New U.S laws that take into effect in 2021
Illustrative phote. Source: Health Europa.

New COVID and health care laws

Virus-related laws include those offering help to essential workers, boosting unemployment benefits and requiring time off for sick employees. A resolution in Alabama formally encouraged fist-bumping over handshakes.

While legislatures tackled some elements of the coronavirus outbreak this year, most sessions had ended before the current wave of cases, deaths and renewed stay-at-home orders. Lawmakers of both major parties have vowed to make the pandemic response a centerpiece of their 2021 sessions, addressing issues ranging from school reopenings to governors' emergency powers, according to Cbsnews.

The virus also refocused attention on the nation's uneven and expensive heath care system. Tackling issues of coverage and costs were common themes in 2020.

A Washington measure caps the monthly out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $100 until January 1, 2023, and requires the state Health Care Authority to monitor the price of insulin. A new Connecticut law requires pharmacists to dispense a 30-day emergency supply of diabetes-related drugs and devices, with a price cap, for diabetics who have less than a week's supply. Both laws take effect January 1.

"It's unconscionable that anyone should have to limit or go without a common and widely-available life-saving drug on an emergency basis in America in 2021," Connecticut state Senator Derek Slap, a West Hartford Democrat, said in a statement.

A much-anticipated Medicaid expansion is coming to Oklahoma in the new year after years of resistance from Republicans in the Legislature and governor's office. Voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment expanding the federal-state insurance program to an additional estimated 215,000 low-income residents. It takes effect in July.

Lawmakers must determine how to cover the projected $164 million state share during their 2021 session. The cost could be considerably higher, given the number of Oklahomans who have lost their jobs and work-related health insurance because of the pandemic.

Republican Governor Kevin Stitt had urged voters to reject the plan. He said the state would have to "either raise taxes or cut services somewhere else like education, first responders, or roads and bridges" to pay for the expansion.

A new law in Georgia aims to limit consumers from getting stuck with surprise medical bills by requiring insurers in many cases to pay for care by a doctor or at a hospital not within their network of providers. The law protects patients from financial responsibility beyond what they would normally have to pay. Instead, insurers and providers can take disputes to the state insurance commissioner. Minnesota also has what's being called a continuity of care law, going into effect January 1.

Minimum wage increases

New Policy in U.S taking into effect in 2021
Source: CNBC

In 2021, half of U.S. states will raise their minimum wage, up from 21 in 2020, said CNBC.

And the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t recorded an increase in more than a decade, could finally get a boost, affecting millions of workers ranging from restaurant cooks to janitors. Biden has pledged to boost it to $15 an hour and eliminate the tipped minimum wage, which is the low base pay given to employees who make most of their compensation from tips. He has also said he would index minimum wage to match inflation. All three measures are in line with a bill passed by the House in 2019.

Critics say that a higher minimum wage hurts small businesses and causes job losses — and would add even more pressure during an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But this year’s events have also raised new awareness about the important roles held by hourly workers, as well as their low wages. An analysis by employment site Snagajob found that three-quarters of hourly workers in the U.S. were better off sticking to unemployment benefits instead of finding a new position when the federal supplement was $300 per week.

“I’m not sure if the pandemic itself affects the likelihood of a minimum wage increase because it’s a fundamentally political decision,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at jobs site Glassdoor. “I think that the pressure has been rising over the last few years.”

There’s growing evidence that voters on both sides of the aisle support a $15 minimum wage. In November, Florida became the eighth state to choose to phase in a pay floor at that rate, thanks to a ballot referendum approved by 60% of voter in an election in which Donald Trump won.

Even if a new federal minimum wage doesn’t get passed, it’s likely that more states will follow Florida’s example. Zhao said activists have turned most of their attention to changing the pay floor at the local level, which is an easier goal than a new nationwide mandate.

According to Snagajob CEO Mathieu Stevenson, states are also looking at the areas that passed a $15 minimum wage years earlier to understand its full impact. Seattle was the first U.S. city to raise the pay floor to that rate in 2014 after a coordinated push from fast-food workers. Other cities, including San Francisco, New York and Washington, have followed.

