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New laws in effect July 1 in many states

Lawmakers change the rules on drinking and eating out, law enforcement and more.

July 05, 2009|Associated Press

COLUMBUS, OHIO — Government records will be more open in South Dakota, Florida is cracking down on illicit prescription drug sales, and downing a cold one at the corner bar will be easier in Utah.

New laws that took effect this month reflect states' concerns with holding police more accountable, expanding the use of DNA to solve crimes and offering certain tax breaks.

July 1 was the effective date in many states for laws passed during this year's legislative sessions.

Some laws create new state responsibilities. Florida, the nation's leader in illicit sales of addictive prescription drugs such as the painkiller OxyContin, will join 38 other states that have electronic tracking systems for such drugs. Critics say the new law isn't strong enough and may infringe on patient privacy.

California now requires that chain restaurants disclose the calories on standard menu items. In South Carolina, unmarried biological fathers of children have to register paternity claims with the state to preserve parental rights.

Other laws ease requirements.

Utah lifted some of the nation's strictest regulations limiting who can belly up to the bar.

For 40 years, the state has considered bars to be private clubs that can grant admission only to members who have filled out an application and paid a fee, or to members' guests. The system is being scrapped in an effort to lure tourists and make the state more appealing for businesses.

In Ohio, truck drivers are finally able to travel on most interstates at 65 mph, like cars. "It's safer when everybody is trying to go the same speed," said Larry Davis, president of the Ohio Trucking Assn., which lobbied for the change.

Some laws put extra mandates on police departments. SWAT teams in Maryland must report on their missions to the governor every six months and report whenever a SWAT team injures or kills a pet.

The law was spurred by last year's raid on a mayor's house during which police killed the official's two black Labradors. Police cleared the mayor and said he was victim of a scheme in which drug couriers drop deliveries at the homes of unsuspecting recipients to be picked up by somebody else later.

Although police departments support the law, they're concerned that it lacks detail, from what constitutes a SWAT team to how long records will be kept. "The law's kind of vague about it," said Larry Harmel, executive director of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Assn.

Minnesota is compelling police and sheriffs to start searching right away when adults disappear under suspicious circumstances. Some law enforcement agencies now wait 24 or 48 hours to look into such cases.

The law is named for Brandon Swanson, a 19-year-old who disappeared last May after he ran his car off the road in rural western Minnesota.

"We don't want to waste law enforcement's time, but on the flip side, in some of these situations it's life and death," said Minnesota state Rep. Marty Seifert, a Republican.

Elsewhere, states such as Florida, Michigan and Nevada are beefing up their laws requiring suspects arrested for felonies -- not just convicted criminals -- to submit DNA samples.

Tax breaks abound. North Dakota is reducing taxes on income, champagne and pull-tab gambling tickets. Maryland added domestic partners who co-own homes to the list of people exempted from the state inheritance tax.

North Carolina will provide a series of new and expanded property tax breaks or deferrals to disabled veterans, the elderly and fishery owners. Washington is giving newspaper printers and publishers a 40% cut in the state's main business tax.

Several laws try to keep children and teens healthy and safe.

Oregon strengthened its existing anti-bullying law after a study found the state's 2001 law was failing to stop name-calling, slurs and harassment, especially insults aimed at minorities, girls and gays.

California banned soda from high school cafeterias. Mississippi now requires anyone 17 or younger to get written permission from a parent or guardian before using an indoor tanning facility. Parents must be present if the child is 13 or younger.

Concerns about Western water rights spurred a law in Colorado allowing people to collect rainwater for fire protection, animals and household use without fear of prosecution. It's a touchy issue in the state, which does not import water from other states or regions and is forced by law to send it to other states downstream.

Not every law that took effect July 1 deals with important public policy. A new Florida measure allows state universities to create mausoleums to hold urns of ashes of devoted alumni. The legislation was requested by the University of Florida, where officials say they get calls about once a month from Gator alums who want to have their ashes spread on the school's football field.

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