Hundreds of laws go into effect today |

Hundreds of laws go into effect today

SACRAMENTO – Hundreds of new state laws went into effect Monday, ranging from parents’ being able to abandon their newborns in hospitals without facing prosecution to shoppers’ pocketing a little extra money from a decreased sales tax.

Thousands of Californians will feel the changes when they cash their first paychecks in 2001. Starting Monday, minimum wage earners will get a long-awaited 50-cent raise to $6.25 an hour. The last bump was approved in March 1998.

Labor groups called the increase one of the most significant laws approved in 2000. The rate is expected to jump another 50 cents on Jan. 1, 2002.

Consumers also will keep more money at the checkout through a one-quarter percent sales tax cut, which will send $1.2 billion less to state coffers. Governor Gray Davis said the tax cut was possible because of a healthy economy and multibillion-dollar budget surplus.

Californians will save half on vehicle license fees, too. They are the largest part of annual registration costs paid by vehicle owners.

The new laws also cover topics surrounding racial issues that date back to the 19th century.

Insurance companies will now have to report if they ever issued slave insurance to slave owners. The new law is aimed at helping academics study what many believe was a precursor to life insurance. Some descendants of slaves say it could pave the way toward financial reparations.

The law has no punitive effect on insurance companies. It is the first such law in the nation, according to academics and black rights activists.

On Monday it also became a misdemeanor to sell or manufacture cheaply made guns, or so-called Saturday night specials.

Gun control advocates say the law, which passed in 1999, gives California the country’s toughest handgun safety standards. Opponents say it will push cheap gun sales into the black market.

One of the top corruption scandals of the year also is reflected in a new law. Former Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush resigned this summer amid allegations he used settlement money from Northridge earthquake victims’ insurance companies to further his political career.

On Monday, quake victims will have one year to refile their claims. The bill was passed after state studies surfaced indicating claims-handling violations.

It will become legal for parents of newborn babies to abandon their children at hospitals without fear of criminal prosecution. The law also allows for a 14-day cooling off period, during which time the parents can reclaim the child.

Topping the list of health-related laws is a provision to allow patients to sue their managed-care plan. The patients must first tell an independent review panel why they think a treatment was denied, delayed or changed.

A lawsuit may follow if the patient is unsatisfied with the panel’s decision and if the managed-care plan’s decision meant loss of life, loss of body functions, chronic pain, financial loss or disfigurement.

Rape victims may find solace in a law that will extend the time prosecutors can wait to file charges against sex offenders identified through DNA. The former six-year statute of limitations will be extended to 10 years or within one year of new evidence, whichever is longer.

Laws to protect consumers who bought faulty new vehicles also go on the books. Carmakers will only get two tries to correct safety problems before the vehicle is labeled a lemon and must be bought back. The law used to allow four fix-it attempts.

Several new laws also target privacy issues. A new state office will keep track of complaints of privacy violations and distribute information on how to resolve privacy disputes. Another new law will allow victims of identity theft to seek immediate relief from the courts.

And for those Californians who don’t like new laws, they can now have one of their own: The Local Agency Formation Commissions in each county will collect the names of groups and individuals who financially support secession movements.

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