More than 200 new laws went into effect on Jan. 1

By Kevin Beese For Chronicle Media

Penalties for drivers who try to cross railroad tracks after the signals are activated and gates are down have doubled. Fines have gone from $250 to $500 for a first offense and from $500 to $1,000 for a second offense. (Photo by Famartin)

Happy New Laws!

More than 200 new laws went into effect this week as we entered a new year – everything from reducing the tax on tampons and other feminine products to simplifying the process of naming a state highway for a fallen serviceman to making it easier for fishermen to snag catfish.

Here is a look at how things are different as we welcome a new year:

Tampon tax

The so-called “tampon tax” has been eliminated for feminine products as well as adult diapers. State Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) proposed the legislation that, she said, unfairly taxed women.

“Items like tampons and sanitary napkins are taxed as luxury items, but all women know that periods are not a luxury,” Bush said in presenting the legislation this spring. “We always talk about making frugal financial decisions, but this ‘pink tax’ unfairly targets women for a product they are literally biologically incapable of avoiding.”

Illinois residents spend an estimated $14.7 million on the products affected by the new law, according to the Illinois Committee on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Police dog retirements

Glendale Heights police Officer Mike Huff does not have a canine waiting at the door when he comes home from work every day. He has a canine walk through the door with him.

K-9 Orkan goes with Huff to the home he shares with his wife and two kids. State Sen. Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park) has ensured that Orkan will be part of the Huff family for years to come with passage of the senator’s Police Dog Retirement Act.

Cullerton’s law requires a retiring police dog to be offered to the primary handler of the dog.

“Our family dog, Brenna, is part of our family. I understand there is a special bond between an officer and his dog,” Cullerton said. “It’s important that we honor this relationship.”

Honoring fallen soldiers

Enacted legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, makes it easier to designate Illinois roadways in the name of fallen soldiers.

The Heroes Way Designation Program Act originated with Denise Meehan, the mother of Private First Class Andrew Meari of Plainfield, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.

“The Heroes Way Act ensures the families of Illinois’ fallen that the name of their loved one will be remembered and spoken by people of generations still to come,” Meehan said. “A person lived right here in their community, in their hometown, that so loved this country they laid down their life in its defense. Their sacrifice is forever and their memory should be honored forever. The Heroes Way Act accomplishes this for me and for all those families who bear the honorable burden of the Gold Star.”

Domestic violence training

Hair dressers and nail technicians throughout Illinois are now required to be trained to detect signs of domestic violence or sexual assault and help the victims after legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) was signed into law.

“My wife used to work as a hair dresser and she frequently heard stories from her clients who were victims of domestic violence,” Cunningham said. “Unfortunately, she didn’t have the knowledge or resources needed to help them. This new law will ensure that hair dressers will be trained to assist their clients who reach out to them for help.”

The law requires that cosmetologists, aestheticians, nail technicians and hair braiders take a one-hour continuing education class about domestic violence and sexual assault awareness. The class would also provide them with resources to give to their clients.


Railroad crossing fines

Penalties for drivers who try to cross railroad tracks after the signals are activated and gates are down have doubled.

Fines have gone from $250 to $500 for a first offense and from $500 to $1,000 for a second offense.

Last year, Illinois ranked second in the nation in highway rail fatalities, with more than 75 percent of vehicle/train collisions occurring at crossings with active warning devices, including lights, gates and bells, according to Illinois Operation Lifesaver. The state’s railroad crossing penalties are now some of the strictest in the nation.

“Drivers who think they can beat a train on the tracks often suffer dangerous and deadly consequences,” said state Sen. Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles) the legislation sponsor. “I hope these increased fines will help make drivers think twice before deciding to take their chances and put their lives at risk at railroad crossings.”

Taking a bow

As bowfishing grows in popularity across the state, lawmakers added catfish to the list of aquatic species that are now fair game for bowfishermen.

The new law says catfish “may be taken by pitchfork, underwater spear gun, bow and arrow or bow-and-arrow device, including a slingshot bow, spear or gig.”

Groups such as the Bowfishing Association of Illinois had been seeking the addition of catfish to the eligibility list for bowfishermen for years.

“This is a great step for fair utilization of the resource for all who bowfish,” BAI said on its Facebook page following the spring vote to add catfish to the eligibility list. “BAI (has) worked with the (Department of Natural Resources) several years to gain this opportunity and we thank them for all the work they have done on it. We are very proud of this accomplishment.”




— More than 200 new laws went into effect on Jan. 1 —