The legal landscape is changing; with new technology and greater mobility throughout the world than ever before, laws have had to change just to keep pace. Some of the newest laws are spectacular and a move in the right direction. Others are… not quite so spectacular. Regardless, ignorance of the law (whether new or old) is no excuse, so it pays to keep yourself abreast of changes in your local area. Whether you’re in California or Illinois, these 10 new laws just might land you in jail in 2017 if you don’t take care to understand them now.
Prop. 63 (California)
Proposition 63, though rolling out in stages over the next three to five years, is one of the most heavily contested new laws going into power as of January 1st, 2017. It states that anyone who wishes to purchase a gun or ammunition for said gun in California must pass a background check. Any prior federal offenses, or even misdemeanor offenses, can prevent one from being approved in one fell swoop, as can a history of mental or physical illness. It also single-handedly bans large-capacity ammunition magazines, meaning that gun owners need to switch out magazines more often at a greater cost or inconvenience when on the range or out hunting. Note that magazine capacity may have changed for your favorite hunting rifle. Check your local laws.
The NRA and other firearm rights associations argue that this will do little to actually cap California’s gun crime problem. After all, those buying guns in places like Southern California for gang activity and other violent crimes probably aren’t buying them from legitimate sources anyway. Supporters counter this by pointing out that fewer guns for sale means fewer will eventually make it to the street, cutting back on access in the first place.
So how does Prop. 63 affect you? Be careful who you buy ammunition from and where. If you aren’t grandfathered in, spending the day at the range with that treasured family heirloom will undoubtedly become more expensive and more difficult. You’ll have to buy your ammunition (or your firearm) from a registered vendor. Buy it from anyone else, and you may find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
Methane Gas Law (California)
If you’re a farmer in California, it’s very likely that you’ll realize that something truly stinks when 2017 hits – it’s the methane gas laws you’re smelling. At the expense of being gross for a moment, it’s a fact of life for anyone who raises cattle; they fart, and when they do, they produce a great deal of methane gas. In a perhaps-misplaced effort to curb global warming, Governor Jerry Brown has implemented new laws that penalize farmers whose cattle produce excess methane gas. Unfortunately, curbing methane isn’t as easy as just telling your cattle not to fart. How on Earth does one regulate a cow’s farts?
Opponents of the law argue that it isn’t practical or even in the cow’s best interest to try and regulate methane this way. They also point out that California is one of the biggest suppliers of milk in the country; regulating methane means that the cattle and dairy industry is likely to take an extreme hit, something for which most farmers cannot afford to compensate. That means passing on extra costs to the regular consumer, thereby increasing the cost of milk, cheese, beef, and just about everything else that comes from a cow. Opponents claim that the laws will do more to harm the average consumer than to actually protect the environment in the first place. Can you even begin to imagine how methane gas reduction can be accomplished?
While this law isn’t likely to impact you unless you own cattle, if you do, you may want to invest in one of these devices for each of your cows. Otherwise, you could end up being yourself fined if your farm is producing too much methane.
Sky Lantern Law (Oregon)
Whether you’ve seen it in person or you’ve just watched videos online, the sky lantern celebrations that take place all around the country are incredibly moving and beautiful. Originally inspired by a 1,200-year-old Yeon Deung Hoe festival originating in Korea, China, Japan, and several other Asian countries, this ancient tradition has undergone a number of changes since coming over into American culture. Despite this homogenization, the main concept remains the same – participants send good wishes and hopes into the air each time they release a lantern. In the western world, it is frequently used by those grieving the loss of a child or loved one; by releasing the lantern, they’re releasing the grief and wishing the person well in heaven or the next life.
Unfortunately, Oregon has just single-handedly made this tradition illegal in most forms, and for what may amount to a good reason, too. Most lanterns utilize a single lit flame, making the lantern rise through heat induction. While this is pretty to look at, it is possible for the lantern to start devastating forest fires once it begins to burn out or lands. This is especially problematic in areas where forest tinder may be very dry, or where farmlands may contain dry, rough hay and grass. Most Americans know better than to release an open flame in these areas; sadly, this is a true case of a “a few bad apples spoil the bunch.”
So what can you do instead? There are environmentally-friendly and legal options; consider releasing a biodegradable helium balloon instead. Alternatively, flameless tea lights nestled into water lanterns look beautiful, and can be easily retrieved with a net, after a ceremony.
No More Common-Law Marriages (Alabama)
Living with your hubby in Alabama? Depending on how long you’ve been together, your common-law marriage may no longer be accepted after January 1st. That’s because Alabama has decided to do away with common-law marriages. Going forward, you’ll need to hitch a ride to the courthouse or church to get married, and you’ll require a license to move forward with it in the first place.
This law seeks to reduce the frequency of people living together simply for tax breaks and other potential benefits. Proponents of the laws state that it will also make room for more modern relationship types without forcing couples or friends into a precarious and potentially financially problematic legal relationship. There have been cases in the past where common-law couples have fallen out of love and denied the relationship, costing the courts thousands in judicial costs to sort out the problem, but it’s difficult to say whether this will have the intended effect or not.
