New laws for New York in 2020: Boating safety, farmworker rights, minimum wage and more

ALBANY – It's a New Year's tradition in New York: Every time the calendar turns to a new year, a new slate of state laws is put into place.


And 2020 is no exception.


Starting in January, major new laws regarding cash bail, birth certificates, farmworker rights and boating safety are all set to effect.


The new laws were all approved in 2019 by a revamped state Legislature, which was entirely under Democratic control for the first time since 2010.


They were all signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat.


New York's minimum wage is also increasing Dec. 31 as part of a schedule of increases approved four years ago. Wages will be $15 an hour in New York City; $13 on Long Island and in Westchester and $11.80 in the rest of the state.


Here's a look at some of the major new laws that take effect in 2020:


Adoptees can access birth certificates


For decades in New York, a person who is adopted could only get access to their original, full-length birth certificate by petitioning a court. And even then, both biological parents would have to agree to release it.


That changes Jan. 15.


The new law set to take effect then will allow adoptees unrestricted access to their birth certificate once they turn 18.


Adoptee-rights advocates pushed for decades to reverse the state's previously secretive policy, which prevented many adoptees from knowing the names of their biological parents and potentially critical information about their family medical history.


Critics of the new law claim it could infringe on the biological parents' right to privacy, particularly in the case of a rape victim who gave birth and put the child up for adoption.


Lawmakers approved the bill in June, and Cuomo signed it in November.


Farmworkers get overtime pay, mandatory rest


Workers on farms are about to get additional rights that will put them more in line with other employees across the state.


The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act will take effect Jan. 1.


The new law establishes an eight-hour workday and one mandatory rest day each week for farmworkers, as well as overtime pay set at time and a half.


The law would consider it an "unfair labor practice" if a farm employer locks out their workers over pay disputes or actively discourages them from unionizing. Farmworkers, meanwhile, would get hit with an unfair labor practice if they strike.


Cuomo and lawmakers struck a deal on the new law in June.


Cash bail, discovery reform


New York is set to roll back cash bail significantly.


Starting Jan. 1, those charged with most misdemeanors and Class E felonies will no longer face having to put up cash or bond to be released from jail while awaiting trial.


The major reform will ensure the state isn't effectively criminalizing poverty by keeping someone in jail only because they can't afford to get out.


But district attorneys and other law-enforcement officials across the state have raised concern, noting some of the misdemeanors and felonies no longer eligible for cash bail include charges of theft, assault or aggravated harassment.


The reforms will lead to the release of at least 3,800 people currently in county jails in 2020, according to a USA TODAY Network New York survey of the state's counties.


Also set to take effect Jan. 1 are a series of speedy trial and discovery reforms meant to ensure those accused of crimes aren't subject to unnecessary delay.


Safety course requirement for motorboats


Born in 1993 or later? Starting in 2020, you'll have to take a safety course before operating a motorboat.


"Brianna's Law" will eventually anyone to take the course and get a boating-safety certificate before they can take the wheel of a motorboat or Jet Ski on New York waterways.


But it will start first with those who were born in or after 1993 starting Jan. 1. From there, the law will expand each year until all motorboat operators are included in 2025.


Previously, only those born after May 1, 1996, were required to take the course before operating a boat.


The law is named after Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old girl killed in a 2005 boat crash off Long Island.


For more information, visit the State Parks' boating website at parks.ny.gov/recreation/boating.


Teens can 'pre-register' to vote


Starting in 2020, 16- and 17-year-olds can pre-register to vote in New York.


That means they can fill out a voter registration form to make sure they are eligible to vote the day of their 18th birthday. Previously, a voter couldn't register until they were actually 18.


New York will become the 14th state to allow pre-registration beginning at age 16.


Lawmakers approved a series of election-reform measures in January. Cuomo signed them into law the same month.


The pre-registration law, which was part of that reform package, takes effect Jan. 1.


Jon Campbell covers state government and politics for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @JonCampbellGAN.