1. The Legal Angle – Are You Following These Stories?

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    Just in time for the weekend, five stories we’re following (and you should be too) - how the American Taxpayer Relief Act affects individuals, the FDA’s proposed changes to food safety regulations, President Obama’s gun control plan, new rules to protect consumers from unaffordable mortgages, and protecting children’s online privacy:

    Phew - tax breaks made permanent…

    “After a last-minute deal to avoid the fiscal cliff was passed by Congress on January 1, 2013, President Obama signed into law the new American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA 2012) on January 2, 2013. ATRA 2012 extends indefinitely the historically large Federal gift, estate, and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions, while introducing a modest increase in top rates for those taxes. Exemptions previously scheduled to decrease on December 31, 2012 are extended indefinitely.” (Patterson Belknap

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    FDA gives farmers and food manufacturers something to chew on…

    “Briefly, the FDA’s first rule proposes that food companies selling products in the US (whether produced in a foreign or domestic facility) develop formal food safety plans (and maintain auditable records) to reduce the risks of contamination, as well as contingency plans once problems arise. The FDA’s second rule proposes safety standards for the production and harvesting of produce, including the cleanliness of irrigation water, worker training and hygiene, and restricting animals from fields.” (Womble Carlyle)

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    Battle lines being drawn in fight over gun control measures…

    “When President Obama rolled out his new gun control plan at the White House, he included some small but noticeable concessions for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other advocates of responsible gun ownership. First, there is the fact that the Administration did not opt for an easy fix, simply pursuing an all-out ban on assault weapons and leaving it at that. With the inclusion of measures aimed at improving background checks, halting illegal gun trafficking, and ensuring gun-owners’ mental health and stability, there is a decent chance that a balanced, common-sense approach will win out over reactionary solutions that might make us feel good, but not make us any safer.” (Levick

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    Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: it’s time to limit mortgage loans to what people can pay…

    “In general, the [Ability-to-Repay] Rule requires that monthly payments be calculated based on the highest payment that will apply in the first five years of the loan and that the consumer have a total debt-to-income ratio that is less than or equal to 43 percent. In order for a mortgage to be a qualified mortgage, the loan in essence must not contain certain undesirable terms or features such as negative amortization, interest-only payments, balloon payments, or terms exceeding 30 years. So-called ‘no-doc’ loans where the creditor does not verify income or assets also cannot be qualified mortgages. Additionally, a loan generally cannot be a qualified mortgage if the points and fees paid by the consumer exceed three percent of the total loan amount for loans of $100,000 or more.” (Foley & Lardner

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    Feds significantly beef up law protecting children’s privacy online…

    “The Federal Trade Commission published its final rule amendments today … updating the FTC regulations that implement the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA Rule). The extensive changes to the COPPA Rule reflect technological developments and evolving popular online practices–primarily, social networking, smartphone Internet access, and the ability to use geolocation information. Among the changes to the Rule are amendments to its definitions of ‘operator,’ ‘personal information,’ and ‘websites or online service directed to children,’ updates to requirements for providing notice and getting consent from parents and for maintaining confidentiality and security, and new provisions addressing data retention and deletion.” (Davis Wright Tremaine

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