Springfield Business Journal Articles


Legislative Update

One could be excused for thinking that our state and federal politicians had not passed many laws other than those associated with those issues that seem to dominate the news cycles. Actually, there have been some lesser known laws that will likely impact readers of the Business Journal. Because ignorance of the law is no excuse, here’s a synopsis of some of the more interesting and entertaining new laws on the books.

Cell Phones/Texting. Illinois drivers will no longer be able to use a cell phone, computer or PDA to send, compose, or read electronic messages, including text messages, while operating a motor vehicle. The law, which goes into effect on January 1, defines electronic messages to include email, text and instant messages, as well as commands or requests to access web sites. The ban does not apply to emergency situations or when a device is being used in voice activated or hands free modes. A first offense will cost you $75. Don’t worry – the ban doesn’t extend to GPS navigation devices as long as they are integrated into the car.

In a similar vein, as of January 1 it will be illegal to use a cell phone while driving in a school speed zone or in a construction zone. There are similar exceptions for emergency situations and when the phone is being used in voice activated mode.

Juvenile Misdemeanors. If your minor children are miscreants, or just happen to make a bad decision, you don’t have to worry about them being charged as adults as long as their transgressions are limited to misdemeanors. As of the first of the year, 17 year olds charged with misdemeanors can no longer be charged as adults.

Mechanics Lien Act. Of particular note to contractors and homeowners having work done is the fact that a contractor must give an owner written notice within 10 days of recording a mechanics lien. Significantly the new requirement only applies to contracts entered into after January 1, 2010 for work done to owner-occupied single family residences. And, it applies only to contractors and not to subcontractors. Failure to give the notice may result in the lien being extinguished in whole or in part.

Discrimination. Employees in Illinois are protected from discrimination and retaliation under the Illinois Human Rights Act based on “protected classifications” which are defined as race, national origin, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation and marital status. 2010 brings an expansion of those classifications to include “order of protection status.” The new law bars discrimination against an individual who is the beneficiary of an order of protection issued under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, or a similar order issued by a court in another state. The ban extends to discrimination in the housing arena as well.

Vacant Building Tax Abatement.
 In an attempt to encourage businesses to move into abandoned buildings, the legislature passed Public Act 96-755 which grants local governments the right to abate property taxes on properties that have been vacant for at least 24 consecutive months prior to being occupied by a business. In order for a local government to abate any portion of the property tax, a majority of its governing body must vote in the abatement’s favor. The abatement cannot be for longer than two years, and the total tax abatement for all taxing districts involved cannot exceed $4 million dollars. Let’s hope this spells good news for Springfield.

Airplane Passenger Bill of Rights. Although it doesn’t seem to be a problem in Springfield, we’ve all heard reports of plane passengers being trapped on the tarmac for hours. The federal government recently enacted new regulations, which are scheduled to become effective in Spring 2010, that prohibit an airline from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than 3 hours without deplaning passengers. There are exceptions of safety, security and disruption to airport operations. The new laws further require airlines to provide adequate food, water and lavatories within 2 hours of a plane being delayed on the tarmac. Now you have no more excuses to not “Fly Spi.”

Freedom of Information Act. Changes abound in this controversial legislation, including a shortened time period within which a public body must respond to an information request. This period is now five days – down from seven – unless an exception applies or the requesting individual agrees to an extension. If the request is deemed to be for a “commercial purpose”, however, the response time is expanded to 21 days and the requestor must pay a compliance fee prior to any copies being made.

Of particular interest to contractors is the focus on protecting trade secrets and proprietary information that may be exposed during the bidding process. Contractors may now be able to better protect themselves via the trade secrets exemption. To qualify, information claimed as a trade secret must be “furnished under a claim it is proprietary privileged or confidential, and that disclosure of the trade secrets or commercial or financial information would cause competitive harm to the person or business.” In other words, when a contractor submits bidding documents to an Illinois government entity, it must identify information contained therein as a trade secret and proprietary in order to later claim that such information is exempt from FOIA requests. This preemptive move is particularly important given that under both the former and revised Act, the government body is not required to give notice that a bidder’s information has been requested.

Speed Limit. Big rig drivers can finally put the pedal to the metal in Illinois – so long as they are traveling outside of the Chicago collar counties. Effective January 1, the highway speed limit for semi trucks increases to 65 miles per hour. Truckers traveling through Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties beware: the speed limit remains 55 miles per hour in these areas.

by Tom Pavlik
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