Security Is Main Theme of a Spate of New Laws
Security Is Main Theme of a Spate of New Laws
Newspaper article excerpt
Date: December 27, 1993
Source: "Security Is Main Theme of a Spate of New Laws." New York Times (December 27, 1993): A13.
About the Author: This article was provided to the New York Times by the Associated Press, an international news agency based in New York.
In 2006, the U.S. government spent close to half a trillion dollars on defense, homeland security, and other programs designed to ensure the security of the nation. Despite an ongoing debate about military actions in the Middle East, most Americans believe that providing national security is one of the fundamental duties of representative government. For this reason, direct military spending consistently accounts for fifteen to twenty percent of the U.S. federal budget, and indirect security-related spending substantially increases this figure.
While Americans generally resist government intrusion in their lives, they frequently expect the federal government to protect them from potential danger. In some cases, the desire for protection conflicts with the desire for non-interference. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which approves new medications for sale in the United States, is frequently criticized for being too slow in approving new products; conversely, each time an approved drug is found to cause injury, the FDA is generally blamed for lax oversight. Similarly, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is simultaneously praised for improving safety in the nation's workplaces and for instituting a maze of confusing and seemingly trivial regulations that waste employers' time and money.
A similar situation exists at the state level. In many cases, states pass specific laws intended to protect citizens from harm but are then criticized for limiting citizens' freedom. Some restrictions are passed in response to a tragedy, such as a mass killing or an accident, though such laws are frequently found to be overly restrictive and are later repealed.
"Safety first!" is the nervous theme of many state laws that will take effect in January, doing things like requiring helmets for bike-riding children in California and Tennessee, checking potential teachers for criminal records in Oregon, New Hampshire, and Tennessee, and making barbers train longer in Hawaii.
Whether seeking to protect children from bad apples or consumers from bad haircuts, state legislators strove this year to bolster security in an insecure world.
Florida, stunned by a spate of killings of tourists, banned guns from the hands of anyone under 18, except for hunting, marksmanship practice or competition under adult supervision. The threat of violence inspired a California law to let schools ban gang attire in class.
New Hampshire doctors who test positive for the virus that causes AIDS or for hepatitis B will need special permission to perform invasive surgery.
There is no special reason to enact laws in January, only the symbolism of a fresh start at the top of the calendar. Many states set laws to take effect 60 or 90 days after signing, or after the legislative session ends.…
Political scientists were at a loss to explain what, if anything, the lineup of new laws meant.
"We've had a change in the Administration, and maybe the states are waiting for new policy direction," suggested David King, assistant professor of public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Some observers forecast a slew of crime bills next year, but for now, safety seems the watchword.
Starting on Jan. 1, riding in the open back of a pickup truck will be illegal in California, where children age 6 and younger will also need life jackets in motorboats and in sailboats less than 26 feet long.
New Oklahoma regulations will allow tinted car windows to be only so dark.
Seeking safety against drunken drivers and following the lead of many other states, Florida, New Hampshire and New Mexico lowered the permissible level of alcohol in the blood to 0.08 percent from 0.10 percent. In California, drivers under 21 caught with a blood-alcohol level of just 0.01 will lose their licenses for one year.
Under a yearlong experiment, Illinois joined about 30 states that require repeat drunken drivers to use a device that keeps a car from starting if the driver has alcohol on his breath.
Addressing dangers in the marketplace, Rhode Island required credit agencies to send consumers their credit reports within four days of a request and to inform consumers when credit is denied.
Video stores in New York will be barred from selling their customers' names and rental histories to anyone.
Illinois outlawed unwanted sales pitches by telephone and banned such calls from 9 P.M. to 8 A.M.
Connecticut repealed its two-decade-old no-fault auto insurance law. Motorists should see premiums drop, but they will have to go to court to make accident claims against other drivers.
Car insurance in Illinois and buckling up in Vermont will be mandatory, as they already are in most states.
Some new laws will guard against the inept and the incompetent. Texas acted to regulate the operators of machines that keep blood and oxygen flowing during open heart surgery.
Notably, many of these measures will cost the states nothing, except for enforcement.
Greater expenses may be in the offing, of course, with changes in the national health care and welfare systems. Some states ventured ahead, not waiting for word from Washington.
Universal health care will come to Tennessee with a system called TennCare. And unmarried women in Georgia who are under 18 and pregnant, or are already mothers, must live with a parent or guardian to get welfare. Further, able-bodied recipients must accept job offers to remain eligible for welfare, and benefits will be frozen for two years for mothers on welfare who have another child.
Correction: December 31, 1993, Friday
The United States' federal structure frequently results in regulations that differ from state to state; examples include mandatory seat-belt laws, which exist in most but not all states, and definitions of drunk driving, with legal blood-alcohol limits rising and falling within and between states over time. In some cases, the federal government takes a hands-off approach to safety, allowing states and municipalities to handle public safety. In the case of amusement park rides, go-karts, and water slides, no federal safety laws exist, and states and cities are responsible for creating and enforcing safety standards. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) does analyze accident patterns involving such rides, identifying potential problems with specific types of equipment.
The U.S. government today includes dozens of agencies responsible for specific types of safety regulation. The CPSC tests consumer products for safety, requiring manufacturers to recall products found to be unsafe. In 2006, the agency ordered recalls of products including a child's swing that could break during use and a swimming pool ladder that could be assembled incorrectly, leading to failure. The agency's jurisdiction includes more than 15,000 separate types of products. Some of the agency's actions, such as a recall on window blinds during the 1990s, may seem trivial but in actuality save lives. At the time of the window-blind recall, 160 children accidentally strangled themselves on window blind cords.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has responsibility for all forms of public transportation within the United States. NTSB investigators are frequently seen conducting inspections in the wake of an airplane or train accident, though their authority also includes highways, water craft, and hazardous material transportation.
Modern motor vehicles are safer than ever before, and many of the improvements in auto safety came about through the efforts of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This agency is charged with protecting the public against unreasonable risk of crashes due to the design or performance of motor vehicles and with insuring occupants' protection when crashes do occur. NHTSA has issued standards covering seat belts, roof crush resistance, tires, lighting, and occupant crash protection. NHTSA also creates crash-testing standards for all new cars sold in the United States.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with protecting human health and the environment. The agency is perhaps best known for its ratings of automobile fuel efficiency, however its work extends to numerous aspects of environmental regulation and protection. The EPA also works to promote the use of renewable and other alternative energy sources. In 2006, the agency enacted regulations requiring diesel refiners to reduce the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel by ninety-seven percent. The new low-sulfur fuel allows the use of more advanced pollution-control devices on trucks and buses, reducing their pollution output substantially.
The proper role of government in citizens' lives has been debated since the days of the Founding Fathers. As government rules increasingly encroach on Americans' lives in the name of safety, that debate will likely continue.
Asch, Peter. Consumer Safety Regulation: Putting a Price on Life and Limb. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
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O'donnell, Jayne. "Generator Deaths Spur Feds." USA Today (May 24, 2006): 1A.
"Paper Shredders: A Hazard to Toddlers." Child Health Alert 24 (2006): 2.
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. "Office of Defects Investigation." <http://wwwodi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/recalls/> (accessed June 2, 2006).
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "35 Years of Protecting Human Health and the Environment." <http://www. epa.gov> (accessed June 2, 2006).
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Recalls, Market Withdrawals and Alerts." <http://www.fda.gov/opacom/ 7alerts.html> (accessed June 2, 2006).
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