New Policy in U.S taking into effect in 2021
People gather together to ask the McDonald’s corporation to raise workers wages to a $15 minimum wage as well as demanding the right to a union on May 23, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images.

“What we continue to hear on the ground is people have been looking to what are the early results from D.C. and other markets that implemented the $15 minimum wage,” Stevenson said. “As people get more comfortable with the results and the impact it’s had on the economy, I think we’ll continue to see that at the state level.”

More companies have also stepped up to raise their internal pay floors to keep up with competition and help with turnover. Bank of America and Amazon are among the employers that have already been paying their workers more than $15 an hour.

The widespread unemployment sparked by the pandemic abruptly stopped the wage growth experienced by hourly workers in 2019, but some of the country’s biggest companies announced higher minimum wages as they tried to recruit new employees.

Police reform laws

New Policy in U.S taking into effect in 2021
Photo: CNN

Legislatures also addressed police use of force against Black people and others of color after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to widespread protests against police brutality. Among other things, new laws will mandate oversight and reporting, create civilian review panels and require more disclosures about problem officers.

States including California, Delaware, Iowa, New York, Oregon and Utah passed bans on police chokeholds. Floyd, who was Black, died after a White officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes while being recorded on video, even as Floyd pleaded for air.

New York state Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley noted the hundreds of Black men and women killed at the hands of police between the cries of "I can't breathe" by Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by New York City police in 2014, and those of Floyd in May.

Mosley, a Brooklyn Democrat who is Black, said the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act was "an important step forward, but it will not be the last."

Despite reforms in some states, the response to Floyd's death was not uniform. Similar use-of-force or disciplinary proposals in several other states failed, and some even moved in the opposite direction.

Georgia created a new crime beginning Jan. 1 defined as bias-motivated intimidation, which would apply to the death or serious bodily injury of police, firefighters and emergency personnel. It also extends to cases involving more than $500 worth of damage to their property because of "actual or perceived employment as a first responder." Violations are punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine of as much as $5,000.

The law was passed by Republicans over the objections of Democrats and civil liberties groups, who said police already have enough protection. Republicans insisted on the law as part of a deal to pass a new hate crimes law in Georgia that drew bipartisan support.

More provisions in Connecticut’s Police Accountability bill that go into effect Jan. 1

It was a source of controversy over the summer. Connecticut’s Legislature swiftly went into a special session in June in the wake of George Floyd’s death to form a massive police accountability bill.

There are several dozen provisions to this bill. Most took effect back in October. Now, several parts of the state’s police reform bill are taking effect Jan. 1, which include:

- Requiring departments that serve minority communities

- Reporting efforts to recruit diverse officers

- Changing the makeup of the Police Officer Standards and Training Council — some say is too heavily made up of small-town chiefs

- Requiring officers to wear a badge in a prominent place — with exceptions for undercover operations

- Requiring officers to undergo mental health screenings every five years, but not all at once. Departments will have time to roll out the effort over several years.

State Rep. Steve Stafstrom is one of the lawmakers who worked on the police accountability bill.

Stafstrom said, “Obviously, the effort we’re trying to undertake here is to provide some uniformity to police in Connecticut. Put in place more minimum standards, which we believe will make policing more accountable and transparent to the public.”

The bill was initially touted as bipartisan. It passed largely across party lines. State Rep. Craig Fishbein is the incoming ranking member on the powerful Judiciary Committee, where the bill originated. He appreciates parts, like requiring officers to identify themselves, WTNH reported.

“There’s a higher standard and there should be accountability. And part of that accountability is being able to identify the individual,” Fishbein said.

But Fishbein has concerns with several sections, like the part that prevents decertified police officers from becoming security guards because he says it doesn’t apply to out-of-state officers and therefore isn’t fair.

“That’s just another thing that would have gotten figured out if this language had had a full public hearing which is our process and should be our process going forward.”

