Politics

New state laws on guns, pornography, taxes and even fuzzy dice

The new year brings a variety of new laws on taxes, wages, guns, gender-affirming care, library books and more.

Fuzzy dice sit behind the rear-view mirror of a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, Aug. 4, 2014.
Jake May / The Flint Journal via AP
SMS

Fuzzy dice finally will be free to dangle in Illinois.

Starting Monday, police there no longer will be allowed to pull over motorists solely because they have something hanging from the rearview mirror of the windshield. That means air fresheners, parking placards and, yes, even those dice are fair game to hang.

The revised Illinois windshield rule is one of hundreds of new laws taking effect with the new year in states across the U.S. While some may seem a bit pedestrian, others have real practical effects or touch on controversial issues such as restrictions on weapons and medical treatments for transgender people.

Though the original Illinois windshield law was meant to improve roadway safety, it came to be seen by some as an excuse for pulling over drivers. The new law still prohibits objects that obstruct a driver's view but forbids law enforcement officers from conducting stops or searches solely because of suspected violations.

"With this new law, we are sending a powerful message that the state does not tolerate racial profiling or other forms of discrimination," said Democratic state Sen. Christopher Belt, one of the bill's sponsors.

Another new Illinois law seeks to stifle a more modern form of distracted driving by prohibiting people from participating in video conferences or scanning social media while behind the wheel.

Guns and Pornography

Several states have new laws regulating guns and online activity.

A Minnesota law will allow authorities to ask courts for " extreme risk protection orders " to temporarily take guns from people deemed to be an imminent threat to others or themselves. Minnesota will be at least the 20th state with such a red-flag law.

Colorado will become one of a dozen states banning so-called ghost guns. The new law prohibits firearms that are assembled at home or 3D-printed without serial numbers, practices that have allowed owners to evade background checks.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block an Illinois law from taking effect Monday that bans high-powered semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines. But a federal judge recently blocked a California law that would have banned carrying concealed guns in many public places.

Several state laws delve into acceptable online activities. A new Connecticut law requires online dating operators to adopt policies for handling harassment reports by or between users.

A North Carolina law will require pornographic website operators to confirm viewers are at least 18 years old by using a commercially available database. The law lets parents sue companies if their children were allowed to access the pornography. Another new Illinois law will allow lawsuits from victims of deepfake pornography, in which videos or images are manipulated without their consent.

LGBTQ+ Issues

Over the past few years, there has been a major push by conservatives to restrict access to gender-affirming treatments for transgender minors. Bans are on the books in 22 states, including some where judges have paused enforcement as they consider challenges to the policies.

New bans on access for minors to puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery, which is rare, are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana and West Virginia. The West Virginia law contains an exception: Teens could still access treatment with parental consent and a diagnosis of severe gender dysphoria from two doctors.

While many Republican-led legislatures have imposed restrictions, many Democrat-dominated states have responded with transgender protections. A law taking effect Monday in Hawaii requires new marriage certificates to be issued to people who request to change how their sex is listed. The state also is replacing gender-specific terms in state law; "mother" is being replaced with "birthing parent" and "father" with "non-birthing parent."

In Colorado, new buildings wholly or partly owned by government entities will be required to have on every floor where there are public restrooms at least one that does not specify the gender of the users.

The conservative push on LGBTQ+ policies also has come with efforts to keep certain books out of school or public libraries. An Indiana law taking effect makes it easier for parents and others to challenge books in school libraries. By contrast, a new Illinois law would block state funding for public libraries that ban or restrict books.

Taxes and Wages

The new year brings a variety of new laws on taxes and wages — perennial issues for state governments.

More than 20 states will raise minimum wages for workers, further widening the gap between state requirements and the federal minimum, which has been static at $7.25 an hour since July 2009. In several states, the new minimum wage will more than double that rate.

Maryland's minimum wage will be set at $15 an hour. In New Jersey, it will be $15.13 an hour for most employees. In Connecticut, $15.69 per hour. In New York City, $16 an hour, though it will be $15 in most of the rest of the state. California's statewide minimum wage also will rise to $16 per hour. And in Washington, the minimum rate will be $16.28.

Residents in some states will gain money by paying less in taxes, continuing a three-year trend in which nearly every state has reduced, rebated or suspended some type of broad-based tax.

In Kansas, the sales tax on groceries will drop from 4% to 2% in its next step toward eventual elimination, producing a savings of $208 annually for a family spending an average of $200 weekly on groceries.

About 1 million tax filers are expected to benefit from Connecticut's first income tax rate reduction since the mid-1990s. Lower-income workers and retirees also stand to benefit from expanded tax breaks.

Missouri also will reduce its income tax rate while expanding tax exemptions for Social Security benefits and military training pay. Businesses will be able to claim tax credits for hiring interns or apprentices.

Alabama will exempt overtime pay from the state's income tax, though that lasts only until June 2025 unless renewed by lawmakers.