Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What is a loaded gun?

On November 22, 2005, Gov. Romney signed a new law that clarifies the definition of a loaded shotgun or rifle, which is of particular importance to hunters. Chapter 137 of 2005 eliminates the conflict between the definition in Chapter 131 and that in Chapter 269.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

City and Town Ordinances

We have the bylaws or ordinances from over 100 Massachusetts cities and towns linked from our site.

Can an Employee be Fired for No Reason?

Many people are under the impression that an employer must have a good reason to fire an employee. A recent Boston Globe column does a good job of explaining the bad news, "Although it seems almost impossible to believe, employers in Massachusetts, or in any other employee-at-will state, can fire any employee at any time for any reason — or even for no reason at all. An employer can terminate any employee, with or without notice. " The column goes on to explain the circumstances in which a termination may not be legal.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


An article in Friday's Bolton Common, Motorists: Make way for horses, reminds us to use care when sharing the road with a a horse. It quotes Mass. General Laws c.90, section14, which says, in part, "Every person operating a motor vehicle shall bring the vehicle and the motor propelling it immediately to a stop when approaching a cow, horse or other draft animal being led, ridden or driven, if such animal appears to be frightened and if the person in charge thereof shall signal so to do." Similarly, in state parks and forests, "When approaching a... horseback rider, the operator of a snow vehicle, ORV, or mountain bicycle shall immediately slow his vehicle to a minimum safe operating speed, shall give such person the right of way, shall not pass until it can be accomplished with complete safety and shall not accelerate the vehicle until there is a reasonable distance of not less than 50 feet from such person." 304 CMR 12.28(7).

Special Education

Yesterday, the Supreme Court announced their decision in a special education case, Schaffer v. Weast. Attorneys for parents had argued that where a parent was dissatisfied with an IEP, the school district should bear the burden of proving an IEP sufficient, rather than the parents having to prove that it is insufficient. But the court held that "the burden of persuasion in an administrative hearing challenging an IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief, whether that is the disabled child or the school district. "

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage Constitutional Amendment

The so-called Marriage Protection Amendment was passed yesterday by the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, chaired by Kansas Senator Sam Brownback. The proposed constitutional amendment states "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman." Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who cast the deciding vote, said he opposes the measure but believes it deserves to be heard in the full Senate. More information is available at The Boston Channel.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Correcting a Criminal Record

The Criminal History Systems Board has a simple document on the steps necessary to correct your criminal record, which we've linked from Law About Criminal Records.

Name Changes

At Law About Name Changes, we include links to sites that explain the procedure for changing one's name, but we've neglected to mention the two easiest times to change your name--when you get married, and when you get divorced. According to GLAD, "In addition to being a marriage application form, the Notice of Intention of Marriage form also operates as a legal name change document should you choose to change your name upon marriage. Questions 3A and 11A on the Notice of Intention ask for the surname you wish to use after marriage. By completing that question, your marriage certificate will identify you by your new name. A certified copy of your marriage certificate will allow you to change you name with the Social Security Administration. If you intend to marry but are not sure you want to change your name, you can always change your name at a later point. The advantage to changing your name at the time of marriage is that it allows you to avoid the $165 fee for initiating a name change through the usual process at the probate court. The usual process is still available to you if you choose to wait. " A similar situation occurs at the time of divorce. Divorce forms include a field in which you can request a return to your previous name, which is far simpler than filing a name change at a later date.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fuel Assistance

Winter is nearing, and our new page, Law About Winter Heating, contains links to a number of source of information about fuel assistance. Fuel Assistance (LIHEAP): An Overview is produced by an independent not-for-profit organization, and provides the clearest explanation of fuel assistance in a question and answer format. Areas include eligibility, benefits, application procedure, and how the benefit works. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is the official site of the program, and includes everything you need to know about fuel assistance, including forms, eligibility guidelines and procedures. Winter Heating Help, from the Mass. Office of Consumer Affairs, offers links to fuel assistance information, but also the average weekly price of heating oil and natural gas, energy saving tips and links, information on fuel assistance programs, energy star programs and more. Law About Winter Heating also includes links to individual assistance programs, and regulations on heat in the workplace and in residences.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Divorce Judgment Nisi and Tax Filing Status

