Our society is overwhelmed with new laws coming into effect every year. The Penal Code, Vehicle Code, Health and Safety Code, Fish and Game Code, only to name a few get thicker and more difficult to understand each year. As a society, the land of the Free, we have more regulations, rules, restrictions, and laws than most likely any other country in the world. Our liberty and freedom are getting eroded daily. Here is a look at some of the most interesting new laws going into effect, but by no means a complete list of the 930 new laws that were added to the volumes of laws already in existence. This is a brief overview of a few of the new laws, and how they related to the Fresno area and Central Valley as a whole. As a criminal defense attorney I can see some issues that need to be explored and give my opinion within this blog, but it is not to be taken as legal advice.
Confederate Flags have been restricted. However, this law is enacted by our legislature not to stop individual freedoms, but instead to govern our government in their own display. It begs the question of whether a law made to be placed upon the government that is enforcement it is really necessary or whether our legislature is merely trying to justify its' own existence. State entities are barred from displaying the confederate flag or items that are marked with or displaying the confederate flag unless it is part of a museum, education tool, book, or digital medium. Another exception is that the state may display the Confederate Flag for historical purposes, which would seem to include re-enactments, teaching in schools, or other similar activities. The exceptions seem to almost swallow the rule, in that it becomes difficult to think of very many reasons the State of California would display the Confederate Flag that are not covered? So why do we have another law?
Mug Shots for profit. Many internet firms have posted mug shots of individuals arrested for crimes online, only to charge the people who wish to have them removed from the site a fee to remove them. In short, a mug shot became a shaming tool to extort money. This is now illegal. However, public records are still available to the public, so it won't make a person's criminal record disappear from public view, but it could stop some of the embarrassment. Oddly, newspapers, Police Department Facebook and Social media, news, and other agencies may still report, show, and distribute the photo's, names, and allegations. It only makes profiting from offering to remove the mug shot a crime. I've noticed a newspaper being sold at convenience stores that is particularly tailored to showing who has been arrested or convicted of crimes in Fresno area. I don't believe this is covered under the new law.
Privacy Rules That Restrict Photo and Video recording of People in Private Settings: The new drone aircraft trend, which has been used by National Security, Federal agencies, State and local law enforcement has caused a change in the law. Even private individuals can buy drones, equipped with cameras, video equipment, remote operation capabilities, an nearly invisible when only a short distance from the surface. This has sparked Drone Spying epidemic that has included private areas of beaches, back yards, hot tubs, and sunbathers to be worried about having their privacy invaded. It is now illegal to photograph/record a person with the use of a drone while the victim is in a private setting. Voyeurism and technology have led to yet another law. The Fresno area has vast areas of land, large residential lots, and private secluded residential homes that would give the owner or user the feeling of privacy in open areas, such as farms. However, a drone could film them undetected, and violate their privacy, so this law may be especially applicable to the Fresno and Rural Central Valley region.
Revenge Porn has also become illegal. This epidemic has also been the product of technology. Phones transmit photo's and video's, which have been used to show sexually explicit images of a person to another person. This is common in dating relationships or even casual dating. However, romances often turn sour, and the videos and photographs don't destroy themselves. Many times the images end up posted on the internet, sent to people who know the person, or even co-workers. Now, new laws allow the victim to receive damages when another person posts such images on the internet. This law includes when the victim took the picture a "selfie" as they have been called, but another person posts the image on the internet. I strongly expect Adult Entertainment companies that have made large profits by posting leaked celebrity sex tapes to challenge this law as a violation to our Constitutionally guaranteed right of Freedom of Speech.
Gender Identity has become an issue as of late. There has been an uproar about which bathroom a person should use if they identify with a sex other than the one their anatomy resembles. A new law allows for a deceased to have the gender identity they prefer to be listed on their death certificate. This seems odd, as the person who is deceased, the one who would benefit, will never know, but it is now a law.
