Watchman Newsletter

New Laws Govern Guns, Web, Banks

The Wall Street Journal (Link) - Melanie Trottman & Nathan Koppel (January 3, 2011)

A raft of new federal and local laws ring in the new year, governing a span of topics from health care and finance to texting, guns and smoking.

Among the most far-reaching pieces of legislation is the new federal health-care law which this year includes new taxes on drug makers, as well as lower prescription-drug costs for many seniors and restrictions on tax-free medical spending. The provisions come amid heated debate, with many lawmakers saying they hope to overturn the health-care law.

Another new federal law gives borrowers more specific information on the interest rates they pay on credit cards and other loans. Beginning this year, consumers have the right to find out why they didn�t get the best possible terms on a credit-card or non-business loan. Credit-card companies and other lenders must provide a risk-based pricing notice or a credit score to explain the reasoning behind interest rates.

Federal regulations will begin requiring new and upgraded power plants, oil refiners and other large facilities to hold permits to release greenhouse gases.

State legislators passed about 31,000 news laws in 2010, down slightly from the previous year. Many of those laws took effect at the start of this year, and many reflect the potential misuse of computers.

Illinois lawmakers, for example, enacted a law aimed at catching people who use webcams to engage in virtual sex acts with children. California made it illegal to intimidate, threaten or defraud someone using a website.

�States passed laws last year to directly address cyber bullying and the use of technology to steal identities and misrepresent who you are online,� said Meagan Dorsch, director of public affairs for the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group that offers data and research to legislators nationwide. �There are a lot of examples of states expanding their current laws to try to protect the public while they engage in new technologies.�

Some states have taken aim at an increasingly common technological scourge: the use of cellphones while driving. Delaware, Kansas and Kentucky join more than two dozen other states in making it illegal to send text messages while driving. In Kentucky, fines are $25 for the first offense and $50 for each additional one. In Kansas, where enforcement of a texting law began Saturday, drivers face a minimum fine of $60. Kentucky is also prohibiting anyone under 18 from using any cellphone while driving�hand-held or otherwise�except to summon medical help or police.

Efforts to ban public smoking continued. In Missouri, the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County prohibited smoking in most bars and restaurants beginning this year, joining other indoor smoking bans around the U.S.

States also targeted gun use restrictions. In Iowa, local sheriffs will have less discretion to reject gun permit applications. The new right-to-carry law says sheriffs can only turn down applications for specific reasons, such as a previous criminal record. The new law also allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons in bars as long as the gun owner isn�t legally intoxicated.

In Wisconsin, a law took effect Saturday to collect statistics to determine if law-enforcement officers are stopping and searching drivers based on their race. The law requires officers to report the age, gender and ethnicity of the driver and passengers, along with the reason for the traffic stop and whether a search was conducted.

In Indiana, a new law this year prohibits people from dumping computers and electronics for trash pickups. Such electronics, which can contain mercury and other hazardous substances, are now barred from being incinerated or placed in landfills.

Some states also took aim at a synthetic cannabinoid, similar to the active ingredient in marijuana, dubbed �K2.� The substance was made illegal in Illinois this year, one of 17 states that took legislative action against the chemical substance, according to Ms. Dorsch.

This year also marks the start of the race to implement many of the key parts of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill passed last summer. At the first shareholder meeting that occurs after Jan. 21, for example, SEC-registered firms must provide for a nonbinding say on pay vote regarding executive compensation.

Regulators are also supposed to complete a study in January that looks at the impact of restrictions on certain types of bank trading, as part of the Volcker Rule. And by the end of the month, the Treasury Secretary must submit a report to Congress with a study and recommendations for the fate of the government-run mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. �

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