About 40,000 state laws taking effect at the start of the new year will change rules about getting abortions in New Hampshire, learning about gays and lesbians in California, getting jobs in Alabama and even driving golf carts in Georgia.
Several federal rules change with the new year, too, including a Social Security increase amounting to $450 a year for the average recipients and stiff fines up to $2,700 per offense for truckers and bus drivers caught using hand-held cellphones while driving.
NBC News, the National Conference of State Legislatures, The Associated Press, and other organizations tracked the changes and offered their views on the highlights.
Many laws reflect the nation’s concerns over immigration, the cost of government and the best way to protect and benefit young people, including regulations on sports concussions.
Eight states will raise the minimum wage, NBC News reported. They include Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, Ohio, Vermont and Florida, NBC News said. San Francisco will become the first city to raise its minimum wage above $10 per hour. The new $10.24 minimum is nearly $3 above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, set in 2009.
Jan. 1 is the effective date in many states for laws passed during this year’s legislative sessions. In others, laws take effect July 1, or 90 days after passage.
Alabama, with the country’s toughest immigration law, will require all employers who do business with any government entity to use a federal system known as E-Verify to check that all new employees are in the country legally.
Georgia is putting a similar law into effect requiring any business with 500 or more employees to use E-Verify to check the employment eligibility of new hires. The requirement is being phased in, with all employers with more than 10 employees to be included by July 2013.
Supporters said they wanted to deter illegal immigrants from coming to Georgia by making it tougher for them to work. Critics said that changes to immigration law should come at the federal level and that portions of the law already in effect are already hurting Georgia.
“It is destroying Georgia’s economy and it is destroying the fabric of our social network in South Georgia,” Paul Bridges, mayor of the onion-farming town of Uvalda, said in November. He is part of a lawsuit challenging the new law.Rich Pedroncelli / AP
Tennessee will also require businesses to ensure employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S. but exempts employers with five or fewer workers and allows them to keep a copy of the new hire’s driver’s license instead of using E-Verify.
A South Carolina law would allow officials to yank the operating licenses of businesses that don’t check new hires’ legal status through E-verify. A federal judge last week blocked parts of the law that would have required police to check the immigration status of criminal suspects or people stopped for traffic violations they think might be in the country illegally, and that would have made it a crime for illegal immigrants to transport or house themselves.
California is also addressing illegal immigration. The California Dream Act expands eligibility for private scholarships to students brought to the country illegally when they were infants.
The second part of the Dream Act, expanding eligibility for financial aid, will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. Additional legislation authorizes any student, including one without lawful immigration status, to serve in any capacity in student government.
Protecting the young
In Colorado, coaches will be required to bench players as young as 11 when they’re believed to have suffered a head injury. The young athletes will also need medical clearance to return to play.
The law also requires coaches in public and private schools and even volunteer Little League and Pop Warner football coaches to take free annual online training to recognize the symptoms of a concussion. At least a dozen other states have enacted similar laws with the support of the National Football League.
People 18 and under in Illinois will have to wear seat belts while riding in taxis for school-related purposes, and Illinois school boards can suspend or expel students who make explicit threats on websites against other students or school employees.
Florida will take control of lunch and other school food programs from the federal government, allowing the state to put more Florida-grown fresh fruit and vegetables on school menus. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says the change will help children eat healthier.
A California law will add gays and lesbians and people with disabilities to the list of social and ethnic groups whose contributions must be taught in history lessons in public schools. The law also bans teaching materials that reflect poorly on gays or particular religions.
Opponents have filed five potential initiatives to repeal the requirement outright or let parents remove their children while gays’ contributions are being taught.In New Hampshire, a law requiring girls seeking abortions to tell their parents or a judge first was reinstated by conservative Republicans over a gubernatorial veto. The state enacted a similar law eight years ago, but it was never enforced following a series of lawsuits.
In Arkansas, facilities that perform 10 or more nonsurgical abortions a month must be licensed by the state Health Department and be subject to inspections by the department, the same requirements faced by facilities that offer surgical abortions in the state.
It affects two Planned Parenthood facilities that offer the abortion pill, though they’re not singled out in the statute.
