New Year Rings in New State Laws
By Kathleen Murphy, Staff Writer
New state laws that took effect on Jan. 1 show policy makers are concerned about finding more revenue, preventing smoking, and getting motorists to drive more safely.
In California, consumers started paying a quarter-cent more in sales tax Tuesday (1/1). In Oregon, smoking was banned in most workplaces. And Washington now has the highest cigarette tax in the nation, at $1.425 per pack.
Motorists in New Hampshire must stop eating behind the wheel as of New Year's Day and Tennessee drivers must carry proof of insurance. North Carolina driver's license applicants must now provide a Social Security number or taxpayer identification number.
New state law will require California parents to buy booster seats for passengers under six years-old or 60 pounds, and another new law forbids leaving kids alone in cars. Nine other so-called "nanny states" (Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington) also have laws regarding leaving children unattended in a vehicle.
"It's the role of state government to protect the children. The laws are not punishing the parents, they are protecting the children," says Terrill Struttmann, co-founder of Kids N Cars, a group lobbying for child safety.
In some states, new laws changing everything from tax rates to the state fruit take effect on July 1, the start of a new fiscal year. In other states, laws take effect soon after a governor signs a bill passed by the legislature. Some state laws take effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns.
State laws that took effect on Jan. 1 include:
- New York now requires businesses that sell cigarettes to put them in places only accessible by store personnel.
- California now lets pharmacists provide women with emergency contraceptives, the so-called "morning-after pill," without a prescription. It is also the first state in the nation to outlaw smoking on outdoor playgrounds. Another new law requires California sellers and prospective landlords to disclose the presence of mold in homes and buildings. Still another law restricts gifts to employees of the California Department of Insurance.
- Texans can pay $2.25 to get on a state "no call" list aimed at stopping unsolicited sales calls at home.
- Maryland's racial profiling law orders law enforcement agencies to keep statistics on who is being stopped, why, and the outcome of the stop. Another new Maryland law requires handgun purchasers to take a gun safety course first.
- Florida nursing homes must have liability insurance.
- A new Mississippi law reduces the withholding of gamblers' winnings to 3 percent.
- In Maine, employers' taxes paid to fund the state's unemployment insurance system will decrease.
- Rhode Island is adopting tougher standards for vehicles to pass the required emissions test.
- Georgia's video-poker operators must turn off their machines because of a ban approved by lawmakers last September.
- Nebraska's maximum weekly income benefit under worker's compensation increases 4 percent to $528.
- Nevada now will pay the premium on insurance coverage for prescription medicine for qualifying seniors earning $21,500 or less a year. Another new state law requires halfway houses to be licensed by the state.
- Hawaii employers are now required to pay at least $5.75 an hour.
- And in Oregon, hunters who set traps for beavers, foxes and other animals will have to check them at least once every two days.