With the arrival of the New Year a handful of new laws go into effect on Wednesday including a 45-cent hike in the state minimum wage, an increase in fines for distracted driving, and elements of this year’s gun control legislation.
More than two dozen state statutes are scheduled to kick in next week, like the first phase of a two-year plan to raise Connecticut’s minimum wage to $9 an hour.
On Wednesday morning, the minimum hourly wage for most workers will rise from the current $8.25 to $8.70. The minimum wage will increase another 30 cents in 2015.
The new law adjusts tip credit rates over the next two years so that restaurants and hotels are not required to increase the wages they pay their waitstaff and bartenders. Hourly wages for waitresses and waiters will remain at $5.69 and bartenders will continue to make $7.34. Tips from patrons are expected to make up the difference.
Drivers also can expect to pay stiffer penalties if they are caught using a cellphone or some other electronic device while they are driving. After Wednesday, the fines will be $150 for a first distracted driving offense, $300 on a second offense, and $500 for any subsequent offenses. Previously, fines ranged from $125 to $400.
Under the law, distracted driving violations will cost at least a point against a driver’s license and records of the offenses will be made available to car insurance companies, who can use the information when they calculate their rates for drivers.
January also brings changes for the state’s gun owners. By Wednesday it will be too late to register to keep weapons categorized as assault rifles under legislation passed following the Sandy Hook murders.
The new law added about 100 guns to a list of weapons specifically banned in Connecticut and broadened a “physical characteristic test” of military-style features that will qualify a gun as an assault weapon. The expanded definition of assault weapon includes the AR-15 style rifle the gunman used in Newtown.
Although it did not require gun owners who had previously purchased the weapons to get rid of them, the law does require them to register the guns with the state. The deadline to register is Tuesday.
The legislation made similar requirements for owners of ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds. The magazines can no longer be sold, but people who owned them before the law passed can keep them if they are declared to the state before Wednesday.
The law includes serious penalties for not registering the equipment. Charges for possessing one of the banned guns after the deadline could range from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony. Penalties for possession of a magazine that can carry more than 10 rounds range from a $90 fine to a Class D felony. Connecticut residents convicted of any felonies are no longer considered eligible to own firearms.