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Measures cover prostitution, auto licensing and hemp

HELENA - The cost of licensing autos is going up, pimps face tougher punishment for peddling prostitutes and farmers could add hemp to their harvest as a result of new bills signed into law by Gov. Judy Martz.

Vehicle licenses will be more expensive because of a 50-cent increase in the fee used to pay for a state program that disposes of junk vehicles. The bill, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2002, applies to every new, renewed and transferred auto title registration.

The bill also doubles the $50 annual licensing fee for auto wrecking yards, with the additional money also being used to dispose of junked and abandoned vehicles.

Nearly 854,000 cars and light trucks, 214,000 title transactions and 188 wrecking yards will be subjected to the increase, which is expected to raise about $543,500 a year. Some of the money must be used to pay private tow truck operators for removing vehicles abandoned along roadways.

Supporters of the bill said the increase is needed to keep the junk vehicle program in the black. The price for scrap steel has declined so much that revenue from the junked vehicles has dropped 63 percent in the past two years.

The prostitution bill targets those who encourage women to become prostitutes, find customers for prostitutes and live even partly off the earnings of a prostitute.

The measure, which takes effect Oct. 1, changes the crime of promotion of prostitution from a misdemeanor to a felony, toughening the maximum penalty from $500 and six months in jail to $50,000 and 20 years in prison.

The bill also increases the punishment from 20 years to 100 years in prison for aggravated promotion of prostitution, such as involving a child in the business. It also allows a life sentence for a person who commits the crime against a child under 16.

Advocates of the harsher penalties said they are necessary to discourage those who would try to entice Montana girls into lives of slavery as part of interstate prostitution rings.

Montana farmers could have a new alternative crop for their fields, under a new law legalizing the growing of industrial hemp.

But the legislation has a catch: It doesn't take effect unless the federal government changes the law prohibiting hemp production or gives Montana an exemption from the ban.

Industrial hemp, the non-hallucinogenic cousin of marijuana, can be used to make clothing, food and even a type of plastic.

The bill would require all prospective hemp farmers to apply for a license, submit to federal and state background checks and certify that their seeds are low in the chemical in marijuana that produces a high.

While supporters praised the bill as providing a valuable option for farmers struggling to make ends meet, critics said marijuana growers will use fields of hemp to hide their illicit plants.

Another freshly signed measure repeals a 1999 law requiring Social Security numbers be obtained from anyone wanting a hunting or fishing license, but only if the federal government exempts the state from imposing such a mandate.

The law was passed under threat that the state would lose more than $100 million in federal funds that run the state program for collecting delinquent child support payments. Getting Social Security numbers from hunters and anglers is seen as a means of tracking down those owing money to their former spouses.

Other bills signed by Martz:

Provide a short-term source of money to schools by allowing the school trust to borrow up to $75 million from the state's coal trust to buy mineral rights on state lands and give net royalties to schools.

Mandate six months of treatment for those convicted a fourth or subsequent time of drunken driving.

Allow nursing homes to donate prescription drugs from current or former residents to poor and uninsured people.

Require the state Transportation Department to begin planning for expanding U.S. 2 across northern Montana into a four-lane highway.

Immediately ban smoking in all state-owned buildings, and mandate all buildings leased and occupied only by state government be smoke-free by July 1.

Toughen punishment for people feeding wild game animals, wasting game or allowing dogs to chase game animals.

Prohibit some sex offenders from living near schools, preschools, day-care centers and public parks.

Reduce from 15 percent to 5 percent the tax on coal sold to certain power plants built during the six years beginning Jan. 1, 2002.

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