New laws for Californians

When the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. on each January 1, it signals the start for the enforcement of new motor vehicle laws that affect everyone. Here’s a rundown of the most important new laws of 2014. 

New rules of the road

Assembly Bill 1317, the bicycle passing law, establishes the “Three Feet for Safety Act,” which requires drivers to allow at least a three-foot distance between their vehicle and a bicycle or its operator when passing. That’s going to be tricky in some of the narrow, curvy sections of local roadways, especially the upper stretches of Highway 198 as it approaches the Ash Mountain entrance of Sequoia National Park.

When three feet cannot be provided because of traffic or roadway conditions, drivers must slow down to a reasonable speed and pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the bicyclist. Penalties for violating the law start at $35 and can reach more than $150 when court costs and other fees are added.

Senate Bill 194 prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using any mobile electronic device, even hands-free, while driving. The only exception is in the case of an emergency to call law enforcement or roadside assistance.

Fifty percent of all teens are involved in a major accident during  their first year behind the wheel. The mobile device law sends the message: put down your phone and focus on the road.

AB 61 allows motorists to park at broken parking meters or payment stations, up to the posted time limited, without getting a ticket. The bill follows a 2013 measure that requires cities and county jurisdictions to post clear notice if parking at broken meters is prohibited.

AB 8 continues, through 2023, several fees that vehicle owners now pay at the time they register their vehicles. These include $3 for alternative fuel development and deployment, $8 for smog abatement (charged on vehicles six years old and newer), and $2 for local air quality districts to mitigate emissions (mainly from large trucks).

That $2 for dealing with air quality impacts from large trucks is especially important for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Studies have demonstrated that at least 40 percent of the smog measured in the San Joaquin Valley is caused by large trucks using Highway 99 and Interstate 5 passing through Central California en route to the Bay Area or Los Angeles.

AB 266 and SB 286 combine to extend sunset dates for low emission and zero emission vehicles to operate in HOV (car pool lanes) without meeting high occupancy requirements until January 1, 2019.

Electric and natural gas vehicles (such as the Leaf, Tesla, and Civic CONG) with a white sticker or advanced partial zero emissions vehicles (such as Volt and plug-in hybrids) with a green sticker from the DMV can use the HOV lanes until that date.

Beginning January 1, 2015, AB 60 requires the state Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver’s licenses to persons who are ineligible for a Social Security number if additional documentation regarding identity and residence is provided. 

AB 1047 allows the DMV to conduct the commercial drive test for a holder of an out-of-state commercial learner’s permit and transfer that information electronically to another state. 

AB 1047 also modifies the license class definitions to require a driver operating a bus weighing more than 26,000 pounds to hold a Commercial Class B; if the bus weighs less than 26,000 pounds a Class C would be required.

For all motor vehicle laws and the latest related 2014 legislative updates, DMV information and services are available at www.dmv.ca.gov.

Additional new state laws

Get your energy efficient light bulbs ready, because the traditional bulbs of the past will no longer be available.

Government regulations that took effect January 1 stop businesses in the United States from manufacturing or importing 60- and 40-watt incandescent light bulbs. Remaining stock at retail outlets may be sold until depleted. 

It’s all part of a 2007 federal law requiring light bulbs to meet higher energy-efficiency standards. In the past few years, 75-watt and 100-watt bulbs were phased out. 

Incandescent bulbs burn through a lot of electricity. For the average household, they make up about 20 percent of the power bill. 

Greener options of LED and CFL (Compact Florescent Light) bulbs use much less power than regular bulbs and last longer. Replacing 36 standard bulbs with CFLs or LEDS would lower a home’s power bill by more than $200 a year, according to GE.

Another new law that is now in effect updates the law to add the offense of cyber-bullying  — where students use computers, smartphones, and social media to perpetuate harassing and threatening behavior while away from the school campus —  to the current anti-bullying statutes. AB 256 authorizes superintendents and school principals to discipline students who engage in cyber-bullying, harassment by electronic means on, or off, of the school campus.

Starting January 1, California became the first state in the nation to allow transgender students to choose which restroom they will use and whether they will play boys’ or girls’ sports. Opposition groups are already gathering signatures to suspend the new law so watch the November ballot to vote yay or nay on this ground-breaking legislation.

Abortion advocates had more than a Happy New Year to celebrate on January 1. California joined Oregon, Montana, Vermont, and New Hampshire in allowing nurse practitioners to perform early abortions. 

The legislation also made it illegal to damage or block access to abortion clinics.

 

California, already known for its strict gun laws, cracked the legislative whip some more. Eleven new gun laws are now in effect, including tougher assault weapon permit requirements. 

It is also illegal to purchase gun hardware to turn existing guns into assault weapons.

The California bills were passed in reaction to the mass shootings all across the country including the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in December 2012. In contrast, the federal government failed to enact any gun safety laws in 2013.

While the federal government also remains stalled on immigration reform, Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear that California won’t wait around any longer. Brown signed into law several bills protecting immigrants, including the Trust Act.

The Trust Act limits the ability of local police departments to cooperate with Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program. Secure Communities has deported 100,000 Californians, most of whom had only minor offenses.

The new law requires that the deportee must be charged or convicted of a serious crime. Before the law was enacted, anyone arrested who was undocumented could be handed over
to the feds and deported.

Domestic workers also will be granted new rights under a law that was passed in 2013. California joins New York and Hawaii in requiring employers to pay housekeepers overtime if they work more than nine hours a day or 45 hours in a week.

The domestic workers law must be voted on again in 2017. The original version proposed in 2011 contained provisions for meal and rest breaks.     

California also enacted Paparazzi Reform. Photographers who harass and intimidate celebrities and their children now face stiffer penalties; a fine of up $10,000 and up to a year in county jail. Victims can also sue for damages and attorney’s fees. 

Another new law that will affect Los Angeles residents and visitors alike, is the single-use carry-out bag ordinance. Large grocery stores, drug stores, and big box stores are no longer allowed to use plastic bags.            

In what some economists predict will help unskilled workers and boost consumer spending, California’s minimum wage will increase (in July 2014).  Effective January 1, 2008, the minimum wage in California was raised to $8 per hour, and there it has remained for six years. It will increase to $9 per hour effective July 1, 2014, and to $10 per hour effective January 1, 2016.

California lawmakers also closed a texting loophole from a previous bill. The previous bill made it possible for teens to use voice commands like Apple’s Siri on the iPhone to text while driving. Texting of any kind is now illegal for drivers 18 and under. Adults are still permitted to send “hands free” text messages.

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