State by state, a raft of new laws in effect
| NEW YORK
• Residents of Nevada who are victims of identity theft can apply for a "passport" to avoid mistaken arrest and to help creditors investigate fraudulent activity.
• In Minnesota, day-care centers must keep a record of the make and model of every crib and inspect them once a month.
• Connecticut, New York, and Vermont are among states raising their minimum wage.
Every new year, just as revelers launch into "Auld Lang Syne," new state laws such as these take effect. State legislatures, in fact, are often ahead of Congress in spotting issues and drafting relevant bills.
This year, one of the major themes in state capitols is protecting children. Information security and transportation issues are also prominent. But in all, the laws range widely, from regulations on lobbyists to restrictions on the sale of cold medicines. Taken together, they lend perspective on many of the daily challenges faced by Americans.
"The new laws reflect the diversity of issues that states must deal with," says Bill Wyatt, a Washington-based public affairs manager at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Some legislatures only meet 30 days of the year, and lawmakers must become experts very quickly."
In the state of Colorado alone, 18 new laws will go into effect. They include new fees for the upkeep of parklands and the extension of health-insurance coverage under a parent's policy for children up to age 25.
A number of state legislatures have focused on the impact of technology. For example, some automobile companies are installing "black boxes" in their more expensive models. These devices, like those in airplanes, record the direction and speed of a car, steering and braking performance, and the status of the driver's seat belt.
Now, Nevada has enacted legislation that requires manufacturers to notify buyers if a car contains such a device and what the black box can record. In addition, the information in the box can be downloaded or retrieved only by the owner of the vehicle.
"Manufacturers want to be able to look at and improve the safety of their vehicles," says Mr. Wyatt. "But the information could also be used in court in product-recall cases or disputes over fault."
Many states have also become alarmed over "security breaches," especially by companies with credit-card or Social Security information. Six states - Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, and Nevada - are requiring companies to notify consumers if sensitive financial information has been stolen. Connecticut goes even further: Residents can "freeze" their credit reports if there has been a slip-up.
New Jersey and Virginia, meanwhile, have barred making public a person's Social Security number.
Nevada's attempt to protect its citizens with "identity-theft passports" is so unique that Wyatt says other states will be watching to see how creditors deal with it and how well it protects Nevada residents.
"Hopefully this can be refined and become a document with teeth," he says.
While Nevada has focused on identity theft, one issue of concern in Florida has been the influence of lobbyists. The state has now barred them from paying for any food, alcohol, or gifts for lawmakers and other state and local officials. Lobbyists will also have to abide by new reporting requirements.
As in past years, many states passed bills related to transportation. Californians will have a new bill of rights for car buyers that gives them, for a fee, the right to return a car to the dealer within two days. The state has also tightened the regulations on what "certified" means, since more car companies now offer used cars with this designation.
The new transportation laws apply to more than automobiles. In New York, there is a new age restriction of 14 for operators of personal watercraft. In addition, the teen has to have completed a boating safety course or be with an 18-year-old who has taken such a class.
New Hampshire, meanwhile, is going after mini-motorcycles, those small motorized bikes that are popular with children. Now, they will be banned from public roads. Dealers will be required to notify buyers that their insurance policy may not provide coverage for damages.
The issue that many states have paid especially close attention to is the protection of children. Delaware will outlaw anything but "trace amounts of mercury" in vaccines for children and pregnant women. Rhode Island parents must provide proof their kindergarten-age children have taken a vision screening test in the past 12 months. And Michigan has a whole series of new laws to try to protect children from predators.
Many of the new laws are aimed at teens. Both Illinois and Minnesota are banning anyone under the age of 18 from talking on a cellphone while driving. Minors will no longer be able to rent or buy video games with violent or sexual content in Illinois. Teens in California will have to get parental permission for any kind of tattoo or body piercing. Teens in the Golden State will also have to cut down on those beach parties: A curfew will start at 11 p.m. instead of midnight.
"A common focus is to curb the social cost of behavior of young people," says Steven Schier, a professor at Carleton College in Minnesota.
Yet another example of new state legislation involves the continuing battle to stop the manufacture and use of methamphetamines. While many states now restrict the sale of cold medicines, which are used to make the substances, a new law in Washington State creates a pilot program to require retailers to maintain a logbook of transactions involving the chemicals.
"This law could be a big burden," says Mr. Schier. "It will constrict supply, but who wants to sell it?" he asks. "It will be interesting to see how this works."
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.