New Laws on Louisiana’s Books Include Tougher Penalties for Texting

By | August 16, 2010

More than 650 new laws took effect in Louisiana this week, including revisions to existing statutes and arcane adjustments of insurance and health care regulations.

New abortion regulations will require ultrasound exams for all women getting abortions, and also will bar medical malpractice coverage for doctors who perform elective abortions, although lawyers are still haggling over the laws’ constitutionality in federal court.

Gun restrictions have been loosened, allowing concealed weapons in some churches and near most schoolyards, and permitting firearms at state parks and historic sites.

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing changes is the strengthening of Louisiana’s ban on text messaging while driving. The ban is becoming a primary offense, meaning police officers can stop a driver for this traffic violation without needing another reason.

Sgt. Markus Smith, with Louisiana State Police, said troopers are first going to focus their efforts on making sure people understand they can be ticketed for texting behind the wheel — rather than immediately writing a ream of citations.

“We’re going to make sure the public is fully aware about the problems of distracted driving and know that it’s a primary offense,” Smith said. “We’re not going to go out there to write a bunch of tickets. But if it’s a blatant offense that’s a danger to the public, we’re going to write a ticket.”

Penalties for sending text messages while behind the wheel — with an exception for emergencies — can reach up to $200 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.

Minors 17 and under also can be stopped and cited simply for using a cell phone, as that state ban also was elevated to a primary offense this week.

Lawmakers also created a list of new crimes that carry prison sentences up to six months and fines up to $500, including selling urine or products to scam drug screening tests, attending or betting on a cockfight and “cyberbullying.”

Cyberbullying is defined as harassing or intimidating someone under the age of 18 by text message, e-mail or posts on social networking sites like Facebook. Penalties are lessened if the offender is under the age of 17.

When he proposed the cyberbullying ban, Rep. Roy Burrell cited six cases in which students killed themselves because of such harassment.

“We’re trying to send a strong message to our young people that this is no longer a minor prank. This is something that is leading to the death of some of our young people”‘ Burrell, D-Shreveport, told lawmakers.

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