States' Hottest Laws Take on New Threats

The mosaic of laws passed by state legislatures this year reveals a country grappling with threats, from a faltering economy and record-high gasoline prices to global warming and lead-tainted toys from China.

In a year of tightening finances for all but about a dozen agricultural and energy states, Stateline.org 's review of 39 of the 46 states where legislators met this year shows caution when it comes to new spending but turns up some new approaches to common problems.

Among states passing first-in-the-nation laws that could become models for others, New York sought to boost its finances by collecting sales taxes from online retailers such as Amazon.com. Iowa and Colorado became the first to garnish the casino winnings of deadbeats who owe child support or back taxes. And Wyoming took a unique first step toward fighting global warming, by clearing the way for polluters to bury carbon dioxide and other combustion gases that are blamed for climate change.

One-of-a-kind circumstances led to unusual legislation. A drought in Atlanta pushed Georgia legislators to reopen a 190-year-old border dispute with Tennessee over access to the Tennessee River. The space shuttle's upcoming retirement in 2010 prompted Florida, where the shuttle is launched, to offer a $40 million prize to any company that can beat NASA's plans for a replacement space vehicle in 2015. Minnesota legislators, hoping to boost local businesses, agreed to let bars stay open until 4 a.m. during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in September.

Lawmakers around the country often used similar tactics to address common problems. Car crashes kill more than 5,000 teenagers a year, the leading cause of death for that age group. In response, five states slapped new restrictions on teenage drivers this spring, leaving only Arkansas, Kansas and North Dakota without special rules for new drivers. 

For a complete mid-year snapshot of the groundbreaking measures and policy-making trends emerging from state legislatures read the full report States' Hottest Laws Take on New Threats on Stateline.org. 

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