Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a nice holiday and that you and yours have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. Along with the New Year come lots of new state laws. Here are some from around the South...

Alabama raised the state income tax threshold from $4600 to $12,500 for a family of four. According to the article, Alabama was the only state in the nation that taxed a family of four making less than $10,000. Most view this as a progressive change that will help lower income families, but teachers in the state are opposed to any further cuts, saying that "Alabama's public schools are among the poorest funded in the nation and can't afford to lose revenue."

Alabama also enacted a "bill of rights" for landlords and renters. According to the article, "The law requires landlords to provide safe, habitable housing, and it allows the landlords to evict bad tenants quicker than in the past." The article quotes an activist as saying the law won't end substandard housing in Alabama, but that it will help renters who previously had little or no legal protections.

Georgia has a new law requiring teens to complete driver education to apply for a license at the age of 16 or wait until they are 17 to apply. The law also requires 40 hours of supervised driving, and parents must certify that the requirement has been met.

Georgia has also expanded testing of newborns to check for 28 conditions that can be treated or better managed if detected early. Infants were previously tested for 13 conditions. According to the article, the March of Dimes says the new tests will help identify "treatable conditions that cause mental retardation, developmental disability or death." The tests cost $40 and are covered by insurance.

Tennessee has passed tougher laws to collect outstanding debts from the assets of deceased TennCare enrollees. (TennCare is the state's expanded Medicaid program.) Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen is concerned about the bad publicity the changes might bring, but says the Medicaid regulations require the state to "vigorously pursue" such assets or risk losing federal funding.

Tennessee also passed a new immigration law that forbids the state from hiring contractors who have knowingly hired illegal immigrants. If caught, contractors are barred from holding state contracts for one year.

A change to Tennessee election law will make it tougher for write-in candidates to get on the ballot. One change requires filing for certification 50 days prior to an election instead of 30 days. Another change requires write-in candidates in primary races to get votes totaling at least 5% of the registered voters in the district in a primary. Previously, write-in candidates only needed 5% of the total votes in the primary. With turnout as low as 15% to 20% in some local races, this could make it virtually impossible for some write-in candidates to get on the general election ballot.

In Louisiana, a state-wide ban on smoking in public places, workplaces, and restaurants goes into effect. According to the article, exceptions include "bars, casinos, horse racing tracks, off-track betting facilities, bingo halls, hotel rooms, tobacco stores, Mardi Gras ball facilities and assisted living and nursing home facilities where people have requested to be in smoking rooms. Also, customers can smoke on outdoor patios at restaurants, and prisoners can smoke in Louisiana's jails until 2009."

A restructured levee board system also goes into effect. The new policy has professional membership requirements for the New Orleans levee boards, and the Governor will now make appointments instead of state legislators. According to the same article, Louisiana has also enacted state-wide building codes, with stricter requirements in hurricane-prone areas.

In Florida, a new law finalizes the phase out of an "intangible tax" on investments. The article says Governor Jeb Bush and Republican lawmakers called it a "tax on seniors and savers." Florida also established a ''Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys" that will advise the Governor and state legislators on social issues affecting young black men. According to the article, the Council will include "representatives of state education, health, law-enforcement, employment and family-service agencies." Another new Florida law establishes a website where parents can look up their children's traffic violation online.

North Carolina has a long list of new laws taking effect, most notably the new law raising the state's minimum wage to $6.15 per hour. Other new laws include lowering the state's income tax, raising the deduction for college savings, deregulation of cable TV, a variety of ethics reforms and election law changes, and a law requiring state agencies to verify the legal status of all new hires.

In South Carolina, a new law nearly doubles auto liability insurance minimums. According to an insurance industry spokesperson quoted in the article, the changes will result in higher premiums for more than a million drivers. Other new laws limit local property tax increases state-wide, and require school systems to adopt policies forbidding harassment, intimidation, and bullying.