Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Legislatures adopt taxes, anti-spam laws

By Robert Tanner
The Associated Press

Identity thieves will be pursued more aggressively in Indiana, the wrongfully convicted will get free educations in Montana and seniors can expect price breaks on prescription drugs in a smattering of other states.

As July begins today, new laws in more than two dozen states go into effect.

State legislators nearly everywhere have struggled to find cash for their budgets this year, and some measures address that problem. Taxes on gasoline will go up in Maine (2.6 cents per gallon), and Washington state (5 cents), for instance.

A wide assortment of fees are increasing, too: trout anglers in New Mexico must pay $3 for an extra rod, out-of-state snowmobilers will pay more in Montana, and drinkers in Idaho must pay 2 percent more to the state-run liquor stores.

But lawmakers and governors went far beyond dollars and cents to alter the rules for many facets of public life.

Health care increasingly topped legislative agendas. Nevada will track medical malpractice more closely and will also try to better investigate so-called cancer clusters; Illinois and Montana created prescription drug programs for seniors.

The online world seemed to cry out for regulation, and Indiana responded by requiring those who send spam - unsolicited e-mails sent to hundreds or sometimes thousands - to clearly identify the message as an advertisement or an adult-oriented ad.

Old technology, too, drew attention. Motorcyclists in Tennessee can now go through a red light if their motorcycle is so light that it doesn't trip the traffic sensor that makes the signal turn green (they still must stop and look around carefully, however).

Legislators didn't ignore crime, responding to the latest worries about hate crimes, sex offenders and terrorism.

Indiana broadened the definition of identity theft and will allow judges to send written orders to creditors on behalf of victims. New Mexico established a hate crimes law, allowing a judge to add prison time for a crime motivated by hate; the state also banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nevada's anti-terrorism law now allows for prosecutions no matter how many years it takes to catch a suspected terrorist.

Lawmakers also sought to address cases in which the criminal justice system broke down. Montana agreed to provide a free college education for former state inmates exonerated by DNA testing.

In Kansas, lawmakers took time to honor the 103-year-old story of a little girl, a dog named Toto and a land over the rainbow. Now there's a new name for Lincoln Avenue in the city of Wamego and 50 miles of highway that lead to it from Interstate 70: "The Road to Oz."

Still, there's no wizard in Wamego - not yet, anyway. A new attraction in the city between Topeka and Manhattan, Kan. - The Marvelous Land of Oz Museum - doesn't open until October.

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