California is now regulating Breast Pumping Stations: Large California airports will now be required to provide a separate area for lactating women to express breast milk. Can't say it is a bad idea, women deserve privacy and a location cleaner than an airport to provide milk for their offspring.
Maternity Leave At Universities: State Universities must allow Female Graduate students to take a leave of absence for pregnancies, and those who do so, will be allowed to return in good standing. California State University of Fresno would appear to be covered by such laws and requirements.
Bitcoin is now Legal Tender? It appears Digital currencies, such as Bitcoins can now be used for legal transactions in California. This seems counter intuitive to me, as the government would seem to be granted all rights, exclusively for printing legal currency, but this law in California may be an exception. I'd like to see if this law holds up to Federal level challenges.
Online Reviews: Non- Disparagement clauses which have been placed in consumer contracts that relate to goods or services are now unenforceable in the sate of California.
Impersonating an Officer: If a person uses a badge to impersonate an officer, they will now be subject to fines twice what they would have been subject to under the old guidelines.
Crack Cocaine: Possession was once punishable by 3-5 years in prison. Now, the same crime is punishable by 2-4 years in prison. The same penalty for offenses involving powder cocaine. It has always seemed unfair that crack cocaine, a normally less pure form, was singled out on both a state and federal level for longer prison sentences. Racial influences have often been said to be behind such laws. it is strange, if a crack cocaine rock has 20% cocaine, and 80% legal substances, that the total weight is punished worse than a person who had the same weight of 100% pure cocaine, with the potential to make 5 times as much cracks cocaine. It appears our legislatures have finally caught up to the logic and fixed that mess.
Juvenile Records: It was a long held, and incorrect belief that juvenile records are automatically sealed when a person turns 18. This has led to many job application issues, and other problems for those who believed this urban tale. Now, if a juvenile has completed all court-imposed orders, their records will be automatically sealed as a operation of law.
Mandatory Jail for Sex Offenders who Fail to Report: Paroled sex offenders who fail to report for installation of a Global Positioning System GPS monitor or render the device inoperable, face a mandatory 180 days in jail. This could be a problem for homeless sex offenders, of which their are many. They may elect a warm winter with food and a bed over a cold night on the sidewalk, sleeping on a slab of cardboard. Also, the jails seem to be pretty full.
Willful defiance penalties will be softened: Schools have now been limited in their ability to expel students who willfully defy teachers or administrators, regardless of the grade level. Students can no longer be suspended by schools for that behavior when they are in the 3rd Grade level or below. I'm not sure I like softening the authority of school over the students, as schools, much like at home, are the places most responsible for instilling responsibility into our youth. Removing an accountability repercussion could lead to a decline in behavior patterns, which seems like a bad idea.
Allergies: Public Schools, must stock epinephrine injectors so medicine can be administered quickly to students who are suffering from allergic reactions. I can't believe this wasn't already occurring. Children are young, and still discovering bee stings, what food allergies they may have, and other allergies to the environment. This is a crucial time, yet we've been so careless that we haven't even made this a standard procedure? Fresno County has some of the worst air in the nation, so laws of this type may provide a specific benefeit to the Ag Based Rural Fresno County areas.
Legislating Sports in High Schools: Public schools will now be required to publish how many boys and girls participate in each sport. This is to assure that both sexes have equal opportunity to participate in sports. I firmly believe the most successful model for raising a child is to keep them involved in sports, events, hobbies, clubs, and other such programs. This law could help provide the needed opportunity for female youth to be included in these programs.
State Prisons May not Force or coerce inmates to be Sterilized: This comes with the caveat that they may still sterilize inmates who's life is in danger if the procedure does not occur. This comes as a shock to me, as I was actually unaware that we were forcing prisoners to be sterilized as late as 2014. Perhaps this law was long overdue.
