New laws coming in elections and social issues

December 26, 2013

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bunch of new bills last year (Photo: Ken James/Bloomberg)

State legislatures passed more than 40,000 laws this year, many of which go into effect next week. Here’s a sampling of some of the laws affecting elections, education, employment and social issues that hit the books starting on Jan. 1, courtesy of our friends at the National Conference of State Legislators:

– Major changes to election laws in Florida take effect next week, including limits on early voting time limits and new restrictions on absentee ballots. The good news for Florida’s stature in the quadrennial presidential primary process: the bill moves the Sunshine State’s primary to the first Tuesday on which the major parties allow delegates to be allocated without penalty, guaranteeing the state a prominent place in the nominating calendar. The better news for Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R): The bill moves the regular primary to 10 weeks before Election Day. That means, if Democrats have a competitive primary next year, they won’t have a lot of time to heal primary wounds.

– A bill that passed in Colorado earlier this year will allow 16-year olds to pre-register to vote. The registrations would become active when those kids turn 18. While Republicans have pushed bills that tighten election restrictions in some states, Democrats have been most aggressive about pushing election reform bills of their own in Colorado.

– Speaking of Republican-backed bills, Arkansas voters will be required to show identification at the polls beginning Jan. 1. The Republican-led legislature passed the bill and then overturned Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto earlier this year.

– Virginia voters will be able to register to vote online, provided they already have state-issued driver’s licenses or identification cards.

– California students will be allowed to participate in sports and use bathrooms that are “consistent with their gender identity,” the leading edge of a growing push for transgender rights (Expect to see many more bills like this one introduced next year).

– Workers in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey are getting pay raises. The minimum wage will rise to $8 an hour in New York and Rhode Island, while workers in New Jersey get a bump to $8.25 an hour. Connecticut workers will see their paychecks grow when the minimum wage hits $8.70 an hour.

– Job applicants in Rhode Island and Minnesota will be spared from having to disclose if they have a criminal record. Employers in both states will be banned from inquiring into a prospective employee’s criminal history on initial written applications.

– Drivers in Oregon will be banned from smoking in vehicles when children are present, under a bill the state legislature passed earlier this year.

– Minors looking for a sun tan in Oregon and Illinois are out of luck: Starting next week, tanning salons are off-limits to those under 18.

– Illinois has a lot of new laws hitting the books next week. It will become the 13th state, plus the District of Columbia, to ban the use of cell phones while driving. Illinois school buses will be allowed to install cameras to photograph cars that pass them while they’re picking up kids. And anyone who owes the state of Illinois more than $1,000 in tolls or late fees will have their names splashed on state Web sites.

– Colorado residents who buy plug-in electric vehicles will have to pay a $50 registration fee every year. It’s part of a larger trend of states trying to capture fees from electric and hybrid vehicles, which don’t contribute as much in gas taxes as regular petroleum-guzzlers.

– Hey, Utah students, duck! The Beehive State will start allowing high schools to conduct earthquake drills.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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