People who enjoy the idea of new state laws going on the books will have a veritable cornucopia beginning Jan. 1.
Some 221 new state laws go into effect that day covering everything from medical marijuana to a ban on minors using tanning parlors to driving faster on interstate highways.
It’s a far cry from a year ago, when just 150 new laws took effect Jan. 1, perhaps a reflection that during the spring 2012 session, lawmakers were looking ahead to elections as much as anything.
Two high-profile laws aren’t on the 2013 list. Both pension reform and same-sex marriage, while passed this year, do not go into effect until June.
But even without those laws, Illinoisans will see plenty of changes starting in the new year. Here’s some of them.
Interstate speed limit
The speed limit on interstate highways will go up to 70 mph from the current 65 mph.
When it does, Illinois will join 34 other states where the interstate speed limit is 70 mph or higher. That includes all of the states surrounding Illinois, including Wisconsin, which recently voted to increase its limit. (Of those, 15 states have a limit of 75 mph or higher).
But while the limit is set to increase, the signs reflecting that won’t all be installed until the middle of the month, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is spending about $200,000 to make and install the new signs.
Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, said the higher limit reflects the reality that many motorists already drive at that speed on interstates. However, both the Illinois State Police and IDOT testified against the bill, arguing that higher speeds will result in more accidents and likely more traffic fatalities.
The law allows heavily populated counties to opt out of the higher limits. That includes Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Will, Madison and St. Clair counties. None, so far, has acted to do that.
Drivers should beware. The new law also lowers the threshold where speeding becomes a misdemeanor instead of a petty offense. Currently, it’s 31 mph over the limit. That will drop to 26 mph over the limit.
Cell phone ban while driving
Drivers will have to get a hands-free phone if they want to yak while driving. Beginning Jan. 1, using a hand-held phone while driving will get you a $75 ticket. That’s the first time you are caught. Repeat offenses can ding you for $150.
The state already has a ban on texting while driving and a ban on using cellphones in certain areas like school and construction zones. The new law, though, says you can’t use a hand-held phone behind the wheel at any time.
“It actually makes it easier for the officers,” said Sgt. Charles Kean, supervisor of traffic services for the Springfield Police Department. “It makes it easier to enforce. It erases all of the ambiguity.”
Although the cellphone ban has drawn all the attention, Kean noted that the law actually prohibits the use of electronic devices while driving that can go beyond simply making or taking a call.
Although both the state and city police department have tried to publicize the new law, Kean said he expects there will be motorists who are caught off guard.
Another new law allows felony charges to be filed against a driver distracted by a cellphone or other device that leads to an accident resulting in serious injuries or permanent disability.
It took years of trying, but the state is finally going to see a law go into effect that legalizes marijuana use for medical purposes.
Just don’t expect the drug to be available anytime soon.
“Medicine probably won’t be available to these patients until the late spring or early summer of 2015,” said Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML, an organization that advocates decriminalization of marijuana.
It has to do with the safeguards built into the law. Medical marijuana can only be grown by an approved cultivation center and distributed by a registered dispensary. Three different state agencies are involved with getting the medical marijuana program underway.
Each of them must draft rules for their part of the operation, and those rules must be reviewed before they are adopted. Linn said the state Department of Agriculture has already said it doesn’t expect to even begin accepting applications from growers until next fall. By the time growers are approved and plants actually cultivated, Linn said, it will likely be 2015 before anyone in Illinois will benefit from medical marijuana.
The law specifies 30 illnesses that qualify for treatment with medical marijuana. Doctors cannot prescribe the drug for general conditions.
Proponents cited testimony from patients suffering from those illnesses that they only obtained relief from symptoms by using marijuana.
The bill limits medical marijuana to a four-year, pilot program, after which lawmakers will determine if it has been effective.
Beginning Jan. 1, persons younger than 18 will no longer be allowed to use indoor tanning facilities.
Lawmakers responded to testimony from the medical community that it is unhealthly for younger people to tan under sun lamps. Lawmakers also heard from people who blamed bouts with skin cancer on excessive tanning when they were younger.
The Department of Public Health does annual inspections of indoor tanning facilities and issues permits to them. Spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said it “could impact their permit” if a facility was found in violation of the law.
A new law requires school districts that provide sex education to use a curriculum approved by the State Board of Education.
The curriculum must now include both abstinence and contraception.
Supporters of the law said this will reflect the realities that many teens engage in sexual activity before they leave high school. Opponents argue that the law takes local control away from deciding a proper sex education curriculum.
A person could lose his driver’s license if caught driving a boat while intoxicated.
The law applies in cases where a drunken boater is involved in an accident that results in death or serious injury to another person.
Wine to go
Visitors at Illinois wineries will no longer have to leave unconsumed wine behind.
A new law allows people to take with them a partially consumed bottle of wine to drink away from the winery.
Lawmakers specifically included cigarettes in the state definition of litter. It means anyone who flicks a cigarette butt on the street or sidewalk could be cited for littering.
There also is now a minimum $50 fine for littering.