With new year comes host of new state laws

Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO - Starting Thursday, it will be illegal to text while driving, pet shops will have to meet new standards, and a hallucinogenic plant will be off-limits to people 18 and under.

New Year's 2009 will lack the sweeping changes of recent years, such as the back-to-back increases in the state minimum wage in 2007 and 2008.

Among the measures, operators of wave pools at amusement parks will have to provide life vests to small children and carry out other safety measures. Directionally challenged people will be able to attach GPS receivers to their windshields. And there will be new penalties for cyber-bullying.

It will be easier for men to assume their partner's last name when they marry or enter into a domestic partnership. Other laws target the theft of recyclables and scrap metal.

Nearly all of Thursday's new laws passed during the Legislature's 2008 session. The state's budget problems dominated the year and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed many bills because, he said, the budget battle left him too little time to consider the proposals.

Some of the session's most far-reaching measures are still months from taking effect.

A bill to ban trans fats in prepared food goes into effect in 2010. A related measure to require restaurants to provide information about menu items will begin taking effect in July, but it won't be fully implemented until 2011.

Plastic ban

In 2007, the Legislature voted to outlaw the use of phthalates in toys and child care products for children under 3 years old.

Phthalates are added to plastic products, such as baby bottles, to increase flexibility. Some groups have raised concerns that the chemical leads to health problems. Opponents of the law contend that phthalates pose no risk.

The law was supposed to take effect Thursday. But Congress later passed similar restrictions, which override the California legislation and take effect Feb. 1.

The prohibition on texting while driving builds on earlier restrictions on cell-phone use in cars.

The cell-phone rules took effect in 2007 and this summer. Authorities later realized that the law did not address texting.

"It really gets at the idea of distracted drivers. Research shows that distracted drivers are involved in numerous accidents," said Sam Sorich, president of the Association of California Insurance Companies.

The wave-pool legislation followed the July 2007 drowning of a 4-year-old in a wave pool at a Northern California amusement park.

In the Inland area, the law will apply to Splash Canyon Waterpark in Temecula, Soak City U.S.A. in Palm Springs, and Raging Waters in San Dimas.

Several new criminal penalties kick in this week.

It will become illegal to sell or provide salvia divinorum to anyone 18 or younger under a bill by Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and others have raised concerns about the hallucinogenic effects of "the magic mint" among young people.

911 calls

Another law increases penalties for non-emergency calls to 911.

Currently, someone can make two calls to 911 without paying a fine. The bill by state Sen. John J. Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes, reduces that number to just one. The second call will cost $50 and the third will cost $100.

Another new law was prompted by this year's nationwide beef recall after a video showed workers abusing cows at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino.

The bill makes it a misdemeanor in California to buy or sell meat processed from so-called downer cows too weak or sick to stand. Health experts say such cows could be infected with mad cow disease or other ailments.

The law also requires that the animals receive veterinary care or be humanely put down.

"No more slaps on the wrist. We've strengthened the penalties," said Bradley Miller, national director for the Humane Farming Association, which sponsored the legislation. Some members of Congress, he added, have expressed interest in replicating the law on a national level.

Other laws take aim at harassing people on the Internet. One law makes it a misdemeanor to distribute photos, phone numbers and other information to encourage people to harass someone or make them afraid for their physical safety. Another makes it easier for school districts to expel students who cyber-bully.

The bill arose after a Northern California girl, without her consent, had her photo and phone number taken from her MySpace page and posted on Craigslist. She soon began receiving threatening and lewd phone calls, the bill's supporters said.

Pet shops will have to shape up under the Pet Store Animal Care Act, which kicks in this week.

Among its provisions, the law, passed in 2007, requires workers to clean animals' soiled bedding and to visit the store at least once daily, whether or not it is open to customers.

The bill was supported by the Riverside Humane Society Pet Adoption Center.

Reach Jim Miller at 916-445-9973 or jmiller@PE.com

Happy New Year

Dozens of new laws take effect this week. Among them:

Law and order

AB 259: Makes it a misdemeanor to provide salvia divinorum, a hallucinogenic plant, to any person 18 or younger.

AB 919: Creates new "cyber-bullying" penalties.

AB 1976: Increases the punishment for making non-emergency calls to 911.

AB 2098: Makes it a misdemeanor to slaughter, buy or sell so-called downer cows for human consumption.

SB 1407: Raises fees on court filings and parking tickets to pay for a $5 billion courthouse bond.

Transportation and Housing

AB 180: Requires foreclosure consultants to register with the state Department of Justice.

AB 1954: Authorizes high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 15 in Riverside County.

AB 1971: Allows the use of studded tires year-round. (Some new tires have retractable studs.)

SB 28: Bans texting while driving.

SB 1316: Gives the Riverside County Transportation Commission permission to build high-occupancy toll lanes in the median of Highway 91 between the Orange County line and I-15.

SB 1567: Lets people put GPS devices on their windshields.

SB 1720: Creates penalties for trafficking in phony "Clean Air" stickers for cars.

And more

AB 102 (2007): Makes it easier for men to take their partner's last name when they marry or enter into a domestic partnership.

AB 1108 (2007): Prohibits the sale of products containing phthalates for children three or younger.

AB 1347 (2007): Sets new standards for the treatment of animals in pet stores.

AB 1778: Targets the theft of cans and other recyclables by imposing new rules on recycling centers.

SB 107: Sets standards for wave-pool operators and requires life jackets for young children.

SB 691: Requires junk dealers to collect fingerprints and other identification from people selling scrap metal.

SB 1595: Updates regulations on clearing vegetation around houses to reduce the fire threat.

Still to come

AB 97: Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, restaurants cannot serve food made with oil or margarine containing artificial trans fats. Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, restaurants cannot serve any food made with artificial trans fats.

AB 3025: Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, prohibits the sale of plastic foam "peanut" packing material.

SB 375: By September 2010, gives each region of the state a target to reduce heat-trapping gasses and requires the regions to adopt growth plans to achieve these targets.

SB 1420: Beginning in July 2009, restaurants will be required to disclose nutritional information in a brochure. Beginning in January 2011, nutritional information must be on the menu.

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