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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The New Year ushers in new laws affecting everything from schools to workplace to safety in your car.

NPR's Richard Gonzales has this round up.

RICHARD GONZALES: One of the biggest changes in the workplace comes at the bottom wrung of the workforce. Seventeen states will raise their minimum wage in the New Year. Washington State offers the highest at $7.93 per hour. California is close behind offering $7.50.

Jean Ross is the executive director of the California Budget Project in Sacramento.

Ms. JEAN ROSS (Executive Director, California Budget Project): It's just over $1,500 a year. That's enough to pay a month and a half worth of rent on a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland or Los Angeles. So that's a very real improvement in someone's standard of living.

GONZALES: Meanwhile, a healthy economy is credited with building surpluses in state coffers around the country, and lawmakers are spending some of that money on education.

Corina Eckl of the National Conference of State Legislatures says 29 states will pump more money into schools this year.

Ms. CORINA ECKL (National Conference of State Legislatures): In fact, education is a high priority item for state legislators. And when times are good, they do their very best to try to restore any kind of funding cut that may have occurred. They look to increase funding formulas. They try to find funds for teacher salary increases, sort of a whole range of funding improvements that occur when state revenues start performing more strongly.

GONZALES: Perhaps, one of the most dominant issues in statehouses in 2006 was immigration. State lawmakers, frustrated by the lack of federal action, passed 75 new laws most of which are aimed at illegal immigrants.

Michael Fix is vice president of the Migration Policy Institute.

Mr. MICHAEL FIX (Vice President, Migration Policy Institute): You're seeing sanctions on employers. You're seeing restrictions on government contractors. You're seeing the sanctions on landlords, who have some interest in renting to the undocumented.

You've got restrictions on identity documents, and then at the same time you get a lot of enforcement, a lot of marrying of state and local and national immigration enforcement.

GONZALES: Another major trend in statehouses is a passage of what is known as the Castle Doctrine. Thirteen states followed the lead of Florida, with new laws permitting people in their homes, cars or at work to defend themselves with deadly force if confronted by an armed predator.

Andrew Arulanandam is a spokesman for the National Rifle Association.

Mr. ANDREW ARULANANDAM (National Rifle Association): Right now, in any number of states, if you're a victim of crime you have a legal duty to retreat, and all this law does is to provide the victims of crime an option that if and when they're attacked, God forbid, that they can either stand their ground and fight or choose to run. If you're attacked and you choose to respond with deadly force, then the person who attacked you cannot sue you.

GONZALES: At the same time, 10 states are prohibiting law enforcement officials from confiscating firearms during a declared natural disaster. And finally, in the New Year, California will become the first state in the union to try to tackle global warming by reducing greenhouse emissions.

Bill Magavern of the Sierra Club says, the plan will eventually increase consumer choice.

Mr. BILL MAGAVERN (Sierra Club): We'll see hybrid technology and other cleaner technologies. It will mean that people will be working and living in greener buildings that use less energy. It will mean that governments will need to take another look at planning and land use patterns to try to reduce the amount of vehicle miles traveled that are also causing emissions.

GONZALES: This month, California will begin public meetings to discuss the state's long-term plan to reduce greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News.

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