|© A collection of seized weapons seen on display during a press conference in New York on Aug. 19, 201... Image: A collection of seized weapons seen on display during a press conference|
The new year brings a host of new laws across the country that go into effect starting Sunday — from restrictions on holding a cell phone while driving to greater freedom for carrying a gun in public.
While many states already restrict the use of cell phones in the car, California is now taking that precaution a step further. As of Sunday, it's illegal for drivers to hold their phones behind the wheel. The devices must be mounted and can be used only for functions that require a single tap or swipe, like answering a call.
"If you're not paying attention and something happens in front of you, by the time your mind thinks about it and you react to it, it is definitely too late," says Officer Jesus Chavez of the California Highway Patrol.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia becomes the first major American city with a tax on sugary sodas — one and a half cents an ounce. That's 24 cents for a 16-ounce drink. The industry is challenging the law in court.
"The people who can least afford to pay it will be the ones that are paying a higher proportion of it," says Susan Nelly of the American Beverage Association.
Berkeley, California, was the first city to impose such a sugar tax, adopting it in 2015. When Michael Bloomberg was New York's mayor, he attempted to have a similar tax imposed by the board of health, but a court said only New York's city council had that power.
And beginning on Sunday in Missouri, anyone 19 or older who owns a gun can carry it in public, concealed, without getting training or a permit. Sheriff Mike Sharp of Jackson County was among law enforcement officials who opposed the idea.
"This law would allow anybody to go get a gun, carry it, and never have to fire the weapon until they think it's necessary to use it, without any education whatsoever," he said.
But a sponsor of the new law, State Senator Brian Munzlinger, discounted fears of more gun violence. "The basis of this whole bill is that it allows law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families," he said.
California, by contrast, imposes tougher gun laws as of the first day of 2017. It's now illegal to sell most AR-15 style rifles with removable magazines, or ammunition clips, banned as assault weapons. Current owners must register them.
Under a new law in Maine, doctors cannot prescribe more than a seven-day supply of such painkillers Vicodin or Percocet, or a 30-day supply for chronic pain. The measure is intended to reduce opioid abuse.
In Colorado, it's now a crime to misrepresent a pet as a service animal. The state says untrained pets interfere with real service dogs. Angela Easton, a service dog trainer, says pet owners often ask for an accessory allowing them to take their dogs almost anywhere.
"We get calls from people who want a service dog vest so that they could keep their dog with them all the time."
Starting today in Illinois, bicycles have the same right of way as cars. The law was passed after a Vietnam veteran, Dennis Jurs, was killed when a driver failed to yield.
Drivers in Boston begin the new year with a lower speed limit — 25 miles an hour, down from 30, imposed to reduce traffic deaths.
And in Alabama as of Jan 1., there will be no more common law marriages. Getting married to celebrate the New Year will require a license and a ceremony, even one as simple as saying "I do" in the county courthouse.
Weed, guns and catfish: 2017 brings new laws, big changes
Just because Congress ground to a virtual halt in 2016 doesn’t mean the country stopped making new laws.
From taxes to minimum wage to gun control, a broad range of changes is coming at the state level as Americans ring in 2017. And, as has been the trend lately, the new year will bring far broader legalization of marijuana.
It’s what The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, in a letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence arguing against pot prohibitions, called an “unprecedented schism between state and federal law in regards to … cannabis statutes.” While that debate will play out anew as the Trump administration takes office with a law-and-order mandate, the “schism” grows wider in 2017.
Already, revelers in Massachusetts and California will have the legal option of pairing their New Year’s Eve champagne with a joint. Approved by voters in November, legal recreational pot use took effect on Dec. 15 in Massachusetts; legal personal use of the drug took effect in California shortly after voters approved it there, though retail sales are still months away from implementation.
Nevada legalized recreational pot on Jan. 1, and Maine will follow soon after.
Voters in the last election approved legalizing the drug for medical purposes in North Dakota, Montana, Florida and Arkansas. In Colorado, one of the first states to legalize pot, licensed medical marijuana growers will now be allowed to sell pot as well.
Colorado voters also backed an increase in the statewide minimum wage.
Starting Jan. 1, the wage increased from $8.31 to $9.30 per hour for non-tipped workers and will increase by $0.90 per hour every year until it reaches $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020.
Voters in Maine, Arizona and Washington also voted in favor of minimum wage hikes. An appeals court in Arizona recently rejected an effort by state businesses to delay the Jan. 1 implementation.
As wage hikes enter the pipeline, so have tax hikes:
In Portland, Ore., the city council passed a so-called CEO tax, a first-in-the-nation ordinance to put a tax surcharge on publicly traded companies whose CEOs earn 100 times more than the median wage of other company employees. According to the National Law Review, a surcharge of 10 percent of the base tax liability would be imposed on those companies beginning on Jan. 1.
Buying presents next Christmas or anything from Amazon also will be more expensive for Utah residents in 2017 thanks to a new law requiring online retailers to charge consumers a 4.7 state sales tax at the point of sale, rather than relying on the honor system.
On the tax relief side of the ledger, Illinois approved a measure tossing out a 6.25 percent “luxury” tax on tampons.
Illinois passed dozens of other laws, including changes so that starting Jan. 1 it will no longer be illegal to catch catfish using a pitchfork, speargun or bow and arrow. Critically, the term “public hunting ground for pheasants” will be replaced by “public hunting ground for game birds.”
On the West Coast, gun owners in California will face new restrictions after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law banning the purchase of semiautomatic rifles with so-called “evil features.”
The “evil features” include pistol grips, flash hiders and bullet-buttons that make it easier to remove and replace ammunition magazines. The Los Angeles Times reported an increase in gun purchases in the lead-up to the Jan. 1 implementation.
The gun measure is one of the few new California laws that do not have roots on the desk of state Sen. Jerry Hill, the sponsor of 17 bills taking effect in the new year. The laws run the gamut from how police store their weapons in their vehicles to tour bus safety to restrictions on water use.
While Congress itself largely was inactive over the past year, a new regulation stemming from the Affordable Care Act, and set to take effect Jan. 1, could have far-reaching implications across the country.
Under the change, states will have the option to seek so-called Section 1332 waivers to try to modify parts of ObamaCare for their residents. A number of states have sought to get that process started – though the incoming Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress want to repeal and replace the law as a whole next year.