New year's new laws target texting, trans fats, and more

At least 30 states will see new laws going into effect on New Year's Day. Many of the new laws reflect zeitgeist concerns on health, technology, and the economy.

By , Staff writer

Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, Texas college freshmen and transfer students will need to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis before they can live on campus. Restaurants in California can no longer use oils, margarine, or shortenings with more than half a gram of trans fat per serving. And stores in Louisiana can no longer sell lighters that appeal to children.

As always, a host of new laws take effect in the new year, ranging from the significant (same-sex couples will be able to marry in New Hampshire) to the bizarre (also in New Hampshire, physical therapists will be able to get certified to practice on animals).

More than 40,000 laws have been enacted by state legislatures in the past year, and at least 30 states have statutes that go into effect on New Year’s Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which provides an annual round-up of such laws.

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Among the more noteworthy:

• Payday borrowers in Kentucky will be restricted to two loans of no more than $500 at a time, and payday lenders facer tougher penalties if they lend to someone who has reached the maximum.

Oregon will require children under age 16 to wear a seat belt on any ATV or vehicle on public property, and will increase the fine for people riding a motorcycle without a helmet to $720.

• In Texas, smoke detectors will need to be able to alert a hearing-impaired person if requested by a tenant.

• In Montana, insurance companies will be required to provide coverage for autism-spectrum disorders.

In some states, the new laws are part of long-established trends; Illinois will join at least 18 other states when it bans drivers from sending texts while driving. In others, they’re ahead of the curve. California, for instance, is the first state to place limits on trans fats, though several local governments have done so. And several other states are considering similar payday loan regulations to Kentucky’s, says Meagan Dorsch, a spokesperson for the NCSL, noting that a number of states have paid attention to the financial-services sector this year.

“The theme for all the laws passed in 2009 would be the budget,” adds Ms. Dorsch. “Money is the starting and stopping point for any state program.”

For the laws going into effect Friday, it’s a more random selection. But some seem to reflect concerns emerging in the zeitgeist lately.

New Hampshire will now require a report for any mentally ill defendants who are veterans, including treatment recommendations, prior to sentencing.

And a number of laws relate to health and consumer safety. In addition to California’s trans fat restriction, a public-safety campaign in Louisiana will warn consumers of the dangers of eating seafood from China, and Texas teenagers will need an adult to accompany them if they use a tanning bed.

Technology and telecommunications have also been getting some attention, and the new laws include one in Louisiana that will add a charge to people who prepay for wireless, and a Nevada law that requires data collectors to use new standards to protect personal information transmitted electronically or held on devices like cell phones or laptops.

“This is a big issue for states,” says Dorsch. “They are really starting to look hard at companies that do data collection and the way that data is not only housed but transmitted.”

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