Notable New Laws For 2021: A Roundup

By Richard Dahl on January 14, 2021

Every year there are plenty of new laws that might have an impact on our lives. So, it can be helpful this time of year to scan the legal horizon, identify the most important of the bunch, and see if any new trends have emerged.

That is what we have done, and here are a few things we have found:

Police Reforms

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on Memorial Day 2020 sparked a wave of protests across the U.S. In response, several legislatures passed new laws to improve police oversight with civilian review panels.

Several passed laws prohibiting police chokeholds. Some moved in the opposite direction; Georgia, for instance, passed a new law defined as “bias-motivated intimidation," which would apply to the death or serious injury of police, firefighters, or emergency personnel.

Minimum Wage Hikes

This was a notable trend of 2020, and it is continuing. Low-wage workers in 20 states got raises January 1 when minimum-wage increases went into effect.

California has the highest state minimum wage, $14 an hour. The municipality with the highest required minimum wage is Emeryville, California, at $16.84 per hour, followed by Seattle at $16.69. As of December 31, New York City's minimum wage is $15 an hour.

New COVID Laws

A vast number of laws are going into effect this year as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some states have greatly expanded family-leave programs. In California, for instance, employers with at least five employees must now provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees to take care of young children or sick family members.

Georgia and Virginia passed laws to protect people from getting surprise medical bills, such as those from out-of-network providers during an emergency.

Overcoming resistance from Republican lawmakers, Oklahoma residents approved a constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid coverage this July. It is expected to help about 215,000 low-income residents.

Airport Security

Starting October 1, your old driver's license won't be enough to get you through airport security. You will need a REAL ID-compliant driver's license, U.S. passport, U.S. military ID, or other acceptable identification to board a commercial plane in the U.S.

This change was scheduled to go into effect October 1, 2020, but was pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Legalized Pot and Drug Reform

On Election Day 2020, voters in four states — Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota — voted yes on recreational marijuana. The effective dates this year vary — Arizona, for instance, estimates an April launch after licensing procedures are ironed out and in New Jersey nobody knows because disagreements over penalties for underage pot use have kept things in limbo.

This brings to 15 the number of states that now allow recreational marijuana.

Meanwhile, Oregon becomes the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of hard drugs.

Here and There…

  • All children born or adopted after January 1, 2021, in Illinois will get $50 deposited in a college savings plan.
  • new California law requires all companies based there to have at least one board member who is a racial or sexual minority by the end of the year. Larger numbers will be required in 2022.
  • Starting July 1, it will be illegal to hold a cell phone and drive in Virginia.
  • Delaware has become the eighth state to ban plastic shopping bags.
  • As of January 1, greyhound racing is banned in Florida.

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