Big Government Expansion, 40,000 New Laws as of New Year’s Day

40,000 new state laws took effect New Year’s Day regulating everything from getting abortions in New Hampshire, learning about gays and lesbians in California, getting jobs in Alabama to driving golf carts in Georgia. Many federal rule changes rang in with the new year also, including a Social Security increase amounting to $450 a year for the average recipients and stiff fines up to $2,700 per offense for truckers and bus drivers caught using hand-held cellphones while driving.

Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, Ohio, Vermont and Florida will raise the minimum wage. San Francisco will become the first city to raise its minimum wage above $10 per hour. The new $10.24 minimum is nearly $3 above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Alabama will require all employers who do business with any government entity to use a federal system known as E-Verify to check that all new employees are in the country legally. Georgia will require any business with 500 or more employees to use E-Verify to check the employment eligibility of new hires. The requirement is being phased in, with all employers with more than 10 employees to be included by July 2013.

Supporters say they want to deter illegal immigrants from coming to Georgia while critics say that changes to immigration law should come at the federal level and that portions of the law already in effect are already hurting Georgia.

“It is destroying Georgia’s economy and it is destroying the fabric of our social network in South Georgia,” Paul Bridges, mayor of the onion-farming town of Uvalda, said in November. He is part of a lawsuit challenging the new law.

South Carolina law will allow officials to revoke the operating licenses of businesses that don’t use E-verify. A federal judge blocked parts of the law that would require police to check the immigration status of criminal suspects or people stopped for traffic violations they think might be in the country illegally, and that would have made it a crime for illegal immigrants to transport or house themselves.

California is expanding eligibility for private scholarships to students brought to the country illegally when they were infants.

In Colorado, coaches will be required to bench players as young as 11 when they’re believed to have suffered a head injury and need medical clearance for the young athletes to return to play. Coaches in public and private schools and even volunteer Little League and Pop Warner football coaches will be required to take free annual online training to recognize the symptoms of a concussion. At least a dozen other states have enacted similar laws.

People 18 and under in Illinois will have to wear seat belts while riding in taxis for school-related purposes.

Florida will take control of lunch and other school food programs from the federal government, allowing the state to put more Florida-grown fresh fruit and vegetables on school menus. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says the change will help children eat healthier.

A California law will add gays and lesbians and people with disabilities to the list of social and ethnic groups whose contributions must be taught in history lessons in public schools. The law also bans teaching materials that reflect poorly on gays or particular religions. Opponents have filed five potential initiatives to repeal the requirement outright or let parents remove their children while gays’ contributions are being taught.

In New Hampshire, a law requiring girls seeking abortions to tell their parents or a judge first was reinstated by conservative Republicans over a gubernatorial veto.

In Arkansas, facilities that perform 10 or more nonsurgical abortions a month must be licensed by the state Health Department and be subject to inspections by the department.

In North Dakota, drivers under age 16 must have instructional permits for a year, up from six months, before they can get full licenses. The law also limits nighttime driving and bans drivers younger than 18 from using cell phones in their cars.

New laws requiring voters to present photo identification will go into effect in Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas while Tennessee election officials will be required to identify possible non-citizens who are registered to vote and ask for proof of citizenship in order to remain registered voters.

Other highlights by state:
Alabama:

  • New restrictions govern who can testify as an expert witness in civil and criminal trials in a measure aiming to limit what critics call “junk science” theories of how or why a crime occurred.

California:

  • Employers cannot use consumer credit reports to evaluate job candidates, except for some exempted positions or when employers obtain consent from applicants.

Delaware:

  • Civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples are legalized, giving them the same state rights and obligations of those who are married but clarifying that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Georgia:

  • New safety requirements for cities that allow drivers to steer their golf carts off the green and onto roads and multi-use paths, including brakes, reverse warning devices and a horn.
  • Any agency administering public benefits must require each applicant to provide at least one “secure and verifiable document.”
  • Municipalities with 911 call centers can require retailers selling prepaid cellphones to charge a fee to support the emergency systems.

Illinois:

  • People convicted of first-degree murder must be added to a new public database, similar to the sex offender registry, when they’re released from prison or any other facility. The database would include names, addresses, workplaces, schools attended and photos for offenders for up to 10 years after release.
  • Motorcyclists stopped at a red light may proceed through if it fails to change to green after a reasonable length of time.
  • Animal-control centers scanning a lost pet for a microchip also must look for other common forms of identification, including tattoos and ID tags.

Nevada:

  • The state attorney general gains new subpoena powers to investigate open meeting law complaints, and members of public bodies who knowingly participate in violations are subject to civil penalties up to $500.
  • Music therapists and dietitians face new licensing requirements, while educators must now undergo a criminal background check when their licenses are renewed. Fire performers and apprentices must apply to the state fire marshal for certificate of registration.
  • A statewide emergency alert system is established for vulnerable elderly people, similar to the Amber Alert system for abducted children.

North Carolina:

  • More criminals convicted of misdemeanors will be housed in county jails rather than in state prisons to save money and reduce repeat offenses.
  • State tax collector will have fewer powers to force corporations to redo their tax returns if they’re suspected of dodging taxes.

Tennessee:

  • Penalties increasing for raping a child, creating a minimum sentence of 25 years but allowing judges to increase the time when appropriate, up to 60 years for the worst cases.
  • Penalties also increase for people who fire a weapon into an occupied home, a measure that seeks to curtail drive-by shootings.

Utah:

  • New laws make any daily drink specials illegal, essentially banning happy hour.

Jan. 1 is the effective date in many states for laws passed while in others, laws take effect July 1, or 90 days after passage.

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1 Comment

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