SPRINGFIELD – Nearly 300 new state laws take effect today, covering everything from identity theft to meth, from seat belts to salamanders.
Yes, you read that correctly: As of today, the eastern tiger salamander is the official state amphibian and the painted turtle is the official state reptile, the result of a special election by the state's schoolchildren.
On a more serious note, several new laws address identity theft, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich called "the fastest-growing crime in the nation."
As of today, there is no longer a statute of limitations for prosecuting identity theft, and defendants may be tried in any county where the crime occurred or the victim resides. And thanks to another new law, identity theft victims are able to place a security freeze on their credit reports.
Also, any entity that collects personal data and experiences a breach in security is now required by law to notify consumers immediately; and another law makes it illegal to use any equipment that can decipher the information encrypted in driver's licenses and identification cards without authorization.
State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, sponsored a law to phase out the use of Social Security numbers on hunting and fishing licenses; a separate law prohibits public universities and community colleges from printing Social Security numbers on any document that students or staff must show to access services.
A sampling of new legislation:
Many new laws target the growing use and production of the illegal stimulant methamphetamine.
The biggest one, which makes it more difficult to obtain common cold medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, does not take effect until Jan. 15. After that date, such medicines must be kept behind pharmacy counters, and customers who purchase them must be at least 18 years old, show photo identification and sign a logbook. The logs must be retained for at least two years and must be made available to law enforcement upon request.
State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said Oklahoma saw an 80 percent drop in the number of meth labs after enacting a similar law.
"We can't afford not to do this," he said. "Will this be a minor inconvenience to people, including myself? Yes, but it's definitely worth that to get a handle on this problem."
Another law that takes effect today requires the state police, State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to develop a protocol for handling situations involving meth manufacture or use when children are present.
Defendants convicted of meth-related crimes now must pay an extra $100 fine toward the Methamphetamine Law Enforcement Fund, and another new law provides for restitution for any regular and overtime costs associated with securing the site of a meth lab.
Other new drug-related legislation creates the offense of drug-induced homicide and allows the courts to consider as part of sentencing whether the possession, delivery or manufacture of an illegal drug took place in the presence of a minor.
Organ donations are expected to increase under a new "first person consent" law prompted by Secretary of State Jesse White.
Previously, an individual's organs and tissue could not be donated without consent of the next of kin, even if the person signed up to be a donor. Now, a person's decision to join the state's donor registry will be legally binding, eliminating the need for secondary consent. Last year, 30 families overruled a person's decision to donate organs, according to state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, who co-sponsored the bill.
"The loss of a loved one is a very emotional time for families, and grief often keeps them from upholding their family member's wishes to be an organ donor," she said.
Another new law requires school districts to educate athletes on steroid abuse prevention, and two others require the Department of Public Health to promote awareness of chronic kidney disease and warn parents and caregivers about the dangers of shaking babies.
Also, insurers must cover certain tests for female patients at risk for ovarian cancer, and employers may extend paid-leave benefits for employees who donate blood.
Other laws designate each November as Alzheimer's Awareness Month, authorize income tax checkoffs for donations to the Sarcoidosis Research Fund or the Vince Demuzio Memorial Colon Cancer Fund and permanently extend the state's safe haven law for abandoned infants.
The state also is getting tougher on drunken drivers, particularly repeat offenders.
"Cracking down on dangerous and irresponsible drivers helps protect all of us," said Black, who sponsored several of those measures.
Among the changes: increased penalties for those caught driving under the influence with a child in the vehicle; tougher penalties for those repeatedly caught driving on a suspended or revoked license because of a DUI or hit-and-run; tougher penalties for DUI offenders without insurance or a valid driver's license; and a new law that prevents DUI offenders from escaping state conviction by going through municipal court proceedings instead.
Penalties also will increase for multiple DUI offenders, up to seven years in prison for a third conviction, up to 15 years in prison for a fourth conviction, and up to 60 years in prison for sixth or subsequent convictions. And jail time will be required of impaired drivers who cause the death of one or more persons.
