Jeana's World of Law

Jeana's World of Law

Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 2012 News Stories, in Brief

In 2012, the United States faced many newsworthy events - both of tragedy and joy. Below, are the top ten news stories that stick out in most minds:

1. Obama re-elected. President Obama won the re-election for his second term this year for US President, beating Governor Romney 332 to 206 electoral votes. This election relied more heavily on swing states than ever before, and with most of them choosing Obama, the win went to him. This election showed the polarization of the parties that has occurred in our country.

2. Marijuana legalized. This year, not one, but two states voted to legalize recreational use of Marijuana in the 2012 Presidential Election. Eighteen states and Washington D.C. have already voted to legalize medical marijuana, but Colorado and Washington passed a law to end its prohibition. The laws are similar and different in many ways, the the main similarities being that marijuana is only permitted only for adults over 21 in small amounts.

3. Gun control re-looked. As President Obama as stated, December 14 was the worst day of his life. The President has since pledged to support legislation that would attempt to curb mass shootings, similar to the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, that took the lives of 20 children and six adults. Vice President Biden has been put in charge of the task to come up with proposals for gun control.

4. Keystone XL advances. In January, Obama rejected the proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline on federal land. In March, a GOP-led bill sought to speed up the construction, but that to was rejected. However, in December, an appeals court in Texas ruled that TransCanada Corporation, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, could use eminent domain to seize land for the construction of the pipeline. Via eminent domain, TransCanada has been able to etch out the pipeline’s path, settling with private landowners and their condemnation lawyer specialists along the way. Obama, however, has yet to state his decision on whether or not the pipeline can connect to Canada, going over country borders, to bring oil from Alberta to the Gulf region.

5. Hurricane Sandy hits. Hurricane Sandy landed in the US in late October 2012, and was the largest Atlantic hurricane in diameter on record. For the Mid Atlantic and Northeast US, the damages caused by Sandy reached over $20 billion - making this hurricane the more expensive hurricane in history. Out of the storm, came Mayor Bloomberg's endorsement of Obama, and NJ Governor Chris Christie showed his true colors when he put aside the election to focus on his NJ citizens - making him both a 2016 possibility and an object of criticism within his own GOP party. Hurricane Sandy put climate change in the forefront of politics, as many scientists believe that climate change helped the storm become what it was. In his re-election speech, Obama listed climate change as one of his top priorities.

6. General Petraeus Resigns. David Petraeus, Former CIA Director General, stepped down from his position on November 9, following the release of information that revealed that he was involved in an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Petraeus confirmed the affair publicly before resigning.

7. Eminent domain in VA altered. In another outcome of the 2012 elections, VA voters agreed to limit eminent domain and give property owners more rights. The new law makes it so that the state will have to pay more for what they claim are appropriate eminent domain uses and force them to hire an eminent domain lawyer to review the possible outcomes of any proposal.

8. The Benghazi attack. On September 11, unidentified assailants led an attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, killing the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The attack was deemed a terrorist act by The White House. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that her office was responsible for security at the consulate in the Benghazi - which could very well impact the 2016 presidential race if Clinton decides to run.

9. ObamaCare signed in. On June 28, the US Supreme Court ruled Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as ObamaCare) was constitutional - a major victory for Democrats. The act is set to go into effect by the end of 2013, despite several GOP oppositions.

10. The Fiscal Cliff. The “Fiscal cliff” is the term used to describe the situation the US government faced at the end of 2012, when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect (December 31 at midnight, to be exact). In the beginning of the 2013, about $500 billion in tax increases and $200 billion in spending cuts are scheduled to take effect. How to stop it, and its profound effect on the struggling economy, has been the subject of negotiations between both parties. The political and financial issues coming out of the Fiscal Cliff will be felt far into 2013.

As 2012 comes to an end, one can only wonder what 2013 holds in store for our country. Although their effect 2013 is yet to be seen, as President Obama starts his second four year term, and several laws and acts go into effect, these top stories and events will no doubt affect the economy and political situation of the US.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Merry Belated Christmas and Happy New Year!

I have been so busy this holiday season visiting friends and family that I totally forgot to tell my readers Happy Holidays!! Well, here it is! Season's greetings everyone.

