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News laws impact wages, businesses, environment and more

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A bunch of new laws enacted by the Minnesota Legislature took effect August 1.

Chances are they will affect local residents in one way or another.

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One new law, for instance, should help Todd County.

The Legislature approved legislation to help the dwindling numbers of volunteer first responders in Greater Minnesota. A new law establishes a three-year, 14-county pilot project aimed at improving retention and recruitment of these positions.

Included is a $500 stipend to be paid to each eligible first-responder in participating counties, which includes Todd County. Other counties include Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Houston, Watonwan, Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Redwood, Renville, Morrison, Beltrami, Clearwater and Mahnomen.

SYNTHETIC DRUGS

Another new law will make it easier to fight synthetic drugs.

The drug law classifies any substance that mocks an illegal drug as also being illegal, so synthetic drugs that sell under names such as K2 and Spice no longer should be sold.

The law gives the state pharmacy board the power to order stores to stop selling the drugs.

Also, the measure, which received widespread bipartisan support, says that synthetic drug sellers who claim the drug is legal can be forced to pay restitution for costs resulting from the sale, including emergency response expenses and health care needed by someone who takes the drugs.

MINIMUM WAGE

For the first time in 10 years, Minnesota’s minimum wage was increased. The wage will increase to $8 from $6.15, phasing up to $9.50 by 2016.

Details of the law include:

● For businesses with gross annual sales of at least $500,000, $8 minimum hourly wage beginning August 2014, $9 in August 2015 and $9.50 one year later.

● For businesses under $500,000 in gross annual sales, $6.50 minimum hourly wage beginning August 2014, $7.25 in August 2015 and $7.75 one year later.

● The $7.75 minimum wage rate would also apply for large businesses in the following circumstances: 90-day training wage for 18 and 19 year olds, all 16 and 17 year olds and employees working under a J1 visa.

● Beginning in 2018, all wages would increase each year on January 1 by inflation measured by the implicit price deflator capped at 2.5 percent.

● The indexed increase could be suspended for one year by the Department of Labor and Industry commissioner if leading economic indicators indicate the possibility of a substantial economic downturn.

The law also includes a provision to allow state employees to use up to 80 hours of vacation donation from a sick leave account after the death of a spouse or dependent child.

OTHER NEW LAWS

● Law enforcement officers will be forced to obtain a court warrant before collecting information from electronic devices such as smartphones, and eventually the device's owner must be notified. Information obtained generally will not be admissible in court.

● Public employees with access to driver's license files must have a legitimate need to examine the data or face penalties.

● The use of cotton threads to remove eyebrow, lip and other hairs no longer needs to be done by cosmetologists.

● Notaries may charge up to $5 for their services after years with a $1 maximum.

● Thermostats containing mercury are outlawed and manufacturers must pay for collecting and replacing them; no items with mercury will be allowed in the waste stream.

● Retailers no longer can sell cleaning products containing the antibacterial compound triclosan.

● A person with multiple convictions for unlawfully killing wolves may be liable for a civil penalty.

● Snowmobiles mostly will be allowed only on forest roads during rifle deer hunting season.

● A person 60 or older may use a crossbow for hunting deer during the archery season; now, crossbows are allowed only during firearms season.

● Thermal imaging equipment may not be used to hunt deer.

● Social media communication between elected officials and the general public will be allowed without it being considered an open meeting violation.

● People who commit domestic abuse or stalk someone may lose access to their firearms.

● Motorists are required to stop and investigate when they strike an object.

● The state may store infants’ DNA without parental permission.

● ● ●

Forum News Service Reporter Don Davis and the nonpartisan House Public Information Office contributed to this story.

TO LEARN MORE

Summaries of all laws passed by the 2014 Legislature are available online from nonpartisan House Public Information Services at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/Newlaws2014-0.asp.

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Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
(320) 763-1236
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