SPRINGFIELD – With more than 200 new laws taking effect Jan. 1, Illinois residents will be faced with some noticeable changes in their daily life. Most impactful will likely be the ban on using cell phones while driving. Other wide-reaching measures include development of rules and regulations associated with the state’s new medical marijuana law, an increase of the speed limit to 70 miles per hour on most Illinois interstates, a ban on the use of tanning booths for those under 18, and more transparency in the state grant process.
Targeting distracted driving: cell phone ban while driving
Illinois is joining 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, 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.
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.
Interstates were originally 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 Jan. 1, the Illinois Department of Transportation 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, the law also 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 allows authorized patients to use medical marijuana grown by an approved cultivation center and purchased from a registered dispensary.
With the new law in place, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois of Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture now has 120 days to develop the rules that will allow them to carry out their responsibilities dictated by House Bill 1. This includes developing a registry of patients who are allowed to use marijuana, and establishing the rules and regulations governing medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries.
The law 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.” 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.
Tanning for youth restricted
Under previous Illinois law, young people were allowed to tan with their parents’ permission. However, study after study has demonstrated that tanning – particularly during the formative years – greatly increases the risk of cancer. House Bill 188 prohibits all commercial tanning facilities from allowing people younger than 18 to tan unless they have a doctor’s prescription. Underage tanning in private homes is still allowed.
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 how they are being used. Two new laws will not only make it easier to review how grant monies are being used, but ensure the dollars are not 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, the bill 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.