By Robert Tanner
New Year’s Day will offer more than resolutions, hangovers and football games. Washington state will see new limits on tax increases, Florida gets revamped elections, and attempts to improve health care begin in Colorado, Rhode Island and elsewhere.
When 2002 arrives Tuesday, so will many new state laws, including Oregon’s ban on smoking in most workplaces and tougher drinking laws in New Hampshire and Alabama.
Some measures only won approval after long and loud debate, such as a sweeping new gay rights law in California and a lottery in South Carolina, where the first scratch-off tickets go on sale Jan. 7.
Many of the new laws take effect Jan. 1; others will be implemented soon after governors sign legislation already approved by lawmakers, or on July 1, which begins the fiscal year in most states.
In Washington state, a voter-approved initiative takes effect capping local governments’ property tax growth to 1 percent a year unless voters allow a larger increase.
This year began with a big push for election reform, but that gave way in many states to study committees. Florida, fittingly, was ahead of the rest with a sweeping change that bars punch cards and sets recount standards. Elsewhere, changes were smaller — such as Colorado’s law to let the secretary of state upgrade the computer system to combat fraud.
Criminals and other assorted lawbreakers, as always, were the focus of many new laws. Convicted felons in Michigan will get their mouths swabbed for a DNA database; in Alaska, they will have to pay cash to victims of their crimes.
In Oregon, anyone who gets another person to unknowingly consume so-called date rape drugs can get 10 years in prison and a $200,000 fine — 20 years if it’s done with intent to commit rape or violence.
Repeat drunken drivers in New Hampshire face tougher penalties: a fourth conviction now will mean up to seven years in prison and at least seven years without a license.
"If you haven’t learned by the second or third time, you’re not going to be rehabilitated. You’re not going to be drinking while in prison and hopefully you’re getting treatment," said state Rep. John Tholl, who is also police chief in Dalton, N.H.
South Carolina cracked down on anyone pretending to be a sheriff. Nonsheriffs or deputies caught wearing a star with the state seal can get a $100 fine or 30 days in jail.
Driving worries inspired new laws in several states. Laws require children 6 and under to be in child seats in Oregon, set tougher teen driving restrictions in Georgia, and ban talking on hand-held cell phones in Santa Fe, N.M. (New York’s ban, the only statewide law, took effect Nov. 1).
Starting Jan. 1, cell phones and driving will be studied in California, while Oregon made it illegal for local governments to regulate cell phones and driving. In North Bend, Wash., inattentive drivers — fiddling with the radio, eating a burger — can be fined an extra $300 if they get a ticket.
Smokers will face a ban in most workplaces in Oregon, though smoking will go on in bars and taverns (except in cities with pre-existing bans). In Washington state, through a voters initiative, smokers will pay the highest cigarette tax in the country — $1.42 1/2 cents a pack, a 60-cent increase. The extra $100 million annually will go to health care and anti-smoking campaigns.
Gambling, too, caught several states’ attention.
South Carolina’s new lottery, after a year of planning, begins six days after the new year begins, with prizes up to $100,000. In West Virginia, long popular but illegal video poker machines are now legal and regulated, with some of the money going to pay for college scholarships.
And in Bristol Bay, Alaska, a new gambling venture hopes to pay for scholarships for young people in the economically depressed area. The idea? Guess the number of red salmon caught in the fishing season.
The new raffle was inspired by another Alaska-only gamble, where raffle buyers guess when the ice will break on the Tanana River. This year, eight winners split $308,000 after the river ice broke on May 8 at 1 p.m.
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