I read a public radio article titled Survey Finds the Public Lacks Knowledge of State Government that inspired me to take a look at the Illinois General Assembly – our elected representatives and senators. It's easy to conclude that our elected state officials accomplish little since they couldn't agree on a state budget for more than two years, and have not followed their own pension funding rules for decades. We don't have much personal contact anymore since few elected officials of either party have public meetings without pre-selecting their audiences. It is hard to get a positive impression from election materials alone.
Illinois’ legislative branch has 59 senators and 118 representatives. They are officially in session from January through May and hold a veto session in November. I was unable to determine the exact number of days there were actual meetings, but during the two-year-long 100th General Assembly, 9,646 bills were filed. Of those, 1,268 passed both houses; 1,044 bills were approved by the Governor; 135 were vetoed by the Governor; and 50 vetoed items were overridden by lawmakers leaving us with 959 changes in Illinois law.
I found an easy-to-read list summarizing the new changes and chose just a few to highlight here.
Pregnant women and nursing mothers got some attention. Nursing mothers can now be excused from jury duty. Employers cannot reduce the pay of nursing mothers who take breaks to express milk. It is finally law that if a pregnant woman is arrested, can’t make bail, and is likely to give birth while in custody, that a judge is required to order an alternative to custody.
Parents are probably already aware that toddlers under the age of 2 must be in a rear-facing car seat, but there were some other interesting laws affecting children. The Department of Public Health must now educate the public on the warning signs and effects of concussions in children. There will be expanded training for teachers in the identification of warning signs of mental illness and suicidal behavior. Schools must conduct at least one law enforcement drill that addresses an active threat or shooter within a school building at the beginning of the school year.
Several other new laws addressed stalking. The definition was expanded to include unwanted messages sent and received through social media. The Illinois Human Rights Act was expanded to give victims of workplace stalking and harassment further protections by creating provisions such as reasonable, unpaid leave for court dates. The new law also allows businesses, places of worship and schools to seek restraining orders against stalkers. And if a restraining order is granted, the stalker must surrender guns.
There were other new laws dealing with guns. Police or family members who believe someone is a threat to themselves or others can ask a judge to temporarily remove any guns from that person. Illinois is the thirteenth state to adopt this so-called “red flag” statute. Another law creates a 72-hour waiting period on the sale of all firearms, not just handguns. The bill also eliminates the current exemption from the waiting period requirements for the sale of guns to a nonresident of Illinois while at a gun show.
Illinois has added new laws to protect us from dishonesty. One of them bans the practice of patient brokering, a scam that refers people who need mental health or addiction recovery services to a program in return for a fee. Referring companies now must inform potential patients about licensing of facilities and how the treatment is covered by the patients’ insurance.
Finally, there were some other changes that interested me that are so diverse they can only be listed:
1. Carnival companies must conduct criminal background checks of all employees.
2. Police can take temporary custody of dogs and cats exposed to weather conditions likely to result in injury or death.
3. Every prescriber of controlled substances must complete 10 hours of training in safe opioid prescribing practices.
4. We now must use the “Dutch Reach” when getting out of our cars. This means using your inside hand (right hand for the driver, left hand for the passenger) to open the door so we will see what or who is coming towards us before we open the door.
5. Companies that wish to do business with state government must have policies on how they address sexual harassment complaints.
Happy New Law Year.
Gayle Carper is a member of the Macomb City council and she’s a retired attorney and retired Professor of Law at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.
Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.