Minimum wage increase, wine shipments, 'hold-open' gas pump clips among new laws, regulations

Energy Associated Press

Rita Diaz works two minimum-wage jobs, one at a restaurant and the other at a clothing store, to pay the bills and help support her parents and seven younger brothers. Starting Thursday, she'll earn a bit of extra money in her paychecks.

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The new year brings an increase in the state's minimum wage from $8 to $9 per hour. The increase, the first since 2008, was approved by the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick and begins a three-step process that eventually will bring Massachusetts' minimum wage to a U.S.-leading $11 per hour by 2017.

Diaz, 26, of Boston, hopes it will make life a little easier. In the past, she said, "I needed to make a decision to pay the rent or buy food or buy the bus pass."

Massachusetts is among 21 states boosting the minimum wage in 2015.

Lewis Finfer, a leader of a statewide coalition that pressed for the change, said about 280,000 workers currently earning less than $9 per hour will benefit from the first-year increase, with more than 600,000 expected to see a raise when the new law is fully implemented on Jan. 1, 2017.

Attorney General Martha Coakley on Wednesday issued a reminder to businesses about the minimum wage increase and said her office's Fair Labor Division would monitor and enforce the law.

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The minimum wage before tips for restaurant servers and other tipped workers also goes up under the new law, from $2.63 per hour to $3.75 per hour by 2017.

The new year also brings several other changes in state laws and regulations.

Motorists who fill their tanks at self-service stations are likely to welcome the lifting of a longstanding ban on "hold-open" clips on the nozzles of gas pumps. The prohibition meant having to stand and hold the nozzle the entire time the gas was flowing — an annoyance to be sure, especially on a bitterly cold winter day.

"I think it's a great thing for the consumers and the service station owners," said John Howell, executive director of the New England Service Station and Auto Repair Association.

The clips were banned by the state's fire marshal out of concern that spillage during pumping could ignite fires, but technology in most new cars has minimized that risk. Still, Howell cautions drivers to be careful and never go far from their vehicles while the pump is still on.

Wine connoisseurs also have an extra reason to pop the cork when the new year arrives, thanks to a new law that allows out-of-state wineries to ship their products directly to consumers in Massachusetts.

Direct wine shipments had been blocked for years in the state but finally picked up momentum in the last legislative session when former New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe — now a winemaker in Washington state — came to Beacon Hill to lead a drive for change. He complained that the prohibition kept him from sending bottles of his wine to Massachusetts residents, including fans and former teammates like current Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Wineries must obtain a direct shipping license from the state.

Thursday also marks the start of a new campaign finance law that doubles the amount an individual may donate to a political candidate in Massachusetts in a calendar year to $1,000. The $500 limit has been in place for 20 years.

And some people may feel just a bit more generous with their money thanks to a small tax cut that kicks in Jan. 1.

The personal income tax rate is falling from 5.2 percent to 5.15 percent, under a state law that requires the tax to be lowered by .05 percent when revenue growth exceeds certain benchmarks. The cut is expected to cost the state $70 million in revenue over the last six months of the fiscal year.