New Laws Take Effect January 1st in Massachusetts
BOSTON — The state's minimum wage is going up, the income tax rate is coming down and it will be illegal everywhere in Massachusetts to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.
Those are among the new and updated laws taking effect when the new year arrives on Tuesday. A new fee on rental cars also goes into effect Jan. 1, as do certain new rules concerning the treatment and placement of state prison inmates.
A closer look:
An estimated 662,000 Massachusetts workers will get a pay raise in the new year as the state takes the first step toward an eventual $15 minimum wage.
The hourly minimum wage increases from $11 to $12 an hour. It will continue to go up in 75-cent annual increments until it reaches $15 in 2023.
The sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, goes up from $3.75 to $4.35 an hour, eventually reaching $6.75 by 2023.
``If not for periodic minimum wage increases, hundreds of thousands of the lowest-wage workers in the state would have seen the real value of their wages fall over the past couple of decades,'' said Jeremy Thompson, senior policy analyst for the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
The $12 minimum wage in 2019 matches that of California and Washington as the highest among U.S. states.
The hike was approved by the Legislature and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker as part of a so-called ``grand bargain " that includes a permanent August sales tax holiday and paid family leave provisions that fully take effect in 2021.
Also part of the bargain: The new year begins the gradual phase-out of guaranteed time-and-a-half pay for workers on Sundays, a remnant of the state's former Blue Laws.
INCOME TAX CUT
It may be barely noticeable to most Massachusetts taxpayers, but the state's income tax rate drops Jan. 1 from 5.1 percent to 5.05 percent.
The slight break results from a state law that triggers automatic income tax reductions when state revenues hit certain benchmarks in the previous year.
The law allows those reductions to continue until the tax rate falls to 5 percent, which could happen in 2020 if revenue collections stay on track.
No matter where you live in Massachusetts, the legal age to buy cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products will be 21 beginning in 2019.
``Raising the age to buy tobacco products in the Commonwealth is an important step to prevent addiction for young people and encourage healthy choices,'' said Baker in signing the Tobacco 21 legislation in July.
About half of the state's cities and towns, including Boston, had already bumped the legal age up from 18 to 21, but the new law makes it a statewide standard.
The law exempts anyone who turned 18 by Dec. 31 and could already legally purchase tobacco.
The law imposes penalties on retailers who sell tobacco to underage customers, but does not make it a crime for minors to smoke.
RENTAL CAR FEE
Renting a car in Massachusetts becomes a little more expensive in 2019 when a $2 surcharge takes effect on vehicular rentals.
Proceeds from the fee will go into a fund that provides training programs for municipal police officers around the state. If the surcharge generates more than $10 million in any given year, the additional money would be deposited into the state's General Fund.
New rules governing the placement and treatment of prison inmates are slated to take effect Tuesday.
Part of a much broader overhaul of the state's criminal justice system approved by the Legislature and Baker, the law puts stricter limits on the use of solitary confinement and other types of ``restrictive housing'' for inmates. It requires, for example, a review to determine whether a prisoner is at risk of serious mental health problems if confined in restrictive housing for too long.
The law also included protections for transgender inmates. It states that inmates be housed in correctional facilities consistent with their gender identities unless prison officials certify in writing that such a placement would jeopardize the inmate's safety or pose security problems.
Inmates must also be provided with clothing and other items consistent with their gender identities and may request that an officer performing a body search be of the same gender identity.