TIME cities

New Orleans Bans Smoking in Bars and Casinos

smoking cigarette wrapped in money on ashtray
John Knil—Getty Images

The Big Easy becomes one of the last major American cities to pass a sweeping smoking ban

The New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a ban on smoking in bars and gambling halls on Thursday.

The law will take effect in about three months, the Associated Press reports. While owners of bars and casinos expressed concerns that the ban would hurt business, city officials decided the health of musicians and others exposed to secondhand smoke while working in those establishments is paramount.

New Orleans, a major tourism hub known for its nightlife, is one of the last major American cities to allow people to smoke in bars. Logan Gaskill, a lawyer for a large casino next to the French Quarter, estimated at the meeting that revenues would decline 20% as a result from the ban, the AP reports.

But lawmakers were convinced by a teary speech from Councilman James Gray II, who read off the names of people he knew who died from lung-cancer. Another member, Jason Williams, said they had an obligation to protect “the heart and soul” of New Orleans, the musicians and barroom workers.

[AP]

TIME Germany

German Court Affirms Man’s Right to Stand While Peeing

Man at Urinal
Brett White—Getty Images/Flickr RF

People who stand should "expect regular significant quarrels with housemates, especially women"

A German court ruled on Thursday that men who pee while standing aren’t responsible for the potential consequences on the bathroom floor.

The Düsseldorf court ruled in favor of a tenant after his landlord tried to withhold part of a security deposit because of stains on the marble bathroom floor allegedly caused by urine, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports.

“Despite growing domestication of men in this matter,” Judge Stefan Hank said, urinating while standing up is still widespread.” Still, he added, people who stand should “expect regular significant quarrels with housemates, especially women.”

[Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung]

TIME Law

Feds Limit Law that Lets Cops Seize Your Stuff

Enacts major limitations on federal civil forefeiture law that allow police to seize assets without evidence of wrongdoing

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that state and local officials would no longer be allowed to use federal law to seize private property such as cash or cars without evidence that a crime had occurred.

It’s the first major reform of a program launched as part of the so-called War on Drugs that has allowed police to confiscate billions of dollars in cash, vehicles and other types of property without evidence of wrongdoing. Since 2008, state and local agencies have seized $3 billion worth of property through more than 55,000 stops and seizures, and 80% of the proceeds go to local police departments or drug task forces, according to the Washington Post.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Attorney General Holder said in a statement. “This is the first step in a comprehensive review that we have launched of the federal asset forfeiture program.”

Federal asset forfeiture laws allow police to pull over motorists and seize property when there is suspicion of wrongdoing. Citizens must then prove that the property was legally acquired in order to get it back. That is often a costly and lengthy process; only one out of six seizures are legally challenged, according to the Post.

The unclaimed seized assets are then re-distributed among law enforcement agencies and the federal government. Between 2001 and 2014, state and local authorities have kept more than $1.7 billion through these kinds of seizures, while some $800 million has gone to the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and other federal agencies. Of those seizures, half were worth less than $8,800.

The new limitations announced Friday do not apply to property that could threaten public safety, like firearms, explosives, or child pornography.

For an in-depth explanation of the forfeiture program, check out the Washington Post’s investigation, which counted all the stops and seizures since 9/11 and traced how the money was used. For a more comic explanation, you can turn to John Oliver:

TIME Law

NRA Suing Pennsylvania Cities on Gun Laws; Mayors Vow Fight

nra leadership forum
NRA members listen to speakers during the NRA Annual Meeting of Members at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on May 4, 2013 Johnny Hanson — AP

The lobby group has set its sights on Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster for passing firearms ordinances against in violation of state law

Armed with a new state law that opponents denounce as a gift to the gun lobby, pro-gun groups are rapidly scaling up their attack on municipal firearms ordinances throughout Pennsylvania, with the National Rifle Association filing suit over gun-control measures in three cities.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster have “openly defied” a 40-year-old state law that forbids municipalities from regulating firearms, said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

The cities said they will fight the NRA, contending the local regulations are a sensible way to address deadly gun violence.

“This should be a wake-up call for citizens across Pennsylvania,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said. “We’re not taking away anyone’s right to own a gun — or 10 or 20 guns. What we’re saying is when a gun is lost or stolen, you’ve got to report it. Too many people are being killed in the streets of Pittsburgh and other cities with stolen guns.”

