By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
No more smoking at the bus stop in Petaluma. No more hunting bears with dogs. And banks can no longer work with a home owner on a mortgage modification while simultaneously moving toward foreclosing.
Those are among the multitude of new ordinances and laws that go into effect in the new year for local and state residents.
Also, as a result of the Nov. 6 passage of Prop. 30, the state sales tax rate will increase by a quarter-percent for four years and income taxes on the wealthy will rise for seven years. The money raised is supposed to go to education and public safety.
Petaluma’s new smoking ban covers cigarettes, electronic cigarettes and marijuana. It forbids lighting up in several additional places next year, including inside one’s home if it’s part of a multi-unit housing apartment or condo complex.
The ban, which is scheduled to be formally adopted on Jan. 7, will be phased in beginning in February and culminating with the housing ban that will start Jan. 1, 2014.
Police are charged with enforcing the laws, which are similar to what other local jurisdictions have passed, although it remains to be seen how frequently police cite someone for smoking in a city parking lot.
Fallout from the mortgage crisis spurred the passage of a statewide Home Owners Bill of Rights, a package of new laws that protect home owners from what has been called predatory practices of lenders.
The laws restrict dual-track foreclosures, prohibiting the practice of moving forward to foreclose on a home while the lender also in discussions with the borrower to save the home. The laws also guarantee homeowners a single point of contact with their lender and impose civil penalties on fraudulently signed mortgage documents. Homeowners also may demand that loan servicers document their right to foreclose.
Social media is spawning new laws, including one that prohibits employers from requesting or requiring applicants or current employees to turn over their user names or passwords to social media sites. Employees can’t be disciplined or threatened for refusing to comply with an employer’s request.
Beginning New Year’s Day, the practice of hunting bears and bobcats with dogs will be prohibited in California. The Humane Society of the United States, which pushed for California’s law, said 15 other states ban the practice while 17 others still permit the use of hounds to hunt bears.
Affecting far more Californians are several new driving laws.
Beginning Tuesday, a new law allows drivers to use hands-free technology to talk and text while driving. The law requires the use of a device specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation to dictate, send or listen to a text while at the wheel.
Another technology-based law: drivers will have the option of showing proof of insurance and registration with their smartphone, tablet or other electronic device instead of a hard copy when requested by a police officer.
Missing or in-danger senior citizens will have extra eyes looking for them with a new “Silver Alert” broadcast similar to the “Amber Alert” for missing children.
The CHP will activate the “Silver Alert” if a person 65 years or older is missing and determined to be in danger because of health reasons or other peril.
Health care officials will be required to provide child-safety-seat information to parents and caregivers when a child under age 8 is discharged from a hospital, clinic or birthing center.
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)