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updated: 12/31/2010 2:12 PM

Illinois rings in new year with new laws

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  • A new state law is designed to protect you from getting a ticket from a red-light camera just for nosing your car past the white line.

       A new state law is designed to protect you from getting a ticket from a red-light camera just for nosing your car past the white line.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- If you want to own a pet monkey, you're out of luck in Illinois.

A ban on new monkey ownership is one of hundreds of state laws that take effect Jan. 1. Some might affect your daily life, such as a law intended to make red-light cameras at intersections more fair about who gets ticketed. Others have big implications for the state's budget, such as new rules making public employee retirement plans a little less lucrative.

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Others are about monkeys. Here's a look at some of Illinois' new laws:

Stop even across line

A new law is aimed at preventing suburban drivers from being ticketed by a red-light camera if they come to a complete stop just past the white stop line or a crosswalk.

The change also requires photos of the infraction to be reviewed by authorities before a driver is mailed a ticket.

Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican, had pushed to have the cameras abolished altogether, saying they're "all about revenue and not about safety."

In 2009, a Daily Herald investigation revealed that red-light cameras were proving very lucrative for municipalities and camera companies due to scores of tickets being issued to drivers who didn't come to a complete stop while making a right-on-red turn, even at low speeds in bumper to bumper traffic. Safety experts consider such right-turn infractions to be relatively insignificant safety-wise, as compared to drivers who run red lights.

Other traffic law changes include that drivers can be charged with a crime if they intimidate cyclists -- or people on horseback -- by threatening them with their car or throwing things at them.

And drivers who are caught speeding more than 40 mph over the limit will no longer be eligible for court supervision. They'd get a stiffer penalty instead.

Sexting

Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican, thought it would be wrong for teenagers who made the mistake of sending each other explicit photos via their phones to be charged with felonies and labeled as sex offenders for life.

"That doesn't make sense," she said.

Instead, legislation she carried this year will mean teens who get caught "sexting" will get supervision and education instead of a harsher felony sentence.

Most of the sexting among young people is intended innocently, Senger says, and if anyone over age 18 is caught doing it, they can still get hit with tough felony charges.

"Kids don't understand once these pictures are out there, they're out there forever," she said.

Election money

People who donate to campaigns will have to get a little more creative next year if they want to give big bucks.

Back in 2009, partially as a response to the Rod Blagojevich scandal, lawmakers for the first time approved limits on how much individuals, businesses and unions could give candidates. But those limits didn't take effect until now because lawmakers didn't want to disrupt the election season that was already in progress.

In 2011, Illinoisans will be limited to giving $5,000 per candidate per election cycle. Companies and unions will be limited to $10,000 and political committees will be held to $50,000.

Critics, though, say because parties aren't limited on how much they can give candidates during a general election, individual lawmakers can become beholden to their parties.

The limits could be considered a part of Blagojevich's infamous legacy, but lawmakers also took steps to limit the former governor's memory around the Illinois Capitol. A law that takes effect in the new year bars state officials from spending public money to buy and hang a portrait of Blagojevich in the Capitol, alongside all of his predecessors -- including imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan -- who have a spot there.

If someone steps forward with private funds, though, Blagojevich can still get his portrait.

New hires' pensions

In attempt to deal with the state's still-increasing budget deficit, lawmakers reduced the pension benefits for most public employees -- including teachers, tollway workers, lawmakers and others -- who are hired after the first of the year.

Because employees who are hired soon likely won't be retiring for a while, the move doesn't help the state's finances much in the short term. But eventually, as the law forces employees on public payrolls to work longer before they retire, the state's long-term cost to pay for their retirements should decrease.

And just Thursday, Quinn signed follow-up legislation that makes similar changes for new police officers and firefighters.

Suburban mayors were among those asking for the legislation, saying local budgets were being stressed by huge pension payments for public safety workers.

Now, a newly hired officer or firefighter will have to wait until age 55 -- not 50 -- to retire with a full pension.

Monkey ban

Saying monkeys can be more dangerous than they look, especially after they grow up, lawmakers banned Illinoisans from owning them as pets as of New Year's.

If you owned a monkey before Jan. 1, though, don't worry, you don't have to find it a new home. But getting a new one is now illegal under Illinois law.

"As cute and cuddly as monkeys can be," state Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park said earlier this year, "people should not have them as pets."

Fake marijuana

And finally, 2011 means that K2, a marijuana substitute nicknamed "fake weed" and "legal pot," is banned in Illinois.

The substance was sold as potpourri but could be smoked to get a high.

State lawmakers worried that the substance had become popular with teenagers and joined more than a dozen other states that already had banned it.

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