The new year is arriving, so stop hogging the left lane on Illinois interstates. Don’t try to sell a used mattress as new in Tennessee. And be extra careful not to call in a false fire alarm in Delaware.
Jan. 1 means new laws take effect in many states. Some are new additions to the criminal code, while others are more about “do” than “do not.” Poor senior citizens in Pennsylvania now have expanded drug benefits, for example.
Other states are adding protections against identity theft, putting new car insurance rules in place, addressing the Roman Catholic sex scandal, and raising taxes.
Identity theft drew close attention in many states in 2003. Now New Mexico, New York and Delaware require that store receipts contain only a few digits from the customer’s credit card number.
“This will eliminate part of the puzzle that identity thieves use to piece together your identity and fleece you,” said Russ Haven of the New York Public Interest Research Group. Such fraud costs some $2 billion a year nationwide.
Connecticut offers new protection to crime victims, allowing them to use a substitute mailing address if they want to keep their home address a secret from stalkers or assailants.
Responding to a flood of sex abuse accusations against priests nationwide, Illinois extended the statute of limitations in such cases so prosecutors have 20 years after the victim turns 18 to bring charges. Victims have up to 10 years to bring a civil suit. Since the scandal broke two years ago, a few other states have toughened their laws on reporting child sex abuse and extended statutes of limitations.
Illinois legislators, worried about racial profiling, will make state troopers record the motorist’s race at each stop. A black lawmaker from Chicago, state Rep. Lovana Jones, said she knew firsthand the need.
Jones said she was detained without explanation by a police officer for 45 minutes. “It’s a horrible feeling. All the time the lady was talking to me, she had her hand on her gun,” the legislator said.
In the past four years, 25 states have enacted laws on racial profiling, and most have required police to document the race of the drivers they stop, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Watch those false fire alarms
In Delaware, a new law cracks down on false fire alarms: Anyone testing or demonstrating an alarm system must first notify the local fire department. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $500.
A scam apparently popular in Tennessee — selling used mattresses as factory rejects or close-out models — persuaded legislators to require large tags on each mattress announcing whether it is new or not.
Laws aimed at keeping children safe also won passage, with New Mexico hoping to discourage underage smoking by barring “self-service” cigarette purchases and requiring face-to-face sales.
In Michigan, after parents complained about sexually explicit magazines displayed where kids could see them, the state now requires store owners to conceal part of the magazine cover or put them in a separate area.
Illinois lawmakers are worried about youths who, bored with nose rings, are splitting their tongues. A new law allows allows dentists to perform the procedure, not tattoo shops and the like. The hope is that the rule will keep most kids from even trying to have it done.
“We’re choosing safety over cosmetics,” said state Rep. David Miller.
Other laws aim to guide the thorny areas of parental and abortion rights. In Delaware, egg or sperm donors for another couple cannot be considered the parent of a child conceived that way. In Texas, women seeking an abortion must wait 24 hours, and must be offered state-approved information about abortion risks and fetal development.
From cars to tributes
That centerpiece of American life — the car — got new attention, too. In Florida, drivers 80 and over must pass a vision test to renew their licenses. Speed limits in Oregon are now clear to be raised to 70 mph (from 65), once a study is completed on potential effects.
Georgia begins a statewide database of insured drivers, so no insurance card will be necessary. And Illinois makes it illegal to drive in the left lane of an interstate highway for more than one-half mile. (Violators can be fined $79).
Colorado hopes to help small businesses obtain less expensive insurance by letting them form pools to seek lower premiums; Pennsylvania expanded its prescription-drug assistance programs for seniors.
Tax breaks were handed out to farm equipment dealers in Georgia, the Kentucky trucking industry, and to New Mexico landowners who donate land for conservation. North Dakota cut the top corporate income tax rate but balanced the break by eliminating corporations’ ability to deduct federal taxes from state returns. Oregon raised taxes on hotels and motels by 1 percent.
And New York now honors Harriet Tubman, the former slave known who helped create the Underground Railroad. She helped some 300 slaves escape to freedom in the North.
The day of commemoration — which unlike a state holiday does not require employers to give their workers a day off — falls on March 10, the anniversary of Tubman’s death in 1913.