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July Means Fireworks And A New Crop Of State Laws
Like any fireworks show on July 4, state laws taking effect Friday are certain to deepen some Americans' patriotism — and leave others feeling cheated.
From Connecticut to California, new regulations to be enacted on July 1, when most states begin a new fiscal year, will change how people live in ways big — Illinois is repealing its death penalty law — and small — California is mandating carbon monoxide detectors. While each state has distinct needs, legislation approved across the nation addresses many of the same issues, such as budget shortfalls, immigration, voter eligibility, health care and workers' rights.
In this nascent economic recovery, many states found ways to raise revenue without taking the politically suicidal step of raising taxes. So, people may not see more money removed from their paychecks, but they will shell out more at the cash register in the form of higher sales taxes. For instance, Connecticut residents will be taxed on yoga sessions, manicures and even valet parking. (Unlike other states, Connecticut didn't flinch in imposing the largest tax increase in state history.)
"The key issue has been money and budgets. Everybody is dealing with that," William Pound, executive director of the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, says. "It has been through reductions or increases in fees. Like raising tuition at higher education institutions, or fees at state parks. We're putting more of the cost of the service on the individual using it rather than on the taxpaying public at large."
Immigration was another common target. More than 1,500 related bills and resolutions were introduced in state legislatures this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. By the end of March, 26 states had enacted 63 laws addressing the education and employment of illegal immigrants, human trafficking or enforcement of existing laws.
Here's a sampling of new laws taking effect Friday:
Immigration: Crackdowns and Expansions
Job candidates in Georgia now face felony charges for submitting false information and documents to potential employers. That's the only major provision in the new state law that takes effect Friday. The other provisions, which include allowing local police to verify a suspect's immigration status and detain them, are under temporary injunction by a federal judge as part of a lawsuit aimed at overturning the law.
On Sept. 1, a similar law takes effect in Alabama. That state's version is regarded as the strictest in the nation in part because it requires public schools to determine the immigration status of pupils.
On the other side of the immigration divide, Illinois will enact its version of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), becoming the first state to establish a private scholarship fund for the children of illegal immigrants.
And, in Connecticut, illegal immigrants who are high school graduates will be eligible for in-state tuition at state colleges. A similar law passed in Maryland and was scheduled to take effect Friday, but likely won't because of an ongoing petition drive aimed at forcing a voter referendum to overturn it. Both laws require students to be on a path to gaining legal status.
Digital Don'ts: Gabbing, Bullying and Sexting
Connecticut raised fines for talking on a cell phone and texting while driving. A first offense will cost $125, up from $100, a second offense between $150 and $250 and future citations could reach $400.
Connecticut also banned school bullying, both in person and virtually, via the Internet or digital devices.
Florida eased punishments for minors caught "sexting," the practice of sending lewd photos via text message. The law, aimed at protecting children from prosecution for more serious crimes such as child pornography, imposes a $60 fine or eight hours of community service for first-time offenders. A second violation is a first-degree misdemeanor.
Dead People Do Vote...Others Must Show ID
In Virginia, if you send in an absentee ballot but die before Election Day, your vote still will be counted.
In Oklahoma, voters now must present identification at the polls. Separately, new voter ID legislation was introduced in 20 states and passed in Kansas and Wisconsin, where the laws will take effect in 2012.
Pot Or Not
Minnesota outlawed synthetic marijuana, otherwise known as K2 or Spice. These herbs are sprayed with synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of the real stuff, and were sold in stores with no restrictions as incense or potpourri.
Connecticut went in the other direction, eliminating criminal prosecution for adults caught with up to half an ounce of marijuana. The offense now carries a fine, and no jail time either.
In Virginia, patrons may be allowed to bring their own wine to restaurants. The law is voluntary, leaving the decision up to the individual restaurant. Establishments can also charge a fee for corkage.
Miscellaneous: Hog Huntin' and California Carpooling
Those rugged types in the woods of south Georgia who use bait to hunt deer and wild hogs now will be permitted to move as close as they'd like to their prey. Previously, they had to remain 200 yards away and hidden.
Drivers of hybrid vehicles might start hunting for the off-ramp in California, now that they no longer can travel solo in HOV lanes. The ban affects some 85,000 motorists with vehicles that run on a combination of gasoline and electricity. HOV access now will shift to vehicles entirely powered by electricity and natural gas.