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Editorial: Get ready for new laws

The 2014 Legislature may go down in history as the “Unsession” as Gov. Mark Dayton intended. More than 1,000 outdated laws were indeed scrapped, overhauled or tweaked.

Still, Aug. 1 — Minnesota’s traditional date for most legal changes — will see new laws on the books. Here are a few new and revised ones that citizens may find especially noteworthy:

•Arguably the biggest change is the new Minnesota minimum wage law, which got more costly and more complicated for businesses while making it easier for low-income residents to survive — or so supporters hope.

Large employers, defined as any business with gross annual sales of at least $500,000 (the old ceiling was $625,000), must pay at least $8 instead of $6.15 starting Friday. On Aug. 1, 2015, the rate will be $9, followed by $9.50 on Aug. 1, 2016. On Jan. 1, 2018, the rate will start climbing annually by the national implicit price deflator or 2.5 percent, whichever is less.

The law sets rates of $6.50, $7.25 and $7.75 for small businesses. Those that do especially well will have to watch their bottom line and adjust pay midyear. What they do if sales fall below $500,000 may be tricky: Do they lower wages from, say, $9.50 to $7.25, reduce hours or lay people off?

Minimum wages for trainees and staff under 18 are understandably less than what permanent adult workers earn. But the law lumps adults working on a nonimmigrant visa at Minnesota resorts, hotels and lodges into a similar lower wage scale. Time — and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — will tell if paying workers from other countries less than U.S. citizens will ultimately be deemed legal. One easily can argue this is discrimination based on national origin.

The old minimum wage rate of $6.15 obviously needed adjustment.?No one can survive on that and it hadn’t changed in 10 years. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce argued for $7.25, the federal rate, but with no inflation index. One reason is that border states conform to the federal rate.

Lawmakers voted otherwise. The resulting increase roughly equals a 31-percent hike on most businesses’ minimum employee cost.

We suspect that having among the nation’s highest minimum wage rates will prove a disincentive for businesses to expand in Minnesota and an added incentive to leave. For border communities like ours, this will be a challenge.

•Notary publics now may charge more for their services. While many in Goodhue County charge nothing because they view it as a service, they legally can charge $5 instead of just a buck. That’s reasonable given that notary publics certified signatures on legal documents, oaths, deed acknowledgments and more.

•A person might no longer automatically lose their vehicle when a spouse uses it to commit a crime such as drive-by shooting or controlled substance offense. The new forfeiture law addresses what was an unfair action toward a person who didn’t know about the person’s intentions. Now judges must consider the vehicle owner’s knowledge, involvement and criminal conviction before turning the vehicle over to authorities.

•Minnesota’s synthetic drug law got less specific and therefore more flexible. To skirt drug definitions, a manufacturer simply had to change ingredients to become legal. Now the statutory definition of illegal drug includes “any compound, substance, or derivative which is not approved for human consumption by the United States Food and Drug Administration or specifically permitted for human consumption by Minnesota law” and, when introduced to the body, “induces an effect similar to that of scheduled drugs.”

The Board of Pharmacy, led by Red Wing’s Cody Wiberg, will be permitted to issue cease-and-desist orders to businesses selling synthetic drugs that contain a banned substance. The board now can respond more quickly when new synthetic drugs appear in shops and, one hopes, keep them off the street and out of our communities.

No one ever likes every law passed during a legislative session. We may not know until several years from now if the laws that take effect Aug. 1 will accomplish what their supporters intended. Some will. Some, unfortunately, won’t.