2013-06-12 / Opinions

New state laws coming into effect

Safety seemed to be high on the list for legislative action this year at the West Virginia Legislature. A number of new laws which were signed by Governor Tomblin recently are taking effect soon. Many of them are common-sense measures we wish could be standard practice without creating a law to drive the point home.

Using a hand-held cell phone while driving becomes a primary offense on July 1, 2013. Drivers can use technology that allows them to talk without holding a phone, though experts in risk management agree that the real hazard is driving while distracted – a problem not entirely solved by hands-free devices.

House Bill 2108 makes it a primary offense to not wear a seatbelt while driving or riding in a vehicle. The law goes into effect on July 9, 2013. It’s taken lawmakers several tries to get this passed. Proponents say it will save lives and reduce injuries from auto accidents.

SB 82 now requires that a Public Service District board, like our local sewer board, has to include a “rate-paying customer” among its members, as of July 1. Boards that don’t have a member that’s a utility customer must add one the next time they appoint a member.

Teens better get familiar with the idea of modesty, even in the electronic world. It will become a crime to make or send sexually explicit messages or images via cell phone or other electronic devices. Teens convicted of the crime could avoid serious consequences by completing a court-designed course to familiarize them with the dangers of sharing explicit materials.

Tanning by anyone under the age of 18 will now be prohibited at tanning salons across the state because of wide concerns about skin cancer and general health issues. Salons with tanning beds must have a business license and register with their local boards of health after July 1 of next year.

Another new bill allows Family Court Judges to order a child into emergency custody of the state’s Child Protective Services when that child’s physical well-being is in imminent danger and there are no other reasonable custody arrangements. It’s hard to believe the courts didn’t have this power before.

“Skylar’s Law” expanded the Amber Alert Plan so that law enforcement agencies would activate an Amber Alert not just for a child who is abducted, but also for any child believed to be missing.

SB 108 created an Unintentional Pharmaceutical Drug Overdose Fatality Review Team in the state’s Medical Examiner’s office to investigate all deaths due to unintentional prescription drug overdoses. A few years ago, West Virginia led the nation in the number of prescription overdose deaths.

A related bill allows law enforcement officers to be trained to carry and administer a drug overdose antidote when they are first responders to an overdose scene.

On a lighter note, SB 158, called the “Complete Streets Act” encourages the Division of Highways to use best design practices relating to bicycle, pedestrian, transit and highway facilities. The law is meant to encourage non-auto forms of travel and commuting, and to ease road and commuter congestion.

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