Couples who move in together or declare themselves in a relationship after January 1st can no longer file taxes together or declare themselves married; if you do, be prepared for an audit that demands you provide proof.
New Employee Laws (Illinois)
If you’re an employer, these Illinois laws are something you must know about before heading into 2017. Firstly, new compassionate care laws dictate that employers must grant employees time off if they are caring for a child, spouse, parent, or other extended family member who is ill. Ditto if your employee happens to find themselves harmed as a result of abuse; you cannot refuse them time off within reason. To do so is to find yourself in hot water; a lawsuit may follow.
To make matters worse, you can no longer request access to your employee’s social media sites. This becomes illegal as of January 1st, 2017, changed by the state in a bid to protect employee privacy. Of course, that doesn’t stop you from checking out your employees online on your own time. The only exception to this is if your employee is managing a Facebook or Twitter account for you; you still cannot request access to their personal profile, but you can request access to company accounts.
Sweet Drink Tax (Philadelphia)
If you’re a convenience or grocery store owner, you’ll have to implement this law immediately if you want to avoid being labeled a tax dodger. New sweet drink taxes indicate that Philadelphia is the first American city to place a tax on sugary sodas like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Furthermore, the tax isn’t generalized; it’s specific ounce-to-ounce and includes fountain sodas, too. Expect to tack on 1.5 cents per ounce – as much as 24 cents for the average 16-ounce drink. Unless you absorb the costs yourself, failing to charge and pass on the tax could see you fined by the IRS or even facing charges. Sitting there wondering how something so ridiculous could happen? You aren’t alone; the soft drink industry is also challenging the change in court.
Painkiller Laws (Maine)
Maine’s new painkiller laws are a good example of how good intentions can sometimes have the worst consequences when implemented without thought. This is particularly true for the healthcare industry, where each patient can have highly individualized needs. New laws state that no doctor can prescribe more than seven days worth of painkilling meds at a time, regardless of the illness or injury, unless the illness is chronic in nature. Even if it is chronic, doctors are limited to a 30-day supply.
The original intention of this law was to curb rampant opiate abuse, and it may very well help to do that. Unfortunately, in a state where a great many patients already struggle to afford to see the doctor at all (especially on Obamacare), it may end up penalizing those who actually need the drugs more than those who use them recreationally. Patients who are elderly, for example, or who have terminal illnesses, may find it unrealistic to visit the doctor every seven days.
If you’re a pain patient – or even if you happen to break your leg, you’ll need to understand that longer prescriptions just aren’t an option anymore. Even if you manage to convince your doctor to prescribe for longer periods of time, the pharmacy isn’t likely to fill your prescription in the first place. And if you do manage to squeak by, both you and your doctor could find yourself fined or charged.
New Hampshire Laser Laws
Kids and cats – two groups that love to play with lasers. Little laser pointers saw an immense surge in the mid-90s. They moved from being office tools to toys for both little ones and cats. Unfortunately, certain brands were found to contain extremely high-powered laser lights inside – strong enough to potentially beam into a vehicle or airplane if angled correctly. Researchers believed that this could be enough to cause an accident, and thus, most states banned shining laser pointers (or lasers of any kind) into a moving vehicle in the early ‘00s. Nearly 17 years later, New Hampshire has also taken steps to make this illegal, too, so watch where you point that thing lest you find it confiscated or worse.
Widespread Minimum Wage Raises
Minimum wage raises have been a bone of contention in this country for decades. Democrats argue that it’s necessary to alleviate poverty while giving very little thought to the fact that it often cripples small business. Republicans argue that raising the minimum wage across the board is generalizing, especially when the total amount to raise it by is the same in every state. That obviously has a much bigger impact on some states than others.
As of 2017, employers will need to follow federal minimum wage boosts in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and a long list of other states. Failure to do so can result in charges or fines. And don’t forget to reflect those changes on your tax return; if you don’t, you can be charged for falsifying your taxes – something that can result in you having your assets seized. Not sure how much to pay? Follow the chart found here.
Widespread Marijuana Legalization Laws
Is marijuana being legalized in your area? Do you know for sure? Do you understand the restrictions on its use properly, or are you just guessing? If you aren’t sure, you’re in the same boat as thousands of Americans in states like Colorado and California. Quickly-changing laws and legalizations are making it confusing to figure out what exactly is legal, what actions fall into a questionable grey area, and which are downright illegal even in legalization states.
Unfortunately, more than one person has found themselves on the receiving end of a charge because of this, either for selling or buying marijuana without the proper license. And with Los Angeles expected to become the nation’s marijuana capital, everyone’s trying to break into the industry right now – perhaps even you.
But hold on; don’t jump in feet-first just yet. Even though several states have moved towards legalization, it doesn’t mean just anyone can sell it or buy it. Even Los Angeles, considered fairly liberal in their interpretation, isn’t fully opening up the industry legally until later on this year.