January 01, 2000 12:40pm
New Year Brings New Laws
by: Robert Tanner
Out with parole, police quotas on traffic tickets and sky-high loans. In with gun locks, helmets for kids on horseback and tougher driver licensing rules for teen-agers.
The New Year rings in a jubilee of new laws around the country, from the kooky - moose killed on New York's highways can be dragged home as trophies - to the frightening - child pornography in Illinois now includes computer-generated images.
More than anything else, the states took steps to reform health care, requiring better service, faster payment and broader coverage as the issue continues to be debated in Congress.
Viagra backlash hit in California, North Carolina and New Hampshire. As of Saturday, laws require insurers to cover the costs of contraceptives or birth control. Women's groups had complained of a double standard after Viagra, the male impotence wonder drug, was covered by many policies, even though reproductive-related costs for women have gone uncovered for years.
Video voyeurs - those who surreptitiously record people in public bathrooms or elsewhere - face new punishments in California. And child pornography, a felony that in Illinois carries a sentence up to 15 years, now includes computer-generated images.
California moved to strengthen protections for gays, passing a law that would prohibit discrimination or harassment of gays in all schools that accept public money or aid.
Oklahoma and Nevada stepped up coverage for mental illnesses. Claims will be paid faster in Colorado. Second opinions must be covered in California.
"In health care, down the line, we're going to need to make national changes. But patients, doctors and nurses aren't going to wait for that," said Doug Heller, a consumer advocate in California with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
Teen-agers itching to get behind the wheel of their parents' car will come under new restrictions in New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Arizona. The graduated licensing programs require more training time before teens get full driving privileges.
A slew of car-related laws took effect on New Year's Day, fitting for a country that lives and breathes in automobiles.
North Carolina mechanics must provide written estimates and cannot charge more than 10 percent more without notice. California service stations must provide free water for overheated cars and air for leaking tires, as long as the motorist buys fuel.
Aiming at problem drunk drivers, Florida police can immediately take away a vehicle if a motorist suspended for drunken driving is stopped for driving under the influence.
"The habitual offenders keep committing the violations. People have five, six, seven DUIs sometimes," said James DiBernardo, a major with the Miami-Dade Police.
High-speed police pursuits got attention, too: Minnesota police will be trained on when and how to hit the gas pedal, while student drivers in Connecticut will be taught how to safely pull over when the red lights come on. Wisconsin banned traffic ticket quotas for law enforcement.
After a year of gun violence in schools, counselors will step up school violence prevention programs in Illinois and Connecticut.
Crimes committed with guns in hand will bring longer sentences in Illinois, while gunowners must now put locks on their weapons. Wisconsin abolished parole.
Answering complaints that black drivers are targeted by police, North Carolina state law enforcement agents have legal backing to track the race of all people stopped. The law, however, excludes local police and sheriffs.
A new tax credit begins in Illinois to help families send their children to private school; even sponsors said it would provide state support for children to go to religious schools. And in Texas, unmarried girls under 18 who want an abortion must tell a parent first or a physician must do so for her. She could also get a judge to declare her mature enough to decide herself.
Kids who ride horseback in New York must wear helmets at stables or other commercial operations. And Louisiana payday loan companies must limit interest rates to 16.75 percent and fees to $45. Some loans had gone as high as 600 percent.
It should be a happy New Year for New Hampshire's loons, which won't have to worry about gobbling up fishermen's deadly lead sinkers anymore. Moose in New York, however, were less lucky. Drivers who crash into and kill one can take the carcass home.
And cat tags debut in Rhode Island, with a law requiring the same neck licenses for felines as for dogs.
The Big Easy might get a little less loose with a Louisiana law aimed at stopping underage and heavy drinking. Although the state spent two years training bartenders, one barkeep in New Orleans' French Quarter said it will be too hard to weed out the drunks and cut them off, as required.
"It will never apply here because the air is 80 proof," said Wayne Weaver, a bartender at The Mint.