Pubdate: Mon, 29 Dec 2003
Source: Times-Picayune, The (LA)
Copyright: 2003 The Times-Picayune
Author: Laura Maggi
Bookmark: ( Students - United States)


And Booster Seats Required Up To Age 6

BATON ROUGE -- Misbehaving students will pay a higher price for
bringing guns or drugs to school beginning Thursday, losing their
driver's licenses for a year if they are suspended or expelled for
certain offenses. Meanwhile, cheats who fail to pay state income tax
could lose not only their driving privileges, but also the right to
hunt and fish in Louisiana.

Under another of two dozen new laws that take effect on New Year's
Day, parents taking young children out for a drive will need to make
sure they are secured in a child restraint or booster seat, as the
state has increased the mandatory age for car seats to apply to
youngsters up to age 6.

Off the road, insurance companies will have an easier time increasing
rates for auto and property insurance, under a plan called Flex Band
that allows the industry to bypass the state's Insurance Rating
Commission. Companies will be allowed to increase their rates up to 10
percent without commission approval unless the insurance commissioner
rejects the proposals.

Almost all of the 1,300 bills that lawmakers passed during the general
session ending in June went into effect during the summer. But the
implementation of two dozen bills was delayed to Jan. 1, 2004, in some
cases to give agencies time to prepare for the new

Another handful of the new laws involve about $1.2 million worth of
increased fees that will have to be paid to the state Department of
Agriculture by regulated companies to help the agency pay for the cost
of inspecting fertilizer, pesticides, nursery stock and commercial
feed. Pay not, fish not

Two other new laws would spank tax scofflaws who fail to pay their
state income taxes, suspending all licenses that allow them to drive,
fish or hunt. Under Act 453, the state would suspend or deny the
renewal of a driver's license if the Department of Revenue has a
final, nonappealable judgment of $1,000 or more of individual income
taxes. Act 380 would take the same action with hunting or fishing
licenses if the judgment exceeds $500 in individual income taxes.

Under Act 732, the state Office of Motor Vehicles would revoke the
license of a student who is expelled or suspended for at least 10 days
for certain violations: selling or possessing drugs, having alcohol or
a gun on school property or at a school event or attacking a teacher
or staff member.

The bill was touted by Gov. Foster during the legislative session as a
crucial step in helping school officials keep order.

Notices have been sent to local school districts to inform
administrators of the new law, said Gary Reed, an education consultant
with the state superintendent's office. He said the new law will help
schools crack down on disciplinary problems. "It will certainly get
students' attention," he said.

Belt tightening

Of all the new laws, parents of young children will probably most feel
the impact of Act 1238, which requires that all children up to age 13
wear seat belts and also requires parents to use special safety
devices until their children are at least 6 years old. Older children
don't have to wear seat belts unless they are sitting in the front

A child who is younger than 1 or weighs less than 20 pounds must be
placed in a rear-facing safety seat in the vehicle's back seat. A
child aged 1 to 4, or weighing 20 to 40 pounds, must be in a
front-facing safety seat in the rear seat.

The new law also requires children who are 4 to 6 years old and weigh
less than 60 pounds to be put in a booster seat, which insures that a
seat-belt fits them properly, said Kerry Chausmer, director of
Louisiana Safe Kids. These seats typically cost about $20, she said.

While it is a good safety practice to use the booster seats, the
previous law mandated only that children up to age 3 be placed in some
kind of unspecified car seat, Chausmer said. She advises parents to
continue using the booster seat until the child weighs at least 80
pounds, although the law requires it only until a child reaches 60

In general, drivers can be stopped by a police officer if their
children are not buckled up, which can result in a ticket. But the
officer cannot ticket a parent who has failed to place a child in an
age-appropriate device unless the car is first stopped for another
violation, such as speeding.

Rate increases

Another new law gives insurance companies greater flexibility to
increase rates for property and casualty insurance.

Touted by Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley as a way to get more
insurance companies to offer coverage in Louisiana, Act 351 will allow
companies to increase rates up to 10 percent without asking the
Insurance Rating Commission for permission. Instead, those rate hikes
will be evaluated by the insurance department's actuaries to see
whether they are justified, and then will be submitted to the
commissioner for approval, said Amy Whittington, Wooley's

If the department denies a rate increase, it can be appealed to the
ratings commission, she said.

During the recent election, Wooley's opponent, former Legislative
Auditor Dan Kyle, criticized the new law, calling it the "Wooley Tax."
But Whittington said the concept is to take the politics out of
insurance rating decisions.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin