August 22, 2013

New Illinois Law Protects Renters In Foreclosures

Illinois has a new law protecting renters if their landlord's property goes into foreclosure.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law Wednesday saying those who buy multifamily properties out of foreclosure should either honor existing tenant leases or give the renters 90 days to move.

It takes effect in three months.

The original bill was sponsored by state Sen. Jacqueline Collins and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both Chicago Democrats. They say that about 40 percent of families affected by foreclosure are renters who might not know their landlord failed to make mortgage payments.

Advocates of the bill say it will help avoid pushing many tenants into homelessness by giving them time to find a safe place to live. They also say it will prevent properties from standing vacant.

August 16, 2013

Gov. Quinn Signs Bill Banning Hand-Held Phones In Cars

Using a hand-held cellphone while driving in Illinois will be illegal on Jan. 1.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Friday aimed at reducing distracted driving. It requires motorists to use speakerphones or headsets that allow for one-digit or audio dialing.

Illinois joins 11 other states and Washington, D.C. in banning hand-held phone use on the road.

Texting while driving is already illegal in Illinois.

Sen. John Mulroe (muhl-ROH') -- a Chicago Democrat and sponsor -- says he wants motorists to "keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.''

The U.S. Transportation Department says drivers using hand-held devices are four times more likely to get in a crash causing injuries. Distracted driving caused 387,000 injuries and 3,000 deaths in 2011.

August 15, 2013

Gov. Quinn Signs Law Providing Veterans With Legal Help

Illinois veterans and service members can qualify for free legal help under a new law pushed by Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Thursday that allows the state's high court to establish a pilot program setting up a legal hotline and access to attorneys. The money for the program will come from fees in civil cases. It'll be collected by clerks of circuit court and put into a so-called Access to Justice Fund.

Quinn says service members have faced obstacles in the line of duty and shouldn't have to face them at home.

The law will also set up a panel to take a look at legal fees for criminal defendants. The law takes effect immediately.

same-sex marriage ceremony
(Chris Park/AP)
August 06, 2013

Illinois Judge To Decide On Same Sex Marriage In September

A Cook County judge won't decide until late September on whether to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state's same sex marriage ban.

Circuit Judge Sophia Hall listened to nearly two hours of arguments on Tuesday. She then said she'll rule on Sept. 27. The lawsuit involves 25 couples who filed for marriage licenses in Cook County and were denied.

However, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has refused to defend the state's ban, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. She says it violates the state constitution.

Clerks from downstate were allowed to intervene and defend the ban.

Illinois approved civil unions in 2011, but attempts to legalize same sex marriage have stalled.

August 05, 2013

Gov. Quinn Signs Bill For Disabled Student Athletes

A new law says student athletes with disabilities can be exempt from gym class if they play other sports.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill Sunday extending the exemption that exists for other students. Already, school boards can allow juniors and seniors out of physical education for reasons including if they're in sports or need credits. Quinn says athletes with disabilities should be given the same consideration.

The law takes effect immediately.

It says disabled student athletes can be exempt if they're involved in adaptive athletic programs.

The bill was prompted by student Tyler Woodworth, who has cerebral palsy. He plays sled hockey, which is adapted ice hockey. Woodworth wanted to take a class but had a full schedule and didn't qualify for the exemption.

The bill is SB2157.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a bill that says school cannot require parents to dole out the account information of their children's social networking pages.
(Julien Lozelli/flickr)
August 02, 2013

Gov. Quinn Signs Student Social Networking Law

A new law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn will prohibit schools from requiring parents to give out students' social networking account information.

Quinn signed the measure on Friday. The law sponsored by Democratic state Rep. La Shawn Ford passed by a wide margin in the state Senate, but with a narrower vote in the state House this spring.

It applies to public elementary and high schools, as well as private schools recognized by the State Board of Education. It say they can't request or require a student or prospective student to provide account information for social networking sites unless it is believed a student violated school rules.

It is effective Jan. 1.

A class at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
(Jeremy Wilburn/flickr)
July 25, 2013

Illinois Tuition Law Helps Families, But Hurts Schools

As the Illinois Truth-in-Tuition law reaches its 10th year, experts say it helps families plan for college, but it makes it harder for public colleges to be strategic.

The law allows Illinois undergraduate students at public universities to attend school for four years without tuition increases. An amendment passed in 2010 extended it to six years, though allowing the school to increase tuition rates for fifth or sixth year students, as long as the price matches that of the students that came immediately after then.

Although the law provides some stability to students, it has hurt universities, according to Allan Karnes, accounting professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

For example, when a university needs to increase tuition due to rising costs, inflation or decreasing state support, the incoming class has to shoulder the entire increase because their counterparts cannot pay higher fees.

‘It appears we’re raising tuition much more than we actually are, and so that cast us in a bad light,” Karnes said.

Moreover, the binding law requires public universities to guess what their budget will be for the next couple of years, said Thomas Hardy, executive director for media relations at the University of Illinois.

“It requires that the university take a bit of foresight in terms of where cost may go, and then reading a bit of a crystal ball, set tuition that will be fixed for a four year period,” Hardy said. “It locks us in for a four-year period.”

He adds that this comes at a time of decreasing state support. Since 2002, the University of Illinois has lost about $1 billion in spending authority, leading to tuition hikes and cuts. For example, the university shut down its Institute of Aviation in July 2011.

Having to predict future costs is also difficult, said Kinga Mauger, the bursar at Northern Illinois University. For example, the school did not expect the recession. Although the school faces rising costs, Mauger said it doesn’t want to simply ask incoming students to shoulder the burden. As a result, budgeting is far more difficult.

A new survey of 800 undergraduates and parents nationwide from student loan company Sallie Mae found that since 2010 and the recession, parents have paid less for college, relying more on loans, grants and scholarships. Overall, high and low-income families have paid less for college since 2010, but middle-income families have paid more.

Spending on college overall has fallen since the recession. That, along with the Illinois requirement to fix tuition for four years, makes budgeting difficult for state universities.

Spending on college overall has fallen since the recession. That, along with the Illinois requirement to fix tuition for four years, makes budgeting difficult for state universities. (Sallie Mae)

Beyond Illinois, a federal Truth in Tuition proposal has been sent to a House committee.

It requires schools to give students a multi-year fee schedule upon admission, but allows for changes.

Karnes of the Illinois State Board of Education said lawmakers are not in the best position to draft tuition policies.

“There’s not a general understanding at that level (of) what the budgetary pressures are,” Karnes said. “Every school is different. We determine what tuition should be by what our costs are. We’re not trying to make money. We’re just trying to break even.”

Guns Save Life
July 19, 2013

Illinois Communities Run Out Of Time For "Assault" Weapon Restrictions

It could be months before anyone can actually bring a gun outside the home. But a separate provision of Illinois’ new concealed carry law has already taken effect.

Beginning this weekend, communities will no longer have the ability to enact restrictions on assault weapons. The state gave municipalities until midnight Friday to act.

It all started with an application for a license to open a gun shop, in 1981.

“At that time, Ronald Reagan had been shot and there was a lot going on at that time, concerning handguns. And of course at that time there was still a lot of shooting in the South and West sides of Chicago,” Don Sneider, a Morton Grove Trustee at the time.

The board didn’t just reject the license application; the board banned the sale of handguns. And the then it took another step by becoming the first in the nation to ban the possession of handguns.

It set off a firestorm. A media frenzy that went international.

“Japan sent their people, their television people – in fact they came into my house – to discuss it,” Sneider said. “They were amazed we didn’t have any laws like that in the United States.”

It made Sneider and his allies some enemies.

“The NRA of course came in and made all kinds of threats,” he said.

Political threats, mind you – ones that Sneider overcame – he retired from the Morton Grove board in 2000.

And for a time, his position won too. State and federal courts upheld Morton Grove’s ban.

Thirty-two years later – it’s a different story. In 2008, more recent court decisions led Morton Grove to repeal its handgun ban.

And earlier this month, Illinois lifted its longstanding ban on guns outside the home, following an order from a federal court.

