Don't release the hounds: Raft of unusual state laws to take effect 2013

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If you want to stay out of trouble in California, don’t let your dog chase a bear. And don’t get caught releasing feral hogs in Kentucky. New laws prohibiting both of those activities are among the dozens of regulations and changes taking effect in 2013. The new laws cover everything from prohibiting law enforcement officers from having sex with inmates on their way to prison to revising the term “motor vehicle” to exclude swamp buggies.

More than 200 new laws will be on the books Jan. 1 and while some may seem silly or outdated others like the approval of same-sex marriage in Maryland have garnered national attention over the past year.

Here’s a glance at some of the new state laws taking effect in 2013:

--- New York:  Starting next week, selling electronic cigarettes to minors in New York will be illegal. State law already prohibits selling cigars, cigarettes and chewing tobacco to those under 18 and retailers can be slapped with a $1,000 fine if they are caught. Sen. Owen Johnson, R-Babylon, sponsored the measure and says E-cigarettes “have not been proven to be safe for use at any age.” The battery-powered devices are used to inhale vaporized liquid nicotine instead of tobacco smoke. They were initially marketed as a safe alternative to cigarettes but some say their candy flavors appeal to minors.

--- Illinois: Lawmakers in Illinois stayed busy this year. For one, they passed a law that gives motorcyclists the go-ahead to run red lights. Motorcycles and bicycles aren’t usually heavy enough to trigger ground sensors that switch traffic lights from red to green so many two-wheeled motorists stay stuck at intersections and have to wait for a larger vehicle to come. Under the new measure, when a motorcycle comes up to a red light or a left-turn arrow and waits for two minutes or more for the light to change, they will be able to legally proceed if the coast is clear.

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Lawmakers in Illinois also sent a message to snoopy bosses this year after passing a measure that makes it illegal for employers to ask job applicants for passwords to their online profiles on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The law was pushed through after civil liberties groups criticized the practice as an invasion of privacy.

Illinois also became the first inland state to pass a comprehensive ban against the trade, sale or distribution of shark fins. Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, introduced the legislation that amends the city’s Fish and Aquatic Life Code to outlaw the controversial practice of harvesting shark fins.

--California: Animals were also on the mind of California legislators who passed a bill to ban hunters from using packs of dogs to chase black bears and bobcats. “The practice of hounding is cruel and unnecessary and it’s bad for bears, bobcats and dogs,” said Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for The Humane Society. After the vote, Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said, “There is nothing sporting in slaughtering an exhausted bear clinging to a tree limb or shooting a cornered bobcat.”

The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, offers protections for those animals but does not affect the use of dogs by bird hunters. Birds, as California sees it, are on their own.

California lawmakers also gave the green light to a computer-driven vehicle. They say the new vehicle may be tested on public roads but only if there’s a human in the passenger seat capable of taking over should the car tap into its inner Hal.

--Kentucky: Copper thieves in Kentucky will have a harder time trying to sell stolen materials for a quick buck at recycling centers. State law now mandates that instead of getting cash immediately, a check will be mailed to people trying to sell certain types of metal.

The state also created a bill that would impose stiffer penalties on those who release feral hogs into the wild. Kentucky’s growing feral pig population is a threat to farmland, natural habitats and human health, experts say.

Some of the changes Kentucky made this year have been head-scratchers. The state recently got around to removing wording from its constitution that gives guidelines on pensions for Confederate soldiers.