They couldn’t agree on a full state budget at the Capitol, but Democrats in the legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner were able to set aside their differences to eliminate taxes on the purchase of tampons and other feminine hygiene products, create more flexible sick leave rules for workers, and add wage protections for domestic workers such as nannies and housekeepers.
Those are among about 190 new Illinois laws that take effect with the new year. The state gets an official state artifact in the form of a pirogue, a canoe made from a hollowed-out tree trunk, and hairdressers will be required to undergo training to spot signs of domestic violence among their clients. Students enrolled in driver education classes will now be taught what to do if pulled over by police, and community colleges will see tougher oversight following numerous revelations about questionable spending at the College of DuPage.
And one controversial measure that is set to take effect Jan. 1 is under review in the courts. At issue is state law that allows medical providers to decline to perform abortion procedures if they have moral objections. A change to that law would require health care providers that oppose abortion to provide patients with information about or a referral to other providers that will perform the procedure.
Supporters say the legislation is designed to give patients timely access to legal medical care. But opponents led by a group of anti-abortion pregnancy centers sued to block the law, arguing the legislation violates their free speech. Last week, a judge in Winnebago County said the state can’t enforce the law against the handful of centers involved in the lawsuit while the case plays out.
Here’s a look at some of the new rules for 2017:
The state will no longer collect sales tax on tampons, sanitary napkins and menstrual cups — a rare area of agreement on taxes between Republicans and Democrats who can’t agree on a budget.
Feminine hygiene products are subject to a 6.25 percent state sales tax, unlike some other necessities such as shampoo. That figure can be higher depending on local taxes. For instance, before the Chicago City Council voted to exclude tampons and sanitary napkins from the city’s sales tax earlier this year, feminine hygiene products purchased in Chicago were taxed at a rate of 10.25 percent.
State budget officials estimate the change could cost the state roughly $15 million a year in tax revenue.
Advocates for the repeal said it was an unfair tax that’s part of a broader trend in which women continue to earn less than their male counterparts in the workplace but are charged more for everything from razors to haircuts. They often call the trend a “pink tax” because women’s products are so often marketed in pink packaging.
“It’s important that women know they are paying more for things,” said sponsoring state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake. “This is a necessity that women have to have, and I don’t think they should have ever been taxed. It’s a wrong tax, and we are righting a wrong.”
Women will have more choices when it comes to contraceptive options under a new law that eliminates a complicated waiver process they must go through to get birth control medications not offered by their insurance companies.
Supporters say women should be able to choose birth control that’s best for their bodies without having to pay more, contending the measure will save money by preventing more unintended pregnancies. Opponents questioned if a wider range of options would add costs to insurance companies.
Nannies, housekeepers and other domestic workers will now be entitled to the state’s minimum wage and various human rights protections, under legislation dubbed the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
Employers will be required to pay domestic workers at least $8.25 an hour, above the federal minimum of $7.25. And they must get at least 24 hours of rest in each calendar week and a meal period of 20 minutes for every 7.5-hour shift, according to the new law. They will also be covered by the Illinois Human Rights Act, which protects against sexual harassment, and the Wages of Women and Minors Act, which prohibits employers from paying women and minors “an oppressive and unreasonable wage.”
Advocates say the changes will help protect domestic workers who are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Another measure would ban noncompete clauses between an employer and an hourly employee who earns $13 an hour or less. The law becomes effective after Jimmy John’s agreed to a $100,000 settlement with the state attorney general over the company’s noncompete agreements, which prevented employees from working at another sandwich shop for two years after they left a job at Jimmy John’s. The attorney general’s office said the rules were “highly restrictive.”
Meanwhile, workers will now have more flexibility when using their sick leave. Under a new law, employees who qualify for sick leave benefits can use that time off to provide care for family members who are hurt or ill. Rauner signed the legislation against the wishes of many in the business community, who called it a mandate that limits an employer’s ability to make decisions.
One measure aims to toughen the state’s rules regarding data breaches and when companies, hospitals, banks, retailers and others must inform customers if their personal information has been compromised. Under the new rules, a customer must be alerted if their electronic medical information, health insurance information, claims information or biometric data such as a fingerprints have been improperly accessed. The law also requires notification if a username or email address has been compromised.
A separate law prevents employers from accessing an employee or applicant’s personal online accounts. It bans employers from requesting, requiring or coercing workers into giving their username or password to any online account, or accessing that account in the presence of the employer.
Community college rules
Community colleges will face tougher oversight under a package of laws put in place following a Chicago Tribune investigation that uncovered numerous revelations about questionable spending and lax oversight at the College of DuPage.
The measures would require schools to undergo special audits every five years to examine contracts, transparency and compensation to school leadership; require extra training for community college board members on ethics, financial oversight and fiduciary responsibilities; and limit what income can be factored into pension benefits for university and college presidents.
Currently, those officials are able to get credit toward their pension for the cash value of perks like bonuses or car allowances. Under the change, pensionable income would be limited to salaries and not other benefits.
Law and order
Police agencies across Illinois will have new regulations on how they use cell site simulators, devices commonly known as “Stingrays” that collect cellphone data and can be used to track someone’s location. The devices are commonly used by police to investigate crime, but those pushing for restrictions said police also were able to collect data from people who aren’t the focus of an investigation at the same time.
New rules would require police to delete all data not related to the target of an investigation at least once every 24 hours, or within 72 hours if the simulators are used to identify an unknown communication device unless there is a court order directing otherwise.
A different law would require jails to accept cash to post bail. The measure came about after a Rockford teen was arrested for a traffic offense. When his mother tried to bail him out, the credit card machine was broken, and the Winnebago County Juvenile Detention Center had a policy to refuse cash. That meant her son was forced to sit in jail all weekend.
On a related note, it’ll soon be cheaper for state prison inmates to make calls under a new law that requires the state to find a cheaper phone provider. Rates can not exceed 7 cents per minute for debit, prepaid and collect calls. The current rate is about 11 cents a minute. Supporters argue for-profit companies were gouging inmates, preventing them from staying in touch with family.
Meanwhile, police officers who are partnered with a police dog will get the first chance to adopt that dog when it’s no longer fit for service. If the officer does not wish to keep the dog, other officers in the department could seek an adoption or it would go to a no-kill shelter.
Some of the rest
•Hairdressers will be required to take domestic violence and sexual violence awareness courses before they can renew their cosmetology licenses. The idea is to take advantage of the close relationship many customers have with their stylists.
•Students enrolled in driver’s education classes will soon be required to learn what to do if they are pulled over by police. Backers hope to prevent standard stops from escalating into violence.
•Insurance companies must now consult the federal master file to determine if a policy holder has died and whether benefits are owed. The change pushed by Treasurer Michael Frerichs is aimed at closing a loophole that led to companies failing to pay out benefits because they would not check to see if a customer had died.
•Property owners will be required to notify potential renters or buyers of any lead hazards. The notice must be given in writing before a lease is signed or renewed, or before a sales contract is signed.
•The pirogue will become the official state artifact, after students at a Wilmette middle school pushed for the designation for the boat made of a hollowed-out tree used by native tribes of Illinois.
•Grocery stores will now be allowed to consolidate eggs in cartons. Previously, if one egg in a dozen was cracked, the whole carton had to be thrown out.
•Student musicians in grades six through 12 can now be excused from school to play taps at military funerals.
•Catfish are now included on the list of fish that can be killed by a pitchfork, spear gun, or bow and arrow.