New Year Rings in Hundreds of New Statutes

The arrival of the new year means no more smoking in Maine bars, higher ticket prices for glitzy Las Vegas shows, and a crackdown on rowdy baseball fans in Illinois all that and much more courtesy of new state laws born at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1.

For openers, the flip of the calendar means:

  • Maine becomes the fifth state to go smoke-free under a ban covering restaurants, bars, taverns, nightclubs, pool halls and some off-track betting sites. California, Delaware, New York and Connecticut have similar laws.
  • In Illinois it's a felony punishable by a minimum $1,000 fine and up to three years in prison to illegally enter restricted areas in sports and musical venues. The law was inspired by the case of a fan who attacked a Kansas City Royals' coach in Chicago in 2002.
  • Nevada is hiking the entertainment tax on tickets at casinos for shows by show-business headliners.

These changes are among the hundreds of new state laws taking effect immediately, although they will doubtless be followed throughout the year by reams of other legislation throughout the 50 states.

Among the New Year's Day crop, a California law gives spam recipients in the Golden State the right to sue for $1,000 for each unsolicited e-mail they receive. In Nebraska, a trip to the park gets more expensive, with annual permits increasing from $14 to $17 and daily permits from $2.50 to $3.

New laws in several states take aim at transportation.

Don't even think about driving a car while watching television in California, thanks to a new law aimed at distracted drivers. And if you're driving home on a highway from a New Year's party in Illinois, don't go slow in the left lane. As of midnight, the left lane is only for passing. "With more congestion, more traffic, and with this new advent of road rage, it really is something we decided we needed to address," said state Sen. Dan Rutherford, (R), who sponsored the left-lane law.

Other new state laws cover health care issues affecting everything from tongue-splitting to who pays for birth control pills. Illinois will now permit only doctors and dentists to slice the end of a tongue down the middle so that it resembles a snake's forked version. And Illinois also requires insurers who provide drug coverage to include contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the Food & Drug Administration. Finally, Illinois insurers also must cover the cost of colorectal cancer exams and lab tests.

California's health care laws change significantly by, among other things, requiring hospitals to have one nurse for every six patients in general medical wards. And that state joins Illinois and New York with a ban on over-the-counter sales of the herbal weight-control supplement ephedra. The federal government announced Dec. 30 it was issuing a nationwide ban on the same drug, scheduled to take effect in March at the earliest.

Here are some other new laws involving various issues:

Transportation:

  • Connecticut limits the number and age of car passengers for newly-licensed 16- and 17-year-olds during their first six months behind the wheel. 
  • New Hampshire requires car safety seats for children under 6 years and less than 4-feet-7 inches tall. 
  • New York prohibits drivers from blocking handicapped spaces. 
  • Oregon makes it a crime to fail to keep a safe distance from an emergency vehicle or ambulance. 
  • Louisiana requires everyone over 16 to complete a boater education course and carry proof when operating a motorboat.

Health Care:

  • Pennsylvania expands eligibility for low-cost prescription drug benefits for senior citizens. 
  • Oregon law authorizes its Human Services Department to use federal funds to track infants who don't pass a hearing screening at birth.

Crime:

  • Illinois doubles the maximum sentence and fine for production of methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant known as "poor man's cocaine," if children are nearby when the drug is being made.
  • New Hampshire will protect gun manufacturers and sellers from being sued when criminals use their products. 
  • New Mexico lets anyone 25 or older possess a concealed, loaded firearm.

Education:

  • Illinois extends the time immigrant teachers have to obtain U.S. citizenship from six years to 10. It also requires day care facilities to notify parents in advance of pesticide applications. 
  • California requires certain nutritional standards in any food or beverage sold to children from kindergarten through eighth grade. Fruit drinks, for example, must contain at least 50 percent fruit juice.

Business:

  • Illinois offers tax breaks to TV and movie companies that film there. 
  • California requires all corporations to remove Social Security numbers from I.D. cards and correspondence, and prevents transmission of the numbers over the Internet. 
  • California bans housing and job discrimination against transgendered people. Minnesota, Rhode Island and New Mexico have similar laws. 
  • Illinois' anti-predatory lending legislation protects homeowners from mortgage lenders who make loans based on the equity of the house rather than the borrower's ability to repay.
  • Kansas bars companies from using a person's credit history as the sole basis for deciding whether to sell an insurance policy and what premium to charge.
  • Louisiana lets insurance companies raise or lower their auto and property insurance rates by 10 percent a year without state approval. 
  • Maine allows part-time workers to collect unemployment benefits.
  • North Dakota merchants will have restrictions on printing receipts displaying a customer's entire credit-card number.