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Starting New Year’s Day, Illinoisans were allowed to drive 70 miles per hour on some highways for the first time. But they’ll have to refrain from talking on hand-held cellphones during those drives.

And any of those drivers who happen to flick cigarette butts out the window could be looking at a $1,500 fine.

Those are among more than 200 new Illinois laws that went into effect on Wednesday, the result of action in the past year by the state Legislature and governor.

Jan. 1 is the default start-date for many (though not all) new Illinois laws. That’s distinct from Missouri, where most laws go into effect in August.

Illinois passed two landmark pieces of long-sought legislation in the past year: one allowing residents to carry concealed weapons, and another allowing same-sex marriage. However, neither of those laws will be effective until later in 2014.

Another controversial new law, the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, legalizes marijuana in Illinois for medicinal purposes, allowing purchases of up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks for specified medical conditions. Though the law goes into effect Wednesday, it will likely be several more months before the state-licensed dispensaries are up and running.

For all the controversy over guns, gay marriage and pot, the more visible day-to-day effects for average Illinoisans are likely to stem from the new speed limit and cellphone restrictions that go into effect Wednesday.

Illinois’ top speed limit is currently 65 mph, which some have long said was making the state an island of slowness in a sea of speed. Where 55 was once the national top speed limit, states around America in recent years have been bumping limits up to 70, 75 and even 85 (in the case of one Texas highway). Public Act 98-0511 will put Illinois in the 70-mph club, which already includes Missouri and other neighboring states.

The law allows a handful of high-population counties, including St. Clair and Madison in the Metro East, to post lower limits. For now, however, neither county appears to be planning to opt out of the 70 mph limit.

Opponents included the AAA Foundation. The group reported to the Legislature that every 5 mph driven over 60 mph “is like paying an additional 24 cents per gallon of gas” because of lower efficiency. It called the bill “a step backward for Illinois road safety.”

Even as Illinoisans drive faster, they will be more restricted in their cellphone use. Under Public Act 098-0506, using a cellphone while driving in Illinois can mean fines starting at $75. The law makes an exception for hands-free cellphone setups.

“Too many Illinois families have suffered because of accidents that could have been prevented,” Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, said in a statement upon signing the law in August. “Anyone driving a car should be careful, responsive and alert behind the wheel.”

Cellphones were just one of the high-tech issues lawmakers tackled in Springfield this year, as they addressed a slew of topics that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.

The Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act will prohibit law enforcement from using aerial drones except to locate missing people or for crime scene photography. Public acts 098-0350 and 098-0349 will ban minors from buying electronic cigarettes and using tanning beds, respectively.

And Public Act 098-0381 makes it a misdemeanor to use an electronic tracking device, such as a GPS system, to track someone without his or her knowledge.

It was prompted by an Illinois case in which a man had secretly attached a GPS device to the car of a former girlfriend so he could track her movements.

“There was really nothing in the statutes to charge him with,” said the new law’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford.

“There is going to be a growing concern about privacy as the world becomes more public, with all the social media and data-driven technology,” he said. “It will continue to challenge government as we try to protect the privacy of individuals.”

Other Illinois laws that go into effect with the new year attempt to tackle more traditional issues, like litter. Public Act 098-0483 adds one word to existing state law — “cigarettes” — bringing them under the state’s official definition of litter. As of Jan. 1, tossing a cigarette butt on the ground will become a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,500 fine.

Proponents argue that cigarette butts pose a unique problem because they are small enough to hurt birds that try to ingest them and aren’t biodegradable. A study by the Keep America Beautiful campaign found them to be the most common form of individual litter.

“There’s far too many on our streets and our roads, and this just tries to clean that up,” the new law’s sponsor, former state Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago, told the Chicago Sun-Times in April.

Illinois’ landmark same-sex marriage law isn’t among those effective Jan. 1, because the state requires later effective dates for laws passed after May 31 — unless they get a three-fifths “supermajority,” which wasn’t the case for the controversial marriage bill.

In Missouri, only a handful of new laws take effect Wednesday.

Some of the new laws are the result of bills passed during the 2013 legislative session, such as new screening requirements for babies born beginning in 2014 and new benefit entitlements for claims of serious work-related illnesses.

But other changes, such as a small hike in the minimum wage hike and a modest tax cut for some corporations, are the result of laws enacted years ago that had annual inflationary provisions or phased-in effective dates.

A law passed by voters in 2006 set Missouri’s minimum wage at $6.50 an hour with an annual cost-of-living adjustment. Because of inflation, Missouri’s minimum wage now stands at $7.35 an hour and will rise on Wednesday to $7.50, making Missouri one of 20 states with a rate above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The National Employment Law Project, a New York-based worker advocacy group, estimates that the minimum wage increase will affect 104,000 workers in Missouri.

Other new Missouri laws taking effect Wednesday include measures to temporarily double the fees paid by businesses for the Second Injury Fund and to require a particular type of test to determine if newborn babies have congenital heart disease.

Source: stltoday.com

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