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Drug sentencing, revenge porn and higher pay among Minnesota's new laws

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Minimum wage rally
Demonstrators rally at the state Capitol, calling for lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, Feb. 25, 2014, in St. Paul. Minnesota's minimum hourly wage is increasing to $9.50, the final increase in a trio of hikes the Legislature passed that year.
Jim Mone | AP 2014

Over 50 state laws take effect Aug. 1, including major revisions to drug sentencing guidelines and new measures that protect luxury car dealers and prohibit the distribution of private sexual images. 

Here's a look at some of those new laws: 

Drug sentencing guidelines updated, first major revision in three decades

The new guidelines are designed to make drug dealers spend more time in prison, while addicts spend less. Instead, they'll go to treatment or probation. 

The changes apply to all state controlled-substance laws, except for those related to heroin. Partly motivated by the overflow in Minnesota's prisons, the new law is expected to free up over 700 beds and save almost $12 million annually. 

The law is not retroactive and only applies to crimes committed on or after Aug. 1.

Private sexual image distribution criminalized

This law criminalizes so-called revenge porn and makes it illegal to distribute private sexual images without consent from both parties. Prosecutors have discretion to charge violators with a gross misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances.

Backers say published sexual images can cause major losses for victims. And, often distributors release images knowing it will make the victim feel harassed, threatened or intimidated.

Under the new law, victims of revenge porn will be able to claim damages for any financial loss caused by the release of their images. Damages can include all financial losses due to distribution of the material, an amount equal to any profit made by the distributor, a civil penalty up to $10,000 and court and attorney fees.

'Cohabitation' now a factor in modifying alimony

Alimony, also called "spousal maintenance" in Minnesota, is financial support given to dependent spouses following a divorce. Under current law, a person paying alimony must continue the payments until his or her ex-partner dies or remarries. Because it benefits them financially, some divorcées will live with a significant other and postpone marriage.

The new law allows people who pay spousal maintenance to petition the court to modify their payments, if they discover their ex-spouses cohabiting with another person. When making a decision, the court will consider a variety of factors including the likelihood that the cohabitation will continue and the economic impact on the receiver if his or her financial support is modified and cohabitation ends.  

Heightened penalty for repeat DWIs involving homicides

In July 2012, 5-month-old Drake Bigler was killed by a drunken driver with two previous DWI convictions. The driver's blood-alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit when he collided with the Bigler family's car. The young boy's death motivated state lawmakers to pass legislation commonly referred to as "Drake's Law."

It increases the maximum penalty for any criminal vehicular homicide involving drunken driving. The law applies to people with first- or second-degree DWI convictions in the past 10 years which caused injury to a person. Now, drunken drivers can face up to 15 years in prison rather than the previous 10 years. 

Bodily fluid crime against peace officers clarified

This law clarifies that assault of a peace officer now includes transferring bodily fluids onto them — usually by spitting or throwing feces. 

Previous wordings in the statute required an officer to be physically assaulted in order for the transfer of bodily fluids to be considered a felony. The new law also applies penalties even when peace officers are not performing an arrest or other official duties.

Control of digital lives after death

The Facebook logo
A new law allows state residents to specify who gets control of their digital assets after death -- or ensure no one can touch them.
TED ALJIBE | AFP | Getty Images 2012

Call it the will of the 21st century: Bequeath the house, the car, the bank account and then the Twitter and Facebook accounts.  

The new law allows Minnesota residents to specify who gets control of their digital assets after death — or ensure no one can touch them.   

It was prompted by the death of 19-year-old Jacob Anderson in 2013. His parents, Kristi and Bill Anderson of Orono, were unable to access their son's iPhone that they hoped could answer some of the mysteries of why he was found dead along the Mississippi River. 

Vehicle dealers not punishable when customers export abroad

Luxury cars such as Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, BMW and Porsche are becoming popular around the world, but they can be two to four times more expensive to buy in countries other than the United States. As a result, some so-called "straw buyers" purchase vehicles in the U.S. and sell them overseas for profit. The action is technically legal, but auto manufacturers lose money.

A new law prohibits vehicle manufactures from taking adverse action against Minnesota car dealers if their customers participate in buying vehicles for export. It will be presumed that local dealers did not know their customer would resell the vehicle abroad at the time of the original sale, unless evidence shows otherwise.

Minimum wage rises

Minnesota's minimum hourly wage is increasing to $9.50, the final increase in a trio of hikes the Legislature passed in 2014. Starting in 2018, the wage will increase annually based upon inflation.   

Help with pharmaceuticals

Patients who face long drives to pick up medication are about to get some help. Starting in August, pharmacists can send patients home with a 90-day supply of medicine so long as they've already used up a month's worth of medication. The expansion doesn't apply to controlled substances, so patients on the state's medical marijuana program are out of luck.   

5-day wait for marriage license ends

Because "I declare you man and wife five days from now" just didn't have the same ring to it, the new law erases the waiting period after applying for a marriage license.   

That leaves Wisconsin as the sole remaining state with a lengthy wait. Minnesota joins most states in issuing marriages licenses immediately.