Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Laws Extend from Drivers to Dentists ; Security and Pocketbook Issues Underlie Many of the State Laws Going into Effect in the New Year

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Laws Extend from Drivers to Dentists ; Security and Pocketbook Issues Underlie Many of the State Laws Going into Effect in the New Year

Article excerpt

Kentucky car owners can now buy special license plates that advocate spaying and neutering pets. California workers have to be told 60 days in advance if they are going to be part of a mass layoff. And it is now a felony in New Hampshire to commit a hoax involving biological or chemical weapons.

These are just a few of the new state laws that will go into effect in the new year. They reflect many of society's changing concerns, from terrorism to job loss to identify theft. States continue to pass new laws protecting children. Prescription-drug legislation is popular. And several states are taking aim at telemarketers with "leave us alone" legislation.

As Georgians will soon find out, some of the new laws are the result of past federal mandates that now require a state to obtain a Social Security number for anyone obtaining or renewing a driver's license. Many are controversial, such as a new California law that gives homebuilders a 90-day grace period to make repairs of alleged construction defects before a lawsuit can be filed.

The pocketbook factor

Some residents - in North Carolina and California, for example - will find new fees or taxes as state legislatures try to bridge some of the biggest budget gaps in over 50 years.

"The overriding theme for state legislatures was having to deal with shortfalls in revenues," says William Pound, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.

Even though many states need revenue, few are raising taxes to start the year. Those that have include California, which has slapped on a 3.3 percent income-tax withholding requirement on investment property, second homes, and other real estate. Gasoline, diesel, and alternative fuels will rise by 1 cent a gallon in North Carolina. Most states, however, won't make decisions on tax increases until they put together their budgets - something that usually starts in January.

"In the past year, states got by with reductions," says Mr. Pound. "Will that be true of '03?"

New York State, for example, faced with a $8 billion to $10 billion deficit, may be considering new taxes at the same time past tax cuts go into effect. Starting this year, there will be a variety of tax cuts, ranging from an increase in the standard deduction for married couples who don't itemize to an increase in the college tuition tax credit. According to a spokesman for Gov. George Pataki's budget office, these tax cuts were part of a multi-year phase-in.

Legislatures also continued to enact new laws relating to the attacks of 9/11. They beefed up security at state facilities, funded new communications systems, and gave added money for first responders.

Watch your driving

Although many new laws reflect the tense times, others are more oriented toward everyday life. For example, minors in the Golden State now must wear safety helmets when they use scooters, skateboards, and inline skates. …

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