Here are 13 new laws on marijuana, smart guns, student loans and more taking effect in 2020

NJ.com- By the end of 2020, New Jerseyans on parole and probation will be able to vote, employers in the state will be banned from asking for applicants’ salary histories and all opioids will come with a warning label here.

That’s because the new year brings new laws. They may change how you interview for a job, shop for health insurance, navigate student loans and more in the Garden State.

Here are some of the state laws that will take effect this year:

SALARY HISTORY BAN

As of Jan. 1, employers in New Jersey are not allowed to ask job applicants for their salary history, commission or benefits history during the hiring process.

More than a dozen states, plus more cities and counties, already have adopted some variation of a salary history ban.

A prospective employee is free to volunteer the information, but it will be illegal for the employer to hold it against the employee if they don’t choose to share.

Any employer that violates the new rules and seeks out an applicants’ salary history could be fined up to $1,000 for a first offense, $5,000 for the second and $10,000 thereafter.

Experts say salary questions can contribute to wage discrimination against women and minorities. Women in New Jersey are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, which found the wage gap exists regardless of industry, occupation or education

‘LINDA’S LAW'

Named for a 68-year-old Newark woman who allegedly died after a utility company shut off her power and, with it, her air conditioner and an electrified oxygen tank, this law prohibits utilities in New Jersey from cutting off electric service to a customer who relies on life-sustaining equipment.

The law says: “Discontinuance of electric service for nonpayment is prohibited for a period of 90 days, if a medical customer’s condition would be aggravated by a discontinuance of electric service.” The 90 days can be extended.

“No one should fear losing their life because their electricity bill is a few days overdue,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement after he signed the bill. “Linda’s Law will protect residents who rely upon electricity to support their medical equipment.”

The law took effect Jan. 1.

STATE-RUN HEALTH EXCHANGE

Under this bill (S5499) signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy over the summer, New Jersey can establish its own state-based Obamacare exchange, where residents can shop for health insurance.

By running its own insurance marketplace, New Jersey may keep the $50 million it sent to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services every year to help operate healthcare.gov. The state will also be able to set a longer open enrollment period, which the Trump administration had halved to six weeks.

The law’s prospects were uncertain this summer as Murphy and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney negotiated the particulars amid a bitter budget battle. But the Senate ultimately held an emergency vote to send it to the governor for his signature.

Ray Castro, health policy director for New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal Trenton think tank, has said the research shows "that state exchanges are much more effective in keeping premiums down and ensuring more adults and children are covered.”

The law took effect Jan. 1.

STUDENT LOAN OVERSIGHT

New Jersey will increase its oversight of student loans with the introduction of a student loan ombudsman and will require that student loan servicers be licensed by the state.

The ombudsman, part of the state Department of Banking and Insurance, will review, analyze and resolve student loan complaints and help guide borrowers, according to the bill (S1149).

The bill was signed into law by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver while Murphy was out of state. Oliver said it “creates strong new protections for student loan borrowers by regulating the companies that service student loans.”

“This new law will require student loan servicing companies to be licensed by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, and will crack down on deceptive practices by servicers that provide flawed information to student borrowers, apply payments in ways that cause unnecessary late fees and harm borrowers’ credit scores, or fail to place them in repayment plans that are best designed to assist in paying off their loans.”

The law takes effect Jan. 26.

SUICIDE PREVENTION

Firearm retailers and firing range operators in New Jersey will have access to suicide prevention training under a law taking effect Feb. 1.

The law will require the state attorney general to develop an in-person or online suicide prevention course for gun dealers that will include training on how to recognize “signs of suicidal tendencies or characteristics” in people purchasing a firearm. The training will also include “suicide intervention strategies.”

The attorney general will also be required to create and distribute information on preventing suicide to firearm retailers and firing range operators. Those materials will provide guidance to customers on keeping firearms from falling into the hands of someone “in crisis.”

Retailers will be required to make those materials available at their checkout counter, according to the law (A3896).

OPIOID WARNING LABELS

Beginning Feb. 1, all opioid prescriptions in New Jersey will carry a warning label advising that the prescription is an opioid and carries a risk of addiction and overdose.

More than 3,100 people died of drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2018, largely because of opioid addiction, according to figures from the state Attorney General’s Office.

“We need to utilize every tool in our arsenal to increase awareness and education about the effects of opioid abuse,” said state Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, a main sponsor of the legislation. "Adding a warning sticker to all opioid medications is an easy, cost-effective concept that can save lives.”

SMART GUNS

New Jersey Democrats finally succeeded this year in repealing a controversial 2002 law that required firearm dealers in the Garden State to sell only smart guns once they became available for sale anywhere in the U.S.

Supporters of gun control said that law backfired, actually slowing the production of smart guns after the gun lobbied against research on or the sale of so-called smart guns.

Smart guns are designed so they can only be fired by their designated owners. They are meant to be safer than typical handguns, using fingerprint and other identification technology to prevent accidental shootings.

The Democratic-controlled state Legislature tried to repeal and replace the bill twice under former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who vetoed both attempts.

