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Laws that criminalize homelessness are on the rise across the country, according to a new report by an advocacy group. The laws prohibit everything from sleeping in public to loitering and begging. Advocates for the homeless say the laws are making the problem worse.

Susan St. Amour is among those who could be affected by the new restrictions. Twice a week, she stands on a median strip at an intersection in downtown Portland, Maine, asking passersby for cash. She says she needs the money to get by.

"[If] for some reason I don’t get a bed at the shelter and I have nowhere to stay, it means I can’t eat that night unless I have a few dollars in my pocket," she says. "Or it may be because I need to take the bus to the other side of town. I might have a doctor’s appointment."

Last year, though, the city passed a law that banned loitering on median strips. A federal judge has since declared the law unconstitutional, but the city plans to appeal. Council member Ed Suslovic says the goal of the legislation was not to hurt the homeless — just the opposite, in fact.

"This was a public safety threat, mainly to the folks in the median strip, but also to motorists going by as well," Suslovic says.

To Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, such measures are counterproductive — as well-meaning as they might be. Especially if they subject individuals to jail time or fines they can’t afford to pay.

"It’s really hard to get a job when you’re homeless anyway, or to get housing," Foscarinis says. "You have no place to bathe, no place to dress, no money for transportation. But then, if you also have an arrest record, it’s even more challenging."

Still, her group says such laws are on the rise. The National Law Center found that local bans on sleeping in vehicles have increased almost 120 percent over the past three years. Citywide bans on camping have grown 60 percent, and laws against begging have increased 25 percent. This all comes at a time when the U.S. government estimates that more than 610,000 people are homeless on any given night.

http://www.npr.org/2014/07/16/332050463/with-a-series-of-small-bans-cities-turn-homelessness-into-a-crime

Your rights as a photographer

Tips from the ACLU’s website to help you know your rights while photographing in public.

  • When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.
  • When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner’s rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).
  • Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant. The Supreme Court has ruledthat police may not search your cell phone when they arrest you, unless they get a warrant. Although the court did not specifically rule on whether law enforcement may search other electronic devices such as a standalone camera, the ACLU believes that the constitution broadly prevents warrantless searches of your digital data. It is possible that courts may approve the temporary warrantless seizure of a camera in certain extreme “exigent” circumstances such as where necessary to save a life, or where police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that doing so is necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence of a crime while they seek a warrant.
  • Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances. Officers have faced felony charges of evidence tampering as well as obstruction and theft for taking a photographer’s memory card.
  • Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.
  • Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.

read the entire article here

Looks Like Weed Legalization Will Be on the November Ballot in DC

Forbes just put out a list of the coolest cities in the US, and against all odds, DC won the top spot. The honor may be more deserved come November, when residents of the District will decide whether to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing marijuana.

The DC Board of Elections certified a ballot initiative Tuesday by the DC Cannabis Campaign to legalize marijuana for personal use. Ballot Initiative 71 would legalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana outside the home, allow DC residents to grow up to three plants in their homes, and restrict use to residents 21 and over.

The campaign submitted roughly 56,000 petition signatures to get the initiative on the ballot, more than twice the threshold number of 22,000. Organizers were expecting a challenge from the board of elections, and there was palpable relief in the room when the board announced about 27,000 of those signatures had been deemed valid.

Now that the initiative is officially on the ballot, the biggest hurdle for the campaign may be over. A Washington Post poll earlier this year found that 63 percent of District residents supported legalization, compared with 34 percent who were opposed.

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In Nevada it is illegal for men who have mustaches to kiss women.

In New Hampshire you can’t tap your foot or nod your head to keep time to music.

In Alabama it is illegal to have an ice cream cone in your back pocket at all times. 

Yup.

MORE: In Photos: The Most Ridiculous Laws in America

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California governor Jerry Brown said he will approve a ban on single-use plastic bags, in what would make the western US state the first to outlaw them.

Lawmakers passed the bill late last Friday, and it now only requires Brown’s signature to pass into law. The governor must do so before the end of September.

Under the Californian legislation, single-use plastic bags would disappear from grocery stores and pharmacies from July 1, 2015, and then from convenience and liquor stores from July 1, 2016.

The bill would allow stores to charge 10 cents for paper bags.

http://news.yahoo.com/california-first-us-state-ban-plastic-bags-064643573.html