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New Missouri laws to take effect Jan. 1

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 | 4:04 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — A handful of state laws take effect Jan. 1, some more sweeping than others.

Under the new legislation, a license will be required to sell an extended service contract for automobiles.

Also, anyone who possesses, breeds or transports exotic cats or bears will need a permit.

Legislation about online communication between teachers and students using social media was originally intended to require compliance by Jan. 1, but the deadline has been extended to March 1.

TEACHER-STUDENT ONLINE FRIENDSHIPS

The issue of teachers and students as friends on Facebook and other social media was a hot-button topic in the state legislature during the last session.

The original law banned private interactions between teachers and students on social media and required school districts to come up with written policies by Jan. 1.

However, a controversy over free speech led to an injunction in August. During the special session, lawmakers repealed the most contentious part of the bill on Sept. 23. 

The legislature also required public school districts to adopt policies by March 1 on online communications between teachers and students. Gov. Jay Nixon signed the revised legislation on Oct. 21.

Todd Fuller said the deadline was postponed to "give school districts more time to work on policies." Fuller is the director of communications of the Missouri State Teachers Association.

Last week, MSTA drafted a model policy for the state's 522 school districts to consider.

The policy looks broadly at electronic communications as an effective tool for learning. It addresses both work and nonwork related communication, requiring parental permission and training for students who use technology in public schools.

It also stipulates that school districts should not implement any policies about nonwork related use of communication technology, declaring that free speech rights outweigh "the interests of the school district in the nonwork-related activities of its employees."

“Our model policy is flexible and broad enough to protect rights of teachers as well as student safety,” Fuller said. “I don’t think the policy should be specific about certain social networking websites. Who’s to say that Facebook will not change within two years?”

The MSTA policy emphasized acceptable use of electronic communications instead of restrictions, Fuller said.

“Generally, teachers want a policy in place that is reasonable, flexible and fair to them,” Fuller said. “We should strike a balance between protecting kids, ensuring rights of teachers and being flexible in technology.”

MSTA suggested that school boards appoint a committee to keep track of technology changes and address related issues. The committee would meet at least twice a year and give recommendations to the board.

Since its release, several school districts have shown interest in it, Fuller said.

LARGE CARNIVORE ACT

This new law imposes restrictions on exotic animal ownership. After Jan. 1, it is illegal to own, breed, possess, transfer ownership or transport “large carnivores” without a permit for each animal. Large carnivores include non-native large cats and bears held in captivity.

Current owners must apply for a permit for each exotic animal from the Department of Agriculture before Jan 1. The fee for the permit shall not exceed $2, 500, and the department may charge up to $500 for annual renewal of the permit.

To acquire a permit, an owner is required to show proof of at least $250,000 in liability insurance.

Each permit must include information about the location, identification and veterinary care of the animal.

Owners will be responsible for any property damage, human injury or death and other losses caused by these animals. The owners are also responsible for all expenses of recapturing the animal.

A person may kill a large carnivore without civil liability if he believes it is attacking or killing another person, livestock or a pet if the attack takes place outside the animal's enclosure.

Before this new bill, Missouri was among a few states with no regulations for exotic animal ownership.

EXTENDED AUTO SERVICE CONTRACTS

This bill requires anyone who sells an extended service contract for a car to be licensed. It applies to both businesses and individuals.

“The new law is designed to protect customers,” said Chris Thetford, vice president of communications for the Better Business Bureau. “The industry will be able to give consumers more information when they decide whether or not to buy an extended service contract.”

The Better Business Bureau publishes a consumer guide about extended auto service contracts in Missouri, particularly St. Louis, a hub for these sales.

The guide cautions consumers to be aware of the difference between an “extended service contract” and “extended auto warranties.” A warranty is a promise included in the purchase price of an automobile, while a service contract must be paid separately.

The new law also makes it illegal for a seller to fail to deliver a fully executed motor vehicle extended service contract to the consumer within 45 days from the date of the consumer’s initial payment.

It also requires these contracts to contain a “free look” period for consumers to review within at least 20 days of the mailing or purchase date of an extended service contract. A 10 percent penalty of the amount outstanding per month shall be added to the refund that is not paid within 45 days, which is an extension of the current 30 days.


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