UPDATE: Missouri bans artificial marijuana, changes DWI laws

Friday, August 27, 2010 | 4:55 p.m. CDT; updated 5:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 30, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri laws that took effect Saturday ban artificial marijuana, overhaul drunken-driving penalties and require abortion clinics to offer women ultrasound images and heartbeats of their fetuses.

Other new laws include insurance policy changes, tighter political ethics rules and new bullying rules at schools.

Missouri's ban on artificial marijuana criminalizes synthetic compounds that are sprayed on dried herbs and flowers and often sold as incense. Known as K2, it produces a marijuana-like high when smoked or inhaled. Several states, including Kansas, have banned it, and several Missouri towns and counties have enacted their own measures.

Penalties for those caught with artificial pot will mirror those for people found with the real thing: a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for 35 grams or less and a felony with up to seven years in prison for larger amounts.

Another law taking effect changes how Missouri handles drunken driving cases and promotes alcohol treatment programs for repeat drunken drivers and those whose blood-alcohol content is about double the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Under the law, people with at least two drunken driving convictions will be handled in state trial courts instead of local municipal courts. Trial courts will be allowed to set up special drunken driving courts that combine supervision, drug testing, alcohol monitoring and treatment. Offenders would pay for the program.

In areas where the drunken driving courts are implemented, offenders who do not complete it will have to spend at least 48 hours in jail if their blood-alcohol level is at least 0.15 percent, and five days in jail if it is at least 0.20 percent.

Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday promoted an insurance law that state officials hope will help seniors and people who buy Medicare supplement and long-term disability insurance.

Starting next year, Missourians will be entitled to a partial refund if they cancel their policies early. Although the change does not take effect until 2011, officials say they will begin to review changes in insurance policies once the law takes effect this weekend.

A few new regulations will affect schools. Administrators now must report school acts of violence to all teachers at the school. Before, teachers were only required to be informed on a need-to-know basis.

The definition of bullying in schools now also includes cyberbullying and electronic communications.

Another new law hits elected officials. New political ethics rules require lawmakers and legislative candidates to report, within 48 hours, campaign donations of more than $500 received during the legislative session. A similar reporting requirement applies to statewide officials and candidates during the legislative session and when the governor is considering whether to veto bills. And the bipartisan six-member Missouri Ethics Commission will be allowed to launch its own investigations into possible violations after an unanimous vote instead of waiting for a complaint.

However, some critics contend the changes are not strong enough. That includes Nixon, who believes the ethics law should have capped campaign donations and restricted elected officials who hire other elected officials as political consultants.

"There is much work left to be done, so that the people's business is done in a transparent and open way," Nixon said.

Republican leaders argue donation limits inhibit transparency by creating an incentive to hide where money originates to exceed the caps. They have said the changes are strong and will improve the political atmosphere.

In another effort to promote transparency, local governments are now required to give at least four days' notice before a vote on tax increases or eminent domain. Advance notice is also now required before holding a vote to create a transportation development district, a community improvement district or a redevelopment plan that pledges public funds as financing.

A new law also establishes a procedure to classify manufactured homes, commonly called mobile homes or trailer homes, as property. This would allow the home to be registered as a real estate, instead of as a vehicle.

Missouri also has a new abortion law to expand informed consent rules that already require women to be told of the risks at least 24 hours beforehand. The new law  requires personal consultation and demands that women receive a description of the "anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child."

It also requires that women be given a state-produced brochure proclaiming: "The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being."

A separate new law specifies that a pregnant woman may use deadly force to defend her unborn child against death or serious physical injury.

The dozens of other new laws taking effect include measures providing each member of the General Assembly with a key to the State Capitol dome, establishing a committee to make recommendations about urban farming, and requiring the governor to issue an annual proclamation that March 12 is "Girl Scout Day."

Missourian reporter Eva Dou contributed to this report.

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