New Pa. laws include text ban, display of hunting licenses

| Monday, Jan. 2, 2012

The new year brings several new laws affecting everything from what Pennsylvanians can do while driving to where they hold their hunting licenses.

Arguably the most widespread change will be the ban on texting while driving, set to take effect in March. Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill into law in November, making texting while driving a primary offense, which allows police officers to pull over drivers they see violating the law. It carries a potential $50 fine.

"We expect it will cause a behavioral change," said AAA spokesman Brian Newbacher. "... It won't happen overnight. It's going to take some education and active enforcement on the part of law enforcement authorities."

The law bans sending, reading or writing a text message from a wireless phone, personal digital assistant, smartphone, portable or mobile computer or similar device. State police can enforce the law by observation, interviewing drivers and passengers, and in cases where needed, obtaining a driver's cell phone records.

Beginning in February, hunters will have more flexibility in how they carry their licenses. Legislation that became law in December removes the requirement that hunters outwardly display licenses.

Rep. Keith Gillespie, a York County Republican who introduced the bill at the request of the state Game Commission, said it's a convenience for hunters. They now will be able to carry their license in a wallet, meaning they're less likely to lose it in the field because it's pinned on a coat, he said.

"A lot of people travel some distances that are miles away from their house and then to have to go to a local sporting goods store to get a (replacement) license means they may have missed an opportunity in the field," Gillespie said. "That can be the difference in a successful hunt."

One new state law exempts a landowner from civil liability when the property is used for a state-approved motorcycle safety education program. Another changes the time span for making public birth and death records. In all, the Legislature passed 134 laws in 2011, most taking effect before the new year.

Nationwide, laws will take effect in California and Oregon in January banning shark finning, the practice of slicing off a shark's fin for soup. California has banned tanning for anyone younger than 18.

States enacted nearly 40,000 laws in 2011, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provides support and research to legislators and their staffs. Pension changes, immigration and voter identification were popular topics this year, organization spokesman Jon Kuhl said.

"Elections have been a big issue in 2011, and they're going to continue to be a big issue in 2012 with the presidential election," Kuhl said. "At least 31 states require voters to show ID before casting a ballot."

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