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A New Phone Law?

Since Our Blog is a little bit about travel, this seemed like a good start.

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Do we need a new phone travel restriction law? Admit it! You get so irritated when you see someone sitting… just sitting in front of you, at a light that has turned green… and they aren’t moving because they are just sitting there talking on their cell phone. Or, maybe it’s just me.

Already, it’s against the law to text. But, Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell re-introduced a bill that was previously voted down on the Senate floor in 2015. A bill that would make it a traffic violation to use your cell phone in hand.  Hands free only.

Senator Scott Surovell today introduced SB 74 which prohibits driving while operating a mobile phone unless it is being used in “hand’s free” mode”.

Here is what the Virginia Transportation Alliance has said about the bill:

 

The Alliance applauds Senator Surovell’s efforts to find solutions that will help reduce distracted driving. Recent VDOT statistics show that over a 6 year period, approximately 1 in 6 traffic fatalities in Northern Virginia occurred when at least 1 of the drivers involved was distracted,” stated Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance President David Birtwhistle in an email to Potomac Local. “Many more traffic incidents impacting the efficiency of the transportation network are caused by distracted driving. Northern Virginia’s congestion issues will not be solved by such legislation, but every effort to reduce the number of incidents and save lives matters.

The days of having your cell phone in your hand while driving may come to a close after this session. The argument against passage of the bill includes that it may also serve to limit GPS use with your phone. Opponents of the bill believe that it just represents too much government involvement in our driving, and puts more burden on the police to enforce it.

For pic o’ day, this is more like just plain ole phone humor. (Does phone humor really exist?)

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The July 1 Laws

July 1st is the day that new laws  go into effect that were enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in this past session. Drivers can now legally cross over double yellow lines to pass pedestrians and bicyclists safely.

In the state of Virginia, farmers can now grow industrial hemp as part of a university research program. Do you think that means that college professors will research whether their students pay attention… while smoking “the ganga”?

Employers cannot ask employees or prospective employees for the username and passwords of their personal accounts.

Bicycles and mopeds are now included in the list of vehicles under the law that governs being ticketed for following a vehicle too closely.6

Here’s one that students should appreciate. Virginia is now reducing the number of standardized tests administered to elementary and middle schools students. There used to be 22 tests given. Now… 17.

And here’s one for the wild. Sunday is no longer a day of rest for wild birds and animals. That law is now repealed and Sunday hunting is now permitted. I guess that means that we need to get the word out to those birds and animals. Perhaps we should stand next to those signs that show where deer know to cross the road.

One last one that impacts the pocketbook. As of midnight, we are now paying 5 cents more per gallon on our gas. Doesn’t taxation feel special! Thanks Governor.

And for pic o’ day, here’s some Wednesday cat dancing:

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Online Lying Law

I am told that it’s bad business not to have something to listen to, when callers are put on phone hold. A few years back, I would regularly change our on-hold messages to apply that business advice. Then, for the message, I decided to periodically insert unusual state laws that are still in effect.

For instance, in one state, it is against the law to allow cows to stand around clothes while they are drying on a clothesline. Sometimes, I would pick up the waiting phone call and the caller would ask me to finish some information about those law on-hold messages.

When I read (article) that Rhode Island lawmakers have decided to strike down a 1989 law that made it a misdemeanor to knowlingly provide false information on the Internet, I wondered if it was a bit like the cow and clothesline law or something more serious.

One State Representative put it in context, “Lies may make you a scoundrel, cost you a relationship or get you fired, but they shouldn’t make you a criminal unless you’re trying to commit fraud or some other crime”. The legislators pointed to California as support to strike down the language, where actors regularly tell lies about their age, to help them get acting jobs.

The Rhode Island law still has a portion of the law in effect. It still is a felony to transmit false data for the purpose of “submitting a claim or payment”. What lawmakers specifically wanted to remove was the question of sending your boss an email to indicate that you can’t come to work because of sickness; Then, you sneak off to the mall for the 70% sale that is only on Tuesday.

I suspect that the online dating services were lobbying for this law to be eliminated. Now, photo-shopping that picture and trimming down the waistline is just considered a dating fib, and not a misdemeanor. Not many people are really being honest when they say “enjoys long walks in the park” either. Maybe online dating factors in a plus or minus twenty pounds for the profile pictures. At least now, Rhode Island says that selling the positive is just spin, not a misdemeanor.

For pic 0 day, I am including a picture from my mom: a Halloween “turkey costume”:

Harassing Phone Call Bill

     Each January, it’s fun to watch the progress of  bills that get introduced in the Virginia General Assembly. Some just get sidelined in a sub-committee and never see the light of day on the voting floor.

     Virginia Beach Delegate, Bob Tata, decided that he wanted to toughen up a bill relating to phone call harassment. Currently, the Virginia Code does have a law on the books that already punishes intentional phone harassment, by a fine.