This new law, taking effect Feb. 1, instead requires that every gun retailer in the Garden State sell at least one type of smart gun — but only after a state commission develops a roster of smart guns that can be sold.

Violence intervention

A law taking effect Feb. 1 will require the state Victims of Crime Compensation Office to refer victims of trauma — such as shootings — in New Jersey to violence intervention programs.

“The purpose of this bill is to provide for intervention in the revolving door of gunshot injuries that is witnessed by many hospitals, especially trauma centers. Patients who have gunshot injuries are at very high risk of being violently re-injured and perpetrating retaliatory violence themselves,” according to the bill. “Many die as a result of the continuing cycle of violence.”

In September, the state attorney general announced $20 million in grants to develop hospital-based violence prevention programs across New Jersey.

VOTING RIGHTS FOR PEOPLE ON PROBATION OR PAROLE

Starting March 17, 80,000 people on probation and parole will have the right to vote in New Jersey.

The law, signed by Murphy in December, aligns the Garden State with 16 other states that restore voting rights to those on probation and parole, according to the Murphy administration. This new law does not allow people currently in prison to vote.

Supporters of the law argued people who have been released from prison deserve a say in how their state is run, while opponents said losing the right to vote is a just punishment for convicts.

“The story of mass incarceration and disproportionate disenfranchisement in America can no longer be the narrative for New Jersey,” Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, D-Essex, said in a statement. “People with criminal records face enough trials post-incarceration in searching for employment, paying down debt and reconnecting with their families. Ending the prohibition on voting for probationers and parolees gives them a chance to move forward, to have their voices heard.”

However, Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, R-Ocean, said called the law a “dangerous first step by Democrats that will lead to incarcerated prisoners voting from their jail cells.”

“The last thing New Jersey needs is for voting booths to be wheeled down the cell block for inmates to cast their votes. It would result in politicians catering to the needs of criminals over those of law-abiding citizens," he said.

The law takes effect in time for the next election.

PARKING PRIVILEGES FOR HOME HEALTH AIDES

This new law, taking effect in May, tries to address problems home health aides run into trying to find parking to care for patients in the state’s most-dense areas.

The law (S3683) creates special placards for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to distribute to home health agencies’ employees to display in their vehicles while they’re at or traveling to a patient’s home.

The placards provide special driving and parking privileges, such as allowing health care workers to park in on-street spots otherwise reserved for residents — including overnight and to park up to 24 hours in a metered spot.

EXPUNGEMENT OF MARIJUANA OFFENSES

New Jerseyans will be able to wipe minor drug and other offenses off their record under this much-anticipated expungement law.

The law establishes a new “clean slate” process for New Jerseyans who have not been convicted of a crime in 10 years and have never been convicted of a serious crime to petition for expungement. It also eliminates the $75 expungement filing fee, creates an automated expungement system and requires that records for low-level marijuana offenses be sealed.

Some provisions of the law went into effect immediately when Murphy signed the bill Dec. 18, while others will not take effect until June 15.

“I am proud to sign one of the most progressive expungement laws in the nation, which will allow more New Jerseyans the opportunity to fully engage in our society," Murphy said upon signing the bill.

Nearly 1 million people have been arrested on marijuana charges in New Jersey since 1990, according to the state judiciary. Those who sought to clear their records faced one of the most burdensome expungement systems in the country, as reported earlier this year by NJ Advance Media.

TEMPORARY DISABILITY INSURANCE

New Jersey workers who are out of work and receiving temporary disability insurance payments from the state will be allowed to receive partial benefits while they return to work part time under this new law.

Sponsors of the bill said it will allow people on disability to return to work sooner.

Under the change, workers will receive the full weekly disability payment, less their weekly wages earned while working part time, for no more than 12 weeks.

“This will allow employees receiving temporary disability to slowly transition back to work by initially working on a part-time basis,” state Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, said in a statement. “It will also provide cost savings to the TDI fund by reducing benefit costs during those transitions, saving the state money.”

The law takes effect June 17.

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

This new law prohibits the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey’s jails, prisons and other detention facilities “unless there is reasonable cause to believe that the inmate or others would be at substantial risk of serious harm as evidenced by recent threats or conduct."

It also requires mental health evaluations for prisoners placed in temporary isolation as well as better data collection and reporting.

The law places even more restriction on the practice for members of “vulnerable populations,” including prisoners under 21 or over 65, LGBTQ inmates and those who are pregnant or disabled. It requires that no inmate be isolated for more than 20 days in a row, or for more than 30 days during any 60-day period.

Supporters say the measure is among the most comprehensive controls on the controversial practice of placing prisoners in isolation in the United States.

While signing the bill last summer, Murphy said: “I am proud to stand together with New Jersey’s criminal justice reform advocates and legislators to advance a humane correctional system that allows for the safe operation of facilities and focuses on strengthening reentry initiatives, substance use disorder treatment, and recovery programs."

Christie previously vetoed a similar proposal, claiming solitary confinement did not happen behind bars in the Garden State.

The law takes effect Aug. 1.

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