Counting the Ballots: I believe it was Stallin who said, "He who casts the ballot decides nothing, he who counts them decides everything." The counting of ballots in Florida and the infamous "hanging chads" delima brought this to public awareness years ago. Now the rules change, with the trend for absentee ballots, and the procedure for counting them, will now include ballots mailed on election day, if they are received within 3 days of the election.
Consider the Armenian Genocide for Lesson Plans: Genocide is one of if not the worst crime of humanity. Many have occurred throughout time, each horrible in its own way. The atrocities of mankind are horrible, and continue as we speak. Many genocides included small tribes attacking and eliminating or trying to eliminate other tribes. Religions being targeted for extinction by other religions since the beginning of religions. The Armenian Genocide has become a politicized, in the fact it is still denied by those who were responsible. The Genocide in Germany that killed an unknown number of people due to their Jewish beliefs is another such atrocity. Rwanda and Darfur are more recent than most. The nation of Israel lives under constant threat from people who do not believe it has the right to exist. Now we have a law stating that state education official must consider incorporating lessons about Armenian Genocides and other mass killings into curriculum. This seems to be a law without teeth. Must consider is very soft language. I can't believe we have curriculum that omit these world changing events. Fresno in particular has a large Armenian heritage populace, many have supported the recognition of the Armenian genocide for decades, this could be a large step in the endeavor.
Drivers licenses for Illegal Aliens: We now have a government agency, the DMV, that will issue a license to drive, a privilege, to people who have illegally entered our country. A second perspective is that it will increase safety through education, licensing, training, and an understanding of the rules of the road that must be followed, which benefits all. Finally, it seems illogical to suspend a license or a person who can't get a license, then punish them when they drive on a suspended license, for which they cannot receive. Overall, it is probably the right decision.
Insurance For Illegal Aliens: Illegal Aliens, or immigrants who hold a valid state driver's license are eligible for California's low cost Auto Insurance Program, even if they reside illegally within the United States. A law from 2013 that takes effect January 2, 2015, allows specially marked licenses for undocumented residents, and a separate new law prohibits employers from discriminating against anyone with such a license. I have mixed feelings about this law. I agree with the Driver's License and Insurance portion, but giving extra incentive to remain in the United States by making it illegal for an employer to discriminate against a person with a Driver's license is a close call. I like the opportunity to work, but I don't know if forcing an potential employer's hand is the right thing to do. It may also encourage future illegal aliens to enter the country illegally.
Fresno County having a large agricultural community who depend heavily on immigrant and migrant workers may be the leader in granting drivers licenses to illegal immigrants and undocumented workers. The high speeds traveled on rural valley roads, early morning travel, and large occupancy of some farm labor vehicles can lead to horrific accidents with many injuries and even fatalities. The lack of formal DMV education or training, inability to gain a CDL, or insurance, has left many injured victims without compensation for their injuries. Perhaps the new laws and ability to gain a CDL will help alleviate some of these issues.
Professional Licenses: Those in the country illegally will no longer need a Social Security number to obtain state licenses to work as doctors, dentists, nurses, barbers, security guards, or many other jobs.
Exide Corporation: The State must decide if it is going to grand the permit to Exide Technologies' battery recycling plant in Vernon after determining whether it is complying with hazardous-waste laws, or if the plant must shut down.
Fracking regulations: Fracking as a technique for extracting oil and gas from the ground has become more economically viable, and common in the US, including California. Water, mixed with certain chemicals is injected into the ground, and the desired substance is extracted. Now, the companies must report the quantity water used in the operation.
California's Red Legged Frog: Recognized by the Federal Government as a "threatened species" has now become the official Amphibian of the State of California. This is the same species that was featured by great American writer, Samuel Clemens, AKA Mark Twain in his story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." There is still a yearly frog jumping contest held in Calaveras County each year in which frogs compete, or are at least the distance of their jumps are recorded and the frog's owner gains posterity based upon his/her Frog's jumping ability.
