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It is part of the American Dream to own a home. But along with home ownership comes the obligation to pay property taxes. The government collects property taxes to pay for, among other things, maintenance of roads, street lighting, community landscaping, parks and city code enforcement. But starting in approximately 1960, local governments began teaming up with private developers to create homeowner associations. Today, more than 66 million people in the United States live in homeowners associations, condominium communities, cooperatives and other planned communities and the number grows each year. By statute, state legislatures have given certain governmental powers to HOAs. A homeowners association operates much like a local city government. The community elects a board of directors to represent them. The Board then makes decisions for the community. The community is governed by Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) which allow the Board to collect dues and assessments. These dues and assessments are then used by the HOA to maintain roads, street lighting, community landscaping, parks and for CC&R enforcement. In a very real sense an HOA community is a localized form of government that collects taxes and is responsible for community maintenance.

So, in creating HOA communities, local governments have transferred the responsibility to maintain roads, street lighting, community landscaping, parks and code enforcement to the HOAs. But the government continues to collect property taxes from those in HOA communities at the same rate as those that don’t live in HOA communities. The proliferation of HOAs has resulted in a cost savings to local governments in two ways. First, by requiring developers to build “public improvements” such as parks and then passing the cost of maintenance of the improvements to the homeowners; and secondly, by HOAs being responsible for the cost of maintaining infrastructures that would normally be maintained by the municipality.

So, if homeowners in HOA communities already pay dues and assessments to their association for maintenance of roads, parks and other amenities, then why are they required to pay property taxes? Aren’t they getting taxed twice for the same services? That’s what many homeowners believe and their complaints have been heard at the Federal level. Two U.S. Congressional Representatives are co-sponsoring a bill to provide a special federal tax deduction for owners of property in homeowners associations. On March 3, 2016 U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced the bill “Helping our Middle-Income Earners (HOME) Act.” If passed, H.R. 4696 would allow homeowners in community associations who earn $115,000 or less in annual income to deduct up to $5,000 of their community association fees and assessments from their federal tax liability.

According to the sponsors, “[t]he HOME Act recognizes that millions of middle class homeowners are struggling to keep up with rising household expenses like child care, college tuition, health care, mortgage and community assessments” and the bill goes “a long way by providing relief from this tax burden on millions of middle class families.”

Although no companion bill has been introduced in the Senate, the bill has attracted the attention and has gained the support of the Community Association Institute, a national organization that advocates on behalf of HOA communities. “CAI applauds Rep. Eshoo for her efforts to make homeownership more affordable and for recognizing the inequity of double-taxation faced by homeowners in America’s community associations,” said CAI Chief Executive Officer Thomas M. Skiba, CAE. “We look forward to working with Reps. Eshoo and Thompson to ensure this legislation is a net gain for the more than 66 million Americans who live in community associations,” Skiba added.  The HOME Act would lighten the financial burden of homeowners and make homeownership more affordable and attainable for more families.

There is no denying that there is some taxation inequity for homeowners living in HOA communities. But H.R. 4696 still has a long way to go. It was recently referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means and only time will tell if the bill will gain enough support to pass. But there are over 66 million hard-working homeowners that are hoping it gets traction.

March 30th, 2016

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It’s anyone’s worst nightmare (except possibly Kim Kardashian’s) – waking up one day to discover nude photos of yourself posted all over the internet accessible by millions of people world-wide. With just the click of a mouse, your most personal and private photos or videos are accessible to your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and boss. And making it worse, the images were posted along with your name, address, employer and links to your social media profiles. You then learn that the images were posted by a former boyfriend or girlfriend.  Unfortunately, this situation is becoming more and more common and as you can imagine, the damage to the victim can be devastating. Victims often face strains to personal relationships when family and friends view or receive the images. They may lose out on a job opportunity when the prospective employer researches them online. Sadly, one study showed that approximately half of revenge porn victims consider suicide due to the negative repercussions of the postings.

But what can be done? Certainly, revenge porn victims could file civil lawsuits against the ex-boyfriend or girlfriend who posted the photos. But civil litigation can cost tens of thousands of dollars and if the victim cannot afford to litigate, the jilted lover gets away with the reprehensible conduct. Also, the civil lawsuit would only produce a paper judgment that says the defendant owes the victim money. Collecting a significant amount of money from the defendant would be very difficult. But most importantly, real justice can’t be achieved with a money judgment or an injunction. The images are on the internet and they are virtually impossible to remove entirely – you can’t unring the bell.

So, many states, including Arizona, are looking to criminalize revenge porn. Criminalizing revenge porn would give victims a greater chance of getting justice. Criminal laws also come with harsh penalties, including imprisonment, which can be effective in deterring people from posting the photos online in the first place. This is obviously the best possible outcome. To address this problem, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler recently introduced House Bill 2001 which would criminalize the distribution of nude or sexual photos or videos without the person’s consent.

H.B. 2001 has been three years in the making. The first revenge porn bill introduced by Mesnard was passed into law in 2014 but was quickly challenged by the ACLU and other groups including book publishers, photographers and bookstore owners as being unconstitutional because it was broadly worded and had the potential to infringe on First Amendment free speech rights. Rather than fighting the issue in court, the State agreed to revise and narrow the language of the bill to address the ACLU’s concerns.

The revised bill requires that the person in the image have a reasonable expectation of privacy and that the distribution be made with the intent to harm, harass, intimidate, threaten or coerce. The bill makes revenge porn a Class 5 felony which carries a 1.5 year to 2.5 year imprisonment term. It also makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to threaten to disclose the images, even if the images are never disclosed. A Class 1 misdemeanor carries a maximum 6 month prison term.

These changes seemed to satisfy the ACLU and the other opponents of the prior bill and the revised bill was introduced last year. The House passed it but it died on the last night of the Legislative session when the Senate adjourned before taking any action on it. Undeterred, Mesnard recently re-introduced the bill this legislative session as House Bill 2001. The Legislature made it a priority and the bill quickly and easily passed the House and the Senate and has been sent to Governor Doug Ducey to sign. H.B. 2001 contains an emergency provision so if it is signed by Gov. Ducey, the law would immediately go into effect.

As technology advances, it become easier and easier to take and share photos and videos. So, eliminating revenge porn altogether will be extremely difficult. But if the conduct is criminalized, the laws are actively enforced and judges hand down aggressive sentences, we have a much better chance of preventing people from being victimized.

March 10th, 2016

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March 10th, 2016

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October 26th, 2015

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September 16th, 2015

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March 12th, 2015

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June 17th, 2014

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February 23rd, 2013

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November 15th, 2012

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August 23rd, 2011

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