August 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day, an annual global event that aims to raise awareness about substance abuse and overdose deaths.
On August 28, Governor Bruce Rauner signed a new law to curb opioid addiction in Illinois. Senate Bill 336 creates the Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018, adding those who might otherwise seek opioids for pain management to the list of those eligible for medical marijuana.
Advanced as a bipartisan effort to address the opioid crisis in our country—giving people more control over their health care and offering more pain-relief options—the new law puts in place a pilot program that will not compromise patient safety or diminish medical marijuana program standards, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
Licensed physicians must certify an individual has a medical condition for which an opioid has been or could be prescribed. Participants, who must be ages 21 and older, must register at a licensed dispensary. Dispensations are limited to 2.5 ounces every 14 days and cannot exceed 90 days per physician certification.
IDPH reports opioid deaths in Illinois increased 13 percent from 2016 to 2017. In Illinois, more people died last year from opioid overdoses than fatal car accidents.
Governor vetoes Tobacco 21
An effort to raise the legal purchasing age for tobacco and similar products from 18 to 21 was vetoed August 24 by the Governor. Senate Bill 2332, known as “Tobacco 21,” arose from a nationwide movement to tighten age restrictions on tobacco purchases across the United States.
The bill would have raised the legal purchasing age on more than just tobacco products. Other restricted items would have included alternative nicotine products and electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes.”
There were no Republican cosponsors for the bill in the Senate, but I believe there were good arguments on both sides of this issue. Kids tend to get addicted to tobacco at a young age so reducing their access makes sense. On the other hand, if individuals are old enough to vote and enlist in the military, they should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to purchase tobacco products.
Ag-assistance measure becomes law
A new law will ease weight-limit restrictions on state highways during harvest time, improving the competitive outlook for Illinois farmers and agricultural commodities haulers as a way to assist the state’s leading industry: agriculture. In response to feedback from the agriculture and trucking communities, which voiced frustration about the restrictions placed on axle weights, House Bill 5749 allows haulers to seek and obtain annual permits from the Illinois Department of Transportation and local authorities to exceed gross axle and gross vehicle weight limits by no more than 10 percent.
Permits are to cost $500 with a total combined permit fee of no more than $1,000. State permit fees will go to the State Construction Account Fund. Supporters say allowing for increased haul weights during harvest season benefits farmers by helping them to be more productive, and allows Illinois to be more competitive and consistent with other states that have higher weight limits on their roadways. The new law will take effect July 1, 2019.
Creating a career-focused apprenticeship program
High school students will soon have another option to help prepare them for their future careers. Seeking to connect talented young people with good-paying jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree, House Bill 5247 requires the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to adopt rules that would allow students ages 16 and older to participate in industry-based occupational apprenticeship programs.
The standards of the programs will be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. The ISBE rules will allow students to waive certain non-academic graduation requirements that would otherwise stop them from being able to take part in the apprenticeship programs. Other new laws to increase opportunities for students include measures to combat the teacher shortage, and dual credit programs to help students save money and get a head-start on college.
Protecting property tax relief for disabled veterans
Veterans with disabilities will now have their Disabled Veterans’ Standard Homestead Exemption follow them to a new residence, even if they move during the middle of the year.
Under Senate Bill 2306, the homestead exemption for veterans with disabilities will now be prorated if the veteran who qualifies for the exemption does not occupy the qualified residence as of January 1 of the taxable year. Previously, if disabled veterans receiving tax relief through the homestead exemption moved in the middle of the year, then they would have been responsible for paying the outstanding property taxes on their new residences until they reapplied for the exemption the next year.
The Disabled Veterans’ Standard Homestead Exemption provides a reduction in a property’s Equalized Assessed Value to a qualifying property owned by a veteran with a service-connected disability. To apply for this exemption, veterans must contact or visit their local County Assessor’s Office.
State launches the ‘Driving a Cleaner Illinois’ program
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) announced the launch of the “Driving a Cleaner Illinois” program on August 29, aimed at improving air quality in the state primarily by removing old diesel engines from service. This program makes way for cities, schools, transit agencies, and private businesses to submit project ideas to the IEPA detailing how they will replace the old engines with newer, more environmentally-friendly options.
“Taking old diesel engines off our streets and out of our rail yards will lead to better air-quality for all of us,” said Gov. Rauner. “The projects that will be funded in this first round will provide benefits to the most sensitive populations, including school children and residents in areas that do not meet federal air quality standards.”
The “Driving a Cleaner Illinois” program is funded through a recent $108 million allocation to the state from the Volkswagen (VW) Settlement.