Gardens at Condo's and Apartments: Owners may not prevent occupants of apartments and condominiums from growing their own fruit and veggies in portable containers. Was this really a problem?
Gun Law and Courts: Courts are required to report to the Department of Justice within one business day when a person is deemed or found ineligible or prohibited from ownership and/or possessing of a firearm. Criminal defense and gun laws are tied together on numerous fronts. Right to bear arms is a constitutionally protected right, but it has been greatly reduced by anti-gun lobbies. Many people are convicted of a crime and the courts fail to inform the defendant of the loss of their rights, many times years go by, and then they are arrested on criminal charges and learn they have illegally, unknowingly, owned firearms for years. I can only hope the courts inform the defendant, and the attorney explains this to the client prior to entering a pleas.
Single Shot Pistols: Single shot pistols must now comply with the state's handgun safety requirements, which includes having safety devices or meeting specified firing tests.
Toy Guns: Too many people have been getting shot by the police after displaying toy guns. In response to law enforcement shootings of children and minors, there will be new restriction placed n the manufacturer of toy weapons. The toys must now be brightly colored so officers can distinguish them from real firearms. I feel that this could end up hurting law enforcement too, as criminals may alter real firearms to appear brightly colored, and gain an advantage over law enforcement in a deadly scenario. I like the idea, and the spirit of this law, but this may backfire and cause the death of an innocent officer who is trying to do the right thing.
Birth Control: Most health plans are required to cover contraceptives for women, and will also be required to provide follow up services and voluntary sterilization procedures for those who elect to do so.
Human Trafficking Laws: Prostitution: Those convicted of solicitation or prostitution may have the conviction set aside if he or she was a victim of human trafficking. This makes sense. Having a conviction,or multiple convictions for prostitution would limit the job opportunities for the person convicted, when in actuality they were the victim. The Fresno - Madera areas have had multiple criminal actions brought against people for prostitution and human trafficking in recent years. This new law may be an areas to explore many of those convicted on such stings.
Wire Taps: Courts may allow or approve use of wiretaps for the investigation of human trafficking.
Proposition 187: State law books will be stripped of provision added in the 1994 ballot measure that withheld public services from illegal aliens. Withholding public services on that basis was ruled unconstitutional, therefore the provision was reversed.
Student Loans: Illegal immigrants will now be eligible to apply for student loans funded by the state to assist them with the costs of obtaining an education at University of California or California State University Campuses. This is a state law, while many student loans are granted by a Federal Loan program, so it is a limited change.
DNA for Imprisoned Felons: It was previously required that a showing of innocence would be likely if DNA tests were completed on imprisoned felons. Now, an imprisoned felon must only show that he DNA test is relevant to his / her case. I believe Innocent people in prison should be afforded every opportunity to show their innocence, especially when new technology can provide a quick, simple, and relatively inexpensive answer.
Aggravated Arson: Defendants who have been convicted of aggravated arson, Damages in excess of 7 Million can be sentenced under new guidelines which include a sentence of 10 years - Life in Prison.
Truancy: Children or minors who are truant can no longer be confined to a detention facility or juvenile hall for this activity. Incarceration is no longer allowed as a penalty for failing to obey a judges order to attend school.
Data Mining: State Agencies are barred from cooperating with Federal officials in the mass collection of phone and computer records unless a warrant has been issued.
Admission: The State may block new admission to a residential care facility if that facility has been cited for violations posing a risk to the health and safety or residents.
Carbon Monoxide: All Community care facilities, including child care establishments and residential care homes for the elderly, must have at least one carbon monoxide detector installed.
Violation: Residential care facilities for the elderly must remedy license deficiencies within 10 days of notification.
Veteran Cemetery: State and local can begin working to create a new veteran's cemetery at the form El Toro Marine Corps Air State in Irvine.
Criminal Convictions: Courts may create a diversion program for active military personnel or veterans who commit misdemeanors and are suffering from service-related trauma or drug abuse.