It's easy to look at Washington and feel like democracy isn't working. But across the nation, state legislatures have been busy passing laws and getting things done while Congress sits on its hands.
Not every state legislature meets every year, and even the ones that did meet in 2015 did not necessarily pass laws that go into effect on January 1, 2016—this Friday.
Nevertheless, we thought it would be a nice to cap off 2015 by looking at what happened in state and local governments across the country, rather that what did not happen in Washington. (Ahem, immigration reform.)
The result is not always universally praised, but taken as a whole, the laws that go into effect this Friday offer hope that somewhere out there, lawmakers are actually living up to their titles.
New hoverboard regulations in California
There are a lot of new traffic safety laws going into effect in California, but none speak to the zeitgeist as much as the regulations on the operation of hoverboards.
First, the sad dose of reality for the countless children across the state who just picked up a new ride for the holidays: the new law states that you must be 16 years of age to ride any "electronically motorized board," reports San Francisco's KMEL.
Then, the kickers:
- You must wear a helmet while riding a hoverboard on public property.
- You can't go faster than 15 miles per hour. (Some can reportedly go as fast as 22 mph.)
- It is now illegal to ride a hoverboard while drinking or under the influence of drugs.
- You can only ride them on streets where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour or lower, unless there is a bike lane.
- The penalty for violating the new laws is a fine of up to $250
- Cities and counties are now free to start regulating "electronically motorized boards" on their own.
Safety first, kids.
California begins automated voter registration
The idea is that anyone who obtains or renews a driver's license in the state will automatically be registered to vote, unless they opt out.
"It's removing the first barrier to voting, which is registration," Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the bill's author, told the Times. "It's going to lead to millions more Californians being registered to vote, which means more people we can talk to."
The bill was passed in October in response to the state's low turnout of voters in recent elections.
One hitch: while the law is supposed to take effect on Friday, the Department of Motorized Vehicles told the Los Angeles Times that it will not be sending information it collects to the secretary of state until that office "develops regulations, completes a statewide database system and funding is secured to implement this program.”
Transportation gets a little cheaper for New Yorkers and Washingtonians
New Yorkers, your transit is likely to get a little bit cheaper. On Friday, a new law goes into effect in the city, making it mandatory that private employers with 20 or more full-time, non-union employees offer the opportunity to enroll in commuter benefits programs to pay for their mass transit costs with pre-tax earnings.
That's a mouthful, so let's break it down:
The MTA's 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroBus is currently set at $116.50. At twelve months a year, you're looking at $1,398 on that card alone. With the new law, more people will likely be able to pay for those costs before taxes, rather than getting hit by the city's notoriously high tax rates, and then paying for it. That could potentially save New Yorkers some significant dollars.
In Washington D.C., a similar law is going into effect, but with more caveats.
Teenage abortions will be harder to get in Texas
According to current (2015) law in Texas, minors have the right to have an abortion without the consent of their parents after seeking what is called a "judicial bypass" from a courthouse. To do that, they must prove that informing parents of the pregnancy would not be in their best interest, or that it might lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
As part of a new law that goes into effect on Friday, those pregnant teenagers will have a tougher time getting that bypass. The law places many new stipulations on obtaining the bypass, namely requiring a teenager to file in her home County, unless the county has fewer than 10,000 residents, and raising the standards of proving abuse from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”
Proponents of the law say it protects minors from what one group called the "predatory tactics of Big Abortion," and that it prohibits pro-abortion groups from cherry picking judges from across the state who might be more pro-abortion. Also changed: current law automatically grants a bypass if two days go by without a judge responding to a petition. Now, the judges must respond to the petition.
Opponents say that the local courts stipulation threatens the promised anonymity of the process, since the young women would be forced to go to local venues where they might be recognized. Further, they argue that the change in the current two-day-and-then-it-passes rule could allow judges to do nothing while the teen advances into later stages of pregnancy.
The law will "make the judicial bypass safety net inaccessible for most Texas teens, creating a de facto ban on abortion for minors who cannot obtain parental consent," said Jane's Due Process, a nonprofit group that advocates for pregnant minors in Texas.
Underage drinkers in Illinois can call 911 for their drunk friends with full immunity
Laws or no laws, underage people tend to drink alcohol. Sometimes, they drink it without knowledge of their personal limits, which can lead to a good time taking a turn for the worst.
Starting on Friday, Illinois has granted immunity to the friends of an intoxicated person if they call 911 for medical assistance. They will not face a citation or arrest on underage consumption of alcohol.
