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New Year Brings New Laws

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Dec. 31) -- Many new federal and state laws go into effect on Jan. 1. Here is a sampling of laws for the New Year:

Federal Laws

  • The 2.3 percent federal pay raise passed by Congress takes effect. Members of the House and Senate, along with Cabinet members and federal judges, will be entitled to at least an additional $3,000 a year. Base pay is $133,000 a year for a legislator. It's Congress' first pay raise since 1993.

  • Car leases will get a bit more honest under Federal Reserve Board regulations. Car dealers are required to provide customers with a disclosure form that spells out the costs and terms of the lease, including what the car will be worth after your lease expires. The lease also must detail additional charges for exceeding mileage limits.

  • Two new IRAs, or Individual Retirement Accounts, become available, though the "retirement" name is becoming outdated. Education IRAs can be opened for children, with a maximum of $500 a year invested. Roth IRAs allow a maximum of $2,000 invested per contributor.

  • A $1,500 federal tax credit for college students takes effect. Some schools postponed tuition deadlines so students would qualify under the law's effective date.

  • A revised estate tax law allows the transfer of a family-owned business to heirs tax free to a limit of $1.3 million. The previous limit for a tax-free inheritance was $600,000.

  • New regulations included in the 1998 federal budget provide that any doctor who accepts a private fee from a Medicare beneficiary must stop treating all Medicare patients for two years.

  • States that failed to meet the Oct. 1, 1997, deadline for employing two-parent families on welfare will begin to be penalized by the federal government.

  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations on what foreign phone companies can charge for overseas calls are changing. The changes reportedly will reduce the average cost of an overseas call to 20 cents a minute from 88 cents a minute over six years.

  • The FCC also begins providing subsidies to schools, libraries and rural health clinics for Internet hookups. Funded under the Telecommunications Act, $675 million is provided for the first half of 1998.

State Laws

California:

  • The minimum penalty for running a red light is boosted from $104 to $270.

  • The penalty for furnishing liquor to minors jumps to a mandatory $1,000 and 24 hours of community service.

  • Skateboarding and in-line skating are defined as "hazardous recreational activities," making cities and counties immune to lawsuits from people injured on public property while engaged in them.

  • The amount of time a car alarm can continue blaring before the car is towed away is cut from 45 to 20 minutes.

  • Insurance companies are prohibited from discriminating against victims of domestic violence.

  • Crimes in which