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Driving under the influence has a new meaning

Now that the New Year has begun, several new laws or changes to existing motor safety laws have come into effect; the biggest concerning recreational cannabis use while driving.

Cannabis use in vehicles (Senate Bill 65): This law prohibits smoking or ingesting marijuana or marijuana products while driving or riding as a passenger in a vehicle. The law is consistent with the law prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

Officer John Tyler with the Hanford area CHP said many people assume that DUIs are only issued for people driving under the influence of alcohol, but in fact, they pertain to any substance that alters mood or feelings.

The DMV released a statement that said it will assign negligent operator point counts on driving records for this violation.

Administration of cannabis laws in California (SB 94): Among the many provisions that this bill establishes is an appropriation of $3 million for the CHP to train state and local law enforcement officers in drug recognition and impairment.

An Impaired Driving Task Force, led by the CHP Commissioner, was created to develop recommendations regarding the best practices, protocols, legislation and policies to address driving under the influence of cannabis and controlled substances.

Tyler said all officers are trained to detect impairment of any kind in drivers, including from alcohol, cannabis, controlled substances and prescription pills.

Unlike alcohol, for which there is a measurable level above which a person is considered to be under the influence, there is no defined legal measurement for cannabis. Because there is no measurable limit, Tyler said it will be up to the officers’ discretion to determine if a person is driving under the influence of cannabis.

“You don’t want to put yourself in that position,” Tyler said.

Law enforcement anticipates an increase in DUIs resulting from the legalization of recreational cannabis, and although Tyler said he hopes people will make the right choices, he knows some people won’t.

Tyler said he encourages anyone who is partaking in recreational cannabis to be responsible by having a plan for a sober driver, or using taxis or ridesharing services like Uber or Lyft.

SB 94 also prohibits the possession of an open container of cannabis or cannabis product when operating a motor vehicle.

Just like with alcohol, Tyler said cannabis is to be in a sealed container or in the trunk of a car if it is being transported from one place to another.

Other new motorist laws not pertaining to cannabis include:

Pedestrian crossing signals (Assembly Bill 390): This bill permits a pedestrian to begin crossing an intersection while facing a traffic signal displaying a flashing “DON’T WALK” or “Upraised Hand” symbol if the traffic signal includes a countdown timer and the pedestrian can complete the crossing before the traffic signal phases to a steady “DON’T WALK” or “Upraised Hand.”

The intent of this law is to provide clear standards for pedestrian behavior at intersections controlled by traffic control signals and countdown timers. Tyler said some pedestrians would get confused and think that they can’t cross when the sign is flashing.

Tyler said to think of the flashing sign as sort of a yellow light, meaning you have time to cross, but be very cautious. He also advised that pedestrians stay off their phones when crossing in order to always be aware of their surroundings.

Parking violations for registration or driver license renewal (AB 503): This law makes changes to a previous requirement where vehicle registration renewal and driver license issuance or renewal was not granted for having unpaid parking tickets.

The law creates a process for low-income residents with outstanding parking violations to repay their fines prior to the parking violation being reported to the DMV and also allows someone with outstanding parking penalties and fees to obtain or renew a driver license.

In addition, the law allows the registered owner of a vehicle to file for “planned non-operation” status when unpaid parking penalties are on the vehicle’s record

Motorcycle training courses (AB 1027): This law authorizes the DMV to accept a certificate of satisfactory completion of any motorcyclist-training program approved by the CHP in lieu of the previously required motorcycle skills test.

However, applicants for an original motorcycle license or motorcycle endorsement who are under the age of 21 will still be required to complete a novice motorcyclist-training program.

Road maintenance and rehabilitation program (SB 1): The DMV is now required to begin collecting a Transportation Improvement Fee (TIF) ranging from $25 - $175 at the time of vehicle registration or renewal. The TIF is based on the vehicle’s current market value.

Kings SPCA reopens this weekend

In good news for abandoned animals looking for forever homes and the families looking for a cute new addition, Kings Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is reopening this weekend.

The nonprofit is celebrating with a grand reopening, where dogs and cats can meet potential new families and best friends over refreshments. 

“When we closed to the public, we weren’t sure if we would be able to reopen so we're all excited,” said operations manager Timothy Higgins. 

After over a half-century of existence, the organization closed to the public in May 2017 after it had been revealed that then-manager Darlene Laboc had been arrested on suspicion of embezzlement and grand theft. Having recently moved from its former East Lacey Boulevard site to a larger location on 16 ½ Avenue in Lemoore contributed, as well.

“We just needed to consolidate and get things back in order,” Higgins said.

The organization is now looking to the future, with big projects in mind. In addition to rescuing a number of animals from nearby kill shelters – Kings SPCA has a no-kill philosophy – the facility has been getting a facelift.

Around 20 trees have been removed from the property to make room for proposed new kennels.

LED lights have been installed and they’re hoping to install solar panels to take advantage of the wide open, sunbaked acreage, which would be much more efficient in the long run, but has a hefty initial price tag. Higgins estimates that light and power is the organization’s primary cost after paying the staff of three.

“If someone could donate solar panels, that would be wonderful,” Higgins says.

The organization receives no government funding and relies on donations, fundraisers and volunteers to stay open. The 10-acre property the organization calls home was donated in 2013.

To prepare the Kings SPCA for the reopening, a couple of big fundraisers were held last month, one at The Place on the Corner, which saw generous donations of dog and cat food, and another hosted by the Kings County Bombs Baseball Club.

