A swath of new laws will take effect across the country as the calendar rolls into 2021, covering everything from police reform to COVID-19 aid, legalized marijuana to minimum wage increases.
New rules coming in 2021 also include sweeping changes to sexual assault laws in New Hampshire, deductions for a new paid family and medical leave program in Connecticut, and a regulation requiring more representation on corporate boards in California.
Here are some of the new laws going into effect in 2021:
Virus-related laws include those offering help to essential workers, boosting unemployment benefits and requiring time off for sick employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the nation’s uneven and expensive heath care system.
Tackling issues of coverage and costs were common themes in 2020.
A Washington measure caps the monthly out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $100 until Jan. 1, 2023, and requires the state Health Care Authority to monitor the price of insulin.
In Connecticut, a new law requires pharmacists to dispense a 30-day emergency supply of diabetes-related drugs and devices, with a price cap, for diabetics who have less than a week’s supply. Both laws take effect Jan. 1.
“It’s unconscionable that anyone should have to limit or go without a common and widely-available life-saving drug on an emergency basis in America in 2021,” Connecticut state Sen. Derek Slap, a West Hartford Democrat, said in a statement.
A much-anticipated Medicaid expansion is coming to Oklahoma in the new year after years of resistance from Republicans in the Legislature and governor’s office. Voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment expanding the federal-state insurance program to an additional estimated 215,000 low-income residents. It takes effect in July.
Lawmakers must determine how to cover the projected $164 million state share during their 2021 session. The cost could be considerably higher, given the number of Oklahomans who have lost their jobs and work-related health insurance because of the pandemic.
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt had urged voters to reject the plan. He said the state would have to “either raise taxes or cut services somewhere else like education, first responders, or roads and bridges” to pay for the expansion.
A new law in Georgia aims to limit consumers from getting stuck with surprise medical bills by requiring insurers in many cases to pay for care by a doctor or at a hospital not within their network of providers. The law protects patients from financial responsibility beyond what they would normally have to pay.
Instead, insurers and providers can take disputes to the state insurance commissioner. Minnesota also has what’s being called a continuity of care law, going into effect Jan. 1.
A resolution in Alabama even formally encouraged fist-bumping over handshakes.
Across the country, 20 states are set to raise the minimum wage, including:
- New York
- New Jersey
As of 2021, 20 states will continue to have a minimum wage equal to or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which has not changed since 2009.
In some states, the change will be gradual. For instance, in Florida, the minimum wage will only rise by 9 cents — but it will increase to $10 per hour by September, thanks to a constitutional amendment approved by voters in Nov. that will increase the minimum wage in the state to $15 per hour by 2026.
In 2020, legislatures addressed police use of force against Black people and others of color in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which led to nationwide (and global) protests against police brutality.
Among other things, new laws will mandate oversight and reporting, create civilian review panels and require more disclosures about problem officers.
States including California, Delaware, Iowa, New York, Oregon, and Utah passed bans on police chokeholds.
New York state Democratic Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley noted the hundreds of Black men and women killed at the hands of police between the cries of “I can’t breathe” by Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by New York City police in 2014, and those of Floyd in May.
Mosley, who is Black, said the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act was “an important step forward, but it will not be the last.”
Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota approved measures legalizing recreational marijuana.
In Montana, while commercial sales of legal cannabis are not expected until Jan. 2022, and dispensaries and providers not being able to begin applying for business licenses until Oct. 2021, residents can begin growing and possessing marijuana after the Montana Marijuana Legalization and Tax Initiative, or Montana I-190, passed with nearly 57% of the vote on Nov. 3.
Recreational marijuana possession became legal in Arizona on Nov. 30, following the certification of Proposition 207 which passed with over 60% of the vote on Nov. 3. Sales will begin no later than April 2021, with March possible.
South Dakota legalized both medicinal and recreational cannabis on Nov. 3. Medicinal garnered over 69% of the vote, with recreational passing by a smaller margin, 54%. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem called legalized marijuana the “wrong choice for South Dakota’s communities” after the vote. Noem supported a lawsuit filed by two law enforcement officers to try and challenge the recreational marijuana amendment.
New Jersey’s Democratic-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy are working to set up a legal marketplace and to update laws already on the books to decriminalize marijuana possession.
In California, Assembly Bill No. 979 (AB-979) requires that corporations based in the Golden State to have at least one director from an underrepresented community by December 31, 2021, with larger numbers required by 2022.
Corporations with more than four but fewer than nine directors need to have a minimum of two directors from underrepresented communities by the end of 2022; corporations with nine or more directors need to have a minimum of three from underrepresented groups.
Companies with 100 or more employees also must start sending information on employees’ race, ethnicity and gender to the state.
Connecticut employers must begin taking deductions from their employees’ paychecks for a new paid family and medical leave program, under a state law passed in 2019.
The state’s estimated 100,000 businesses will be responsible for withholding half a percent from worker wages.
Qualified employees can begin receiving benefits on Jan. 1, 2022. Massachusetts also begins a new paid family medical leave program in the new year. It offers a 12-week benefit in most cases, extending to 26 weeks for those caring for a military member undergoing treatment
Starting Jan. 1, the definition of sexual assault will be expanded to include any sexual contact between school employees and students between the ages of 13 and 18.
Previously, such contact could be considered consensual and not a crime if the student was 16 or 17.
Other legislation taking effect in mid-January increases protections for sexual assault victims and requires colleges and universities to adopt sexual misconduct policies.
The bill requires colleges to provide free access to medical and legal support services, anti-retaliation protections, confidential advising services, data on sexual violence, and prevention and response training.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.