Louisiana driver’s licenses can now sport university logos.Smokers must step away from state Office Building entrances when they light up. And 16-year-olds will be able to register to vote but not exercise the right just yet.
The changes are coming as the result of some of the 22 new laws that go into effect at midnight Jan. 1.
Other new laws provide more transparency to government agency operations, more regulatory protection to Louisiana’s payday loan industry and more options for people to make charitable donations when they file income tax returns.
The university logo is a spinoff of an earlier law allowing “I’m a Cajun” to be put on driver’s licenses.
“It’s a neat way to show your pride, kind of like what’s already done on license plates,” said state Sen. Fred Mills, R-St. Martinville. “It’s a good way for the foundations of universities to raise money.”
Motorists pay an extra fee, yet to be determined, on top of that paid for a driver’s license. The extra money would go to participating university foundations.
Mills said he got the idea because universities today can reap dollars from their logos appearing on credit cards so why not licenses.
Office of Motor Vehicle Commissioner Stephen Campbell said he’s not seeing much interest so far among the universities. Some of the hesitancy could be the advance money for design work that has to be paid before the universities can reap any of the financial benefits. “It has a $30,000 up-front fee to be paid Public Safety for software (for each school logo). We have no one expressing interest in doing that,” said Campbell.
On the licence itself, the logo would have to fit into a block under the photograph, where designations such as “I’m a Cajun” and “Veteran” are placed today. The “I’m a Cajun” desgination costs $5 more.
The 2014 Legislature also passed a new restriction on smokers.
The latest law change bans outdoor smoking with 25 feet of entrances to state Office Buildings. The ban also impacts areas surrounding handicapped entrance ramps. The idea is to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke.
Several other changes in Louisiana law impact elections and candidates, including the potential for forming a new “Independent” political party. The law lifts a ban on formation of a political party named “Independent.”
Candidates must now report the purpose of expenditures they make from their campaign accounts. A state law prohibits campaign spending on anything other than running for election or related to the holding of public office. Questions arose over whether some politicians spending on such things as LSU football tickets, golf club memberships and the purchase of vehicles went afoul of the law. The idea behind the new law is to get politicians to justify the propriety of the spending.
Another new law allows sixteen-year-olds to register to vote. But they can’t exercise the right to vote until they reach age 18.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler said he initially had reservations about the idea but as arguments were made he became more comfortable.
“We already have a process in place to allow 17-year-olds to register,” Schedler said. Current elections’ office records show 1,884 teenagers have signed up under existing law, he said.
When they reach age of 18, registrar of voters send them a card telling them they can now vote.
“It’s not an overwhelming number,” Schedler said. “It’s obviously kids that truly do take an interest.”
Schedler’s office sends staff into schools around the state to talk to students about the importance of participating in the voting process. The ability to let students register “certainly does assist us in our outreach programs, making them more meaningful,” he said.
He said he plans to start monitoring to see how many students who sign up early, actually start voting when they turn 18.
With the dawn of the new year, the public will get more notice on actions being taken by state agencies that impact their lives.
State agencies must now post on their Internet websites certain information about proposed rules and fees they are in the process of adopting, amending or repealing. Included must be a brief description and links to such information as the current rule and fee, name and contact information of the person responsible for responding to inquiries, public hearing information and anticipated effective date of the change.
If an agency doesn’t have a website, the department under which it falls is required to post the information.
“This is really just a good move toward transparency,” said state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, sponsor of the law. Jones said state agencies have “immense power” to make major changes in their operations that impact people’s lives. “Often those things happen before anybody realizes anything is going on,” he said. The Internet publication will help give more public advance notice, he said.
Efforts during the 2014 legislative session aimed at protecting consumers from escalating fees attached to pay day loans died under intense industry pressure.
But a new law did go on the books that protects “brick and mortar” pay day loan businesses from on-line operations.
Four new laws add to the list of individual income tax checkoffs to benefit various charitable and non-profit organizations. The latest additions: The Louisiana Youth Leadership Seminar Corp., the Louisiana State Troopers Charities, the Lighthouse for the Blind in New Orleans and the Louisiana Association for the Blind, the Louisiana Center for the Blind and Affiliated Blind of Louisiana Inc.