New Laws To Affect Business, Consumers

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About 20 new laws passed by the 2003 Legislature take effect Thursday, including a measure that bars insurance companies from denying or canceling coverage or raising premiums based only on a consumer's credit report.

The insurance law, effective on the first day of the state's new fiscal year, requires insurers to consider other underwriting factors independent of credit information. If coverage is denied or canceled, consumers must be told why in "sufficiently clear and specific language."

Managed care patients are also in line for some new protections, under terms of a new law providing for an independent review of cases to determine if treatment is needed. Terri Rogers of the state Office of Consumer Health Assistance said a physician or patient can ask for the evaluations.

Another new law assures military veterans serving in Afghanistan, Iraq or in other conflicts will be eligible for a $2,000 assessed property tax exemption. The old law had some gaps in it and Nevada county assessors wanted to make sure all the deserving service members qualified.

Also starting Thursday, car dealers who advertise that the Spanish language is spoken at their business must provide customers with Spanish-language forms, credit applications and contracts.

Another new law requires psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers to be certified by the state before they're assigned to determine if a criminal defendant is mentally capable of standing trial.

The new fiscal year's $6.4 billion budget includes a 2-percent pay increase for state workers. Of the $6.4 billion the state plans to spend, $2.5 billion will come from the state's general fund with the rest coming from the federal government and other fees.

The tax bill passed by the Legislature will mean an additional $470.5 million this new fiscal year, including $30 million to partially replenish the state's rainy day fund. The fund that once had $135 million was drained last year to cover a revenue shortfall.