BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Impersonating someone on Facebook and other online sites can land someone in jail. Selling dogs and cats along roadsides or at flea markets will be banned. And everyone in a sport utility vehicle must wear a seat belt.
Oh, and the pirogue officially becomes Louisiana's state boat.
These are among more than 500 new laws that take effect Wednesday, passed by lawmakers in the regular session that ended in June. Many of the laws will draw little attention, because they are arcane changes to existing laws or tweak penalties and provisions for specific agencies or industries.
Lawmakers established several new crimes and imposed new restrictions on abortion and sex offenders. The pardon and parole boards are being merged. People who report child sexual abuse to authorities now have whistleblower protection so they can't be fired, suspended or demoted because of the allegations.
Abortion is banned 20 weeks after fertilization, except in limited medical cases where the mother's life is in danger. Also, Louisiana's ultrasound requirement for women seeking an abortion has been changed, with the sonogram mandated 24 hours before the procedure, rather than two hours. Doctors must offer women the ability to hear the fetal heartbeat before an abortion.
Supporters of the toughened restrictions said they hoped to persuade women from getting an abortion. Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, sponsor of the ultrasound changes, said during testimony that she wanted to "empower women with information."
Opponents said the changes restrict doctors' abilities to offer the best medical care to their patients and limit women's access to legal health care services. Despite the criticism, few lawmakers voted against the abortion law changes.
Sex offenders convicted of crimes against minors or video voyeurism face a reworked ban from Facebook and other social networking websites, designed to address a federal judge's decision throwing out a previous ban deemed so broad as to keep sex offenders from using the Internet.
Most noticeable to teenagers and their parents may be the increased training hours required for new drivers.
Seventeen-year-olds, who previously needed six classroom training hours to get their license, must attend a 38-hour driver education course beginning Wednesday. The eight hours of driving instruction and 30 hours of classroom training are the same standards that had been required for 15- and 16-year-olds.
Anyone trying to get a license for the first time has to have eight hours of behind-the-wheel instruction, under the new law.
"I believe this change will produce safer drivers, reduce accidents and save lives. It is also a step toward stabilizing and maybe even reducing automobile insurance rates," said Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, sponsor of the training requirement change, in a statement.
In other motor safety changes, lawmakers sought to close a loophole in the seat belt law, requiring everyone in a sport utility vehicle to buckle up — a mandate that already existed for everyone in a car, truck or van.
Another new law stops roadside sales of dogs and cats because of safety and health concerns.
The ban, by Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Kenner, also applies to such sales at flea markets, public parks and playgrounds, and in store parking lots unless the store owner gives permission. Violators of the ban could be fined up to $250 the first time, then up to $1,000 after that.
Also passed by lawmakers was a new statute designed to protect people online.
An adult who impersonates another person on Facebook, in e-mail messages, and on social networking sites and other websites with the intention to harm or defraud now faces a prison sentence ranging from 10 days to six months.
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