New law on 'vexatious litigants' a bit more complex

PHOENIX -- Buyers of solar equipment for their homes will get new consumer protections, survivors of first responders can get a vehicle registered for free, and those who bury courts in legally meaningless filings will have to pay their own way.

It's all because state lawmakers decided that some laws take longer than others to implement.

The Arizona Constitution says legislation generally becomes effective the 91st day after the end of any legislative session. That's designed to give time for those who don't like what the Legislature has done to circulate petitions to force a public vote before enactment.

This past year that date came on July 3 when most of the new laws kicked in.

But there are three basic exceptions.

First, budgets can take effect the moment the new fiscal year occurs, even if that's within the 90 days.

Second, lawmakers can declare certain measures to be an "emergency' requiring immediate enactment. That, however, takes a two-thirds vote.

But sometimes legislators will put in a delayed effective date, often to give state agencies a chance to come up with the necessary rules and procedures to implement the changes.

That's the case with the measure pushed by Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, dealing with solar devices.

Lesko said she sponsored the measure amid concerns that companies were being less than honest with homeowners in describing the costs and benefits of systems being sold or leased.

Now, merchants and installers have to spell out in writing the cost over the life of the agreement. Buyers and lessees also would have to be told whether the new devices will result in higher property taxes on their homes.

Other provisions include:

- Disclosing limits on the ability to transfer ownership of the system to someone buying the house;

- Providing a summary of operating, maintenance and financing costs;

- Detailing the expected energy output over the life of the system.

And those who sign papers to buy or lease the system will have three days to change their minds.

Also take effect is the measure which spells out that the survivors of any police officer, fire fighter or "emergency responder' killed in the line of duty need not pay the license tax or registration fee.

That covers surviving spouses, at least until they remarry. A dependent younger than 18 also is eligible, with that limit going through age 22 if the person is a full-time student.

The license tax is based on the value of the vehicle, set initially by the purchase price, with that amount decreasing annually as the car or truck gets older. Legislative analysts said the average vehicle license tax in Arizona is $127.

Also waived is the annual $8 registration fee. But only one vehicle can be exempt.

That exemption is not automatic: Those eligible have to submit a request available on the Department of Transportation web site.

The new law on "vexatious litigants' is a bit more complex.

In 2014 lawmakers approved a measure aimed at people who represent themselves who file repeated court actions largely to harass others, unreasonably delay court proceedings or bring actions without "substantial justification.' It permitted judges to tell these people they cannot file new lawsuits or motions without first getting consent of the court.

This new measure seeks to attack the issue from a financial angle.

Current law requires courts to impose fees and costs when new lawsuits are filed as well as for those who file pleadings as defendants.

But it also mandates that judges have to defer those fees for those who are needy, and waive them entirely if there is proof that an applicant will never be able to pay. That is designed to ensure that people are not barred from obtaining their legal rights solely because of their financial status.

Now, judges are forbidden from waiving fees and costs for anyone designated a vexatious litigant. The only exception would be in family court cases involving things like divorce and child support.

Another new law expands existing statutes to protect people against identity theft.

Arizona law permits individuals to put a "credit freeze' on themselves. That directs credit bureaus not to release any credit reports absent their specific permission.

More to the point, a freeze precludes outsiders from getting credit cards and loans using someone else's credit history.

This new law extends that right to those who are the authorized representative of a "protected person,' meaning someone who cannot handle his or her own finances.

Other laws taking effect on New Year's Day include:

- Permitting a judge to order a defendant to perform community restitution, at a rate equal to $10 an hour, if that person is unable to willing to pay any fine, fee, restitution or incarceration costs;

- Requiring physicians' assistants to renew their license every two years rather than annually;

- Allowing the state Supreme Court to approve programs designed to treat those convicted of domestic violence.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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