Nevada’s three-month old ban on texting while driving will get tougher, with tickets replacing the warnings that police have issued since the ban took effect Oct. 1. In Pennsylvania, police are preparing to enforce that state’s recently enacted ban on texting, scheduled to take effect by spring.
In North Dakota, drivers under age 16 must have instructional permits for a year, up from six months, before they can get full licenses. The law, passed during the last legislative session in an effort to improve teen driver safety, also limits nighttime driving for learners. The law also bans drivers younger than 18 from using cell phones in their cars.
“Thirteen North Dakota teens were involved in fatal crashes during 2010,” says North Dakota Department of Transportation Drivers License Director, Glenn Jackson. “The new law will give younger drivers a chance to get more supervised experience behind the wheel, and if it saves even one life, it’s worth it.”
New laws requiring voters to present photo identification will go into effect in Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas. A law in New Hampshire will require election day registrants who do not present a photo ID to return a mailed identify verification. An additional Tennessee law will require election officials to identify possible non-citizens who are registered to vote and require them to present proof of citizenship in order to remain registered voters.
In Ohio, a measure that creates one primary in March, instead of two that would have cost the state an extra $15 million, goes into effect later in January.
California allows active duty military personnel who are serving outside the state to file candidacy papers through a power of attorney.
A few laws try to address budget woes.
In Delaware, new state employees will have to contribute more to their pensions.
State workers hired after Jan. 1 in Nevada will have to pony up for their own health care costs in retirement.
Among federal laws, a measure Congress passed last week to extend Social Security tax cuts and federal unemployment benefit programs raises insurance fees on new mortgages and refinancings backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration by 0.1 percent beginning Jan. 1.
That covers about 90 percent of them and effectively makes a borrower’s monthly payment on a new $200,000 mortgage or refinancing about $17 a month more than it would have been if obtained before the first of the year.
Other highlights by state:
- New restrictions govern who can testify as an expert witness in civil and criminal trials in a measure aiming to limit what critics call “junk science” theories of how or why a crime occurred.
- Employers cannot use consumer credit reports to evaluate job candidates, except for some exempted positions or when employers obtain consent from applicants.
- Civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples are legalized, giving them the same state rights and obligations of those who are married but clarifying that marriage is between a man and a woman.
- New safety requirements for cities that allow drivers to steer their golf carts off the green and onto roads and multi-use paths, including brakes, reverse warning devices and a horn.
- Any agency administering public benefits must require each applicant to provide at least one “secure and verifiable document.”
- Municipalities with 911 call centers can require retailers selling prepaid cellphones to charge a fee to support the emergency systems.
- People convicted of first-degree murder must be added to a new public database, similar to the sex offender registry, when they’re released from prison or any other facility. The database would include names, addresses, workplaces, schools attended and photos for offenders for up to 10 years after release.
- Motorcyclists stopped at a red light may proceed through if it fails to change to green after a reasonable length of time.
- Animal-control centers scanning a lost pet for a microchip also must look for other common forms of identification, including tattoos and ID tags.
- The state attorney general gains new subpoena powers to investigate open meeting law complaints, and members of public bodies who knowingly participate in violations are subject to civil penalties up to $500.
- Music therapists and dietitians face new licensing requirements, while educators must now undergo a criminal background check when their licenses are renewed. Fire performers and apprentices must apply to the state fire marshal for certificate of registration.
- A statewide emergency alert system is established for vulnerable elderly people, similar to the Amber Alert system for abducted children.
- More criminals convicted of misdemeanors will be housed in county jails rather than in state prisons to save money and reduce repeat offenses.
- State tax collector will have fewer powers to force corporations to redo their tax returns if they’re suspected of dodging taxes.
- Penalties increasing for raping a child, creating a minimum sentence of 25 years but allowing judges to increase the time when appropriate, up to 60 years for the worst cases.
- Penalties also increase for people who fire a weapon into an occupied home, a measure that seeks to curtail drive-by shootings.
- New laws make any daily drink specials illegal, essentially banning happy hour.
NBC News, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this story.