California DNA Collection: Back in Effect

In December of last year, a California appeals court seemingly broke from U.S. Supreme Court precedent. (See California Court: Police Can’t Take DNA From Arrestees.) To oversimplify: SCOTUS upheld a Maryland law calling for authorities to collect DNA from people arrested for “serious” offenses, after which the California court struck down a similar law. (Maryland v. King, 133 S. Ct. 1958 (2013); People v. Buza, 231 Cal. App. 4th 1446 (2014).)

The California decision was notable: It showed how state courts can rely on interpretations of their own constitutions—rather than SCOTUS interpretations of the federal Constitution—to afford people greater liberty.

But the California DNA Act is already back in effect. In February, the California Supreme Court decided it would weigh in on the appeals court’s ruling. By “granting review,” the state high court wiped out the lower court’s decision. The California Supremes might end up agreeing with the lower court—and they very well might not. Regardless though, California officers are back to taking cheek swabs from people arrested for—and not necessarily charged with—felonies. Those DNA samples then make their way into a state database. (See “Should your DNA be collected…”)

So, the collection of DNA from felony arrestees in California was okay until it wasn’t, until it was again. We’ll finally know the state of the law when Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and her colleagues lay it down.

Northwest Real Estate Connections Radio Features Nolo Author Ilona Bray

sell1_1_1Check out the April 1 (no joke!) edition of Northwest Real Estate Connections Radio, with hosts David and Patricia Wangsness, for an interview with Ilona Bray (otherwise known as “me”), author of various Nolo real estate products including the recently released Selling Your House: Nolo’s Essential Guide.

The show opens with David and Patricia’s insights regarding the current state of the real estate market, including some not-to-be-missed tips for first-time home buyers. My favorite: Don’t buy furniture on credit before the closing, which could damage your credit rating and interfere with final approval of your loan. And another good one, which I’m sure there’s a story or two behind: Don’t file for divorce before the closing.

My conversation with David and Patricia covered home-selling strategies, including getting to know your local market, being careful not to leap at all-cash offers if the cash is coming from outside the U.S., the pros and cons of getting a professional land survey done before the closing, and more.

GOOD NEWS FOR ESTATE TAX FOES

House action last week caused at least a “baby step” to be taken relative to repeal of the estate tax.  The House Ways and Means Committee, by a vote of 22 to 10, passed H.R. 1105, the “Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015.”

If/when it ever reaches Obama’s desk, veto is likely, but at least some in Congress are heading in the right direction.

If passed, the act would not only repeal the estate tax, but also the GST tax for estates of decedents dying after the date of enactment.

The bill would retain the gift tax with a top marginal rate of 35%, and basis rules would remain unchanged (carryover basis for gifted assets; fair market value step up for inherited assets.)

 

Could Cuban Player Defections Really Mess Up New Baseball Relations?

If you heard today’s NPR story on “With Improved Relations, Are The U.S. And Cuba Ready To Play Ball?“, then you heard a reference to the little-known “Cuban Adjustment Act.” Cuba’s baseball commissioner, Heriberto Suarez Pereda, places the blame squarely on this piece of U.S. immigration legislation for Cuba having already lost a number of major — and minor — players to the U.S., and for the likelihood that any efforts to normalize baseball competition between the two countries will be hampered by the risk of more Cuban player defections.

What on earth is the Cuban Adjustment Act? Even some immigration attorneys — particularly those practicing far from the shores of Florida — may have never had cause to use it, if they’ve even heard of it. The law dates back to 1959 — a response to Castro assuming power in Cuba and setting up the first Communist state in the Western hemisphere.

The idea of the Act is that any Cuban who makes it past the U.S. Coast Guard to dry land will be welcomed in a way that no other undocumented immigrant is. If they can meet some basic admissibility requirements (i.e. they’re not criminals or threats to U.S. health or security) they may receive a period of what’s called “parole.” This is a quasi-legal status allowing them to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

After one year of parole, they may apply for a U.S. green card (“adjustment of status”). That’s about as fast a track to U.S. residence as any non-citizen could ask for. (If you’re interested in the procedural details, see “Becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident Under the Cuban Adjustment Act.”)

Of course, normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations will take high-level agreements and probably new legislation, in the course of which this Act, too, might well be amended. Undoing decades of a broken diplomatic relationship may be more complex than it first appeared. But for two countries that revere baseball so much, there has to be a way, right?

Credit Reporting Agencies Agree to Better Consumer Protections

This month, the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) agreed to significant changes in their credit reporting practices and the way they handle consumer disputes. These voluntary changes, which resulted from a settlement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, are set forth in what the credit reporting industry is calling The National Consumer Assistance Plan. (Learn what a credit report is and what is contains in Credit Report Basics.)

Here are the highlights of these new policies:

180-Day Waiting Period Before Reporting Medical Debts

In what many consider to be the most significant change in the plan, the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) have agreed to a 180-day waiting period before recording delinquent medical debt on a credit report. As we all know, insurance companies are notoriously slow in determining what will, and will not, be covered and then issuing payment. This waiting period will mean that consumers won’t have negative marks on their credit reports for medical bills that are tied up with the insurance company.

As a corollary to this new policy, the CRAs will also remove notations of delinquent medical debt for those accounts that have subsequently been paid by insurance.

Traffic Tickets or Government Fines Won’t Appear in Credit Reports

Credit reports will no longer contain negative information about traffic tickets or government fines. The CRAs will only record information about debts that arose from a contract or agreement.

More Information When Disputing Inaccurate Information

If you dispute an item on your report and are not happy with the result, the CRAs will now provide you with information about your options and further steps you can take. And if you successfully dispute an error after getting your free annual credit report, you can get another free report within the year. (Learn how to dispute errors on your credit report.)

Enhanced Dispute Resolution System for Identify Theft, Fraud, and Mixed Credit Files

The three nationwide CRAs are devising enhanced dispute resolution procedures for victims of identity theft and fraud, and for those whose credit file was mixed with another’s file.

When Will These Changes Take Effect?

The CRAs will start implementing the new policies over the next several months. Experts anticipate that they will take from three to thirty-nine months to complete (depending on the particular policy).