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Weed, guns and catfish: 2017 brings new laws, big changes

In Illinois, it’s no longer illegal to catch catfish using a pitchfork, speargun or bow and arrow.

January 01, 2017

Just because Congress ground to a virtual halt in 2016 doesn’t mean the country stopped making new laws.

From taxes to minimum wage to gun control, a broad range of changes is coming at the state level as Americans ring in 2017. And, as has been the trend lately, the new year will bring far broader legalization of marijuana.

It’s what The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, in a letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence arguing against pot prohibitions, called an “unprecedented schism between state and federal law in regards to … cannabis statutes.” While that debate will play out anew as the Trump administration takes office with a law-and-order mandate, the “schism” grows wider in 2017.

Already, revelers in Massachusetts and California will have the legal option of pairing their New Year’s Eve champagne with a joint. Approved by voters in November, legal recreational pot use took effect on Dec. 15 in Massachusetts; legal personal use of the drug took effect in California shortly after voters approved it there, though retail sales are still months away from implementation.

Nevada legalized recreational pot on Jan. 1, and Maine will follow soon after.

Voters in the last election approved legalizing the drug for medical purposes in North Dakota, Montana, Florida and Arkansas. In Colorado, one of the first states to legalize pot, licensed medical marijuana growers will now be allowed to sell pot as well.

Colorado voters also backed an increase in the statewide minimum wage.

Starting Jan. 1, the wage increased from $8.31 to $9.30 per hour for non-tipped workers and will increase by $0.90 per hour every year until it reaches $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020.

Voters in Maine, Arizona and Washington also voted in favor of minimum wage hikes. An appeals court in Arizona recently rejected an effort by state businesses to delay the Jan. 1 implementation.

As wage hikes enter the pipeline, so have tax hikes:

In Portland, Ore., the city council passed a so-called CEO tax, a first-in-the-nation ordinance to put a tax surcharge on publicly traded companies whose CEOs earn 100 times more than the median wage of other company employees. According to the National Law Review, a surcharge of 10 percent of the base tax liability would be imposed on those companies beginning on Jan. 1.

Buying presents next Christmas or anything from Amazon also will be more expensive for Utah residents in 2017 thanks to a new law requiring online retailers to charge consumers a 4.7 state sales tax at the point of sale, rather than relying on the honor system.

On the tax relief side of the ledger, Illinois approved a measure tossing out a 6.25 percent “luxury” tax on tampons.

Illinois passed dozens of other laws, including changes so that starting Jan. 1 it will no longer be illegal to catch catfish using a pitchfork, speargun or bow and arrow. Critically, the term “public hunting ground for pheasants” will be replaced by “public hunting ground for game birds.”

On the West Coast, gun owners in California will face new restrictions after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law banning the purchase of semiautomatic rifles with so-called “evil features.”

The “evil features” include pistol grips, flash hiders and bullet-buttons that make it easier to remove and replace ammunition magazines. The Los Angeles Times reported an increase in gun purchases in the lead-up to the Jan. 1 implementation.

The gun measure is one of the few new California laws that do not have roots on the desk of state Sen. Jerry Hill, the sponsor of 17 bills taking effect in the new year. The laws run the gamut from how police store their weapons in their vehicles to tour bus safety to restrictions on water use.

While Congress itself largely was inactive over the past year, a new regulation stemming from the Affordable Care Act, and set to take effect Jan. 1, could have far-reaching implications across the country.

Under the change, states will have the option to seek so-called Section 1332 waivers to try to modify parts of ObamaCare for their residents. A number of states have sought to get that process started – though the incoming Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress want to repeal and replace the law as a whole next year.