New laws -- Tweeting while driving is now illegal
By MELINDA DESLATTE
BATON ROUGE — Tweeting while driving can get you a ticket, posting the names of people who apply for concealed handgun permits can land you in jail and selling cakes and cookies you bake at home face looser regulation, under new state laws that take effect Thursday.
Nearly 250 statutory changes hit the books with the start of August, passed by lawmakers earlier this year. Many are modest tweaks to existing laws or arcane changes that few people would notice.
Lifetime concealed handgun permits will now be available to Louisiana residents, and restaurants will pay higher permitting fees to enhance food inspection services at the Office of Public Health.
Public schools will have to hold annual safety drills to rehearse crisis management plans, a response to last year’s school shooting in Connecticut.
Car and truck owners will be able to put in applications for new license plates declaring “I’m Cajun ... and proud” or “I’m a Creole ... and proud.” Once at least 1,000 apply, the plates will be printed, costing $15 a year, on top of standard charges.
The new law that may be most noticed is aimed at keeping Louisiana’s drivers off Facebook, Twitter and Instagram while on the road.
The state’s ban on texting while driving has been broadened to also prohibit accessing, reading and posting to social media sites while behind the wheel. Violators will face a traffic fine of up to $175 for the first offense and up to $500 for second and subsequent violations.
Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, said he wanted to cut down on distracted driving that can cause accidents.
“Texting, social networking, it’s all about taking your eyes off the road,” Erdey said during debate on the bill.
Also starting today, it will be a misdemeanor crime for journalists, bloggers or anyone else to release the names and addresses of concealed handgun permit holders or applicants.
The law, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, was championed as protecting the privacy of law-abiding gun owners and derided as trampling First Amendment rights.
Violation of the law carries a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine up to $10,000. Exemptions are allowed under limited circumstances, including if a person is charged with a felony offense involving the use of a handgun.
For home bakers, it will be less difficult to sell their cookies and cakes.
They’ll be exempt from certain state licensing regulations and sanitation rules that require the purchase of commercial equipment, an exemption that already had been given to makers of jams, jellies and honey.
Measures aimed at regulating Louisiana’s salt dome operations also hit the books with the start of August, in response to the 22-acre sinkhole that has kept 150 homes in Assumption Parish under an evacuation order for a year.
The laws were sponsored by Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, whose district contains the sinkhole. The changes will require stricter guidelines for monitoring salt dome areas and require legal notification to prospective property owners of nearby underground caverns.
Companies drill on the edge of a salt dome to create caverns to extract brine used in petrochemical refining. Officials say an underground storage cavern was being mined too close to the edge of a salt dome and caused the sinkhole.
St. Germain said she wants people to know the risks before they build or buy a home and wants those risks more closely monitored. She told lawmakers the new regulations will “address future issues that I hope never happen to you.”
“This event has caused a complete landscape change of this beautiful, scenic retirement area,” she said.
at a glance
Nearly 250 new laws take effect today, after being approved by lawmakers in the most recent legislative session. The measures will:
—Expand Louisiana’s ban on texting while driving to also prohibit accessing, reading and posting to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook while behind the wheel.
—Make it a misdemeanor crime to publish the names and addresses of people who have or apply for concealed handgun permits.
—Allow for lifetime concealed handgun permits.
—Exempt home bakers who sell cakes and cookies from state licensing regulations and sanitation rules that require the purchase of commercial equipment.
—Require public schools to hold annual safety drills to rehearse crisis management plans and to design those plans in coordination with local law enforcement.
—Prohibit state agencies from paying unequal wages based on gender to their employees for the same job.
—Consider coercion of a female child to undergo an abortion as a form of child abuse.
—Require stricter guidelines for monitoring salt dome areas and require legal notification to prospective property owners of nearby underground caverns, in response to the Assumption Parish sinkhole.
—Create new license plates declaring “I’m Cajun ... and proud” or “I’m a Creole ... and proud.”
—Require restaurants to pay higher permitting fees to improve and bolster food inspection services at the Office of Public Health.
—Set annual reporting requirements on the Department of Health and Hospitals to give lawmakers information about privatized health care programs created by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.
—Create a new case management system aimed at coordinating state services for youths at risk of being jailed or put under state care.