This is the time of year when we begin to get tax questions, and one we've received more than once recently is if Husband and Wife have a divorce judgment nisi, but it will not be final until next year, do they file as married or single? According to Department of Revenue Directive 89-3, "Since the material (and tax) status of a divorced or divorcing individual depends on the nature of the judgment of divorce in effect at the close of the tax year, if the judgment nisi is in effect at that time, the taxpayer is married and must file either jointly or as married filing separately. If the judgment nisi has then become absolute, the taxpayer's filing status is 'single'." You can find this information and more at Law About Taxation and at Law About Divorce.

Massachusetts and OpenDocument

Massachusetts is leading the nation in an attempt to improve the current and future availability of public documents. The state's Information Technology Division has written a document called Enterprise Technical Reference Model v.3.5. The "Information Domain" portion of the document includes a vision statement which says, in part, "Electronic records are preserved in open formats that allow for optimal electronic records conservation and availability to the public over long periods of time." Open formats are defined as "specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, affirmed and maintained by a standards body and are fully documented and publicly available." The document itself is highly technical, but fortunately much has been written about it, so we can gain an understanding of what it means to state agencies. A great place to start is The Cover Pages, which provides a summary of the standard.

Nicole's Law Enacted

On Friday, Governor Romney signed Nicole's Law, Chapter 123 of 2005, requiring carbon monoxide detectors in homes. In a previous post, we outlined the key provisions of the law. More information is available at the Boston Globe.

Online Banking and Identity Theft

There are many different types of identity theft, but one of the most insidious is the unauthorized access to existing financial institution accounts. Almost everyone has received fraudulent emails about "your account" at a given financial institution, which ask you to update your information, or provide your password or the like. In 2004, the FDIC issued a report on the topic, Putting an End to Account-Hijacking Identity Theft. In response, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council has issued guidelines for financial institutions to increase the security of online banking, called Authentication in an Internet Banking Environment. This is not a new law, but a new standard that banks will be measured against during federal auditing, beginning in 2006. The guidelines offer several proposed methods to achieve compliance. More information is available at ComputerWorld and the Boston Globe.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Incentives for Hybrid Cars

The Boston City Council has proposed new rules that would allow hybrid cars to park for free at city meters. The state is also considering new laws that would provide benefits to owners of hybrid cars. S2220, a bill currently pending, provides several benefits. They include: permission to drive in HOV lanes with only one passenger, free FastLane transponders, and a $2000 tax deduction. Currently, there is a federal tax deduction for hybrid car owners. More information on incentives for hybrid car owners is available at hybridcars.com.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Interstate Compact for Adult Offenders

On October 27, 2005, Governor Romney signed a law that enters Massachusetts into the Interstate Compact for Adult Offenders, c.121 of 2005. According to the Governor's Press Release, "the interstate compact sets strict guidelines to govern offenders’ eligibility for transfer to prevent them from crossing state lines without notice and supervision. Such eligibility will be at the discretion of the sending state, and receiving states will accept offenders only if they are in compliance with the terms of supervision in the sending state." The National Institute of Corrections has a comprehensive Guide for State Officials on the Compact. This and more available at Law About Sentencing.

New Land Court Manual of Instructions

The Land Court has issued a new edition of Manual of Instructions for the Survey of Lands and Preparation of Plans, which will be effective January 2, 2006. “This manual is issued for the information and guidance of land surveyors preparing surveys and plans to be filed in the Land Court. It is intended as a guide to the minimum requirements for what is commonly referred to in this commonwealth as a “Land Court Survey”. Compliance with these instructions is mandatory, and no survey or plan will be accepted for filing unless these requirements have been fulfilled to the satisfaction of the Land Court’s Survey Division.” The Manual is linked from Law About Real Estate and also under Land Court Rules.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Melanie's Law

On October 28, 2005, Governor Romney signed the new drunk driving law, Chapter 122 of the Acts of 2005. The law, which is linked from the Popular Name Table and Law About Drunk Driving, increases the penalties for repeat drunk driving, creates new penalties for driving while intoxicated with a child in the car, and requires ignition interlock devices for certain repeat offenders.