Drivers arrested for leaving the scene of an accident involving death or personal injury now are subject to drug and alcohol testing for up to 12 hours afterward, and another new law eliminates the statute of limitations for prosecuting someone who leaves the scene of such an accident.
Other new driving laws ban radar-jamming devices, blue oscillating lights on unauthorized vehicles and the use of any DVD players or "visual media technology" while driving if the screen is visible from the driver's seat. The fine for unauthorized use of handicapped parking spaces will go up to $500 today, and the state can suspend a person's driving privileges for misuse of handicapped parking places, license plates or placards.
In addition, all passengers 18 and under are required to wear a seat belt if the driver is also younger than 18.
Crime and courts
One of the biggest new crime laws tightens the Illinois Sex Offender Registry requirements, increases penalties for failure to comply and requires police departments to directly notify schools if one of their students is a registered sex offender. A separate law requires a parent who knowingly weds or moves in with a sex offender to notify the child's other parent.
The parents of a crime victim can give an impact statement in juvenile court proceedings under one new law, and another requires a person convicted of committing domestic battery in the presence of a minor to pay for any counseling needed for the young witness.
Another new law charges interest on overdue child support payments. And the state police may keep children's fingerprints on record until they reach the age of 18, but they only may be used if the child is later abducted or missing.
Player or fan violence at indoor sporting events is now a felony; anyone wishing to buy a Taser or stun gun must obtain a FOID card and one hour of training; and it will be easier to prosecute offenders involved in human trafficking. Yet another new law increases the penalties for criminal trespass on restricted areas of an airport, particularly if the trespasser is in possession of a real or fake weapon or ammunition.
It is now a felony to falsely represent oneself as an emergency management worker or an American Red Cross employee, and the penalties have increased for harming such workers while they are performing their official duties. Another new law provides job protection for volunteer emergency workers who are absent or late to work because of those duties.
Seniors and veterans
Laws aimed at protecting seniors increase the penalty for battery if the victim was at least 60 years old and require the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System to include information on missing seniors who are considered to be in danger.
The penalties for misrepresenting oneself as a veteran or a dependent of a veteran to obtain benefits have increased, and another new law requires an annual review comparing the benefits Illinois veterans receive to those given to veterans in other states.
Gold Star recipients no longer have to pay an extra fee to apply for the state's special Gold Star license plate, and surviving spouses of Purple Heart recipients now are eligible for Purple Heart license plates.
The minimum age to get a tattoo will be lowered from 21 to 18 starting today, under a new law that also makes it illegal for anyone under that age to be in a shop where such services are performed and increases the penalties for tattooing or piercing a minor. The minimum age for a body piercing already is 18.
Another new law creates the Illinois Steel Development Board to market and promote the state's steel industry, and another increases safety standards for products designed for children and boosts fines for companies that knowingly sell unsafe products meant for kids younger than 9.
It is now a civil rights violation to coerce or threaten a party attempting to negotiate a real estate transaction, and a separate new law requires home repair companies to let their customers know if a contract requires that disputes be submitted to binding arbitration. Businesses that repair the infrastructure of homes damaged by natural disasters may be eligible for limited immunity under another new law.
Several new laws affect government, including measures that require the state to offer loan assistance to college students studying social work or human services; establish a state database to track predatory lenders; and require certain notifications and a public hearing before closing any state facility.
The penalty has increased for a minority business that obtains a state contract under false pretenses, and public contractor misconduct is now a felony offense.
Another new law gives all municipalities the power to regulate smoking in public places, authority that previously was limited to the 21 towns (including Champaign and Urbana) that had smoking ordinances on the books at the time the Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act of 1990 took effect.
And election laws have changed. One, sponsored by Jakobsson, allows children to accompany their parents into the voting booth. Another requires public colleges and universities to provide students with voter registration forms.