State Capitol

The New York State Capitol Building in Albany.

SYRACUSE (TNS) — New York state lawmakers voted to pass dozens of new laws in the past year that will go into effect in 2022.

The laws are aimed at helping consumers and workers in the state, improving public safety, protecting the environment, and addressing the Covid-19 pandemic in New York.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most significant laws that will take effect in the new year.

Ghost gun ban

A new law will criminalize the sale of anonymous “ghost guns,” a term used to describe guns that don’t have serial numbers and are put together in pieces.

The lack of identifying information makes it difficult for law enforcement to trace the guns when they are used to commit crimes.

Advocates for the New York ghost gun ban said the firearms often end up in the hands of buyers with criminal records or those who would not pass a required federal background check.

The new law also requires gunsmiths to register and include serial numbers on any firearm that they assemble.

Stopping robocalls

Two new laws are aimed at making it more difficult for scammers to make automated robocalls to New Yorkers.

One of the laws requires telecommunications companies in New York state to proactively block calls that are likely illegitimate. That would include calls from “spoofed” phone numbers that cannot or do not make outgoing calls.

The true identities of those making robocalls are often masked behind fake numbers.

A second bill targeting robocalls requires phone providers to use a new type of call authentication system, using cryptography to validate that a call is really coming from the number shown on caller ID displays.

Work zone speed cameras

New York will begin installing speed cameras along highway work zones under a pilot program that will issue automatic speeding tickets to violators.

The bill sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, D- Syracuse, was signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul in September.

The cameras will take photos of license plates on vehicles exceeding the speed limit in work zones. Tickets will be mailed to the vehicle owner. A first offense carries a fine of $50, a second ticket within 18 months is $75, and three or more tickets will result in fines of $100.

The state will gather data on how much money the cameras save on labor costs compared to using police for speeding enforcement.

Magnarelli said the new program is necessary because New York recorded 3,450 accidents in highway work zones from 2010 through 2016. Those accidents killed 50 people and hurt 1,100 workers and motorists.

Ban on foam food containers

A law banning single-use foam food containers in New York will go into effect on Jan. 1. That means restaurants and other stores selling food will have to find alternatives for take-out packaging.

The law also bans foam packing peanuts from being used by manufacturers or retailers in the state.

Among those who will be affected by the foam packaging ban are caterers, food carts, food trucks, retail food stores, delis, grocery stores, cafeterias, coffee shops, hospitals, adult care facilities, nursing homes, schools and colleges.

The state will provide waivers to nonprofits and government agencies, including food pantries, that provide food and meals to the poor. See details on waivers and more about the foam ban at the state Department of Environmental Conservation website.

Polystyrene foam is a form of plastic that is not easily biodegradable, and forms microplastic pollution that can harm wildlife and waterways.

Voting reforms

Two bills signed into law by Hochul last week will increase the number of early voting sites in New York and require faster counting of absentee ballots cast in an election.

The Make Voting Easy Act requires each county to designate at least one early voting polling site for every 40,000 registered voters.

In counties with fewer than 500,000 registered voters, one early voting site would have to be established for every 30,000 registered voters.

The law also increases the number of hours polling sites must be open on weekends and holidays for early voting. The polling sites previously had to be open for at least five hours on those days. The new law requires the polls to be open for at least eight hours.

A second voting reform law requires most absentee ballots to be counted in time for unofficial results to be made public on election night.

State lawmakers said the law was inspired, in part, by the 22nd Congressional District election in Central New York in 2020. The winner wasn’t declared until three months after Election Day.

Tracking absentee ballots

A separate law will require the state to establish an online system for voters to track the status of any absentee ballot they submit in an election.

The status of the ballot, or any application for a ballot, must be made available on the website of the state or local Board of Elections.

The lack of a statewide tracking system became an issue in the 2020 election when a record number of New Yorkers chose to submit absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.

New 988 emergency phone line

A bill signed into law Dec. 23 will establish a new 988 emergency phone line in New York state to be used alongside 911 as a suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system.

Users will be able to call or text 988 when experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. Operators will work in tandem with 911 call centers to respond.

Federal guidelines already required 988 lines to be in place by July 16, 2022. The New York law will put in place extra training and reporting measures to help those in distress or feeling suicidal.

Covid vaccination cards

A bill signed into law last week will make it a crime to use a fake Covid-19 vaccination card.

Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor under the state’s forgery laws.

The new law also makes it a felony for anyone to intentionally enter, alter or destroy electronic computer records of Covid-19 vaccinations.

It was already against federal law to use a fake Covid-19 vaccination card.

Solitary confinement of prisoners

A new law that begins March 31 will restrict the use of long-term solitary confinement in state prisons.

In most cases, it will be against the law to hold someone in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days.

The HALT Solitary Confinement Act also prohibits segregated confinement for jailed people who are pregnant, minors, people with disabilities, or those age 55 or older.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed the bill into law, said confinement of more than 15 days was “inhumane punishment” that caused some to experience emotional and physical trauma that could last for years.

Mandatory retirement plans for workers

Private sector businesses in New York will have to offer their employees retirement savings plans starting in 2022.

Business owners that don’t already provide their employees with a retirement plan will be required to enroll workers in the state’s Secure Choice Savings Plan.

The plan automatically makes payroll deductions into an individual retirement account, or IRA. Employees will be able to opt out of the program at any time.

Feminine hygiene products in homeless shelters

A new law will require homeless shelters to provide women with free feminine hygiene products such as sanitary napkins, tampons and panty liners.

The law’s sponsors said that such menstrual products can be difficult to obtain in homeless shelters in rural areas of Upstate New York.

Minimum wage increase

The minimum wage in Upstate New York increases Dec. 31, 2021, the sixth consecutive year of a phased-in mandatory wage hike.

In Upstate New York and areas outside of New York City and its suburbs, the minimum wage will go from $12.50 an hour to $13.20 per hour.

New York began raising the minimum wage in tiers starting in 2016, with the goal of raising the wage to $15 per hour statewide.

Those who work at fast food restaurants were placed in a separate category for raises. Those workers now make at least $15 per hours across the state.

Insurance discrimination based on dog breed

Insurance companies will be prohibited under a new law from using the breed of a family dog to determine the cost of homeowner’s insurance.

New York becomes the second state, after Nevada, to enact such a law.

Advocates for the law said insurance companies have denied or canceled homeowner insurance for households with certain breeds of dogs. Among the targeted breeds were pit bulls and rottweilers.

A second law relating to pets will require veterinarians to report suspected animal cruelty to authorities.

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