AUGUSTA – Homeless people and pets get new protections from abusers, repeat offenders who refuse to stop driving face longer jail terms and heftier fines, and landowners get new shields from having their property taken for private development.

Wednesday marks the 90th day after the close of the 2006 legislative session – the day scores of bills that were enacted during the five-month session become law.

Some of the session’s more far-reaching laws, such as teacher salary and minimum wage increases, will be phased in over a couple of years and have no practical effect Wednesday. Some are woven into the state budget, such as funding to augment the federal Medicare prescription drug program to keep thousands of Mainers enrolled.

“What we’re seeing is the fruit of cooperation,” said House Democratic floor leader Glenn Cummings of Portland, reflecting on the largely bipartisan session.

Assistant House Republican Leader Josh Tardy of Palmyra said bipartisanship also led to passage of a bill to phase in repeal of Maine’s property tax on business equipment, which he called “the most significant accomplishment of the session.”

The repeal, long sought by businesses as a way to promote stability and attract investment, will apply to most businesses.

Also affected by new laws are habitual offenders who drive drunk, drive to endanger or commit other serious offenses after having their licenses revoked or suspended.

“Tina’s Law” creates the crime of aggravated operating after habitual offender revocation and imposes mandatory penalties ranging from $500 to $3,000 fines and six months to five years in jail. The law is named for a woman who died of injuries in a Maine Turnpike accident caused by a trucker with a lengthy record of offenses.

Another new Maine statute, called “Jessica’s Law” after a young Florida girl who was kidnapped and buried alive, imposes mandatory prison terms for those convicted of sex crimes against children under 12.

A couple of new laws are touted as national models. One allows a judge to include pets in protection-from-abuse orders for spouses and partners leaving abusive relationships. The law recognizes that some abusers try to exert power over their victims by harming pets.

The other first-of-its-kind law assures that attacks on the homeless are prosecuted just as severely as attacks on people because of their age, race or sexual orientation.

As other states grapple with legal questions about condemnations of private land for private development projects, a new Maine law prohibits the use of eminent domain for private retail, office, commercial, industrial or residential development. The law also increases public reimbursements associated with eminent domain proceedings.

Mainers gain new privacy protections Wednesday. Data recorded on automotive “black boxes” may not be downloaded without the owner’s permission or court approval. Confidentiality of those who report waste, fraud or inefficiency in state government is guaranteed.

A law to protect Maine consumers from harassment by out-of-state attorneys hired to collect debts in the state requires those lawyers to get a Maine debt collector’s license.

Contracts for home construction projects must include consumer-protection information as of Wednesday.

Fuel oil and gas dealers are barred from entering prepaid contracts unless they have obtained futures contracts, a surety bond or letter of credit to protect their customers. And the law protecting consumers from profiteering during market disruptions is bolstered.

In school issues, a new law delays for a year implementation of Maine’s Learning Results program to allow time to rework the standards.

A law that coincided with the public’s focus on steroid use in professional sports directs state substance abuse officials to notify high schools of Maine’s list of banned performance-enhancing substances.

In time for the new school year, a law encourages school districts to develop the Sports Done Right program, which promotes positive sports experiences for students.

Wednesday marks the start of new processes to prevent the disposal of mercury in the environment. One law requires reports on the volumes of mercury amalgam supplied to dentists. The state will also study the effectiveness of cellular telephone recycling programs.

A one-year reduction in the sales and use tax on biofuels, to encourage development of renewable energy, takes effect.

Registration fees for pesticides increase from $125 to $150. Laws against timber theft are bolstered by establishing $1,000 fines for first-time violations and a process for restitution.

Private clubs’ smoking policies may now be decided by a majority of their members who return ballots, rather than a majority of all of a club’s members.

Health insurers must continue to provide coverage to dependent children who are unable to remain in school due to illness or injury. Sibling visitation rights are expanded in child protective cases. In parental rights cases, courts must consider whether a parent is living with someone convicted of a sex offense against a child.

A law prompted by post 9-11 security concerns tightens state requirements for issuing drivers’ licenses and state identification cards to state residents who are not U.S. citizens. The law bars the state from accepting expired documentation used as identification to get drivers’ licenses or state IDs.

New laws will require more disclosures by lobbyists and their associates, who will have to give the name of the person or organization they represent when testifying before legislative committees. A Web site listing all registered lobbyists must be created.

Income tax incentives are authorized for wind energy development and wind energy equipment projects that are 10 megawatts or smaller.

A couple of new bridges get new names. A span over the Kennebec River in Augusta will be known as Cushnoc Crossing, and the new Route 1 bridge between Prospect and Verona Island will be named the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory Tower.

County courthouses will be required to fly the Prisoner of War-Missing in Action flag on holidays such as the Fourth of July and Memorial Day.

The law, which was enacted by the Legislature earlier this year, also allows counties to fly the black-and-white POW-MIA flag on any other day where the U.S. flag flies.

The state is required to divest state pension fund investments in companies doing business in Sudan, to protest genocide in Darfur.


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