It’s the law

Ben Margot / Associated Press

With the start of the new year and the new semester, students are worried about keeping their New Year’s resolutions, finding a way to pay for books and waking up on time to make it to that morning class.

One thing not on their minds are the new laws that took effect just as the ball dropped.

Thanks to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, of the 964 bills sent to his desk by the legislature, 750 were signed into law, including measures that change the date of the presidential primary, don’t allow Californians to drive while on their cell phones and give consumers cash back on their gift cards.

While Schwarzenegger vetoed almost a quarter of the bills he was presented with – such as the DREAM Act and the College Textbook Affordability Act – there are still many new laws that students should be aware of as they start off the new year.

Hands-free phones
What it means: For $20 you can either buy a Bluetooth headset or receive a fine for talking on your cell phone.

Effective July 1, a new law makes it illegal to drive while talking on a cell phone unless you are using a hands-free device. A $20 fine will be issued for a first time offense, and subsequent offenses can lead to a $50 fine.

Impact in 2008: “It’s something the public needs to be educated on and take the necessary steps in purchasing hands free devices,” University Police Department Public Information Officer Amy Armstrong said. “That law is there to protect you and we’re here to enforce it.”

Feb. 5 primary
What it means: California’s presidential primary was moved from June to the second Tuesday in February, making it just one of 24 states now holding their primary on Feb. 5.

Many states moved their presidential primaries to Feb. 5, which was coined Super Duper Tuesday, so that the state is more influential in the presidential race.
See Page 3, “Registration deadline looming,” for voter registration instructions.

Impact in 2008: “A February presidential primary will encourage presidential candidates to campaign here and to debate and discuss issues and policies important to our people,” said Senator Ron Calderon, author of the law.

Gift card cash back
What it means: You know all those gift cards you got for Christmas that have $3 left on them? Now you can actually get cash back.

Senator Ellen Corbett, who was frustrated with having gift cards with just dollars left on them, introduced Senate Bill 250. Consumers can now redeem their gift cards for cash if the balance left on the card is under $10.

Impact in 2008: “Every consumer has had the experience of losing the small value remaining on a gift card,” Corbett said when her bill passed the California Senate Judiciary Committee in March. “Consumers have the right to the cash value of these gift cards, and my bill makes that happen.”

Smoking in cars
What it means: The effects of secondhand smoke are making their way through the California legislature as a new law makes it illegal to smoke in a car with a minor.

A $100 fine can be issued to anyone smoking a pipe, cigarette or cigar in the presence of a minor, whether the vehicle is in motion or not. The law also requires the State Department of Public Health to conduct a public education program on the dangers of secondhand smoke, especially in confined spaces.

Impact in 2008: “The law helps to protect minors from second hand smoke that increases the chance of a child of getting ear infections, sore throats and lung problems, such as asthma,” Student Health Center staff psychologist Dr. Leslie Weiser said. “This protects minors who would otherwise not have a say.”

Celebrity mug shots
What it means: Celebrity mug shots and information from their arrests are plastered across the TV and Internet, but thanks to a new law it is now a misdemeanor for a peace or law enforcement officer to leak confidential information for financial gain.

Following Mel Gibson’s 2006 drunk driving arrest, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley introduced Assembly Bill 920, claiming that Gibson’s due process rights were violated when his mug shot and anti-Semitic rant were leaked to gossip Web sites. Brownley hopes that the new law will protect the privacy of celebrities.

Impact in 2008: “It’s a total waste of time. It’s silly,” Frank Griffin, co-founder of a leading Hollywood celebrity photo agency, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “This isn’t something that needed to be legislated against. It won’t change a thing.”

New minimum wage
What it means: Fresno State students’ paychecks might look a little different starting Jan. 1 thanks to the California minimum wage increase.

In 2006, Schwarzenegger signed a bill giving California workers a $1.25 raise. The standing 2006 minimum wage rate hadn’t changed since the 2002 rate of $6.75. The new law made minimum wage $7.50 in 2007 and $8 in 2008.

California’s minimum wage rate is now tied with Massachusetts, and second behind Washington’s pay of $8.07.

Impact in 2008: According to Susan Vaquilar, the director of Payroll Services at Fresno State, approximately 1,215 students who work on campus as student assistants received the 50-cent raise.

Education vetoes
What it means: The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would have allowed non-resident students to apply for community college fee waivers and other financial aid currently reserved for U.S. citizens. Undocumented students would have been eligible for Cal Grants that can be used at California colleges and universities.

After his veto, Schwarzenegger stated that the affected students are already eligible for in-state tuition rates.

The College Textbook Affordability Act would have required textbook publishers to disclose the wholesale and retail price of textbooks to purchasers, such as faculty, at public and private universities. Publishers would have also been required to reveal the length of time they intend to keep the textbook on the market, and explain any differences between the current edition and the previous edition of the textbook.

The rationale behind the bill was that armed with this information, faculty members could make more informed decisions when selecting textbooks for students.

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