Hundreds of new Illinois laws go into effect in 2018

(Photo courtesy of BERT KAUFFMAN | FLICKR)

(Photo courtesy of BERT KAUFFMAN | FLICKR)

With the beginning of a new year comes the inauguration of more than 100 new laws in Illinois.

The Statehouse is often out of sight and out of mind for a lot of people, but the laws it signs are of equal consequence as those passed by the Federal legislatures. The laws passed cover dozens of topics from new abortion protections to bicyclist safety regulations.

Start listening at 6:26 to get a quick recap of seven new laws in Illinois.

LGBTQ Rights

Among the more notable laws passed is the outlaw of the “gay panic” defense, which is a legal defense often used in assault and murder cases where a defendant claims same-sex sexual advances induced a temporary insanity as justification for committing a violent crime against a homosexual individual.

The American Bar Association called for the prohibition of this defense strategy in 2013, saying their continued use of the defense “marks an egregious lapse in our nation’s march toward a more just criminal system.”

Illinois became the second state after California to outlaw the defense tactic after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the trio of bills in August, which were cosponsored by state senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss. The bill was unanimously passed by both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly (GA).

LGBTQ advocates applauded the passage of the bill. Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, said the approval of the bills shows that “Illinois is moving forward on LGBTQ rights while the federal government reverses course and that Donald Trump is going against the tide of history.”

Abortion Protections

With President Trump now in charge of the nomination of Supreme Court justices, many pro-choice advocates have become concerned that his appointments will lead to the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The Illinois GA seized the moment of uncertainty to pass a bill that would uphold the core tenants of Roe V. Wade if it is ever overturned. The bill also expanded Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals and makes access to abortions easier.

Cofounder of Student for Reproductive Justice Jenni Holtz said the passage of the bill is “especially a victory for poor people who would not be able to afford an abortion without insurance.”

Proponents of the bill said it would protect women from dangerous and seedy abortion practices.

“Abortions are healthcare and healthcare is a right,” Holtz said. “It is the individual choice of the person to get that abortion, and they should be able to do so safely

Signing the bill proved to be a costly political move for Gov. Rauner. Last April, he said he would veto the bill if it made its way to his desk, but he soon reversed course and his position became murky. The Republican is already one of the most unfavorable governors in the country, and signing a bill expanding abortion protections is sure to alienate some of his downstate base.

The IL House of Representatives Republican leader Jim Durkin called the signing of the bill “an absolute betrayal,” and announced he would be withdrawing all support for the Republican governor as he runs in a hotly-contested reelection campaign.

Elephant Ban

In another pioneering move, the Illinois GA passed a law that prohibits the use of elephants in travelling circuses, punishable by up to a year of jail time. 21 countries in the European Union have also banned elephants in traveling , but Illinois is now the first state in the U.S. to do so.

“Elephants in traveling shows live a dismal life in which they are dominated, imprisoned and violently trained. Workers routinely beat, shock and whip them until they learn to perform meaningless, confusing tricks that have no connection to their natural instincts and behavior,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement.

The push for the bill garnered some celebrity support when Emmy-award winning actress Jane Lynch urged Gov. Rauner to sign the bill, saying, “(Elephants in circuses) are deprived of everything that is natural to them, such as the ability to roam and form tight matriarchal family groups.”

“While Illinois is the first state to ban performing elephants, it’s likely that other states will follow suit in protecting them and other performing animals,” said Brett Davinger, associate director of the College of Law’s Center for Animal Law. “These stories don’t just generate large amounts of public interest, they also inspire people to demand change.”

The law, however, does not apply to elephants in non-mobile institutions like zoos.

Automatic Voter Registration

Illinois joined 9 other states in passing a bill that automatically register people to vote whenever they interact with the DMV. The bill enjoyed bipartisan support and was passed, again unanimously, by the GA.

Voter turnout in Illinois is chronically low. In the 2014 gubernatorial election, about 200,000 votes were cast, just 1 percent of the state’s 12.8 million residents.

The bill was reshaped after Rauner vetoed an earlier version, saying he wanted there to be an option for people to opt out of being registered if they wanted.

“Automatic voter registration is a win-win,” said Cook County Clerk David Orr in a statement. “For voters, it takes the burden of registration off their backs and shifts it to the government, where it should be. For election officials, it creates a tremendous tool to clean up the voter rolls, and saves money as well.”