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Government Facilities

- A bill (S. 772) designed to strengthen security at federally owned buildings has been approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The bill seeks to improve security at buildings operated by the Federal Protective Service (FPS). The measure would authorize and fund 146 additional security and support personnel. Guards would undergo additional training, and facilities would undergo risk assessments to help focus resources. Both overt and covert testing would be conducted to ensure that guards are performing to expectations.

Discrimination

- An employee who was fired after he was unable to obtain a security clearance may pursue a discrimination suit against his employer, according to a federal appeals court. The employee, who had been born in Iran, was fired even though his two non-Iranian coworkers were allowed to work after their clearances were rescinded.

Retaliation

- The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an employee who is retaliated against for making an oral complaint about policy can pursue a lawsuit against his employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Court said that, under the law, it is illegal to retaliate against an employee who has “filed any complaint.” This clearly includes oral complaints, according to the Court.

Privacy

- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may not exempt itself from violations of the federal Privacy Act, according to a federal appeals court. The appellate court ruled that the DHS could not exempt itself because the Privacy Act clearly states that the government must provide civil remedies for failure to keep accurate records.

Legal Report

- An employee can be prosecuted under federal computer crime laws for accessing a proprietary da­tabase for the purpose of defrauding his company. Though the federal law was designed to prevent hacking, it also applies to theft of proprietary information in some cases, according to a federal appeals court.

Legal Report

- Courts rule on hostile work environments. A federal appeals court upholds the fraud conviction of a former En­ron executive, while states introduce bills on defamatory information online and handguns in the workplace.

State Legislation

- Tennessee Weapons. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill (S.B. 519) into law that will clarify the state’s handgun laws. The state already allows employers to permit handguns in the workplace. The new law specifies that the decision to permit handguns in the workplace does not create an unsafe workplace. Vermont Crime. A new bill (H. 16) introduced in Vermont would amend the state’s criminal code to make it a crime to knowingly and intentionally post false and defamatory information to an Internet Web site. The bill would also amend the definition of Internet harassment to include posting on a Web site as a form of electronic communication.    

Background Checks

- A bill ( H.R. 1331) introduced by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) would allow employers in the security and alarm monitoring business access to federal databases to conduct background checks on employees. Because state background screening requirements vary, employers would be able to conduct a federal criminal background check to ensure that employees have not been convicted of a felony within the previous 10 years. After completing a successful check, the employee would be given a federal ID card good for one year that could be used in any state. Under the bill, an employee would be allowed to dispute the findings and correct false information.

Emergency Preparedness

- A bill (S. 191) introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) that would examine how amateur radio operators could aid first responders in an emergency has been approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The Senate has not announced whether it will consider the bill. Under S. 191, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would study how amateur radio operators provided information and aid to first responders during disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the relief effort after 9-11, and the response to the Oklahoma City bombing. If the report finds that such efforts were successful, DHS will determine how these operators could be organized to enhance their role in disaster response.  

Food Safety

- A bill (S. 216) introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would enhance penalties for contaminating food supplies has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will now go before a vote in the full Senate.The bill would make the crime of intentionally adulterating or misbranding food, drugs, tobacco products, or cosmetics a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Those who knowingly introduce such products into the food supply would face the same penalty. In his introductory remarks, Leahy noted that such activities are already illegal but they are misdemeanors and rarely result in jail time. He also noted that fines and recalls have become so frequent that they are considered “merely the cost of doing business.”  

Discrimination

- An employee who was fired for harassing a fellow employee may not sue her employer for discrimination. The employee claimed it was her religious duty as a Christian to constantly tell a gay coworker that she “was going to hell” and “had no right to live on this earth.” After the employee was fired, she filed a lawsuit claiming that she was discriminated against because of her religion. The federal appeals court ruled that the employee was fired for harassing her coworker, not because of her religion.

Domestic Spying

- A federal appeals court has ruled that the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the government’s domestic spying law do have standing to pursue their case. The plaintiffs, including Amnesty International as well as journalists, international aid groups, labor organizations, and attorneys, argued that the amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) violate the U.S. Constitution. The appellate court overturned a lower court’s decision—that the plaintiffs had no grounds to sue because they had no evidence that they had been harmed by the law.

State Legislation: Vermont: Tasers

- A bill (H. 3) introduced in the Vermont General Assembly would require that law enforcement officers complete certain types of training before they would be allowed to carry Tasers. Under the bill, officers would be required to undergo training on how to interact with people experiencing a mental health crisis. The training would be designed and administered by state’s criminal justice training council.
 




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