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New laws for the New Year: Legislation in Minnesota begins Jan. 1

ST. PAUL -- The new year brings new laws to Minnesota and new requirements to its leaders. While most state laws go into effect soon after they are approved, lawmakers wait to enact some requirements until Jan. 1. With help from the Minnesota Hou...

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ST. PAUL -- The new year brings new laws to Minnesota and new requirements to its leaders.

While most state laws go into effect soon after they are approved, lawmakers wait to enact some requirements until Jan. 1.

With help from the Minnesota House public information office and other research, here’s what to expect in the new year:

Need vehicle insurance

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Beginning on New Year’s Day, if you want to register a vehicle you must show proof of insurance.

Previously to register a vehicle in the state, you had to say you had insurance. Now you’ll have to prove it.

The law is designed to rid the state of uninsured drivers. According to the Insurance Research Council, an industry group, 10.8 percent of Minnesota drivers lacked insurance in 2012. Other states have far higher percentages of drivers without insurance - the institute estimated that more than a quarter of Oklahoma drivers didn’t have insurance.

Election change

Minnesota’s election system can cope if one precinct has a brief power outage or a snowstorm makes life a little difficult on Election Day. But what if something bigger - a massive statewide blizzard, a late tornado that makes primary election voting impossible in a county – impedes an election?

By New Year’s Day, a taskforce, brought into action by the Minnesota Legislature, will report back to lawmakers with its recommendations on how the state should cope with emergencies.

According to its report, the taskforce - which included the secretary of state, lawmakers, emergency management officials and others - will recommend the Legislature require the Secretary of State and counties to create plans for emergency management before the 2016 general election.

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The taskforce report also recommends that the Legislature give local election officials some authority to move polling places if sites becomes untenable in an emergency. Last, the report suggests the Legislature allow other officials, in addition to the governor, to make emergency election management decisions because the governor’s office may be on the ballot during the emergency.

Bonding list

State law mandates Gov. Mark Dayton has a busy start to the year. By Jan. 15, Dayton, like governors past, has to release his biennial recommendations for state borrowing. This list of recommendations, known as the bonding bill, will give keep lawmakers a starting point as they pick apart his plan and craft their own measures later in the year.

Last month, the governor refused to divulge how much his measure would fund but it is expected to run at least $1 billion.

“I know that whatever number we pick is going to leave some very important projects unfunded,” Dayton said.

Lawmakers, for their part, say they will look to fund basic projects - not glitzy buildings. Expect costly but fundamental projects like wastewater treatment, fixing up college and university buildings and road maintenance to take up a big chunk of lawmakers’ wish lists.

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Medical marijuana

Beating a Jan. 1 deadline mandated by state law, Minnesota’s commissioner of health Ed Ehlinger announced in December that he would use his authority to expand the state’s medical marijuana law to those suffering from intractable pain.

Decision means that starting in August of this year, potentially thousands more Minnesotans will be legally permitted to access cannabis under state law. Use of marijuana, even for medical purposes, remains illegal under federal law.

Under Minnesota law, people suffering from terminal illnesses, AIDS and HIV, glaucoma, certain cancer and other specified ailments have been able to obtain cannabis from authorized providers since August 2015. The drug is only legal in Minnesota for medical purposes in non-smokable forms.

License plate readers

Any law enforcement agency that uses automated license plate readers will need a written policy governing their use by Jan. 15.

State troopers make use of a dozen license plate readers in high trafficked areas - four in the east metro, four in the west metro and one each in Rochester, St. Cloud, Duluth and Brainerd.

The Minnesota State Patrol already has a written policy governing their use in keeping with the new law.

More money, less taxes

Since income tax rates are indexed for inflation, higher tax rates will kick in a few hundred dollars later for Minnesota taxpayers this year than they did in 2015. That means Minnesotans can bring in more income before they get booted to a higher bracket.

In the state income tax system, there are four tax brackets: one taxed at 5.35 percent, one at 7.05 percent, one at 7.85 percent and one at 9.85 percent.

In 2016, Minnesotans can earn more money before they get bumped from one bracket to the next higher bracket. The changes are relatively small, as are the savings. See calculations on both here:  http://blogs.twincities.com/politics/2015/11/05/minnesota-tax-brackets-inch-up-with-inflation .

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