Across the country, U.S. residents have awakened to a new year, new resolutions — and a whole host of new rules to keep track of. Hundreds of new state laws took effect across the country Monday, and they’re sure to reshape the political and legal landscape in the coming months.
They run a vast gamut — from recreational marijuana and paid leave time, to traveling barbers and exotic pets — so you’ll have to forgive us if we pick just a few to focus on. Here is a glimpse of some notable new laws, in brief.
A customer buys marijuana at Harborside dispensary in Oakland, Calif., on Monday.
Marijuana in California
The Golden State has joined a small but growing list of states to legalize recreational marijuana use. As of 6 a.m. local time Monday, licensed retailers were legally allowed to begin selling the substance to customers age 21 and up.
And they didn’t lack for customers.
The San Francisco Chronicledescribes long lines and cheering visitors at the handful of dispensaries with state and local licenses to sell marijuana Monday:
“Some people stayed up all night to get a spot in line. Others went to bed early to get there before 6 a.m.
“Anthony Moraga, 28, drove from Merced on Sunday so he could be in line at 4 a.m. — the first customer in line at Berkeley Patients Group. But he was the second to make a purchase. The store had selected longtime activists Conrad and Norris to be first.”
The day comes more than a year after California voters passed Proposition 64, which mostly decriminalized marijuana there. Previously, the state had only allowed sale and possession of the substance for medicinal use.
Still, even with weed legalized, it bears its fair share of regulations. The state has set up a specific agency, the Bureau of Cannabis Control, to grant and monitor licenses to retailers. Adults over 21 can only possess a maximum of one ounce of bud and up to eight grams of concentrates, and they cannot smoke in vehicles or public places.
And then there are the state taxes that commercial buyers must pay — and that authorities believe will offer a windfall for state coffers. As NPR’s Ina Jaffe reports, recreational marijuana is expected to bring in up to $500 million in the first year alone, and some estimates place the eventual revenue as high as $1 billion a year.
Nevertheless, marijuana remains illegal under federal law — and as such, Border Patrol will continue to seize the substance at checkpoints.
In the workplace
Washington on Monday became the seventh state — in addition to Washington, D.C. — to require employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers. Rhode Island is set to become the eighth to do so later this year, when its own law takes effect in July.
Meanwhile, New York has joined the small handful of states that require employers to provide paid family leave benefits. There, as NBC reports, employees will eventually be entitled to up to 12 weeks a year once the law takes full effect.
And in Nevada, employers are now required to offer up to 160 hours of leave per 12-month period to workers who have been — or whose family members have been — victims of domestic violence.
Eighteen states are also raising their minimum wage this year. (See a breakdown from NPR’s Emily Sullivan for the full list.)
The federal minimum wage, however, is set to remain steady at $7.25 per hour. And, as Sullivan points out, the five states that have the highest percentages of hourly workers earning the federal minimum or below have no plans for a wage hike this year.
In the national conversation
Tennessee is implementing a measure granting broad free speech rights to speakers on higher education campuses, wading into a debate that has flared into national focus lately. The law marks an implicit response to the protests that have surrounded — and even derailed — recent speaking engagements by incendiary figures such as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, among others.
Several states are making changes at the ballot box. Iowa and West Virginia both adopted measures that require voters to show an accepted form of ID, though the former’s law won’t be fully phased in until 2019. Texas, which had a similar law from 2014 tossed earlier this year by a federal judge, is adopting a revised version of the measure — which allows people to cast a ballot without ID, but only if they swear they could not reasonably obtain one in time.
Elsewhere, multiple states are changing their rules regarding how gender is recorded in official documents. In Illinois, for instance, transgender and intersex people are allowed to change the designation on their birth certificates, provided they do so with the approval of a medical professional. And in California, residents are no longer required to choose between either “male” or “female” on their ID documents.
At a ceremony last May, former President Obama points out features of his proposed presidential center, which is scheduled to be built in Chicago. It is not the only honor that awaits the former president in the state he served as a senator: He’s also getting a day designated in his honor.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images
A potpourri of odds and ends
Not every new state law bears weight of national import. In fact, the vast majority are of a more, well, specialized nature. That said, here’s a little selection of some that stand out anyway.
In South Carolina, for example, people hoping to buy a Siberian tiger to celebrate the new year are likely to be disappointed: As of Jan. 1, it is illegal in the state for typical residents — that is, if you’re not a zoo — to buy or own exotic animals for pets. That’s right, no more apes, lions or polar bears to stalk your residence in captive splendor — unless you happen to be one of the estimated 25 South Carolinians who already own such an animal, according to the Myrtle Beach Sun News. The local paper notes that those owners will be grandfathered in, albeit with new restrictions.
As the Humane Society pointed out, before the bill’s passage, the state “was one of only five states with virtually no laws regarding private possession of dangerous wild animals.”
Illinois has set aside a day in honor of one of its best-known politicians: former President Obama. Henceforth, the state’s former senator will be honored with Barack Obama Day every year on his birthday, Aug. 4. It should be noted, though — if you live in Illinois, don’t expect a day off from work or school, since it is considered a “commemorative date” rather than an official holiday under state law.
