Child vaccine mandate, minimum wage hikes and more taking effect in new year

New sex ed and child vaccine mandates, higher minimum wages and relaxed pot penalties are among the new state and local laws sweeping into effect Friday when the new year arrives.

Even pets will be affected, at least in Illinois, where a new law will make it a Class A misdemeanor to leave dogs and cats exposed to harsh weather conditions, leading to a hefty fine and up to a year in jail if convicted.

The most immediate and noticeable changes on Jan. 1 will be in wages. Some 12 states alone are expected to increase their minimum wages -- including California and Massachusetts, which are going up to $10 an hour. The District of Columbia was the first to exceed the $10 minimum, but several states have incremental plans to raise their wages even further by 2018.

Bill Scher, an activist and analyst for the Campaign for America’s Future, noted that despite unsuccessful attempts to raise the wage at the federal level, many states have acted. He claimed 2 million jobs have been created since the start of this year due to wage increases.

“With more proof that gradual wage increases won’t shock the economy, more states are going to follow suit,” he told

Not everyone agrees. “Any discussion about raising the minimum wage needs to recognize that small employers often have to operate under very slim profit margins and will have the hardest time absorbing these higher labor costs,” Randel Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration, and employee benefits at the Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

“They will have to find more revenues or trim costs to make up the difference.”

Meanwhile, travelers from a number of states may soon have to bring their passports to the airport because their driver's licenses will no longer serve as valid identification for U.S. airport security checkpoints. New “Real ID” laws requiring a uniform federal standard for driver's licenses by the Department of Homeland Security are going into effect Jan. 1, and some states’ licenses are not up to those standards.

Some states have gotten waivers as lawmakers work on a resolution, but others -- like New Mexico, Illinois, Missouri and Washington – have their requests pending and only have a grace period until “at least” Jan. 10, according to the DHS website.

As is often the case, some of the more controversial changes are taking place in California.

In the Golden State, an outbreak of measles this year triggered a push for mandating child vaccinations, and it won -- as of Jan. 1, almost all exemptions to vaccine requirements for school entry are removed. The only way parents can get out of the mandate is if a physician says an exemption is warranted. The law, called the strictest in the country, applies to students attending any private or public school in California. Parents who homeschool would still have the option to skip vaccinations.

The new law specifically eliminates the “personal belief exemption,” which came under fire after a measles outbreak began at Disneyland earlier this year. Some 131 California residents were believed to be infected. Officials said the rates were higher in communities where parents took the exemptions for vaccinations.

Still, parents who believe vaccinations are to blame for dangerous side effects, including autism, vowed to fight. “These moms are strong,” a mother of three from Orange County told the Los Angeles Times when the law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in June. “… They’re not going to give up their rights.”

Vaccine mandates aren’t the only health-related laws to go into effect in California. The state now mandates “comprehensive” public school sex ed in grades 7-12. Mandated discussions in class will include HIV education and health, sexual harassment and violence, and will “affirmatively recognize that people have different sexual orientations.”

The new law has been criticized by conservative groups like the Pacific Justice Institute, which says it dismisses parents who don’t want the state dictating how their children learn and feel about sex in deference to the “permissive” tone taken by “progressives” in government. “This bill seems to come from a mindset that is very antagonistic toward parents and their values,” Matthew McReynolds, senior staff attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute, reportedly said earlier this year.

In Illinois, the state is relaxing some rules for sick citizens. The growing “Right to Try” movement succeeded in passing a law that will allow sick patients with terminal diseases who have exhausted all other options to access experimental treatments not yet approved by the FDA. In other words, the drugs have been proven safe in preliminary clinical trials but have not yet received the final green light for market. Illinois will be the 15th state to pass such a law in the last two years.

Starlee Coleman, a senior policy advisor at the Goldwater Institute, a major proponent of the Right to Try laws, says the measures are enjoying widespread support.

“It just shows that when it comes to common sense matters that help people there is really no partisan divide on giving sick people access to drugs that help them,” she told

Not if you are in California, though. Gov. Brown vetoed a similar bill that crossed his desk in October.

Gun laws also have been among the top issues in states this year following a series of mass shootings -- including several on college campuses. Each jurisdiction is dealing with it differently, however. While some are making it easier for citizens to arm themselves, others are putting up barriers to carrying a weapon.

In Texas, for example, citizens will be able to carry handguns in plain view in belt or shoulder holsters as of Jan. 1. The Lone Star state is now poised to be the 45th state to issue open carry permits. Currently, Texans who are licensed to carry in public must keep their guns hidden.

Meanwhile, California passed a new law that would ban those with concealed carry permits from carrying their weapons on college or school campuses. No exceptions.

Other notable laws this year include relaxed marijuana laws in Delaware. Possessing an ounce of the drug will be considered only a civil infraction, with a fine of $100, no greater than a traffic ticket. But a tough new measure in North Carolina might land graffiti artists in jail. As of Jan. 1, those convicted a third time for “graffiti vandalism,” no matter how creative or where the graffiti is, will be handed a felony conviction and face jail time.