It takes seven thick volumes (excluding the index) to contain all of the laws the General Assembly has seen fit to enact over the years. They'll soon be embarking on volume eight. Although media accounts sometimes make it seem like the General Assembly passed only one law last year (to prohibit texting while driving), lawmakers were quite prolific, passing hundreds of pieces of legislation.
It takes seven thick volumes (excluding the index) to contain all of the laws the General Assembly has seen fit to enact over the years.
They'll soon be embarking on volume eight.
Although media accounts sometimes make it seem like the General Assembly passed only one law last year (to prohibit texting while driving), lawmakers were quite prolific, passing hundreds of pieces of legislation.
Some of them, like the state budget that critics contend isn't a budget at all, went into effect months ago. Others, like the new restrictions on campaign contributions, won't take effect for months to come.
But there are more than 270 new laws that go into effect at midnight Jan. 1.
Revelers can wish each other Happy New Year, just as long as they don't do it through a text message while driving. They can do it by phone, as long as it is with a hands-free device in a school zone.
The cost of license plates is going up, but there will be more of them from which to choose.
Native Americans will be able to smoke indoors in some cases, bowling alleys will carry warning labels and American flags at public buildings must be made in America.
Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said none of them rises to the top of the Legislature's accomplishments last year.
"The most significant thing we did last year was not a law, it was the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich," Bomke said. "That took precedence over everything."
Still, here's a review of some of those laws taking effect Jan. 1.
The one that's gotten the most attention, from the news media and motorists alike, is House Bill 71, which makes it illegal to text and drive at the same time. The idea is a person can skillfully do one or the other at one time, but not both at one time.
A related bill, House Bill 72, makes it illegal for drivers to use cell phones in school or construction zones, unless they are the hands-free variety.
But lawmakers actually managed to pass a few other pieces of legislation affecting motorists.
House Bill 3956 sets the speed limit for trucks on rural interstate highways at 65 mph, the same as for cars. It culminates a seven-year effort by Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, to equalize the limits. He said believes it is safer for cars and trucks to have the same limit. He also dismissed the notion that trucks already exceed that limit.
"There are truck drivers who exceed the speed limit, but I will also say it's pretty remarkable to me the number of trucks that actually do drive the speed limit," he said. "It is their livelihood. Getting tickets is something they work hard not to do."
At the other end of the miles per hour scale are low-speed vehicles that now may be legally driven on roads with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less. With Senate Bill 1866, the vehicles are allowed unless a municipality bans them. Previously, they were prohibited unless a city approved them.
New license plates are being designed for the vehicles.
Lawmakers figured out a way to help school funding with traffic laws. The fine for speeding in a school zone will increase by $5, and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a school crosswalk will cost $50 more. The money goes to the school district where the violation occurred. (Senate Bill 2024)
Lawmakers also tinkered with language covering handicapped parking placards issued by Secretary of State Jesse White's office. The end result of Senate Bill 1541 is that police may be more willing to seize placards that are being misused, said Bill Bogdan, disability liaison for White's office.
The cost of license plates is going up. House Bill 255 increases the price of plates for passenger cars and small trucks from $79 a year to $99. It was part of a package of funding proposals to pay for the program of building new roads and bridges that was approved last year.
People whose plates expire in January are already getting renewal notices from Secretary of State Jesse White that require the higher fees. White spokesman Henry Haupt said the renewals contain a "little notice" from the office explaining the fee increase.
Veterans will be able to get one free set of Disabled Veteran specialty license plates by proving only partial, rather than full, disability under House Bill 52.
Illinois already has a glut of specialty license plates in which people pay a premium for a specially designed plate that honors a program or institution. Extra money from the plates goes to support those programs and institutions.
Lawmakers created four more of the plates last year. House Bill 353 authorized a Distinguished Flying Cross plate while House bill 2625 created two plates, one for Teamsters and one for the United Auto Workers. Operation Iraqi Freedom license plates will also be available (House Bill 853).
High-profile limits on campaign contributions to state politicians don't go into effect just yet, but other ethics provisions take effect Jan. 1.
