New State Laws Take Effect in the New Year

We survey of some of the more noteworthy state laws going into effect Jan. 1, including an increase in the minimum wage in eight states and a crackdown on paparazzi in California.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The start of the new year brings with it many new laws. Much of the legislation passed in state capitols during 2005 is set to take effect today or during the next couple of weeks. And as NPR's Adam Hochberg reports, there are hundreds of statutes on highway safety, health care and the economy.

ADAM HOCHBERG reporting:

Beginning this month, it will become easier to grow medical marijuana in Oregon, harder for teen-agers to ride Jet Skis in New York and illegal for Pennsylvanians to take voyeuristic photos. Those are but some of the effects of new state laws taking hold around the country. One of the most common trends this year is for states to increase their minimum wage. Places like Connecticut, Washington and Vermont now require employers to pay more than $7 an hour, about $2 above the federal minimum. Republican Senator Vince Illuzzi helped spearhead Vermont's increase.

State Senator VINCENT ILLUZZI (Republican, Vermont): Vermont has become a leader in trying to ensure the workers are provided sufficient income to make end's meet at the end of the month. You know, we don't want them choosing between buying groceries or getting medicines for their kids. It's just a minimum that you need given the cost of living.

HOCHBERG: Elsewhere, drugs and alcohol were common fodder for new laws. Oregon has liberalized what already was one of the nation's most permissive medical marijuana statutes, while Tennessee has taken an unusual approach to punish DUI offenders. They now can be assigned to pick up roadside trash wearing orange vests that say, `I am a drunk driver.' In South Carolina, voters repealed an antiquated law that forced bars to serve liquor from mini bottles, the small containers usually found on planes. The law originally was intended to control consumption, but Tom Sponseller of the South Carolina Hospitality Association says mini bottles actually led people to unwittingly drink too much.

Mr. TOM SPONSELLER (South Carolina Hospitality Association): A mini bottle drink in our state was a 1.7 ounce. Around the country, most bars only serve 1 1/4 ounces. So our drinks were stronger. We have a lot of tourists that come to our state and many times they were accustomed to two drinks with dinner, for example, and in this state, two drinks meant 3.4 ounces where at home it might only be 2 1/2 ounces.

HOCHBERG: In Pennsylvania, privacy concerns sparked a new ban on the practice known as upskirting, where camera phones or other devices are used to take revealing photos of unsuspecting women. Starting this month, the crime will be punishable by a year in prison or a $2,500 fine. Meanwhile, California is cracking down on photographers of a different kind. It's toughening penalties for paparazzi that harass celebrities. Democratic Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez pushed for the new law last summer after a photographer's van collided with actress Lindsay Lohan's car.

State Assemblywoman CINDY MONTANEZ (Democrat, California): It's going to put an end to, you know, paparazzi that are engaging in this outrageous and overly aggressive behavior because they want to capture that picture that could sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

HOCHBERG: The new year also brings restrictions on some of the nation's teen-agers. New York teens will now have to undergo training before they operate Jet Skis or other watercraft, while Minnesotans under 18 can no longer use cell phones while they're driving. But Illinois and California were stymied in their efforts to protect young people from another perceived danger. Citing First Amendment concerns, judges blocked laws that would have gone into effect today restricting the sale of explicit video games to minors.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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