What a year it has been! As with most years, it's had it's triumphs and tragedies. The new year is just around the corner and most everyone is ready for it, especially me. This year I plan on taking the LSATs and starting the application process for law school!! Don't worry, I will keep you all updated on my progress!

I look forward to keeping my readers informed in law, politics, and government in the coming year. I hope everyone had a have a safe and happy holiday and I wish you all a wonderful New Year!

P.S. How funny is this law book Christmas tree - courtesy of Phoenix Law ? This is what the next few months will look like for me!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Obama Pushes for Stricter Gun Control

According to ABC news, President Barack Obama addressed curbing gun violence Wednesday, as more victims of the Newtown school shooting are laid to rest.

President Obama did not make any major policy announcements during this address, but he did announce the creation of a new inter-agency task force on gun policy. It will be headed up by Vice President Joe Biden and will tackle what has now turned into a major gun control debate in the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut.

The president asked the new team to offer "concrete proposals" to reduce gun violence no later than January. He said after he receives recommendations from Biden's group, he will push legislation "without delay." The president is urging Congress to hold votes on the bill. The team will include members of Obama's administration and outside groups.

"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Mr. Obama said. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence."

Here is a summary of President Obama’s speech on gun control from 24/7 Wallstreet:

"More Americans have died from gun violence since the massacre last Friday… Challenging old assumptions and this needs to lead to action… There is no law that can protect against all violence… Medical care efforts need to be pursued… The fact that the issue is complex cannot be an excuse… Obama asked VP Biden to come up with a set of concrete proposals no later than January… Not a study that is a report in 6 months… Biden wrote the 1994 crime bill that included an assault weapons ban… there is a growing consensus to build from to support banning sales of assault rifles and high-capacity ammo clips and background checks… the ATF is also bein encouraged to participate… the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms… the vast majority of gun ownership is responsible, but the vast majority is likely to support law-breakers from buying a weapon of war and for people to get military-style weapons so easily… I will use all the power of this office to help prevent tragedies of this sort even if not all can be prevented… This effort requires the help of the American people… need to stand up and say “enough!” on behalf of our kids…"

For the first time since the tragedy, the National Rifle Association is responding to calls for more gun control. The organization says it will offer meaningful contributions to make sure something like this never happens again. The group will be holding a news conference on Friday.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Woman Get's Worker's Comp for Injuries During Sex. No, She's Not a Prostitute.

An Australian court has ruled that a female bureaucrat who was injured while having sex on a business trip is eligible for workers' compensation benefits. According to personal injury Longview Texas specialists, workers compensation for sex related injuries is a quite uncommon claim.

In 2007, the woman - unidentified in the press except for the fact that she was in her late 30s - was hospitalized after being injured during sex with a male friend while staying in a motel in Nowra, a town 100 miles south of her hometown of Sydney, for a business trip.

While having sex, a glass light fitting was torn from its mount above the bed and landed directly on her face, injuring her nose and mouth. She later suffered depression and was unable to continue working for the government. She claimed facial and psychological personal injuries for workers compensation.

Her claim for workers' compensation for her physical and psychological injuries was initially approved by the government insurance company Comcare, but then was rejected after further investigation. Pain management Tyler Texas specialists agree that suffering pain and physical damage to the face can affect ones emotional and psychological well-being.

An administrative tribunal agreed with Comcare that her injuries were not suffered in the course of her employment, saying the government had not induced or encouraged the woman's sexual conduct. The tribunal also found the sex was "not an ordinary incident of an overnight stay" such as showering, sleeping and eating.

However, that was their opinion. That ruling was then overturned in the Federal Court this year, when Judge John Nicholas rejected the tribunal's findings that the sex had to be condoned by the government if she were to qualify for compensation.

Nicholas wrote in his judgment in favor of the woman receiving compensation.
"If the applicant had been injured while playing a game of cards in her motel room, she would be entitled to compensation even though it could not be said that her employer induced her to engage in such activity," 
In the Full Bench decision upholding Nicholas' decision, Judges Patrick Keane, Robert Buchanan and Mordy Bromberg also agreed that the government's views on the woman having sex in her motel room were irrelevant.
"No approval, express or implied, of the respondent's conduct was required,"
Comcare is considering an appeal to the High Court, Australia's highest legal authority.  Comcare spokesman Russ Street released a statement.
"The issue is a significant one...Workers need to be clear about their entitlements and employers should have an understanding of their responsibilities and how to support their staff."
It is not yet known how much compensation the woman will be paid.

