Hundreds of new state laws set to take effect Jan. 1

Hundreds of new state laws set to take effect Jan. 1
© Getty

Illinois residents who prefer to spear catfish with a pitchfork will no longer have to worry about breaking the law after Sunday. But Oregonians who want to release sky lanterns — think hot air balloons without the people inside — are out of luck: When the new year rings in, the festive floaties will be illegal. 

In states across the country, hundreds of new laws take effect when the calendar switches from 2016 to 2017. Some new laws will raise wages. Others will broaden the availability of marijuana, either for recreational or medicinal use. Many states are cracking down on opioid prescriptions, either by limiting the number of pills doctors can give a patient or by limiting the potency of those pills.

But among the new codes on the books, a few legislatures took time to tackle measures that might not appear so crucial to the smooth sailing of the ship of state. 

ADVERTISEMENT

As budget negotiations between Democrats in the state legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) raged in Illinois, members took advantage of lazy summer days to update a state law, adding catfish to the list of species that may be taken with a bow and arrow, a speargun or pitchforks. Some legislators, especially from the Chicago area, were surprised that pitchfork fishing was even a thing. 

"I would imagine there's not a whole lot of people off Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River taking fish with pitchforks," state Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican, told the Illinois News Network. "We might have people going to the capitol with pitchforks for some reasons, but certainly this probably was news to some of my colleagues from the city of Chicago."

When the new year rings in, Illinois will also have an official state artifact — the pirogue, a long, narrow canoe used by Native Americans. The pirogue will take its place alongside the official state snack food, popcorn; the official state fossil, the Tully Monster; the official state dance, the square dance; and the official state insect, the monarch butterfly. 

California's most contentious legislative fights over the last year involved new measures on gun control and climate change. But members also found time to allow barbers and beauticians to serve their patrons beer and wine, provided they don't charge for it.

Sacramento also decided to impose stricter rules on those who would sell autographed memorabilia. Any signed item being sold for more than $5 will have to come with a certificate of authenticity once January rolls around.

And California state employees will no longer be reimbursed for out-of-state travel to places that allow discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. That law, passed after North Carolina and other states passed measures requiring transgender people to use the bathroom of their birth sex, is likely to impact everything from state employees who want to travel to a conference to the University of California system's football schedule.

Both the UCLA Bruins and the University of California Golden Bears have games scheduled in 2017 in states where travel is banned; the California law includes an exemption for events scheduled long ago. But the UC system's athletic departments have said they will avoid scheduling games in banned states moving forward. 

If Tennessee remains on the list of states where California employees can no longer travel on the state's dime, Golden Staters won't be able to try new higher-alcohol beer and cider from Tennessee breweries. A new law that takes effect Sunday will allow breweries in that state to sell suds with alcohol by volume measures as high as 10.1 percent, up from the 6.2 percent currently allowed by law. 

Plenty of other states have tinkered with alcohol-related laws, changes that take effect Jan. 1.

In Maine, brewers will be able to up the alcohol in their cider to 8.5 percent, from 7 percent. In Colorado, some grocery stores will be able to sell beer, wine and liquor. In Pennsylvania, a state with notoriously stringent alcohol laws passed in the wake of Prohibition, beer distributors will be able to sell six-packs for the first time.

Other states will liberalize marijuana laws on Jan. 1. Revelers on the Las Vegas Strip will be able to legally possess marijuana for recreational purposes when the clock strikes midnight, and those with medical conditions will have access to marijuana in North Dakota, Florida, Arkansas and Montana. And in Michigan, medical marijuana dispensaries will finally gain legal status, years after the state approved medical sales. 

"We can finally implement a solid framework that gives patients a safe source from which to purchase and utilize medical marijuana," Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said when he signed the law in September.

Three other states — California, Massachusetts and Maine — passed marijuana legalization measures in November. The new laws have already been implemented in California and Massachusetts, and Maine will join them later in January. 

Oregon residents will no longer be allowed to celebrate milestones by releasing sky lanterns — candles that warm and lift paper balloons into the air — after the legislature implemented a statewide ban last year. State officials warned that sky lanterns were the equivalent of releasing open flames over a forest.

New Hampshire residents need to be much more careful with laser pointers. Beginning Sunday, it will be a crime to knowingly shine a laser at an aircraft or automobile. The Granite State is also outlawing bestiality, which will have somehow remained officially legal in New Hampshire until Sunday morning.