Pennsylvania has long barred its municipalities from approving ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition. But scores of cities and towns ignored the prohibition, and gun-rights groups complained the local measures were difficult to challenge because judges have ruled that plaintiffs could not prove harm.

Under a state law that took effect last week, gun owners no longer have to show they have been harmed by an ordinance to win in court. The new law also allows organizations like the NRA to sue, and successful challengers can seek legal fees and other costs.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster are fighting the new law in court, arguing lawmakers didn’t follow constitutional procedure for passing legislation.

“It is unconstitutional, it never should have been passed, and it breaks with more than 200 years of history in Pennsylvania, by allowing organizations without standing the ability to sue,” Peduto said.

Under threat of litigation from several smaller gun-rights groups, more than 20 Pennsylvania municipalities already have moved to repeal their firearms ordinances instead of defending them in court. Another group, Houston-based U.S. Law Shield, sued the capital of Harrisburg on Tuesday over its gun laws.

The NRA suit filed Wednesday against Philadelphia targets seven ordinances, including ones that require owners to report lost or stolen firearms; prohibit guns from city-owned facilities; and ban weapons possession by people subject to protection-from-abuse orders or who are found to pose a risk of “imminent harm” to themselves or others.

Philadelphia officials have long said its measures are needed to combat gun violence that claims hundreds of lives each year. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed city ordinances that limited people to buying one gun a month and banned assault weapons, but the NRA — deemed to lack standing — lost its bid to get other city gun laws thrown out.

If the city’s bid to overturn the new state law is successful, “then the NRA would not have standing to file the suits that it has filed today,” said Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter.

In the small city of Lancaster, meanwhile, the NRA is challenging an ordinance that requires gun owners to tell police when a firearm is lost or stolen.

Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, one of the named defendants, denounced the NRA lawsuit as “pathetic” and said the city’s attorney had determined its ordinance could withstand legal scrutiny.

“The NRA is a New York-organized corporation that is based in Virginia and they are suing us in Lancaster because we are asking people to report stolen firearms,” he said. “I have a difficult time getting my arms around that.”

Cox, the NRA official, said local laws “do not make people safer” and, in a statement, accused officials of “politically grandstanding at taxpayers’ expense.”

The NRA plans to go after other municipalities whose gun ordinances are barred by state law, said the group’s attorney, Jonathan Goldstein.

“We expect every municipality to repeal ordinances that are pre-empted. If other folks don’t get on board with what the law requires, they can expect to hear from us in due course,” he said.

TIME South Carolina

Federal Lawsuit Claims South Carolina Foster Care System Harms Children

The suit says the state's Department of Social Services is "re-victimizing the very children it is charged to protect"

Child welfare activists filed a lawsuit in Federal court Monday against South Carolina’s foster care system.

The lawsuit cites three “deficiencies” in the state’s foster system, according to the New York Times: overwhelming caseloads for employees, poor health services for the children and a lack of foster homes. “D.S.S. is re-victimizing the very children it is charged to protect,” the lawsuit says, meaning the Department of Social Services.

“There’s got to be accountability when longstanding systemic problems, like a severe lack of mental health services, gross over-reliance on institutions and high caseloads that continue to harm innocent children,” Ira Lustbader, the litigation director for Children’s Rights, told the Times.

Eleven children in foster care are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The suit was filed in Federal District Court in Charleston.

TIME Law

FAA Grants Drone Permits to Agriculture and Real Estate Companies

FAA Drone Agriculture Real Estate
In this May 8, 2014 file photo, a Parrot Bebop drone flies during a demonstration event in San Francisco. The government is issuing the first two permits to agriculture and real estate companies to monitor crops and photograph properties for sale. Jeff Chiu—AP

It's the first time the FAA has given drone permits to companies in these two industries

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued Tuesday its first-ever drone permits for use in the agriculture and real estate sectors.

Exemptions to the ban on commercial drones were made for Advanced Aviation Solutions in Spokane, Wash., for “crop scouting,” and to Douglas Trudeau of Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, Ariz., for enhanced aerial footage of buildings, according to an FAA statement.

Advanced Aviation Solutions will use a 1.5-pound eBee drone to take photographs of farm fields for measurement and inspection purposes, while Trudeau will use a Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter to “enhance academic community awareness and augment real estate listing videos,” the FAA said.

Among other rules, the permits require commercial drones to have an on-the-ground “pilot” and an observer, and that the drone must not leave the operator’s line of sight.

