The pastiche of new state laws taking effect as the new year begins underscores how different we are — at least in the eyes of legislators — on matters small and large.
In New York State, for example, Styrofoam containers for takeout food are now prohibited by law, as are those pesky Styrofoam peanuts. But 46 other states have no such statewide prohibition, at least not yet. In California it’s now illegal to distribute tiny ketchup packets unless they are specifically requested, while in Rhode Island single-use straws are similarly restricted.
Twenty-one states are raising minimum wage, but differences are dramatic. Virginia implemented one of the largest increases, $1.50 an hour, bringing the state’s rate to $11. Michigan, on the other hand, gave minimum-wage earners a minuscule 22-cent increase to $9.87 per hour.
Not surprising in light of the nation’s political climate are new laws about voting. California and Nevada have made voting by mail a permanent option for all registered voters. Arkansas, however, has a new law prohibiting the distribution of absentee ballots unless specifically requested.
Another trend that follows national headlines involves police behavior. Louisiana has a new law prohibiting chokeholds, except in cases where great bodily harm in threatened. In Connecticut, an officer’s deliberate failure to activate a body camera can now be cited at trial in cases involving excessive force. A new law in California limits the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by police during protest demonstrations.
There are new laws affecting kids and animals. Georgia tightened protections for foster children, adding new safeguards against sexual and emotional abuse. Illinois enacted a law requiring restaurants to serve water, milk or juice as the default beverage with kids’ meals, rather than soda.
Illinois now forbids people from possessing animals if they have been convicted twice of animal abuse. In New Hampshire it’s now against the law to remove a tracking collar or microchip from someone else’s dog. California veterinarians may now operate community animal blood banks. Virginia becomes the fourth state to ban the testing of cosmetics on animals. Oklahomans named the “rescue animal” the official state pet.
Also this month: Iowa establishes speed limits for e-bikes. Oklahoma caps the price of prescription insulin at one dollar per dose. Indiana legalizes electronic prescriptions to avoid problems with doctors’ poor handwriting. Hawaii allows private citizens to carry Tasers in public. Oregon makes it a crime to intimidate anyone by displaying a noose. Rhode Island’s governor can now authorize anyone over 18 to perform a wedding.
We’re a nation of laws. Comforting as that might be, the regulations sometimes seem to go in 50 different directions.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker