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New laws to protect consumers, victims and cows

By: Eric Laughlin The Press Tribune
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In a long list of new laws that hit the books this year, state lawmakers addressed rising concerns with fraud, drunken driving and an wide array of other issues, some of which might sound humorous to the average citizen. Bernie Madoff’s conviction if anything reminded Americans that white collar crime is alive and well during a troubled economy. A handful of new laws pushed by California legislators and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will crack down on all kinds of such criminal activity, from mortgage fraud to handicapped placard fraud. The Reverse Mortgage Elder Protection Act is a bi-partisan measure that will provide seniors with more information and even counseling before they sign on the dotted line. Assembly Bill 370 brings added protection to victims of contractor fraud, allowing them to recoup their losses. It also raises the fine for first-time offenses from $1,000 to $5,000 and requires jail time for second and third-time offenders. AB 260 is a broadly written bill that will "bring back trust and security back to the state’s mortgage market" by protecting borrowers from the most abusive lending practices and reassuring that second market loans brought in California are sound. AB 1196 is estimated to save the state billions of federal stimulus funds by allowing private citizens to report fraudulent activity committed by government contractors. AB 1160 will protect non-English speaking homebuyers from mortgage fraud by requiring lenders to provide a written translation of the contract summary. Following widespread abuse of handicapped placards in San Francisco last year (1,000 placards were confiscated there alone), legislators passed AB144, which would raise the fine from $100 to $1,000 for misuse of the disabled plates. It won’t take effect until July, but those convicted of drunk driving for the first time will soon face one more penalty: having to blow into a breathalyzer before starting their car. AB 91 would affect offenders from Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties, requiring them to install an ignition interlock device as part of the terms of their probation. If you’ve ever considered chopping off a cow’s tail when it’s not medically required, you might want to think twice these days. Under Senate Bill 135, you could be charged with a misdemeanor for such an act. But if you’re in the market for imported alligator and crocodile parts, you can take a sigh of relief, because SB 609 keeps importation legal through 2015. As of this week, it will also be a misdemeanor to sell or give nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas, to minors. If you’re the type who likes to ride a bicycle without a seat, breathe easy. SB 527 allows such bikes on state roads, providing they were specifically designed that way. Other laws taking effect include harsher penalties for spectators of dog fights, increased sanctions for poachers, a phase out of trans-fat in restaurants and jail time for defendants who knowingly fail to report oil spills.