Senate Week in Review: December 9-13, 2019; January 1 New Laws Edition, Part I

McHenry, IL. — As 2019 comes to a close and we prepare for a new year, several notable laws take effect January 1 that Illinois residents may want to know about. Also, in this report, a look at some important local events.

The new laws kicking off 2020 cover everything from transportation safety and increased traffic penalties, to supporting our military personnel.

Strengthening Scott’s Law
2019 will be a year the Illinois State Police never forget. With three tragic deaths and numerous other incidents causing injuries, 2019 broke records early in the year for the number of accidents involving our State Troopers along Illinois roadways.

The drastic increase prompted the Illinois State Police to ramp up patrols to enforce Scott’s Law, more commonly known as the “move over law,” requiring drivers to reduce speed and switch lanes when approaching an emergency vehicle on the side of the road. As of November 3, 5,860 tickets had been issued for Scott’s Law violations. During the same period in 2018, 738 citations were given.

The General Assembly and the Governor also took the tragic incidents of 2019 seriously and passed several measures into law, all of which I supported. Beginning January 1:

  • The minimum fine for violating Scott’s Law will increase from $100 to $250 for the first violation and $750 for the second violation.
  • Those who violate Scott’s Law and cause an injury or death will be charged with a Class 4 felony.
  • The Scott’s Law Fund will be created to educate motorists on the importance of Scott’s Law.
  • The Secretary of State will be required to include at least one question about Scott’s Law on the written driving test.

Increased traffic fines
Illinois motorists may want to think twice about disobeying traffic laws next year. Starting January 1, drivers can expect to pay more for passing a stopped school bus and speeding through a construction zone.

House Bill 1873/PA 101-0055 increases the fine for passing a stopped school bus that has its stop arm displayed from $150 to $300 for the first offense and from $500 to $1,000 for the second or subsequent offense. Similarly, Senate Bill 1496/PA 101-0172 increases the fine from $10,000 to $25,000 for failing to reduce speed when approaching a construction zone. I voted in favor of both of these measures.

New rules of the road
Some changes are coming about what is not allowed on Illinois’ roadways. Beginning January 1, Senate Bill 87/PA 101-0189 will make it illegal for vehicles to have tinted or smoked lights. Law enforcement officials say these lights often make it difficult to see the vehicle. I voted against this bill on the Senate floor because of concerns about how the law would be enforced; that it could adversely impact certain neighborhoods over others.

However, starting in the new year, Senate Bill 86/PA 101-0297 will add to the current ban on cell phone use while driving by prohibiting drivers from operating a vehicle while also watching or streaming video on a device. This law, which I did support, is basic common sense. 

New laws support military personnel, families
Laws supporting members of the military and their families are among those that will take effect January 1.

To make it easier for military spouses to find work in Illinois, House Bill 1652/PA 101-0240 will provide for expedited licensure reciprocity for service members and their spouses. The new law requires professional licenses to be processed within 60 days of the submitted application. Often when military members and their families relocate to Illinois, the process of obtaining a professional license is cumbersome and can take months. The goal of this new law is to help spouses quickly become licensed in their profession in Illinois. It’s a great idea, which I wholeheartedly supported.

Also starting January 1, under House Bill 3216/PA 101-0106, veterans seeking to add the “Veteran” designation on their driver’s licenses have another option under the Secretary of State’s acceptable forms of proof. In addition to providing a DD-214 or an NA-13038, veterans will now be able to submit a United States Department of Veterans Affairs summary of benefits letter instead. This is a no-brainer idea, which I supported.

Veterans will also be offered a wider variety of specialty license plates starting January 1 thanks to several bills, including House Bill 2088/PA 101-0245, which I sponsored in the Senate. It allows U.S. military veterans who served during the Cold War to purchase special recognition license plates marking their service during the nearly 50-year U.S./Soviet Union “Cold War” conflict that occurred between August 15, 1945 and January 1, 1992. The plates have no additional fee attached. Other veterans’ license plate bills include, Senate Bill 944/PA 101-0536, which makes the Disabled Veteran license plate and the I-SERVE license plate available for motorcycles. Also, under House Bill 2618/PA 101-0262, veterans can receive one set of any military series license plate for free. 

New laws impacting the agriculture industry
Farmers will no longer have to pay for certain license plate registration fees beginning in 2020. House Bill 2669/PA 101-0481 removes the $250 fee and size restrictions for a single unit self-propelled agricultural fertilizer implement.

Also beginning January 1, those who sell agriculture products at farmers markets and retail stores have more flexibility in labeling their products as “local.” House Bill 2505/PA 101-0258 modifies the term “local farm or food products” to include products processed and packaged in Illinois using at least one ingredient grown in Illinois. Before this law, all ingredients had to be grown in Illinois for it to be considered a “local product.” I voted in support of both of these measures.

The full list of January 1 new laws
There’s more to know before the New Year! To view a full list of laws taking effect January 1, visit my legislative website at SenatorWilcox.com. Click on the Legislation tab at the top of the page. 

In the coming weeks, in this column, I’ll have more information on notable new laws taking effect in 2020. 

District events
Crystal Lake Chamber “Coffee with your legislators”

On Dec. 5, my fellow Senators Dan McConchie and Don DeWitte and I visited with members of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce for a legislative update. (photo from Chamber’s Facebook page)

We discussed a number of big issues from the spring 2019 session including wider legalization and social impact of recreational marijuana, the minimum wage and other, measures impacting businesses. We also held a short Q & A session and fielded questions about the new sales tax on vehicle trade-ins that begins New Year’s Day. Starting Jan. 1, a maximum of $10,000 in trade-in value will be exempt from the sales tax. It was part of a large number of fee and tax hikes passed during the spring session which we also discussed, including the proposed state constitutional amendment changing the way Illinois imposes its income tax from the current flat rate to a series of progressive or graduated rates. 

Local schools business meeting
I had the opportunity to attend a regional meeting with school business officials from McHenry, Boone and Winnebago counties December 6. Education funding has been a hot issue for lawmakers for years, so it’s good to learn about the financial issues and challenges our schools face. Kevin Werner is the Chief School Business Officer for Prairie Grove School District. He says school business officers from the three-county region meet once a month to discuss budgets, tax levies, unfunded mandates, collective bargaining and related issues that affect school finance. 

Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting
As the Minority Spokesman on the Senate Agriculture Committee I take every opportunity I can to stay in touch with our agriculture community. That includes attending the Illinois Farm Bureau’s most recent annual meeting in Chicago (pictured right).

McHenry County Farm Bureau Manager Dan Volkers and Lake County Farm Bureau Executive Director Greg Koeppen say the annual meeting is important for discussing and planning their legislative policies for the upcoming new year. I’m sure those issues will be coming before my committee when we begin meeting in February. Agriculture is Illinois’ number one industry that accounts for about one in every 17 jobs in the state. It’s an industry worth tens of billions of dollars to our state economy. 

I-90/Rt. 23 interchange opening
On Dec. 11, I attended an event announcing the opening of the newly-completed I-90/Rt.23 interchange with local officials. Marengo City Administrator Josh Blakemore says the interchange, opening to traffic Dec. 23, will be an important economic development tool for the area. There are already inquiries about using the land near the interchange for industrial development and related secondary service businesses.
 

The interchange will be dedicated to the memory of McHenry County Deputy Jacob Keltner who was killed in the line of duty on March 7 of this year. Deputy Keltner was working with the U.S. Marshalls Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force when he gave his life to protect us. 

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