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
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
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
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