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Monday, 27 January 2014 14:53

New laws for 2014 that will have significant impact in Illinois

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New laws for 2014 that will have significant impact in Illinois Photo/U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

STATELINE NEWS -- There is little doubt that 2013 will be remembered as one of the busier years for the legislature in Illinois. Going forward, though, it always pays to review, and it’s especially good to know exactly how the new laws might affect you in 2014.

To that end, the Stateline News spoke to local lawmakers, state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, and state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Belvidere, to get some background on some of the new laws.

Read the current edition here: http://www.server-jbmultimedia.net/CSI-StatelineNewsSunday

 Medical marijuana

Although the agencies in charge of the program have just over a 100 days to work out the application process for patients to qualify, medical marijuana has, for all intents and purposes, arrived in Illinois as of 2014. The law does come with its hitches, though; it is set to expire in 2017. Legislators wrote a four-year pilot program contingency in as a move to examine the application of the law and make sure it can be regulated to the satisfaction of lawmakers.

"The decisions of registration continue to get delayed; the state is still in the process of making the rules. Once those are drafted they’ll have to be approved by the legislature and at that point they can implement them," said Syverson, who supported the bill. "Unlike in Colorado or Oregon, the way this law is put together is much stricter, it’s not like you can just go get a prescription because you have a cold.

To qualify it has to be a serious, debilitating or terminal illness. With the way things are going, I’d say we are looking closer at the end of the year before anything will be commercially available."

The bill had its critics, but Syverson said he feels it was necessary despite the regulatory hoops.

"I support the legislation," Syverson said. "Some of my Republican base wasn’t very happy with that, but it’s more of the Libertarian side of me.

"If it were my daughter or wife or family member who was terminally ill or in pain and marijuana helped them, even if it was psychosomatic, I’d want them to have it. Why shouldn’t a dying person be able to try anything they want that can give them relief? In that respect I didn’t have any qualms voting for it."

Pension reform

The biggest fiscal bill of the year was Senate Bill 1, which dealt heavily with pension reform in the state. The bill passed the Senate 30-24 and the House 62-53. Although the bill has many detractors, it has been claimed that the legislation is expected to save taxpayers up to $160 billion over the next 30 years.

"The system was set up in an unsustainable way. It was going to collapse in a few years; it was really more of a Ponzi scheme," said Syverson, who supported the bill. "They’ve been increasing payments every year since the 1990s when it was set up, but the system was not sustainable. There was a billion dollars’ worth of payment increases this year alone for the pensions, and that absorbed about 90 percent of all new revenue coming into the state. That leaves 10 percent for schools, roads, health services and everything else. The system needed to be reformed."

As for what the law may mean for you, time will tell. Although the bill passed, the law is under intense scrutiny and its future is uncertain. According to Syverson, a court challenge has already been introduced concerning the bill’s constitutionality, and it’s likely that the delay could take a year or more.

"I understand the frustration that some people have, but now the big issue is that it’s going to take about a year before we know whether or not this will hold up in court," Syverson said. "The sooner it gets to court, the sooner it gets determined if it’s a legal change or not. We can’t budget any savings yet because there hasn’t been a court outcome."

Same-sex marriage

2013 is the year that Illinois joined the ranks of states that authorize same-sex marriage. The bill passed the House by a 61-54 vote and shortly afterward, the Senate approved the amended bill by a 32–21 margin. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the measure legalizing same-sex marriage on Nov. 20, but it won’t take full effect until June 1. As for the read Sosnowski is getting in Winnebago County on the issue, he said he believes that his constituents have other things on their minds.

"Obviously, you have two sides of the issue, a lot of folks for it and against it, but for a large number of people, especially in our area, I think they feel indifferent," Sosnowski said. "They’d really like to see big government focused on balancing the budget and fixing the other issues we have going on in Illinois. Folks in Winnebago County, when I talk to them out in the street or in coffee shops and get-togethers, want to know what’s happening with budget, economy, jobs and unemployment in the state."

Carrying concealed

After a long back-and-forth, Illinois caught up with the rest of the nation as it became the final state to pass a concealed carry law. January marks the first month in which the law is in full effect. Illinois residents now have the ability to apply online for a concealed carry permit from the Illinois State Police website.

While residents might remain divided on the issue, state legislators were forced into getting something on the books per an ultimatum doled out by the three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In the case, it was ruled unconstitutional that Illinois held a concealed carry ban. The state was given 180 days to amend its laws.

"It’s one of those things, locally, that people are really interested in and they wanted it, and are for the most part happy about it," Sosnowski said. "I haven’t heard much opposition talk in our area recently; some people want to see some changes, minor tweaks here or there, but generally everyone is fairly satisfied with the outcome."

Voting earlier

As of Jan. 1, a voter in Illinois who will be eligible to vote in a November general election is allowed to vote in the preceding primary, even if they aren’t 18 at the time of that primary. A 17-year-old voter has until Feb. 18 of this year to register if they’re hoping to vote in the March primary.

Will the measure have an effect locally or in the state? Syverson is doubtful.

"I don’t think it’ll be a dramatic change. This was obviously done by the Democrats as a way to get, what they believe as, more of the younger people vote," Syverson said. "Someone who is 17 is not being affected by the financial fallouts of the health care, or the bad economy and I don’t know that it’ll be a significant amount of new voters.

"I get concerned because they keep making it easier and easier to vote while being less worried about integrity of the ballot. People died so we can have the right to vote. Making sure the voting process is above reproach should outweigh the idea of simplifying it. In our current system, I don’t think it’s that much of a hardship for people to vote, especially considering the price that has been paid for our right to do so."

Other laws of interest:

  • Stay off the phone: Any driver in Illinois caught holding a phone up to their ear could be fined at least $75. Exceptions may apply in the case of emergencies.
  • Speed upgrade: The speed limit on rural Illinois highways has been increased from 65 mph to 70 mph.
  • Sex education in schools: Programs in schools will be required to teach about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, rather than just abstinence. However, school districts still have the option to leave out sex education entirely.
  • Banning tanning for teens: Residents of Illinois younger than 18 won’t be able to use indoor tanning facilities any more. Violating businesses could face a fine of $250.
  • Full pet disclosure: Owners can be refunded the cost of a pet or be reimbursed for veterinary costs if the pet was bought without disclosure of any serious illnesses.
  • Heavy price for flicking spent cigarettes: In Illinois, cigarette butts are now classified as litter and, under new penalties, tossing one can catch you a $1,500 fine.
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