Home – Guns, Drugs and Money Dominate Annual Slew of New State Laws

Guns, Drugs and Money Dominate Annual Slew of New State Laws

 Throughout December the SNCJ staff shared with you, the readers, what we believe will be some of the major issues to dominate statehouses in 2016. But as we ring in the New Year it is worth noting that thousands of new laws – the result of previous statehouse debates – went into effect as the clock struck midnight on January 1. This week we take a quick look at some of the most significant new measures.


With America’s ongoing debate over gun violence weighing heavily in both the public consciousness and the presidential campaigns, all eyes will be on a new Texas law that allows roughly 826,000 residents with a concealed handgun permit to now carry those weapons out in the open, provided they are holstered. The law has drawn fierce criticism from gun control advocates, many of whom say the measure is intended to allow gun owners to intimidate those who disagree with their views and will ultimately make communities more dangerous rather than safer. The law was vehemently opposed by most Lone Star State law enforcement agencies. Gun owners counter that 44 other states allow some form of open carry, including deep blue states like Oregon and Massachusetts. The law also allows businesses to prohibit guns, provided they post specific signs noting their policy, including separate signs for barring open carry and concealed carry. All guns remain prohibited in public buildings like courthouses and jails, as well as at polling places, schools, racetracks, bars and in the secure areas of airports.


In contrast, a pair of new laws in California – Texas’s polar opposite on many issues – ban concealed weapons from being brought onto college campuses and allow police or family members to request a restraining order to temporarily take guns away from someone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Other Golden State legislation that became law this month includes SB 199, a bill that requires BB guns to bear brightly colored markings to help law enforcement officers distinguish them from real firearms.


Several new state laws also combat another ongoing issue: prescription drug abuse. In Illinois, HB 3219 requires prescription pain killers to have a locking cap, while a new law set to go into effect in New Jersey on Feb. 1 bars the sale of over-the-counter medications containing the substance dextromethorphan, commonly known as DXM, to anyone under age 18 without a valid doctor’s prescription. More than 120 over-the-counter products contain DXM. Similar legislation went into effect in Tennessee, while a new Virginia law requires health insurers to cover at least two brand-name and two generic abuse-deterrent opioid analgesic drug products.


Another new Garden State law requires pharmacies to give consumers information on how to safely dispose of unused prescription meds, and specifically on the availability of drug take-back programs sponsored by local, state or federal government agencies. Meanwhile, a new Nevada law requires doctors who prescribe certain medications to get training on how to use the Silver State’s prescription drug database. Use of the database – which is intended to stop patients from obtaining prescriptions for powerful narcotics from numerous doctors – has previously been voluntary. And Montana will now require pharmacists and drug retailers to log the sale of cold and allergy products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine – which can also be used to make methamphetamine - into a national electronic reporting system. 


Public health is also the issue in Hawaii, which became the first state to raise its legal smoking age to 21. The new law also applies to the use of electronic cigarettes and tobacco vaping products. Montana also now bars the sale of electronic tobacco products to those under 18. The Treasure State now also imposes a $5 fee on retailers who wish to sell vaping gear.


Thousands of miles east in Connecticut, a new measure mandates that consumers obtaining drugs sold only as generics also receive the manufacturer’s name and website and a toll-free telephone number for MedWatch, the federal government’s drug safety and reporting program. In New York, a new law makes the Empire State the first to make pregnancy a qualifying event for changing or enrolling in the state health care exchange at any time. And at work, employers are now required to make available reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers dealing with medical conditions related to their condition. And for new moms, New York also enacted the “Breast-feeding Mothers Bill of Rights,” which allows breast-feeding women to take reasonable unpaid breaks at work to pump breast milk for up to three years following childbirth.


Back out west most new public buildings in California must now have automated external defibrillators on the premises, while health insurers must maintain and regularly update a website containing an accurate database of their health care providers. That information must be updated every week and include notice of which providers speak languages other than English. Meanwhile, in Oregon employers will be required to offer workers up to 40 hours of annual sick leave. The Beaver State is the fifth to mandate paid sick leave for workers. Also in Oregon, health insurers must now also cover telemedicine services and offer birth control coverage for at least one full year to avoid patients from falling into a coverage gap. And both California and Oregon now allow women to obtain birth control over-the-counter without a doctor’s prescription.


Employers have new rules as well. Fifteen states saw their minimum wage go up on Jan. 1, either via the implementation of new laws or previously-adopted automatic annual increases. In California, cheerleaders for professional sports teams are now considered employees of their teams rather than independent contractors, meaning they must be paid the minimum wage and receive workers compensation and other benefits. And New York and California adopted measures barring employers from paying women less than men for similar work unless there are also other specific differences in qualifications, education, experience and expertise. 


Pets will also enjoy a few more protections in 2016. A new Tennessee statute launches the nation's first statewide online registry of animal abusers, which will feature any Volunteer State resident convicted of mistreating animals. And leaving a cat or dog locked in a hot car until they die in Illinois will now be a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail. Further offenses turn into a felony that could result in someone being sent to jail for up to three years and undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. And a new California law imposes steep fines on marijuana growers who dump chemicals into waterways, causing the deaths of wild animals. California also enhanced bans on the sale or possession of elephant ivory or rhinoceros horns.


Not every bill of great import took effect as New Year’s Eve wound down. One of the most controversial measures in the nation from 2015 – a California measure that allows doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients drugs to help themselves end their own lives – can’t go into effect until 90 days after a special session on health care adjourns. That adjournment is expected later this month. Another highly controversial California measure - SB 277, which requires all children attending public and private schools to be fully vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption – technically went into effect on Jan 1. But a provision within the law allows parents who request it to delay those vaccinations until July 1. Both measures drew angry opposition that garnered national attention and afterward spurred efforts to get initiatives to overturn them placed on the November ballot. All of those efforts failed, as did a drive to recall California Sen. Richard Pan (D), SB 277’s main author.


As noted, this is hardly a comprehensive rundown of the numerous new laws that have recently gone into effect, or will soon do so. To review more legislative action from throughout the very busy 2015 year, please visit the SNCJ archives at http://bit.ly/1BY0k54


Follow Rich on Twitter at @WordsmithRich