Cell phone crackdown, opioids, elder abuse are in new laws

It’s that time of year. Bills passed by the 2019 Minnesota Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz began taking effect July 1, with more laws going online August 1.

When laws start is in turn dictated by state statute. Unless a specific effective date is provided in the bill, the act will take effect on August 1 following its final enactment.

An example of that is the hands-free cell phone law. Bills containing an item of appropriation, however, take effect on July 1. One example of this type of new measure is the additional $4 million in funding for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Some of that money is dedicated to additional mental support for farmers.

Each act takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on the day it becomes effective, unless a different time is specified.

Several laws taking effect this summer are being watched closely by Minnesotans with disabilities. In some cases, such as changes to the state incontinence products program, activists are still waiting for specifics from the Department of Human Services or other state officials.

Other law changes are already being publicized. Here is an overview of a few laws taking effect this summer:

Hands-free cell phone use
August 1 is when Minnesota joins 17 other states and the District of Columbia in mandating that drivers have cellphones in hands-free mode when vehicles are moving.

Much focus during the session was on families who have lost loved ones due to distracted driving. But voices were also raised in support of the law by people who have sustained disabling injuries as a result of accidents where a driver was talking or texting on a phone. Several people who have sustained traumatic brain injuries were a key part of the push to get the law passed.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement agencies have started a high-profile campaign to get the word out about the new law.

Minnesota until now has allowed calls if a driver isn’t distracted. It is already illegal for drivers to send text messages and emails while driving. Nor can they access or search the Internet.

Under the new law, the only exception is for emergency calls on a phone. GPS devices can still be used. But with hands-free technology on phones or GPS, have the number or address punched in before driving.

After August 1, if police see a driver holding a phone while driving, that driver can be stopped.

A violation is a petty misdemeanor. The fine is $50 fine for the first violation and a $275 fine for subsequent violations.

‘Historic’ elder abuse law
Incidents of abuse at elder housing facilities sparked much debate at the capitol in 2019. Walz signed the historic legislation into law in early June. The law will be phased in over the next two years, as much work is ahead to implement its provisions.

Minnesota had the dubious distinction of being the only state to not license assisted living facilities. The new law changes that. The change affects more than 55,000 people living in more than 1,200 facilities.

At a news conference held in conjunction with the bill’s signing, Walz said “It is not only going to improve the lives of our parents our seniors, it’s also going to be an acclamation that our democracy can still work.”

The measure was hailed as bipartisan.

Minnesota’s nursing homes have been regulated for years. The need for regulating assisted living facilities was raised as the residential mix has changed. The nursing home population statewide has dropped to few than 30,00 people.

Facilities must be licensed. A bill of rights for residents will be created. In January 2020, people can put a hidden camera in a resident’s room.

The overall measures are to be implemented by AugustState lawmakers allocated $30 million to set up the new law’s protections.

Opiods
Several measures to combat opioid addition went into effect starting July 1. As more communities deal with opioid addiction and its related consequences, more attention is needed.

A new opioid advisory council is to establish goals and make recommendations to state lawmakers on how to most effectively respond to the crisis. The council will have the authority to award grants.

The new law also provides funding for county social service and tribal social service agencies. This money is to provide child protection services to families affected by addiction, increases support for anti-trafficking initiatives, and sets application and renewal fee requirements for opiate manufacturers.

The new law directs the state Board of Pharmacy to evaluate the effectiveness of the fees on opiate-based drug manufacturers and determine whether the legislation has had any negative impact on the availability of opiates for the treatment of chronic or intractable pain. One concern is that efforts to curb addiction not be to the detriment of manufacturers and legitimate use of the drugs.

Minnesota is among several states suing drug manufacturers, which was a point of debate during the bill negotiations.

The new law is expected to generate about $10 million in revenue each year.