Previously, the FAA had granted drone permits to 11 companies in filmmaking, oil and gas and landfill industries, according to the Associated Press. Congress has pressured the FAA for years to establish guidelines permitting commercial drone use, and has mandated the agency to integrate drones into U.S. airspace by September 2015.

TIME Crime

Colorado Movie Theater Shooter’s Parents Plead for His Life

"He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness," James Holmes' parents said

The parents of the man accused of killing 12 people when he opened fire in a Colorado movie theater in 2012 are pleading that their mentally ill son be spared the death penalty.

In a letter published Friday in the Denver Post, Robert and Arlene Holmes argued that their son James has a “serious mental illness” and should be either imprisoned for the rest of his life or placed in an institution for the mentally ill, but not executed. “We have read postings on the Internet that have likened him to a monster,” the couple wrote. “He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness.

“We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill,” the added.

After multiple delays, jury selection for Holmes’ trial is scheduled in January. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

TIME Law

Illinois Woman Files Trademark Application for ‘I Can’t Breathe’

The woman is not related to Eric Garner

An Illinois woman has filed an application to trademark Eric Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe” for use on hoodies and T-shirts.

Catherine Crump, 57, applied last Saturday for legal registration of the phrase that has become a rallying cry at protests across the country and has even been printed on t-shirts worn by celebrities like LeBron James.

Garner, an unarmed black man, died after being aggressively subdued by police officers in July. Video footage of his death shows Garner saying, “I can’t breathe” as a policeman grips him in an apparent chokehold. The words became a symbol of protests that began when a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who tackled Garner. The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, has denied the move was a chokehold.

In her trademark application, Crump says she has been using the phrase commercially since August 18, one month after Eric Garner’s death. She told the Smoking Gun that she had not consulted with Eric Garner’s family before filing for the trademark but that she is not seeking to profit use of the phrase.

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TIME Law

Nebraska and Oklahoma Are Trying to Kill Colorado’s Buzz

By suing over Colorado's legalization of marijuana

Two neighbors of Colorado filed suit against the state on Thursday, claiming its legalization of marijuana has pushed some of the drug over state lines and asking the Supreme Court to strike the law down.

Attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma allege that Colorado’s legalization violates the Supremacy clause of the constitution, which specifies that federal law takes precedence over state law. “Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States’ own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems,” the suit alleges, according to the Denver Post.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said at a news conference that pot from Colorado has been turning up at Nebraska’s border, which has led to an increase in arrest and prosecutions. “Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost,” Bruning said, according to the Omaha World-Herald, adding that “federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana.”

Kevin A. Sabet, President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a bipartisan organization made up of mental and public health professionals, supports the lawsuit. “We support this action by the attorneys general of Oklahoma and Nebraska because Colorado’s decisions regarding marijuana are not without consequences to neighboring states, and indeed all Americans,” Sabet said said. “The legalization of marijuana is clearly in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and is not implemented in a vacuum.” Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, seeks a “middle road between incarceration and legalization” in dealing with pot offenses.

Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers said in a statement that he plans to defend the state’s marijuana laws in court. “It appears the plaintiffs’ primary grievance stems from non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana, as opposed to choices made by the voters of Colorado,” he said. “We believe this suit is without merit and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

TIME Immigration

Federal Judge Rules Against Obama’s Immigration Action

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about immigration reform during a visit to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about immigration reform during a visit to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nov. 21, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Ruling has no immediate impact

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation is unconstitutional.

Judge Arthur Schwab of the Western District of Pennsylvania found the actions violated the constitution’s separation of powers, Reuters reports. The ruling has no immediate impact but will give fodder to Republican lawmakers, who have criticized Obama as overstepping his authority.

Schwab had been addressing a case regarding a Honduran immigrant, Elionardo Juarez-Escobar, who pleaded guilty to re-entry in the U.S. He said he ruled on Obama’s actions because he believed Juarez-Escobar was eligible for relief under the policy.

A Justice Department spokesperson said Tuesday that Schwab’s ruling was “unfounded” and incorrect.

“No party in the case challenged the constitutionality of the immigration-related executive actions and the department’s filing made it clear that the executive actions did not apply to the criminal matter before the court,” the spokesperson said. “Moreover, the court’s analysis of the legality of the executive actions is flatly wrong. We will respond to the court’s decision at the appropriate time.”

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