Gas Taxes, Legal Marijuana Among New Laws

A customer surveys the options at a Denver-based marijuana dispensary that plans to begin selling the drug to recreational users.
A customer surveys the options at a Denver-based marijuana dispensary that plans to begin selling the drug to recreational users when it becomes legal in Colorado on Wednesday. Nationwide, nearly 40,000 new state laws will take effect Jan. 1. (AP)

A wide-ranging collection of new state laws goes into effect Jan. 1, including legalized pot, a puppy “lemon law” and a ban on unauthorized drone surveillance. One new law protects the “Possum Drop,” a Brasstown, N.C., New Year's Eve event.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states enacted nearly 40,000 laws and resolutions during 2013 legislative sessions, and many of them take effect on Jan. 1.

Many of the laws made headlines when they passed. Now state residents will feel the effects.

 In Colorado, for example, adults will be able to buy up to an ounce of marijuana from state-licensed shops. Oregon will become the 13th state to license and regulate medical marijuana, and 60 state-run medical dispensaries will be allowed to sell marijuana in Illinois. Washington state is beginning to issue licenses for sales of recreational marijuana, but it may take several months for the process to get rolling.

The Colorado law may be the highest-profile of the new laws that go into effect Jan. 1. But Michael Elliott, executive director of Medical Marijuana Industry Group, a trade organization, said state and local regulations may hold up the openings of recreational marijuana outlets, many of which will expand the sales base of existing medical marijuana stores.

He said local regulations, such as those in Denver which allow neighbors near the proposed recreational marijuana stores to testify at numerous public hearings, are holding up some openings. He predicted only a dozen or so Denver locations would be open Wednesday, but many more are in the pipeline.

Health Care and Guns

On the health care front, certain Affordable Care Act provisions were supposed to take effect Jan. 1, but problems with the program's launch and delays issued by President Barack Obama's administration have now made that day less of a “drop dead” date for some.

People who had their insurance coverage canceled are exempt from the Jan. 1 deadline to purchase new insurance or be penalized. The ACA's mandate requires everyone to have health insurance or face a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of income in 2014.

In addition to the Affordable Care Act provisions, many other health care-related state laws are going into effect across the U.S.  A new Oregon law bans smoking in vehicles when children are present and new laws in Missouri and Montana require insurance plans to cover health care services delivered remotely through computer link-ups. Illinois and Oregon are putting tanning salons off-limits to minors, and Maine becomes the 48th state to require an organ donation check-off on driver's licenses, according to NCSL.

In another high-profile change, Connecticut, the site of the Newtown school shooting a year ago, will enact a tough set of gun laws. They include mandatory registration of all assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines purchased before April 2013, and creation of a statewide registry that will track parolees whose crimes involved the use of weapons.

Minimum wage increases also grabbed headlines in the past year and the fruits of many of those debates will show up on Jan. 1. Legislators in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island—and voters in New Jersey—approved minimum-wage increases. In Connecticut, the new minimum is $8.70 an hour; in New Jersey, $8.25; and in New York and Rhode Island, $8. (California  passed a minimum wage increase to $9 an hour, but it takes effect in July 2014; the wage goes to $10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2015.)

Tax Hikes, Cuts

Lots of new taxes will hit Jan. 1. In Pennsylvania, motorists will see a 9.5 cents per gallon tax increase on unleaded gas and a 13 cents per gallon tax increase on diesel fuel. North Carolina  will extend its 4.75 percent sales tax to more items, including movies, college and professional sporting events, concerts, plays and museums.

Tennessee will start collecting the state's 7 percent sales tax on all Amazon purchases. Many states have started collecting taxes on Internet purchases in the absence of federal legislation dealing with the issue. The Supreme Court declined to hear a case that would have clarified the issue, leaving states to make their own laws.

Other states are cutting taxes on Jan. 1:

  • In Massachusetts, on Jan. 1 the state income tax rate will drop from 5.25 percent to 5.2 percent.
  • Indiana's inheritance tax had been scheduled to gradually phase out by Jan. 1, 2022, but the state legislature in April voted to make the repeal retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013.
  • Ohio starts a 3-year personal income tax cut up to 10 percent with a reduction of 8.5 percent on Jan. 1.

Drones, Possums and Puppies

Illinois is leading the way on drone laws, and other states are expected to follow in upcoming legislative sessions. One Illinois law prohibits using drones to interfere with hunters or fishermen. Another, called the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, prohibits law enforcement from using a drone to gather information except to counter a terrorist attack or prevent the “imminent” escape of a suspect.

Brasstown, N.C.'s famed New Year's Eve “possum drop” can go forward, because of a new law that authorizes the “drop” (imagine the ball drop in New York's Times Square but with a critter in a cage). A last-minute court challenge of the law by animal rights activists was rejected  allowing the event to proceed as long as the possum is released into the wild afterward.

Back to Illinois, where a “puppy lemon law” starting Jan. 1 will give purchasers a three-week window to see if the animal is healthy. If the pet dies within three weeks of purchase, the law allows buyers to be reimbursed for the cost of the pet, along with veterinary fees. The law allows owners to return the pet to the store if a hereditary condition appears within the first year of purchase. The law applies only to pets bought from stores, not breeders or casual sellers.

Election laws also will change on Jan. 1 in many states. Florida will expand the number of early voting sites, limit ballot questions on constitutional amendments to 75-word summaries and allow those who forget to sign their absentee ballot to sign an affidavit later testifying to the ballot's authenticity.  In Colorado, 16-year-olds will be allowed to preregister to vote, allowing them to be automatically registered when they turn 18.

In Delaware, a law prohibiting the sale and distribution of shark fins takes effect Wednesday. While the practice of capturing sharks, cutting off their fins and returning them to the water is already illegal, Delaware's new law explicitly prohibits profit from the fin sales.