Beginning today, state workers and employees at the University of Wisconsin can receive domestic partner health insurance and other benefits. The domestic partner benefits are being extended to unmarried partners of state employees who live together, share expenses and meet other requirements. It is open to unmarried couples of the opposite sex as well as same-sex couples. As of Tuesday, 710 people and 57 dependents have signed up for the health insurance, according to the Department of Employee Trust Funds. Another 300 state workers have signed affidavits saying that they qualify for the benefits, indicating that they may sign up later. Another 179 university employees added a domestic partner to their health insurance as of Dec. 21. The health insurance benefit is separate from other rights that all same-sex couples became eligible for in the state starting in August. Under that law, couples had to sign a registry in order to receive a host of rights already afforded married couples, including hospital visitation and inheritance.

Some other new laws that also take effect this year are:

Smoke Free: Beginning July 5, Wisconsin workplaces will be smoke-free, making it illegal to light up in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, factories, hotels, and even Lambeau Field.

Tougher drunken driving rules: A fourth-offense drunken driving now is considered a felony in some cases. A first-offense drunken driving case will be a misdemeanor if someone younger than 16 is in the car. The law also requires repeat offenders and first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 percent or greater to take an alcohol-free breath test before they can start their vehicles using ignition interlock devices.

New traffic laws: U-turns will be allowed at controlled intersections — unless signs are installed specifically prohibiting them — as long as the intersection is not on a curve with visibility less than 500 feet and the U-turn is made from the leftmost lane. Vehicles on the intersecting street must yield to the U-turning vehicle. Additionally, motorists can pass a left-turning vehicle on the right using a paved shoulder as long as the vehicle is turning left and the passing vehicle keeps all four wheels on the pavement or paved shoulder, and is not attempting to pass a slower moving vehicle on the right.

Autism covered: The new mandate that insurance plans cover autism will take effect for most today when group policies are renewed. That law change started in November, but most policyholders won't start paying for it until now.

Birth control: Wisconsin is joining 24 other states that require contraceptive coverage, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two additional states require insurance companies to offer contraceptive coverage as an option to employees, but it can be declined. Federal law requires insurance coverage of contraceptives for federal employees.

Source: The Associated Press; Gannett Wisconsin Media