To the editor:
A whole host of new laws will go into effect Aug. 1 and I want to pass along some of the most notable changes. A complete summary of all laws passed by the 2008 Legislature is available at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/newlaws2008-0.asp. I hope you find this information useful.
Starting Aug. 1:
Graduated driver’s licenses and no text messaging
A new law requires that during the first six months of provisional licensure, a licensee cannot operate a vehicle carrying more than one passenger under age 20 who is not a member of their immediate family. That increases to three passengers the following six months.
Also during the first six months of provisional licensure, a person under age 18 is prohibited from driving between midnight and 5 a.m., except when the driver is going between the person’s home and job or school event where no transportation is provided; the driver is driving due to a job; or the driver is accompanied by a licensed driver or state identification card holder who is at least age 25.
Other provisions in the omnibus transportation policy law, effective Aug. 1, 2008, include:
• making it illegal to text message when the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic;
• a person who can document homelessness or eligibility for certain need-based relief that has their vehicle impounded can get back some essential contents, under certain circumstances, without paying for vehicle retrieval;
• drivers are required to move a lane over when passing freeway service patrol, road maintenance and construction vehicles parked or stopped on a roadway;
• driver’s education curriculum must include instruction on the duties of a driver when encountering a bicycle, other non-motorized vehicles or a pedestrian;
• a person who duplicates, alters or forges a commercial vehicle inspection decal will be charged with a gross misdemeanor, and it will be a gross misdemeanor to possess a fraudulent decal;
• a second set of disability plates could be issued to a vehicle owner if issuance is approved by the Council on Disability; and
• the Transportation Department is to develop a statewide plan for freight and passenger rail.
Construction awareness assistance
Small businesses impacted by transportation construction projects should more easily get information about what is happening outside their front door.
A new law requires the Transportation Department to develop a standard operating plan for getting out such information, with a report due to the Legislature by Feb. 15, 2009.
The report is to address the best ways to get information to small businesses; what should be included in an information packet, such as potential changes in parking, traffic and public access in the area; contact information for progress and timing questions; and a listing of area business development organizations that can assist with financing, marketing and technical counseling during the construction period.
Internet ticket sales protected
When tickets for the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana “Best of Both Worlds” tour went on sale last year, some people using ticket-buying software bought all the tickets within a matter of seconds, leaving everyone else to buy tickets for as much as 10 times the original price.
The so-called “Hannah Montana” law makes it a gross misdemeanor to sell, distribute or use software to get around security and move to the front of an Internet ticket-buying line.
Tenants can pay landlord’s delinquent utility bill
Tenants can restore utility service by paying outstanding utility charges that would otherwise be the responsibility of the landlord.
If a residential building has fewer than five units, the new law allows tenants to become the customer of record and the responsible bill-payer for the utility account. If the residential building is single-metered, other tenants in the building may contribute payments to the utility company or municipality on the landlord’s account or the account of a tenant who is the customer of record.
The law also provides content requirements for a notice posted by a utility company if utilities are about to be shut off. The notice must include a description of the tenant’s rights to have service continued or restored.
Dangerous dog regulations strengthened
The surety bond required by an owner of a dangerous dog increases from $50,000 to $300,000, and a new law prohibits dog ownership for anyone who has repeatedly been convicted of crimes involving dangerous dogs.
All dangerous dogs must be sterilized, and owners must notify animal control authorities if the dog is moved to a new location.
Additionally, a dangerous dog may be destroyed for inflicting great bodily harm on someone without provocation, or participating in an attack where there is more than one dog. Before animal control can take action, however, the owner must be given an opportunity for a hearing.
Caucus date choices
A new law eliminates the requirement that caucuses be held on the first Tuesday in March.
The state executive committee of each party will be jointly responsible for determining the date of the party precinct caucuses and must notify the secretary of state at least 90 days prior to the caucus. If the chairs of the two largest major political parties can’t agree on a single date for their precinct caucuses, then for purposes of the next general election year, the first Tuesday in February will be considered the caucus day.
Each party will be permitted to postpone a caucus due to severe weather, with consultation of the secretary of state.
Advocates not compelled to talk
Attorneys, physicians, psychologists, sexual assault counselors and clergy are not now required to disclose information about their clients or members without consent. A new law gives domestic abuse advocates the same protection.
The law defines a domestic abuse advocate as an employee or supervised volunteer of a community-based battered women’s shelter or domestic abuse program. These advocates cannot be compelled to provide any opinion about, or information from, the victim unless ordered by the court.
Foreclosure notice needed for renters
A new law requires that the notice of mortgage foreclosure be given to prospective tenants. If the property is transferred to a new owner following foreclosure, and the new owner seeks to evict an existing tenant, they must be given at least two month’s written notice to vacate.
The law also allows a tenant to withhold the last month’s rent, under certain circumstances. Also, eviction records can be expunged, under certain circumstances.
‘Good faith’ now law
A new law allows a policyholder to sue their insurance company for not settling a claim in “good faith,” meaning they can prove that the insurance company did not have a reasonable basis for denying a claim. The insurance company must also have known that it had no reasonable basis, or acted with “reckless disregard” for the lack of reason.
Additionally, an award cap for the insured is now $250,000, while reimbursement for attorneys’ fees is capped at $100,000.
No stiffing the auto shop
A new law is designed to prevent insurance companies from denying payment to auto body shops for repairs made under an insurance claim. The law specifies that insurers cannot “unilaterally and arbitrarily disregard” the cost of auto repairs made under an insurance claim if the auto service provider used an estimating system recognized by the insurance industry.
Closed meetings will be taped
All public body closed meetings must be electronically recorded, unless otherwise prohibited by attorney-client privilege. The law mandates these recordings be preserved for at least three years.
Employment protection for attendance at military events
Families of service members are afforded some employment protection when their loved one is being deployed or honored.
Under a provision in the omnibus agriculture and veterans affairs law, an employer cannot fire or take employment action against any employee, or keep them from attending certain events relating to the military service of the employee’s spouse, parent or child to which the employee is invited. This could include departure or return ceremonies, family training or reintegration programs.
The employee must provide reasonable notice to the employer when requesting time off, and the employer must provide a reasonable amount of nonpaid time off for the employee, not to exceed two consecutive days or six days in a calendar year. The employer must not compel the employee to use accumulated but unused vacation for these events.
Also, a spouse or dependant of a veteran is classified as a resident student for state grant purposes if the veteran is a state resident.