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New Year, New Laws: A Review of the Major Changes to the Legal Landscape  

As is often the case, many laws passed during a given legislative session do not go into effect until the beginning of the next year. In 2021, we saw a slew of new laws aimed at addressing hot-button, high-profile issues like criminal justice reform, workplace discrimination and appropriate uses for marijuana.

Police siren blue light 4165414 640.jpegAccording to a review of those major changes from the American Bar Association (ABA), some of the states with notable changes in those areas include Texas, California and Tennessee and Illinois.

For example, in the Land of Lincoln, all law enforcement agencies serving cities and large counties must adopt body camera policies for their officers. Smaller departments, notes the ABA, will be required to phase-in those requirements over a period of three years.

Criminal justice reforms have been an especially hot topic in Illinois, and the state Senate’s Black Caucus advocated fiercely for a package of bills to address police-public relations and what it argued amounted to systemic racism in the state.

“This historic moment is the result of a monumental effort on the part of countless people, from those who testified during the 30 hours of public hearings on these issues, to those who have pushed for some of these reforms for years, and especially to the Illinoisans who signaled their support,” said Sen. Elgie Sims, one of the advocates for reform in the state. “I thank them for lifting up their voices and never giving up, and I thank Gov. Pritzker for making these measures the law of the land. The journey continues.”

From Twitter

Lake & McHenry County Scanner @LMCScanner Jan 1

"Nearly 300 new laws went into effect on January 1 in Illinois, some of which include a minimum wage increase, a police body camera requirement and prosecutors being allowed to reduce suspects’ prison sentences."

Other changes to police procedure, resource allocation and training were also included in a package of bills passed earlier in the year, notes the caucus.

“The caucus’ ultimate goals are to cultivate and support good police officers, ensure that reducing violence and de-escalating conflicts are at the forefront of every encounter between the police and the public, and to address some of the core problems that police often respond to–like substance abuse and mental health crises.”

Other changes from around the nation, per the ABA, include:

  • Tennessee’s Parole Board will no longer be able to deny parole for individuals who did not attempt to bolster their vocational skills or education due to the length of the waiting lists for those programs.
  • Arkansas enacted a new rule beginning Thursday, Jan. 13, requiring individuals to serve “at least 80% of their sentences” without parole eligibility if they committed serious, violent felonies.
  • California criminal juries will have new procedures for selection as “peremptory challenge to remove a prospective juror on the basis of the juror’s race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or perceived membership in any other protected group” will be barred.
  • California also will prohibit restraints risking the suffocating of a suspect, and police will be barred from using tear gas or rubber projectiles in non-life-threatening situations.
  • Texas employers will be prohibited from inquiring about an applicant’s job history on most initial applications.
  • Oregon changed its anti-discrimination rules to include “natural hairstyles as a protected characteristic.”

From Twitter

OPB @OPB Jan 1

"The CROWN Act is officially in effect in Oregon. It’s now illegal in workplaces and education institutions to discriminate against Black people for their hairstyles. Read @llmiller12’s previous report on the law: https://t.co/0BfhI3pzxA"

Further, Montana enacted a new law prohibiting employers from discriminating against workers who legally use marijuana during non-work hours, and the city of Philadelphia will prohibit employers from requiring prospective hires from undergoing marijuana testing as a “condition of employment” in most cases.

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