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Paynesville Press - August 10, 2005

New laws take effect this summer

By Melissa Andrie

Starting in July and in August, a number of new state laws, passed this year by the legislature, took effect. The following synopsis looks at a number of new laws that may affect local citizens or be of interest to them.

*Tobacco fee: Cigarettes cost 75 more per pack, and the 35 percent state excise tax on all other tobacco products is doubled, as part of a "health impact fee."

*Motor vehicle fees: The registration fee is now $10 ($6 increase) and driver's license fees are $3 more.

*9-1-1 service fee: The state's public safety commissioner can increase the monthly fee by 25. In addition, a fee will be charged to each wired or wireless telephone number, rather than to each telephone line.

*Car leasing tax: Sales tax on cars leased must now be paid in full when the lease takes effect.

*Organ donor tax relief: Those who donate an organ while living are qualified for a $10,000 tax break on expenses related to the donation.

*Lifejacket requirements: Children ages 10 and under must wear a lifejacket in any motorized watercraft unless it is anchored for swimming or diving.

*State fair campers: The fair is now required to operate a camping area, guaranteeing workers and livestock exhibitors a place to stay.

*Texas Hold'em: Tournaments of Texas Hold'em are now legal as long as the provider does not profit directly from them, no entry fee is paid, all players are at least 18 years of age, and prizes awarded to a single player in one day do not exceed $200.

Road Rules
*Blood alcohol limit: The legal blood alcohol limit has dropped from .10 to .08, in accordance with legislation passed in 2004.

*Cell phone use while driving: It is illegal for those with a learner's permit or provisional driver's license (issued to those under age 18) to use a cell phone, whether handheld or hands free, while driving. An exception is made for emergency use. This takes effect January 2006.

*Passing emergency vehicles: Motorists must switch lanes - leaving a full lane between themselves and an emergency vehicle when possible - before passing emergency vehicles parked on or next to a roadway that has two or more lanes in the same direction.

*Speeding tickets: Drivers caught going at least 20 miles per hour over the speed limit will be ticketed for $25 more than before. Drivers caught in excess of 100 miles per hour will lose their licenses for six months.

*Vehicle citations: Law enforcement officers can not be given quotas of citations of issue.

*Snowmobile operation: Local authorities can allow two-way use of snowmobiles on either side of local roads.

*"Power hour" drinking: Young adults will be prevented from having "power hour," the practice of drinking excessively from 12 midnight until bar closing on their 21st birthday. Now, as it affects alcohol privileges, young adults are not considered legally 21 until 8 a.m. on the morning of their 21st birthdays.

*Cell phone number protection: Telecommunications companies may not publish cell phone numbers in a directory without specific permission from customers. Those granting permission for their numbers to be sold or included in a directory can request removal at any time. Those not granting permission cannot be charged for choosing not to participate.

*Officer evasion: Fleeing from a police officer in any way (not just in a vehicle) as well as concealing or destroying criminal evidence are misdemeanors.

*Ambulance personnel: Interfering with those providing ambulance services in an emergency now merits the same penalties as obstructing police officers and firefighters in their duties.

*Identity theft: Use of false pretenses to gain personal information through the Internet can be punished by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

*Drug offense prison time: Nonviolent drug offenders who commit crime primarily because of addiction, rather than for a profit, can petition for early release.

*Methamphetamine manufacture: Possessing anhydrous ammonia to be used in making meth is now a felony.

*Sex offenders: First time offenders face life in prison if they combine an assault with two other crimes, like the following: torture, intentional mutilation, gang rape, kidnapping, or threat with a dangerous weapon. Repeat offenders committing one of these will go to prison for life without release.

*Murder penalties: Life in prison without parole will be given to those convicted of premeditated first-degree murder.

*Student possession of medication: With parent or guardian permission, secondary students can possess and use over-the-counter drugs without seeing a school nurse. This does not apply to any medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, used to manufacture methamphetamine.

*School start date: Beginning in the 2006-07 school year, no school may begin its regular school year before Labor Day, whereas prior law had only prohibited starting before September 1.

*Student testing: Students enrolled in grades eight and lower this year will be required to reach a minimum standard on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests in order to graduate, taking the writing test as freshmen, reading as sophomores, and math as juniors. The basic skills tests will no longer be mandatory for eighth graders.

*Teacher wages: School districts will gain state funding if they choose to base their teacher pay scales on performance, partially determined by duties, and student achievement.

*School-age twins: Parents of multiple birth children can choose to have them placed within the same classroom.

*Military personnel benefits: Tuition reimbursement for National Guard and reserve soldiers is now 100 percent, and retired members who re-enlist may qualify for higher pay than before.

*Income tax for members of the National Guard and armed forces: Payment for National Guard service performed in Minnesota and active duty performed outside Minnesota now qualifies for a state income tax break.

*Teachers in the military: No career or salary advancements can be denied a teacher based on a leave of absence for military service.

License Plates
*License plate distribution: Automobile dealers can now sell plates and registration to customers upon sale of a vehicle.

*Veterans license plates: With a one-time $100 fee, those who served in the military can get personalized license plates identifying them as medal of honor recipients, former prisoners of war, or veterans of a specific conflict.

*"Support Our Troops" license plates: The new plates will cost $40, with $30 going to grants for veterans' services and foundations.

*Minimum wage: A $1 increase is in effect, bringing the minimum wage up to $6.15 for those working for employers with annual gross sales of at least $625,000. Employers with annual gross sales less than that must now compensate workers at $5.25 per hour. Employees under 20 years of age can be compensated at $4.90 per hour for the first 90 days on the job.

*Cold and allergy medications: Those in pill form containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine - like Sudafed and Actifed - are now behind pharmacy counters, and they can only be purchased by those at least 18 years of age who show identification and sign a logbook. Under these requirements, only two packages, totaling six grams or less, can be purchased at a time.

*Child care facilities: Licensing violations, temporary licensing suspensions, and fines received by a daycare center must be posted in a conspicuous place for two years. Any child abuse investigations must also be posted so they are easily seen, and those with a history of child abuse will only be granted an exemption to work in a daycare setting if there is a compelling reason beyond the ex-offender's wish to do so. If an ex-offender is in a child care facility for any reason, current and prospective customers must be given written notice. Starting at the beginning of next year, sudden infant death syndrome training taken by child care providers must include information on shaken baby syndrome. Also beginning next year, at least one staff member at a child care center is required to have training in both first aid and CPR, and any staff member driving children under age nine must complete training on the use of car seats.

*Nursing home worker wages: At least three-quarters of the 2.26 percent increase to nursing home funding must be used for wages and benefits increases for employees other than nursing home management, administrators, and central office staff.

*Public employer and employee pension contributions: Local government employees will have their pension plan payments increased over the next three years. At the end of that time, they will put six percent of their wages to the plan, up from the current 5.1 percent. Police officers and firefighters will be increasing contributions from 6.2 percent to nine percent. Local government share in these pension plans will increase from 5.53 percent to seven percent, except for the police and fire fund payments, which will go from 9.3 percent to 13.5 percent.

*Primary elections: If no nominees need to be selected for office, no primary election is required.

*Government data copies: Agencies can charge no more than 25 cents per page for requests of 100 or less for black and white copies. Those requesting copies can still be charged for the costs of searching for and obtaining the data.

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