The A to Z of California's New Laws

Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 12:54 PM PDT
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The A to Z of California's New Laws

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Driving and talking on your cell phone will get a little harder come Friday.

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Some 3 million public and private school students in California will have to prove they've had a booster vaccination against whooping cough to attend grades 7 through 12 this fall, under one of the most sweeping state laws taking effect Friday.

The change comes after a 2010 spike in whooping cough cases in California that killed 10 infants. In all, 9,120 infections were reported, the most in the state in 63 years and almost half of all the cases in the U.S. for the year.

The number of cases so far this year is ahead of last year's pace, but health officials hope the law will help curb the disease's spread.

Come Friday, life will also change for the lucky hybrid-owners who have been driving in carpool lanes with special yellow stickers.

Starting July 1, carpool lanes will be for carpools and electric and CNG vehicles only. Also starting Friday, drivers of mulple-axle vehicles, including RVs and big-rigs will have to pay more to cross some Bay Area bridges.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the vaccination bill in September 2010. Less than a month later, schools and doctors started trying to get out the word to parents and students and held vaccination clinics to administer the booster shot.

Children already had to get a series of shots against whooping cough to enter school, but they typically receive the last one by about age 6 and immunity fades after a few years. Most other states already require the additional shot against the disease, also known as pertussis.

California's law requires that all students entering grades 7 through 12 in fall 2011 provide proof they have received the booster shot. In future years only those entering 7th grade must do so.

Students may request an exemption for medical reasons or personal beliefs, but unvaccinated students can be excluded from school if there is an outbreak.

Health officials estimate that 2 million or more of the students covered by the law may already have had the shots, but many of them may lack the necessary paperwork to prove it.

Through June 10, state health officials had recorded 1,428 cases of whooping cough this year, ahead of the 2010 pace. Infection counts typically accelerate during the summer.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease that starts with cold-like symptoms and can progress to severe coughing fits that leave victims gasping to catch their breath. The symptoms may last for weeks, which accounts for one of the old names for pertussis: "The hundred-day cough."

Infants are particularly susceptible. Nine of the 10 California deaths from the disease were babies less than 2 months old who had not yet received their first dose of vaccine, and the other victim had received the first dose 15 days before developing symptoms.

While adolescents may not face the same risks from the disease, they can spread it to young children if they get infected.

"It's usually someone in the family, a mother, a father, a sibling," who passes on the germ, said Dr. John Talarico of the California Department of Public Health.

Facing the prospect of a paperwork nightmare at the start of the school year, some districts and health systems started trying to contact parents as early as October 2010 to make sure students had both the right vaccinations and the records to prove it, said Dayle Edgerton, a nurse with the Roseville Joint Union High School District in suburban Sacramento.

"One nurse dressed up like a syringe and walked around," she said. "I'm not doing that, but I've done just about everything else."

Most schools in the district have about 75 percent of the record-keeping handled for the fall, she said, but that still leaves hundreds of students with either no shot or no proof. Some may simply need to go back to their doctor and get a form with the proper box checked to indicate they received a pertussis booster.

While some schools hope to set up vaccination clinics just before classes begin or on the first day of school, Edgerton urged parents and students to act early.

"Not everyone can run in to the doctor in the three weeks before school starts," she said.

The vaccination law is one of several taking effect July 1. Here are some others:

- Most California drivers have been prohibited since July 1, 2008, from using mobile phones while driving unless they use a headset or other hands-free device under SB1613 of 2006 by Sen. Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat. But the law included an exception for phones that had a "push-to-talk" feature if the drivers were operating a commercial truck, certain farm equipment, a tow truck or similar vehicles. Effective July 1, that exception expires and push-to-talk phones will be subject to the same rules as others.

- Under SB183 of 2010 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat, all single-family homes, apartments, condominiums, hotel rooms and other dwelling units must be equipped with a carbon monoxide detector if they have a heater or appliance that burns fossil fuel, a fireplace or an attached garage.

- For 18 months starting July 1, carpet manufacturers must add 5 cents per square yard to the purchase price of all carpet sold in California, with the cash going toward carpet-recycling efforts or other steps to keep it out of landfills. The fee set out in AB2398 of 2010 by Assembly Speaker John Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, would raise an estimated $5 million a year to be spent by an industry-backed nonprofit. Some critics noted that a major carpet recycling company is located in Perez's district. Supporters said carpets account for more than 3 percent of the solid waste going into landfills.

- SB949 of 2010, by the late Sen. Jenny Oropeza, a Democrat from Long Beach, prohibits cities and counties from substituting local ordinances from those in the state's vehicle code. The bill arose after some cities passed ordinances covering violations that were identical to those in state law, such as obeying posted traffic signs. By writing tickets to drivers for the local traffic law instead of the state law, the local governments could boost revenue from fines.

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