Friday, December 29, 2006

Hundreds of laws kick in Monday

Hundreds of laws kick in Monday
By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY

In California, driving with people in the trunk will be illegal. In Alabama, landlords will have to provide livable conditions for tenants.

Illinois agencies will have to provide people to answer phones, not just automated messages.

These are among the hundreds of laws that will take effect Monday. Each New Year's Day, a flurry of legal experiments begin that shape Americans' lives.

The U.S. government spends twice as much money as state and local governments combined, but state government has the greatest effect on Americans' everyday lives — how they drive, how they get married and divorced, how they hunt and fish, and how they buy cigarettes and beer.

This year, new laws include minimum wage hikes, tighter protections on personal privacy and expanded health care rights for consumers. The minimum wage will rise Monday in eight states: to $6.15 an hour in North Carolina, to $7.65 in Connecticut and to somewhere in between in Delaware, Hawaii, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Raising the federal minimum wage — $5.15 an hour — is a priority of Democrats, who will take control of Congress in January.

More than a dozen states will move to protect personal privacy. Arkansas will make it illegal to publicly show someone's Social Security number.

Maryland will order Social Security numbers removed from paychecks. Eight states will let victims of identity theft freeze their credit reports, so the information can't be released in ways that would hurt their reputation or let crooks get more credit.

States also will address complex moral issues, such as how people die.

Idaho will become the 10th state to create a central registry for medical directives and living wills that control end-of-life care.

Other new laws:

•California: People are prohibited from riding in car trunks. High school kids have put friends in trunks to avoid limits on how many teens can ride with newly licensed drivers. "Trunking" has been linked to nine deaths since 2000.

•Louisiana: Couples with children will have to wait a year after separating to file for divorce. The waiting period is designed to encourage reconciliation.

•New York: "Timothy's Law" will require insurers to provide more mental health coverage. It is named after Timothy O'Clair, 12, who committed suicide in 2001.

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