Welcome to 2012. As always, an abundance of new state laws take effect today, and many of them can't be ignored as easily as an ill-chosen New Year's resolution.
So if you want to stay out of trouble:
&#149 Don't drop your teenager off at a tanning salon. Tanning beds are now off limits for anyone under 18.
&#149 If your child is younger, you may need to dust off the booster seat. Under a bill sponsored by state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, children under 8 years old and less than 4 feet 9 inches tall are now required to use a child safety seat while riding in a vehicle. That's up from age 6 or 60 pounds.
&#149 You must now take any alcoholic beverages through a regular checkstand at the supermarket. Beer, wine and liquor can no longer be sold at self-service checkouts.
&#149 Leave your handgun at home. Open-carry advocates have been gathering in coffee shops and other public locations in recent years, but it's now a misdemeanor to carry an exposed, unloaded handgun in public.
In all, Gov. Jerry Brown signed 760 bills in 2011. He vetoed 128 and allowed one to become law without his signature. Some recent years have seen as many as 900 new state laws, most of them making technical changes affecting a relatively narrow group of people.
That's also true this year, though a few of the new laws will have wide impacts, such as an Evans-sponsored law requiring individual health policies to cover maternity care, and some already are generating controversy:
&#149 The California Dream Act allows undocumented immigrants attending public colleges and universities to qualify for privately funded financial aid. To be eligible, students must have attended high school in California for at least three years. They also must graduate here.
&#149 Residents in rural areas — including much of the North Coast region — are now subject to a $150-a-year fee to help offset the cost of wildfire prevention and suppression by the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
&#149 Under new auto impound rules, law enforcement agencies will give people stopped solely for driving without a license a chance to find a licensed driver to take the car. Brown vetoed a companion bill that would have established new restrictions for DUI checkpoints.
From our perspective, one of the most important new laws is an expansion of the California Public Records Act to cover foundations and auxiliary groups that raise and manage money for UC and CSU campuses.
These organizations manage millions of dollars intended for scholarships and other programs benefiting university students. Audits have shown that some of the money has found its way into loans to university officials and other insiders, including Sonoma County developer Clem Carinalli, a former Sonoma State Academic Foundation board member.
Finally, if you've got a stack of unpaid traffic tickets, there's a new law that could save you a bundle. For the next six months, unpaid fines due by Jan. 1, 2009, can be paid off at 50 cents on the dollar.
By the way, the Legislature returns Wednesday to start work on next year's new laws.