New year, new state laws

With the new year, come several news laws or amendments to existing ones. Laws that went into effect in Connecticut Jan. 1 include those regarding minimum wage, employer reporting of on-the-job accidents, stun-gun use reporting, driver licenses for illegal immigrants, and changes in hunting and fishing fees.

Minimum wage increase

Connecticut is one of 19 states to mark the new year by raising its minimum wage. This brings the states with minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage to 29.

Public Act 14-1 increases the minimum wage from $8.70 to $9.15 per hour. It is scheduled to rise to $9.65 Jan. 1, 2016, and $10.10 per hour on the first day of 2017.

“Connecticut was the first state in the nation to commit to increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour because we want to make sure that no one who works full time lives in poverty,” said Gov. Dannel Malloy in a press release. “This latest increase is just one more part of a phased-in series of gradual increases for hard-working men and women, many of whom are supporting their families and who will put this increase directly into Connecticut’s economy.”

Connecticut has a different minimum wage schedule for service employees such as waiters and bartenders that uses a formula to take tip deductions into account.

Sick leave

Public Act 14-128, an amendment to the state’s Paid Sick Leave Act (State Statute 31-57r) does three things: changes the way of determining if employers are exempt from providing paid sick leave; changes the time frame for accruing sick leave; adds radiological technicians to the employees covered by the act.

Under the original statute, employers with 50 or more service employees (certain categories of hourly employees) during any quarter the previous year had to provide paid sick leave (40 hours of paid leave). The new amendment makes the 50-employee threshold based on the number of employees on the payroll for the week containing Oct. 1 of the previous year. There is a penalty for employers who fire, dismiss, or transfer employees in order to avoid the 50-person threshold.

The new amendment changes the way employees accrue sick leave from one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked per calendar year, to one hour for every 40 hours worked during whatever 365-day year an employers uses to calculate benefits.

OSHA reporting

Another change to a labor law was made at the federal level, but it affects Connecticut employers. The change requires employers to notify the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of all work-related injuries that result in hospitalization of an employee.

Previously, employers only had to notify OSHA if three or more workers were hospitalized as a result of the same incident.

In-patient hospitalizations, amputations, and loss of an eye must be reported to OSHA within 24 hours. On the job fatalities must be reported within eight hours.

Taser use reporting

As of Jan. 1, Public Act 14-149 requires every police department in Connecticut to file a report every time an officer fires a Taser or electronic stun gun.

The report must include the race and gender of the person hit; how many times the stun gun was fired; the extent of injuries; and what setting was used.

The bill also requires police departments to adopt policies on Taser use. (Weston adopted a use-of-force policy for Tasers in March 2011.)

Driver licenses

Undocumented residents of Connecticut who cannot establish their legal status in the U.S. or who may not have a Social Security number, may now apply for a learner’s permit that can lead to a driver’s license under a new Department of Motor Vehicles Drive Only program, established by Public Act 13-89.

The license may not be used for identification purposes or voting, but allows illegal immigrants to operate a vehicle legally after passing a vision, knowledge, and road test.

According to the law, the purpose of the Drive Only license program is “to improve public safety and to try to ensure that all drivers are tested, know how to drive, and understand the rules and laws for driving.”

The written knowledge test is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Polish, with Mandarin available soon.

Hunting and fishing

Public Act 14-201 requires those who offer hunting and fishing guide services to register with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). There is a $100 registration fee, valid for the calendar year. Guides will still be required to obtain necessary licenses and permits.

The same act also lowers the fishing, hunting and trapping license fees for 16- and 17-year-olds to half of the adult rate.