It was a history-making year at the Illinois Capitol, with lawmakers legalizing gay marriage, allowing medical marijuana for those with chronic illnesses, permitting concealed handguns and approving major changes to the government worker pension system.
But those high-profile measures represent just a handful of new laws to be put on the books, with more than 200 rules and regulations set to take effect Jan. 1. The laws will affect everything from how students are taught sex education in public schools to who can use a tanning bed to how dogs can be legally tethered outside.
"Obviously, pension reform was the big issue and I think nothing else even came close to that in terms of the importance to the people of this state," said Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. "But I think a lot of the legislation we undertook really reflects the concerns of the day. They are all issues that across the country are very timely right now."
Carrying concealed firearms
After a hard-fought battle, Illinois residents can begin applying for permits to carry concealed guns in public starting Jan. 5. Legislators estimate there will be up to 400,000 applicants.
Illinois is the last state in the nation to approve public possession of a concealed weapon. However, once permits are issued, around 90 days after the application, individuals face another challenge: figuring out where it's legal to carry a firearm and where having a gun could land them in jail.
Driver cell phone ban
A driver who zooms down the road with one hand on the wheel and the other propping a cellphone against an ear soon could find that choice a costly one — a new state law taking effect Wednesday bans the use of hand-held devices while driving in Illinois.
Motorists still can chat and drive, but only if they use hands-free technology such as a Bluetooth device, earpiece, headset or speakerphone. Otherwise, they'll need to put it in park or face fines that start at $75. A handful of towns, including Park Ridge, will issue warnings for the first few weeks of the year, but state police say they'll offer no such grace period.
Under the law, first-time offenders would face a $75 fine. That cost rises to $100 for a second violation, $125 for a third and $150 for each subsequent offense. After four violations, the Illinois secretary of state would have the power to suspend a driver's license.
Disabled parking crackdown
Starting today, fines for unauthorized use of placards for people with disabilities will increase from $500 to $600. Fines for those who make counterfeit placards or use the parking passes in the absence of a qualified holder will double to $1,000. Additionally, doctors who submit false paperwork to help someone get a disabled plate or placard who doesn't need it will face a new $1,000 fine. Penalties increase for repeat offenders.
Those who use handicap placards of people who have died face an even tougher punishment, with fines starting at $2,500 combined with a mandatory suspension of driving privileges for six months. Repeat offenders could have their license revoked for one year.
One of the more controversial changes will eliminate the parking meter fee exemption for those with disability placards. Rather than the blue placards, to park on city streets for free, you'll need a new yellow-and-gray placard.Chicago is offering a 15-day enforcement grace period for the old blue placards.
70-mph speed limits (except Chicago)
Nearly 90 percent of interstate highway miles in Illinois will have 70-mph speed limits starting tomorrow, but almost all existing posted speeds in the Chicago area will remain unchanged.
Drivers on almost 1,900 of the state's nearly 2,170 miles of interstate will be able to travel at 70 mph instead of the existing speed limits, generally 65 along rural highways, after crews post the new speed limit signs — weather permitting — Jan. 2-17, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
But only about 30 percent of the Illinois Tollway's 286-mile network will get the higher speed limit, according to a map released by IDOT. And in the Chicago area, the 70-mph limit will be posted only on five fairly short stretches of interstate. Those are sections of I-80 and I-55 in Will County, a stretch of I-57 in far southern Cook County and all of Will County, a portion of the I-88 toll road in far western Kane County and part of the I-94 tollway in northern Lake County.