July Brings Bumper Crop of New Laws
By Pauline Vu, Staff Writer
As of July 1, Colorado gamblers who are deadbeat parents will see their winnings diverted to pay unpaid child support, drivers in California and Washington state can no longer use hand-held cell phones in transit and people who attend animal fights in Virginia risk felony charges.
This is a sampling of the hundreds of new laws that take effect July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year for 46 states. Among the more widespread issues targeted in these laws are the behavior of young drivers, illegal immigration, registration of sex offenders and the sale of alcohol.
Two states are introducing first-in-the-nation laws to crack down on deadbeat parents and delinquent taxpayers - if they also happen to be lucky gamblers. Several states already have laws to seize lottery winnings from parents delinquent on their child-support payments, but Colorado is the first to take earnings from slots (if winnings reach at least $1,200) and from racetracks (at least $600).
Iowa is going after those who win at least $10,000 from slots or racetracks to also recoup back taxes, court debts and other payments.
Other laws taking effect July 1 will bring more states in line with national trends. Iowa, for example, becomes the 28 th state to ban smoking in almost all indoor public places, including bars and restaurants.
Colorado will become the 35 th state to end its blue law regarding liquor sales and allow liquor stores to open on Sundays, ending a ban that dates back to Prohibition. Georgia will become the 37 th state to let residents buy wine online from wineries (although it is not one of the 13 states that allow residents to buy from Internet wine retailers). Georgia restaurant-goers can now take home opened bottles of wine.
A reaction in part to the conviction of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick on federal dogfighting charges, a new Virginia law imposes tougher criminal penalties for attending an organized animal fight. That makes the state one of 25 in which being a spectator at a dogfight is a felony, and one of 16 in which watching a cockfight is a felony. Virginia had become a haven for out-of-staters to attend cockfights, said John Goodwin, a spokesman for The Humane Society of the United States. He said the state will go from having the country's second-weakest cockfighting law to its fourth strongest.
California and Washington state will follow the lead of a handful of other states and prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones while on the road, but will allow headsets. California teens can't use their cell phones at all when driving. Anyone who violates the new laws risks a $76 fine for the first offense in California, and a $124 fine in Washington. Other states with similar laws are Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Utah as well as Washington, D.C.
Some of the most controversial new laws already are being challenged in court. A Florida law that allows weapons-permit holders to bring guns to work, if they leave the weapon in their cars, is being fought by Florida businesses, which say it violates private property rights and conflicts with federal workplace safety laws. A similar gun law in Georgia now allows gun-permit holders to bring the weapons into restaurants, state parks and public transit.
Indiana and Tennessee unveiled new laws requiring sex offenders to register e-mail addresses and online user names. Indiana's sex offenders are also being banned from social-networking sites like Facebook.
Sex offenders have challenged a Georgia law that bans them from working or volunteering at a church. The lawsuit, filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights on behalf of five offenders, claims the law violates offenders' religious rights.
Meanwhile, Virginia closed the "marriage offer" loophole that allowed men who sexually assaulted girls, ages 14 to 16, to escape criminal prosecution if they offered to marry their victims. The new law also makes it a crime for an adult to "French kiss" a child under 13. Such adults would have to register as a sex offender.
The focus on illegal immigration continues as Mississippi now requires businesses to check their workers' legal status by using E-Verify, a federal database that verifies for employers whether new hires are eligible to work in the United States. Georgia's public employers, contractors and subcontractors with at least 100 employees also have to use E-Verify under the state's new law.
Oklahoma's law requires companies that do business with the state to use E-Verify, or risk losing government contracts. Last month, however, a federal judge temporarily blocked the law in the wake of a lawsuit brought by Oklahoma businesses that claims the federal law pre-empts parts of the state law.
Illegal immigrants also face new driver's license checks. In Oregon, applicants for new, renewed and replaced licenses must prove they are in the country legally by providing Social Security numbers and proof of identity and Oregon residency. Previously, Oregon was among a handful of states that allowed illegal immigrants to get licenses.
A new Georgia law applies to everyone but is aimed at illegal immigrants who can't get driver's licenses. The law makes it a felony to be caught driving without a license for the fourth time in five years, although anyone who presents a valid driver's license at a hearing is not charged.
Several transportation laws also take effect July 1:
- Mississippi parents now have to buckle their children into booster seats until they are 6 years old, and Michigan's similar law extends the age to 7. Maryland's stricter law - children must sit in booster seats until age 8 - starts June 30, and Massachusetts' law, also covering children to age 8, will take effect July 10.
- In the first six months of holding a new license, Arizona teens can't drive between midnight and 5 a.m. and cannot have more than one other teen in the car who is not a relative. After similar laws in Connecticut and Minnesota take effect Aug. 1, only three remaining states will have no restrictions on newly licensed drivers: Arkansas, Kansas and North Dakota.
- Indiana passengers who are in a car accident are in trouble if they walk away from a wreck without helping the injured or alerting police. The "passenger responsibility" law was inspired by a 2005 crash in which a 17-year-old was found dead in his car, which was underwater, after his two 15-year-old passengers left the scene without reporting the accident.
- In Georgia, a fourth driving-under-the-influence conviction in 10 years is nowa felony, and a new Virginia law cracks down on what's called the "baby DUI," when drivers under 21 have a blood-alcohol count of 0.02, a quarter of the limit for adults. Those convicted will now have their licenses suspended for a year and pay $500 or perform 50 hours of community service, with the possibility of spending a year in jail.
- Virginia's active military now have more time to renew their licenses and car registrations if they've been serving abroad.
- Virginia driver's license applicants who fail behind-the-wheel or written exams three times must take a course at a driver training school.
In health care, Iowa children must have a dental screening before enrolling in school and South Carolina insurance providers are required to cover health care services for autism . After last year's deadly shootings at Virginia Tech by a mentally unstable student, the state has changed how it identifies and treats the mentally ill.
The sin industry - sex, gambling and alcohol - will see some changes under new state laws. Indiana is requiring new businesses that sell "sexually explicit materials" to pay a $250 fee and register with the secretary of state's office, which will then notify local officials. But the law is so broadly worded - it doesn't appear to distinguish between hard-core porn and a romance novel - that all bookstores might be considered purveyors of sexual materials.
Under its new law, South Dakota bans new sex-oriented businesses, such as strip clubs, from operating within a quarter mile of home, churches, schools and playgrounds.
On Tuesday, Virginia will do away with a law that banned restaurants from mixing liquor with wine or beer, opening the door to once-outlawed drinks, such assangria (a red wine, brandy and triple-sec mix).
On the environmental front, California hunters are no longer allowed to use lead bullets while hunting in a condor habitat.