IT IS GETTING EASIER FOR businesses to follow the bouncing check.

More than 20 states have enacted laws that let a bad-check recipient collect not only the check's face value but also double or triple damages in small-claims court. And a dozen more states and Puerto Rico have similar bills pending. "District attorneys don't have the resources to pursue bad-check writers," says Jim Bernau, Oregon director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "This gives [businesses] a tool to solve the problem themselves."

The bad-check laws reflect the growing clout of small business; lawmakers now address even such mundance concerns as rubber checks. "This allowed people of almost any political persuasion to do something for small business," says Bernau. But Governor Mario Cuomo of New York vetoed similar legislation last year, saying it would impose "unwarranted penalties on consumers."