Three hours after that big ball drops in New York City on Saturday – weather permitting, of course – more than 700 new laws will take effect in the State of California, changing penalties for marijuana possession, extending benefits for foster children, and banning trans-fat oil from bakeries, among hundreds of other changes. For more information, read on:
· Possession of up to one ounce of marijuana has been downgraded from a misdemeanor to an infraction, similar to a traffic ticket. The fine remains at $100, but violators will no longer be arrested, sent to court, and face the potential of a criminal record.
· Medical marijuana dispensaries will not be allowed within 600 feet of public or private schools. Cities and counties have the option to further restrict where dispensaries can be located, but all dispensaries now face a 600 foot minimum separation from schools.
· University of California faculty and workers who report illegal or improper actions will now be offered the same legal protections – including the right to seek damages in court on retaliation complaints – as other state employees.
· Charter schools will be required to adhere to the state’s student speech and employee protection laws.
· Parents can be charged with misdemeanors, should kindergarten through eighth grade children miss too much school. The penalty is up to a year in jail and $2,000 fine, should prosecutors prove the parents failed to reasonably supervise and encourage their child to attend school.
· Foster children will be eligible for state services until age 21; previously, benefits stopped at age 18.
· “Social hosts” of age 21 or older who host underage drinkers will be subject to legal liability for property damage, injury, or death resulting from knowingly serving alcohol to underage guests. Supplying alcohol to a minor was already a crime under state law, but civil suits were not allowed until now. The new law is said to hold parents responsible for giving teens alcohol, and to discourage such activity.
· Intoxicated teens who call 911 to ask for help for themselves or another teen who has been drinking will be granted protection from criminal charges for buying alcohol or carrying it in public. Teens will still face legal action in incidences where the law states alcohol makes an activity dangerous, such as driving.
· Retailers with off-sale alcoholic beverage licenses – mostly grocery stores and liquor stores – will be eligible for a new, $300 instructional tasting license which will allow free tastings of beer, wine, and/or spirits. Some retailers could offer beer and wine tastings before, but the new process allows hard alcohol while streamlining the process.
· Landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking if the tenant is concerned of being attacked again.
· Courts can seize property used in human trafficking, including houses and vehicles. New civil penalties of up to $25,000 will be added to any such criminal sentence.
· New, one-day expedited jury trials are available to plaintiffs and defendants who agree to them. The new trials use eight instead of 12 jurors, and allow each side just three hours to present evidence. The trials are expected to clear busy court calendars.
· Beginning Feb. 1, handgun ammunition buyers will be required to provide thumbprints and valid identification to make a purchase. Stores will keep the information on record for five years, to be made available to law enforcement at their request. Internet and mail order sales of handgun ammunition will be banned.
· Online impersonation, via social networking, texting, or e-mails, is now a misdemeanor punishable by year in jail and up to $1000 in fines. Victims may sue for further damages. Prosecutors must show a criminal intent to harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud.
· Paparazzi caught driving recklessly while chasing celebrities will now receive a misdemeanor, and are subject to up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. The act was previously an infraction.
· Those under 21 desiring a motorcycle instruction permit, which is needed to practice operating a motorcycle, must now complete an approved motorcycle safety course. The permit must then be held for six months prior to a motorcycle driver license being issued.
· Firefighters are now exempt from the Commercial Driver License Program to operate firefighting vehicles. A new license endorsement process takes its place.
· The DMV will now license and regulate online and home study traffic violator schools. Previously, only brick and mortar schools were regulated.
· Hybrid vehicles will be allowed to drive in High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes with a single occupant until July 1 – six months longer than the previous Jan. 1 sunset. Fully-electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles will be able to use HOV lanes until Jan. 1, 2015, as will plug-in hybrid vehicles, for which a new sticker was created.
· The Amber Alert notification system will now be used to notify drivers when there is an attack on a law enforcement officer. The so-called “Blue Alerts” would occur when officers are killed or seriously wounded, and will offer vehicle or suspect information.
· Prison inmates stricken with health issues may now be given “medical parole,” in hopes of forcing the federal governments to shoulder more of the costs of care. Those inmates are already in outside hospitals, but must currently be guarded around the clock even if deemed to pose no danger.
· Bakers may no longer use trans-fat oil. Restaurants, cafeterias, and fast food vendors were forced to shift away from the unhealthy ingredient a year ago.
· A 1950 law requiring the Department of Mental Health to research cures and causes for homosexuality was officially repealed.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.