More than 200 new laws take effect on January 1, said State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), including measures targeting distracted driving and developing the rules and regulations associated with the state’s new medical marijuana law. Additional laws will increase the transparency of the state grant process, and many motorists will be happy to learn the state speed limit will increase to 70 miles per hour on most Illinois interstates.
Laws Increase Oversight, Ban Political Use of State Grants
Though state grants account for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, it is extremely difficult to track these funds and what they are being use for. Two new laws sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) will not only make it easier to review how grant monies are being used, but ensure the dollars aren’t being used in an inappropriate manner—such as furthering someone’s political ambitions.
Beginning Jan. 1, Senate Bill 2380 will restrict state grant dollars from being used for prohibited political activities. To more easily track state grants, Senate Bill 2381 requires the state’s Chief Information Officer to develop a system to collect state financial data, including information specific to the management and administration of grant funds, and make the information available on www.data.illinois.gov for public review.
The new laws were introduced in response to a four-month 2012 CNN investigation that revealed millions of taxpayer-financed grant dollars had been used by Gov. Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative grant program to finance a variety of questionable activities. The money was used to pay teenagers to march in a parade with the Governor, hand out flyers promoting inner peace, take field trips to museums, and attend yoga classes. The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative program is now being audited by the state’s Auditor General.
Targeting Distracted Driving: Cell Phone Ban While Driving
On January 1, Illinois will join roughly a dozen other states with laws banning the use of cell phones while driving. Though the state already has a prohibition in place for texting and driving, once House Bill 1247 takes effect Illinois residents will no longer be allowed to talk on cell phones when driving, unless using hands-free technology.
A survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010. Proponents say the new law will cut down on distracted driving, making Illinois’ roads safer.
Violators of the law will be fined $75 for a first offense. Fines of as much as $150 could be issued for repeat offenses as well as facing a moving violation on their driving record, though drivers are still legally allowed to make calls on hand-held phones in emergency situations.
Another law will increase penalties for motor vehicle accidents involving someone who was using a cell phone or other communication device while behind the wheel. House Bill 2585 increases penalties for drivers who were distracted by these types of devices, which led to a motor vehicle accident resulting in serious injury or permanent disability. These types off offenses were previously considered a petty offense; however, as of January 1, those convicted could be charged with a felony, carrying penalties of up to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
70 mph Speed Limit Takes Effect
Illinois’ speed limit will soon be in line with most of the rest of the country. Senate Bill 2356 increases the maximum speed limit to 70 miles per hour (mph) on all interstates and toll highways.
Sponsored by Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), the new law updates speed limits to reflect the reality of current driving speeds in Illinois and other states.
Interstates were designed for a higher rate of speed, and currently there are 34 states with speed limits of 70 mph or higher. Fifteen states have speed limits of 75 mph and one state has a speed limit of 85 mph. All of Illinois’ neighboring states, except Wisconsin, have speed limits of 70 mph; however, the Wisconsin Assembly also recently voted to increase the speed limit to 70 mph on many state highways.
Although the law goes into effect January 1, the Illinois Department of Transportation has said it may take until mid-January before Interstate speed limit signs are updated across the state.
At the request of the Illinois State Police, Senate Bill 2356 provides public safety enhancements in the form of a lowered threshold upon which the penalty for speeding is increased from a petty offense to a misdemeanor. Speeding in excess of 26 miles per hour but less than 35 mph (currently 31-40 mph) will be a Class B misdemeanor. Speeding in excess of 35 mph (currently 40 mph) will be a Class A misdemeanor.
Senate Bill 2356 also allows Cook County, the collar counties, Madison County and St. Clair County to opt out of the higher speed limit via ordinance.
Medical Marijuana in Illinois
Last summer, Illinois’ new medical marijuana law was signed. House Bill 1 legally allows authorized patients to use medical marijuana grown by an approved cultivation center and purchased from a registered dispensary.
Once the new law takes place on January 1, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois of Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture will have 120 days to develop the rules that will allow them to carry out their responsibilities dictated by House Bill 1. This will include developing a registry of patients who are allowed to use marijuana, and establishing the rules and regulations governing medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries.
House Bill 1 extends only to patients suffering from approximately 30 specific diseases and conditions. As one of the most strictly drafted medical marijuana laws in the country, doctors will be prohibited from prescribing the drug for generalized conditions such as “chronic pain” or “severe nausea.”
Proponents stressed that the bill strictly limits the drug to only those with serious illnesses, emphasizing that medical marijuana has been shown to alleviate pain, nausea and improve appetite for many patients with terminal or debilitating diseases.
However, opponents raised a number of concerns, citing evidence that marijuana is a “gateway” drug that opens the door to abuse of more harmful drugs and reiterating apprehensions raised by law enforcement officials; no local, state or federal law enforcement support the measure. They also pointed out House Bill 1 conflicts with federal law, and would create an additional layer of bureaucracy in Illinois to regulate cannabis.
Senate Republicans have posted a detailed explanation of House Bill 1 and the associated regulations included in the bill at the official Senate Republican website.