Ever think 'there ought to be a law'? Today there might be

Published July 1, 2006

Bird flu worries are roiling states up North, school bullies are being targeted out West, and tax breaks are coming from West Virginia to Wyoming.

New laws taking effect today offer a glimpse at the domestic challenges facing the nation, and the answers its state lawmakers offer in response. July 1 is the effective date in many states for laws crafted during this year's legislative sessions.

Some laws aim to encourage, like South Carolina's $300 sales tax rebates for hybrid, biodiesel and ethanol blend-driven cars.

Others aim to teach a certain point of view: Sex education teachers in Wisconsin now must present abstinence as the best way for unmarried people to prevent pregnancy and disease.

Others measures reflect widespread concerns, with at least a half-dozen states passing tougher laws to punish or track sex offenders. Idaho can pass along offenders' names and addresses to radio stations; South Carolina can now execute twice-convicted rapists of children younger than 11.

Fears of a bird flu pandemic have spurred some states to action. Minnesota health officials got an extra $5-million to prepare, while Nebraska set up a testing and surveillance program. Alaska gave more power to state officials to quarantine and test animals.

In education, bullies continued to get a hard look. Nevada ordered its schools to create a uniform system of reporting bullying.

Idaho gave school superintendents, principals and teachers more power to suspend bullies.

Tax breaks won support this year, including a change in Nevada that sharply reduces the property taxes for golf courses.

West Virginia cut taxes for farm equipment, vehicles, crops and livestock that's estimated to save farmers overall about $850,000 a year. In Wyoming, lawmakers agreed to a two-year repeal of the state sales tax on groceries.

Several states reached out to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wisconsin gave free state college tuition to dependents of veterans who died of a service-related disability. Veterans, come 2007, will get free tuition too.

And now in Florida, dogs can eat with their owners at restaurants under the new "Doggie Dining" law (but only in designated outdoor areas and if approved by local authorities).