With the ushering in of a new year comes new laws. Lucky us! A wave of new legislation will bring in changes, both big and small. There is “good news” for workers, consumer privacy advocates, sexual abuse victims, and many more.
Minimum Wages Are Going Up
The minimum wage will rise in 72 jurisdictions. Twenty-one states and 26 cities and counties, mostly in California, raised the minimum wage on New Year's Day. In 17 of those jurisdictions, the new rate will reach or exceed $15 an hour.
Four more states and 23 more cities and counties will join later in the year, with 15 of them raising wages to $15 an hour or more. Illinois and St. Paul, Minnesota, will raise their minimum wages twice in 2020. These increases will put much-needed money into the hands of the lowest-paid workers, many of whom struggle with high and ever-increasing costs of living. But let us not forget that the federal minimum wage has remained unchanged since 2009, at $7.25 an hour.
Control over Your Data
There's a reason your inbox has been getting overloaded with privacy notices lately. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the nation's toughest privacy law, is set to take effect starting this month. The landmark law allows California residents to demand that companies disclose what data they have collected about them. And if users want that data deleted, companies will have to comply.
The law applies to for-profit companies that generate more than $25 million in annual gross revenue, generate more than 50 percent of their annual revenue from selling customers' personal data, or have personal data for more than 50,000 people. CCPA could set a precedent for the rest of the United States—the law has already prompted other states to consider their own privacy measures. And while non-California residents can't request their data be deleted, they can read through the new terms of service to see what data companies are collecting.
More People Can Sue over Sexual Abuse
As the #MeToo movement inspired more people to come forward with their experiences of sexual abuse, some states are relaxing their deadlines to bring lawsuits for previous offenses. California will suspend the statute of limitations for three years beginning January 1, giving victims of all ages the chance to pursue prosecution. The state is also expanding the statute of limitations for childhood victims of sexual abuse. Under the new law, victims will have until age 40 or five years from the time the abuse was discovered to file civil lawsuits.
Illinois will remove the statute of limitations on criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated criminal sexual abuse, regardless of the age of the victim. The state eliminated time limits on prosecuting sex crimes against minors in 2017, but adult victims still faced a ticking clock. Previously, prosecutors had ten years to bring the charges, but the offense must first have been reported to law enforcement within three years.
Changes in Gun Laws
After another year of mass shootings and heated debates over gun control, states are taking action. Colorado is among the states enacting gun restrictions—its “red flag” law took effect January 1. The law allows family or household members and law enforcement to petition for a court order to temporarily take guns away from an individual deemed to be in danger of hurting himself or others.
There's already been a lot of opposition to the law, though, and there's no telling what will happen. A number of the state's counties have declared themselves as Second Amendment “sanctuaries” while some sheriffs have previously said they'd rather go to jail than enforce the law. Meanwhile, Tennessee is moving in the other direction, making it easier for residents to receive a concealed carry handgun permit.
No More Cash Bail
New York state becomes the latest to end the money bail system, which critics call "wealth-based incarceration." The state eliminated money bail for nearly all misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases. The new law could free thousands of incarcerated people from pretrial detention, according to a preliminary analysis by the Center for Court Innovation.
But there are exceptions, including cases involving sex crimes, domestic violence, witness intimidation or tampering, and terrorism-related charges, among others. This may be one of the few laws actually worthy of passing this year.
Plastic Bags Are Out
It's always a good idea to bring reusable bags with you to the grocery store. But starting in 2020, forgetting them at home could cost you. Oregon is the latest state to ban single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, requiring shoppers to bring their own bags or pay a small fee for paper ones.
The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is also gearing up for a similar “eco-friendly” initiative. Single-use plastic bags, including compostable bags and plastic ones less than 2.25 millimeters thick, will be banned. The city plans to encourage residents to go green by passing out about 2,000 reusable bags at grocery stores and city facilities, the station reported.
No More Texting While Driving
You really might want to think twice before sending out that text while you're stopped at an intersection. Law enforcement officers in Florida will start writing tickets for drivers caught texting and driving. Tickets will be $30 for non-moving violations and $60 for moving violations.
The fines go up even more if you're speeding. The People's Republic of Massachusetts enacts a similar law later in the year. Starting February 23, 2020, drivers in the state will be banned from texting and generally using their phone while driving, although Bluetooth and "hands-free" modes will be allowed. Law enforcement officers will issue warnings only for the first month or so, but after March 31, drivers can expect to be fined.
African-Americans Can Embrace Their Natural Hair
Black students and employees in California can finally feel free to be themselves. The Golden State became the first state in the United States to ban employers and school officials from discriminating against people based on their natural hair. The Crown Act makes it illegal to enforce dress code or grooming policies against hairstyles such as afros, braids, twists and locks. "This law protects the right of black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms," state Sen. Holly Mitchell said earlier this year. "I am so excited to see the culture change that will ensue from the law."
If your favorite law didn’t pass this year, don’t worry—next year promises to bring in thousands of new laws, many of which will be equally ridiculous. It's best to check what new laws have been enacted in your own state to be sure what ones now apply to you. Doing so could help prevent being surprised by an unexpected lawsuit or being accused of an obscure crime. Understand that with so many laws in the land and with the number constantly increasing, government officials have more room for selective enforcement. Corruption also becomes more prevalent.
“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulged, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known and less fixed?”—James Madison