The law legislators passed for July 9 made it so that Morton Grove wouldn’t be able to pass such restrictions again.

The law gave communities ten days to place local limits on the sale, possession, and transport of so-called “assault weapons.” 

A timeline Nicole Chen calls “ludicrous,” and a decision that shouldn’t be left to the state.

“Communities should have the discussion amongst themselves that they live with every day and that they coexist with every day, they should have that discussion within their communities,” Chen said.

Chen, a mother of two from Western Springs, began lobbying for gun-control following the Sandy Hook school shootings last December. She said there is no reason assault weapons bans were part of the concealed carry law – except because it’s good for the National Rifle Association.

“I’m well aware that it is a national policy strategy of the gun lobby to start stripping communities’ abilities to make their own gun laws - preemption, as it’s called,” she said.

Because Chen’s town, Western Springs, is in Cook County, it is covered by the county’s existing, but newly expanded and tougher, ban on assault weapons.

But a vast majority of the local governments in Illinois did not take action within the ten-day window.

Advocates of that approach say it’s with good reason – they say gun control should be left to the state or federal government.

“I think it would have created all kinds of problems to have local communities setting up different standards,” Springfield Mayor Mike Houston said. "Whereas somone might be legal in one community and find themselves carrying (sic) illegal weapon."

“If somebody owns an assault weapon and let’s say they’re just outside of Bloomington-Normal,  where it might be okay,  odds aren’t they’re not going to say, “Well gosh, when I cross over into the city of Bloomington, this weapon is illegal!’ Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said. "I have difficulty with that type of approach."

Other municipal leaders say they didn’t take action because there wasn’t enough time.

Others cite a fear of getting dragged into court by gun rights groups, and getting caught in a legal battle they don’t have money to fight.

Still – other communities did hurry to pass an ordinance within the ten-day window, including Highland Park, Skokie and Deerfield. 

“By having something on our books, we are able to see what's going to happen next and how all the dust settles with concealed carry and the assault weapon bans and whatever, and then if we chose to take further action we have that ability,” Deerfield Mayor Harriet Rosenthal said. “With nothing on our books we don’t have the ability to do anything.”

Rosenthal admits the village doesn’t see a lot of violence, but she says even so,“we owe our residents the safest community that we can give them. And we certainly wouldn’t want to wait for some type of violent action and then act. You want to just be proactive.”

Trustees in Morton Grove wanted to keep their options open too, according to its mayor, Dan DiMaria.

On Thursday, the day before the deadline, Morton Grove unanimously voted that firearms capable of carrying magazines with more than 30 rounds of ammunition are not allowed in public.

The village that once had the nations’ strictest gun prohibition this time took a conservative approach with its new ban. But it passed one – just in time.

July 12, 2013

Illinois Objects To Call For Immediate Concealed-Carry

The state of Illinois is asking a federal court to reject a push by gun-rights advocates to let the state's residents start publicly toting weapons as soon as next week, rather than waiting months for implementation of a new concealed carry law.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office asked a judge Thursday to throw out the request filed in East St. Louis by Mary Shepard. She filed the injunction a day after lawmakers lifted the last-in-the-nation ban. The state argues Shepard needs to file a new complaint instead of a motion seeking an emergency hearing from a judge.

No hearing has been scheduled.

Shepard says an unconstitutional ban on packing pistols remains because it will be as long as nine months before the first carry permits are approved in Illinois.

July 11, 2013

Illinois Supreme Court Ends Challenges To Abortion Law

A lengthy legal battle over an abortion notification law appears to be ending, clearing the way for Illinois to begin enforcing a 1995 measure requiring doctors to notify a girl's parents before she undergoes the procedure.

Thursday's Illinois Supreme Court ruling says the case shouldn't be reconsidered and has to be enforced unless there's an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The law requires doctors to notify a girl's parents 48 hours before an abortion, unless she gets permission from a judge. It applies to girls 17 and younger.

The 1995 law was never enforced because of legal challenges. The ACLU sued, saying young women were capable of making medical decisions.

But anti-abortion activists argued parents were being denied basic rights if their children got abortions without their knowledge.

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