Texas Federal Court Invalidates Overtime Rule

Late last week, a Texas federal court judge struck down the Obama-era overtime rule that would have extended overtime pay to millions of workers.

In 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) passed a final rule to increase the minimum salary required for employees to qualify as exempt from receiving overtime. By raising the annual salary requirement from $23,660 to $47,476, the DOL estimated that 4.2 million employees would become eligible to receive overtime pay. However, several states and business groups filed legal challenges in court to block the rule from taking effect. In November of 2016, a federal court judge in Texas delayed the rule from taking effect until it could be reviewed and decided upon.

Last week, the same judge ruled that the DOL overstepped its legal authority by raising the salary threshold so high. To be exempt from overtime, an employee must not only earn the minimum salary, he or she must also perform certain types of work—for example, executive, administrative, or professional work. (To learn more, see our article on the white-collar exemptions.) The judge held that the DOL’s rule placed too much importance on a worker’s salary rather than his or her job duties, effectively weeding out millions of workers based on salary alone.

Signs point to the DOL considering a new rule that would create a minimum salary that is higher than the current threshold of $23,660, but lower than $47,476. The Department of Labor has already issued a request for information so that it can seek input from the public on the matter. This is typically the first step in the rulemaking process. While it’s unclear what the new threshold will be, it will likely be a much more modest increase. Earlier this year, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta stated that he would support a salary threshold around $33,000.

Should We Believe Assurances That ICE Won’t Arrest Undocumented Immigrants Fleeing Hurricane Harvey?

Commentators have been understandably worried for non-citizens battling flooding and other problems caused by Hurricane Harvey, which hit the coast of Texas on August 25, 2017.

Not only is their basic safety at risk, but there’s the matter of the new immigration enforcement priorities under the Trump administration.

This really means no priorities at all, but an environment in which anyone who encounters Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP), regardless of their close ties to the U.S. and past agreements that they were law-abiding and not a priority for deportation (including with DACA grants), are fair game for deportation.

Non-citizens have been arrested while at their most vulnerable: for example, when appearing in court to testify to domestic violence, when leaving hypothermia shelters, and when attending check-in interviews at ICE offices.

But now, in response to these concerns, FEMA has issued a statement assuring the public that, “Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks.”

That’s welcome news, at least compared with other possible things the statement could have said. But it’s also not entirely reassuring, because it leaves open the door to “criminal” enforcement operations.

As anyone who’s following the new enforcement environment knows, Trump had originally assured the public that ICE priorities would focus on criminals or “bad hombres,” then proceeded to define anyone who had crossed the U.S. border illegally as a criminal.

In this situation, the climate of fear that’s been created could end up costing human lives. And it also makes it far to easy for scammers to prey on the immigrant community; including the recently reported fake ICE agents that have been banging on doors and ordering people to evacuate (presumably in order to steal their stuff).

If Friendly Neighbors Are So Important, Why Not Ask About Them When Buying?

An impressive 50% of prospective homebuyers say their top priority when it comes to neighborhood features is having friendly neighbors, says a recent Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Homeowner Sentiment Survey.

This feature ranked higher for survey respondents than school district (at 41%), financial considerations (39%), and perceived investment value (37%).

The results reflect well on the common sense of today’s homebuyers. After all, a difficult or hostile neighbor can impact your personal financial considerations (for instance, if you get into a dispute over something like who pays for a damaged fence, and end up bringing or facing a lawsuit).

And a difficult neighbor can impact your home’s investment value, if a major issue makes the house harder to sell (“Pay no attention to that 12-foot spite fence, we’re suing the neighbor to take it down, tempted though we are to take a chainsaw to it.”)

At least neighbor problems don’t typically bring down an entire school district. But they can make life miserable, in the very place where you want to feel safe and relaxed.

But the question remains, why do so few people ask probing questions about a house’s neighbors before they buy? I can only report anecdotally, but as someone who visits open houses regularly, has sold a house that brought in multiple offers, and regularly talks to people about real estate, it seems that the matter of neighbor relations is often left for a post-closing surprise.

Real estate agents certainly know how important the neighbor issue is. I recently visited an open house at the property next to mine, introduced myself and was told by the agent, “Oh good! I can tell people I’ve met the neighbor!” (I guess the subtext was that I looked normal, phew.)

You now know why we included neighbor issues on the “Questions for Seller” worksheet that’s included in Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home. You can certainly get specific in your questioning, too, as in, “We notice the house across the street has five motorcycles parked on the front lawn. Has that led to issues with noise or anything?”

And there’s no need to stop with questions to the home seller. Try asking local friends for information, particularly those who follow any neighborhood listservs. They might tell you who the local “trolls” are, and know about other neighbor issues, disputes, or subjects of tension.

Also, as you go in and out of open houses, ask people on the street how they like living there, and how friendly the neighborhood generally. If you’re lucky enough to spot one of your prospective new home’s neighbors outdoors, perhaps weeding or walking the dog, definitely engage that person in conversation. You may be surprised at what you find out.

California’s New “Open Container” Law Applies to Driving With Marijuana in the Car

California has had medical marijuana since 1996. And in November 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use in the state. (Read the specifics of California’s marijuana laws.) The result was a patchwork of laws that—while achieving the primary purposes—left the public with safety concerns and law enforcement with questions about enforcement.

In an effort to address the public safety and enforcement issues, the Legislature passed S.B. 94 (the “Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act”). Governor Jerry Brown signed S.B. 94 into law on June 27, 2017.

One issue tackled by S.B. 94 is how to deal with motorists who are in possession of marijuana while driving. Essentially, the legislation amends the existing alcohol “closed container” law—California Vehicle Code section 23222 (2017)—to include marijuana. The new law prohibits driving while in possession of any “receptacle” containing cannabis that has been “opened or has a seal broken, or loose cannabis flower not in a container.” The law, however, doesn’t restrict open containers of marijuana stored in the trunk of the car. And medical marijuana patients can drive while in possession of marijuana if carrying a valid medical marijuana card or physician’s recommendation and the container is either “sealed, resealed, or closed.”

A violation of the marijuana closed container law is an infraction and carries a maximum $100 fine.

(Find out about how marijuana legalization has affected California’s DUI laws.)

California Stops Suspending Driver’s Licenses for Unpaid Traffic Tickets

In recent years, California has made efforts to alleviate the burden unpaid traffic citations place on low-income motorists.

The first major step was the start of the traffic-ticket amnesty program in October 2015. The amnesty program allowed certain people with unpaid traffic or non-traffic infraction tickets to apply for fine reductions and license reinstatement. Over 200,000 Californians were able to take advantage of traffic amnesty. However, the program ended on April 3, 2017.

But not to worry—Governor Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that brings drivers more permanent relief. The new law (which went into effect on June 27, 2017) prohibits courts and the Department of Motor Vehicles from suspending a driver’s license for simply failing to pay a traffic ticket fine. In approving the legislation, the governor commented that the threat of license suspension didn’t help the state collect unpaid fines but often led to undesirable consequences such as loss of employment and parents being unable to transport kids to and from school.

(Get more details about the new law and what the California Legislature is doing on this front.)