New State Laws Debut on July 1
By Nick Timiraos, Special to Stateline
A statewide smoking ban in Georgia, a set of tough laws against sex offenses in Iowa and legal procedures for disposing of unclaimed cremated remains in Connecticut; hundreds of new laws like these take effect in the states every July 1 to coincide with the start of the fiscal year.
The laws reflect the issues that matter most to legislators. This year's priorities included more restrictions on abortion, incentives for environmentally friendly energy and rules to make driving safer.
For most states, July 1 is the effective date for new laws because that's when the budget for the next 12 months begins. In some states however, new laws take effect on Jan. 1, 90 days after the legislative session ends or shortly after they've been signed by the governor.
Georgia on July 1 becomes the 12th state with a statewide smoking ban, which covers most public places except bars and restaurants that don't admit people under 18. Of the 14 tobacco-producing states, only Florida has a ban as stringent as Georgia's, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Iowa will start enforcing a package of laws designed to protect children from pedophiles. The package, which Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) termed the nation's "toughest" against sex offenders, will:
- double the prison term to 10 years for certain sex crimes against children
- require life imprisonment for those convicted of a second major sex offense
- electronically monitor convicted pedophiles,
- use DNA testing on all felons and all registered sex offenders
- and improve notification of crime victims when an offender is released from prison, among other measures.
On July 1, the California Department of Justice begins using a Web site to inform the public about certain sex offenders. Montana will require serious sex offenders to register for a satellite-monitoring program, and New Mexico is starting a new sex offender DNA identification system.
A number of states are launching new efforts to curb methamphetamine production that involve limiting the sale of psuedoephedrine, a cold medicine ingredient that is a key component of the illegal drug. Georgia, Montana and Kentucky will require pharmacies to keep cold and sinus medicines that contain the drug behind the counter. The Kentucky law, which took effect June 20, also requires customers to show identification and sign a log. The same law also makes it a felony to expose a child to the toxic fumes and waste created by "cooking" the drug.
Confusion and legal concerns over disposing of unclaimed or unaccepted cremated remains prompted the Connecticut Legislature to set down guidelines for funeral directors.
In six states, new laws taking effect July 1 aim to improve road safety:
- In Colorado, licensed drivers under age 18 cannot carry passengers younger than 21 until six months after they're licensed, and no more than one passenger under age 21 in the next six months except for siblings and passengers with medical emergencies.
- Nevada drivers who kill someone while applying makeup, talking on cell phones or eating will face stiffer penalties under a new vehicular manslaughter law. Offenders could lose their license for a year, spend up to a year in jail and owe up to $1,000 in fines.
- Arkansas hopes to prevent the death of children left unattended in overheated vans by requiring day-care vans to have child-safety alarms. The device forces drivers to walk to the back of the van within 90 seconds of turning off the engine to disable the alarm.
- A new California law requires drivers to turn on their headlights whenever they use windshield wipers.
- To combat "joy riding," Idaho is raising the penalty for operating a car without the owner's permission to a felony when damages exceed $1,000.
- Anyone under 18 years of age in Idaho will be required to wear a helmet while riding all-terrain vehicles on- or off-road, except on private property or in farming operations.
- Indiana will require children up to age 8 to ride in car seats or booster seats.
Several states take aim at environmental health and energy conservation:
- Illinois will ban the use of elemental mercury in primary and secondary schools. New York, which banned the sale of mercury products in January, will implement an advisory board to oversee the recycling and disposal of the metal.
- A North Dakota law reduces the tax on fuel that is at least 60 percent ethanol-based to one cent per gallon, a 20-cent reduction. The Legislature also created a sales-tax exemption for hydrogen sold to power internal combustion engines.
- In Rhode Island, landlords of houses built before 1978 will be required to take lead-awareness classes and have their rental units inspected.
- Washington will provide business and occupation tax credits for manufacturers of solar energy systems. The Legislature also enacted public utility tax credits for light and power businesses that make incentive payments to customers for producing electricity using solar or wind power generated in the state.
Four states are imposing new restrictions on abortion:
- A Georgia law requires women to wait 24 hours after receiving state-provided information on abortion before moving ahead with the procedure.
- Arkansas revised the state's counseling law so that women seeking an abortion who are at least 20 weeks pregnant be given printed materials stating that at 20 weeks' gestation "the unborn child has the physical structures necessary to experience pain." Women must be told about the availability of anesthesia that can be administered directly to the fetus to help eliminate pain.
- An Indiana law requires doctors to inform women seeking an abortion of the availability of ultrasound imaging and give women the option to view ultrasound images before undergoing the procedure.
- In Florida, parental notification will be mandatory before a minor obtains an abortion except in the event of medical emergency or judicial waiver. The bill further requires courts to report the number of times that they are asked to waive parental notice along with the outcome of each case.
Idaho's sales tax returns to 5 percent, ending a temporary two-year level of 6 percent. Virginia cuts the tax on groceries from 4 percent to 2.5 percent.
Kentucky's designation of milk as the official state beverage, effective June 20, aims to help out the state's dairy industry, while Georgia names the green tree frog as the state amphibian to raise awareness about wetlands degradation.
Idaho introduces license plates that promote Basque heritage, private colleges and science and technology. Georgia's new plates tell drivers to support troops overseas and to "share the road" with bicyclists. Plates also become available for NASCAR enthusiasts and military families.
Other laws that go into effect on July 1 include the following:
- Mississippi allows municipalities to ban the hourly rental of hotel or motel rooms.
- Leaving a job because of the transfer of a spouse from one military assignment to another won't disqualify you from unemployment benefits in Georgia.
- Georgia's Legislature also approved a measure that restricts a maximum jury award for pain and suffering caused by medical malpractice to $350,000.
- New York aims to protect college students by prohibiting the unrestricted marketing of credit cards on campuses.
- Idaho provides for the prosecution of parents or guardians who knowingly allow their child to become a habitual truant.
- The Slam Spam E-Mail Act seeks to reduce the amount of junk e-mail sent to Georgians, making it a felony with up to five years in prison for anyone found guilty of sending 10,000 spam e-mails in any 24-hour period, more than 100,000 in any 30-day period or 1 million in any one-year.
- Fish hooks won't be needed anymore in Georgia. The state legalized "noodling," where sportsmen catch catfish with their bare hands.