The organization is now caring for around a dozen cats and over 20 dogs, including puppies and a weimaraner/Dane mix named Blue that arrived severely underweight and suffering from mange.

Another tenant of the facility is a beagle/dachshund mix named Sweater.

“She was wearing a red and white sweater when we found her and she doesn’t like to be without it,” Higgins said. “At first, she used to hide and sit all alone but now she can’t wait to be picked up and play.”

The organization will try to stay at around 20-25 dogs while it adjusts to the re-opening, though they used to stay closer to 40 before closing.

Donation fees are $25 per cat and between $100-200 per dog, depending on age. Those fees will be half off during the reopening ceremony, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Raffle tickets will be available to purchase for prizes from Chaffee Zoo, Table Mountain Casino, The Cheesecake Factory, Blackbeards and The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino.

Most importantly, people can meet the animals on-site and get to know their potential new furry family member.

The Kings SPCA Halfway Home is located at 9071 16 ½ Ave. in Lemoore. Call 925-1630 or visit for more information.

California: Hardly any snow but not in drought again, yet

PHILLIPS STATION (AP) — The grassy brown Sierra meadow where California's water managers gave the results of the winter's first manual snowpack measurements Wednesday told the story — the drought-prone state is off to another unusually dry start in its vital winter rain and snow season.

"We would like to have had more snow," Grant Davis, the head of California's Department of Water Resources, told news crews gathered in this mountain field, bare of all but a few crusty dots of old snow.

"It's early" in the snow season, said Frank Gehrke, head of the state's snow survey team. He stuck a metal pole into one of the few patches of snow at this site, measuring just over an inch, or 3 percent of normal. "We're obviously hopeful there will be more snow the next time we come out here."

Climate change increasingly is changing the mountain snowfall equation, but historically up to 60 percent of Californians' water supply each year starts out as snowfall in the Sierras. That makes the state's manual and electronic snowpack measurements in these mountains crucial gauges of how much water cities and farms will get in the year ahead.

This winter, one month into the state's peak storm season, snowpack across the Sierras stood Wednesday at 24 percent of normal.

The dry spell is even more acute in Southern California, including Los Angeles, which the National Weather Service said this week was marking its driest 10-month period on record. Residents there last saw significant rainfall in February.

The dry start to the rain and snow season is raising worries the state could be plunging right back into drought. The scene Wednesday was remiscent of 2015, when Gov. Jerry Brown stood in a brown, dry Sierra meadow equally bare of snow to declare a drought emergency, including mandatory water cutbacks by cities and towns.

Near-record rainfall last winter snapped the historic drought, filling reservoirs and sending many rivers over their banks. Reservoirs remain at 110 percent of normal storage thanks to the last wet winter, water officials said.

As Californians, "we live in the most variable climate in the country," Davis said Wednesday, surrounded by forecasters and water officials in parkas for their mountain-meadow news conference. "That variability is what we have to manage."

He called for more improvements in long-range forecasting, to help the state's reservoir managers better operate dams for both water supplies and flood control. As the climate changes, much of the state's water is coming in the form of rain during storms known as "atmospheric rivers," Davis noted.

"It's very clear to us that we need to have more information" about how atmospheric rivers behave overall, Davis said.

This winter, in contrast to the previous rain-sodden one, meteorologists point to a strengthening La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific, which typically brings drier weather.

A stubborn ridge of high pressure in the Pacific — the same bad guy during the state's drought — has been blocking storms from reaching Southern California in particular.

In December, dry winds and parched vegetation combined for the state's biggest wildfires on record in the Los Angeles area, after deadlier wildfires in Northern California in October.

Even as the water officials spoke Wednesday, a welcome new storm carried some of the first rain in weeks into Northern California, which also had marked one of its driest Decembers on record.

Parts of Northern California will see rain — but not massive amounts of it — through the first half of January, with 1 or 2 inches of snow expected in the Sierras, the weather service said.

John Wilson 

FILE - This file image released by Lucasfilm shows Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." On the last day of the calendar year, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has surpassed “Beauty and the Beast” as the top grossing film in North America in 2017. (John Wilson/Lucasfilm via AP, File)

15-year-old Lemoore girl killed in New Year’s Day crash

HANFORD — A 15-year-old Lemoore girl is dead after the car she was a passenger in overturned into a canal on New Year’s Day, California Highway Patrol officials said.

On Monday around 7:35 a.m., CHP officers were called to a report of a traffic collision on 13th Avenue, south of Kansas Avenue.

During the course of the investigation, officers said they determined 28-year-old Julio Trujillo was driving a 2003 Ford southbound on 13th Avenue south of Kansas Avenue with a 15-year-old female passenger.

For reasons unknown at this time, authorities said Trujillo drove the Ford onto the right dirt shoulder and it rotated in a counterclockwise direction, traveled off of the east road edge and overturned into a canal along the east side of 13th Avenue.

As a result of the crash, officers said Trujillo sustained major injuries and was transported to Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia.

The 15-year-old girl sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead on the scene. Neither occupant was wearing a seatbelt.

The cause of this crash is still under investigation, but CHP officials said it does appear drugs or alcohol were a factor.

Upon his release from the hospital, officers said Trujillo will be booked into Kings County Jail on suspicion of felony charges.

Any questions regarding this collision can be directed to CHP Hanford Public Information Officer John Tyler at 582-0231 or 916-754-7222.