Vermont Law Tackles a Potpourri of Problems

It's now illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the passenger seat of a car in Vermont. It's also against the law for employers to pay male and female workers a different wage for the same work.

Starting Monday, some of Vermont's 80 new laws go into effect.

One bans the sale of puppies and kittens on roadsides and another allows adults and the disabled to zip down public sidewalks using the newest device for personal motorized travel -- the two-wheeled, computer-guided Segway scooter.

Vermont lawmakers failed to agree on big issues such as school funding reform and school choice this legislative session, but they made plenty of changes that will affect nearly every Vermonter.

All of Vermont's 503,797 licensed drivers, for example, will pay more when to renew their licenses. The fee goes up $10 to $30 for a four-year license, or $6 to $18 for two years.

The owners of the 395,706 cars and 141,570 trucks will pay more to renew registrations for their vehicles.

The 22 percent of Vermonters who smoke will start paying 49 cents more for each pack of cigarettes. That brings the total tax on a pack to 93 cents. Lawmakers hoped the increase would prevent youths from smoking as well as raise money for critical health programs.

It's against the law to have open cans or bottles of alcoholic beverages. A bag of empties headed for recycling should be placed in the trunk or behind the back seat in a station wagon to avoid a $25 fine.

A number of laws offer new protections to Vermonters.

For example, a telemarketing law provides the public with ways to cut down on the number of telephone solicitations they receive.

"It's a terrific law, and I think it will make a big difference," Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz said.

Telemarketers are required to register with the state. Only tax exempt organizations are free of the requirement.

Telemarketers also must honor Vermonters' requests not to be called. To cut off the calls, consumers either request to be put on a telemarketer's no-call list or sign up for no solicitations with the Telephone Preference Service of the Direct Marketing Association.

Consumers can take telemarketers to court if they persist in calling.

Police may now arrest and lodge individuals for four more misdemeanor offenses -- stalking, simple assault, cruelty to a child younger than 10 and reckless endangerment.

Middle-income Vermonters whose health insurance does not cover prescription drugs will be able to pay less for their medicines by signing up for the Healthy Vermonters program.

The program serves individuals with incomes under $26,736 a year. A family of four with an income as high as $54,456 would qualify, too. Elderly and disabled Vermonters with higher incomes are also eligible.

Senior citizens in some of the state's other pharmacy programs will start paying more for their drugs. For example, Vermonters who have split the cost of maintenance drugs with the state now must pay for the first $275 for their drugs before the state will help out.

Even those with very low incomes will pay a few dollars more for each prescription. Also, for the first time, their co-payment for brand-name medicines will be double they pay for generic brands.