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December 2012 Archives

5 Notable New State Laws for 2013

As you deal with your hangover and watch football on New Year's Day, you should also be prepared for a slew of new state laws.

In fact, about 400 new laws are set to take effect as the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1, 2013, reports USA Today.

Some laws make sense, like one in Illinois that allows motorcyclists to proceed through a red light if the light doesn't change (because motorcycles often fail to trigger underground sensors). Other laws may seem odd, like a Kentucky law that prohibits releasing feral hogs into the wild.

As you prepare for New Year's revelries, here are five notable new state laws that are making news nationwide:

From Russia With Spite: Ban on U.S. Adoptions

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law an adoption ban that will prevent Americans from adopting Russian children.

The Russian law seems to be politically motivated, and may be a form of retaliation against a new U.S. human rights law, reports Reuters.

Americans who'd hoped to adopt Russian children now find themselves in a state of limbo. There were 52 Russian children whose adoptions to U.S. parents were already underway. These children will now remain in Russia for the immediate future.

Rhonda Lee, TV Anchor, Fired Over Facebook Reply

TV meteorologist Rhonda Lee was allegedly fired from a Shreveport, Louisiana television station for responding to racially charged comments on Facebook. Now, Lee's supporters have launched online petitions to get her back on the air.

The 37-year-old weather anchor worked at KTBS-TV and, in one incident, received online criticism for keeping her hair short in a natural afro, reports TheGrio.com.

Lee, who is African American, says that she used to straighten her hair and keep it longer, but decided to chop it off in favor of a more natural look. One viewer, however, took to Facebook to express displeasure with her hairdo.

Ebook 'Owners' Don't Have Many Legal Rights

Ready to trade in your paperback for a digital version of your favorite book? Well, you may want to think twice after learning more about an ebook owner's legal rights.

Like a growing number of Americans, you may have purchased a digital ebook to read on an iPad, Kindle, Nook, or other device.

But just because you bought an ebook does not necessarily mean that you own the book, reports the Los Angeles Times. So what exactly are an ebook owner's legal rights?

Woman's Firing for Being Too Attractive Upheld

Dental assistant Melissa Nelson was fired for being too attractive, so she sued her employer. But Iowa's Supreme Court has upheld her firing as lawful.

In general, looking good is a positive trait. Attractive people tend to get paid more and get promoted more frequently.

But the opposite was true for dental assistant Melissa Nelson. Her employer viewed her as "irresistible" and a "threat" to his marriage, so he fired her. And according to Iowa's all-male Supreme Court, that was perfectly fine, ABC News reports.

Best Ways to Use Charity to Lower Your Taxes

Everyone wants to pay lower taxes, and giving to charity is an easy way to make it happen. Not only do you feel good about giving, you feel good again come tax time.

It's no secret that charitable giving is a way to get tax deductions, but most people don't capitalize on it. To make itemized deductions through charity worth it, they need to add up to more than your standard deduction.

The key isn't necessarily giving more. Instead, focus on how you give to maximize your tax deduction.

Family Research Council Sued for Retaliation

The Family Research Council, a Christian conservative advocacy group, has been sued by a former employee for unlawful retaliation . The complaint by plaintiff Moira Gaul stems from a claim she filed against the FRC for sexual harassment in 2009.

Gaul alleges that shortly after she filing her complaint with a government agency, she was fired. So much for family values.

The FRC opposes gay marriage, abortion, and divorce, among other things. But Gaul's lawsuit suggests that beneath the surface, the group isn't so family-friendly.

'Sesame Street' Divorce Kit Helps Parents, Kids

A new "Sesame Street" online "divorce kit" aims to deal with a subject that the children's show has been silent on during its run.

But now the show is tackling divorce, a subject that's a part of many children's lives. To help parents and kids, the show is releasing a multimedia kit called "Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce" that includes an online show segment, a storybook, a guide for parents, and an app.

The show attempted to find a way to talk about divorce back in 1992, but its message didn't quite come out right. This time they have a new way to tackle the emotional issue.

What Do Instagram's New Terms of Service Mean?

