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New state laws will have local impact : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
New state laws will have local impact
Conceal carry of firearms allowed; motorists must put down cell phones

by Matt Schury


The arrival of the New Year brings with it several new state laws.

Three of the laws getting widespread attention involve guns, marijuana and cell phones. This past spring the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill that was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn that legalized small amounts of marijuana for medicinal use.

Lawmakers also approved legislation that allows residents to carry concealed firearms and banned drivers from holding cell phones while driving.

"We do have a decent amount of new laws coming out this year that will definitely challenge our officers to be up to speed on what's going on," Oswego Police Capt. Jeff Burgner said.

Now it is up to residents to be aware of the new laws while local law enforcement agencies have spent the last few months preparing to enforce them.

Concerning the ban holding cell phones while driving, Yorkville Police Chief Rich Hart says the law allows motorists to use hands free Bluetooth devices to talk on their phones or use the speaker option on their phones.

He said officers will be checking to see if drivers are holding a phone up to their ear and it is up to the patrol officer's discretion to give a ticket.

"It's like the driving while texting law that when into affect a few years ago," Hart said. "It's very difficult to enforce (texting) ... but I think it will be a little easier with the cell phone. If someone is driving around with their hand near their head it's pretty obvious what they are doing."

He added that the law will come into play if someone is in an accident. Police can subpoena phone records to see if someone was on the phone at the time of the accident.

A related law passed by the General Assembly last year creates an aggravated offense for driving while using a cell phone for both misdemeanors and felonies if the usage results in death or serious injury.

Burgner said officers can start issuing tickets immediately but may issue warnings for 30 days as drivers become acclimated with the new law.

He added that the law stipulates that if people are using their phone they are only allowed to press a single button to activate and deactivate the call.

The maximum fine for a first offense for talking on the phone while driving is $75 and can go as high as $150 for repeat offenses.

"There is officer discretion involved where they have other options beyond giving them a warning," Burgner said. "I think this distracted driving law is needed; it's just making sure we are rolling it out the right way."

Concealed carry

Regarding the state's new concealed carry firearm law, Hart says he has the most concern that the law stipulates people must discharge their weapons before locking them away.

"The law in Illinois on concealed carry is very restrictive and very confusing," Hart said.

He said in his experience most accidents with guns occur when owners are loading and unloading them.

"It is so dangerous to load and unload guns and if you're going to have an accident, that's when it's going to occur," Hart said.

The law requires people who are leaving their guns in their car to unload them before they leave them behind. For instance, Hart said someone who is carrying a loaded gun and then goes to pick up their kid from school will have to unload the gun in their car and properly lock it up before entering the school.

Burgner explained that they will also be "keeping an eye" on the concealed carry law and its implementation. He said they will have to establish how an officer will legally determine if the person can carry a firearm within the provisions of the law.

"There are definitely a lot of provisions in that law that are going to take a little bit of time for officers to understand," Burgner said.

Medical marijuana

The legalization of medical marijuana is also an area where the law is not as clear as it used to be.

"When you start making things illegal for one group of people and not for another group of people it makes it very confusing and difficult," Hart said.

He added that in Colorado where marijuana is now legal the latest DUI statistics show that there have been three or four times as many fatal accidents involving marijuana than before the drug was legal.

Hart added that from an enforcement standpoint it would be easier to just legalize marijuana completely like tobacco and alcohol. However, Hart said he isn't really to enthusiastic about that prospect either.

Burgner adds that legalizing medical marijuana means that it is not "black and white issue" when it comes to finding someone with the drug on them.

"This law does create some challenges for our police officers but it's no different than any other statute that we've got to do an investigation on. It just requires us to ask a few more questions and validate a few more things."

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