If you’re buckled up for 2020, you may want to put down your phone, too.
Massachusetts’s new distracted driving law takes effect next month, outlawing the use of hand-held phones while behind the wheel — just one of several pieces of legislation scheduled to take hold in the new year.
What else is in store?
The hourly minimum wage is jumping up 75 cents; menthol cigarette sales will face sweeping restrictions come June; and a college savings program offering $50 for each baby born or adopted after Jan. 1 are also among the changes in 2020.
Here’s what to expect from those new laws, and others launching this year:
The minimum wage increases on course to $15 per hour, while Sunday pay decreases
As of Jan. 1, the state’s minimum wage increased from $12 to $12.75 an hour — the latest increase as Massachusetts moves closer to a $15 minimum wage by 2023.
Hourly workers can expect to see a steady, 75-cent increase every new year over the next three years.
Meanwhile, tipped minimum wage employees saw an increase this month from $4.35 to $4.95 an hour. By 2023, that amount will be $6.75.
However, as a result of the so-called “grand bargain” bill passed in 2018, the state’s time-and-a-half payment requirements for retail employees who work on Sundays and certain holidays is being phased out in the coming years.
This year, the rate was reduced to 1.3 times the hourly rate, down from 1.4 last year.
In February, hands-free driving joins the rules of the road
On Feb. 23, a hands-free driving law passed in November takes effect, allowing police to penalize drivers caught on their cellphones.
Motorists, and cyclists too, will be resigned to using their phones and electronic devices only in certain modes — such as through Bluetooth or similar features — that allow them to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
There are a few exceptions, however.
Drivers will be allowed to use phones if their vehicle is stationary and not within a travel lane; people in emergency situations can use their hands to speak on the phone; and motorists can still use their phones for navigation purposes, as long as the device is mounted to the dashboard, windshield, or center console in a way that “does not impede the operation of the motor vehicle.”
First-time offenders face a $100 fine, with $250 and $500 fines for subsequent offenses. While the law takes hold next month, police will issue only warnings until March 31 to give drivers time to get used to the ban.
New restrictions will limit menthol cigarette sales come June
Under a bill signed into law in November, flavored tobacco products, including chewing tobacco and menthol cigarettes, will only be allowed for purchase at smoking bars where they must be used on-site.
The new restrictions, which take hold June 1, follow similar regulations that took effect for flavored nicotine vaping products late last year.
Children born to or adopted by Mass. residents starting in 2020 will be eligible for an education savings program
Children born to or adopted by Massachusetts parents or legal guardians, starting Jan. 1, are eligible to have $50 placed inside a 529 college savings account through a program overseen by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg’s office.
“Access to higher education is vital to the health of the Massachusetts economy,” Goldberg said in a statement announcing the program in 2018. “With the price of education increasing each year, we must ensure that individuals of every background and income level are equipped with the resources to finance their higher education and enter the workforce debt-free.”
Families need to enroll their children within a year after a child is born or adopted, officials said.
Automatic voter registration has launched just in time for the presidential primaries
As of Jan. 1, potential voters will now be automatically registered should they apply for or renew their driver’s license or ID card at the Registry of Motor Vehicles or sign up for state health insurance.
The change, which was approved under a bill signed into law back in 2018, means eligible voters will no longer need to complete a separate form or be required to specify they wish to register, according to the Secretary of State William Galvin’s office. They also have the right to opt out of registering.
The move comes just in time for the March 3 presidential primaries, but there’s an important caveat: Voters looking to cast a ballot in the primaries must be registered by the Feb. 12 deadline.
The state income tax dropped, just a bit
The Massachusetts state income tax is now 5 percent, down from 5.05 percent in 2019.
The drop comes 20 years after voters signed off on a ballot measure to lower the tax rate to 5 percent, marking the end of the gradual decrease.