January 1, 2012

Quieter commercials, fireworks on the way in 2012

New laws, regulations take effect

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

Airline pilots will get more rest. Television commercials won't be so loud.

Smoking will be banned in all of public housing in the state and fireworks will be legal in Maine, unless individual communities decide they are not.

Those are some of the federal and state regulations that take effect during 2012.

A gridlocked Congress didn't pass many significant laws in 2011, but the federal government did find ways to affect Americans' lives through agency rule-making.

Rest for pilots

The Federal Aviation Administration will require a longer minimum rest period for airline pilots.

The rule, to be phased in over two years, requires commercial airline pilots to have at least 10 hours of rest before each flight, two hours more than the current requirement. Proponents say eight hours didn't allow for enough sleep given travel time to and from an airport.

The new rule was in part the result of the 2009 crash of a commuter plane outside Buffalo, N.Y. While pilot fatigue wasn't the official cause, investigators said the crew was tired.

Turn down the volume

The new federal rule requiring that television commercials be no louder than the shows they air with isn't of lifesaving importance.

After years of complaints, however, Congress in 2010 passed legislation requiring quieter ads and the Federal Communications Commission approved the rule on Dec. 13. There's no guarantee the ads will quiet down for most of the year, though, because TV stations have until Dec. 13, 2012 to comply.

Executive compensation

Many of the six- and seven-figure salaries paid to chief executive officers of major corporations are already public knowledge. A new rule the Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to put into effect in 2012 would put those salaries into a more populist context by comparing them to the median income of other company employees.

The rule emerged from the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul law, says Congress Watch, a division of the advocacy group Public Citizen.

Other federal changes

Some other new federal regulations expected this year:

• Summaries of what health insurance plans cover, to make it easier to compare plans and determine out-of-pocket costs. The rule stems from the health care reform law, according to the advocacy group Families USA.

• A federal requirement that light bulbs be more energy-efficient kicks in today. A 2012 congressional spending bill prohibits the Department of Energy from enforcing the rule at least until Sept. 30, but many light bulb makers have indicated they are ready to comply with the new standard.

•  Children under age 16 would be prohibited from doing hazardous jobs on farms, such as driving tractors, under a Department of Labor rule expected to take effect during 2012, according to Congress Watch. A farmer's own children would be exempt.

NEW LAWS IN MAINE

While most Maine laws take effect in September, some will begin earlier.

Fireworks become legal

The sale, use and possession of fireworks becomes legal today, but local ordinances ban them in many communities.

After years of deliberating fireworks legalization, the Legislature passed a law in 2011 allowing consumer fireworks to be sold and used in Maine. The law also allows individual communities to ban them, which already has happened in Augusta, Bangor, Portland and Winthrop, and is being considered in other cities and towns.

So far, the state hasn't received any applications for permits to sell fireworks, but a recent story in the Morning Sentinel indicated that several stores might open this year.

Motorcycle stickers

A new law that takes effect March 1 will require all motorcycles to display an inspection sticker on license plates.

The annual inspections themselves haven't changed, although legislation passed in previous years tightened up noise regulations. The sticker law will be phased in over one year.

(Continued on page 2)

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