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New state laws take effect in Minn.

State Capitol Bureau ST. PAUL - Buying a "certified" used car in Minnesota actually will mean something starting Tuesday. That is when a new law begins to regulate what car dealers can call a certified car. It is part of a "car owners' bill of ri...

State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Buying a "certified" used car in Minnesota actually will mean something starting Tuesday.

That is when a new law begins to regulate what car dealers can call a certified car. It is part of a "car owners' bill of rights" lawmakers passed last spring, and something consumer activists and car dealers both like.

"The term 'certified' was used liberally and probably loosely in the industry," Scott Lambert of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association said. "The new law does give us some standards, which I think are important."

But Lambert warned "'certified' still means different things to different people."

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Under the old law, a dealer advertising a "certified" vehicle could define the term however he or she wanted. State law will now say that, among other things, a certified used vehicle must include some form of warranty and the dealer must believe the car is in good shape and has not sustained significant damage.

"In general, it means they have gone through some sort of inspection and reconditioning," Lambert said of certified vehicles.

The law is one of only a few taking effect Tuesday. Most laws passed in the last legislative session already are on the books.

New flag law

The most-discussed new law taking effect Tuesday is one requiring that all American flags be made in the United States.

Long a dream of Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, the law only applies to flags, not novelties with flags painted on them.

Matt Knowlan, owner of American Flagpole and Flag Co. of Lake Elmo, said he doesn't expect the average Minnesotan to see much difference under the new law.

"There are a small portion on the Internet that sell flags that are not American made," Knowlan said. "A majority of people want a flag made in America."

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Steve Russell, store manager for Dilworth's Wal-Mart, said corporate officials review state laws regarding products sold in the nation's stores before relaying directions. "If it's something we can't sell, we pull."

No flag products have been pulled from store shelves recently, Russell said Friday. The store sells flags made by New Jersey-based Annin and Company.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said the bill gained a lot of press in 2007.

"Though this bill has received its fair share of light-hearted attention, it serves a useful purpose by promoting a discussion of American-made products and how we can support local jobs and manufacturing," Sertich said.

Carnival law

A 2006 accident in which two cousins fell out of "The Zipper" carnival ride in Hinckley led to a law tightening regulations on amusement rides.

The state Labor and Industry Department has the task of enforcing the new provisions, including those requiring a ride owner to carry at least $1 million in insurance and provide training to operators. Also, each ride must be inspected independently annually and daily by the operator.

The Labor and Industry Department can shut down a ride deemed unsafe.

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Biggest change

The car buyers' law will be the one most Minnesotans encounter.

Besides defining "certified," it requires several new disclosures car dealers must make to customers. They include specifying how much dealer-installed options would add to a monthly payment and whether a credit report was used to investigate a customer's financial ability to pay off a loan.

With the new law, car dealers will be forced to go over 40 different disclosure statements with customers.

Some area car dealers say the car buyers' law won't significantly change their business.

"We've been doing full disclosures for as far as I can remember," said Matt Martodam, general manager and 14-year employee of Muscatell-Burns Ford in Hawley.

The only change being made is buyers must sign a form that "says you paid 'X' amount for anything additional," he said.

Greg Larson, part owner of R&G Subaru in Detroit Lakes, said the dealership has also offered full disclosure for at least 10 years. He said one advantage of having the new law could help those who may not be reading all the paperwork.

"Well intentioned" people may be promoting something that could backfire, like a lemon car, Lambert said.

"At some point, you have to wonder when the consumer starts to go numb," Lambert said, adding that many buyers already ignore all the required disclosures.

Forum reporter Benny Polacca contributed to this report

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com New state laws take effect in Minn. Don Davis 20071230

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