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New Laws for New Year

By Gabe Meline

In California for six months now, it has been illegal to talk on a handheld cell phone while driving, but perfectly fine and dandy to futz around with your BlackBerry trying to abbreviate everyday phrases and override predictive text and accidentally drop the thing and shove your hand between the emergency brake and the seat and oh there's an incoming text and I gotta finish this hang on just a sec and oh there's another incoming text and I gotta respond to both of these and holy bejeezus there's a red light.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2009, the era of Bluetoothed drivers punching away on their electronic devices ends, when it becomes an infraction to write, send or read text-based communication on an electronic wireless communication device while driving, regardless of age. A fine of $20 will be assessed for the first offense, and repeat offenders will have to cough up $50.

Those red temporary registration squares Scotch-taped to the back window of many a 1972 Buick that has failed a smog check will start costing money, as well. In the past, if a vehicle's owner had paid the registration fees but failed a smog check, a free temporary 60-day permit was issued. As of Jan. 1, that permit will cost $50. Other new vehicle laws make it a crime to counterfeit or forge Clean Air stickers for the purpose of driving in a carpool lane, and expands the motorcycle definition to allow three-wheeled vehicles, such as Zap cars, to use the carpool lane.

Also going in to effect on Jan. 1 is a landmark disability-access bill aimed at combating cases in which plaintiffs profit by filing lawsuits against an establishment they do not intend to use. "Someone won't be able to just go in and look around for a laundry list of violations and say, 'Hey, if you pay me a couple of thousand dollars, I'll go away,'" says Lorie Zapf, president of San Diego Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. The new law provides damages paid only to plaintiffs who personally encountered denial of access and establishes an early evaluation process to determine the merit of disability access claims.

Temporary workers are affected by a new law taking effect for the new year, as well. Rather than paying temporary employees on the final day of assigned work, staffing agencies are required to pay workers on a weekly basis, no later than the regular payday of the calendar week following completion of services. In some instances, employees who previously were able to demand instant payment on their final day of work will have to wait up to a week, but during the assignment, the law ensures weekly pay.

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