Sunday, December 31, 2006


The new year will bring raises for hundreds of thousands of minimum-wage workers across the country. Musicians worried about copycats get some protection in Illinois. And California takes steps to reduce the power-plant pollution that is thought to contribute to global warming.

Jan. 1 brings new laws in many states, offering both a glimpse of what is on voters’ minds and a preview of some of the issues Washington might take up. Many states take action long before Congress does.

Seven states — Arizona, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — are raising their minimum wage. The federal minimum is $5.15 an hour. The new state minimum wages go as high as $7.50 an hour.

“We’ve made Massachusetts the best state to live in for struggling working families,” said Carl Nilsson, an activist for the poor, citing the higher minimum wage and an earlier state law that requires health care insurance for all.

In Illinois, copycat musical groups that misrepresent themselves as the original artists will face fines of up to $50,000. The new law requires live acts to make it clear in their advertising that they are a salute or a tribute to the real thing.

“From now on, when the public goes to a rock ‘n’ roll show in the area, they can be sure the artist is the original, and not some rip-off band,” said Mary Wilson of the Supremes.

Frustrated by what some see as inaction in Washington, California passed a law that seeks to force coal-burning plants in the Western United States to install cleaner technology if they want to sell power in the nation’s most populous state.

States also dealt with immigration (nurses from other countries must have English-language proficiency to practice in South Carolina), eminent domain (Illinois requires local governments to pay more and meet a higher legal threshold before seizing private property) and campaign finance (North Carolina and Pennsylvania set stricter rules).

Alaska will provide school systems with training to help prevent bullying, while South Carolina will require districts to adopt policies barring harassment, intimidation or bullying.

“We were getting too many complaints from parents that their children were being bullied and intimidated,” state Rep. Robert Walker said. They were “fearing to go to school.”

Crime and punishment, as always, were high on the agenda. Wisconsin took steps to guard against wrongful convictions by requiring law-enforcement agencies to record all interrogations of felony suspects, with either video or audio.

Alabama and West Virginia cut taxes on the poorest, and North Carolina lowered taxes on the highest earners. New York and Oklahoma dropped the so-called marriage penalty that imposed higher taxes on married couples than on single people. South Dakota and Texas raised taxes on cigarettes.

Georgia increased from 13 to 29 the number of screening tests performed on newborns to detect life-threatening metabolic and genetic disorders. Massachusetts’ new health care law hits a new milestone, allowing those earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level to buy into subsidized plans. (Those at or below the poverty level are already being signed up for virtually free health care.)

In Indiana, a new license plate featuring the American flag and the words “In God We Trust” will be available at no extra charge. State Rep. Woody Burton, the sponsor, predicted they will “sell like crazy.”

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