These Major New Laws Take Effect Today

As the new year begins, slews of bills that were signed into law over the past year go into effect Wednesday as 2020 begins. 

Some major changes are coming to states across the country, with minimum wage hikes for workers in dozens of jurisdictions as well as new laws at the state level on recreational marijuana, data privacy, gun purchases and more. 

Here are some significant legislative changes now in effect:

Recreational weed is now legal in Illinois. 

Illinois legalized the possession and sale of cannabis for recreational use ― and was also the first state to pass such a comprehensive measure via legislature rather than a ballot initiative. Under the new law, adults 21 and older who live in the state can possess up to 30 grams of cannabis. 

Now about 315,000 Illinois residents with weed-related criminal records are eligible to have these records expunged. The legislation also includes a social equity program ― similar to one that exists in Oakland, California, for instance ― meant to support minority-owned businesses in entering the marijuana market. This is meant to repair some of the harms done by law enforcement disproportionately targeting poor communities of color over marijuana use in recent decades. 

Illinois is the 11th state to legalize cannabis for adult use. 

New York is ending cash bail for many offenses. 

Starting Jan. 1, judges in New York state will no longer be setting money bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent offenses, including many drug offenses. Money bail will still be used for violent felonies. 

Under the new law, thousands of people currently in jail awaiting trial on bail will be released, according to The New York Times. Most jurisdictions will still use some form of supervision, like regular meetings or calls, to ensure defendants show up on their court date. 

New York follows a handful of other states, including New Jersey and Illinois, that have reformed the use of cash bail in recent years. 

A broader bail reform movement has been building for years, aiming to eliminate cash bail’s use nationwide. Advocates argue that money bail creates an unequal system in which poor people are locked up before trial simply because they can’t afford bail while wealthier people accused of the same offenses can stay free until their day in court.  

California enacted a law in 2018 to eliminate cash bail altogether, but after resistance from the bail industry and others, it was put on hold until state residents vote on it in 2020

New “red flag” gun reform laws go into effect in several states. 

In Colorado, Nevada and Hawaii, new “red flag” laws mean family members, law enforcement and others can petition a court to have a person be temporarily blocked from accessing guns if a judge determines that person is a threat to themselves or others. 

These states join more than a dozen others to have such “red flag” preventive gun measures on the books, including Illinois, Florida and Massachusetts.  

In 2018, a wave of states had passed such legislation in response to the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and subsequent nationwide activism by students. 

Historic laws are coming to California governing everything from data privacy to gig economy work to police use of force. 

This year, California enacted one of the nation’s most protective privacy laws. It allows consumers to ask companies what data they’ve collected on them, ask them to delete it or opt out of having it sold to third parties. 

The law will apply to companies doing business in California that collect and sell users’ personal information, including Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple. 

A new law that could upend the gig economy ― including big players like Uber and Lyft ― has gone into effect. It requires some companies to reclassify workers who are independent contractors as employees ― and provide them with additional benefits. 

Uber and Postmates sued the state over the new law this week. The app-based companies employ hundreds of thousands of drivers as independent contractors, and having these workers deemed employees ― with benefits like a minimum wage and unemployment and disability insurance ― would cut deeply into revenue. 

California also has a new law raising the bar for police use of force. It is aimed at reducing the number of fatal police shootings by creating a stricter standard under which officers can use deadly force, from “whenever reasonable” to now “only when necessary.”

Minimum wages will get a boost in over a dozen states. 

As of Wednesday, the minimum wage went up in 21 states as well as 26 cities and counties, according to the National Employment Law Project. In over a dozen of these places, it will now be at or above $15 an hour ― or what advocates have long been calling for as a “living wage.”  

The federal minimum wage has not risen since 2009, staying at $7.25 per hour. In recent years, cities and states have stepped in to raise that figure, such as in New York and San Francisco and, starting in 2020, in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

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