Every year a new slate of state laws hits the books. Here are five that went into effect on January 1, 2016, all directly related to some of the most newsworthy and attention-getting headlines from the past year.
1) Measles and the Mouse
Remember the California measles outbreak that was traced to Disneyland, and the subsequent uproar as the virus spread? In direct response, California Senate Bill 277 requires that every child be vaccinated to attend day care or school in the state. The bill eliminates a vaccine exception based on “personal beliefs” but still allows for an exception based on medical reasons. It doesn’t cover home-schooled children or children enrolled in independent study.
Opposition to SB277 has been vocal, but, to date, ineffective. A legal blow to the opposition came in October 2015, when the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge brought against a similar New York State law.
2) Open carry in the Lone Star State
Gun violence and how to respond to it continued to make headlines in 2015. And while some politicians (including President Obama) argue for stricter regulations on firearms, others have pushed to allow gun owners to carry their weapons more openly and in more places. The latter viewpoint seemed to resonate with Texas legislators, as beginning January 1, 2016, Texas becomes the most populous state to permit open carry of handguns.
Under the new law, Texans will be allowed to obtain a permit to openly carry handguns in a shoulder or belt holster. Previously, Texas issued carry permits for concealed weapons. Those with a CHL (conceal handgun license) won’t have to apply for a new license or be required to attend any additional training, but people applying for the new open carry license will be required to attending training. Private businesses can prohibit weapons—both open and concealed—and there are exceptions to the law for college campuses, where open carry handguns are not permitted.
3) Illinois patients get “Right to Try”
There are many stories of patients with terminal illnesses exhausting all FDA-approved treatments. A new “Right to Try” law in Illinois gives such patients other options. The law says that patients, “may acquire from a manufacturer an investigational drug, biological product, or device that has successfully completed Phase I of a clinical trial, but has not been approved for general use by the United States Food and Drug Administration.” In other words, these patients can try experimental treatments, and those treatments can be covered by insurance, even without final FDA approval.
Illinois is the 23rd state to pass such a law. The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Michael Connelly (R-Wheaton), told CBS Chicago that he was inspired to seek out information from an organization in Arizona that works on this type of legislation. “I saw the Dallas Buyers Club movie late last year right around the same time of the ALS bucket challenge,” he told CBS. Clearly, his inspiration resonated with other Illinois lawmakers.
4) Save the data in Oregon
In the face of large-scale personal data breaches that have been occurring with unsettling regularity, Oregon has enacted amendments to the state’s Consumer Identity Theft Protection Act. The amendments deal directly with the data breaches, while also cleaning up some language in the original statute. The new amendments expand the definition of what is considered “personal information.” Under the new law, biometrics (things like fingerprints or retina scans), health insurance data, or information about medical conditions are now included among the criteria that trigger the data-breach protocols.
Why is this important? In many ways, the states are playing catch up with electronic personal data. All indications are that the dangerous trend of data breaches will continue, and, with amendments like these, Oregon is doing what it can to keep up.
5) Minimum Wage Roundup
In recent years, each flip of the calendar year has seen incremental increases in the hourly minimum wage. The federal government sets the absolute minimum (which is currently $7.25 an hour), but states, cities, and municipalities are free to set minimums above that amount.
After the city of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage ordinance took effect last year, the news recently has been about the national movement pushing increases elsewhere. Governor Mario Cuomo of New York made a big splash in November by committing to raise state workers in New York City to $15/hour by 2016. In the meantime, he signed legislation that, effective December 31, 2015, raises the statewide hourly minimum wage to $9.00 ($9.75 for fast-food service workers).
New York isn’t the only state adjusting the hourly minimum wage in 2016:
- Effective December 31, 2015, West Virginia’s minimum goes to $8.75 an hour.
- As of January 1, 2016: California and Massachusetts are at $10.00 an hour, Connecticut and Rhode Island hit $9.60, and Hawaii (a state known for its extremely high cost of living) comes in at $8.50 per hour.
(For a complete listing of changes, BLR maintains the information on their site along with helpful maps. Always consult state and local government resources to get the information for specific regions or industries.)
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