Senate Bill 54 changes the process by which ethics investigations are conducted, something that is supposed to ensure that investigations do not get covered up. It requires that the results of ethics investigations be made public if the investigation results in a state employee being fired or suspended for at least three days. Previously, the results of investigations were confidential.
Lobbyists must now go through the same ethics training as state workers. They must report their spending more frequently and must pay higher fees for the privilege of lobbying in the state. Those fees, however, are now the subject of a lawsuit.
The bill also adds more protections for whistleblowers who report illegal activities and strengthens so-called revolving door provisions that affect state employees in jobs that award contracts who then move to private sector jobs.
Lawmakers also did an extensive rewrite of the state's Freedom of Information Act (Senate Bill 189), which is designed to make public documents public. It requires public bodies to more quickly respond to requests made under the act. It limits the cases under which governments can reject information requests and it for the first time allows fines to be imposed if a governmental unit deliberately violates the law. It also puts limits on how much governments can charge for copies of documents to end the practice of hiding documents behind excessive fees.
School districts must provide salary and benefit information about the district superintendent, administrators and teachers to the state board of education each year. The information is available to the public. (House Bill 2235)
Once again, lawmakers targeted sex offenders when they were looking to toughen the state's criminal code.
In House Bill 1314, convicted sex offenders are prohibited from accessing social networking Internet sites as long as they are required to register under the state's Sex Offender Registration Act.
Also, convicted sex offenders are prohibited from using computer software to delete information on any computer used by the offender while on mandatory supervised release, probation or supervision. (House Bill 550)
Under House Bill 3991, it becomes mandatory rather than discretionary to revoke the Firearm Owners Identification Card of a person who is the subject of an order or protection.
Lawmakers also increased the penalty for carrying a firearm or dangerous weapon on public transportation (House Bill 867) and increased the penalties for giving or selling a firearm to a convicted felon (House Bill 1032).
Lawmakers created a grab back of other legislation that takes effect Jan. 1.
Native Americans will get an exemption from the indoor smoking ban for their religious services and rituals through Senate Bill 1685. Sullivan sponsored the measure. He said a Native American living in his district goes to schools and other functions to demonstrate Native American culture and rituals, some of which involve smoking. The bill brings Illinois' smoking ban in line with federal law, he said.
American flags flown at state and local government buildings in Illinois must now be made in America under House Bill 1332.
Bowling alleys that post warning signs about the dangers of slippery bowling shoes will get some immunity from lawsuits under Senate Bill 1335. Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said bowling centers began posting signs after the indoor smoking ban went into effect to keep people from wearing bowling shoes outdoors while they smoked. The shoes can become slippery. He said bowling establishments will now have the same protections as roller skating rinks.
Dentists who administer anesthesia will now have to have automated external defibrillators on hand (House Bill 921).
Schools will have to add Mexican-American history to their curricula (Senate Bill 1557) as well as the history of disabilities and people with disabilities (House Bill 1035).
There are federal legal holidays that bring with them a much-welcomed day off of work, like Christmas, New Year's Day and the like.
Illinois has Lincoln's birthday, which may or may not get someone a day of leisure.
And then there are commemorative holidays. They may honor someone notable or bring attention to an issue or cause. Lawmakers are eager to add them to the calendar.
Feb. 5 will now be Adlai Stevenson Day in Illinois. He was a Bloomington native who twice ran for president and lost to Dwight Eisenhower. He also served as the country's ambassador to the United Nations (House Bill 50).
April will now be Parkinson's Awareness Month (House Bill 760).
House Bill 2644 designates two observances for law enforcement. May 15 will be National Peace Officers Day, while the first Thursday of May is designated Peace Officers Memorial Day.
The second Sunday in June will officially be known as Children's Day (House Bill 2593).
House Bill 2506 designates September as Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, while House Bill 2505 proclaims September to also be Ovarian and Prostate Awareness Month.
The last Sunday in September becomes Gold Star Mothers' Day in honor of mothers who have lost children in the military. It previously was in August. (House Bill 3663)
Doug Finke can be reached at 217-788-1527 or email@example.com.