Fishbein says he and his Republican colleagues intend to introduce new bills to address some portions of the bill, like clarifying the section about justifiable force.

Airport security

Due to circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the national emergency declaration, the Department of Homeland Security is extending the REAL ID enforcement deadline by a year. The new deadline for REAL ID enforcement is October 1, 2021.

Beginning October 1, 2021, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another acceptable form of ID to fly within the United States.

New Policy in U.S taking into effect in 2021
A Transportation Security Administration worker helps travelers get through a security checkpoint at Miami International Airport on Monday. Photo: David Santiago / Miami Herald via AP.

REAL ID-compliant cards are marked with a star at the top of the card. If you’re not sure, contact your state driver’s license agency on how to obtain a REAL ID compliant card.

Note: Legacy Ohio driver’s licenses have a gold star marking on the card, however REAL ID compliant Ohio driver’s licenses have a black cut-out star. If you are not sure whether your card is compliant, contact the Ohio driver’s license issuing agency.

Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York states issue REAL ID and state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses, both of which are acceptable. Washington state issues enhanced driver’s licenses only.

State-issued enhanced driver's licenses are marked with a flag. These documents will be accepted at the airport security checkpoint when the REAL ID enforcement goes into effect.

Passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act enacted the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” The Act and implementing regulations establish minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards and prohibit federal agencies, like TSA, from accepting licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards for official purposes, such as getting through the airport security checkpoint to board a plane.

Higher education

Starting Jan. 1, 2021, every child born or adopted in the state of Illinois will get $50 deposited in their college savings account or 529 plan.

It’s part of a new law, which introduces the Illinois Higher Education Program. Local Quad City financial experts say the cost to attend college keeps going up 5 to 6% each year. State legislators passed this law to combat those rising college tuition costs, and lawmakers hope it will remind parents to contribute to their child’s college fund starting at birth, according to WQAD.

State Representative Michael Halpin (D) believes the initial $50 will be a kickstart to saving.

“Research shows if you have one of these college savings accounts, a child is much more likely to attend college just by having the account in the first place,” Halpin explains.

But State Representative Tony McCombie says the program would help families, but she says the state needs to find a way to fund the program first.

“It’s just a feel-good bill that was passed,” says McCombie. “It is another one of those bills that is subject to appropriation, there is no funding put into the budget.”

To start the program, it will cost the state $8,000,000 and another $1,500,000 each year after.

For parents who think they could invest the $50 and watch it grow, Quad City Investment Advisor, Mark Grywacheski, says the money won’t go far.

“Over the course of 18 years, that $50 with dividends and interest is only going to grow maybe a few hundred dollars,” says Grywacheski.

Grywacheski says that money could help students purchase textbooks at the most.

“If the state of Illinois was really serious about college education, it would restructure the out of control cost structure,” says Grywacheski.

According to Grywacheski, college tuition will cost $310,000 for a kid to go to a 4-year college in 2039. To reach that amount families can would have to invest $127,000 at a moderately aggressive 6% growth rate, or $65,000 at a very aggressive 10% rate.

“You’re still going to be paying the same $70,000 a year,” says Grywacheski. “But oh, by the way – here’s $50.”

But democratic lawmakers stress the $50 isn’t meant to grow in an investment fund; it’s more a comfort for parents to know they have a place to save.

“The money that the state gives to this account is not going to fund the child’s education,” says Halpin. “Even having the account get the child used to the idea that “I’m going to college”.”

“If we aren’t going to be trusting the government to invest our dollars, who’s going to be participating in those programs?” McCombine questions. “Even if the seed money ever comes forward.”

High school graduates who don’t use the $50 and any money saved by the time they’re 26 will be forfeited back to the state for other students in the future.

Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Nevada, Vermont and Pennsylvania have similar programs.

