Father Time is about to usher in a new year, and Lady Justice is ushering in a host of new state laws. Here are some of our favorites:
Pennsylvania’s Celebrating the New Year with a Bang!
A new Pennsylvania law removes permit requirements for so-called “consumer” fireworks, effectively legalizing them for most people who would not have bothered getting permits from authorities before setting them off. What’s hysterical is where the hefty 12% sales tax revenue is earmarked to go.
Consumer fireworks are mid-level fireworks ranked legally above “ground and hand-held sparkling devices,” “novelties,” or “toy caps,” but below “display fireworks,” which are for professional shows.
Consumer fireworks may now be set off in Pennsylvania without a permit, so long as they are used only on private property (with the owner’s permission). They cannot (shocker!) be used within a car, be thrown from a car, or thrown into a car, a building, or at another person. They cannot be used while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. They also cannot be used within 150 feet of an occupied structure.
The latter is interesting. Apparently they can be set off near a house, so long as nobody’s inside. The homeowner’s insurance industry probably loves that. If someone screws up and violates the law, the punishment is a $100 fine. That’s the penalty for illegally using consumer fireworks. The penalty for illegally selling them is more strict.
Though the new law also forbids selling or storing fireworks near gas stations, propane facilities, or other flammable material storage facilities.
One-sixth of the sales tax revenue, up to $2 million, earned by the commonwealth through its 12% tax on consumer fireworks is earmarked to go to emergency medical services and for firefighter training. Something tells me that will come in handy.
Missouri Criminals Are (Sort Of) No Longer Criminals
A new Missouri expungement law will make it easier in some respects for criminals to wipe their criminal histories clean. Under the old law, felons had to wait twenty years to get rid of their criminal records. The new law allows felons to scrub their records after only seven years. Misdemeanor records, which once required a ten-year wait, can now be wiped away after three years. The legal process, known as expungement, does not destroy records; it merely closes them.
Though the process can now happen in a shorter time frame, it also has new limits in Missouri, including a laundry-list of crimes which do not qualify for the process at all. (Among them are, logically, all class A felonies, so-called “dangerous” felonies, felonies involving death, crimes involving sex offender registration, domestic assaults, kidnappings, and a litany of other crimes.)
The goal of the law, as former governor Jay Nixon put it, is to allow “Missourians who have paid their debt to society” and became “law-abiding citizens” to have “a chance to get a job and support their families.” Expunged records won’t be available to most employers, but will be available for authorities investigating applications for special licenses and to law enforcement officers, and some special classes of employers will under the new law be able to automatically deny applicants a job based on a prior criminal record.
The law also won’t allow criminals to continuously expunge their records. It sets lifetime limits on the number of times expungement can occur.
Eureka! California Makes Employment Interview Topics Taboo
For a state whose official motto means “I have found it,” California has interestingly just made a few topics of inquiry during job interviews impossible to find. Among them are some limits on a job candidate’s criminal history status and an a candidate’s salary history.
As to salary history, employers can’t inquire about it, apparently from anyone, including a former employer, and employers can’t use a candidate’s salary history as a factor in offering employment (thus getting rid of the “he/she is overqualified” calculation). Candidates, can, however, blurt it out, and, in doing so, employers can rely upon the information in determining how to pay someone for the job he or she is seeking.
As to criminal history, current law already prevented a private or public employer from asking a candidate to disclose information on an arrest or detention which did not result in a conviction. However, under a new law, public employers in some settings cannot ask about a criminal conviction until after determining that the candidate otherwise meets the qualifications necessary to hold the position. That means public institutions can’t use it as an automatic thinning tool.
No Driving or Riding While High
While we’re talking about California, those who are bummed out that they didn’t get a job can’t smoke weed while driving under this new law. It forbids anyone from smoking or ingesting “marijuana or any marijuana product” while driving or riding in a vehicle.
This comes just in time, as California also approved recreational marijuana use for adults through licensed dispensaries starting in 2018.
Family Leave Takes Effect in New York
Both New York and California have laws taking effect to assist with family.
In New York, private employees can now take time off from work without losing their jobs, their entire paychecks, or their insurance to “bond with a newly born, adopted or fostered child,” “care for a close relative with a serious health condition,” or “assist loved ones when a family member is deployed abroad on active military service.” When the leave period ends, New Yorkers are guaranteed the same or a similar job to that which they held before taking the leave. The catch is that the paycheck guaranteed during the leave period is half of what the employee would normally earn (or less for high-salaried employees, since there’s a cap). Full-time employees get eight weeks of leave under the law to start, though the leave period will increase to twelve weeks in 2021. Public employers are encouraged, but not required, to have similar standards.
Family Leave Increases in California
In California, increased temporary benefits for family leave begin in 2018. The formula is tricky, so click the link to use the state’s handy table to explain the amount of benefits available. Additionally, California is expanding family parental leave.