Check Out My Guest Post!

What a great way to start the week. Check out my guest post on CleanTechies, posted this morning.

One of the main critiques of solar and wind energy is that these are intermittent sources of energy, generating electricity only when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, respectively. This would thus create potential problems for utilities and grid operators who must keep the supply and demand for electricity in balance to meet the demands of the population.

However, a combined wind and solar plant may be the answer to this problem. Combining the the two resources in a single plant allows for a more efficient use of transmission lines and a more cost-effective way of generating electricity.

According to the joint University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College study, wind + solar power could soon supply 99.9 percent of the electricity we need, decreasing utility costs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. A true triple threat!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Northeast Needs Congress to Help Rebuild After Sandy

Following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, several governors and CEOs are asking that Congress pass a $60.4 billion aid package for the hurricane relief.
Although Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, the restorations and rebuilding following the damage are still underway. For this reason, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut - in addition to over 125 big corporation CEOs based in New York - are urging Congress to pass the aid package for Sandy relief.
The northeastern states still have a lot to do, and don't have the necessary funds. Some projects include taking a tip from San Diego solar projects and securing grid independence for homes and businesses by installing solar panels. In case of another disaster, this would be able to provide residents with some back-up power. This even goes as far as solar powered street lights! 

Govs. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Dannel Malloy (D-CT) all requested funding from President Barack Obama, and a week ago proposed $60.4 billion for the states affected, which actually is about three-quarters of what they requested. 
The CEOS, including top executives of Time Warner, NBC Universal, Bloomberg, Morgan Stanley, Madison Square Garden and the National Basketball Association, are joining the governors in their plea to urge Congress to act quickly on the aid before lawmakers take their break for the holiday. 

In an opinion piece published in the The Washington Post, the governors state that no region or state should have stand have to alone after a disaster. They say Congress hasn't acted in these seven weeks following Sandy, taking longer to provide aid than in previous disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. 

The governors said their states’ legislators had supported aid after previous disasters. "They did so in the spirit of compassion, recognizing that in times of crisis no region, state or single American should have to stand alone or be left to fend for themselves," they wrote.
The govenors wrote “Storms and disasters lay waste to communities and deliver damage far beyond the resources and capacity of any single state to recover on its own...This is why Congress has always come to the assistance of Americans facing a recovery effort of this scale.”
"Americans come together in times of crisis," they wrote. "Our states have stood with your communities when they suffered and faced devastation. It's time for Congress to stand with us."
The decision on the aid, now that Obama has approved and proposed it, it now in the hands of Congress, which is already in a budget battle to cut spending by January 1, 2013.
Solar panels San Diego iniatives have made the city, as well as state, a leader in using solar power technology to recude dependence to local grids. New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut hope to take a step in the similar direction and rebuild in the most efficient way in order the states are up against an disaster like Hurricane Sandy in the future, but that may not be possible if the aid isn't passed.

Other politicians are speaking up as well. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is pushing the aid request in the Republican House and told The Associated Press in an interview that the high-stakes budget negotiations already under way when Sandy hit made the requests more challenging. 

Natural disasters shouldn't have to pick sides. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), said the aid package should be a bipartisan priority. "Before we leave this year, we must act to provide emergency disaster aid to fund the response to Superstorm Sandy," Schumer said. When it comes down to it, Americans need Congress's help - and all they're asking is for them to pass the bill before they go on their holiday breaks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Michigan Right-to-Work Bill Passed

According to ABC News, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed a right-to-work bill limiting union power into law in his state. He announced this in a press conference yesterday evening.

Despite the protests leading up to the vote, the GOP controlled state house approved a law that would make the payment of union dues voluntary for private-sector unions and most public-sector unions (police and firefighters would be exempt.) The bill was approved by a vote of 58-51.

According to the Huffington Post, Right-to-work laws forbid contracts between companies and unions that require all workers to pay the union for bargaining on their behalf. Although business groups and conservatives cast the issue in terms of workplace freedom, unions note that the laws allow workers to opt out of supporting the union although they reap the benefits of the collective bargaining. Because the laws tend to weaken unions generally, unions, as well as President Obama, call the legislation "right to work for less."

