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New countrywide laws crack down on teens

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For teenagers, summer means no teachers and no tests. In some states this year, it also means no driving, no drinking, no getting married and no playing video poker or the lottery.

The slew of new laws clamping down on young people is easy politically, some say, because teens exercise little clout at the polls. Most of the laws kick in Wednesday, the start of the fiscal year in many places."These laws need to be a wake-up call to this age group to say, `If you want to keep your rights, you need to register to vote and you need to show up at the polls on Election Day,' " said Louisiana state Rep. Troy Hebert, a Democrat who unsuccessfully fought legislation forbidding people under 21 to play video poker or the lottery. Up until June 16, the minimum age was 18.

"If this was about our senior citizens, this type of legislation would be dead on arrival because they're the strongest voting group."

Kentucky is barring youngsters under 16 from getting married unless the girl is pregnant and a judge OKs a wedding. It is the first time Kentucky has set a minimum age for getting married.

July 1 also brings restrictions on how and when teens may drive in South Carolina, Virginia and California. In California, for example, they will have to practice longer before they get a license, and will be limited in how much they can drive at night and without an adult.

South Dakota is raising the penalty for minors caught smoking from $20 to $200, and Colorado is doubling its $50 fine for teenagers caught buying tobacco. Hawaii is raising its fines for people who sell tobacco to minors.

New Mexico now prohibits older friends and relatives from buying alcohol for minors. Under the new law, only parents or legal guardians can serve minors drinks and only at home.

This year's summer laws don't just apply to teens. Kansas and Florida, for example, are banning abortions late in a pregnancy.

And legislators also made forays into new areas such as the Internet and charter schools.

Idaho and Virginia begin authorizing the alternative public schools, which are free of many state regulations. Georgia expanded an existing program.

As of Wednesday, it is a felony to threaten someone via e-mail in Virginia. Nevada becomes the first state to restrict unwanted advertisements on the Internet - but barely. Companies can still send unwanted ads to people but will be fined only $10 if they ignore a request to stop. Washington state forbids "spam," or electronic junk mail, that contains false or misleading information. Violators can be fined $500.

The new laws also include tougher criminal penalties.

Minnesota now requires life imprisonment without parole for first-degree murders that occur during kidnappings. The old rules allowed probation after 30 years. As of Wednesday, it is a felony to hit your spouse in front of your children in Oregon, and every convict in Hawaii has to pay some fee to the state.

People who torture animals in Indiana face a year in prison, even if the animal didn't suffer serious injury. The law stemmed from an incident last summer in which four cats were set on fire. Also in Indiana, rapists who first drug their victims face up to 50 years in prison.