Mon, March 30

New batch of Arizona laws take effect this week

PHOENIX -- Got a children or grandchildren who are at least five but not yet eight?

Ever drive them anywhere?

You'd better be prepared to give them a boost -- literally.

Beginning Thursday, Arizona law spells out that youngsters in that age group who are smaller than 4-feet 9-inches tall can be transported only in specially designed booster seats. Failing to do so could result in a $50 fine.

The booster seat measure is just one of dozens of laws approved earlier this year which are set to take effect Thursday. That day you also will be able to:

- have your eyebrows plucked by unlicensed "threaders';

- show proof of auto insurance on your cell phone;

- study the Bible in public schools for literary purposes;

- hunt with weapons without regard to how many bullets they hold -- and with a silencer on the muzzle.

But there also will be some new restrictions coming that day amid the 363 bills that Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law this year.

Lawmakers agreed to limit the requirement of some manufacturers to have to pay punitive damages in some lawsuits where users are claiming the products were defective.

Arizonans who have state-issued cards allowing them to possess and use marijuana will find themselves in legal trouble if they bring their drugs onto college and university campuses.

And Arizona will no longer allow "wrongful birth' lawsuits against doctors who failed to diagnose a fetal problem that might have otherwise caused the parents to seek an abortion.

There is, though, one bit of relief for Arizona homeowners. They won't be at risk of having to pay a couple of hundred dollars extra a year just because they didn't check the mail.

That last change is actually a bit of whiplash.

Arizona offers a special rebate on school taxes to homeowners, up to $600 a year.

Two years ago, in an effort to cut down on ineligible people getting the break, lawmakers voted to require county assessors to send out postcards to all who list their property as occupied by the owner or a relative. Those who failed to return the card would have their homes reclassified as rentals and lose the rebate.

Amid an outcry from the Arizona Association of Realtors and others, legislators did an about-face this year and rescinded the across-the-board requirement. But lawmakers are still requiring assessors to send out a card -- and demand a response -- if the mailing address of the owner is different from the home, or for any mailing address listed for multiple homes.

As to those booster seats, the change is designed to address a gap in the statutes.

Existing law already requires anyone younger than 16 to be buckled up. And those through age 4 have to be in specially designed seats.

But regular seat belts are designed for adults. The result, according to doctors who testified, is that a small child in a standard seat belt actually could be injured more in an accident.

The move did not come without a fight from some lawmaker who said this is another example of "nanny state' legislation designed to tell parents what is best for their children.

Another change could be good news for anyone who has even been pulled over and asked for license, registration and proof of insurance. Rather than scrounging through the glove box for the last of these, this new law says an image of the insurance company's ID card on a cell phone or similar device will suffice.

Lawmakers did add a provision to say that handing a cell phone to a police officer is not an excuse for the officer to look at anything else there.

The Bible study measure will allow school districts to offer an elective at the high school level about the influence of the Old and New Testaments on Western literature, law and civilization. Schools could create their own courses following state guidelines or adopt something used elsewhere.

Schools must maintain "religious neutrality' and also most accommodate "the diverse religious or nonreligious views, traditions and perspectives of pupils.' But the coursework is limited strictly to the Old and New Testaments, with lawmakers declining to include the texts of other religions.

On a more distinctly religious front, another new law allows "religiously affiliated employers' to refuse to include contraceptive coverage in insurance policies for their workers.

State law has required such coverage since 2002, with the only exception to this point being for churches and certain church-run charities and services if they mainly employ and hire from within the faith. The expanded language is designed to cover operations like St. Vincent de Paul.

The issue of marijuana on campuses stems from voter approval in 2010 of a measure which allows those with a doctor's recommendation to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of the drug every two weeks. The law does ban its possession on public school campuses and smoking in public places.

That gap alarmed some university officials who said federal regulations require they forbid students from having illegal controlled substances. Schools that fail to comply lose federal funding and financial assistance for students.

Lawmakers agreed to go along. But that may not be the last word.

The Arizona Constitution says that lawmakers may not alter voter-approved laws except to "further the purpose.' That paves the way for a legal challenge if some student with a medical marijuana card is busted with pot in a dorm room.

There was less controversy over another law which will now prohibit minors from owning hookas, or water pipes.

One of the new laws that takes effect Thursday is touted as promoting better compliance with environmental laws. But there are some potential drawbacks.

Under the terms of the measure, companies that conduct their own environment "audits' will not have to share what they find with outsiders. Backers of the law say that will encourage firms which are unsure if they are breaking the law to do a self-assessment without fear of the documents being used against them.

But that law also means that individuals who believe they have been damaged by pollution will not be able to subpoena the documents to prove that a company knew it was breaking the law.

Lawmakers did try to make some major changes in gun laws. But some, like a plan to let people have weapons on college campuses, died during debate. And one that did get approved to allow guns into public buildings was axed by the governor with her veto stamp.

But the Legislature did agree to let hunters put silencers on their weapons. Backers said this will mean less disturbance for neighbors, with the additional argument that the silencers mean less recoil and therefore more accuracy.

None of that, however, means Arizonans will be able to just go to the store and buy a silencer. Federal law requires buyers to go through a more-intensive screening than what is required simply to purchase a weapon, with an application and fingerprints, as well as approval of the head of the local law enforcement agency.

Separately, lawmakers voted to override existing regulations of the state Game and Fish Commission which prohibit hunting with shotguns capable of holding more than five shells or semiautomatic rifle with a magazine capacity of more than five cartridges. That led one lawmaker during debate to suggest that anyone who needs more than five shots to hit a target should not be out hunting.

The issue with "threaders' stems from an effort by the state Board of Cosmetology to demand that anyone who plucks eyebrows for a living must be licensed. That brought protests -- and a lawsuit -- because getting a license requires 1,600 hours of schooling.

This new law carves out an exception for those who use thread to wrap around hairs to yank them out. They can't use chemical hair removers or wax but will be allowed to use some over-the-counter products to soothe hair follicles.

Other new measures set to take effect include:

- Prohibiting prisons from putting a pregnant inmate into restraints during labor, delivery or recovery unless requested by the medical staff or there is an "extraordinary circumstance;'

- Granting the same property tax breaks available to farmers and ranchers to those who raise algae on at least five acres;

- Allowing property owners to remove political signs in front of their homes even if those signs are in the public right of way;

- Exempting dogs used in ranching from the normal animal cruelty laws;

- Imposing new requirements on public libraries to keep minors from accessing obscene materials on computers;

- Establishing an official state "poet laureate.'

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