New laws go into effect that affect Merced County residents

The beginning of a new year means new laws and although most have already gone into effect, others won’t start until later this year.

Whether you’re a motorist, bicyclist or teen driver, here’s a list of laws that may affect you in one way or another.

According to The Associated Press, Gov. Jerry Brown signed 805 bills into law in 2013, while vetoing 96.

The California Highway Patrol issued a news release on Dec. 23 highlighting some of those laws.

Assembly Bill 1371 prohibits motorists from passing a bicycle with less than 3 feet between any part of the vehicle and any part of the bicycle or driver. When 3 feet is not possible, the motorist must slow to a reasonable and prudent speed and only pass when no danger is present to the bicyclist. Failing to do so can incur a fine, regardless of a collision. This law will go into effect by Sept. 16.

Los Banos resident and avid cyclist Karl Fisher said the law will most likely be celebrated by the bicycling community.

“It’s an awesome idea,” he said. “most people give cyclists an ample amount of room. Los Banos does a good job in providing bike lanes for cyclists, for it being such a small town.”

Senate Bill 194 prohibits a person who is under 18 from using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send or read a text-based communication while driving, even if it is equipped with a hands-free device.

Cmdr. Ray Reyna Jr. with the Los Banos Police Department said the new law will help keep drivers safe.

“In our police profession, some of the hardest traffic accidents to respond to involve children and teens, with that in mind, a law that attempts to make our new teenage drivers safer and less prone to distractions seems to be a step in the right direction,” he said.

He also referred to a poll done in 2012 by the California Office of Traffic Safety that said 60 percent of California drivers indicated they had been in a collision or near-traffic collision with someone who was texting or talking while on the phone.

Also new is AB 535. It will require law enforcement to request activation of the Amber Alert after receiving a report that a child has been abducted by anyone, including a custodial parent or guardian, who may cause serious bodily injury or death to the child.

SB 109 says that by January 2016, every limousine that has been modified or extended to accommodate additional passengers must have two rear doors and one or two internally removable rear emergency windows. If such modifications occurred on or after July 2015, these requirements apply immediately after July 2015. All new limousines manufactured after January 2015 must meet these requirements as well.

Other laws being reported by The Associated Press, refer to minimum-wage earners, who will be paid $9 an hour starting July 1, the first of two $1-an-hour boosts that will push the base wage to $10 by 2016, giving the state one of the nation’s highest wage rates.

School officials can now suspend or expel students who engage in cyberbullying, using computers, smartphones and social media, both on- and off-campus. Private school employees who work with minors must undergo fingerprint background checks and youth sports programs can now run criminal background checks on potential volunteer coaches.

Among the most high-profile bills is one that allows transgender students to choose which restroom to use. It also will allow transgender students to choose whether to play on boys or girls sports teams, unless opponents are successful in putting the question before voters on the November ballot to stop the law from taking effect.

“Certainly, we want to protect the student who identifies themselves as a transgender person, and yet there are tremendous concerns by many of potential abuse of the transgender label to gain access to sex segregated areas. Before we ask the board to approve a policy at the local level on this issue, we will be engaging in a discussion with our community members about how we will respond to this new legal requirement and at the same time continue to protect the rights of all of our students,” said Steve Tietjen, Los Banos Unified School District superintendent.

There are 11 new gun control laws also taking effect, including a ban on kits that allow people to turn regular ammunition magazines into high-capacity ones, two bills restricting the ability of mentally ill people to possess firearms and a requirement that buyers of rifles and shotguns pass a safety test.