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New Ways to Become a Criminal in 2010

From texting to smoking to trans-fats and toy guns, a host of new laws taking effect around the U.S. this New Year's Weekend will clamp down on impolite, unhealthy and sometimes dangerous behaviors - and, hopefully, protect consumers.

North Carolina remains the nation's largest tobacco grower, but beginning on Saturday smoking is banned in restaurants and bars across the state.

A 2006 U.S. Surgeon General's report on secondhand smoke and personal stories about smoking-related illness helped persuade the Legislature to pass a bill in May. It was signed into law by Gov. Beverly Perdue.

Smoking is now prohibited in restaurants in 29 states and in bars in 25. There is also a partial smoking ban in Virginia.

Supporters hope highways get safer as New Hampshire, Oregon and Illinois join 16 other states that ban texting while driving.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, six other states prohibit using hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel.

"This legislation is important and will make our roads safer. No driver has any business text messaging while they are driving," said Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, whose office regulates drivers.

Tina Derby, 42, of Warner, N.H., said she has no intention to stop texting while driving, despite the possible $100 fine she could receive.

"I'd better start saving my money," Derby said.

California becomes the first state to ban restaurants, bakeries and other retail food establishments from using oil, margarine and shortening containing trans fats. The law affects oil, shortening and margarine used in spreads or for frying. Restaurants can continue using trans fats to deep-fry yeast dough and in cake batter until Jan. 1, 2011.

The legislation follows moves by several major cities and fast-food chains to ban the substance.

California is ushering in a host of other consumer-friendly laws, toughening statutes against mortgage brokers who give out inaccurate information and banks that fail to inform customers fully of their loan products.

Lenders will also be prohibited from steering borrowers who qualify for fixed-rate loans into riskier, higher-priced loans. Negative amortization loans - which get larger the longer a borrower holds them - will be banned in most cases, and caps will be placed on the penalties loan providers levy when mortgage holders pay off their loans early.

"If all states had stronger mortgage laws seven years ago, I think this whole crisis could have been mitigated," Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed himself this year by signing into law a bill honoring slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk with a special day of recognition. Each May 22 - Milk's birthday - will be "Harvey Milk Day." The Republican governor vetoed similar legislation in 2008.

Schwarzenegger also signed an anti-paparazzi bill making it easier for celebrities to sue media outlets that use photographs taken when subjects have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as when they are in their backyard. The change updates a decade-old law that allows fines against paparazzi who illegally or offensively take photos or recordings. It allows lawsuits against media outlets that pay for and make first use of material they knew was improperly obtained.

Watching an illegal dogfight will also cost you more. A new California law increases jail time for spectators from a maximum of six months to one year; Fines are increased from $1,000 to $5,000.

A new Arkansas law prohibits selling toy guns that look like the real thing, but major retailers say they don't expect a major impact. Imitation guns used for theater productions and other events are exempted, as are replicas of firearms produced before 1898, BB guns, paintball or pellet guns.

In Texas, teenagers under 16½ cannot use a tanning bed, and those between 16½ and 18 must have a parent or guardian's written permission.

In Oregon employers are prohibited from restricting employees from wearing religious clothing on the job, taking time off for holy days, or participating in a religious observance or practice.

Nevada and Louisiana have banned the sale of novelty lighters - devices designed to look like cartoon characters, toys or guns or that play musical notes or have flashing lights.

"They're cute, they're little, but they can be deadly," said the Nevada bill's co-sponsor, Assembly Majority Floor Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

But there are also changes in laws decriminalizing certain behaviors.

Beginning Friday, pot smokers in the Colorado mountain resort of Breckenridge, for example, will not face city charges for possession. Criminal penalties for those over 21 who possess small amounts of marijuana or smoking paraphernalia have been eliminated.

But marijuana users are not off the hook: Pot possession remains a state crime except for patients with medical clearance. And don't puff on the slopes: Use of marijuana at the Breckenridge ski area is still illegal under the Colorado Ski Safety Act.

And selling marijuana is still a felony.

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