With nearly 300 laws taking effect on New Year’s Day, Illinois lawmakers have resolved to hold themselves to a higher ethical standard, stay the government’s regulatory arm on young entrepreneurs and review ways to revive the struggling local journalism industry.
After the traditional spring legislative session stretched into the late summer, the Democratic-controlled Legislature produced 286 pieces of legislation approved by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
A dominant measure was a plan to tackle ethics after bribery scandals involving both House and Senate members, a senator’s admission of tax-evasion and the ongoing investigation after utility ComEd’s admission that it engaged in a long-running bribery scheme. That implicated and led to the ouster of longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan even though he has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.
Like many efforts before it, the measure has been criticized. It requires additional financial disclosures from legislators and implements the first-ever “cooling off” period before ex-legislators can begin lobbying their former colleagues, but with wide latitude.
It allows the legislative inspector general to open an investigation without the blessing of a bipartisan panel of legislators but withholds subpoena power. Inspector General Carol Pope resigned in protest in July, complaining like her two predecessors that the post has no investigative teeth. And there’s no umbrella prohibition on legislators lobbying other levels of government, the main impetus for the law.
Another law cuts some slack for young business owners. If you’re under 16 and set up a card table on a hot July day to sell lemonade or another nonalcoholic beverage, you can’t be shut down. The measure is named for Hayli Martenez of Kankakee, who ran afoul of local health officials when at age 11 she set up a business in 2017 to raise money for college.
A former Rockford television news anchor, Democratic Sen. Steve Stadelman, also won approval for a task force to study the local news industry. Amid declines in advertising and circulation revenue, Stadelman says more than half of the nation’s newsroom jobs have evaporated in the past 17 years at a time when the demand for news is as high as ever.
Thirteen task force members representing broadcast and print media, journalism schools and state and local government must report by Jan. 1, 2023, on ways to preserve news coverage in small and midsized communities.
Other laws taking effect on Jan. 1:
— The minimum wage increases to $12 an hour, up a dollar from the current rate, on its way to $15 an hour by 2025.
— A piece of a wide-ranging criminal justice overhaul, spurred by the police-involved deaths of George Floyd and others, will be implemented. It is a first-ever statewide certification and decertification process for police officers. It standardizes the certification of officers to be tracked by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board and allows for decertifying officers for repeated errant or unethical behavior, instead of only when they’re convicted of a crime.
— Illinois schools may not regulate hairstyles historically associated with race and ethnicity, such as dreadlocks, braids and twists. The new law aims to end discrimination based on students’ hairstyles and was inspired by Gus “Jett” Hawkins, a Black student who at age 4 was told to take out his braids because the hairstyle violated the dress code at his private Chicago school.
— Juneteenth, which celebrates June 19, 1865, the day two months after the end of the Civil War on which slaves in Texas finally learned they were free, will be a paid state holiday.
— Married people may request a copy of their marriage certificate with the term “spouse” instead of a gender-identifying word. Under a different law, when listing their directors, public corporations must use the director’s self-identified gender or sexual orientation.
— Insurers who issue group plans will be required to make sure that those they cover have quick access to treatment of mental or emotional conditions or for substance abuse. Another law allows schoolchildren to take up to five absences for mental health without producing a doctor’s note.
— Pharmacies must post a notice to customers that they may request the retail price of brand name or generic prescriptions.
— Health care providers will be prohibited from discriminating against a person with a mental or physical disability by deciding he or she is ineligible for an organ transplant.
— State agencies and institutions may only buy Illinois and American flags made in the U.S.
— Along a state highway, you may no longer take a fish or other aquatic life with a pitchfork, spear gun, bow and arrow or spear.
— The vet will no longer “spay” or “neuter” your cat or dog, but regardless of gender, will “sterilize” your fuzzy friend, according to the language of the Animal Control Act.