Stateline Story

New State Laws Roll Out July 1

  • June 29, 2006
  • By Pauline Vu

Starting July 1, California will begin enforcing the country's first "car buyer's bill of rights," Virginia colleges will start cross-checking the names of incoming freshmen with sex-offender registries, and the face of Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich will be banned from state tourism ads.

Also among a plethora of new state laws to take effect Saturday are new protections for breast-feeding moms in Alabama, Georgia's toughest-in-the-nation restrictions on where sex offenders can live, and new solutions in Minnesota and Washington state to the digital age's growing mounds of electronic waste.

July 1 is the effective date of choice for new laws in about 10 states. The biggest batch of new statutes churned out annually by legislatures goes into effect Jan. 1.

California will become the first state in the nation to give buyers of used cars costing under $40,000 the option to return their cars to the dealer after two days with no questions asked. Consumers can pay a fee of $75 to almost $400 for the privilege of a return policy, and dealers also can charge restocking fees of $175 to $500.

In Virginia, colleges are unclear how to respond if police turn up a hit once they start comparing the names of admitted students with the sex-offender registries. The law has raised concerns about possible violation of student privacy and whether the student's information, including Social Security numbers, will be protected when given to police.

Georgia's new law to keep convicted sex offenders from getting out of prison and re-settling near children is already under attack in the courts. The law copies other states' bans barring sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of places such as schools, parks and churches, but also extends the no sex-offender zone to within 1,000 feet of one of the state's 150,000 school bus stops. That would make most residential areas, and even entire counties, unavailable to sex offenders.

On July 26, a federal judge temporarily blocked the law for eight sex offenders while they challenge the bus-stop prohibition. The judge said he was considering expanding his order to apply to all the state's sex offenders.

Cracking down on sex offenders was a priority for other states as well this session. Elsewhere:

  • At least eight governors signed bills to use Global Positioning System devices to monitor sex offenders, with four of those laws (Georgia, Kansas, Virginia and Indiana) taking effect July 1.
  • Nevada will publish the names, pictures and addresses of almost 2,000 higher-risk sex offenders online.
  • Alabama will begin testing those charged with a sex crime for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Repeat violent sex offenders in Idaho can now be sentenced to life imprisonment.

In Maryland, the governor's acting role in public-service commercials - in which Ehrlich, a Republican, has played such parts as a hotel desk clerk, a handyman and a gardener while touting tourism in the state - may be put on hold, at least until after the Nov. 7 election. The Democratic-led General Assembly slipped language into the state budget cutting off state money for any ads that feature a candidate for public office until Jan. 10.

Besides TV commercials, Ehrlich's image has appeared in magazines, on billboards and inside and outside public buses promoting state tourism, affordable housing and the EZ-Pass for drivers. Ehrlich has said his lawyers will look into the budget language to see whether the ads can continue to run.

Environmental waste from electronic products such as televisions and computer screens led California and Washington to put a recycling burden on retailers. California cell phone retailers now have to take back phones from customers, and electronic equipment manufacturers in Washington have to set up a system for people to recycle their equipment.

But Minnesota opted to place the burden on the consumer. Tossing electrical equipment in the garbage is now against the law, and bringing equipment to a recycling center could cost from $15 for a computer monitor to more than $100 for a large console TV.

On July 1, Alabama mothers can start breast-feeding their children in public without being accused of indecent exposure. Alabama is one of at least six states this session to pass such a law.

In Georgia, winners of lottery prizes of more than $2,500 can see their winnings withheld or reduced if they're behind on child-support payments.

Georgia also will become the fourth state to apply the controversial "65 percent solution" to education funding, meaning its school districts will be required to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets strictly for activities in the classroom. Critics of the proposal call it a political ploy that hurts poorer districts that rely more on "non-classroom" services such as libraries, counselors and buses.

A number of states passed laws to increase road safety.

  • Indiana police now can arrest people for road rage, or driving aggressively to harass or intimidate.
  • Virginia school bus drivers can go 10 miles faster. Slower speeds were considered more dangerous because impatient drivers would zip around the slower-paced buses or screech to a halt behind them.
  • Drag racing will now be officially illegal in Mississippi.
  • Alabama will institute the "Move Over" law that requires drivers to move to the side of the road for emergency vehicles.

At midnight Friday, Colorado will become the 13 th state with a statewide smoking ban in all indoor places, including bars and restaurants. Mississippi also will ban smoking starting July 1 in all public buildings such as city halls, courthouses and college classrooms.

Local governments in Georgia now will be allowed to post the Ten Commandments in public buildings, as long as they are hung alongside historic documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. However, the American Civil Liberties Union has promised to sue any local government that posts the Commandments.

In Idaho, not reporting a corpse to the coroner is now a misdemeanor, with a possibility of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.