A new year brings new laws in Illinois. There are plenty that deserve careful attention, but here are five good reforms effective Jan. 1, 2015, that improve government transparency and protect individual rights:
1. Law-enforcement ticket quotas banned
With the start of the new year, police officers can no longer be forced to give out a minimum number of tickets. Public Act 98-0650 forbids state, county and local police officers from being required to meet any sort of citation quota. It also explicitly forbids departments from using citation amounts to assess an officer’s job performance.
This may not fix the problem immediately – in a number of states, such as Florida and California, quotas were shown to still be in place after state law outlawed the practice. If any quotas continue in Illinois, the new law allows for lawsuits to end them. It should go without saying that tickets should only be used to punish crimes, not to fundraise for units of government.
2. It’s easier to expunge criminal records
Another new law will automatically expunge minors’ criminal records, provided they meet certain criteria. This a great development for those seeking employment after arrests or trying to reintegrate into the workforce. Public Act 98-0637 automatically expunges law-enforcement records before the age of 18 for certain qualifying offenses.
In order for the records to be removed, the offender must go six months without being arrested, and the original offense must be less than a class 2 felony. A variety of sexual offenses are also excluded from automatic expungement. But the new law is great news for the many who struggle to find employment for the rest of their lives because of youthful mistakes. These negative employment effects not only cause poor outcomes for an individual – they harm society as well.
3. Hair-braiding instructors don’t need separate licenses to work
After an update to The Barber, Cosmetology, Esthetics, Hair Braiding, and Nail Technology Act, hair-braiding instructors will no longer need a separate license in order to practice hair braiding. Before the change, instructors needed two separate licenses to teach hair braiding and to offer hair-braiding services to the public. The new rule brings hair-braiding regulation in line with regulations for cosmetologists and barbers. If you’re certified to teach a subject, you should be allowed to practice it without needing an additional license.
Of course, none of the professions covered by the act need to be licensed in the first place. Occupational licensing restricts competition in an occupation by artificially limiting the number of persons who can practice an occupation, and increases the cost of services at the expense of consumers, especially the poor. A real improvement would get rid of licensing altogether for hair braiders, barbers, cosmetologists and dozens of other professions. (Barbers are completely unregulated in the United Kingdom and no public safety crisis has resulted.) But this update at least improves the current regulatory regime by treating these occupations more equally.
4. Local government must be accessible via email
Another new law, Public Act 90-0930, requires units of local government and school boards that maintain a website to post an email address where the public can contact that body’s elected officials. This may seem like a minor requirement, but plenty of Illinois towns either don’t have or don’t post email addresses where one can reach government officials.
Rosemont, Illinois, for example, doesn’t have a uniform single email address to reach public officials on its website. Nor does it list the email addresses of the village trustees or its department of public safety. These sorts of omissions make it harder for citizens to keep in touch with their elected representatives and hold them accountable for their policy decisions. The new law would be made better by requiring a regularly updated public directory listing the individual email addresses of every public official in government, as the Illinois Policy Institute’s transparency grading rubric recommends. But the law does make real progress in keeping government more transparent.
5. Patent claims must be substantiated
“Patent trolls” have made plenty of headlines recently, and Public Act 98-1119 represents Illinois’ attempt to fight back against them. Patent trolls are companies that allegedly abuse the patent system to make a profit. They often do not invent anything themselves but instead purchase patent rights from other firms and then enforce the patent rights against alleged offenders to collect royalties or damages.
The new Illinois law punishes patent trolls who send “unfair or deceptive” demand letters that threaten legal action or demand a settlement when such letters lack “a reasonable basis in fact or law.” This means that patent trolls can be held liable if they’re discovered asserting frivolous patent claims and threatening legal action if their target doesn’t pay up. One study estimated that patent trolls cost the U.S. economy $29 billion a year. Illinois’ new law is a good step, but real reform will require legislation on the federal level.
Bryant Jackson-Green is the Legal Research and Litigation Assistant with the Liberty Justice Center.