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New Laws Effective January 1, 1999

Note: The following is a listing of selected new laws which become effective Jan. 1, 1999. These are laws passed during the regular 1998 Legislative Session. A complete summary of all laws passed by the 1998 Legislature is available from the House Public Information Office. Ask for "New Laws 1998."


Checks in the mail

Restrictions will be placed on the unsolicited checks that some financial institutions mail to consumers, under a new law.

Consumers who find such checks in their mailboxes are actually receiving loan solicitations, carrying interest rates as high as 30 percent.

Effective Jan. 1, 1999, the new law stipulates that no financial institution or lender can send such a check unless it complies with several new requirements.

The checks will have to become void after 30 days, and information will have to be sent with the check advising consumers to destroy it if they do not use it.

Consumers will have to be told in plain terms that the check is a loan, and the loan agreement will have to be on the back of the check.

If such a check is fraudulently cashed by someone other than the addressee, the consumer is to be absolved from liability by signing a statement saying he or she did not cash the check.

The check will have to be mailed in an envelope that does not indicate its contents. Also, it must not be forwarded if the consumer no longer lives at the address.

Bill sponsor Rep. Bill Haas (R-Champlin) said during House floor discussion of the measure that he received one such check for thousands of dollars in the mail.

He said if the check would have been lost or stolen, and cashed, it would have been a hardship. He said his legislation puts procedures in place to protect the consumer.

The measure allows an exception for prospective borrowers who already have a credit arrangement such as a credit card account with a lender.

The law also contains regulations on loan solicitations that use "facsimile checks," which are documents that appear to be real checks, but are not.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) sponsored the measure in the Senate.


Women and credit history

A new law seeks to give divorced and widowed women a fairer shake when applying for loans and credit cards.

Effective Jan. 1, 1999, the law will require that creditors consider the credit history of an applicant's spouse and that credit histories be reported in the name of both spouses.

House sponsor Rep. Peggy Leppik (R-Golden Valley) said the law will help women who were conscientious borrowers while married, but find themselves unable to secure credit after a death or divorce because the credit history exists solely in their former spouse's name.

"There are times when an applicant finds she has no credit history," Leppik said. "This [will] give that person recourse to state court and small claims court. The applicant still has to establish her own credit-worthiness."

Sen. Deanna Wiener (DFL-Eagan) sponsored the measure in the Senate.



New, tougher penalties

Drive-by shootings and other crimes will have new penalties, under provisions of the 1998 omnibus crime bill that take effect Jan. 1, 1999.

One such provision raises the maximum penalty from a five-year prison term to a 10-year term for firing into an occupied vehicle or building.

Another provision increases penalties for felons convicted of violent offenses who are found illegally in possession of a firearm. Currently, the mandatory minimum prison sentence is 18 months. Effective Jan. 1, 1999, the mandatory minimum will be increased to five years.

The new law also increases the penalties for manufacturing, possessing, or selling methamphetamine. The drug will be raised to the same status as cocaine and heroin and the manufacture of any amount of methamphetamine will be a first-degree controlled substance offense.

New court fees also go into effect Jan. 1, 1999. The $11 fee currently assessed against anyone convicted of a petty misdemeanor (not including parking violations) jumps to $25. And a new $25 surcharge will be levied against anyone convicted of a felony, gross misdemeanor, or misdemeanor.

Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown) and Sen. Randy Kelly (DFL-St. Paul) sponsored the omnibus crime legislation.



Personal watercraft surcharge

A new fee for operation of personal watercraft takes effect Jan. 1, 1999.

Personal watercraft owners will have to pay a $50 surcharge every three years for a watercraft license. The proceeds are to be divided between the state and counties for law enforcement and education efforts.

The personal watercraft provision was included in an environment, natural resources, and agriculture finance law approved by the 1998 Legislature.

Rep. Tom Osthoff (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. Steven Morse (DFL-Dakota) sponsored the measure.



'Off-label' drug coverage

Cancer patients who find relief from certain treatments not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their specific form of cancer no longer will have to wonder if their health plan will pay for the treatment.

A new state law requires state-regulated health maintenance organizations and other health plans to pay for "off-label" use of drugs prescribed for cancer treatment. Effective Jan. 1, 1999, the law stipulates that all such health plans, including Medicare supplemental coverage, may not refuse to pay for cancer treatments involving drugs that are already on a plan's formulary, providing that research has shown that the drug is effective as a cancer treatment.

"Off-label" drug use is the prescribing of drugs for a purpose other than the one for which the drug was originally approved by the FDA. Cancer specialists indicate about 10 percent of their patients respond to treatment that is not covered for their specific cancer under their insurance plan.

Drugs are often approved by the FDA for one purpose, and then further research finds the drug is beneficial for another purpose.

But drug companies rarely resubmit these medications for FDA approval because of the time and cost involved. Some health plans then refuse to pay for use of these prescription drugs if the medication is not FDA-approved for cancer.

The law does not apply to drugs used in experimental cancer treatment.

There are 27 other states with similar laws related to off-label drug use.

Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. Dallas Sams (DFL-Staples) sponsored the measure.



Medical equipment, supplies

A new law, effective Jan. 1, 1999, stipulates that any health plan that covers durable medical equipment may not exclude coverage of devices that are not used in the home.

For instance, a plan may not refuse to cover a wheelchair that is needed at work but not at home.

In addition, health plans are required to tell members and prospective members the nature of the coverage for durable medical equipment, level of coverage available, procedures for prior authorizations, and an address or telephone number of someone with the plan that the member can call to get information, either orally or in writing, on what's covered and not covered.

Rep. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) and Sen. Leo Foley (DFL-Anoka) sponsored the new measure.



Driver's licenses and teens

A new law establishes a three-tiered licensing system for teen drivers that will require Minnesota's younger drivers to acquire a learner's permit and then a provisional driver's license before receiving a full driver's license.

Effective Jan. 1, 1999, people under 18 will not be eligible for a full driver's license unless they have driven one year free of certain driving convictions and had at least 10 hours of supervised driving with a licensed driver 21 or older.

Currently, 15-year-olds can receive a learner's permit (which they must hold for six months) and 16-year-olds can apply for a full license.

Under the new law, teen drivers must be free of conviction for a crash-related moving violation and have no more than one driving conviction unrelated to a crash to be eligible for a full license. Parking and equipment violations or warning citations will not count against them.

The new law stipulates that if a teen is convicted of a traffic violation, he or she could face not only the penalties that apply to the offense but also be required to attend a youth-oriented driver improvement clinic.

The clinics will be designated for traffic violators age 18 and under to assist them in correcting improper driving practices and review provisions of traffic law. The clinics will focus on driving problems common to novice drivers.

A provisional license holder will be able to drive only when every occupant under the age of 18 has a seat belt or child passenger seat properly fastened. There will be a $25 fine for violating the provision, but a citation could be issued for the seat belt violation only if a law officer stops the car for a moving violation.

Rep. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley) and Sen. Ember Junge (DFL-New Hope) sponsored the legislation.


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