Most were bills from 2007 Legislature
PORTLAND (A P) — Come 2008, Oregonians under 18 can forget about driving while chattering on their cell phones, cigarettes for sale will have to be “fire safe” and the gasoline in your tank will be 10 percent ethanol.
All three are among the laws that go into effect with the new year, some affecting a broad swath of Oregonians, others just a small slice.
Most of the laws come courtesy of the 2007 legislative session, the first in a generation in which Democrats were in control of the state House, the state Senate and the governor’s office.
Dems pass new laws
With their newfound power, Democrats flexed their muscles and passed a host of laws, including new spending on public education and the State Police.
Most spending bills went into effect when the fiscal year began July 1. The laws that take effect Jan. 1, by contrast, are more bite-size, and consumer-oriented.
For example, health insurance companies will be required to pay for birth control pills and other contraceptives, if they already provide benefits for other drugs.
Employers will be required to provide nursing mothers a quiet place to pump breast milk, and time off to do so. And grandparents will be expressly allowed to take advantage of family medical leave laws to care for sick grandchildren.
Gift cards law
Under the new laws, merchants will no longer be able to sell gift cards that expire, or decline in value over time if not redeemed quickly. And landlords won’t be able to tow cars belonging to their tenants, without at least 72 hours notice.
Focus on crime
Other new laws focus on crime, particularly curbing identity theft, an area where Republicans and Democrats have been able to find common ground in recent years. Lawmakers made it a crime to steal someone’s identity even after they ’re dead and upped the potential jail time for repeat identity theft offenders.
Republicans are also touting two laws that crack down on cyber predators, including one that makes it a crime to solicit minors over the Internet and another that makes it a crime to give sexually explicit material to a child.
The biggest, and most controversial, of the new laws was a proposal to allow gay couples to register as domestic partners.
Under the new law, gay couples would have been covered by each other’s health insurance, file joint state tax returns, and make end-of-life medical decisions for each other, among other rights.
But late Friday, a federal judge put a temporary stay on the law, after a challenge from an anti gay rights group. A hearing on the issue has been scheduled for February.
Lawmakers also approved a companion bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, which was not challenged in court, and will go into effect Jan. 1.
One change should affect lawmakers more than nearly all other Oregonians, with the possible exception of lobbyists: Starting Jan. 1, lawmakers won’t be able to accept gifts valued at more than $50. And those who violate government ethics rules will have to pay steeper fines.
Ethics bill touted
The change has been touted by Democrats, in particular, as a way to restore public faith in government. But there have been some eyebrows raised over the plan, which places no restrictions on campaign donations and there are no related rules on how politicians can spend that money.
“This is a clear step forward on ethics, but it is not the holy grail,” said House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, D- Gladstone. He said lawmakers will take up campaign contribution limits in 2009 and could refer the issue to the ballot that year as a constitutional amendment.
Ballot measure changes
The citizen-backed ballot measures that have dominated Oregon elections in recent years will see some changes in the new year, too.
In order to start circulating a ballot measure, for example, sponsors will need 1,000 signatures, up from just 25 right now. And anyone who is paid to collect signatures will have to undergo a training course and register with the state.
Perennial ballot measure backers have decried the changes, calling them unfair hoops to jump through . Proponents , including Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, say they’ll help bring order to the annual ballot free-for-all.