And then, it’s worth returning to Tennessee for this note: If you’re a barber in the state, you are now legally free to pay house calls. Previously, barbers were only able to do so for clients “who are actually ill”; now, even those with perfect health won’t need to leave their front door to get a good haircut.
Of course, as long as this list may be, these laws are but a few of the hundreds newly on the books across the country. It’s best to check in your own state to be sure what new rules, exactly, now apply to you.
Forget losing weight. How about a more achievable New Year’s resolution, like cutting back on swearing?
People curse for a variety of reasons, including social: they want to fit in, or seem cool or accessible. “But largely, people curse for emotional reasons, when we experience strong transcient emotions: anger, fear, surprise, elation, arousal,” said Benjamin Bergen, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego.
One reason it can be hard for people to stop using swear words has to do with the part of the brain that kicks in during super-charged moments. Bergen says most language is processed in the cerebral cortex, but when you’re experiencing a strong emotion, the snail-shaped basal ganglia helps you decide what action to perform. For some people, it’s to use taboo words.
But how to stop?
NPR’s All Things Considered is looking for your ideas about how to curb this habit. Specifically, we need your substitutions for swear words. Do you have some go-to phrases that are just as satisfying – like “Biscuits!” “Butterball!” and “O, Columbo!”?
Send them to NPRcrowdsource@NPR.org.
Two civilians carry belongings they collected from their damaged house in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. The Islamic State controlled the northern Iraqi city for three years before being driven out last year. ISIS no longer controls any cities, but small groups of fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, and are still considered a threat.
The Islamic State no longer controls cities. Its previously large ranks are decimated. Survivors have scattered into the desert. Yet ISIS still has militants with weapons and plans for renewed mayhem.
“We have repeatedly said in this room, the war is not over,” Defense Secretary James Mattis noted last week at the Pentagon.
He said U.S. forces are still tracking down small pockets of ISIS fighters. In Iraq, the U.S. is still working closely with the Iraqi security forces, in hopes they can take full control of the country’s territory.
“It may be a dozen [ISIS] guys who finally find each other. They get together and live in the one house. They start licking their wounds and thinking, ‘What can we do?’ ” Mattis said. “What we want to do is drive this down to a point it can be handled by local authorities, by police and that sort of thing.”
It’s more complicated in Syria, where the U.S. and its partners have largely destroyed ISIS in the eastern part of the country, in areas east of the Euphrates River.
Yet some bands of ISIS militants are now fleeing westward, according to Mattis. The ISIS fighters apparently believe their chances of survival are better in areas controlled by their other enemies — Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is supported by Russia and Iran.
Mattis says the U.S. military will stay in eastern Syria for now in order to allow U.S. diplomats, aid workers and contractors to come in and help stabilize the region. But the war elsewhere in the country remains open-ended.
A shrinking force
So how many Islamic State fighters are there? It’s always been a guesstimate.
When ISIS was at its peak about three years ago, the CIA said it had as many as 31,000 fighters.
Now, the U.S. military thinks fewer than 1,000 are left in areas where the American coalition is operating in Iraq and Syria.
“The Islamic State fighters, in a number of places, Mosul, [Iraq], Raqqa, [Syria] many others, put up very fierce fighting. And thousands of their fighters died in these battles,” said Daniel Byman of Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution.
That accounts for many of the fighters. He puts the surviving ISIS members into a couple other categories, with intentions that vary.
“Another group of fighters probably tried to flee or blend in locally” if they are Iraqi or Syrian citizens and want to give up the battle, Byman said.
But there are also many foreign fighters who blend in so easily. Some will likely stay and fight, while others may want to return home.
Many foreign fighters came from Europe. Nick Rasmussen, who just stepped down as head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, says European countries have been bracing for returning militants.
However, “The problem we envisioned perhaps a few years ago, of thousands and thousands of foreign fighters departing the conflict zone once the war started to subside, it’s not happening in those numbers,” Rasmussen said.
A reduced threat
So most of this news sounds pretty good. ISIS has no safe haven. Its fighters are on the run. And they aren’t escaping abroad in large numbers.
But there’s an important precedent. The forerunner of ISIS was al-Qaida in Iraq. The U.S. and its allies dismantled that group a decade ago.
The group then re-emerged as ISIS, stronger than ever, as conditions proved more favorable. This included the chaotic Arab uprisings of 2011 and the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq that same year.
By the summer of 2014, ISIS controlled large parts of Syria and Iraq and ruled over millions of people with its self-declared caliphate.
This lesson isn’t lost on ISIS as it prepares its next move.
“It is far easier to kill a terrorist than to slay an ideology, said Gayle Tzemach Lemmon with the Council on Foreign Relations. She was in the Syrian city of Raqqa in August, as the U.S. and its allies were retaking the city that served as the ISIS headquarters for several years.
The U.S. has a good record when it comes to winning battles in the Middle East. What’s hard, she says, is the aftermath.
“As long as the ground is still ripe for insurgency, it’s very hard to keep a war ended,” she said. “And the truth is no one really wants to pay for the rebuilding. Nation-building is a 14-letter word that’s become a four-letter word.”
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent. Follow him @gregmyre1.
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