Yesterday, the First Circuit Court of Appeals said that the New Hampshire law banning a person from displaying a marked ballot reflecting how he or she voted including posting of those images on social media sites violates First Amendment rights of voters. The law carried up to a $1,000 fine. The appellate court determined that the law violates free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. The law was enacted to avoid vote buying and voter intimidation, what it did was spark a controversy in this social media age over the “ballot selfie”. The law, which originated in one form in 1891 was intended to combat voter intimidation and vote buying. It was amended in 1911 to forbid any voter from “allowing his ballot to be seen by any person, with the intention of letting it be known how he is about to vote.” In 2014 New Hampshire amended that statute to read:
No voter shall allow his or her ballot to be seen by any person with the intention of letting it be known how he or she is about to vote or how he or she has voted except as provided in R.S.A. 659:20. This prohibition shall include taking a digital image or photograph of his or her marked ballot and distributing or sharing the image via social media or by any other means.
The appellate court determined that just applying intermediate scrutiny the statute is unconstitutional. Intermediate scrutiny basically means that the statute has to at least be narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest. There is no proof that vote buying or voter intimidation is an actual problem in New Hampshire and there was definitely no proof that posting how you voted on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat was going to cause any voter intimidation or vote buying and most definitely none sufficient to outweigh the First Amendment free speech rights that were being affected by the statute.
The appellate court in upholding the district court’s ruling completed its opinion with the simple adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”. You can read more about this here.
In Vermont there is no law against photographing your ballot, but since there is a law still on the books about publishing how you are going to vote, before you cast your ballot, wait to post that selfie until you have already submitted your ballot.
One of the hardest issues for working parents of young children is finding sufficient care for them while parents are working. In our state that problem has been greatly reduced thanks to a new law that just went into effect.
Vermont is the first state in the country to guarantee pre-kindergarten to all its three and four year old citizens. The law, Act 166 was signed into law in 2014 but became effective as of the first of July. Under the law, each town must provide at least 10 hours of high quality pre-kindergarten education to 3 and 4 year olds for 35 weeks per year. The pre-k can be through public school, communities, Head Start or private early education centers. Many communities in Vermont already provide this service, with about one-quarter of the communities putting the new law into effect one year earlier than required.
This is great news for working parents. Under the law, parents can place their 3 and 4 year olds in pre-k programs closer to their jobs making it easier all around for working parents who may have had to forego a pre-k program due to hours and distance from their jobs.
The ten free hours will be economically beneficial to a lot of young, working parents who could not otherwise afford care for their children for the full work day. Attendance in the 3 and 4 year old program is not mandatory although a lot of parents will most likely take advantage of the program. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Vermont has the highest attendance by 4 year olds in pre-school programs.
The Vermont legislature passed a new law, H.620 which will ensure that the costs of birth control remain free as is presently the case under the Affordable Care Act. Under the law, insurance companies in Vermont are required to provide birth control at no cost to their insureds regardless of any changes that may take place concerning the Affordable Care Act, thereby preserving this benefit for Vermonters.
The bill however went one step further and includes men in the picture. The law also requires insurance companies to not only cover permanent birth control for women but to also cover permanent birth control for males in the form of vasectomies. This law, the first in the nation to address male contraception is expected to be signed by Governor Shumlin.
The thought process behind the inclusion of males is that men are a part of the contraception and family planning, providing gender parity. Many women who no longer wish to have children may not be able to take contraceptive pills or use other methods of birth control and vasectomies provide the ability to have a permanent solution.
You can read more about this new law here and here.
Vermont’s GMO labeling law is set to take effect on July 1, 2016. You can read more about it here. National efforts to restrict Vermont and other state’s abilities to impose such labeling requirements was up for vote in the United States Senate as the more commonly known DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act. You can read more about the DARK Act here.
Today, the Senate failed to have the votes necessary to put the bill through. This puts Vermont one step closer to its labeling law going into effect on schedule in July. This is hardly however the end of the discussion on the national level.
Mindfulness is a word that you most likely have been hearing a lot lately. It is in the news, it is on Facebook, it is on Twitter and other social media sites.
Lawyers are some of the folks who try to do it all, I know I am. I remember one time that I was trying to listen to two different seminars – one on the computer and one of the phone while doing some work. Guess what? I got nothing from it and I knew I probably wouldn’t but I still tried.
Sometimes, it is necessary to step back, take a breath (a real breath, not that shallow, urgent thing we do all the time that we pass for taking a breath) and remember that we don’t need to do it all.
I want to share something I came across that reminds us lawyers that slowing down occasionally and really paying attention to our days and the moments that comprise them, isn’t such a bad thing.
The link discusses mindfulness and the law and gives us five really simply tips how to make ourselves just a little more aware of the world around us. I will give you a hint, one of the tips is simply to breathe.
Here is an interesting blog post from a Vermont attorney about crowdfunding and the ethical implications of a lawyer crowdfunding representation costs for a client. It is an interesting read and the take away is great, the rules are the rules. We do not necessarily need new rules to adapt to technology and the challenges and opportunities that we face as attorneys, we just need to understand and follow the rules that exist.
Please read Michael’s post. Very interesting stuff.