By Thomas C. Pavlik, Jr.

Sometimes, I think Texas got it right – their legislature only meets every other year. Ours, of course, meets much more often than that. What do we have to show for it? Check out these new laws that will take effect in 2014.

Cell Phones and Driving. You’ve probably already heard about this one. Effective Jan. 1, 2014 drivers cannot use hand-held cell phones. The first fine is $75.  Subsequent violations add $25 to the fine, with a maximum fine of $150. All is not lost – it’s permissible to use a Bluetooth headset or other hands-free device. Further, it is legal to make calls with a hand-held phone for emergencies. Finally, be aware that if you are using a hand-held phone while driving and you injure someone, it’s now a Class A misdemeanor (fine of up to $2500 and less than a year in jail). If you kill someone, it’s a Class 4 felony (fine of up to $25,000 and jail of not less than one year but no more than three years).

Littering. Since you can’t use your hand-held phone in the car starting Jan. 1, 2014, maybe you plan to occupy your hands with cigarettes. If you do, be careful where you dispose of your cigarette butts. Please keep in mind that it’s illegal to throw a cigarette butt out of a car. The penalties are severe. The first conviction is a Class B misdemeanor (fine not exceeding $1,500), the second is a Class A misdemeanor (fine also not exceeding $1,500), while the third and subsequent convictions are Class 4 felonies (fine up to $25,000 and jail of not less than one year but no more than three years). Do the right thing – don’t treat the world as your ashtray.

Boating. Starting in 2014, there are new rules for operating a watercraft while intoxicated. If you are involved in an accident involving serious injury or death, you must consent to an alcohol and drug test. Failure to do so, or exceeding the legal limit or testing positive for drugs, means you will have your driver’s license suspended. In addition, please note that anyone being towed by a boat will be counted as a passenger. This may be important in terms of maximum capacity and inflation device requirements.

Expungement. Under limited circumstances, it is possible to have convictions for a limited amount of felonies “expunged.”  Expungement is the process by which your criminal records are “sealed” so that they cannot be seen by the public. Obviously, this makes it easier to gain such things as employment, housing and credit . We get quite a few calls from people inquiring about expungement, and in most instances have to advise the prospective client that this relief is not available.  However, in 2014, additional Class 3 and Class 4 felonies (theft, retail theft, forgery, deceptive practices, possession of burglary tools) may be eligible for expungement.

Tanning. Anyone under 18 won’t be able to use a tanning bed as of Jan. 1, 2014.

Social Media. Some of you may recall the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, enacted a year ago. That Act prohibits your employer, or prospective employer, from requesting access to your social networking websites. The recent amendment to the act clarifies that it applies only to personal communications that are not related to the employer’s business purposes. Any accounts used for business purposes, however, are not offered the protections of the Act.

Concealed Carry. I assume most people know that Illinois will become the last state to allow for the concealed carry of weapons when the legislature overrode the Governor’s veto. Permits should be available shortly after the first of the year.

Private Sales of Guns. Private parties who engage in the sale/purchase of firearms will now have to participate in the State’s background check process.  Prior to this new law, only individuals purchasing from dealers or at a gun show were subject to a background check. Now, even with private party sales, sellers have to check for Firearm Owens Identification (FOID) cards and have to call a state run hotline to make sure that the buyer’s FOID card is still valid. Sales to family members are exempt. Sellers will be provided an approval number. And, just as before, records of all private party transactions must be kept for 10 years. In addition, lost or stolen guns must be reported to the local police within 72 hours.

Voter Registration. Illinois will become the 18th state to allow its citizens to register for voting online. Election authorities have until July 1, 2014 to have systems up and running to accommodate online registration. The act has several safeguards in an attempt to prevent fraud – such as using a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a social security number. Please note that the new law does not allow for actual online voting.

Speed Limit. In 2014 the speed limit on “rural highways” will increase to 70 mph.  Currently the speed limits are 55 mph in urban areas and 65 mph in rural areas. Nonetheless, the new law allows Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties the discretion to opt out and keep the maximum speed limit at 65 mph.

Medical Marijuana. Starting in 2014, medical marijuana will be legal in Illinois pursuant to a four year pilot program. The law provides for 60 dispensaries and 22 growers. Marijuana will only be provided to those diagnosed with one of 40 enumerated diseases, and only if they have a pre-existing relationship with their doctor. Illinois is holding the new law out as being the strictest in the country. Final rules are currently in the process of being written.

Gay Marriage. Illinois is now the 16th state to recognize same sex marriages. The law will take effect on June 1, 2014. The law does provide some provisions for churches and private clubs who don’t want to participate.

Thomas C. Pavlik, Jr.
Thomas C. Pavlik, Jr. is an attorney from Springfield.