Supporters of the bill say the laws give workers freedom of association and promote job creation, while critics insist that the real intent is to drain unions of funds need to bargain effectively.

"I view this as an opportunity to stand up for Michigan's workers—to be pro-worker," Gov. Snyder said. "I don't view this as anti-union at all...I believe this is pro-worker." He also said that "Workers deserve the right to decide for themselves whether union membership benefits them," and "Introducing freedom-to-work in Michigan will contribute to our state's economic comeback while preserving the roles of unions and collective bargaining."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Marijuana Growers "Go Green"

It looks like California's green initiatives and gusto have spilled over state-lines into New Mexico, but not in the way you'd think it would have. 

Illegal marijuana growers in NM have increasingly been using solar panels as a power source for their plants, both to stay off of the local grid and avoid detection by law enforcement officials.

A 2012 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study reported that $6 billion worth of electricity is being spent on indoor marijuana-growing in the US each year. This is about 1 percent of national power consumption - enough electricity to power two million homes.

Solar panels may cost a lot of money, but they allow marijuana growers to avoid using huge amounts of electricity from nearby power sources, which can tip off the police to their illegal activities. 

The NM state police recently broke up a marijuana operation that used solar-powered water pumps. But this is no new feat. In 2010, New Mexico police pulled over than 1,500 plants from what they called a “very elaborate and sophisticated” marijuana operation that used “solar panels, water pumps, batteries, and hundreds of yards of hose that functioned on timers.” 

This increase in demand for solar power has also resulted in many thefts of solar panels from residential homes and businesses, particularly in the CA wine country. In 2010 several solar panel thefts occurred at Napa Valley wineries and vineyards. California state authorities have in result increased their watch against solar panel thefts. The authorities believe the thefts were directly related to a criminal ring that sold the panels to illegal marijuana growers, and that solar panels San Diego to San Francisco may be at risk of theft.

Solar San Diego projects have given the city it's title of most solar city in not only the state but in the US, but I have a feeling that this influx of solar power won't give NM anything to boast about. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

What is Eminent Domain?

In addition to the Obama win, there was another outcome of the 2012 Elections that caused much debate in the press: Virginia passed a law limiting the power of eminent domain. This led to many people asking, "What is eminent domain?"

Eminent domain is "the power to take private property for public use by a state, municipality, or private person or corporation authorized to exercise functions of public character, following the payment of just compensation to the owner of that property." It is an action of the state to seize private property without the owner’s consent by providing just compensation. The rule is normally applied when building highways, train tracks or public property for the benefit of a community and the action is protected by the US Constitution.

In general, to exercise the power of eminent domain, the government must prove that the four elements set forth in the Fifth Amendment are present: (1) private property (2) must be taken (3) for public use (4) and with just compensation. These elements have been interpreted broadly.

However, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the Constitution grants the government the right to take private property – homes, businesses, and other property – and sell or give it to another private entity if jobs and taxes could be generated (Kelo versus City of New London, Connecticut, 2005). The eminent domain attorney for the case pressed the high court to vote in favor of economic development projects that create jobs, increases taxes and other revenue, and revitalizes a depressed or blighted area that qualifies as “public use.” The courts ruled that private economic development is a public use under the Fifth Amendment.

The VA amendment makes it so that private property can only be taken for a public use - it cannot be taken and given to another private landowner, even if the transfer would spur economic development. Supporters of the amendment claimed that that changes are necessary because the 2005 ruling gave the government too much power to use eminent domain for private economic development projects. 

Opposers, both Republicans and Democrats alike, were against the amendment as it may force the state government and municipalities to pay more money for what they claim are appropriate uses of eminent domain. The amendment may cost both over tens of millions of dollars for both the local and state governments. Even with the opposition, the amendment passed with flying colors, passing with 75 percent of the voters for the limits on eminent domain - the law will go into effect on Jan 1, 2013.

The 2005 Kelo decision informed the public about eminent domain abuse. Since the decision, 44 other states have made amendments to their constitutions to reduce the government’s power to take private property though eminent domain.