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New laws aim to make Californians healthier and safer

Starting Saturday, Californians will pay more for traffic tickets, face lower penalties for possessing marijuana and find less artificial trans fat in their donuts.

Under hundreds of new state laws, they’ll also pay higher fines for committing domestic violence and break the law if they cruelly impersonate someone on the Internet. Those under 21 must undergo safety training before riding a motorcycle.

Some health insurance regulations have changed, new tax credits are available for “green” businesses and the state is offering $30 million more in aid to small businesses.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed more than 730 bills into law in 2010.

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Some took effect before Saturday, including Chelsea’s Law, which increases penalties for child molesters. Others won’t affect people for a year or more; those include a measure that increases the age for children entering kindergarten beginning in 2012.

Many changes taking effect now are aimed at making Californians healthier.

Bakeries face new restrictions when they make doughy treats: They are banned from using 0.5 gram or more of artificial trans fat per serving in cake batter and yeast dough that will be deep fried.

“Trans fat is linked to coronary … disease, and we are taking a strong step toward creating a healthier future for Californians,” said Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia).

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Another new law prohibits the use of cadmium in children’s jewelry sold in California, because of concerns by some environmentalists that cadmium can create a health risk.

Lawmakers in 2010 also looked out for the health of the rich and famous: After hearing horror stories from actresses Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon about tabloid photographers driving dangerously, they stiffened penalties for paparazzi caught driving recklessly to photograph celebrities.

Safe driving is the impetus behind a requirement that state residents younger than 21 now complete a motorcycle safety course before being issued an instruction permit that allows them to practice riding a motorcycle. The permit must be held for six months before the motorist receives a license.

Saving the state money was the reason for a new law that allows comatose and other medically incapacitated felons to be released from state prison on medical parole. The releases will save tens of millions of dollars now spent guarding and treating bedridden prisoners, said state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

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It is now a misdemeanor to knowingly impersonate any other person through or on a website for purposes of deceiving or injuring another person. Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) said his legislation responds to people victimized by deceptive Internet users.

“E-personation is the dark side of the social-networking revolution,” Simitian said.

Another change Saturday makes marijuana possession an infraction rather than a misdemeanor for anyone caught with an ounce or less. The violation will no longer be part of the person’s criminal record or result in a court-clogging criminal trial.

The punishment remains a fine of up to $100, with no jail time.

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“The courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket,” Schwarzenegger said when he signed the bill.

And a new law prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries from opening within 600 feet of a school.

Among laws taking effect:

Billboards: allows cities and counties to prohibit mobile billboards.

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Campus security: requires newly constructed schools to have doors that can be locked from the inside, in case there is a threat of violence from the outside.

Chelsea’s Law: provides for longer sentences and tougher parole conditions for sex offenders against minors. The measure, which took effect a few months ago, is named after a slain San Diego County teenager.

Child injuries: creates longer prison sentences for anyone who causes physical harm to a child younger than 8 resulting in permanent injury or disability.

Cigarettes: makes it an infraction to sell or furnish electronic cigarettes to minors.

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College admissions: requires the California State University system to notify the public served by a campus when that campus changes its admissions policy.

College transfers: makes it easier for community college students to transfer to Cal State University campuses beginning in fall 2011.

Domestic violence: increases the minimum fine for people granted probation for domestic violence from $200 to $400.

Drunk teenagers: provides immunity to prosecution for minors who have been drinking if they call authorities to report a medical emergency such as someone passing out from alcohol use.

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Freeway signs: allows freeway signs that feature traffic warnings and Amber Alerts to also be used to notify the public when a law enforcement officer has been attacked.

Gay rights: repeals a 60-year-old law that required state health officials to seek a “cure” for homosexuality.

Grand theft: increases the minimum threshold for a crime to be considered grand theft from $400 to $950.

Green credits: provides a sales-tax exemption on equipment that manufacturers buy as they expand green business in California.

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Gun ban: prohibits possession of firearms in designated areas at public transit facilities, including light rail and subway stations, and allows a $400 fine or 90-day jail term for a third conviction for fare evasion.

Gun control: requires mental health facilities to notify the state electronically when patients are admitted, so authorities can prevent purchase of firearms by the mentally unstable.

Healthcare: restricts the ability of health insurance plans to cancel coverage for nonpayment of premiums by requiring a 30-day grace period while the insured pursues grievances with state regulators.

Healthcare for dependents: makes state law conform to the new federal requirement that health insurance coverage be extended to dependents to age 26.

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Health insurance denials: prohibits health insurance plans from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.

Insurance rates: requires health insurance companies to submit proposed rate increases for independent review by an actuary.

Iran sanctions: prohibits state and local agencies from entering into contracts worth $1 million or more with companies that have significant business in Iran’s energy sector.

Loan fraud: makes it easier for homeowners to seek monetary damages against those behind forensic loan audit scams that prey on distressed homeowners.

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Local government: allows county boards of supervisors to meet in areas other than the county seat, so residents have better access to meetings.

Medical flights: exempts all airplanes and helicopters used for medical emergencies from local noise ordinances.

Mental health: allows minors 12 and older to consent to mental health treatment, including in residential shelter services.

Oil rigs: allows the conversion of offshore oil rigs into artificial reefs.

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Physical therapy: prevents the closure of physical therapy degree programs at Cal State Northridge and three other Cal State campuses by authorizing them to confer a doctorate in physical therapy to meet new national requirements.

Property scams: creates tougher penalties for criminals who pose as property owners to scam tenants of foreclosed and vacant apartments and homes.

Public pensions: requires outside dealmakers known as placement agents, who help investment managers secure government pension money, to register as lobbyists before they can pitch proposals to the California Public Employees Retirement System.

Radiation: requires hospitals to disclose radiation overdoses during CT scans and to record the dose of each scan on the patient’s medical records.

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Redevelopment: allows creation of a redevelopment area in Watts, including the Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens housing projects, to begin a planned $5-billion revitalization.

Restaurants: requires restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets to include calorie counts for each food item on all menus, and on menu boards above the front counter. This law was signed in 2008.

Schools: requires school districts to provide access to free drinking water during mealtimes by July 1.

Small business aid: allocates $30 million to help small businesses expand and hire new workers.

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Stem cells: provides funding for a public system of collecting stem cells from umbilical cord blood for medical purposes.

Surrogacy: requires childbirth-surrogacy businesses to use an escrow account for their clients’ funds.

Traffic tickets: imposes a $4 fee on each motor vehicle violation to help pay for emergency air ambulance operations.

Underage drinking: subjects adults to civil liability if they knowingly provide alcohol to minors and harm is done to a person as a result.

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Unemployment: allows residents receiving unemployment insurance benefits to continue coverage while enrolled in job training or education courses.

Volunteer nurses: creates a California license exemption for out-of state healthcare practitioners who volunteer to provide free short-term services for the uninsured or underinsured.

Water quality: empowers Los Angeles County to ask voters if they want to pay a property-related user fee to raise funds for clean-water projects.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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