Modern technology shaped much of 2011 legislation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 23, 2011



LAPLACE – Louisiana laws governing cyber-bullying, abortions, gun restrictions and technology behind the wheel of an automobile were among 660 new pieces of legislation that went into effect recently.

The plethora of new laws, which officially took effect Aug. 15, were the work of lawmakers from the legislative session that wrapped up in June. The laws make up about a third of 1,063 bills adopted by legislators during the session.

Among the most attention-grabbing changes likely will be the strengthening of the state’s ban on text messaging while driving. The ban has made the act a primary offense and allows police officers to stop a driver for that specific violation without needing another reason.

State Police has made it clear that their initial focus will be making people understand texting while driving is now open for ticketing. Sgt. Markus Smith said troopers want to make drivers aware of the new law before writing excessive amounts of citations, unless it is a blatant offense.

According to the new law, 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 also now be stopped and cited simply for using a cell phone behind the wheel of a car, as that state ban also was elevated to a primary offense.

The new laws will also see a crackdown on cyber-bullying, as well as the use of electronic devices to send suggestive photos or texts, otherwise known as “sexting.”

Cyber-bullying refers to the sending of an electronic message or text through e-mail or social networking sites, or oral communication via telephone with the intent to torment or intimidate a person under 18. An offender under 17 will be referred to counseling, but older offenders can be jailed for up to six months, fined a maximum of $500 or both.

As for “sexting,” senders under 17 can be referred to counseling, but those who keep the images or forward them can be fined $100 to $250, face up to 10 days in jail or both. The jail time can be suspended, and the youth placed on probation. Repeat offenses will draw harsher penalties.

Gun restrictions will also loosen under new legislation primarily when it comes to carrying concealed weapons. A new law now authorizes a church, synagogue or mosque to allow some of its members to carry a concealed weapon as part of a security force during services. All houses of worship that accept the practice must tell all members of the congregation in advance. The Roman Catholic bishops of Louisiana have said they are not going to allow it in their churches.

Two laws pertaining to abortions are facing court challenges from abortion rights activists. The first is a new law that requires a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and be given a copy of the image, although she does not have to look at it or accept it. A U.S. District Court Judge in Baton Rouge signed off on a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the law.

The other law facing challenge is one that excludes doctors who perform elective abortions from participating in the state’s medical malpractice coverage. A lawsuit against the measures was filed Aug. 6 and is awaiting action in federal court.