Published: Jul 01, 2010 11:46 AM EDT
Updated: Jul 01, 2010 8:46 AM EDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A python prohibition, bong ban, horse

thievery crackdown and no-limit poker games are included in some of

about 140 new laws going on the books Thursday in Florida along

with the state's new $70.4 billion budget.

A couple major education laws also will go into effect. One will

add more math and science requirements for high school graduation.

Another will expand a voucher program that lets low-income students

go to private schools at public expense.

It will become illegal for individuals to own Burmese pythons

and six other large, exotic reptile species. Many of the creatures

have escaped or been set loose by pet owners and that's upsetting

Florida's ecology as they prey almost unchecked on native birds and

animals.

"We don't need any more snakes, especially ones that can grow

over 20 feet long, weigh hundreds of pounds and eat almost anything

they encounter," said the law's sponsor, Sen. Eleanor Sobel,

D-Hollywood.

In rare instances, the victims include people. A pet Burmese

python last year squeezed a 2-year-old girl to death at her home in

Oxford, Fla.

Owners who obtained their slithery pets before Thursday, though,

can keep them. The new law also enhances the state's ability to

prevent Internet sales of banned wildlife and increases penalties

for violations.

The ban applies as well to reticulated, northern African,

southern African and Amethystine pythons, green anacondas and Nile

monitor lizards, but the main focus is on Burmese pythons.

Estimates of their presence in the wild have ranged as high as

100,000, but the state's first python hunting season ended in April

without a single snake reported caught. Conservation officials said

unseasonably cold weather, instead, may have killed up to half the

pythons.

Another new law was passed in response to an uptick in horse

thievery supplying a South Florida black market with the tender,

low-fat meat that sells for up to $40 a pound.

Existing law bars the sale of horse meat for human consumption

unless clearly stamped, marked and described as being for that

purpose. The new statute adds prohibitions against transporting,

distributing and purchasing meat without such markings. It also

includes a minimum mandatory penalty of a year in jail and $3,500

fine and increases the maximum to five years in prison and a $5,000

fine.

"In the Old West, they used to hang horse thieves," said state

Rep. Luis Garcia, a Miami Democrat who sponsored the law. "We no

longer practice vigilante justice, nor am I advocating as such, but

I will not sit back any longer and let this horrendous crime of

illegal horse slaughter continue."

Selling various pipes, some also known as bongs, that can be

used to smoke illegal as well as legal substances will be banned in

Florida except at stores that mostly sell tobacco. Even before

going into effect, though, the "bong bill" drew a legal challenge

from 26 specialty stores, often called "head shops," from across

the state.

Their June 18 suit filed in Tampa claims the law

unconstitutionally singles them out and cannot be validly enforced

because it lacks provisions for determining how much tobacco a

store sells in a year. Businesses are exempt if they get at least

75 percent of their gross sales from tobacco items and no more than

25 percent from the otherwise banned items. Violators could face up

to a year in jail.

Lifting a maximum $100 buy-in for cash games at state-sanctioned

poker rooms is expected to attract professional gamblers and

televised tournaments to Florida. High-stakes games will become

legal at 23 poker rooms run by horse and dog tracks and jai alai

frontons. The new law also will let the Seminole Tribe lift limits

at its seven casinos.

The new budget increases spending for the first time in four

economically challenging years but still includes cuts in many

areas and is propped up with $2.3 billion in federal stimulus

money.

Some of the graduation requirements that become law Thursday

won't go into effect for years. Requirements for geometry, algebra

II, biology, chemistry and physics are being phased from this fall

through 2014 for entering freshmen.

The law also will eliminate the much-maligned Florida

Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, for high school math and

science and replace it with end-of-course exams.

Also going into effect is a law requiring middle school students

to take civics. Another will bar schools from infringing on the

religious freedom of students, staff and teachers, but some critics

say it's not needed because that's already the law.

New criminal laws will require background checks of youth sports

coaches, mandate tracking of over-the-counter sales of ephedrine,

which can be used to make methamphetamine, and lift statutes of

limitation in criminal and civil sex abuse cases involving minors.

Other new laws will set safety standards for tomatoes in the

wake of a false salmonella scare and make it harder to win

slip-and-fall lawsuits against businesses.