New Policy in the U.S in 2021: Newly COVID-19 and health care laws New Policy in the U.S in 2021: Newly COVID-19 and health care laws

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New Policy in the U.S in 2021: Real ID a must to fly domestically New Policy in the U.S in 2021: Real ID a must to fly domestically

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New Policy in the US in 2021: Half of U.S states will increase minimum wage New Policy in the US in 2021: Half of U.S states will increase minimum wage

New U.S laws in 2021: This year, half of U.S states will increase their minimum wage some by pennies, others by a dollar or more.

New Employment Laws

On January 1, 2021, various new and amended employment laws will go into effect in California. Below is a summary of some of these laws that employers should make themselves aware of heading into the new year. All laws discussed in this post go into effect on January 1, 2021, unless otherwise noted.

AB 685: COVID-19 Reporting

AB 685, codified under Labor Code § 6409.6, sets out new requirements for employers to notify their employees, employees of subcontracted workers, and union representatives of suspected and diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and also to report workplace “outbreaks” of COVID-19 to local health departments. Employers who receive “notice of potential exposure” that a “qualifying individual” [i.e. an employee who: (1) has a laboratory-confirmed positive case or a diagnosis from a licensed health care provider, (2) received an isolation order from a public health official, or (3) died due to COVID-19] must, within one business day, take the following actions:

  1. Notify your employees and the employer of subcontracted workers that they may have been exposed to COVID-19: Provide written notice to your employees and the employer of subcontracted workers (e.g., temporary staffing agencies) who were at a “worksite” within the “infectious period” of any employee who may have been exposed to COVID-19. You can inform workers of the dates that an individual with COVID-19 was at the worksite, but you should not share information that could identify the affected individual (e.g., do not identify the person by name or describe them in a way that would lead towards their identity).

Note: The written notice can be hand-delivered or given by email or text message and should be in both English and any other language understood by the majority of employees.

  1. Notify union representatives: Provide written notice to union representatives, if any.
  2. Provide information about benefits and other options: Provide all employees who may have been exposed (and to employers of subcontracted employees and union representatives, if any) with information regarding COVID-19-related benefits to which they may be entitled, including but not limited to worker’s compensation, COVID-19-related leave, and paid sick leave, as well as the employer’s anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies.
  3. Notify employees of your disinfection and safety plan:Notify all employees, the employers of subcontracted employees, and union representatives, if any, of the company’s COVID-19 disinfection protocols and safety plan that the company plans to implement and complete to prevent further exposures, per federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) guidelines.

If there is an “outbreak” of COVID-19 cases at the same worksite within a 14-day period, you must also notify your local health department. You must report the “outbreak” to your local health department within 48 hours. You must update the local health department with subsequent COVID-19 cases thereafter.

New Policy in U.S taking into effect in 2021
Photo: Shiftboard

AB 1947: Attorneys’ Fees for Whistleblower Retaliation & Extended Time Period to File a DLSE Claim

AB 1947 amends Labor Code § 1102.5 to authorize courts to award attorneys’ fees to whistleblowers who prevail on retaliation claims under Labor Code § 1102.5. In addition, AB 1947 extends the time period to file a DLSE claim. For a more detailed explanation of the authorization of attorneys’ fees for whistleblower retaliation claims, please see our blog post here.

AB 2017: Sick Leave and Kin Care

AB 2017 amends Labor Code § 233, which permitted employees to use half of their annual accrual of sick leave to care for a family member, to give employees the sole discretion to designate leave taken to care for a family member as sick leave.

AB 2143: “No Rehire” Provisions in Settlement Agreements

Currently, California Code of Civil Procedure § 1002.5 prohibits “no rehire” provisions in settlement agreements. These provisions generally state the separating employee will not apply to work for their previous employer, or any related entity, and the employer’s decision to not hire the employee is not discriminatory or retaliatory. AB 2143 amends this law to permit “no rehire” provisions in settlement agreements when the “aggrieved person” did not bring their claim in good faith. AB 2143 also clarifies that the current “no rehire” exception for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims requires that the employer made a documented and good-faith determination that the individual engaged in sexual harassment or sexual assault before the aggrieved person filed a claim. AB 2143 also expands the “no rehire” exception to include criminal conduct, subject to the same timing/documentation restrictions as sexual harassment/assault.

