The New 2019 Laws Are Here! See What's Legal/Illegal As Of January 1
Hello 2019! It's a new year, which means the hundreds of laws that were passed last year go into effect. So if one of your resolutions for 2019 is to start off the year as an upstanding, rule-abiding citizen, we're here to help you out. Here's a roundup of some of the notable laws that kick in today:
Plastic straws by request only: The strawpocalypse is upon us. Full-service restaurants across California are now prohibited from handing out single-use plastic straws to customers unless they specifically request one. (If you're looking for good reusable straw options, we tested out a few.)
Home kitchen operations legalized: Cooks who sell food prepared out of their homes are now legally allowed to sell their items, thanks to the Cottage Food Bill, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in September. The practice had previously been outlawed because of health concerns. Anyone who wants to do so will need to apply for a permit with the city and/or county, and then they'll be able to start selling right away.
Crackdown on "junk" health insurance: Health insurers are no longer allowed to sell, issue or renew short-term health plans -- i.e., health plans that last 12 months or shorter. These plans don't have to cover the 10 essential benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, and so are commonly referred to as "junk" health insurance. The California legislature passed the law in response to the Trump administration's order last year extending these plans.
Nonbinary gender option on driver's licenses: As of January 1, there's a third gender option for driver's license applications. People getting a new one or renewing an existing one will be able to pick between male, female or nonbinary. This change is part of SB 179, which also makes it so that a person petitioning a court to recognize a change in gender and conforming name change no longer has to undergo a clinical gender transition to do so. That provision took effect back in September.
Breathalyzers in cars: If you've been convicted of a DUI that led to injury, or gotten multiple DUIs on your record, you'll now be required to install a breathalyzer device in your car, called an ignition interlock device. If you have one in your car, it prevents you from starting the car unless you pass the breathalyzer test. Previously this was a pilot program in effect in a couple of cities, including Los Angeles, but now it's expanded to the entire state.
Helmets on e-scooters: If you're 18 or older, you're no longer required to wear a helmet while riding a motorized scooter in California. (Still, we'd like to mention it's a good idea to wear one -- plus, cities can still enact their own rules in the future that would put the requirement back in place.) But if you're 17 or younger and are caught without a helmet on a scooter, you can get a ticket.
New HOV decals: If you have a low-emissions car with a green or white decal for the HOV lane, it's officially expired. The new ones are red -- and the Clean Air Resources Board has a new list of eligible vehicles. Those who were issued a green or white decal in 2017 or 2018 will be able to apply for the red decal, which is valid until January 2022 -- the DMV should have mailed out letters of eligibility months ago. You can read more about the new rules via the DMV.
Gun restrictions: The minimum age for purchasing a long gun (e.g., rifles and shotguns) rises to 21, up from 18. Additionally, under a separate new law, anybody convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence after January 1, 2019, is prohibited from ever owning a firearm.
Street vending decriminalized: The statewide bill that effectively decriminalizes street vending and allows cities and counties to set up their own permitting systems is in effect as of January. The L.A. City Council approved its own permitting system in November, though it could take another year to flesh out the details of how it will work.
Healthy drinks in kids' meals: Starting this month, only milk or water may be the default drinks that go with children's meals in restaurants. The law still allows restaurants to offer juices and sodas generally, but only "milk; a non-dairy milk alternative; or sparkling, still or flavored water" may be advertised or on menus as part of a children's restaurant meal that includes a drink.
Gender identity courses in officer training: The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training must develop -- and implement -- a new course on sexual orientation and gender identity minority groups. It'll now be required for basic training for officers and dispatchers.
Sexual harassment claims at work: After all the revelations from the #MeToo movement, employers are now prohibited from requiring employees to sign non-disparagement or non-disclosure agreements for harassment claims in exchange for employment, a raise or bonus. The law, SB 1300, also opens up more options for employees to sue employers that fail to prevent harassment in the workplace.
Police transparency: California, one of the most secretive states in the country when it comes to police conduct, takes a big step in transparency this year. The public may now access police records in cases involving officer shootings and other use-of-force incidents. Law enforcement is now also required to disclose records when a law enforcement or oversight agency has determined that an officer was guilty of dishonesty or engaged in sexual misconduct.
Juvenile justice: California may no longer prosecute 14- and 15-year-olds as adults. Previously, defendants this age could be referred to adult court -- and potentially sent to adult prison -- if they were charged with a serious offense, like murder or rape.
Living wage in Anaheim: Some hospitality businesses in Anaheim -- specifically ones that benefit from city subsidies -- are now required to pay workers at least $15 an hour, with annual $1/hour bumps ending up with $18 an hour in 2022.