Millions get a pay raise and other new laws kick in this year
William Brangham: But first, millions of Americans across the country got a pay raise starting today.
Lisa Desjardins reviews some of the many new state laws that just went into effect.
Lisa Desjardins: The changes impact big policy areas, from minimum wage increases to immigration and the legalization of marijuana in California, the nation's largest state.
In some cases, states are acting where the federal government cannot or will not.
Reid Wilson is a reporter at The Hill newspaper.
Let's start with a map about these minimum wage increases. In effect today, 18 states are raising their minimum wage. And, right now, of course, the federal minimum wage is $7.25. So, how significant are these increases?
Reid Wilson: Well, in some states, they're very significant.
Mainers are going to see a minimum wage increase of a full dollar per hour. In a state like Washington state, the minimum wage is going up by 50 cents. In some other states, not so significant. Alaska's minimum wage goes up just 4 cents today.
But across the board, we're seeing action in those states where the federal government has not changed the minimum wage in a couple of decades now. And the fact is, there are a lot of progressive sort of union groups and pro-labor organizations that are using ballot measures to push the minimum wage to $11.50 in Washington state, which is now the highest in the country.
In a couple of years, that will ratchet up to $13.50. And even in some of Washington's cities, in Seattle, in SeaTac, Washington, the minimum wage is now north of $15 an hour.
Lisa Desjardins: And a dollar increase in wage is a really significant in salary.
Reid Wilson: Right.
That would be an increase of about $2,000 a year for the lowest-wage workers. That's pretty significant for somebody who is making about $20,000 a year.
Lisa Desjardins: From a national trend, let's talk about a state that is trying to set trends, California.
They are moving leftward in a couple of areas, one, recreational marijuana. Starting today, you can use and buy small amounts of marijuana, with some limits like other states have.
But California is a massive state and economy. Is this going to change sort of drug policy, the drug marketplace?
Reid Wilson: Well, it could change a little bit in Congress, because there are a significant number of Republicans in specifically marijuana legalization states. California is now the sixth state in which marijuana is legal for recreational purposes.
There are a number of Republicans who are trying to push the federal government to leave these states alone. Even if you're anti-marijuana, even if you're a conservative Republican, you don't want the federal Justice Department suing your state over something that your voters chose. That's not a great way to do public policy. That's not a great way to get reelected.
So, I think, in — as more states move towards legalization, we're going to start to see some changing attitudes in Congress, not necessarily a pro-legalization attitude change, but just a hands-off, let's let the states do what they want.
Lisa Desjardins: California is also making a very big policy statement on immigration, the state now calling itself, as of today, a sanctuary state. What does that mean?
Reid Wilson: So, California has passed a law that will prohibit state law enforcement agencies from liaising with the federal immigration authorities in some senses.
If there is somebody who is arrested and charged with a very serious crime — there's a list of about 60 crimes that they could qualify for — yes, the California law enforcement can hand that person over for deportation at the end of his or her sentence.
But just an average — say, a traffic stop or something like that, if the feds ask for a detainer request — or submit a detainer request, California law enforcement will not necessarily honor that.
Lisa Desjardins: Yes, and I understood that now some desks at workplaces that ICE has in local sheriff's departments, they're now being asked to leave.
Reid Wilson: Right.
And this is part of a larger movement that we're seeing in liberal states and mostly larger cities that are trying to build a relationship between local police departments and immigrant communities. That relationship, they say, helps reduce crime.
Federal authorities want to effectively find ways to deport those who are in the country illegally. It's a tenuous sort of triangle there, but it's one that local law enforcement agencies are increasingly asserting their rights over.
Lisa Desjardins: Obviously, a lot of politics there, too.
Let's end on a fun note. There's always these thousands of new laws every January 1, always some oddball ones. Do you have a favorite?
Reid Wilson: Right. So there are a couple. There are about 40,000 new laws taking effect on January 1.
In Illinois, August 4, from now on, will be known as Barack Obama Day. It's not a state holiday, but it's something they're going to observe.
Lisa Desjardins: Considered his home state.
Reid Wilson: Right, of course.
Lisa Desjardins: Well, thank you. Happy new year. Thank you for joining us, Reid Wilson from The Hill.
Reid Wilson: You got it.