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New laws for 2010

No double-handed texting; gay marriages now allowed

December 31, 2009
CONCORD — Tomorrow, gay couples can get married but police won't let them or anyone else send text messages while driving away from the chapel. That's because 45 new laws go into effect on Jan. 1 and they cover everything from recognizing gay marriage to prohibiting texting while driving.

House Bill 436 allows people of the same gender to be legally married and also creates a mechanism for same sex couples already entered in a civil union to obtain married status. Rep. Edward Butler, D-Harts Location, was one of the sponsors of this bill.

"I think this is a great step forward for gay and lesbian couples," said Butler who has already seen demand for gay marriage.

In fact, Butler's business, The Notchland Inn, will host a wedding between two men on Jan. 1. Two years ago, The Notchland Inn hosted the same couple's civil union ceremony. Butler himself and his partner plan to be wed in April on their 32nd anniversary.

In New Hampshire, the difference between a marriage and a civil union is a matter of semantics, but Butler said he objected to a system that created separate but equal classifications for couples. But the new law also paves the way for same sex couples to receive federal benefits already given to heterosexual couples. For that to happen, the Clinton era Defense of Marriage Act would have to be changed.

Also going into effect on Jan. 1 is HB 34, which prohibits drivers from sending text messages and typing with two hands on electronic communications devices.

Apparently, the Legislature thinks it's still okay for a driver to type one-handed as long as he or she is not typing into a cell phone. The law does specifically allow drivers to dial their cell phones. Anyone who gets caught two handed typing or texting while driving would be guilty of a violation level offence and subject to a $100 fine.

Lt. Dean Rondeau, of Wolfeboro Police, recommends chatty drivers use hand free sets if they feel the need to communicate while cruising down the road.

"It's not about using one hand or two," he said. "What gets people in trouble is having their attention divided and human reaction time."

A car driving 40 mph will travel nearly 60 feet per second and the average person's reaction time is approximately one and one half seconds, said Rondeau. That means distracted driving can be extremely dangerous. Even before the new law, a driver could face criminal charges, such as negligent homicide, if he or she gets into an accident while texting. Plus, if a driver gets into an accident while texting, the police report will say the driver was distracted and that will cause his or her car insurance rates to rise, said Rondeau.

As a safety measure, Wolfeboro Police use hand free radios and radar in their cruisers, he said.

In addition to watching for distracted drivers, Rondeau said he will train next month with the Attorney General's Office regarding human trafficking. The training almost certainly pertains to the passage of HB 474, which prohibits human trafficking for the purpose of sexual or labor exploitation.

Rondeau said doesn't know to what extent human trafficking is a problem in New Hampshire, but he knows it's a "huge problem" in Europe. While serving in the U.S. Army, Rondeau said he helped with an operation to shut down the Albanian mafia.

"They were running everything from drugs, to guns, to women," he said.

There is a good reason for that, according to New Hampshire's Statewide Interagency Commission on Human Trafficking. Human trafficking is the third most profitable criminal activity, rivaled only by arms and drug trafficking. It generates about $9.5 billion annually. In New Hampshire, a Litchfield couple was convicted of human trafficking for withholding wages, living conditions, and refusing to release passport and travel documents. There has also been a report of sex trafficking in the state, which was apparently unconfirmed.

Enacting a state law increases the awareness of the problem and will help local law enforcement agencies more incentive to investigate these types of cases, according to the commission.

A more common concern locally is the quality of the state's water bodies, which HB 350 addresses by prohibiting the sale and distribution of household cleaning products containing phosphorus. A similar law had been on the books for several years, but in January it will be changed to also include dishwasher detergents.

What's so bad about phosphorus?

"Phosphorous is plant food," said Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance Executive Director Linda Schier. "If you have too much plant food in the water you get algae blooms."

These algae blooms can make pristine lakes turn into soupy green waterbodies that cause lakeside property values to go down. Schier said Consumer Reports has given good marks to phosphorous free detergents from the brands Method and Simplicity.

Music fans will appreciate a new bill, SB130, the truth in music law, which seeks to prevent knockoff musical bands from claiming an association with legitimate artists. Similar bills have been passed in 33 states through the efforts of Truth in Music Committee chairman Jon Bauman, who was in the band Sha Na Na.

Dan Wise of the New Hampshire Bar Association and Cissy Taylor, House of Representatives Information Officer, contributed to this article.

Other laws:

• HB120 requires the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in single and multi family dwellings built or substantially rehabilitated after Jan. 1.

• HB 186 repeals a provision exempting swimming rafts from the authority of the commissioner of safety. It also generally prohibits the rental of motorized watercraft to a person who doesn't have a boating safety certificate.

• HB 210 amends the Right-to-Know Law to give local land use boards five business days to furnish meeting minutes. The prior version gave boards 144 hours.

• HB 295 orders the courts during pre-sentence investigations to ask convicts if they have served or are serving in the military. If the person is a veteran or is serving in the military, the court may order the person writing the pre-sentence investigation to consult with the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs or consider the recommendations of mental health professionals.

• HB 345 allows physical therapists to obtain a special certificate to practice on animals.

• HB 430 removes the statute of limitations regarding falsification in official matters if committed with the intent to prevent the arrest of a murderer.

• HB 534 establishes a procedure that allows residents to change whether their town has an elected zoning board and an appointed zoning board.

• SB 40 states employers cannot order mass layoffs without giving its employees and state and local officials advance notice.

• HB 279 establishes an alert program for missing senior citizens and for people with developmental disabilities.

Tilton School
Martin Lord Osman
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