June 29, 2007
New State Laws Bring Changes July 1
By Pauline Vu, Staff Writer
Come Sunday, it will be a felony in Iowa to dismember a body to conceal a crime. New York City will have to stop sending undercover investigators to Virginia to buy guns in sting operations. And even Rip Van Winkle will have to show some ID if he wants to buy beer in Tennessee.
That's because on July 1, the fiscal years of 46 states begin and several new laws take effect. So South Carolina gang members, Virginia teenage tanners and Illinois truants, take note: Life's about to get a little tougher.
A few laws are borne out of events likely to inspire TV episodes of "Law & Order." It now will be a felony to dismember or hide a body to conceal a crime in Iowa. The law closes a loophole that constricted police investigating a woman who helped her boyfriend cut up and hide the body of his murdered roommate. They could charge her only with lying to investigators and taking the victim's belongings.
In Indiana, widows and widowers suspected of causing a spouse's death no longer can be in charge of the funeral arrangements. That law came after Zachariah Melcher confessed to strangling his wife, Christian, and their 11-month-old son. Melcher, who is serving two life sentences, refused from his jail cell to allow Christian's mother to bury the victims until he was able to confide the details of the crime to a family friend.
Indiana coroners now will have to use one of four methods to identify a body: fingerprints, DNA, dental records or positive identification by a family member. The change came after the infamous case involving two female car accident victims, one dead and one alive, whose identities were switched. About a month after one was buried, her family learned that she was actually the survivor who had been in a coma in the hospital.
Friction with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg led to a new Virginia law that makes it a felony for anyone other than police to make straw purchases at gun shops, meaning buying a gun for someone who's not allowed to buy one. The law is in response to sting operations ordered by Bloomberg, who sent undercover investigators to five states, including Virginia, to buy firearms after learning that 80 percent to 90 percent of guns used in crimes in New York City were purchased out of state. The city later sued 27 out-of-state gun dealers.
Smokers in five states will take a hit to their wallets as the tax on cigarettes increases: Alaska (another 20 cents), Connecticut (49 cents), Indiana (44 cents), New Hampshire (28 cents) and Tennessee (42 cents).
Some laws will affect every resident in a state. In Massachusetts, every Bay Stater now must buy health insurance in the nation's most closely watched experiment at guaranteeing universal health coverage. Arkansans will see their grocery tax fall from 6 cents to 3 cents.
Georgia joins 11 other states in requiring that women seeking abortions be offered a chance to see the ultrasound of the fetus. Iowa researchers now can conduct embryonic stem cell research , after the Legislature repealed a ban, although human cloning remains illegal.
In a crackdown on immigration , Georgia says residents who seek public benefits such as Medicaid must bring a passport, birth certificate or papers to prove their citizenship. Large companies doing business with the state of Georgia will have to verify their workers' immigration status.
Virginia now will require its public colleges to create policies to identify and help suicidal students. The bill was signed 11 days before the Virginia Tech killings, in which a troubled student shot and killed 32 students and faculty and himself.
New Mexico will become the 12 th state to allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons, and the latest to pass a ban on cockfighting. That leaves Louisiana as the only state that still allows cockfighting, although the Legislature recently sent a bill to the governor that would ban it after Aug. 15, 2008.
Tennessee will require customers - no matter how old - to show identification when buying beer at a grocery store. The law, which expires after a year, does not apply to wine or liquor or to beer bought at restaurants or bars.
Crime laws comprise a huge chunk of the new laws:
- Mississippi felons will meet stiffer punishments for using guns or weapons such as butcher knives or metallic knuckles while committing a crime.
- South Carolina gang members who repeatedly vandalize could be fined up to $3,000 or head to jail for three years.
- Kansas assailants who attack pregnant women can be charged separately with a crime against the woman and a crime against the fetus.
- Oklahoma copper thieves will have a tougher time selling copper tubing and wiring to scrap-metal dealers.
Ex-criminals will get some relief, though, in Maryland. After they complete their sentences, they'll be able to register to vote again.
In transportation, Virginia will join 13 states in banning teenagers from talking on their cell phones while driving. Parents in the Old Dominion state also have to put their kids in booster seats until they're 7 instead of 5 years old, while most controversially, bad Virginia drivers - such as those convicted of reckless or aggressive driving, or driving under the influence - will have to pay hefty fees of up to $1,000 per year for three years. The money will go toward improving roads.
In other new transportation laws:
- In Virginia, it now will be a misdemeanor to smoke within 20 feet of a gasoline pump - and if that pump catches fire, violators could face a year in jail.
- Indiana's primary seat belt law will require not just front-seat passengers but also those in the back seat to buckle up. Trucks also are no longer exempt.
- Idaho teenagers can drive with only one passenger, unless they're related, for six months after receiving their licenses.
- Class-skipping Illinois students under 18 won't be allowed to get their learner's permit or driver's license.
A few other interesting laws that will take effect Sunday:
- Every public classroom in Arizona will have to display an American-made U.S. flag. Also, every classroom from grade 7 to university must post a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
- Virginians 14 and under now need parental approval to go to a tanning salon.
- Vermont now explicitly will ban discrimination against trans-gendered people. In Iowa it will be illegal to discriminate because of sexual orientation.
- Florida parents who leave a child under 6 unsupervised in the car without the engine running for 15 minutes or more will be slapped with a misdemeanor.
- In California, every retailer must provide recycling containers for plastic grocery bags and sell reusable bags, and deposit fees will increase by a penny on recyclable bottles and cans.
And just in time for the Fourth of July: Tennessee fireworks vendors no longer are allowed to sell to kids under 16.