Police officials across the South were urging folks to resist what used to come naturally:  Firing guns into the air to ring in the New Year.  In Montgomery, Alabama, where a 7-year-old was killed by a stray New Year’s Eve bullet in 2007, police planned to use ShotSpotter, a sound detection system that differentiates between gunfire and similar sounds, such as firecrackers, to identify trouble spots.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, police get 30 to 40 shots-fired calls around midnight on  New Year’s Eve.  One year, recalled Chattanooga SWAT leader Michael Wenger, celebration gunfire was so heavy around his patrol car that he and another officer had to seek cover.  In Memphis, Tennessee, last year, a bullet was found in a baby’s diaper, apparently having dropped through a church roof during a New Year’s Eve service.

Loxahatchee Groves, Florida, outlaws not only gunfire on New Year’s Eve but loud noise.  The law was inspired in part by the death of a rare red-browed Amazon parrot that flailed itself senseless at the local conservatory during fireworks last New Year’s Eve.

Still not lung-safe: Smokers will be allowed to light up only fire-safe cigarettes as of January 1 in 12 states, including Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The cigarettes are designed to go out when they’re not puffed, minimizing the risk of fires caused by smoking.  Alabama is also banning smoking at the state’s mental health facilities as of January 4 … Another new law going into effect in Georgia on Friday is the “super speeder” law that adds an extra $200 to speeding fines if the motorist is going more than 85 mph.  South Carolina, meanwhile, is expected to consider a bill soon that would raise its speed limit on interstate highways to 80.

More droppings: Atlanta has had its annual New Year’s Eve Peach Drop for years, and, this year, Macon, Georgia, planned to join the fruit dip with its first-ever Cherry Blossom Drop.  The ball was made from recycled parts from an old Cherry Blossom Festival Christmas decoration.  (Our contributor Mark Johnson prefers possum drops.)

Tennessee surprise: South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster has increased his circle of Republican state prosecutors threatening to sue the federal government over the U.S. Senate health care bill to 13.  They sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanding that a provision exempting Nebraska from new Medicaid costs be eliminated.  The provision was included in the Senate version to help secure the vote of Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson.  The letter was signed by attorneys general from Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington State.  Surprisingly, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper was not among them.  Two Tennessee legislators were among the first to push for legal action. “Until we know what the bill as enacted says and when its provisions take effect, any such analysis is premature,” Cooper said.

Dew Droplets: Vandals spray painted “No n – – – – – mayor die” on the side of  city hall in Columbia, South Carolina, where two African-American candidates are vying to become the city’s first black mayor … In North Carolina, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s online crime reporting forms are now available in Spanish …  A federal judge Wednesday ruled in favor of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in a case brought by animal rights activists who accused the circus of abusing elephants … Two Florida residents are asking for an injunction that would ensure Fox’s showing of the New Year’s Day Florida vs. Cincinnati game on Bright House Networks’ cable system; Fox and Bright are in a contract dispute that could shut down service at game time in parts of Florida … A recent Pew poll found Mississippi to be the most religious state in America.

Check out our News and Opinion Feeds for a lot more Southern happenings.

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Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor was born and raised in Georgia and worked more than 40 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter and editor and as an online producer for ajc.com and AccessAtlanta. He served for a time as the newspaper's regional editor, overseeing coverage of the South. He is co-author, with Dr. Leonard Ray Teel, of Into the Newsroom:  An Introduction to Journalism and has conducted workshops in the Middle East on feature writing.