New laws take effect Sunday
Harassing a teenager by e-mail or Facebook, smoking an herbal mixture called "synthetic marijuana," and selling urine to help circumvent drug screening tests can land a person in jail beginning Sunday.
More than 650 new laws take effect with the start of the week - including a grab-bag of new crimes, revisions to existing statutes and arcane adjustments of insurance and health care regulations.
All were the work of lawmakers from the legislative session that ended in June.
Gun restrictions will loosen, allowing concealed weapons in some churches and near most schoolyards and permitting firearms at state parks and historic sites. A ban on texting while driving will get tougher.
Grand Isle residents will no longer have to pay a toll to cross the bridge to their home. And strawberries will have to be labeled showing where they were grown.
New abortion regulations that require ultrasound exams for all women getting abortions and that bar medical malpractice coverage for doctors who perform elective abortions will hit the books, as lawyers haggle over their constitutionality in federal court.
President Barack Obama's signature health care revamp also is expected to be decided in a federal court, but Louisiana's lawmakers have formally registered their objection. A symbolic statement opposing any mandate that would require Louisiana residents to have health insurance is officially being added to state statutes on Sunday.
Among the most attention-grabbing changes likely will be the strengthening of Louisiana's ban on text messaging while driving. The ban is becoming a primary offense, meaning that police officers can stop a driver for that traffic violation without needing another reason.
Sgt. Markus Smith, with Louisiana State Police, said troopers are going to first focus their efforts on making sure people understand they can be ticketed for texting behind the wheel - rather than immediately writing a ream of citations.
"We're going to make sure the public is fully aware about the problems of distracted driving and know that it's a primary offense," Smith said Friday. "We're not going to go out there to write a bunch of tickets. But if it's a blatant offense that's a danger to the public, we're going to write a ticket."
Penalties for sending text messages while behind the wheel - with an exception for emergencies - can reach up to $200 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.
Minors 17 and under also can be stopped and cited beginning Sunday simply for using a cell phone, as that state ban also was elevated to a primary offense.
While those statutes were tweaked, lawmakers also created a list of new crimes that carry prison sentences up to six months and fines up to $500, including selling urine or products to scam drug screening tests, attending or betting on a cockfight and "cyberbullying."
Cyberbullying is defined as harassing or intimidating someone under the age of 18 by text message, e-mail or posts on social networking sites like Facebook. Penalties are lessened if the offender is under the age of 17.
When he proposed the cyberbullying ban, Rep. Roy Burrell cited six cases in which students killed themselves because of such harassment.
"We're trying to send a strong message to our young people that this is no longer a minor prank. This is something that is leading to the death of some of our young people," Burrell, D-Shreveport, told lawmakers.
Far tougher penalties await anyone convicted of manufacturing, selling or possessing an herbal mixture that gives a marijuana-like high when smoked. A new law - similar to new laws in other states - bans the substance that goes by names like "K2," "Voodoo," "FIYA" and "Spice." Penalties for violating the ban will be like those attached to the use and sale of marijuana.
That law sailed through Louisiana's Legislature, but it took far more haggling before Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, got legislative backing for a controversial bill that will allow concealed handguns inside Louisiana's churches, beginning Sunday.
Church leaders will decide if they'll allow concealed carry, and they will have to inform their congregations of the decision. The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops has decided against allowing the weapons in Catholic churches.