Highland News Leader

New Year brings new laws

There are 237 new laws that took effect Jan. 1 in Illinois.

Among them are laws to deter 911 prank calls, add missing senior citizens to the Amber Alert, ban the sale of powdered caffeine to minors, protect senior citizens from estate scams, and to prioritize handicap accessible parks. Other laws give new protections for sexual assault survivors, crime victims, and workers.

“Hundreds of laws are scheduled to take effect this New Year. It is important the public become familiar with the new laws, which have an impact on us and our neighbors,” said state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville.

Illinois also became the fourth state to explicitly allow electronic monitoring devices to be installed in resident rooms in nursing home facilities.

“The New Year will bring new peace of mind for nursing home residents and their families, because for the first time, they will have the option of installing recording devices to ensure their loved ones are receiving appropriate care,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.

The following is an overview of some of the laws.

Nursing Home Cameras (PA 99-0430, HB 2462) This law stemmed from complaints Madigan’s office received from nursing home residents and families who were concerned for their relatives’ care and safety. The new law allows residents of nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities or their family members to purchase and install video or audio monitoring devices in their rooms.

The law also prohibits facility retaliation against residents for the use of the devices and provides misdemeanor and felony penalties for any person or entity that intentionally hampers, obstructs, tampers with, or destroys a recording or an electronic monitoring device.

Deterring Prank 911 Calls (PA 99-0160, HB 3988) This law seeks to deter prank 911 calls by giving the courts the discretion to require offenders convicted of making a prank 911 call or other false emergency alert to police to reimburse the public for the costs of responding to the report, a trend known as “swatting.”

“Unfortunately it has become a routine for 9-1-1 emergency centers to receive prank calls,” said Rep. Meier. “When an individual calls 911 for an emergency, every second counts when saving a life, calling 911 is serious—not a prank.”

Silver Alert (PA 99-0367, SB 1846) Missing older adults who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease will be added to the Missing and Endangered statewide alert program. This system, Amber Alert, is already in use for lost, missing and endangered children.

“It can be a frightening experience getting a phone call to hear your loved one is missing. I anticipate this new law will help locate persons missing that may otherwise be unable to find their way back home as a result of having dementia or Alzheimer’s,” Meier said.

Powdered Caffeine Control (PA 99-0050, SB 9) This new law prohibits any person from selling, offering to sell, giving away, or providing free samples of powdered pure caffeine to any person under age 18 and sets forth the penalties for violation.

According to the FDA, a single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to the amount in 28 cups of coffee.

“This law is a result of recent reports of teens overdosing on powdered caffeine,” said Meier. “It’s tragic to hear the stories of kids overdosing on something the public was unaware a person could die from.”

Protecting Seniors from Victimization with Their Wills (SB 90) Aimed at protecting senior citizens, this new law will serve to protect disabled seniors from being victimized by scammers who try to talk them into changing their wills, by providing for judicial oversight in cases where individuals have been determined by the courts to be not of sound mind and memory.

“I have heard countless stories from family members of senior citizens scammed out of their estate. I anticipate this new law will protect seniors and their family from being victimized by individuals seeking to steal senior citizens’ life savings,” Meier said.

Handicap Accessible Parks (PA 99-0391, HB 3457) This law directs the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to add handicap-accessible playground equipment such as ramped ground-level play features, accessible swings, wheelchair accessible tables, adjustable equipment, universally accessible swings, and transfer platforms to the criteria for giving park projects priority.

“When it came to my attention how very few Illinois parks are handicap accessible I realized something had to be done. I believe that individuals with a handicap and their families should be able to enjoy our state’s wonderful parks and the great outdoors,” Meier said.

Unlicensed Employment Agencies (PA 99-0422, SB 1859) The law enables the state to take stronger action against employment agencies that operate without a license or violate the state’s Private Employment Agency Act.

In November, Madigan filed lawsuits against three unlicensed Chicago employment agencies that targeted Latino workers for employment at Chinese buffet-style restaurants. Workers interviewed by Madigan’s office described long workdays, poor wages, high-pressure work environments, crowded and substandard housing conditions, verbal abuse, discrimination and threats of violence.

The new law will enable the state to better track licensed employment agencies, impose stronger penalties for those that operate outside the law, penalize businesses that knowingly use unlicensed employment agencies, and offer greater protection for workplace whistleblowers.

Protecting Victims of Crime (PA 99-0444, SB 1866) The law requires vendors who provide hospital, medical, dental and counseling services to victims of violent crime to wait until the Court of Claims issues a final decision on a victim’s crime victims compensation claim before demanding payment or referring unpaid bills to a debt collection agency.

Madigan said the need for this new law stemmed from frequent instances in which vendors would take action to collect on a crime victim’s bill while payment from the state was still pending, which can be emotionally traumatizing for the victims, as well as harmful to his or her credit rating.

Protecting Survivors of Sexual Assault (PA 99-0454, HB 3848) This law brings Illinois into compliance with the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which requires the state to certify that sexual assault survivors are not being billed for medical forensic examinations as a condition of receiving federal grant funds.

The law prevents survivors of sexual assaults from being re-traumatized by expressly prohibiting hospitals, emergency room physicians and other providers of sexual assault services from charging the survivor or sending the survivor a bill. Hospitals must also provide a written notice to survivors when they are discharged, explaining that they may not be billed and providing information regarding who survivors should contact if they receive a bill. Under the new law, fines may be imposed on providers who bill or refer a survivor to a collection agency.