States diverg­ing on guns, vot­ing pro­ce­dures and taxes

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ge­off Mul­vi­hill

TREN­TON, N.J. » Laws tak­ing ef­fect at the start of the new year show states diverg­ing on some hot- but­ton is­sues.

Re­stric­tions on car­ry­ing guns are eas­ing in Texas, for ex­am­ple, but are tight­en­ing in Cal­i­for­nia. It will be eas­ier to reg­is­ter to vote in Ore­gon, but there will be an­other step to take at the polls in North Carolina.

The op­pos­ing di­rec­tions in the states re­flect a na­tion with in­creas­ingly po­lar­ized pol­i­tics.

In the de­bate over gun con­trol, both sides say their ar­gu­ments are strength­ened by a string of mass shoot­ings last year. That in­cludes the De­cem­ber at­tack at a county health depart­ment gath­er­ing in San Bernardino, Calif., when a couple who in­ves­ti­ga­tors say pledged al­le­giance to the leader of the Is­lamic State group killed 14 peo­ple.

Every­town for Gun Safety, a group backed by bil­lion­aire for­mer New York Mayor Michael

Bloomberg, is seek­ing to be a coun­ter­weight to the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion’s lob­by­ing of state law­mak­ers. Both groups are ex­pected to be ac­tive in leg­is­la­tures in the com­ing year.

Whether to raise the min­i­mumwage has be­come an­other hot topic in states and cities, with the is­sue get­ting no trac­tion in the Repub­li­can­led Congress.

New vot­ing laws, mean­while, could help shape the out­comes in state and fed­eral elec­tions in the com­ing year. Democrats and oth­ers who want to boost voter par­tic­i­pa­tion have been push­ing to ex­pand ac­cess to the polls, while con­ser­va­tives have pushed for mea­sures aimed at pre­vent­ing elec­tion fraud. Each side says the other is us­ing leg­is­la­tion to help their fa­vored party in elec­tions.

A look at some of the more no­table laws tak­ing ef­fect in Jan­uary:

• GUNS: Texas, the sec­ond­most- pop­u­lous state, is join­ing 44 other states in al­low­ing at least some firearms own­ers to carry hand­guns openly in pub­lic. Un­der the Texas law, guns can be car­ried by those with li­censes and only in hol­sters.

Mean­while, Cal­i­for­nia, the most pop­u­lous state, has mul­ti­ple new laws on gun con­trol. One tight­ens a ban on firearms in and around schools. Un­der the new law, the pro­hi­bi­tion will ap­ply even to most peo­ple who are al­lowed to carry con­cealed weapons gen­er­ally. An­other will al­low peo­ple to re­quest that a judge or­der weapons be taken away from rel­a­tives who are be­lieved to pose a threat.

• VOT­ING: Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon will be­come the first states that au­to­mat­i­cally reg­is­ter el­i­gi­ble vot­ers when they ob­tain or re­new their driver’s li­censes. Crit­ics of the mea­sures— mostly Repub­li­cans — say that could lead to voter fraud and is part of a plan to reg­is­ter more vot­ers who are likely to be Democrats. They say vot­ers should reg­is­ter vol­un­tar­ily. In both states, peo­ple will be able to opt out of be­ing reg­is­tered.

Sim­i­lar mea­sures have been pro­posed in other states but never adopted. This year, Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie ve­toed the con­cept in New Jer­sey.

In North Carolina, a voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion law is tak­ing ef­fect re­quir­ing peo­ple to show a photo ID.

An amend­ment adopted this year al­lows vot­ers who have trou­ble ob­tain­ing the re­quired ID to vote any­way. That pro­vi­sion keeps North Carolina from join­ing eight states in­which a photo ID is strictly re­quired. There are still le­gal chal­lenges over the law, and op­po­nents want a judge to de­lay im­ple­men­ta­tion.

In most states, vot­ers are asked to show some kind of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

• PUB­LIC HEALTH: Hawaii is be­com­ing the first state to raise its min­i­mum age, from 18 to 21, to buy or use cig­a­rettes or e- cig­a­rettes. It’s a move some lo­cal gov­ern­ments have made be­fore, but never a state.

Cal­i­for­nia is join­ing West Vir­ginia and Mis­sis­sippi as the only states with­out a per­sonal- be­lief ex­emp­tion for par­ents who do not want to vac­ci­nate their chil­dren. Chil­dren whose par­ents refuse to have them im­mu­nized against sev­eral diseases will not be al­lowed to en­roll in pub­lic or pri­vate school and would in­stead have to be home- schooled. There is an ex­emp­tion for chil­dren with se­ri­ous health prob­lems.

