File Photo – Illinois State Senate | Photo: Daniel Schwen (via Wikimedia Commons)

Nearly 300 new laws went into effect on January 1 in Illinois, some of which include a minimum wage increase, a police body camera requirement and prosecutors being allowed to reduce suspects’ prison sentences.

285 new laws that were passed in 2021 will take effect on January 1. Many others bills were passed during 2021 but include effective dates further out into the future in 2022, 2023 or beyond.

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage is now $12 an hour as of January 1. Illinois employers are bracing for the increase in the minimum wage as they continue to get back on their feet following forced closures during the pandemic.

The minimum wage will continue to increase on January 1 each year until it hits $15 an hour on January 1, 2025.

FOID

New changes allow for the Illinois State Police to issue a combined FOID Card and concealed carry license to qualified applicants.

State police will be required to establish a public database of all firearms that have been reported stolen to be checked prior to the transfer of any firearm to prevent the inadvertent transfer of stolen firearms.

A new Violent Crime Intelligence Task Force will conduct enforcement operations against those with revoked FOID Cards.

Public Safety

A sweeping and controversial criminal justice reform bill — House Bill 3653 — was passed in January 2021. The Senate passed the bill by a 32-23 vote and then Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it.

That package of legislation has various effective dates. 

One provision of the law taking effect in 2022 includes the start of the phase-in requirement that all law enforcement officers in the state wear body cameras by 2025.

Counties and cities with populations of 500,000 or more have to meet the requirement by January 1, 2022. That includes the City of Chicago, Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, and Will counties.

Smaller departments will be phased in over the next few years.

Resentencing crime suspects

Allows county state’s attorneys to petition the court to resentence a defendant if the original sentence “no longer advances the interests of justice.” The new sentence “may not be greater than the initial sentence.”

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Adding email and social media posts to stalking/no-contact orders

To close a loophole some were using to reach targeted victims, the legislature has taken steps to strengthen the Stalking/No-Contact Order Act.

As of January 1, a person who is prohibited through a no-contact order from contacting another individual by phone or in-person can also be restrained from sending email, texts or social media posts.

Strengthening penalties against child predators

Legislators also closed a loophole that allowed family members found to be in possession of child pornography to escape jail time.

Through an amendment to the Code of Corrections, child pornography laws are strengthened by making possession of child pornography a non-probational offense when the child is a household or family member of the defendant.

Previously, those types of offenders could receive a sentence of probation for their pornography conviction.

Education

Optional college admissions testing

Beginning Jan. 1, all of Illinois’ public universities and community colleges must offer a “test-optional” policy as part of its undergraduate admissions process.

This means that students can choose whether or not they will submit SAT, ACT or other test scores as part of their applications for college. The law only affects admissions processes for the state’s public institutions of higher learning.

Mental health excused absences for Illinois public schools

When students return to school in January, they will have up to five excused absence days available to them that can be used for mental or behavioral health.

Students will not have to provide a medical note when using these days and they must be given the opportunity to make up any missed schoolwork assigned during the mental or behavioral health absence.

Agricultural Sciences as an official class to meet state requirements

For high school students, courses in agricultural sciences will now count toward the three-year minimum of science classes required for admission into a public university in Illinois.

Classes in agricultural sciences can also now be taken to fulfill the two-year requirement of elective courses for admittance into a public university.

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Outlining the costs of college

All public universities in Illinois must provide their students with a report that includes the following when a student declares or changes a major of study:

  • The estimated cost of his or her education associated with pursuing a degree in that major;
  • The average monthly student loan payment over a period of 20 years based on the estimated cost of his or her education;
  • The average job placement rate within 12 months after graduation for a graduate who holds a degree in that major;
  • The average entry-level wage or salary for an occupation related to that major; and
  • The average wage or salary five years after entry into an occupation related to that major.

Veterans

Free Gold Star license plates for survivors

As of Jan. 1, the State of Illinois will be offering free Gold Star license plates for a surviving widow, widower or parent of a person who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and lost his or her life while in wartime service.

Previously, a $151 registration fee was charged for these specialty plates.

State flags for next of kin

In an effort to show appreciation of the life and service of Illinoisans who answered the call to serve in the Armed Forces, upon the death of an Illinois serviceman/woman, a member of the Illinois National Guard will present a State of Illinois flag to the next of kin.

Public Health

Beginning in January, those who struggle to afford their prescription medications can take advantage of a new program that makes their medicines more affordable.

Through the new Illinois Drug Reuse Opportunity Program Act, individuals may now donate their unused prescription medications back to participating pharmacies, which could then repackage them and make them available to patients in need. Pharmacies may charge a nominal handling fee.

Consumer Protection

Providing free early cancellation of service contracts in the event of a death

As of Jan. 1, providers of telephone, cellular phone, television, Internet, energy, medical alert system, and water services are prohibited from charging a fee to surviving family members for termination or early cancellation of a service contract.

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Let the kids be kids

Members of the General Assembly passed a law in 2021 that prohibits the Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments from regulating lemonade or non-alcoholic drink stands operated by kids younger than the age of 16.

The need for the law stemmed from an instance where a lemonade stand was shut down because the child had not obtained the required permit for the stand.

Other Laws

Significant changes made to sex education in schools

The Legislature passed a bill limiting local control over sex education by implementing new state standards.

The bill, passed by Democrats and signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker, requires public schools that teach sex education to align their sex education courses with the National Sex Education Standards.

These standards are now a baseline for sex education throughout the state. Sex education courses must also provide information about local sources for additional information and confidential services related to reproductive health.

The revamped sex education classes may be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade.

No later than Aug. 1, 2022, the State Board of Education must develop and provide resource materials that can be used in the new sex education classes. Schools may choose their own curriculum as long as it aligns with the standards.

Discrimination in the workforce allowed through carve-out in HCRCA

Changes to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA) will take effect starting June 1, 2022.

The HCRCA provides protections to Illinoisans and prohibits any form of discrimination against individuals who refuse to take part in any medical services or procedures that are contrary to their religious beliefs or morals.

Changes to the act were passed by the General Assembly in 2021 that makes the act not apply to COVID-19 vaccines or testing.