Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Glenn Adams, Associated Press
AUGUSTA — Teenage drivers are likely to feel the most direct impact of new Maine laws that will take effect Thursday.
A wide-ranging law extends restrictions under the intermediate license from six to nine months. Those restrictions include no passengers except family members and no driving between midnight and 5 a.m.
During the first two years a young driver has a license, any violation will result in a 30-day license suspension for the first offense and longer suspensions for subsequent offenses. Major violations, such as driving under the influence, will bring suspensions, a driver improvement course, community service and $200 reinstatement fees.
And for all drivers, the minimum fine for texting and driving increases from $100 to $250.
State police Col. Robert Williams calls texting a leading contributor to highway crashes and sees the increased fine as a needed deterrent.
“If the fine will prevent one crash or death, then the law has accomplished what it was meant to,” Williams said.
And he suggests youths take the law extending driving restrictions seriously.
“Once you obtain your license, to lose that privilege is to lose your independence,” he said.
The new law targeting youths gained momentum after a spike in highway deaths of young Mainers in early 2012. In one accident, police say an 18-year-old who had been drinking alcohol and texting friends crashed her car into trees in January, killing two passengers who were 16 and 19 years old.
That law is among the scores that take effect 90 days after the close of the 2012 legislative session, addressing topics from tax and welfare cheating to union rights. They do not include “emergency” measures that took effect immediately upon Gov. Paul LePage’s approval, or those with specific dates spelled out in the legislation.
New laws will give state government a new face. The agency that regulates development in Maine’s 10-million acre Unorganized Territory gets a new name. The seven-member Land Use Regulation Commission becomes the nine-member Land Use Planning Commission, with heavier representation from the counties in its jurisdiction.
Two state departments — Agriculture and Conservation — are consolidated into one, to be known as the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
Welfare cheaters will face penalties of up to $2,000 for spending benefits on booze, gambling and strip joints. The Maine law is prompted by federal legislation that’s also had an impact in other states.
Sales tax cheaters who use software programs known as “tax zappers” are also targeted by a new law. The tax-evading programs, which can be installed through flash drives, falsify electronic sales records so cash-heavy businesses can underreport the totals and lower their sales tax bills.
The commissioner of education must develop a model policy to prevent bullying and cyberbullying — bullying and harassment by email, text message and social networking sites. The policy must be distributed to school administrative units by Jan. 1, 2013.
An existing Maine law targeting the hallucinogenic drug known as bath salts is now broadened to ban five more similar designer drugs, which have appeared since an earlier law was passed in 2011.
In the workplace, collective bargaining rights are abolished for workers at a Turner-based egg farm, formerly known as DeCoster’s, and for private child-care providers who receive state subsidies.
Another new law bars the state from prohibiting its employees from having concealed weapons in their locked cars. That law already applies to private employers.
Consumers may benefit from a law submitted by LePage that will require the Public Utilities Commission and the Office of the Public Advocate to post on their websites the annual costs of state policies that increase the price of electricity.
A couple of new laws that fall under the heading of red tape-snipping will limit the liability of farmers who play host to agricultural-tourism activities, and remove $100 minimum fees for fertilizer and agricultural liming materials.
As of Aug. 30, the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock may pursue expanding onto 175 to 200 acres contiguous to the landfill site. The facility accepts waste from about 80 communities.
It now becomes illegal to claim falsely to be a member of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe or the Penobscot Nation. Making such false claims, which could lead to undeserved privileges or other gains, can result in fines up to $2,500.
Starting Thursday, U.S. Route 1A between Brewer and Ellsworth is renamed the Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway.