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New year welcomes new laws, while state plods on without budget

2016As we begin a new calendar year, the old one is still with us.

State lawmakers and the governor have yet to craft a budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2015 — six months ago. Court orders and federal consent decrees have kept most of state government functioning, while the safety net of state-grant-based social service providers lies mostly in tatters.

When will the budget impasse end – likely not anytime soon. A look at the recently released legislative calendar for the spring session set to begin later this month shows the Illinois House scheduled to be in session for 12 days before the March 15 primary election. The Senate fares just a bit better, coming in for 15 days before the primary election date.

However, although a budget was not crafted in 2015, more than 230 pieces of legislation passed both chambers, and were signed by the governor with an effective date of today. Let’s take a look at some of the initiatives that the Catholic Conference of Illinois supported and go into effect today.

Juvenile Justice Reforms

In both his State of the State and Budget speeches earlier in 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner stressed the need to reduce Illinois’ prison population, pledging to decrease the number of inmates by 25 percent by 2025. Four key pieces of legislation that go into effect today will chip away at that goal by reforming juvenile justice.

House Bill 3718 calls for reducing the number of automatic transfers of juveniles from juvenile court to adult court. The legislation increases from 15 to 16 the age at which juveniles charged with the most serious crimes must be charged as an adult. The legislation also calls for the court to consider specified mitigating factors before sentencing a person who was under 18 years of age at the time the crime was committed.

CSenate Bill 1560 prohibits youths charged with misdemeanors from being sent to state juvenile prisons. The measure limits prison sentences for minors and clarifies who can be charged as a juvenile. Individuals convicted of a crime may be sent to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Authority if they are at least 13 years and under 20 years of age, and if the same crime committed by an adult would lead to imprisonment in the Illinois Department of Corrections. In the sentencing order, the court shall include a limitation on the period of confinement not to exceed the maximum period of imprisonment. The measure also requires counties to detain youths charged with parole violations, rather than sending them back to state prisons.

House Bill 2567 is intended to keep children under age 13 out of prison. Local authorities would be required to seek community-based youth services for the offender, who could be placed in detention only if no services could be provided.

House Bill 2471 seeks to end mandatory life in prison without parole sentences for individuals who were juveniles when committing the crime. The measure calls for courts to consider a juvenile’s potential for rehabilitation when imposing a sentence. This legislation comes in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which called life in prison without parole sentences for juveniles "cruel and unusual punishment."

Human Trafficking

Pope Francis in 2015 established Feb. 8 as the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. Greater attention is being paid to this plague on humanity, and the Illinois legislature took steps to combat this scourge.

HumanTraffickingSignHouse Bill 2556 seeks to educate victims of human trafficking on how and where to get help. The initiative requires that certain businesses or areas post a sign advertising the toll-free hotline number of 1-888-373-7888 that is operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. The sign should be posted in clear view at the following:  bars, adult entertainment facilities, airports, intercity passenger rail or light rail stations, bus stations, truck stops, emergency rooms, urgent care centers, farm labor contractors, and privately-operated job recruitment centers. The sign can be downloaded for free from the website of the Illinois Department of Human Services within six months of Jan. 1, 2016.

Senate Bill 43 calls for the state departments of Human Services and Transportation to cooperate on the promotion of public awareness of the hotline operated by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center by posting signs advertising the hotline in high-risk areas, such as truck stops, bus stations, train stations, airports, and rest stops.

Health Care Power of Attorney

Senate Bill 159 clarifies and improves the state’s Health Care Power of Attorney. The Health Care Power of Attorney  is a type of form called an advance directive in which individuals state their health care preferences if they are ever in a situation in which they are unable to do so. This form also allows individuals to appoint an agent who will act on their behalf if they are unable to do so because of a health situation.

For more information on the state's updated Health Care Power of Attorney, see our Publications page.