TV & Radio
NEW LAWS GO INTO EFFECT
Clock starts on new laws
Gay rights, meth and sex offender measures among 280 taking effect
By Christi Parsons
Chicago Tribune staff reporter
January 1, 2006
SPRINGFIELD -- The state's new gay rights law takes effect Sunday, making Illinois one of only a handful of states that explicitly bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Human Rights Act goes into effect New Year's Day, along with more than 280 other laws passed by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich during 2005. New statutes crack down on identity thieves, sex offenders, illegal drug producers and drunken or reckless drivers.
The gay rights statute outlaws discrimination against gays and lesbians by landlords, real estate agents, employers and lenders, a prohibition mirroring those in 14 other states.
But Illinois is only the sixth state to extend its protections to transgender people, whose gender identities are different from their designated sex at birth.
"This law is a big symbolic step," said Rick Garcia, political director for Equality Illinois and a leading advocate for the new act. "It says the State of Illinois believes all of its citizens should be treated fairly and equitably. This law affirms that gay residents of Illinois are respected and are expected to be treated fairly," he said.
Conservative family groups vow to fight further legislative changes that help gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people fight discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Arguing that this law lays the groundwork for gay marriage and other changes to state law, several groups have promised legal action to challenge the law after it takes effect.
Although authors of the law say it exempts churches from its hiring rules, some conservative leaders fear the change will infringe on their rights to refuse job applicants who do not comply with their churches' teachings against homosexuality.
"It doesn't protect religious liberties or the churches," said Ralph Rivera, legislative chairman of Illinois Family Coalition. "Although the law may exempt the hiring of a minister, it may not exempt a choir director or a secretary at a church who is a cross-dresser," Rivera said. "If there's a church that says, `No, in our religious doctrine, we're opposed to homosexuality or cross-dressing,' [the church] could be in violation of the law."
Both parties back rights law
The law passed the Illinois General Assembly last January with the support of both Democrats and Republicans after years of fighting had prevented it from ever being called for consideration in the state Senate. But senators passed the measure under strong pressure from Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), with many black lawmakers drawing comparisons to the civil rights era.
After passage, Rep. Larry McKeon (D-Chicago), the only openly gay member of the legislature, pronounced his colleagues "on the right side of history." Blagojevich, who had lobbied for the bill with his sister-in-law, gay activist Deborah Mell, signed the measure in short order.
The gay-rights law is likely the most controversial measure to take effect Sunday, but dozens of others also will kick into gear.
Several are designed to protect Illinois residents from identity theft. One anti-identity-theft law will require companies to inform customers if their personal information may have accidentally fallen into the hands of thieves.
Another new law will allow victims of identity theft to impose a "security freeze" on their credit reports so that imposters can't open up new lines of credit in their names.
"Lawmakers are growing more receptive to these kinds of laws now," said Rebecca Stanfield, state director for the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, a supporter of the new statutes. "There's a growing awareness that identity theft is a problem. People are more and more aware of how widespread it is."
Loss of financial records
The threat hit home with policymakers nationwide in early 2005, when a company that compiles personal and financial information on millions of consumers revealed that it had inadvertently released private details about as many as 145,000 people.
The security breach at ChoicePoint inspired several states around the country to consider laws requiring that companies and public agencies inform consumers when the security of their personal information is jeopardized.
Other laws set to take effect Sunday address:
- Sex offenders. Police will begin providing information on juvenile sex offenders to the principals of the schools in which they are enrolled. Under previous law, juvenile offenders had to register with police, but the law did not require notification to local schools.
- Methamphetamine makers. Allergy and cold sufferers will have to show identification and sign a log when purchasing medicines containing the powder form of pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient used in the manufacture of meth. It is also against the law for anyone younger than 18 to buy medicines containing pseudoephedrine.
- Reckless drivers. The law will limit drivers to two court supervisions for moving violations within a single year. Any other violations will result in convictions reported on the driver's permanent record.
In 2004, more than 3,780 drivers got court supervision for more than three offenses, according to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's office. Also in 2004, 128 drivers got court supervision more than six times within the year, and one driver received it 14 times.
- - -
Gays, lesbians and transgender individuals protected against bias from landlords, real estate agents, employers and lenders.
Companies must inform customers if personal information is compromised; victims can impose "security freeze" on credit reports.
Drivers limited to two court supervisions for moving violations in a year. Further violations, convictions to appear on driver's record.
Must show ID to buy medicines containing pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
A person's decision to donate organs and tissue after death is now legally binding. Previously, next of kin also had to consent.