New laws affect guns, tweets, caverns

Nearly 240 new Louisiana laws went into effect Thursday, ranging from lifetime concealed handgun permits to a ban on tweeting while driving to a state response to a salt dome disaster in Assumption Parish.

The laws, which were enacted by the Louisiana Legislature and signed into law by the governor earlier this year, also authorize mental health courts, expand the state’s infant “safe haven” program, require schools to drill crisis response plans and ease the sale of cookies and cakes from home.

The lifetime concealed handgun permit, sponsored by state Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, is one of several initiatives pushed by gun rights advocates that become law Thursday.

Another new law makes it a crime to release information associated with concealed handgun permits or applications for the permit and yet another provides for sheriff-issued permits to be good across parish lines if there are agreements between sheriffs.

For a $500 upfront fee, a qualified individual may purchase the lifetime concealed handgun permit. The permit holder must provide proof of specified educational training every five years.

“The form is already online with the lifetime checkoff box,” State Police Capt. Doug Cain said. “We have actually received a handful” of applications prior to the Aug. 1 go-live date of the law.”

There is a four-month backlog in processing the permit applications. Cain said an influx of requests came in after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. Applications escalated from about 800 a month to more than 3,000, Cain said. “It has come down slightly but still there is an increased volume,” he said.

A total of 55,383 valid concealed handgun permits have been issued in Louisiana.

Cain said applicants soon will be able to electronically file for permits.

The Connecticut school shooting, in which 20 students and six adults were killed by a single gunman, also spawned a new law under which school principals must establish crisis management and response plans in consultation with law enforcement and emergency preparedness officials. The plans must be practiced within the first 30 days of a school year and looked at each year for potential upgrading.

It’s already illegal for drivers to use cellphones and other devices to text message. The new law makes it illegal to tweet, post an Instagram or use other social networking sites.

State Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, promoted the change as eliminating a loophole in the law while more importantly improving public safety.

Offenders are subject to a $175 fine for a first offense and up to $500 for second and subsequent offenses. If the individual is involved in an accident, the fine could be increased to double the standard.

Other new laws come in response to a sinkhole that emerged in early August 2012 after Texas Brine allegedly mined an underground cavern too close to a salt dome’s outer face. The action set off tremors, created a sinkhole and released gas and crude oil while forcing Bayou Corne area residents out of their homes.

Prospective homebuyers must be alerted to the presence of nearby caverns by the seller of the property. In addition, the owner or operator of a solution-mined cavern must file a notice of the cavern’s location in mortgage and conveyance records in the parish where it is located. The state conservation commissioner must verify that proper notice has been given.

State Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, said the changes will help residents in the future if salt dome caverns used for brine extraction or hydrocarbon storage fail.

The state commissioner of conservation also must now develop rules to prevent caverns from being mined near the edge of a salt dome. A notice of intent of proposed rulemaking will be published in September, state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Patrick Courreges said. The rules will go through an administrative approval process that includes a public hearing, he said. A final rule should be in place by year’s end, he said.

Another new law authorizes judicial districts to create special courts aimed at helping some nonviolent offenders with mental health problems. Instead of jail time, they could go into a treatment program. Upon successful completion of treatment, a conviction could be set aside and the prosecution dismissed. Failure would result in reimposition of the prison sentence.

State Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, said some nonviolent offenders could be sentenced to treatment in lieu of prison. She said it would reduce the repeat offenders who have run-ins with the law.

The 2013 Legislature also amended the “safe haven” law to allow a child not more than 60 days old to be given up at a designated emergency care facility. Prior to Thursday, a child had to be not more than 30 days old for a parent to give it up anonymously and without fear of prosecution.

Coercion of a female child to undergo an abortion becomes child abuse.

And prison time for certain offenses concerning prostitution will be served at hard labor when the offense involves people under age 18.