New State Laws Run Social Gamut ; Churromakers, Clamdiggers, among Those Facing New Regulation for the Coming Year

Article excerpt

If you like your churros fresh, you're in luck. Food carts in California are no longer bound by law to sell the Spanish donut ready-made. They can be fried right on the street corner.

And those with a penchant for driving on the dusty sections of rivers should steer clear of Texas. Thursday, the state officially banned motor vehicles from dry riverbeds - an attempt to stave off erosion.

As the new year begins, more than 500 new laws in 21 states - the byproducts of long and oft-tedious legislative sessions - will change American's lives in ways both serious and obscure.

Many of the new measures reflect American society's most contentious issues - from public safety to privacy concerns. In some cases, they can be viewed as a sort of ideological and legislative roadmap for what lies ahead on the national front.

"In the 20th century, they said that states were laboratories for [national ] reform," says Tim Hodson, a political scientist from California State University, Sacramento. "States have always enacted laws that are the precursors to federal laws."

At the top of many states' agendas this year: combating telemarketers and those who send unsolicited e-mail.

From the West Coast to New England, states issued laws calling for "do not call lists." In Maine, telemarketers can no longer use special devices to willfully block their phone numbers when soliciting residents. A Nevada lawtakes on telemarketers by using the national "do not call list," still under court challenge, to restrict calls made within the state.

While states are acting to restrain marketers, they also are imposing a spate of new fees. According to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 30 states raised $2.6 billion in revenue from fees in 2003, compared to 16 states and $926 million the year before.

The fees, say experts, allow states to ease budget shortfalls without imposing tax increases, which are generally unpopular among voters.

Starting this year, Oregon's two-year registration fee for automobile owners rose from $30 to $54. And those who dig for clams or harvest oysters and shrimp will have to apply for a first-ever $6.50 license.

Some of the new laws have been pushed through only after years of intense debate. In Texas, the "Woman's Right to Know Act" now requires pregnant women to wait 24 hours before they receive an abortion, during which time they will be given educational brochures. …