New year means new laws for Illinois residents

   By Andrew Thomason - (Illinois Statehouse News) – 12/30/2010 – Soon, Illinois residents can no longer buy a pet monkey, give unlimited amounts of cash to political candidates or get high on fake marijuana.
    These changes, along with nearly 200 other laws, will take effect at the stroke of midnight Friday.
Campaign money
    Sometimes referred to as the “wild west” of campaign financing, Illinois’ political donation landscape will be somewhat tamer starting Jan. 1. Individuals will be limited to giving a candidate $5,000 per election cycle, and businesses, unions, and political action committees to $10,000, under a new law.
    “The limits are intended to both limit corruption and the appearance of corruption,” said Kent Redfield, director of the Sunshine Project. The new law will “hopefully start to restore the faith of citizens in the process.”
    The caps apply to donations to political parties and political action committees.
    Illinois was just one of five states that had no limits on the size or source of campaign donations before the General Assembly passed the law, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
    Candidates will have more responsibility under the new law, too. They must file twice as many campaign expenditure and contribution reports – every three months instead of every six – under the new law. Also, candidates must make public all donations of more than $1,000 within five business days, or within two business days if the money comes in a month before an election.
    “There’s going to be a lot more transparency, which you hope does two things: it modifies people’s behavior because they know that the news media and citizen groups are watching," Redfield said. " The other side of it is that if you have transparency you can see that nothing (nefarious) is going on.”
    After pushing the primary election back to February in 2008 to help Barack Obama beat his Democratic rivals, the state has now returned the election back to the Tuesday in March in even numbered years.
    During the next gubernatorial race, voters will cast ballots for governor and lieutenant governor the same way they do for president and vice president, as a team. This change came after Scott Lee Cohen came out of nowhere to win the Democratic lieutenant governor nomination, only to bow out after allegations of past drug abuse and domestic violence surfaced, and run for governor as an independent.
   Generally, the law is playing catch up with technology. Such is the case with the trend of sending sexually graphic photos or video of one’s self to someone by means of a cell phone or e-mail.
    This is a trend that is especially popular among younger people. Prior to the passage of a new law, prosecutors could only seek felony child pornography charges against minors caught “sexting,” something most prosecutors were hesitant to do.
   “We don’t condone the behavior (but) we also don’t think these people should be sex offenders and be sent away to prison,” said Matt Jones, associate director for administration of the Illinois State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor.
    Starting in the new year, minors caught sexting could instead be taken to juvenile court to determine if they qualify for court supervision. Minors could be ordered into counseling or other similar services, as well as given community service, in place of being charged with a felony.
.  “We hope to intervene in situations where a minor is engaging in conduct that is harmful to them but don’t really realize is harmful to them,” Jones said.
Primate Pets
   While you don’t see monkeys in the windows of pet stores, it has been legal for a person to keep a primate as a pet. In order to protect the animals, as well as the owners, the legislature approved a plan to outlaw having primate pets, except for properly designated entities like zoos.
    “Most people simply cannot provide an appropriate environment for these highly intelligent and social creatures …You can’t provide what a primate needs in a basement or a bedroom,” said Michael Markariam, chief operating officer for the Human Society of the United States.
    Primates can also create public health problems, according to Markariam.
   “Even smaller monkeys can bite and scratch and spread very dangerous diseases to humans,” he said.
Drugs and Alcohol
    Residents of Illinois will have one less way to get high come 2011. Two synthetic forms of marijuana, which are readily available now, are set to be banned. Called K2, Spice, or Blaze, the drug is a manufactured form of THC, the altered-state inducing chemical in marijuana, and is generally sold as incense. However, people smoke it like they would pot.
    The drug is currently illegal in 15 other states, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency put a year-long ban on K2 while it performs a study of the drug’s effects.
    And, parents hoping to use their children as their designated drivers are going to have to find another sober driver. Anyone caught intoxicated while instructing a minor with a learning permit operating a vehicle will be tagged with a moving violation.
   Story courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News.