Thursday, December 30, 2004 Posted: 2:51 PM EST (1951 GMT)
(AP) -- Resolved for 2005: No tigers as pets in New York, better access to health care for everybody in Maine, and no lawyers or juries arguing about whether a restaurants o blame for obesity, at least in Illinois and Missouri.
Along with dried-out Christmas trees and garbage bags full of torn wrapping paper, the new year dawns with a stack of new laws. Many states set January 1 as the effective date for laws passed last year, offering a few clues to the priorities, concerns and quirks of state lawmakers and the citizens who elect them.
Health care is among legislators' biggest concerns.
Maine continued to phase in its ambitious state-supported universal health care program, with coverage beginning for small businesses and the self-employed. The voluntary program provides access to affordable health care, and premiums are based on people's ability to pay.
Rhode Island expanded health insurance for disabled poor people, giving them access to a Medicaid buy-in program.
Violence in sports drew attention in Illinois, where fans can now get up to a year in prison for assaulting umpires, referees or coaches -- something that has happened at Chicago White Sox games.
In Missouri, a new law toughens inspections of bungee cords and climbing walls, after the death of a woman on a mobile climbing wall at a fair.
Wild animals are no longer allowed as pets in New York, a year after a 400-pound tiger kept in a Harlem apartment chomped on its owner's right leg. The law carries a $500 fine for a first offense, $1,000 for each subsequent violation.
At least two more states approved measures to protect the restaurants and fast-food chains that serve up fattening food from being sued. Illinois and Missouri joined at least 10 other states to outlaw such litigation. Their message: People make people fat, not restaurants.
"This is one more thing we don't really need on our plates," Sam Toia, owner of 17 Chicago-area restaurants serving Italian-American cuisine such as pizza and lasagna, told Illinois lawmakers, urging them to impose the ban and give restaurant management a clearer conscience.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said: "Obesity is a serious problem in Illinois. ... But blaming a restaurant for weight gain is not the answer."
Food also was on the minds of lawmakers in Indiana, in terms of making sure it is safe to eat. Now all restaurants, day care programs and schools will have to have at least one food handler certified in food safety.
For government itself, financial health depends on taxes. Colorado and Montana raised them on cigarettes and other tobacco products, with at least some of the money going toward health care. Pennsylvania raised its fees on boaters and anglers.
Montana cut its income taxes by an average of 7 percent, saving an average household roughly $170 and costing the state some $40 million each year. The cut was approved in 2003 but delayed for a year.
Rhode Island continued to restructure its government, shifting more power to the governor by barring legislators from serving on, or making appointments to, many of the state's boards and commissions.
Crime and punishment, as always, came up for more scrutiny in many states.
Florida judges can now order that people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or manic depression get outpatient treatment. The law was the project of Linda Gregory, whose husband, a deputy sheriff, was shot and killed by a mentally ill man.
"The sheriff and I decided to make good come of it," she said. "If we wait until someone becomes an imminent danger to themselves or others, at that point it becomes too late."
Elsewhere, Georgia has made it a felony carrying a five-year prison term to remove or destroy an electronic monitoring bracelet, Illinois will now require arsonists to register with the state like sex offenders, and Missouri expanded its collection of DNA from just violent felons to all felons and provided for restitution for those convicts who are cleared by DNA evidence.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, teenagers can no longer drop out of school at 16; they must wait until they are 17.
And in New York, legislators overrode Gov. George Pataki's veto to give minimum-wage workers a $2 raise -- lifting their pay to $7.15 an hour in phases over the next two years.
"It's ridiculous in one of the most expensive cities in the world to have to survive on $5.15," said Rafael Duran, a Manhattan restaurant worker. "Pataki doesn't know what it's like to live on that."