Policy news from across the country. In this issue: teen cell phone use, smoking bans, gun control and new hedge fund regulations.


ImageCA Teens Banned from Cell Phone Use

Texting, talking can draw fines for young drivers

The California Senate passed a measure prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving for young Californians aged 16-18. The bill, introduced by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), would ban teens from talking and texting on cell phones, as well as operating pagers or walkie-talkies while behind the wheel. First-time offenders will be fined $20, and $50 for any repeat offenses. As recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, California   could join 13 other states in passing similar measures if it is approved by the state assembly and signed by the Governor.

ImageConnecticut Hedge Fund Bill Hangs in Balance

Hedge fund regulation bubbling up from the states

Connecticut legislators are having second thoughts about introducing a bill to regulate the hedge fund industry within the state. Co-chairman of the state's Banks Committee, Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), is considering the concerns of hedge fund industry officials, as well as Republican senate leaders, who fear that restrictions would drive away future business prospects. In early April, the Banks Committee passed Duff's proposal requiring new disclosures for hedge funds, which included conflicts of interest between managers and their clients. The potential bill would endorse the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)'s proposal to raise minimum asset requirements to $2.5 million, rather than the $1 million in net worth and annual income of $200,000 currently required.

ImageGun Loophole Closed in Virginia

University shooting sends governor into action

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, by executive order, closed a loophole in state law that allows psychiatric outpatients to obtain firearms. A list of residents banned from purchasing guns will now include anyone who is ordered to get involuntary mental health treatment and could be found dangerous. After a Virginia resident's psychiatric records are added to a local police database, they are automatically updated on a federal list distributed to gun dealers nationwide. Gov. Kaine closed the loophole just weeks after the April 16 Virginia Tech massacre which left 33 students dead. In 2005 Seung-Hui Cho, the gunman, was ordered to receive counseling after a judge ruled that he was a danger to himself. But because he was never admitted to a mental health facility, Cho was not placed on a watch list and therefore able to purchase firearms.

ImageTexas Lawmakers Block HPV Mandate

Governor, legislature at loggerheads over promising new vaccine

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's executive order to provide mandatory HPV vaccinations for schoolgirls has been brought to a halt by state legislators who believe the bill violates parental rights. The governor believes the vaccine is a necessary step towards curbing cervical cancer, but opponents, some of whom were angered when Perry sidestepped the legislature to get the bill passed, argue that the long-term effects of the vaccine are largely unknown. The House introduced an amended version of the bill making the vaccination optional, but if vetoed by the governor, would likely be overridden by the Legislature. The last veto override in Texas took place in 1979, when the Democratically-lead Legislature reversed a bill affecting Comal County introduced by then-GOP Gov. Bill Clements.

ImageSpitzer Proposes Women's Right to Privacy

Law would codify reproductive health and privacy rights

 New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced that he would introduce legislation establishing a statutory right to privacy for women making reproductive decisions. Under the Public Health Law, the bill would reinstate the "Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act", allowing for the right to choose or refuse contraception; bear a child, or to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability or in order to protect the health of the mother. It would also make it unlawful to discriminate in the provision of health care services to same-sex couples.

ImageNew Hampshire Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions

A watershed moment for gay rights?

State legislators recently approved a civil union bill granting same-sex couples legal recognition and conjugal rights. Approved by New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, the new bill will take effect Jan 1, and further establishes New England as the first U.S. region to approve civil union rights.  Along with Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut, analysts predict that New Hampshire's decision could put pressure on other states to pass similar legislation.

ImageSupreme Court Upholds Partial Birth Abortion Ban

Split decision draws ire of civil libertarians

The Supreme Court on April 18 decided to uphold a 2003 ban on "partial birth" abortion by a 5-4 ruling in the case of Gonzales v. Carhart. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, said that allowing partial birth abortion was unconstitutional, even if it was used to maintain the mother's health. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in dissent that the Court's decision was "alarming" and "irrational." The day after the Supreme Court's decision, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), introduced legislation that could overturn the ban.

ImageIllinois Governor Set to Approve Smoking Ban

Illinois to join the list of smoke-free states in 2008

A new measure to ban smoking statewide could make all restaurants, bars, as well as all public buildings smoke-free by Jan.1 under legislation approved by the Illinois Senate in March. The bill, building upon a 2005 law giving cities the right to establish smoking bans, has already seen 44 municipalities creating their own ordinances. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is supported by Janet Williams of the Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco, who saw the ban as a way to protect the rights of health and food service employees.