Many of the new laws that take effect in our tri-state area in January 2019 or soon after focus on residents’ health, safety and convenience. Here is information on some of the new laws in 2019 and how the news and public affairs programs of PBS stations THIRTEEN and NJTV have reported on the issues.
New Laws in New York State and New York City
Health and Safety
1. Disability Benefits for Volunteer Firefighters with Cancer
The New York State Volunteer Firefighter Gap Coverage Cancer Disability Benefits Act provides enhanced benefits for volunteer firefighters who contract certain forms of cancer. Firefighters who have served at least five years will qualify. See the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York for a detailed FAQ.
Cancer is still claiming the lives of 9/11 first responders and rescue workers.
- John Feal of the Feal Good Foundation and Richard Alles, Former FDNY Deputy Chief and 9/11 first responder appeared in December on One-on-One with Steve Adubato to speak about their ongoing fight to secure 9/11 responders and those who became ill after 9/11 the healthcare and assistance they need.
- John Feal and celebrity ally Jon Stewart appeared on MetroFocus to discuss efforts to extend the end date of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) because many people continue to be diagnosed or fall ill. Over 50 types of cancer have been identified among those affected by the 9/11 attack and response. In the past year, 163 people have died from illnesses related to 9/11.
- Among the known causes of cancer is asbestos. But 40 percent of cancers cases have no known cause. Watch clip from Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.
2. Drug Take Back Program
Drug stores and mail order pharmacies will allow consumers to return unused prescriptions drugs through secure options such as free drop boxes or prepaid envelopes. Why was this important? While this law applies to all medications, it is opioids that have caused a deadly crisis. This law serves to prevent non-prescription access to opioids – or pain-killers – while also keeping unused drugs from contaminating New York waterways.
- In its real time dashboard, the New Jersey State Attorney General’s office attributed more than 3,000 deaths to opioids in 2018.
- A Long Island library clerk who lost her son to opioids shares her story and how the Suffolk County Library System is helping those affected by opioid addiction. Watch on MetroFocus.
- The Commissioner of New York State’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services shares her stark view of the opioid crisis and what is being done to stem the tide. Watch on MetroFocus.
- Two former army captains are now working in the medical profession to fight opioid addiction among veterans. Watch on MetroFocus.
- In a three-minute video on the science of addition, NOVA explains how the brain and body process dopamine (which serves as a motivator) and what opioids do to bodily functions.
- NOVA explains why the language we use to describe drug addiction has meant that 90 percent of the 20 million people suffering from opioid addiction do not seek help.
- The first clean-needle injection site in North America is profiled in this six-minute NOVA video.
3. No Cost for Prostate Screenings
Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in America. Health insurers serving New York are required to provide men with prostate cancer screening at no cost and make consumers aware of the new benefit.
- In 2017, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force changed guidelines for prostate cancer screenings (which were once discouraged for false positives and unnecessary treatment). A task force member speaks with PBS NewsHour about the new guidelines.
- A professor at Rutgers School of Health Professions has developed an algorithm that can tell a patient whether they’ll respond well to Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT), which has proved to be very effective for men with prostate cancer. Learn more on NJTV News.
4. Body imaging scanning of inmates in correctional facilities
Body scanners will be allowed to be used on inmates in prisons and correctional facilities to detect any hidden weapons, such as ceramic and titanium blades, which are not seen with metal detectors.
Learn more about local prisons in the news:
- Bill Moyers’ documentary Rikers focuses on people formerly detained in New York City’s notorious Rikers Island Jail. Their compelling stories reveal the violent arc of the Rikers experience – from the trauma of entry to extortion and control by inmates, to oppressive corrections officers, violence and solitary confinement. Mayor Bill de Blasio has since announced a 10-year plan to shutter the jail complex. Watch Rikers now.
- For reporting on prison policy and mental health, see this MetroFocus segment.
- New Jersey’s Mid-State Correctional Facility, which opened in 2017, is the first licensed substance abuse treatment center in New Jersey’s prison system. Learn more on NJTV News.
- New York Times reporters discuss disturbing findings of their investigation into racial bias in prisons in this segment from MetroFocus.
5. A tax check-off box on personal income tax return forms for gifts to the Life Pass It On trust fund for organ and tissue donation outreach and research.
New York state has one of the lowest rates of organ donor registration in the country. In his announcement of this new donation option on tax forms, New York State Senator David Carlucci said 9,500 people in New York are on the organ transplant list, and every year 500 New Yorkers die waiting for donor organs to be available.
- NOVA detailed the donated organ shortage and efforts to create artificial organs in the recent episode Transplanting Hope.
- Organ donations in New Jersey broke a record in 2017 and jumped 38 percent over five years. NJTV News featured the organ-transplant recipient who serves as the community educator at the New Jersey Sharing Network, a nonprofit that promotes organ and tissue donation.
6. Hospitals must distribute information on lymphedema to patients at high risk of developing the condition.
New York State is the first to sign such a law, according to the law’s advocates, The Lymphatic Education & Research Network. According to the Mayo Clinic, lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment.
- Read articles that address lymphedema on PBS NewsHour.
Accessibility, Equity and Family Care
7. Sexual Harassment Policy
All New York employees are required to complete a sexual harassment prevention training on an annual basis. State contractors must submit a statement that they have a sexual harassment policy and have provided training to all their employees.
