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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year Brings New Laws

The new year will add Illinois to the list of 20 states that permit marijuana to be used for medical reasons, and motorists will be allowed to go faster on some state highways but face greater restrictions on using their cellphones while driving, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Buyers of pets also will get new rights to get refunds for sick animals. School districts that teach sex education will be required to include the teaching of contraception. And tougher criminal penalties await those who use electronic communications to create flash mobs.

Those wide-ranging legislative initiatives represent some of the 201 new state laws passed and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn during 2013 that take effect Jan. 1.

Some of the biggest legislative accomplishments from the past year, however, like the legalization of same-sex marriage and changes to state pension benefits, won't take effect until the summer, ­and the pension law is expected to be held up in legal challenge by public-sector unions.

Of the new laws taking effect at the start of 2014, the medical marijuana law is the most high-profile of the bunch, but those Illinoisans sick enough to qualify for using the drug may have to wait months before they can begin doing so.

That's because three state agencies — the Department of Public Health, the Department of Agriculture, and Department of Financial and Professional Regulation — are writing rules that have to be submitted to a bipartisan legislative panel by May 1 to clarify the new law.

The fine-tuning will cover everything from what ailments are covered beyond the 40 explicit conditions spelled out in the law, who can apply for licenses to open a dispensary or cultivation center, and what constitutes a physician-patient relationship.

"There are a lot of moving parts to this," said Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health. She predicted the law wouldn't be fully implemented until perhaps "fall or winter."

Meanwhile, state transportation officials are preparing to increase speed limits to 70 mph on some rural interstates under a law that passed in May. That legislation was sponsored by Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, and Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton.

The Illinois Department of Transportation on Friday announced where higher speeds will be allowed, and the agency will start posting new signs sometime in early January. While speeds on most interstates throughout the state will increase, just some smaller stretches of in northern Lake, western Kane, and southern and western Will counties got the bump. The law allows counties in the Chicago area and Metro East near St. Louis to establish expressway speed limits lower than the 70-mph threshold sought statewide by Oberweis.

Motorists also will be affected by a new law barring the use of handheld cellphones for any purpose while driving. The legislation was carried by Rep. John D'Amico, D-Chicago, and Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago.

The law, which allows cellphones to be used in hands-free mode or with a headset, establishes a series of graduated fines for violators, ranging from $75 for the first offense up to $150 for the fourth and subsequent offenses. The first ticket a driver receives is not considered a moving violation, though later ones are.

Illlinois pet owners were given new consumer-protection safeguards under what was called the "puppy lemon" law that takes effect Jan. 1. That legislation allows buyers of dogs and cats from pet shops to obtain refunds or reimbursement of veterinarian bills for serious, undisclosed illnesses at the time of sale.

State lawmakers also took aim at sex-education curricula across the state. A new law applying to public school districts that offer sex education requires them to teach students between the 6th and 12th grades about contraception. The law also requires the "medically accurate" teaching of abstinence, a change from law that encouraged the teaching of abstinence "until marriage."

Another law takes aim at mob attacks organized with help from social media sites like Twitter or Facebook and targeted random pedestrians along North Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile and other tourist areas. The law doubles the maximum prison term to six years for anyone who uses social media and text messaging to organize violent "flash mobs."

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