Hundreds of laws take effect Saturday; dozens of local initiatives included

Posted Sept. 11, 2009, at 7:33 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — If your weekend plans include a drink or a meal on the patio of your favorite Maine brewpub, you may want to leave the cigarettes in the car.

Beginning Saturday, lighting up at any “outdoor eating areas” at bars and restaurants in Maine is against the law.

But if you want to take home some of that pub’s tasty summer ale or Octoberfest brew, you’re in luck. As of Sept. 12, brewpubs can sell half-gallon jugs of beer — commonly known as “growlers” — from behind the bar.

Just don’t text message your friend about your purchase on the drive home. If you do, and a police officer notices you speeding or swerving, you could be one of the first Mainers slapped with a ticket and a fine under the state’s new “distracted driving” law.

Those are just three of the hundreds of new laws that take effect on Saturday, which is the 90th day after the Legislature adjourned.

Other laws taking effect will allow farmers to acquire licenses to grow industrial hemp (if the federal government ever allows it), enable mixed martial arts competitions (aka “ultimate fighting”) to be held in Maine and remove the bald eagle from the state’s list of threatened species.

The new laws include dozens of local initiatives, such as renaming state roads and bridges. Many merely tweak or clarify existing laws, while others are significant changes that could set a national precedent.

The distracted driving law is among the latter. While several states have banned use of handheld cell phones or texting while driving, Maine lawmakers opted to try to address driver distractions in general, which law enforcement officials claim are responsible for about one-third of the crashes in the state.

The law allows police to ticket drivers for failure to maintain proper control of their vehicle. Potential distractions could include talking on the phone, watching a DVD, applying makeup, eating breakfast — any activity that impairs or could impair the ability to drive safely.

“Our focus here was, instead of going after the device, let’s focus on the real issue — and the issue is distraction,” said Lt. Chris Grotton, director of the Maine State Police Traffic Unit. “I think it will mitigate accidents. It’s a step, but a big step.”

Effective Saturday, Maine also has a new crime of “motor vehicle violation resulting in death,” a civil violation that could result in a $5,000 fine and loss of license for up to four years. Motorcyclists under age 18 will be required to wear helmets under another new statute.

Maine is also pushing the bar with its anti-smoking and environmental statutes.

A new law extends Maine’s current ban on smoking inside any public, enclosed places — including bars and restaurants — also to apply to the outdoor eating and drinking patios or decks at establishments.

Edward Miller, vice president for health promotion and public policy of the American Lung Association of New England, said secondhand smoke is unhealthful whether you are exposed to it inside or outside. While some cities and towns prohibit smoking in outdoor eating areas, not many other states have taken that step yet, he said.

“We’re certainly at the forefront on this as we have been on all tobacco policy,” Miller said.

Other health-related laws taking effect Saturday include:

• Requiring employers to “make reasonable efforts” to provide women with a clean room, other than a bathroom, in which to breast-feed a child.

• Creation of a new registry for those who want to be notified prior to aerial application of pesticides.

• Requiring landlords to install carbon monoxide alarms in rental units.

In the area of environmental law, new statutes will require manufacturers to set up a free recycling program for mercury-containing compact fluorescent lamps and prohibit towns or homeowner associations from banning clotheslines.

Veterans from any state in the nation could receive free tuition at Maine’s public colleges and universities under another law. The measure requires the University of Maine System campuses and community colleges to waive the remaining tuition charges after accounting for federal money paid through the special post-9-11 GI Bill.

Fans of microbrews and wines may have reason to cheer beginning Saturday.

A new law will allow federally permitted wineries to ship cases of wine directly to consumers’ homes in Maine. The wine industry, both in Maine and nationally, has lobbied for the change for years.

Beer drinkers, meanwhile, will now be able to purchase 64-ounce “growlers” of their favorite microbrews at many brewpubs. Under previous law, brewpubs and breweries that have bars or dining areas had to have a separate entrance or retail store.

Fred Forsley, founder and co-owner of The Shipyard Brewing Co. in Portland, and others plan to celebrate the new law at a pouring ceremony at Federal Jack’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in Kennebunkport Saturday morning. The Sea Dog restaurant in Bangor should begin selling growlers in about two weeks, once the bottles are done.

Forsley, who is also president of the Maine Brewers Guild, said brewpubs actually help increase tourism because beer lovers will seek out new and different microbrews to visit. This law helps spread the word about Maine’s thriving microbrew industry.

“It really is about marketing and promoting Maine at the end of the day,” Forsley said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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