law, the parties were citizens from Pakistan, India, Israel, or other countries which use Sharia law. Our judges aren’t allowing Sharia law to supersede American law. Instead, our judges are recognizing the legitimacy of courts outside of the United States when the nationals of those other countries are involved.
  2. Cases involving Sharia law would reach the same outcome even if Islam wasn’t involved. In some cases, there is no conflict between Sharia law and our law. For instance, Sharia law demands that Islamic courts apply a “child’s best interest” standard when deciding child custody. Coincidentally, our legal system uses the same standard. Obviously, cultures will differ on what exactly is in a child’s best interests. Islamic courts believe that children who grow up in an Islamic society are better off than children who do not. That belief seems wrong, but let’s not forget that our own courts used to overvalue Christianity when they awarded the custody of Native American children to white parents. In other cases, our judges have decided to stay out of the case. For example, our judges cannot decide employment disputes between Imams and mosques. That is an internal religious dispute and our federal constitution forbids courts from meddling with the free exercise of religion. This would be true even if the conflict involved a minister and a church, so in these few cases there would be no difference in the outcome.

The Threat Which Is Not Threatening

Currently, these anti-Sharia laws are naïve experiments. Laws which specifically target Sharia specifically targets Muslims and are thus unconstitutional. Some states tried to “fix” that problem by making them broad. Instead of banning Sharia law, states like Oklahoma are banning “foreign law.” Alabama has taken this a step further and is prohibiting the application of laws which conflict with Alabama’s own policies.

Making the ant-Sharia laws broader only creates more problems. Banning foreign laws makes it next to impossible to attract international contracts since companies in other countries won’t do business if they don’t think their contracts will be honored. Alabama’s proposed law is even more extreme. I can’t see states like Alabama ignoring the United States Supreme Court merely because the Supreme Court decides cases contrary to Alabama law.

So if states are worried that their courts will decide cases which legitimize wife beating or marital rape based on Islam, what can these states do? Instead of having states enact unconstitutional and overbroad anti-Sharia laws, Congress should strengthen our refugee laws. Most of the women being victimized by Sharia law came to the United States to escape unjust marital arrangements and abusive husbands. If we make it easier for women from Islamic countries to obtain political refugee status, we would do more good than the symbolic, but empty, anti-Sharia laws that states are currently trying to enact.

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NFL Domestic Violence Sparks Review of Union Policy

In the wake of a string of instances of alleged domestic violence, it’s clear the NFL has an inconsistent policy for when a player may or may not be disqualified. One player may be suspended for a season, another for several months, another may be suspended for two games, and another may not be suspended at all.

NFL Domestic ViolenceBy contrast, players that have been caught for drinking and driving, or possession of drugs like marijuana, have received specific and occasionally stiffer penalties.

The NFL’s inconsistent response to domestic violence issues hasn’t been very popular among the general public, and understandably so: if a player is suspended for one year due to a legal issue with controlled substances, but a player who is facing domestic violence charges is only suspended for two games, it communicates that domestic violence is inherently less awful than drug abuse offenses.

The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goddell seeks to change the league’s policy on suspension. However, doing so may be problematic. As it stands, the league wields the unilateral power over punishment and appeals.

The biggest hurdle may negotiations with the players unions. For example, policy decisions generally cannot just be made on a whim. The NFL and player’s union has been negotiating for years concerning the leagues drug policies; there is a general concern that similar negotiations may be conducted concerning a new domestic violence policy. This would mean it could be years before an actual policy is in effect.

Which raises one of the biggest questions regarding these unions: what’s the point? When unions were created, they served a purpose of protecting the rights of factory workers and other laborers who may not have had a voice on their own, but found strength in numbers.

These days, and specifically with respect to individuals who are typically making at least six figures, with the prominence of consumer protection and worker’s rights laws, it’s odd to imagine how collective bargaining and unionization protects their rights, as opposed to simply acting as an unnecessary step in an already complicated process.