New federal and state laws going into effect January 1, 2012
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New federal and state laws going into effect January 1, 2012

Washington : DC : USA | Dec 29, 2011 at 9:23 AM PST
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Senator Ted Kennedy's Remarks at Immigration Rally in Washington

California has the honor of being the first state in the union to require mandatory lessons about the contributions of gay and lesbian individuals in its schools. The 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, according to AP.

California is also addressing illegal immigration, but with a bill that allows students who entered the country illegally to receive private financial aid at public colleges. Tea Party advocates, however, are attempting to have it repealed by gathering signatures for a vote next November.

The California law called The Dream Act has extended in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants as long as they have attended a California high school for at least three years, earned a high school diploma or GED and have proof that they are working to obtain citizenship. Under rules newly signed by Brown, beginning Jan. 1, 2012, illegal immigrants can apply for and receive scholarships derived from non-state funds and, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, for financial aid partially comprised of state funds.

Immigrant Laws

Alabama, which has the nation’s most punitive immigration law, is enacting a provision requiring all employers who do business with any government entity to use the federal system of E-Verify to confirm all new employees are the country legally. Similarly, Georgia is requiring any business with 500 or more employees to use the federal verification system. Employers with more than 10 employees will be included by 2013.

Not everyone agrees that E-Verify is the best method to address immigration."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.

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 revoke 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 provide housing.

Abortions

In New Hampshire, girls must tell their parents or a judge if they are seeking an abortion. 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. Two Planned Parenthood facilities that offer the abortion pill will be affected although they're not singled out in the statute.

Federal Laws

You might be paying more on your mortgage next year. Legislation passed by Congress last week to extend Social Security tax cuts and federal unemployment benefit programs raises insurance fees on new mortgages and refinancing 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.

Minimum Wage Increase

Ohio is also one of eight states with automatic increases in the minimum wage taking effect Jan. 1. The others, with increases between 28 and 37 cents, are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Voting Laws

Election law changes in Rhode Island and Tennessee will require voters to present photo ID, a measure that supporters say prevents fraud and that opponents say will make it harder for minorities and the elderly to cast ballots. Federal legislation could block the initiation of state voting laws that inhibit voting access.

The Justice Department’s decision last week to block a new South Carolina law requiring voters to present photo identification is only the first of what will be a year-long battle between advocates and opponents of stricter voting laws. And the results of those fights could determine the winner of the 2012 presidential election.

Texting while Driving

Nevada's 3-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.

Talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving is banned in 10 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) and the District of Columbia. Utah has named the offense careless driving. Under the Utah law, no one commits an offense when speaking on a cell phone unless they are also committing some other moving violation other than speeding.

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New laws taking effect around the country on January 1, 2012.
Dava Castillo is based in Clearlake, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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