By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
It will be easier in 2013 for law enforcement agencies in Illinois to obtain wiretaps during drug investigations with a new law that will allow county state's attorneys to approve such eavesdropping measures during felony drug investigations.
In Missouri, the minimum wage will rise to $7.35 an hour and the new year will bring the end of an open records law exemption that has shielded from disclosure security systems and structural plans for buildings and polices for responding to terrorism.
About 150 new laws will take effect Tuesday in Illinois. They range from increasing criminal sentences for certain crimes to imposing a "pole tax" at strip clubs to raise money for rape crisis centers.
Adams County State's Attorney Jon Barnard said the new eavesdropping measure will make controlled drug buys more feasible. Before the new regulation, law enforcement officials had to receive permission from a judge.
"Now, we can just use audio in addition to video, and audio sometimes makes all the difference in the world," he said.
Attorneys and law enforcement agencies are bombarded with new laws every year. Barnard said his office receives a large packet at the end of the year containing information on the new laws that take effect Jan. 1.
Included in the new laws this year is a measure that allows first-time offenders in possession of less than 15 grams of methamphetamine be eligible for treatment instead of being sent to prison.
"It has made itself apparent to be such a menace that it addicts people so quickly and effectively that anyone deserves a chance to try and get out from under it," Barnard said. "Now, I would view things very differently ... if there were indications that this person was caught with less than 15 grams of meth, but they were a commercial operator."
Barnard said his office often uses the discretion for treatment and Drug Court instead of seeking a prison sentence.
Another law taking effect will require that the Illinois State Police, which issues firearm identification cards, be notified whenever a court determines that a person has a "mental disability" that might make them unsuitable for gun ownership.
"That makes a whole lot of sense, and frankly it was my assumption that that kind of information was (already being) passed on to state police," Barnard said.
That was already part of state law, but a review by the state Auditor General issued last spring found that only three of 102 circuit clerks statewide submitted notices to the state police.
The audit arose from a 2011 showdown over a public request by the Associated Press for information on all FOID cardholders in the state. The state police denied the request, but the attorney general determined the information was public record. The Illinois State Rifle Association successfully sued to block the release of names of those who hold gun licenses.
Legislative action to shut down access followed, but not before lawmakers ordered the audit, which found an understaffed state police department "overwhelmed" by its FOID duties.
Children also will see additional protections in 2013, including increasing the age of a victim of child luring from 16 to 17 and makes the crime a felony if the child was heading to and from school.
Convicted sex offenders also will be barred from participating in holiday events that involve children, such as giving candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween and dressing up as Santa Claus. Enhanced penalties will now be issued for the possession of child pornography where the victim is under 13.
Starting Tuesday in Missouri, workers in will be paid at least $7.35 an hour, an increase above the federal rate of $7.25. A 2006 voter-approved law increased the minimum wage and included an annual cost-of-living adjustment tied to inflation.
The minimum wage also is increasing in nine other states, according to the National Employment Law Project. Advocates estimate Missouri's minimum wage increase could directly affect 72,000 people and indirectly affect 7,000.
Two exemptions to Missouri's open records law, frequently called the Sunshine Law, expire at the end of 2012. One covers the operational guidelines and policies developed by law enforcement, public safety, first response or public health authorities for preventing and responding to terrorism incidents. The other deals with security systems and structural plans of property that's owned or leased by a government agency.
But the change could be short-lived. Legislation has been proposed to extend the Sunshine Law exemptions through 2016.
Other Illinois laws that take effect Tuesday:
• Basic license plate fees will increase $2, to $101 annually, raising as much as $20 million for state parks to start chipping away at delayed maintenance.
• Strip club operators will pay a $3 surcharge per customer, with the option that clubs pay an annual fee of $5,000 to $25,000 based on sales, to raise money for rape crisis centers.
• Employers will not be allowed to demand that job applicants provide passwords for social media websites, such as Facebook.
• It will be illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins.
• Cellphones use by drivers will be banned in all construction zones and work zones, not just those with reduced speed limits.
• In-line speed skaters will be able to travel on roads outside Chicago if the posted speed limit is under 45 miles per hour.
• Law enforcement agencies, fire departments and other first responders will be provided with greater access to abuse, neglect and financial records so they have better information about a senior's needs when answering a call. Police training will also now include a course in recognizing elder abuse, neglect and other crimes.
• Salary and employment information for counties, municipalities and townships will be required to be included in the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal database.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.