- The PBS series #MeToo, Now What? offers five episodes to stream, in which host Zainab Salbi meets with men and women to go beyond the headlines about sexual harassment to ask how we got here and how we move forward.
- Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year in 2018. See her appearance on MetroFocus in which she speaks about sexual violence and misperceptions of the MeToo movement.
- The CEO of The Women’s City Club of New York speaks with MetroFocus about approaches to ending workplace harassment.
8. Diaper Changing Stations (effective in NYC only)
Starting in July 2019, the city requires that new or recently renovated public buildings provide diaper changing stations to all New York City parents, regardless of gender. Included are buildings like bowling alleys, museums, theaters, and spaces where products are being sold.
- If you’re looking for not just a place to change your child, but tips on how to get the most out of New York City’s offerings to parents, see our Parenting Minutes.
9. New Parental Leave Benefits
As of January 1, eligible employees can take 10 weeks with their new children, care for a sick family member or help loved ones when a family is deployed abroad an active military service. Wage replacement increased to 55 percent, up from 50 percent in 2018. See all new updates to the New York State law on the official Paid Family Leave site.
10. Lactation Rooms at the Workplace
As of March 2019, employers with four employees or more must make provisions for nursing mothers upon request. This includes a private lactation room and appropriate refrigerator for storing breast milk. Learn more details, here.
11. Gender-neutral option for birth certificates (effective in NYC only)
All New York City residents can change their gender on their birth certificate to male, female or X — without a doctor’s note. The “X” option will not be available at the time of birth. The new law was applauded by advocates for transgender and non-binary New Yorkers.
- What does it mean to be transgender or non-binary? Watch episodes of THIRTEEN’s own series First Person, which explores gender identity and sexuality, covering LGBTQ issues through first-person narratives. The series aims to humanize issues that are often underrepresented in the media or presented as political or moral issues.
12. Online submission of FOIL requests
Each state agency website must provide for the online submission of FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests. In effect, all state agencies link to the existing site Open Foil NY that accepts applications for all agencies. By clicking through from the particular agency, your form will be pre-populated with that agency’s name. If you enter through https://openfoil.ny.gov, you can select the particular agency on a drop-down menu.
13. Higher Minimum Wages
Effective December 31, 2018, the minimum hourly wage increased to the following amounts in three areas: $15 per hour in New York City; $12 in Long Island and Westchester County; and $11.10 in all other parts of New York State. For assistance or to file a complaint, call call: 1-888-4-NYSDOL (1-888-469-7365). To check what you should be earning, see ny.gov/minimumwage.
- As of January 2019, the minimum wage increased in 21 states and the District of Columbia, reports PBS NewsHour.
New Laws in New Jersey
NJTV News started the year by reporting on new New Jersey state laws taking effect in 2019 and how they will impact you.
1. Smoking Ban in Beaches and Parks
Although smoking at the state’s public beaches and parks is banned, local communities can opt out and designate small smoking sections. The law also bans vaping but towns may set up smoking areas on 15 percent of any beach or park. The law takes effect January 16. There will be a $250 fine for smoking on the beach!
- Watch original reporting by NJTV News‘ when the law was first passed.
2. Health Insurance Mandate (NJ)
New Jersey now requires residents to have health coverage or pay a penalty fee. Residents will face a penalty of 2.5 percent of income or $695 per taxpayer, whichever is greater. A family’s maximum penalty is $2,085. The legislation was in response to a 2017 federal tax overhaul that wiped out the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to carry insurance.
- In September, Governor Phil Murphy announced New Jersey health care insurance rates on the individual market will drop 9.3 percent on average. See reporting by NJTV News.
3. School Bus Safety
Six new bills on school bus safety have been passed and some already took effect in 2018.
4. Transgender Birth Certificates
As of February 2019, New Jersey transgender residents can change their genders on their birth certificate. The new law allows residents to amend certificates based on how they identify themselves. It is no longer necessary in New Jersey to provide documentation that one surgically changed their sex.
- NJTV News reports that New Jersey is poised to be among states with the most comprehensive transgender civil rights.
5. Gun Violence Protective Order
Governor Phil Murphy signed a six-bill package of gun violence-related bills in June. One goes into effect in September 2019 – The Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018. It allows state courts to issue a protective order when someone poses a “significant risk of personal injury” to themselves or others. The so-called red flag law makes it easier to take a firearm away from someone who is a danger to themselves or others. The law authorizes family or household members or a police officer to petition the court for the order.
- NJTV News reports on the six measures of the gun violence bills.
- PBS News Hour reports on how upcoming state laws could make it to Washington.
6. Minimum Wage Increase
The minimum hourly wage in New Jersey rose .25 in 2019, from $8.60 to $8.85.
- As of December, Governor Phil Murphy was still negotiating for a plan to raise the minimum wage to double digits, though any raise would not take effect for years. See the latest on NJTV News.
- Watch Reporters Roundtable with Michael Aron weekly on NJTV to listen in as journalists debate and make sense of the latest news and politics in New Jersey.
1. Applicant Wage and Salary Ban
Connecticut now bans employers from asking prospective employees about their past wage and salary history. Applicants may volunteer the information. The law has been passed in an effort to prevent pay inequities women and people of color have experienced in the past. Learn more from the Connecticut Labor and Employment Law Journal.