From minimum wage to tiger selfies: New laws for 2015

Guide to the most important new laws of 2015.


WASHINGTON, January 2, 2015 — The new year brings a bevy of new laws across the country, impacting everything from minimum wage, recreational marijuana, tattooing pets and selfies.

Several states have implemented regulations regarding sexual assault. In California, the “yes means yes” law requires colleges and universities that receive state funds to strictly enforce the law requiring an “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Under the new law, failing to resist advances and silence are no longer considered consent to a sexual act. Michigan now requires rape evidence to be better organized and tracked, after investigators found 11,000 rape kits languishing in a Detroit Police facility in 2009. Louisiana now requires law enforcement to disclose the number of untested rape kits in their custody.

Drivers, potential drivers and passengers in several states face new laws. California now allows “any non-citizen” to apply for a driver’s license as of 1 January. Illinois eliminated quotas for traffic tickets, banning law enforcement from requiring officers to write a certain number of tickets each month. Utah now mandates that law enforcement impound vehicles of uninsured drivers. Florida makes child safety seats or boosters mandatory for 4 and 5-year olds, and in Nevada, habitually truant teenagers may have their licenses suspended or face delays in receiving a license.

Motorcycles without footrests and handholds may not carry passengers. Indiana now requires license plates on motor scooters.

Animal laws went into effect in several states as well. New York no longer allows pet owners to tattoo, pierce or undertake any other “fashion body modifications” of their pets. The state also made it illegal to pose for a photo with a lion, tiger or other big cat, after “selfies” of men with big cats started showing up on dating sites. In Utah, cities and towns are prohibited from banning specific dog breeds, while California restaurants can now allow dogs on outdoor areas.

California introduced a law against confinement for egg-laying hens, breeding sows and veal calves.

In the category of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, legalized recreational marijuana in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. lead the headlines.

Illinois has expanded the definition of “beer” to include all hard ciders, and out of state wineries can now ship directly to Massachusetts consumers. Iowa has made it illegal for anyone under 21 to consume alcohol, and implements penalties for adults who knowingly allow underage people to drink alcohol on their property. In Oregon, teenagers will avoid being charged with alcohol possession if they seek medical help.

Michigan makes it illegal to buy cough and cold medicine to make methamphetamines or to ask someone else to buy the ingredients. Police now are required to add methamphetamine offenders to a national database.

Illinois requires retailers to sell both single cigarette packs and e-cigarettes from behind the counter, and says e-cigarette refill packages must be child proof. Louisiana banned smoking from within 25 feet of public entrances to state office buildings.

California and Washington strengthened gun laws, while Pennsylvania took the opposite tact. In California, altered semiautomatic handguns must meet state requirements. California also requires law enforcement to develop policies to encourage officers to search the state gun purchaser’s database as part of routine welfare checks. Washington extends the background check requirement for gun buyers beyond federal requirements.

Pennsylvania now makes it easier for gun owners to challenge local firearm ordinances. Residents can now take on ordinances that it says harms them.

Delaware and California enacted laws to help protect online privacy. Delaware requires any commercial entity to “take all reasonable steps” to destroy the personal information of consumers. California passed a law making it illegal for anyone to distribute sexually explicit photos or video without their explicit consent.

Environmental regulations also took effect in 2015. New York residents are required to recycle “e-waste,” including computers, televisions, and video game consoles. Seattle, Washington makes it illegal to throw away food, instead requiring residents to compost food waste and paper. North Carolina home sellers must now disclose whether they are aware if underground gas and oil rights have been sold to a third party. California requires districts to develop plans to manage groundwater and allows the state government to intervene if necessary.

Mendocino and San Benito counties in California; Athens, Ohio; and Denton, Texas have banned fracking.

In the employment arena, new minimum wages will go into effect in 29 states as of January 1. Illinois makes it illegal for employers to ask job applicants about their criminal history before an interview or until after a job offer is made. Minnesota will allow nonviolent offenders the opportunity to have their criminal records expunged, to assist them in obtaining “jobs and housing.” Illinois now requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant employees and makes it a civil rights violation if employers fail to reinstate them to their position, or an equivalent position, after childbirth.

Louisiana, North Carolina and Delaware implemented new laws dealing with elections. 16 and 17-year-olds in Louisiana will be able to register to vote, but can not actually cast ballots until they are 18. North Carolina requires individuals filing as a candidate with a particular party to have an affiliation with that party for at least 90 days prior to filing. Delaware allocates campaign contributions among joint account holders.

Tax laws changed in several states as well. North Carolina repealed tax breaks for film productions and cab drivers. Virginia increased the gas tax by five cents a gallon, and California will increase the gas tax by between four and 19 percent, depending on the source of the gas. Totally disabled veterans in Mississippi and their surviving spouses who have not remarried will no longer pay property taxes on their primary residence.

AP contributed to this report.

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Lisa M. Ruth
Lisa M. Ruth is Editor-in-Chief of CDN. In addition to her editing and leadership duties, she also writes on international events, intelligence, and other topics. She has worked with CDN as a journalist since 2009. Lisa is also President of CTC International Group, Inc., a research and analysis firm in South Florida, providing actionable intelligence to decisionmakers. She started her career at the CIA, where she won several distinguished awards for her service. She holds an MA in international relations from the University of Virginia, and a BA in international relations from George Mason University. She also serves as Chairman of the Board of Horses Healing Hearts, and is involved with several other charitable organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and AYSO.