AB 2399: Amendments to Paid Family Leave Law

AB 2399 amends the Unemployment Insurance Code §§ 3302 and 3307, which relate to paid family leave. Prior to the amendment, the Paid Family Leave program provided wage replacement benefits for workers who take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a minor child within one year of birth or placement. Effective January 1, 2021, the Paid Family Leave program will be expanded to provide wage replacement benefits to workers who take time off to participate in a qualifying exigency related to the covered active duty or call to covered active duty of the worker’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent in the Armed Forces of the United States.

AB 2537: General Acute Care Hospital Workers, PPE Requirements

AB 2537 requires General Acute Care Hospitals to provide personal protective equipment (“PPE”) to workers who provide direct patient care services or whose services directly support such care. These employers must also be prepared to report their highest seven-day consumption of PPE in the 2019 calendar year upon request by the applicable regulating agency.

AB 2992: Expansion of Protections to Victims of Crime or Abuse

AB 2992 amends Labor Code §§ 230 and 230.1, to expand protections for victims of crimes or abuse. Specifically, the bill prohibits employers from taking action against employees who were the victims of a crime, or whose family members were the victim of a crime, when they take time off following the crime. Presently, Labor Code § 230 prohibits an employer with 25 or more employees from discharging, or discriminating or retaliating against, an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking for taking time off from work for any specified purpose, including seeking medical attention for injuries caused by the domestic violence, assault, or stalking and appearing in court pursuant to a subpoena. AB 2992 expands employee protections to prohibit an employer from discharging or discriminating against, an employee who is a victim of crime or abuse for taking time off from work to obtain or attempt to obtain any relief. Relief includes, but is not limited to, a temporary restraining order, restraining order, obtaining psychological counseling, engaging in safety planning, seeking other injunctive relief, and to help ensure the health, safety, or welfare of the victim or their child. In addition, the bill prohibits an employer from taking action against an employee when an unscheduled absence occurs, if the employee provides certification that they were receiving services for injuries relating to the crime or abuse or if the employee was a victim advocate.

SB 973: Expansion of EEO-1 Reporting Requirements

SB 973 expands the reporting requirements for Employer Information Reports (EEO-1). Specifically, private employers with 100 or more employees that are required to file an annual EEO-1 report pursuant to federal law are required to comply with this bill. SB 973 requires that the pay data report, submitted to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, include: (1) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and sex in 10 job categories, (2) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and sex, whose annual earnings fall within each of the pay bands used by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Occupational Employment Statistics survey, (3) the total number of hours worked by each employee counted in each pay band, and (4) the employer’s North American Industry Classification System (“NAICS”) code. This revised pay data report is initially due on or before March 31, 2021, and will be due on or before March 31 each year thereafter.

SB 1383: Expansion of CFRA Protections

The California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) currently makes it an unlawful employment practice for any employer with 50 or more employees (within 75 miles of the worksite), to refuse to grant a request by an employee, who has at least 1,250 hours of service with the employer during the previous 12-month period, to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid protected leave during any 12-month period to bond with a new child of the employee or to care for themselves, a child, a parent, or a spouse. SB 1383 amends CFRA to apply to all employers with five or more employees. Additionally, SB 1383 requires an employer who employs both parents of a child to grant CFRA leave to each employee for that child’s health condition, birth, or placement. Lastly, SB 1383 makes it an unlawful employment practice for any employer to refuse to grant a request by an employee to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid protected leave during any 12-month period due to a qualifying exigency related to the covered active duty or call to covered active duty of an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent in the Armed Forces of the United States.

Importantly, as CFRA will apply to all employers with 5 or more employees as of January 1, 2021, it is imperative that employers who were previously not covered by CFRA protections, but now are, become acquainted with the law.

