Welcome to 1995

ON this first business day of 1995 the year is as shiny as a new penny, its possibilities still unlimited.

Will we cheer real major league players in the ball parks this summer - or minor league imposters? Who will win the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Nobel Peace Prize?

We won't try to guess. But on Dec. 31, when clocks ticked the last tick of 1994, they did mark some measurable changes, both big and small, important and frivolous.

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For example, a first-class United States postage stamp now costs 32 cents, up from 29 cents, which has created a run on three-cent stamps. (The last time a letter could actually be sent for three cents was 1958, when Elvis Presley was still a kid in the Army. Now he's pictured on a stamp, to be joined in 1995 by Marilyn Monroe and Richard M. Nixon.)

A bevy of new US government regulations took effect Jan. 1.

Gasoline stations in nine Northeastern US cities now must sell a new blend that emits fewer pollutants. The Child Safety Protection Act requires warning labels on toys with small pieces (under 1.75 inches in diameter) that children under three years of age could choke on. And all buses carrying more than 15 people must undergo annual inspections.

Tougher alcohol- and drug-testing rules for transportation workers, such as railroad engineers, truck drivers, and ship pilots, go into effect, too. And people on Social Security will see their checks increase by 2.8 percent, or an average of $21 more per month.

Overseas, Jan. 1 saw the European Union welcome Sweden, Finland, and Austria as members.

The EU also launched a free-trade agreement with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The World Trade Organization opened for business, with some 85 countries, including the US, signed on to lower trade barriers. The number of countries may rise to 145 by the year's end.

States and cities put numerous laws into effect. New York City now asks welfare recipients to work toward cleaning up the city. California's Proposition 187, restricting state services to illegal aliens, has been halted in court.

But another new California law is one of our favorites: It gives women the right to wear pants at work.

And, finally, 1995 is Happy Newt Year: The 104th Congress, which promises to be one of the most intriguing in decades, convenes tomorrow at noon.

Stay tuned.

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