Minnesota’s marriage law wasn’t the only thing that changed on Aug. 1.
An avalanche of new laws went into effect. Same-sex marriage is now legal in Minnesota, there are new regulations to protect tenants from eviction, and intoxicated minors who call 911 to help a friend in distress are now protected from prosecution for underage drinking.
“All I did was sign my name on a piece of paper,” Gov. Mark Dayton joked with the cheering crowds at Minneapolis City Hall just before the stroke of midnight and the first legal same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
Dayton signed his name on a lot of pieces of paper this year. The Legislature enacted 144 laws this session and most of them went into effect Aug. 1. The House Public Information Service compiled a list of some of the most noteworthy.
“Good Samaritan” laws are springing up around the country in response to a tripling of the overdose rate between 1999 and 2009. Minnesota’s new law protects underage drinkers from prosecution if they call 911 to report a medical emergency, as long as the caller remains at the scene and cooperates with authorities.
But don’t fool around with 911 calls. Another new law stiffens the penalties for anyone who makes a prank call to emergency services. Reporting a fictitious emergency that results in an emergency dispatch will now net a gross misdemeanor charge. If someone is hurt or killed because of such a call — in Connecticut, a few years ago, a fire truck collided with other vehicles while responding to a prank emergency call — it becomes a felony.
Arsonists face harsh new felony penalties for setting wildfires — up to 10 years in prison for blazes that cause more than $100,000 in damage; up to 20 years for fires that do more damage. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Brian Johnson and Sen. Sean Nienow, both R-Cambridge, was prompted by a 2009 case of a firefighter who set a fire in the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area that scorched 2,737 acres.
State law also now has new penalties for motorists who stray into bike lanes.
The Family Reunification Act went into effect Thursday. It offers older teens in foster care a way to reunite with the parents who lost custody of them years before. In some circumstances — if the child is 15 or older and has not been adopted, and if the parents can show that they have changed the behavior that cost them their parental rights — social services and county attorneys can work to reunite the families.
Some laws make immediate, concrete changes — Minnesota’s mining inspection policies have been updated for the first time in a century, and paramedics are now required to undergo an extra 12 hours of training to renew or earn their certification.
Other changes are more symbolic, but still meaningful. The Legislature went through statutes and stripped out antiquated, insulting language like “retarded” and replaced it with modern terminology like “person with developmental disabilities.” The law, sponsored by Rep. Zachary Dorholdt, DFL-St. Cloud, and Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, also allows the state to share information with a nonprofit that is trying to mark the graves of people who died in state institutions with markers that give their names, not a serial number.
And as of Aug. 1, an 11-mile stretch of Trunk Hwy. 23 is renamed in memory of Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker, who was killed in the line of duty.
Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, U.S. Reps. Tim Walz and Colin Peterson and other elected officials will make their annual pilgrimage to Farmfest on Tuesday and Wednesday. The event is held at the Gilfillan Estate in Redwood County and is a chance for officials to talk about agriculture and energy policy with the people directly affected by those policies. For more information, visit www.ideaggroup.com/farmfest/schedule.