March 25, 2019
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Plethora of laws takes effect this weekend

AUGUSTA – As the baseball season winds down, hitters strive to finish up with a .300 batting average, a more-than-respectable showing for a seasoned player.

But in the Capitol arena, Rep. Nancy Smith is posting an .833 average for successful bills she sponsored in her rookie year. They are among scores of new laws that take effect Saturday, 90 days after the close of the 2003 session.

Some of the new laws will give computer users new protections against e-mail “spam,” ban smoking in bingo halls and impose new restrictions on novice drivers. Of the 1,635 bills introduced this year, 641 were enacted, according to House Speaker Patrick Colwell’s office. That’s 39.2 percent, or in baseball terms, .392.

Of the half-dozen sponsored by Smith, “most of the ideas came from constituents,” and the only one that failed was her own idea, Smith acknowledged. The Monmouth Democrat said she found the lawmaking process “more frustrating and more rewarding than you could have imagined.”

The most prominent of Smith’s bills frees up a $750,000 portion of a dairy industry bailout that could total more than $7 million. Another of her bills raises the age of consent for sexual contact with adults from 13 to 16.

Other laws she sponsored simplify the certification process for veteran teachers, ease laws for car customizers and give authorities more options in tracking down state wards who run away from foster homes.

Prominent among the bills sponsored by other legislators are two anti-smoking measures. A ban on smoking in bingo and beano halls – not including the high-stakes games run by Indians – takes effect Saturday. A law outlawing smoking in bars takes effect Jan. 1, 2004.

There’s new relief for bingo players who need to take bathroom breaks while playing. A law effective Saturday makes it OK for a someone running the game to temporarily fill in cards of a player who needs to use the restroom.

Several new laws affect younger Mainers. Getting a license will be a little more complicated for applicants under 21, who will have to go through a three-step system that replaces Maine’s two-tier process.

Those in the new intermediate stage face new restrictions, including a “Cinderella” provision that bars driving between midnight and 5 a.m. Also, new drivers under 21 must hold an instruction permit for at least six months, double the current minimum.

And young drivers with permits or intermediate licenses may not use cell phones while behind the wheel.

On the snowmobile trails, young power-sledders caught riding without helmets on some trails will face fines of $100 to $500.

New excessive-noise standard for vehicle exhaust systems goes into effect. Mainers who leave their junk vehicles scattered about their properties face bolstered enforcement by their towns. And fines for filing a vehicle title application more than 20 days after the sale jump from $23 to $125.

As of Saturday, the state also steps in with some new Internet rules.

Unsolicited commercial e-mail – “spam” – must include the designation “ADV” in the subject line showing it’s an advertisement, and “ADV ADLT” if it’s adult material. And the ads must include return e-mail addresses so recipients can write back to block additional unsolicited e-mail from the same source.

Mainers can download a form from state (www.MaineCreditReg.org) to request free copies of their credit report once a year. A new law, which also makes the reports available by calling (800) DEBT-LAW, is designed to reduce identity theft and erroneous credit denials.

Another law targets tobacco dealers who use the Internet to sell to Mainers, especially youths. The law bars the delivery of tobacco products to underage Mainers and sets fines to ensure that all sellers are licensed in the state.

As of this weekend, it’s against the law to use a state government computer to advocate for a political candidate.

A measure sponsored by Colwell requires investor-owned utilities to read gas and electric meters monthly. Estimated bills have caused problems for some gas consumers in the Portland area, the Gardiner Democrat said.

Health care dominated much of the 2003 session, but some of the new laws won’t have an immediate effect.

A law creating the Dirigo Health Plan sets up a semipublic agency to secure health coverage for the 180,000 Mainers who lack it over a five-year period, while imposing measures to control health costs.

Another new law requiring companies that manufacture prescription drugs to tell the state how much they spend advertising their products in Maine kicks in Jan. 1.

A law taking effect Saturday seeks to require pharmacy benefit managers to reveal financial information about their drug purchases to forestall conflicts of interest. A trade group representing PBMs filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the state from enforcing it. No ruling has been made yet.

A law seeking to restrict the misuse of drugs requires prescribers and pharmacists to log their prescriptions for drugs like OxyContin, morphine and anti-anxiety medication Valium into a database to enable them to identify patterns of abuse. While the law takes effect, officials await funding for the database.

Penalties will increase for furnishing drugs that cause death or serious injuries.

Among the new environmental laws is one directing forestry officials to write rules to restrict liquidation or “cut-and-run” practices. Another new law gives dentists until the end of 2004 to install equipment that removes mercury from wastewater.

A new law requiring bottlers to clearly disclose on their labels the name and geographic location of the source of water they sell faces an industry court challenge.

New restrictions are imposed on transferring firearms to a youth if the minor is not a relative. And judges can now bar defendants in protection from abuse cases from possessing guns if there’s a heightened risk of abuse. A hearing must be held within 24 hours and defendants may turn their weapons over to a third party.

Other new laws will affect pet owners, hunters, jurors and others.

Registration fees to upgrade Maine’s animal welfare programs will rise. Hunters who are permanently disabled from walking can get free antlerless deer, or any-deer, permits.

In the courts, alternates in civil cases will get to participate in verdicts rather than being dismissed at the end of testimony. A jury must have at least seven members.

“It will mean there are no alternates, basically,” said the sponsor, Rep. Peter Mills, R-Cornville. The new law is modeled after federal policy.

The crime of “plundering at fires” is repealed as of Saturday. Stealing goods from a fire scene can instead be prosecuted under Maine’s theft law.


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