Photo-sharing service Instagram published an updated version of its terms of service as well as its privacy policy on Monday. Instagram users did a collective double-take.

The company's blog said the updates, set to take effect Jan. 16, are aimed at combating spam, which has admittedly been a problem for the growing business, Forbes reports. But the new user agreement has raised some eyebrows about how Instagram will be using your photos going forward.

Some of the concerns are similar to things we've seen before in the terms of service for Twitter and Pinterest. But there are a few factors that make Instagram's agreement more troubling. For example:

Woman Strikes Gold as Long-Lost Cousin's Heir

A California substitute teacher has struck gold, inheriting $7.4 million in gold coins from a long-lost cousin.

While some play Powerball to strike millions, Arlene Magdanz simply relied on her genes.

Magdanz was discovered to be the only heir to a fortune of gold coins that once belonged to the reclusive Walter Samaszko. When Samasko died, cleaning crews discovered millions of dollars worth of gold coins stashed in his modest Nevada home, reports the Associated Press.

The crews found boxes of gold coins and bullion in the garage. The gold coins were reportedly neatly wrapped in foil and plastic cases, and were enough to fill two wheelbarrows.

How to Limit Your Holiday Party Liability

It's the holidays and it's time to party. But before going all crazy this Christmas, you may want to consider that the host of a party may be liable for holiday party injuries and other party-related incidents.

So as you prepare the food, entertainment, and beverages that make a holiday party fun, you should also prepare the designated drivers and babysitters, and perform the chores that make a holiday party safe.

Here are some ways to limit your holiday party liability:

Have Gun, Will Travel? 3 Legal Concerns

Holiday travel is complicated enough, but if you're a gun owner and plan to bring your firearm with you when you go home for the holidays, it gets even more complex.

Guns are largely a matter of state regulation. That means you need to know the gun laws in your own state, and also the laws in any states you plan to travel to (or through) with your firearms. You also need to make sure your method of transportation allows guns.

It doesn't mean you can't take firearms with you, but it does require extra preparation. If you're traveling with your guns this holiday, here are three legal issues to keep in mind:

Girl Adopted Without Consent; Dad Wins Custody

Terry Achane is ready to have his daughter returned to him after she was adopted without his consent in what would be any parent's nightmare.

Achane's now-estranged wife, Tira Bland, got pregnant in June 2010. But she and Achane started having problems in their relationship, and by the time he accepted a position as an Army drill sergeant in South Carolina, things weren't going well. When Achane left Texas, Bland made secret plans to give the baby up for adoption.

Achane found out about the plan several weeks after his daughter was adopted by a family in Utah. He's been trying to get her back ever since.

Mobile Apps for Kids Lack Privacy Protections

Before you start downloading apps for your kids, you might want to take a moment to think about their privacy.

The Federal Trade Commission recently published its second report on mobile apps for kids, and the results haven't improved. The first survey was published in February 2012, and there's been little change in the privacy protection and disclosures available for apps.

What app developers aren't telling you is that they're often selling your information to advertisers or other third parties. If the app is on your kid's phone, they're selling your child's information too.

For 12/12/12 Weddings, 12 Facts About Marriage

It turns out that 12/12/12 is a very popular day for a wedding. And why not? A date like today's won't come around for almost another hundred years.

In a nuptial phenomenon noted every year since 2001, the number of weddings jumps whenever the day, month, and year are the same -- an apparently auspicious (not to mention easy-to-remember) date combination for couples to tie the knot.

It's going to be a busy Wednesday for weddings, notes CNN. If you're one of those couples getting married, congratulations on this big step in your life.

Even if you're not saying "I do" on 12/12/12, let's commemorate this dodeca-ccasion with 12 facts about marriage and weddings that you might not have considered:

Michigan Right-to-Work Laws: 5 Things to Know

After a long day of debating and voting, Michigan is now the nation's 24th "Right to Work" state.

Michigan's House of Representatives on Tuesday approved two bills about union membership for both private and government employees. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, signed the bills into law a few hours later.

Similar so-called "right-to-work" legislation has spread across the country in recent years. So what does Michigan's new law mean for the Great Lakes State? Here are five things you should know:

Supreme Court and Gay Marriage: What's at Stake?

The Supreme Court will hear two cases involving gay marriage next year. But what exactly are these cases about?

Hollingsworth v. Perry is a challenge to California's Proposition 8, which created a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same sex marriage. The second case, Windsor v. U.S., is a legal challenge to a specific section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which says that the federal government will only recognize heterosexual marriages.

Both cases deal with the same underlying issue: the right of gay couples to marry. But they reached the High Court under very different circumstances.

What the Fiscal Cliff Means for Your Taxes

Everyone's worried about the so-called "fiscal cliff" and potentially higher taxes for the middle class. But exactly how high are we talking?

Unfortunately this isn't another case of politicians yammering on about things that don't affect most people. If a deal isn't struck, you'll surely notice it come January.

If you want to lobby your local congressional delegation about the issue, it helps to know what to ask for. So here's a crash course in how the fiscal cliff will affect most Americans.

Do You Get Time Off for Any Religious Holiday?

The holidays are here, and like many workers you may be wondering whether you get time off for any religious holiday.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer for everyone. Instead, whether you get time off may depend upon your employer's policies, any employment contract, or a collective bargaining agreement.

Still, if some employees do get time off for a holiday like Christmas, other employees may be wondering whether they get similar time off for their own religious holidays.

As WA's Pot Law Takes Effect, What's Next?

Washington state's Initiative 502, a voter-approved measure that legalizes recreational marijuana under state law, goes into effect today (Dec. 6). But with many legal issues still up in the air, what's supposed to happen next?

The biggest cloud hanging over Washington's new marijuana law is the fact that marijuana use, both recreational and medicinal, remains illegal under federal law, reports the Seattle Post Intelligencer. So at any moment, the federal government or a federal court may step in and attempt to take away the rights that citizens voted for.

But ignoring that uncomfortable fact, here are some things that you may want to know about Washington's new law, and the other voter-approved pot law in Colorado that's set to take effect next month:

Facebook Privacy Settlement: Users May Get $10

Facebook has had many complaints over the past few years over user privacy, but it seems lawyers have finally reached a settlement in a lawsuit involving the social media company's "Sponsored Stories" advertisements.

About 2 million Facebook users could get a whopping $10 each. But even that is not for certain, the website Mashable reports.

In total, the proposed settlement offers $20 million to members of a class-action suit against Facebook. The suit complained about "Sponsored Stories" -- ads that take the names and photos of users who "like" an advertiser's page, and then uses those names and photos in ads that appeare when their friends log on to Facebook.

The problem is that Facebook took those images without permission. This settlement would put that behind them, but it's not final yet.

Kate Middleton's Royal Baby: 5 Legal Issues

We may not be subjects of the British crown, but there's no denying that news of Kate Middleton's pregnancy and the royal baby has got Americans excited.

For our neighbors across the pond, this baby will one day be king or queen of England. The Duchess of Cambridge doesn't have to deal with American laws, but if she did, there are certainly some legal issues she'd be facing in the upcoming weeks.

And while the popular book "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is full of useful information, it doesn't include the legal ins and outs of having a baby. To make sure you're covered, we've listed some of them here:

3 Common Child-Custody Holiday Disputes

Figuring out child custody arrangements is hardly a walk in the park, but during the holidays emotions are already running high.

There are ways to stop disputes before they start, but part of it is also being prepared for when things will be most difficult. The holiday season can be complicated and there are certain issues that are more likely to come up in the next few weeks.

Keep in mind that the goal is for your kids to have a good holiday, and that might mean you don't get to spend every second with them. But it can be easier on you too if you are prepared for what issues may come up.

The issues often include:

What Is a 'Disability' Under the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects persons with disabilities, but what is a disability?

A better question would be "what is a disability under federal law?" Even if it's what someone else would call a disability, you don't qualify for protection if you don't fall under the government's definition.

Rather than defining disabilities by diagnosis or symptoms, federal protection for disabilities generally kicks in when a person has serious limitations that result from physical or mental impairments. It's the limitations that the laws are designed to help with.