New Year, New Laws: Labor Protections, Cannabis, Plastic Bags, and More

With a new year and decade upon us, a host of new state laws are set to go in effect around the country. Here are the ones we're watching closely as we head into 2020:
Dozens of new regulations will take effect in California on New Year's Day. Among the most controversial is Assembly Bill 5, a law that establishes a new test for how to determine whether someone should be classified as an independent contractor or an employee ー and thus the right to the benefits that come with employment. The bill was drafted to give protections to the myriad of workers in California's "gig economy," such as rideshare drivers and food delivery workers, but it also covers freelance journalists, writers, and even strippers in the world's fifth-largest economy.
The bill is extremely divisive, even among the workers it was meant to protect. Two journalists' associations are suing in federal court, arguing that the rules for submission limits on freelancers are arbitrary and unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Vox Media recently informed hundreds of freelance journalists that their jobs are getting cut ahead of AB5's implementation. Uber and Lyft are also fighting the regulations, and the fate of AB5 could conceivably be decided by the Supreme Court.
California's new animal rights protections also go into effect in 2020, to considerably less controversy. The Golden State will ban elephants and exotic animals from the circus, and become the first state in the country to ban the production and sale of new fur products. The state will also make it illegal to import or sell cosmetics that have been tested on animals.
It was back in 2018 that then-Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 826, one of his signature laws, which mandates any public company with headquarters in California must have at least one female on its board of directors. That law becomes enforceable on New Year's Eve and extends in two years to require quotas for female representation based on the size of the board. The constitutionality of SB 826 is currently being challenged in at least two major lawsuits in which the plaintiffs argue that it is sex-based discrimination, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. There are also many unanswered questions, such as whether companies can be exempt if they try to nominate a woman "in good faith," and what happens if a woman is nominated to the board but loses in a proxy fight.
There's also the big California Consumer Privacy Act, which will become the most extensive data protection law in the country. The CCPA gives California residents the right to ask for the data that companies have compiled about them and to whom they are selling it, as well as the opportunity to opt out or to ask companies to delete their personal data. Though this is a state law, it is likely to become, in effect, the law of the land since it is difficult to regulate digital practices state by state. Facebook isn't taking the new rules lying down, claiming a nuanced exemption for its web-tracking tools. Facebook says it is essentially providing a service to businesses and isn't using data for its own business purposes. Legal experts say that argument is unlikely to hold up in court.
New York state will institute a ban on single-use plastic bags, though it won't take effect until March 1. The ban will apply to businesses like grocery stores, bodegas, and other retail shops. Though the law is straightforward, there is still confusion about what does and does not constitute a reusable plastic bag, and whether the paper industry is prepared to handle the manufacture of enough paper bags and containers to make up for the 23 billion or so plastic bags used in the Empire State each year. There are some important carve-outs: restaurants will be able to use plastic bags for food delivery, newspaper and dry cleaning bags will be exempted, as will bags used to carry bulk items.
New York also has a handful of major criminal justice reforms slated to go into law, most notably a significant rollback of cash bail. Anyone charged with a misdemeanor or class E felony in the state will no longer be required to put up cash bail while awaiting trial. That will effectively free an estimated 3,800 people currently incarcerated who could not afford the bail required by the court. Criminal justice reform advocates across the country have rallied around the issue of cash bail, arguing that it criminalizes poverty and leads to overcrowding in jails.
Florida will become one of the last states in the U.S. to make texting while driving a primary traffic offense. Under the current law, motorists in Florida can only be cited for using their phones if they've already been pulled over for another offense, like speeding. As of January 1, cops in the Sunshine State will now be allowed to write tickets to drivers expressly for texting while behind the wheel. In a separate distracted driving law, Illinois will make it illegal to stream video while driving. The law won't apply to passengers, first responders, or drivers parked on the shoulder.
New Jersey is enacting a new law that will make it illegal for employers to ask for an applicant's salary history when considering him or her for a job. Internal hires, transfers, and promotions will be exempt, and prospective employers can still request written authorizations from previous jobs to confirm an applicant's past compensation. Salary inquiry bans are growing in popularity as a way to combat pay inequality.
A positive test for pot can no longer cost you your job if you work in Nevada. The Silver State will be home to the first statewide ban on pre-employment marijuana testing. Nevada passed a recreational cannabis law in 2016, and the governor says this is an obvious next step to take. There will be exemptions for jobs that require the applicant to drive, as well as firefighters and EMTs. A similar bill was passed in New York City, and Maine has a law on the books that prohibits job discrimination based on cannabis use, but this is the first explicit statewide law related to drug testing for weed.
Illinois will become the 11th state to legalize the sale and use of recreational cannabis to adults over the age of 21. The new law comes with a criminal-justice reform sweetener, allowing for 700,000 marijuana-related convictions to be expunged statewide. The state will also offer assistance to minority cannabis entrepreneurs who were disproportionately affected by past drug laws. Private sales and public consumption will remain illegal, and the state expects the new law to generate $57 million in tax revenue for the fiscal year.
With the labor market the tightest it's been in years, there's also a slew of new labor laws around the country that will mean more cash in the pockets of millions of American workers. Minimum wage workers in more than 20 states will get a pay bump, with Seattle raising its minimum to a nation-high $16.39. A handful of paid family leave laws go into effect, including the new 12-week maximum for federal workers that President Trump just signed into law. That law will affect two million workers once it begins in October. The federal government is also expanding the rules to allow more employees to collect overtime pay.
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