New Year Rings in Many New State Laws
By Kathleen Murphy, Staff Writer
New state laws that go into effect on Jan. 1 mean fatter paychecks for minimum wage workers in five states. But some rowdy sports fans had better beware, and skateboarding kids in New York will have to don safety helmets.
Minimum wage levels rise by a dollar an hour in Illinois (from $5.15 to $6.15); by 85 cents in New York ($5.15 to $6), by a quarter in Vermont ($6.75 to $7) and by 20 cents in Oregon ($7.05 and Washington ($7.15 to $7.35).
Illinois also rings in another new law designed to deter hooliganism among sports fans beginning in 2005, anyone who threatens or assaults an official or coach in that state faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
The law was spurred in part by attacks at major league baseball games hosted by the Chicago White Sox. In 2003, a fan attacked umpire Laz Diaz during a game with the Kansas City Royals. It wasn't the first time a White Sox-Royals game turned violent -- in 2002, Royals coach Tom Gamboa was pummeled by a father and son who rushed onto the diamond.
In New York, skateboarding kids under 14 face a new requirement in the New Year they must wear safety helmets while riding skateboards in public areas.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 130 new state laws go on the books at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, affecting people in 19 states. These are some of the standouts:
- California will extend to same-sex couples who register as domestic partners all the benefits and responsibilities of married spouses except for the right to file joint income taxes. Also in the first law of its kind in the nation, insurance companies in California can't treat domestic partners differently than married couples.
- Pennsylvania is abolishing common law marriage. After Jan. 1, couples living together must have a marriage license to get the legal benefits of marriage. The length of the relationship will no longer matter.
- And a New Hampshire law lets adopted children get their original birth certificates. Alabama, Alaska, Kansas and Oregon have similar laws.
The war in Iraq inspired two new California laws: Troops from that state stationed abroad can vote by fax and marry by proxy. And the California Department of Motor Vehicles is waiving vehicle registration late fees for members of the armed forces or the National Guard.
New state health care laws will alter consumers' access to medicine. Illinois will require adult-strength cold tablets to be locked behind counters or in locked cabinets, a measure aimed at curbing production of homemade methamphetamine. Meanwhile, a Missouri law seeks to make medicine more available by allowing citizens to donate unused prescription drugs in sealed containers to pharmacies to be resold to the poor at lower costs.
In New Mexico, the cost of everything except food and medical services goes up Jan. 1 in New Mexico because the state sales tax rate increases by a half-percent. In New York, only people over 18 years of age can buy nicotine-enhanced water under a new state law.
Other laws aimed at teenagers include an Illinois statute that requires public school students to attend school until age 17. Schools are required to track dropouts more closely to get a more accurate count under another new law. California requires school districts to stock plenty of toilet paper and soap in school restrooms or risk losing state maintenance funds.
In Illinois, inheritances can now be left to man's best friend. Pet owners can establish binding trusts in their wills that designate caretakers for pets, provide money for their care and direct how it should be spent.
Several states have amended the rules of the road. North Carolina, for example, requires car seats for children younger than eight or weighing less than 80 pounds. In West Virginia, riders of all-terrain vehicles under age 18 must pass free, state-certified safety courses. New Hampshire is expanding its judges' ability to order treatment for drunken drivers. Alaska teen drivers are prohibited from having passengers younger than 21 and can't drive between 1 and 5 a.m. without an adult or special permit. And California requires drivers to turn on headlights when it's foggy or raining.
Another California law prohibits cruise lines from burning garbage in on-board incinerators while they are in state waters.
States also changed laws regarding criminal justice. New Hampshire, for example, makes it a felonypunishable by up to seven years in jail-- to throw anything at a police officer or firefighter during a riot.
In California, battered women and men who can prove their abusers pressured them into committing crimes can use the coercion as a trial defense.
Paroled sex offenders in Illinois must live at a state-approved location, and can't work or volunteer around children. Offenders also can be monitored electronically for at least a year.
California also requires defense lawyers' motions to disclose an alleged rape victim's sexual history be kept confidential unless ruled admissible by a judge.
Another California law requires companies and Web sites to disclose if their software or Web site will install so-called spyware, software that secretly steals personal information such as passwords.