• EM­PLOY­MENT IS­SUES: In Cal­i­for­nia, a new law lets fe­male employees al­lege pay dis­crim­i­na­tion based on the wages a com­pany pays other employees who do sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar work. Un­der the law, it will be up to em­ploy­ers to prove a man’s higher pay is based on fac­tors other than gen­der.

Ore­gon will be­come the fifth state with a paid sick leave man­date for many em­ploy­ers.

Some cities in traf­fic- con­gested ur­ban ar­eas are try­ing to ease the bur­dens of com­mut­ing. Em­ploy­ers with at least 20 work­ers in Wash­ing­ton, D. C., and New York City will be re­quired to of­fer com­muter ben­e­fits such as tax- free mass tran­sit sub­si­dies to their work­ers. San Francisco al­ready has a sim­i­lar ordinance.

In Mis­souri, a new law will link the du­ra­tion of job­less ben­e­fits to the state’s un­em­ploy­ment rate. When fewer peo­ple are out of work, those claim­ing the ben­e­fits will be cut off sooner. The max­i­mum length of the ben­e­fits will be re­duced from the cur­rent 20 weeks — al­ready among the shorter pe­ri­ods in the na­tion — to 13. Only North Carolina, which has a sim­i­lar sliding scale, has a shorter pe­riod: 12 weeks.

• MIN­I­MUM WAGE: The min­i­mum wage will rise in many cities and states with the new year. Some of the wage in­creases are com­ing un­der laws passed years ago that phased in the in­creases over a pe­riod of years. Some are au­to­matic in­creases tied to the cost of liv­ing.

Fast- food­work­ers in New York state will re­ceive their first pay bump un­der a new law that even­tu­ally will push their min­i­mum wage to $ 15. The full amount will kick in at the end of 2018 in New York City and 2021 in the rest of the state.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has not touched the min­i­mum wage since it was in­creased to $ 7.25 ef­fec­tive in 2009. La­bor groups and work­ers keep push­ing for higher raises, while many busi­ness groups say raises could comeat the ex­pense of jobs. But with the fed­eral rate un­chang­ing, more state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments— par­tic­u­larly in the West and North­east— are tak­ing ac­tion.

The wages are ris­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, Con­necti­cut, Hawaii, Mary­land, Mas­sachusetts, Michi­gan, Rhode Is­land, Ver­mont and West Vir­ginia. States with au­to­matic an­nual in­creases are Ari­zona, Colorado, Mon­tana, New Jer­sey, Ohio and South Dakota.

Some cities, in­clud­ing New Or­leans, also have new rates. Min­i­mum- wage fast­food work­ers in Seat­tle also will get a bump as part of that city’s phased- in in­crease to $ 15 an hour.

• TAXES: Taxes are go­ing up in some places and drop­ping in oth­ers.

In­come tax rates will drop slightly in Ok­la­homa, where state rev­enues have fallen sharply, and Mas­sachusetts.

In North Carolina, the tax on gaso­line will drop by a penny a gal­lon to 35 cents. The sales tax on boats will drop in New Jer­sey as of Feb. 1.

Taxes on cig­a­rettes and other tobacco prod­ucts will rise in Min­nesota, as will ho­tel taxes in Hawaii.

• ABOR­TION: Physi­cians in North Carolina will be re­quired to pro­vide the state with ul­tra­sound im­ages of fe­tuses and other data re­lated to abor­tions per­formed af­ter the 16th week of preg­nancy.

For preg­nan­cies ter­mi­nated af­ter the 20th week, doc­tors must ex­plain to the state Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices how con­tin­u­ing the preg­nancy would have threat­ened the life and health of the mother. Some law­mak­ers who fa­vor abor­tion rights say the state should not have this med­i­cal data.

• IM­MI­GRANT DRIVER’S LI­CENSES: Two more states are al­low­ing peo­ple who are in the United States il­le­gally to be li­censed to drive. Delaware’s law took ef­fect Sun­day, and Hawaii’s will be ef­fect in the new year.

Ten states, in­clud­ing Colorado, and the Dis­trict of Columbia al­ready have sim­i­lar pro­vi­sions.

• PETS: Illi­nois is making it a mis­de­meanor to leave pets out­side dur­ing ex­treme weather.

Mis­souri, in a crack­down on the state’s com­mer­cial “puppy mills,” is re­quir­ing dog breed­ers to pro­vide more space for their an­i­mals and is bar­ring them from us­ing wire- strand floor­ing in dog ken­nels.

Aman at­tends a rally in Austin, Texas, in sup­port of open- carry gun laws.

Pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing col­lege stu­dents, fast- food restau­rant employees and other work­ers, march in Bos­ton in April in sup­port of rais­ing the min­i­mum wage.

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