Gender-neutral toy aisles, retail pet stores and contraceptive access

States across the country will ring in the new year with laws set to take effect throughout 2024 about issues like gun violence, book bans and gender-neutral toy sections.

A growing number of states will require financial literacy courses in high schools, while a handful of others will add access to contraceptives by eliminating the need for physician prescriptions.

As state legislatures brace for another year of proposals broaching the country’s most divisive issues, here are some of the laws that will make it into reality in 2024:

Gender-neutral toy aisles

Starting in January, California will require major retailers in the state to include gender-neutral toy sections in their stores. The new sections won’t be allowed to be marketed to just boys or girls but rather must include a “reasonable selection” of toys that could be marketed to children of either sex.

The law won’t require the stores to eliminate their boy- or girl-focused toy sections but rather add to the toy sections to include ones that would reasonably apply to children of any gender.

The law, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021, is aimed specifically at retailers with at least 500 employees across their state locations, which excludes smaller stores. Retailers will be fined $250 for not following the law, followed by $500 fines for repeat offenses.

Assembly member Evan Low, a key sponsor of the bill, said in a statement that the measure would make “it easier to compare similar items for sale at large retailers without reinforcing gender stereotypes that harm vulnerable children.”

Illinois’ anti-book ban law

Illinois will become the first state to enforce a law to outlaw book bans. The law requires the state librarian and library staff members to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights statewide. The document states that reading materials “should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or personal disapproval.” Public libraries that don’t adopt the association’s language or develop similarly worded prohibitions will be ineligible for state grants.

An increasing number of books have been banned in several states, with the nonprofit free speech advocacy group PEN America finding 3,362 instances of individual books’ being banned in the 2022-23 school year, affecting 1,557 unique titles a 33% increase from the previous academic year. The group’s report lists Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina as the states where the bans were most prevalent. 

PEN America’s report said 30% of the banned titles during the first half of the 2022-23 school year were books about race or racism or books that featured characters of color. Another 26% of the banned books had LGBTQ characters or themes. In addition, a wider array of titles have been affected by bans this year — 44% of them portray violence and abuse, 38% discuss topics of health and well-being, and 30% cover death and grief — the result of school districts’ responding to “vague legislation by removing large numbers of books prior to any formal review,” the report said.

“The concept of banning books contradicts the very essence of what our country stands for,” said Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, who initiated the legislation and serves as the state librarian. “It also defies what education is all about: teaching our children to think for themselves.”

New York cracks down on ‘puppy mills’

New York state will ban pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits this year to protect the animals from poor treatment and conditions in some commercial breeding operations that critics call “puppy mills.” The law doesn’t bar the shops from showcasing animals derived from shelters for purposes of adoption, however.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the legislation in December 2022, saying in a statement, “I’m proud to sign this legislation, which will make meaningful steps to cut down on harsh treatment and protect the welfare of animals across the state.”

Kevin O’Neill, the vice president of state affairs for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said New York has among the highest concentrations of pet stores that sell cats, dogs and rabbits, making the new law important for animal rights.

The stores “prioritize profit over actually caring for the animals,” O’Neill said, adding that he believes public opinion has shifted and prospective pet owners want to know where their animals are coming from and whether they are being treated humanely.

The ASPCA released a poll in April 2022 that found that 77% of Americans support federal legislation that would end puppy mills. 

Jessica Selmer, the president of People United to Protect Pet Integrity, a New York coalition of pet store owners, said after the legislation passed that the law was “careless” and “counterproductive,” adding that she hopes the governor will “consider legislative remedies to some of the pitfalls of the bill.”

Michigan to get new gun laws

Michigan’s Legislature passed a package of legislation to reduce gun violence that’s set to go into effect early this year. The package, passed in the Democratic-controlled Legislature largely along party lines, includes red flag laws, stricter background checks, safe gun storage requirements and a ban on those convicted of domestic violence from buying, owning or transporting firearms for eight years.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said the passage of the new laws honored “those we have lost with commonsense gun violence prevention legislation supported by a majority of Michiganders.”

Monisha Henley, the senior vice president of government affairs at the gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety, said Democrats were able to “act swiftly” to get the package passed and signed after they secured the majority in the Legislature in the 2022 midterm elections. The sense of urgency followed the mass shootings at Oxford High School in November 2021 and Michigan State University in February.

Henley said she believes Michigan’s new laws can serve as an example for other states, given that the state has “everything from a large city to a rural population to high gun ownership.”

Financial literacy coming to more high school students

Four more states will begin requiring financial literacy courses in high schools in 2024 — Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota and West Virginia. They join a growing list of others that have already instituted such requirements or will begin mandating such courses in coming years.

Financial literacy courses, or personal finance courses, seek to educate students about how to earn, spend, save, borrow and protect their money as adults.

In Georgia and West Virginia, all juniors and seniors will be required to take at least a half-credit financial literacy course to graduate. Meanwhile, all students at public, charter or state-accredited nonpublic schools in Indiana will be required to successfully complete a personal financial responsibility course before they graduate. Minnesota students entering high school in 2024 or later will have to pass a personal finance course during grades 10, 11 or 12.

While legislators are joining the trend in putting more emphasis on personal finance education in high schools, advocates are still pushing for more involved requirements on the topic.

Vince Shorb, the CEO of the National Financial Educators Council, said financial literacy should be taught like the main courses, such as math or science, arguing that one semester of learning isn’t enough.

Students “are all going to need to manage their money in some way,” Shorb said. “Financial literacy needs to be taken more seriously.”

Over-the-counter contraceptives

The Food and Drug Administration’s decision in July to approve the first nonprescription oral contraceptive is expected to allow access to birth control to expand widely in 2024 once the new drug, Opill, hits shelves. Meanwhile, states are also expanding access to prescription hormonal birth control by allowing pharmacists to prescribe such contraceptives, rather than doctors.

Since 2016, at least 29 states have passed legislation to allow pharmacists to prescribe hormonal birth control options without doctors, with measures in Rhode Island and New Jersey set to go into effect in 2024 allowing people to seek hormonal birth control without making doctor’s appointments.

New laws in Montana and Nevada, meanwhile, will allow people to access an extended supply of contraceptives. In Montana, the law will ensure that insurance coverage allows people to receive 12-month prescriptions for contraceptives. In Nevada, which has already made contraceptive prescriptions available through pharmacists and allows 12-month supplies, it will become illegal for the government to put limits or requirements in place that would block people’s access to birth control or reproductive health services.

The new laws come amid heightened concerns over whether the most commonly used drug for medication abortions will continue to be easily available and whether access to abortion procedures will be more generally available in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade. In December, the Supreme Court agreed to consider Biden administration and drugmaker appeals defending FDA decisions that made it easier to access the mifepristone pill.