From gun laws to Internet privacy, here are new state laws you need to know about.
As we ring in the new year, states across the country are also ringing in new laws.
We've rounded up the most interesting new statutes that you need to know, from hot topic issues like marijuana and gun reform to other concerns like Internet privacy. Check our your new rights (and restrictions) below:
Higher minimum wages
The federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 since 2009, but 24 states and 48 cities and counties are taking matters into their own hands. Many of these—mostly in California, raising minimum rage to $12.00 an hour—went into effect New Year's Day, with the rest raising minimum wage later in the year.
Legal recreational marijuana in Illinois
Now, Illinoisans 21 and older can buy recreational marijuana. Additionally, individuals with nonviolent marijuana convictions for up to 30 grams of weed are pardoned by the law.
No more discrimination against natural hair in California
There have been far too many cases of black students and employees being discriminated against for their natural hair. Thanks to the Crown Act, that's now illegal in California. Hairstyles like afros, dreadlocks, and braids can no longer be targeted by dress code policies.
More freedom for sexual abuse survivors
In California, sexual assault victims of all ages have three years to sue, as of January 1. Victims of childhood sexual abuse now have until age 40 to file lawsuits (up from age 26).
Illinois lifted their 10-year statute of limitations entirely, meaning victims of all ages can press charges whenever they're ready, regardless of time.
Changing gun laws
President Trump has called for "red flag" laws in the wake of recent mass shootings. These laws, which have taken effect in 17 states and Washington, DC, enable those who have seen warning signs to seek a court order that would temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing a firearm.
However, Tennessee is loosening their laws, allowing its residents to take an online course to obtain a concealed carry permit. The course is 90 minutes and the permit costs $65.
Looser traffic laws for cyclists
Portland, Oregon has long been considered one of the country's most bike-friendly cities, and things are about to get a little speedier for two-wheeled travelers. Oregon now allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yields instead of having to abide by the same traffic laws as motor vehicles, making for a much less annoying ride.
More plastic bag bans
While bringing reusable bags should be part of everyone's grocery shopping routine, Oregon is the latest state to ban plastic bags entirely. You might have to pay a small fee for paper ones.
Albuquerque, New Mexico has also banned plastic bags.
Stricter laws for kids' car seats
Washington is tightening their laws on child car seats. Once they've reached the manufacturer-set weight and height limits on their forward-facing restraint system, children under 4 feet 9 inches tall need to use a booster seat. That means booster seats for some sixth-graders.
No more cash bail in New York
New York has ended the money bail system for nearly all misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges. Exceptions include cases involving sex crimes and domestic violence.
Privacy for Internet users
Californians will be able to opt out of the sale of their personal information online and can sue companies that fail to implement reasonable security practices. To be clear, your data can still be collected—this law just means they must disclose what they're collecting when you ask.
Fewer surprise medical bills
Texas is taking action against ridiculously high surprise medical bills with a list of rules implemented by the Texas Department of Insurance.
"Patients should never be asked to sign away their protections and pay a much higher price when they have no realistic alternative and incomplete information," said Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.
If companies like Amazon, Google, or Facebook fail to provide adequate protections, they could face lawsuits and government crackdowns over their technology
Alexa, Google Home, and Apple's Homepod are the convenient smart speakers that do our bidding within our homes, but who has access to the data we provide? Concerns over surveillance and data breaches have generated alarm over the amount of personal information we store in home technology, including our location, our home layout, and our voice. Such wariness is understandable, with Google Home Mini initially listening to its owners in the bathroom and uploading the data to Google's servers. After it was exposed as a glitch, the fault was quickly corrected, but the tech's capability of listening in when deactivated is proven.
However, Jake Williams, founder and president of cybersecurity firm Rendition Infoseek, says the average user isn't likely to be targeted by hackers. "Would-be attackers] don't care what you're talking about at home, they're looking to monetize data." He adds, "The level of effort to do it is too high in the vast majority of cases. Your average American just isn't that interesting."
In order to steal data from a home device, a would-be hacker would need "undetectable audio commands, eavesdropping software and targeting devices connected on a network." Since home tech doesn't store information as sensitive as credit card information, social security numbers, or passwords, it's simply not worth the effort. Of course, there are exceptions, as hackers could opt to target individuals in order to extort ransom payments for the data, but these instances are unlikely and rare.
Of greater concern is a massive data breach at one of the company clouds where customers' information is stored. While individual users can set up two-factor authentication and limit the number of external services they link to their home devices, once the information is collected and stored it's up to the company to provide protection. If companies like Amazon, Google, or Facebook fail to provide adequate protections, they could face lawsuits and government crackdowns over their technology, according to Bloomberg Law. Class action lawsuits, regulatory enforcement, and publicity damage could obviously harm company revenues if a data hack were not prevented.
Melissa Kern, piracy and information security law partner at FrostBrown Todd LLC,said, "If there is a security breach that results in unauthorized access to the personal data they have collected, whether due to a security flaw or not." As a result, Amazon and Google run product security tests to check for major flaws. Large tech companies also test the data transfer between personal devices and the cloud, in order to curb vulnerabilities to hacking.
Of course, there are steps consumers can take to protect their information. The straight forward protections include the smart user management. As consultants advise, "For those who are concerned that Google Bots are listening to everything you say, you might find some comfort in knowing that Google Home listens and even processes who is talking locally. It uploads information to the cloud when the wake word, 'OK, Google' or 'Hey, Google,' is spoken or when you long press the touch interface at the top of the device (except for Mini)." Google Home also has indicators that alert you when the device is listening in.
Ultimately, it's up to the consumer to make smart and secure choices with their data. Limiting how many devices are linked to private accounts is an easy but powerful first step. The data clouds hold all the information the device interprets, whether insignificant, unintentional, or highly sensitive.