With a new year come a number of important legislative changes to Massachusetts state laws, many of which are very important for college students to be aware of.
As of January 1, the minimum wage in Massachusetts is $11 per hour, up from $10 per hour, giving Massachusetts the highest state regulated wage in the country. The minimum wage for most agricultural workers is $8 per hour. The tipped minimum wage is also rising from $3 to $3.75 per hour, which is actually lower than many other states, because it is essential for businesses to compensate their employees so wages and tips still add up to at least $11.
Cities can also have their own minimum wages, such as in California, where many cities have wages over $11. The law calling for the increase to $11 in Massachusetts was the last in a set of wage increases mandated by a 2014 law, and legislative action will need to be taken before it rises again.
The federal minimum wage is still set at $7.25, which has not risen since 2009 and is not set to rise in the future. This is in contrast to the many states wherein the wage is scheduled to increase either based on time or changes in economic measurements, such as the Consumer Price Index.
Another Massachusetts law will require ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to conduct state background checks that will check criminal records and ensure that drivers are not sex offenders, along with other regulatory provisions, such as a 20 cent surcharge on each ride to go towards transportation infrastructure. Background checks were mandated to begin on January 6. This legislative change has been supported by taxi and chauffeur companies who see it as a step towards more fair regulation of their competition.
Marijuana has been legal for recreational use in Massachusetts since December 15, 2016. It can be used by adults 21 or over and grown in private residences. There are still a variety of limitations on the use of the drug, such as the amount that can be carried and where it can be used. Marijuana is also still illegal under federal law, so it cannot be carried on federal property, and certain institutions, such as Boston College, have chosen to ban it due to federal provisions. Boston College could legally lose federal financial aid if it allowed the recreational use of the drug.
Licenses for marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts were originally expected to go out around six months after the law went into effect legalizing marijuana, and they were to be granted by the Cannabis Control Commission, which has yet to be formed. However, on December 30, Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation delaying the opening of marijuana shops until mid-2018. According to a spokeswoman in a recent article on the subject, the governor is “committed to adhering to the will of the voters by implementing the new law as effectively as possible.” A small group of protesters has expressed concerns that the law defies the will of voters, and that the longer the delays occur the more tax revenue will be lost and the more black market sales will continue.