The worries won't go away overnight for many Americans: violent teenagers, steep health insurance costs, clouds of smoke at work, drunken drivers, polluted air, draining taxes. As of Jan. 1, a slew of new state laws may help ease them.
Legislators went after criminals, young and old. They stubbed out secondhand smoke in California and Utah, took the wheels from intoxicated drivers in Virginia, Texas and Illinois, and cut taxes in New Mexico and New Jersey."Legislators play to public concerns, and crime was THE concern through most of 1994," said Larry Sabato, a professor of government at the University of Virginia.
One of the toughest crime laws is Georgia's "two strikes, you're out" measure, which imposes life without parole for a second violent offense. Voters overwhelmingly approved it Election Day.
New Jersey's "Megan's Law" will require police to tell communities of dangerous ex-offenders in their midst. The law was prompted by the slaying of 7-year-old Megan Kanka, allegedly by a convicted sex offender living across the street.
Under New York's tough new domestic-violence law, arrest is mandatory when someone violates an order of protection or stalks or assaults a family member.
In New Hampshire, killing a judge or prosecutor now brings the death penalty. Torturing cats or dogs can lead to seven years in prison. And making a right turn on red when the walk signal is on means a traffic ticket.
Minnesota bridges the gap between juvenile and adult justice by allowing judges to hand offenders ages 14 to 17 a juvenile sentence plus a tougher adult one. If the teenager keeps his record clean, the adult sentence will be dropped.
In Florida, where a rash of crimes by teenagers against tourists prompted the Legislature to act, the worst offenders ages 15 to 18 will be sent to new juvenile jails up to three years. Previously, such criminals were held for weeks or months in less restrictive detention centers.
Prosecutors in Florida will also find it easier to try 14- and 15-year-olds as adults, while in California that will be allowed for the first time.
Illinois lowered its threshold from 16 to 15. Also, violent juveniles ages 10 to 13 can be held past the old 30-day limit and put them in new, high-security detention centers.
Virginia, Texas and Illinois enacted tougher drunken driving laws requiring the suspension of motorists' licenses.
Virginia death-row inmates will get a choice of lethal injection or the electric chair. Louisiana will give police officers $750 income tax credits for attending college.
In addition to new criminal laws, some states will get new safety and environmental measures.
South Dakota will impose a $20 fine for failing to wear front seat belts. Auto emissions will be tested more stringently in Maryland. And Florida farmers must tell workers what pesticides they're handling or pay a fine up to $10,000.