States Ringing in New Laws
By Kathleen Murphy, Staff Writer
Like you and me, states are resolving to do things differently as of New Year's Day.
A raft of new laws take effect on January 1: Maine kids under 40 pounds must ride in child safety seats and Illinois underage drinkers caught in bars could lose their driving privileges for a year. Minnesota home sellers will have to disclose problems to buyers, such as a leaky roof or malfunctioning furnace, for the first time.
Several states are implementing what California Gov. Gray Davis calls "leave us alone legislation," laws that protect consumers from telemarketers' pitches.
A new California law bars companies from faxing unwanted sales pitches or sending them to cellular telephones and pagers.
Minnesota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin are implementing do-not-call lists January 1, aimed at restricting when and to whom sales calls can be made. As of New Year's Day, Massachusetts residents can sign up on a Web site, call a toll-free number, or submit a request by mail to join a do-not-call list that goes into effect on April 1.
Thirty-two states have do-not-call laws. The Federal Trade Commission on Dec. 18 proposed the development of a national do-not-call registry.
In some states, new laws changing everything from tax rates to the state fruit take effect uly 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 take effect Jan. 1 include:
- Delaware is requiring doctors and hospitals to report more information about patients to the state cancer registry. The information, such as address and occupational history, is aimed at helping researchers spot trends or patterns to explain why the state's cancer death rates are among the highest in the nation.
- Florida veterans with service-connected disabilities will see their property tax exemption go from $500 to $5000.
- Georgia motorists will be able to buy license plates to benefit programs to spay and neuter dogs and cats, and laborers will be able to take property tax exemptions on their tools of trade because of ballot measures passed in November.
- An Illinois law lets state workers take time off with pay so they can donate organs, bone marrow or blood. Another new Illinois law prohibits a registered child sex offender from living within 500 feet of the home of the victim upon release from prison.
- Mississippi's medical malpractice reform law caps pain and suffering awards at $500,000, increasing to $1 million by 2017. Another law rewrites the state's product liability statutes, capping punitive damages at $20 million for the largest corporations.
- New Hampshire law establishes a blood-alcohol concentration of .02 percent in someone under age 21 as evidence of possession of alcohol. Another new state law makes it a crime to create and spread computer viruses.
- Ohio law removes previous violations as a factor in determining points against a driver's licensegiving speeding drivers a better chance of keeping their licenses.
- Pennsylvania's governor, lieutenant governor, cabinet secretaries, attorney general, auditor general, treasurer, justices and judges get pay raises based on the federal Consumer Price Index for mid-Atlantic states. The new law means Gov.-elect Ed Rendell will make $144,416 a year, up from Gov. Mark Schweiker's $142,142.
- Another Pennsylvania law aims to cut children's exposure to toxic chemicals by requiring schools to inform parents and teachers and post signs 72 hours before using pesticides.
- Virginia's local governments, rather than the General Assembly, can award property tax breaks to nonprofit organizations.
- Washington law restricts what credit information an insurance company is allowed to use. The law prohibits insurance companies from using credit history to cancel a consumer's auto or homeowners insurance policy.
- Wisconsin state wildlife officials will have the power to shut down commercial trophy hunting in which exotic animals such as cougars are confined in fenced areas and shot by hunters.