As an editorial at the University of Illinois' student paper points out, that has long been the policy on select college campuses, but now it is seeing a statewide expansion. As such, it might help high schoolers more than college age students, argues the editorial.
"A scared 16-year-old is much more likely to call for help if they know the only trouble they face is from their parents," it reads. "Teenagers throughout Illinois should be educated on the new law so if they’re ever in an emergency situation, they won’t hesitate to call."
Gay conversion therapy and advertisement outlawed for minors in Illinois
On Friday, Illinois will become the fourth to outlaw the controversial practice that claims it can change a minor patient's sexual orientation by means of therapy.
Psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors caught participating in the practice could be deemed as participating in unprofessional conduct by state regulators, and they might risk fines, probations, and temporary or permanent revocations of their licenses.
Unlike existing laws in California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., the Illinois version holds that any business that advertises the therapy or represents homosexuality as a mental illness could face legal action under Illinois consumer fraud laws, reported the Chicago Tribune.
The "therapy" is broadly denounced by mental health organizations, which claim the practice can drive patients into deep depression or even suicide.
"The overwhelming consensus of professionals is this is not legitimate therapy," sponsoring Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, told the paper. "It's actually abusive, and the truth of the matter is not everyone survives it."
The bill saw pushback from state Republicans, who argued that it would interfere with parents' wishes to raise their children how they want. Notably, Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, signed the bill into law, though he did not issue a public statement with the signature.
Oregon to begin new statewide sick leave policy
According to one study, 47% of private-sector Oregon workers and 71% of workers in the state earning less than $20,000 per year don't get sick days. Starting on Friday, that will begin to change.
A new law requires all employers who have more than 10 employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours the employee works. Over the course of a full year, this will add up to 40 hours of paid sick leave—a week's worth of work—for full-time employees.
Employers with 9 or few employees will have to provide the same amount of sick time, except it does not have to be paid.
There is an exception for the law carved out for Portland, the state's largest city. In the city, the threshold is lowered to employers with six or more employees having to offer paid sick leave, with those of five or less having to provide unpaid sick leave.
"Today's vote in the Oregon Senate is a victory for every mom or dad who cannot stay home with a sick child for fear of losing pay. Working families are struggling. Paid sick days are a smart way to make people's lives a little bit easier," Jeff Anderson chair of the Oregon Working Families Party, told the Huffington Post.
Business groups were generally against the bill, saying it posed an undue cost burden on business owners.
Only Massachusetts, Connecticut and California have comparable laws on the books.
Oregon's landmark social media law goes into effect
The story behind this new law is notable. Peggy Boquist, the wife of the bill's sponsor Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, asked her husband to look into social media law after she heard a troubling story from a Navy veteran.
The abridged version: A Navy veteran was job hunting when he left the "Facebook account" field in a particular job application blank. The company contacted him and asked him to provide a Facebook account.
"They said, 'Well, get a Facebook (account) and we'll interview you,' " Boquist said in a public testimony before a Senate committee, according to the Statesman Journal. "He said, 'I'm not going to have one.' So he did not get the interview."
As part of the law, the first of its kind in the nation according to data security firm Robinson and Cole, employers cannot require actual or prospective employees to have social media accounts for employment.
Then for those who do have accounts, the new law also forbids employers from requiring employees to make postings about the company on their personal accounts.
"I believe they probably do some advertising on the site," Boquist told the committee, about the company that neglected to interview the Navy veteran. "They would boost their marketing through their employees' Facebooks. Which, incidentally, is probably a great marketing idea. But I like some privacy in our lives, and I think that crosses a line."
The legislature agreed, and the bill found broad bipartisan support.
Hunting with a drone will now be illegal in Oregon
A unanimous vote is nearly unheard of in current politics, but that's how this law was passed earlier this year, in both the state House and Senate. In a writeup in a local paper, Republican State Sen. Bill Hansell remarked that there was not even any discussion of the bill when it was presented.
Using drones to hunt would take the sport out of sportsmanship, he said, adding that it would have no place in Oregon's hunting tradition.
“Everybody saw that. It made sense,” Hansell said.
“Fair chase is a crucial element of modern-day hunting, and drones don’t fit within the definition of fair chase,” Duane Dungannon, state coordinator for the Oregon Hunters Association, said in a statement supporting the bill. “Technology is advancing so fast that it’s difficult to stay out in front of it. This is an effort to at least try to catch up with it.”
The law will still allow the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife to use drones for research or to benefit wildlife management.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.