     Bob Tata decided that he wanted the law to be stronger. So, he introduced House Bill (HB) 39, that makes “telephone stalking” punishable with up to six months in prison and a fine of $1,000. I have pasted the law with the introduced changes, at the bottom of the blog. Basically, “shall” is replaced by “is” guilty, and includes the jail punishment.

     After the bill was introduced, it was then assigned to the House Courts of Justice. From there, it was assigned to  sub-committee. On January 23, it got voted out of the committee by a 9-0 vote. It may make it to the floor.

     The intent of the law is to stop nuisance calls. On the surface, who doesn’t want an “ex” or someone mentally disturbed to stop calling. I have copied the bill/law, because it does seem to be a bit over-broad. I mean, caller i.d. and  phone numbers notification while watching your TV,  are popular technology because we all get annoyed by too many calls.

     No, I don’t want to participate in a political survey; and, I’m not interested in having my carpet shampooed. See, does that repeated calling fall within the framework of “purposely triggers audible phone or pager alerts to disturb others?” I mean, my cell phone company keeps sending message opportunities. Opportunities that aren’t that interesting. I guess they didn’t activate their phones just to annoy me, so they are probably OK by the law.

     I know, I’m looking at it like a lawyer. The second paragraph of the law/bill deals with pestering 911. You know, if you’re angry at the person in the parking lot because they are parked too close to your car, you can’t threaten them and call 911 to complain that they don’t know how to park.

     One final note on this. I guess Bob Tata probably wouldn’t want us to call his home multiple times and thank him…. would he? Is that an annoyance?   

     IF YOU MADE IT THIS FAR,  HERE”S THE LAW WITH PROPOSED  CHANGES (in parenthesis): 

   18-429. Causing telephone or pager to ring with intent to annoy.Any person who, with or without intent to communicate but with intent to annoy any other person, causes any telephone or digital pager, not his own, to ring or to otherwise signal, and any person who permits or condones the use of any telephone under his control for such purpose shall be, (is) guilty of a Class 3 (2 )misdemeanor     

 

  Any person who, with or without intent to converse, but with intent to annoy, harass, hinder or delayemergency personnel in the performance of their duties as such, causes a telephone to ring, which is owned or leased for the purpose of receiving emergency calls by a public or private entity providing fire, police or emergency medical service, and any person who knowingly permits the use of a telephone under his control for such purpose, shall be (is) guilty of a Class 1     

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     And now, pic o day….. a family picture that looks a bit out of control.

No South Carolina BBQ

     There’s an old-fashioned tug of war going on in South Carolina. It involves  what Republican Glenn McConnell describes as (President of the State Senate)  “This is a sledgehammer”.

     South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley has been in office for about 6 months now. She came in with hopes of having a better relationship with the SC Republican controlled legislature, then her predecessor, Governor Sanford. Sanford is famous for finding his “soul-mate” during his international travels.

     Governor Haley wants certain measures introduced and made law, that would restructure parts of the state government. She is demanding that the rebellious State Senate get back to work and take up four issues. 

     She wants a department legislatively created that would allow her to manage day-to day governmental operations. Basically, she wants to create a new cabinet position;

     She wants to merge the departments that oversee corrections and probation.  She believes that consolidation would save money;

     She wants to make the Superintendent of Education as an appointed position. No more elections with the Governor having  additional appointment powers;

     She wants to change the way that candidates run for statewide office. She is asking a change in how candidates run for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. No individuals. A joint ticket of Republicans or Democrats instead.

     As a response to her proposals, the legislature is refusing to take up these measures and believes that the Governor does not have power to force them to do so. She told them to get back to work. “Play your games. That is fine. But do it at home and not at the Statehouse”. She then issued an executive order to require the legislators to get back to work and take up her proposed measures. 

     Remember, those that she is fighting with, are of her same political party. This same discord was occurring with Governor Sanford and, he got so angry that he came to the legislative floor with two pigs under his arm because he was angry that they would not adopt his budget. He claimed that they were not getting rid of all the pork.

     Now, you can see that this involves a balance of power argument between the Governor and the Legislature. Then, the South Carolina Supreme Court, by a vote of 3-2 ruled against the Governor and said that Governor Haley’s executive order violated the separation of powers. The Legislature has the right to set its own schedule.

     This has been brewing between the legislators and the Governor. She had an end-of-session cookout at the Governor’s mansion. When some of the legislators arrived, they found out that they were not allowed in. 

     The Governor’s spokesman said that the Barbecue was only an invited event for her supporters. The 10 lawmakers left off the invite list must have left with watery mouths and without the requisite cornbread. Exactly, the pain of no BBQ.

    One legislator, according to the NY Times article,  stated, “I think she’s lost her mind. She’s hiking the Appalachian Trail”.  That was a quick reference to Governor Sanford’s excuse, when he really had gone to Argentina. The political wheel of the balance of power keeps turning. Turning without the BBQ.

The Dancing Legislation Process

     In the early 80’s, some one-hit wonder band released “The Politics of Dancing”. I’m guessing that you really don’t care, so I’m not attaching their amazing one hit from YouTube.   As the State and Federal legislalors are “hunkering down” by voting on and compromising  bills, it is a reminder of how the reverse of that song is constantly in play.

     In Virginia, Tobacco legislation always brings out some amazing stories and quotes. On one hand, no one fights the harms and addictions of Tobacco. In the alternative, it seems to always come down to the money. A recent “eyebrow raiser” fits that description.

     Virginia’s Pilot Online reports that three bills that had been introduced, that would have raised taxes on cigarettes, were defeated by not making it out of committee. They had all been assigned to the House Finance Committee. That means that Virginia currently ranks #49 in its tax on cigarettes, despite the possible outcome of raising much needed revenue for Virginia.

     HB 1815 would have raised the per-pack rate to $1.45 per pack. That is currently the national tax average. HB 2118 would have allowed all Virginia Counties to determine whether to impose a tax increase. Currently, Fairfax and Arlington are the only counties with such authority.

     The specifics of the first bill would have directed most of the tax increase directly to Medicaid, to help fund the federal and state health insurance of low income people. Right now, Medicaid funding represents 20% of Virginia’s general-fund budget 

     Why was there no outcry for this new revenue? Well, as Del. Bobby Orrock (R-Caroline County) told his co-committee members during the bill discussion, “You don’t want to restrict the chicken so much to the point that people quit smoking”. He pointed out that the state should not tax cigarettes to the point that people quit smoking.

     Some blogs just simply need no real comment.  Delegate Orrock is a teacher at Spotsyvania High School and has served as an EMT with LadySmith Volunteer Rescue Squad.

A Medicare Lesson

     This blog topic is not a grabber. There, I violated the first rule of writing by inserting a first sentence that seems to say, “move on, nothing interesting here”.  In fact, here is the theme of no surprise: Government run Medicare needs a new  law to make it work more effectively.

     I deal with medicare in my law practice. I use the term “deal” with medicare, when in reality, it is very hard to get in touch with a Medicare representative.  I am usually trying to reimburse Medicare from client settlement proceeds, as a result of health care providers that have been paid by medicare. Really! I am trying to pay Medicare money.

     The law says that Medicare is entitled to reimbursement, when  bills relating to a car crash have previously been paid,  and my clients later receive proceeds of settlement as a result of that crash. Specifically, once Medicare makes a payment, they have a lien against the accident settlement proceeds.

      Despite the seemingly expected ease of payback, many of my client’s settlements are slowed down because I cannot get in touch with a Medicare representative or I cannot get a final lien amount. Despite that, the lien continues and can even potentially make me, as the lawyer, legally and/or ethically  responsible,  if I ignore an unknown lien amount. In addition, Medicare delay can last for months or even a year.

   This Medicare law governing reimbursements  doesn’t seem to be law that makes sense. Of course, I am told that there is a California law that says that “No vehicle without a driver may exceed 60 miles per hour”.  In Maryland, it is against the law to take a lion to the movies or throw a bale of hay from a second story window. I’m not making this up. Still, Medicare is a  “stranger than” to me. Why is it so hard to pay back money to the government?

     I’m not the only one that thinks there is a problem. Currently,  a bill is now pending in Congress (H.R. 4796) called the Medicare Secondary Payer Enhancement Act. No,  it’s not  lip plumper legislation.

     Representatives Patrick Murphy (D-PA) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) have introduced this bill to streamline repayments.  1) Medicare would have to respond to a recovery demand letter (a request asking for a final lien amount) or risk losing entitlement to the lien;  2)Medicare would be required to develop and implement an appeals process, when there is an issue with the lien that is claimed by medicare;  3)There would be a 3 year statute of limitations for any Medicare Secondary Payer claims.

     Currently, Medicare can move at its own pace in responding. Getting a live person on the phone is quite a surprise. Many times, after chasing them for the lien, there is correspondence of a lien that does not represent an accurate amount,  that coincides with the payments from treatment and the crash. Medicare notifies at their timing, tells you the amount that they say is due and sometimes it is basically a letter that says “you pay this or we’ll keep tacking on interest”, and they do. Even when you write to question a bill that was paid, relating to treatment that was provided before the date of the crash.

     This is not a blog on the issue of Government mandated insurance. However, if Medicare reimbursement is any prophecy of the future, then we might all be in for some hard times, to get  authorized treatment. It makes me sometimes  feel like I’m dealing with Junior, from the old “Hee Haw” Show.  He would just tell us to call “BR 549”.  

     This bill is currently endorsed by such organizations as Safeway, the American Insurance Association, the Defense Research Institute and Walmart. Hopefully, delay and uncertainty can be fixed by this and the government can even get their money quicker. How is that a bad idea?

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