New California laws beginning in 2013 

click to enlarge The National Safety Council has questioned new legislation allowing drivers to text and email with hands-free devices, saying there is no evidence suggesting it is safe.
  • The National Safety Council has questioned new legislation allowing drivers to text and email with hands-free devices, saying there is no evidence suggesting it is safe.

With the new year comes the new laws. Here's an outline of those going into effect in 2013.

Gay therapy ban tied up in courts

The most controversial California law once set to go into effect Tuesday is now on hold pending a review of its constitutionality.

Senate Bill 1172 bans therapies meant to “convert” gay, lesbian or bisexual minors into heterosexuals. California’s ban represents the first time that any state has outlawed such practices, which are alternatively known as reparative, conversion or gay therapy.

Shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law in late September, two groups filed lawsuits arguing that the law limits therapists’ First Amendment rights. The Pacific Justice Institute filed a lawsuit in October on behalf of three therapists who practice reparative therapy, asking a federal judge in Sacramento to stop the law from going into effect Jan. 1. The separate Liberty Counsel also sought an injunction on behalf of patients, counselors and the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.

Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus called the law “one-size-fits-all legislation” that would prevent even interested minors from seeking counseling to “steer them away from the feelings that they have for same-sex attraction.” His group cites doctors who say such therapy can change behavior.

But opponents of the practice, including nearly all major health organizations, say it has negative consequences and does not alter same-sex attraction.

“No one should stand idly by while children are being psychologically abused, and anyone who forces a child to try to change their sexual orientation must understand this is unacceptable,” state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, and the bill’s author, said in a statement shortly after Brown signed the bill. “Gov. Brown should be commended for protecting LGBT youth by ending this type of quackery.”

The American Psychological Association, American Medical Association and World Health Organization all oppose conversion therapy. In May, the Pan American Health Organization, part of the World Health Organization, said in a statement, “Services that purport to ‘cure’ people with nonheterosexual orientation lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.”

Dr. Ellen Haller, a professor of clinical psychiatry at UC San Francisco, equated conversion therapy with “treating someone for their hair color.” She said such practices may change patients’ outward behavior, but not their inward identity.

Haller said such practices can lead to very negative outcomes for the patient, including depression, drug use, family estrangement and suicidal tendencies. She said therapy for youths who are attracted to members of the same sex should be neutral and help them find their true feelings.

Implementation of the law is now on hold. A federal judge issued a stay for the three parties represented by the Pacific Justice Institute. A separate judge ruled against the Liberty Counsel’s parties, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently issued an injunction blocking the entire law from taking effect pending review.

“The minors we represent and their families are thrilled about the injunction,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement. “They are eager to continue their counseling in the new year.”

Texting behind wheel legal — with a hands-free device

Drivers in California can now text and email while they drive if they use voice-operated systems that keep their hands free for driving.

Assemblyman Jeff Miller, ?R-Corona, authored the new legislation, which goes into effect Tuesday. The bill would remove the prohibition on writing, sending or reading text-based messages if the driver is using an electronic device configured for voice-operated, hands-free text-based communication.

But the new law has caught the attention of the National Safety Council, which is calling for its repeal. The group says that even with hands-free devices, drivers can be distracted.

“Safe driving requires a driver’s full attention — hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and mind on the task of driving,” Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, said in a statement. “There is no research or evidence that indicates voice-activated technologies eliminate or even reduce the distraction to the driver’s mind. Unless such research becomes available, texting laws, such as California’s, should not be weakened by legalizing the use of voice-to-text technologies.”

Similar legislation was previously introduced by state Sen. Joe Simitian, a Democrat who represented portions of San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed that legislation. Simitian also was the author of the California laws banning texting while driving and talking on cellphones except when using a hands-free device. During his last two years in office, Simitian tried to get legislation passed to increase the fines and penalties for drivers caught talking or texting while driving. Brown vetoed both.

A study by the California Office of Traffic Safety said deaths due to handheld cellphone use dropped ?22 percent since that first law went into effect in 2008.

Other notable new laws:

Mortgage protection: New laws will restrict banks from pursuing so-called dual-track foreclosures in which they simultaneously work on renewing a borrower’s mortgage terms while also proceeding with foreclosure of a home; make banks give homeowners a single, knowledgeable point of contact for their loan; and require purchasers of foreclosed homes to give tenants a 90-day notice before starting eviction proceedings. These laws and others constitute the Homeowners Bill of Rights.

Marriage: A law by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, will guarantee that clergy members do not have to perform nuptials that violate their religious beliefs, such as same-sex marriages. The law also protects denominations from losing their tax-exempt status because of the refusal to perform such a marriage.

Pipeline safety: A handful of laws upgrade natural-gas pipeline safety, including one by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, that will force the California Public Utilities Commission to respond to recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board in the wake of the fatal San Bruno pipeline explosion. Other laws set safety goals for pipeline operators and require the disclosure of gas transmission lines when homes are sold.

Driverless vehicles: The state will be required to come up with rules to allow the operation of driverless vehicles on roadways.

Funerals: It will become a crime to picket a funeral one hour before, during and up to one hour after the ceremony.

Bullying: A law will allow schools to suspend any student who creates a so-called burn page, a social-media profile that impersonates someone in order to bully, intimidate or mock them.

Social media: Two new laws will prevent employers and higher-education officials from asking for applicants’ social-media passwords.

Breast-feeding: The law protects breast-feeding women from discrimination by their employers.

Juvenile sentencing: A law by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, will allow many juveniles sentenced to life without parole the chance to petition for a sentence of 25 years to life.

Pets: The law prohibits landlords from requiring pet owners ?to declaw or devocalize their pets in order to rent a ?unit.

Red-light cameras: Cities will be barred from considering revenue generation when considering installation of red-light cameras. Such decisions would have to be based upon safety considerations.

Medical release: A law by Leno would allow county sheriffs to parole medically incapacitated inmates in the same way the state already can.

mbillings@sfexaminer.com

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