What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

From marijuana legalization to minimum wage, how state laws are changing in 2020

Now that 2020 has arrived, scores of new laws are going into effect across the country. From legalization of marijuana and criminal justice reform to raising minimum wage and the cost of electric cars, state legislatures are having a major impact on the nation’s laws. The Hill’s Reid Wilson joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss specific changes as well as three broader trends to watch going forward.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On the final day of 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 people convicted for possessing low levels of cannabis.

    He said hundreds of thousands of others could see their records expunged.

  • J.B. Pritzker:

    We are giving people a new lease on life. We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of the damage that's been done. But, today, here in Illinois, we can govern with the courage to right the wrongs of the past.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The governor's announcement came as Illinois becomes today the 11 state to legalize marijuana.

    As Lisa Desjardins explains, that's just one example of scores of new laws going into effect across the country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Congress and the president have been dominating, almost monopolizing the headlines lately, but the states are arguably doing more that changes the law, including a sweep of new state laws going into effect today, from criminal justice reforms and higher minimum wages, to the cost of electric cars.

    Reid Wilson is a correspondent at The Hill newspaper and keeps track of what's happening in state politics. He joins me now from a familiar-looking set, our "NewsHour West" studio in Phoenix.

    Thank you, Reid.

  • Reid Wilson:

    Hey, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's start right away with criminal justice reform.

    As Nick reported, Illinois has wiped out thousands of arrests and reversed convictions over marijuana, a small amount of marijuana possession, as part of the legalization of the drug for recreational use.

    But this is also a part of a broader criminal justice reform across the country. Take us through what's happening.

  • Reid Wilson:

    Yes, we have seen Congress acting on criminal justice reform as one of their major initiatives this year, basically the only thing they could agree on, on a bipartisan basis.

    But it really started in the states. And we have seen this push toward expunging records for minor drug crimes, especially in states where marijuana is now legal. And we have seen this effort in places like California, New Jersey and elsewhere, now, of course, in Illinois, as their recreational marijuana law takes effect.

    In some other states — New York has ended cash bail. It's another one of the — another trend that we're starting to see in bluer states, a recognition that a lot of low-income residents who find themselves in jail can't afford to bail themselves out and, in some cases, plead guilty to crimes they haven't committed just in order to get themselves out of jail quickly.

    And then, in states like New Jersey and Kentucky, we have seen a push towards re-enfranchising felons who were once in jail and now, once they're out of jail, get the right to vote back. The theory behind it is basically, the more you are reintegrated into your community, the less likely you are to offend again and head back to jail.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I also want to talk about something that will affect a lot of pocketbooks, minimum wages going up.

    Now, currently, the federal minimum wage, as people know, $7,25 an hour. That's about $15,000 for someone working full-time. But now we're seeing today 21 states are seeing increases in their minimum wages. What's motivating these states to have a higher minimum wage going forward?

  • Reid Wilson:

    Well, so, the federal minimum wage has not changed since 2009. And, as you can imagine, inflation has not slowed down and has — and basically makes that purchasing power of that $15,000 far less than it was a decade ago.

    What we have seen in recent years is a push both through state legislatures and through ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage to $12, $13, $14, even $15 an hour.

    And what a lot of these states are doing is, they're taking an incremental process. So one state might pass a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but by, say, 2022. So, today, it will raise — it will rise a dollar an hour. Next January 1, it'll rise another dollar an hour to sort of give businesses the opportunity to factor in those costs and to lessen the burden, while also raising the minimum wage.

    Another thing that we have seen across the country this year is teacher salaries on the rise. You might remember, about a year-and-a-half ago, there were some significant teacher strikes in places like Kentucky and Oklahoma demanding higher wages.

    Governors all over the country, Republican and Democratic, didn't want to see those same teacher strikes in their own backyard. So in places like Arizona, where I am now, they proactively went out and raised teacher pays.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, let's talk about tech.

    Electric cars, some changes, and maybe texting and driving. I think Florida is making that a primary offense now.

  • Reid Wilson:

    Yes, one of the things we're seeing is governments across the country are trying to figure out how to handle these big tech giants that are disrupting so many — so many industries across the country, whether that's a bill like a California's AB-5, which treats gig workers for Uber and Lyft and DoorDash as actual employees.

    That passed last year. It will take effect in the new year, although it's going to be challenged by those — those big companies that I just mentioned.

    In states that are raising costs of electric vehicles, that's a recognition that, as more of us buy Priuses or Teslas or something like that, the revenue from gas taxes are going to go down. People putting less gas in their car means less money for roads and infrastructures in these states. So the states are trying to figure out how to regulate these new types of electric cars, so that they are — the drivers of those cars are still paying into the funds that pay for our national infrastructure.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK, so what's ahead? What our states likely to be talking about this year?

  • Reid Wilson:

    Well, I think we're going to see three broad trends in — that have some form of bipartisan cooperation.

    The first is about NCAA athletes and whether or not they can profit off of the use of their image and likeness. California passed a bill last year that would allow those athletes to get money from endorsement deals or, say, video game appearances. And we have already seen a number of bills introduced in a bipartisan basis in states like Minnesota and Florida and New York.

    I think that's going around the country in the next year. The second thing is sort of related in sports betting. Sports betting is a billion-dollar industry. And a lot of states are saying that, if they legalize sports betting, they will be able to take some of the revenue in the form of taxes from what has otherwise been an underground economy.

    So we have seen legislation passed on a bipartisan basis in several states in 2019. That trend is going to continue in 2020.

    And then the last thing I'd point to is state budgets. We have gone through a decade of economic expansion. States are taking in a lot more revenue then they budgeted for. That's the good news. But state legislators are worried about the next economic downturn.

    The recovery isn't going to last forever. So a lot of states are socking millions, if not billions of dollars away in their rainy day funds. Rainy day reserves are more than double what they were already before the last recession.

    So there's a bit of bipartisan agreement, it's time to save more money now, in advance of what's going to be an economic downturn, whether it comes next year or a couple years down the road.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Reid, thank you for watching these important state governments.

    Reid Wilson of The Hill, happy new year.

  • Reid Wilson:

    Thanks a lot, Lisa. You too.

Listen to this Segment