It’s time for a new year, and with resolutions and football games come new laws as well. Lot of laws go into effect on January 1st each year because it’s helpful to have one day for a “resetting” of sorts. The date is mostly arbitrary but allows people time to prepare to implement new laws. Some state constitutions mandate when new laws take effect. For example, in Arizona laws take effect 91 days after the end of a legislative session. Other laws passed within the last couple of years have graduated implementation dates, meaning they’re implemented over several years.
The gamut of new laws taking effect this January reflects key themes across the country – from minimum wage to medical marijuana, data privacy to women’s health. Some new laws are “signs of the times” and we expect to hear more in 2017 on transportation networks (ridesharing), tampon taxes, online shopping, e-cigarettes, ballot selfies, and social media.
Keep an eye out for minimum wage increases and gas tax adjustments. As of January 1, 2017, 29 states (plus the District of Columbia) will have minimum wage rates above the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour.
Seven states will see increased gas taxes, while two, New York and West Virginia, will decrease state gas taxes. Pennsylvania already has the highest gas tax in the country and will see a 15 percent increase to 58.3 cents per gallon. This is a good example of a 2013 law that is now being implemented fully. More than a dozen states are set to examine gas tax adjustments in the upcoming year.
You may have heard about “tampon taxes” this year, as 15 states introduced legislation to eliminate sales taxes on feminine hygiene products. Three states and the District of Columbia passed such legislation, moving these products from luxury goods to necessities for tax purposes. The change will be implemented Jan. 1, 2017 in Illinois, October 2017 for D.C., and July 2018 for Connecticut. New York already implemented the new law in October 2016. Of note, California passed similar legislation this year, but Gov. Jerry Brown [D] vetoed the legislation, equating tax breaks to new spending and noting the cost to the General Fund.
There’s always some unique new laws — outliers to the year’s trends and specific to individual states. As of Jan. 1, 2017, Alabama will no longer recognize common law marriage — legally recognized unions where a couple lives together and presents themselves as married but lack an official license. Unions entered before the start of the day will still be valid. Common law marriage originated in the 1800s and is now fully recognized in just 10 states and the District of Columbia.
In Illinois, individuals ages 18 and under can now trap wild game without permits (while accompanied by someone age 21 or older), and forget noodling — Illinoisans can now capture catfish using a pitchfork, spear gun, or bow-and-arrow. Meanwhile, Minnesota will become the first state to prohibit sale and production of the antibacterial agent Triclosan in soaps and other germ-killing products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a similar ban this year, set to take effect in September 2017.
You may not think about your state legislature that much, but more policy is occurring at the state level with each passing year… and that may increase even more in 2017 due to national political dynamics. On the whole, state legislatures already introduce and pass more legislation than Congress. The expanded Republican majority in Washington generally embraces a philosophy of returning more power to the states. At the same time, blue states like California are pledging to cut their own path and exercise “progressive federalism.” So, for the first time in a long time, we may see a focus on the states from the political Left and Right.
In 2017, it will be more important than ever for people to pay attention and engage with state lawmakers, and POPVOX is ready to help! After six years of connecting people to Congress, we’re launching POPVOX / States in January to help you track bills, follow your state lawmakers, and receive neutral, nonpartisan information about your state legislature.
Sign up now to receive updates. And remember, policy happens at the state and federal level.
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