New laws loosen gun control, restrict smoking and drinking, and crack down on texting misuse

By Andrew Welsh-huggins, AP
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Individual choices at stake as laws take effect

Gun owners with permits can carry concealed weapons into restaurants that serve alcohol in New Mexico and Virginia. Young and old alike must show proof of age when buying alcohol in Indiana. Georgia and Kentucky are hitting the delete key on texting while driving.

New laws taking effect Thursday reflect states’ ongoing debates over individual freedoms, touching on everything from smoking restrictions to measures seeking to fight crime.

A widely publicized Arizona measure, requiring police conducting investigations to ask those involved about their immigration status if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they’re in the country illegally, takes effect at month’s end, though a court challenge is likely. Several states are also reducing programs and cutting spending to deal with record budget deficits.

In Wisconsin, a new law aimed at curbing drunken driving increases mandatory jail time for repeat offenders, but drivers still won’t face criminal charges the first time they are caught. Police remain prohibited from setting up roadside sobriety checks.

Convicted drunken drivers in four California counties, including Los Angeles, will have to prove they are sober before they can start their vehicles. The test program requires first-time offenders to install ignition interlock devices.

In Indiana, anyone buying alcohol after Thursday must show ID regardless of their age. One goal of the legislation is to make it easier on clerks who may be reluctant to ask for proof. One lawmaker who opposed the measure called it overkill.

“If I’m 70 years old and I go to a liquor store to buy a six-pack of beer, they obviously know that I’m over 21 years old,” state Rep. Woody Burton said Wednesday. “It’s ridiculous.”

In New Hampshire, the state’s anti-bullying law added a definition that includes the use of electronic devices, such as telephones, cell phones, computers, pagers, e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging and websites. Nevada added similar bullying restrictions.

A pair of laws taking effect in Georgia ban anyone with a first-time license from texting or talking on a cell phone while driving — aimed mostly at new teenage drivers — and bans all drivers from texting.

State Sen. Jack Murphy, who acknowledges he himself has occasionally texted while driving, agreed the practice is dangerous.

“It’s a shame that we have to have a law that says you can’t text while driving; that should be common sense,” Murphy said. “Trying to type in a text message while you’re driving becomes very foolish.”

Georgia’s anti-texting law comes with a $150 fine. Kentucky’s law starts with warnings, then in January adds a $20 fine for a first offense and $50 for a second offense.

In Ohio, a new law will require insurance companies to cover the children of policy holders until they turn 28, a measure that goes beyond the federal health care law passed this year.

More than one in five Ohioans between ages 18 and 34 do not have health insurance, said Cathy Levine, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio.

“The new law’s going to bring needed relief to recent graduates who are losing coverage when they leave school or young people who have entry-level jobs without health benefits,” Levine said.

Smokers will pay higher cigarette taxes in New Mexico and South Carolina, where the per pack excise tax is rising 50 cents.

The measure will raise $135 million a year, most of which will be used to receive additional matching Medicaid funds from the federal government. But the tax will also reduce smoking, especially among teens, said Louis Eubank, executive director of the South Carolina Tobacco Initiative.

“For every 10 percent that we increase the tax, we can reduce youth smoking rates in South Carolina by 7 percent,” Eubank said. “What that means is that we’ve got 23,000 kids in South Carolina who are alive today that won’t start smoking.”

Kansas and Wisconsin are also enacting bans against smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces.

States continue to expand gun owners’ rights. In Indiana, workers can store guns in locked cars on their employers’ property.

Debate over laws allowing concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol in New Mexico and Virginia included concerns about mixing booze and guns.

New Mexico restaurant owners can post signs banning weapons. And Virginia gun rights supporter Philip Van Cleave said it’s a non-issue in his state because the law won’t allow gun owners to drink.

“It’s not like alcohol suddenly jumps from their glass into my veins and suddenly I got a problem,” said Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “And indeed, if there is somebody drinking in there and suddenly they pull a knife and start to stab people or whatever, I want to be able to protect myself.”

Oregon’s first-in-the-nation environmental plan for recycling paint goes into effect Thursday, and consumers will see the price of paint rise with it. Proponents say it takes the burden off of local government paint recycling programs and shifts it to the people who use it. The paint will be collected at drop-off centers, reprocessed and then sold.

Oklahoma will require public schools to include information about the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in their curriculum.

Florida is banning the sale of Burmese pythons and six other nonnative reptiles; Connecticut is requiring coaches to take high school athletes out of games if they shows signs of a concussion; and Alabama is making human trafficking a crime.

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