Anybody who says our government is full of crooks and lay-abouts who don’t do anything should consider that some 40,000 new laws and regulations were passed by state legislatures in 2013, with many set to go into effect on New Year’s Day. That’s an average of 800 laws per state, or over two per day for each of the fifty states. That’s not counting the federal government, which had a sub-par year legislation-wise, partly due to being closed for part of it, and partly due to Republican House members’ repeated votes on futile measures to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
And boy, were those lawmakers responsive. In response to the Sandy Hook school massacre, numerous new gun control laws were passed, a few of which actually tightened restrictions. In New York, for example, if you have an automatic weapon with a magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds, you are in big, big trouble, as you can be charged with a…misdemeanor.
Some new laws make you go “Wha-? This was legal before?” such as the one in Illinois that takes away parental rights from fathers when the child is conceived via sexual assault. Or the one, also in Illinois, that prohibits the sale of devices that steal credit card information. It makes you wonder how many states still permit these devices.
One state law that almost everyone has heard about is the one in Colorado that makes an adult’s possession of an ounce of marijuana legal and purchasable from a state-licensed retail store. In 2011, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Data, almost half of the 1.5 million drug arrests in the country were marijuana related, which someone worked out to be one such arrest every 42 seconds. Increasingly, it seems that which side of the law you’re on depends on which side of the state boundary you’re standing.
That dynamic certainly applies to gay marriage, which will only be legal in 18 states as we embark upon the new year. It also applies to voting laws, which are literally and figuratively all over the map. Arkansas became the latest state to “fix” the non-existent problem of voter fraud by requiring a picture I.D. to vote, while Virginia legislators apparently approved such chicanery by passing a law permitting online registration. Florida, surprisingly, expanded early voting, while in Colorado, a new law permits eager and geeky 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote a full two years before they can actually cast their first ballot.
For some laws, you can pretty much guess which state passed it. For instance, the state allowing kindergarten through 12th grade students who identify as transgender to use the bathroom or locker room they feel best aligns with their gender identity? C’mon, everybody! California, of course—leading the way to expanding rights and protections for trans youth.
About a dozen states incrementally raised the minimum wage, including New York, where it surged to a whopping $8 an hour, which will help offset losses incurred by expanded casinos and gambling, also set to begin this year.
Counties in Minnesota will begin random testing of welfare recipients for evidence of drug use in 2014, although the law was actually passed in 2012.
Vividly contrasting our technological future with our pastoral past, a new Illinois law makes it illegal in 2014 to use an unmanned drone to interfere with hunters or fishermen. Speaking of animals, Illinois and New York also join about twenty other states that have “lemon pet” laws, allowing new pet owners to return the animal to, or be reimbursed for veterinary costs by, the previous owner, if said owner didn’t disclose that the animal was ill.
And henceforth in Oregon, new mothers can take their placentas home from the hospital. Just another reason to give birth in The Beaver State.