RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- People who own crocodiles, venomous snakes and large pythons in North Carolina must secure them in containers and face prosecution if the reptiles gravely attack a friend or stranger in legislation that takes effect Tuesday in North Carolina.
The new reptiile rules are among more than 50 largely criminal justice laws approved this year, including a texting-while-driving ban for all motorists, more authority for state officers who oversee probationers and the most significant changes to the state's sentencing grid since it began.
The minimum safety requirements for keeping dangerous reptiles are designed to update an abridged 60-year-old reptile law, said Andrew Wyatt of Coinjock, president of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers. Increasing numbers of people now own these reptiles as a pet or for business who aren't linked to zoos or museums.
"People that want to work with these type of animals are going to have to meet best industry management practices," said Wyatt, who helped draft the state legislation sponsored by Sen. Ed Jones, D-Halifax. "They're going to have to step up to the plate to make sure that all the proper protocols are adhered to."
Private owners now will have to store or transport venomous reptiles, large constricting snakes and nonnative crocodilians in "escape-proof" and "bite-proof" enclosures with a working lock. The enclosures must be labeled to include emergency contact information and what should happen if the reptile bites someone or escapes.
Someone who intentionally or negligently handles these reptiles in an unsafe manner could be charged with a misdemeanor. The owner could face up to 150 days in jail if someone besides a family member or employee suffers a life-threatening injury or dies as a result. A current owner who doesn't want to follow the new rules also could face a similar punishment if the person releases a nonnative reptile into the wild, instead of finding a new owner.
An 8-foot pet python strangled a Florida toddler in July. The python's owner was the boyfriend of the child's mother, though Wyatt said he's not aware of any such accident occurring in North Carolina.
The new driving-while-texting ban builds upon a 2006 law already making it illegal for young drivers to use a cell phone while driving as a way to reduce distractions on the road. Now all drivers are barred from text messaging or sending e-mails with their cell phones while on a road or highway, even if the car is idling at a stop light. There are some exceptions.
Violators could face a $100 fine plus $130 in court costs. Adults can continue to send or receive cell phone calls.
At least 18 other states have texting bans for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The state Highway Patrol says too many young people are still ignoring the 2006 law. The patrol is holding safety events at high schools where teenagers travel in golf carts and try to avoid traffic cones while being told to send a text message.
"It's going to take more than just a state trooper 30 minutes or an hour working with them," patrol Capt. Everett Clendenin said. "It's going to fall back on parents and it's going to fall back on educators."
Reforms taking effect to better monitor the state's 114,000 probationers or parolees are based on recommendations after problems surfaced following last year's death of University of North Carolina student president Eve Carson. The two men charged with Carson's killing were on probation at the time of her death.
Now probation officers can have access to an offender's juvenile records without a court order to get a better handle on the person's criminal history. Warrantless searches also can now be a common condition of probation.
Two new laws that adjust the grid used by judges since 1995 to determine a range of minimum and maximum time that offenders must serve also could reduce the need for 2,100 prison beds by 2020.
The grid changes will make some sentences shorter -- up to 28 months less in the most extreme cases -- and slightly longer for low-grade felonies. More second-time offenders for less serious felonies also are more likely to receive probation.
Other laws taking effect Tuesday will:
-- fine motorists as much as $100 if they drive a car with a license plate frame that covers the state name or plate date. Drivers who are cited will receive only a warning through next November.
-- ban the sale, possession and manufacture of Salvia divinorum, a hallucinogenic herb that's become popular among young people.
-- permit people who lose their licenses because of repeat drunken-driving convictions to ask that their driving privileges be restored after a spotless record for 10 years.
-- expand the law making it a felony to solicit a child by computer to commit unlawful sex acts to include cell phones.