SB 1384: Labor Commissioner’s Ability to Represent Claimants in Arbitration

SB 1384 amends Labor Code § 98.4 to permit the Labor Commissioner to represent a claimant who is financially unable to represent themselves in a hearing where a court order has compelled arbitration to determine the claim and the Labor Commissioner determined that the claim has merit. The bill also requires that a petition to compel arbitration be served on the Labor Commissioner. In recent years, many employers have implemented arbitration agreements with their employees. Employers should be aware that to the extent they compel DLSE claims to arbitration, there is a chance the Labor Commissioner could elect to represent the employee in that arbitration.


New Policy in U.S taking into effect in 2021
Photo: CNN

Hawaii made headlines in 2018 for becoming the first state to ban certain sunscreen sales to protect its coral reefs. Now, that law is finally in effect, CNN reported.

It's now illegal in the state to sell or distribute over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, though wearing them is still allowed.

The chemicals in those sunscreens help protect the wearer from harmful UV rays.

But researchers have found that they also cause bleaching, deformities, DNA damage and ultimately death in coral when they're washed off beachgoers or discharged into wastewater treatment plants and deposited into bodies of water.

Delaware residents will now have to take care to bring reusable bags with them when shopping, as part of a new state law aimed at bolstering recycling efforts.

Under state law, most retailers can no longer offer single-use plastic bags at checkout. Eligible businesses can instead offer bags made of paper, cloth or other reusable -- and they can also choose to charge a fee for them.

"Each Delawarean uses about 434 plastic bags and that means nearly 2,400 tons of plastic bags end up in our landfills annually," Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin said in a news release.

"A decrease by the public of plastic carryout bags can mitigate a large portion of this waste, and help our environment by reducing the amount plastic bags on our roads and waterways that can harm us and our wildlife."

Other notable laws taking effect in the new year

- Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota approved measures legalizing recreational marijuana. New Jersey's Democratic-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy are working to set up a legal marketplace and to update laws already on the books to decriminalize marijuana possession.

- Voters made Oregon the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of street drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. The Oregon drug initiative will allow people arrested with small amounts of hard drugs to avoid going to trial, and possible jail time, by paying a $100 fine and attending an addiction recovery program.

- Colorado will prohibit landlords from refusing to show, rent or lease housing based on a person's source of income or involvement in the type of contract required to receive public housing assistance. Landlords can still do credit checks, but the act makes it an unfair housing practice unless they're conducted checks for every prospective tenant.

- New Hampshire will make multiple changes to state laws regarding sexual assault. Starting January 1, the definition of sexual assault will be expanded to include any sexual contact between school employees and students between the ages of 13 and 18. Previously, such contact could be considered consensual and not a crime if the student was 16 or 17. Other legislation taking effect in mid-January increases protections for sexual assault victims and requires colleges and universities to adopt sexual misconduct policies. The bill requires colleges to provide free access to medical and legal support services, anti-retaliation protections, confidential advising services, data on sexual violence, and prevention and response training.

- Georgia will require an audit starting in 2021 before movies and television productions are awarded the state's generous tax credit, which has allowed the highest subsidies of any state. The credit, which rebates up to 30% of a production's value, cost nearly $900 million in foregone tax revenue in 2019 as movie and TV production boomed in Georgia. Examinations were highly critical of the tax credit, finding some companies that received tax credits didn't earn them.

- California will require companies based there to have at least one board director by the end of 2021 who is a racial or sexual minority, with larger numbers required by 2022. Companies with 100 or more employees also must start sending information on employees' race, ethnicity and gender to the state.

- Connecticut employers must begin taking deductions from their employees' paychecks for a new paid family and medical leave program, under a state law passed in 2019. The state's estimated 100,000 businesses will be responsible for withholding half a percent from worker wages. Qualified employees can begin receiving benefits on January 1, 2022. Massachusetts also begins a new paid family medical leave program in the new year. It offers a 12-week benefit in most cases, extending to 26 weeks for those caring for a military member undergoing treatment.

- Oklahoma will extend a property tax exemption for religious institutions to include property owned by a church if it conducts instruction of children from pre-K through grade 12.

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