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Newly signed laws include creation of tourism districts, criminal justice reforms 

Gov. JB Pritzker is pictured in a file photo.
Jerry Nowicki
Capitol News Illinois
Gov. JB Pritzker is pictured in a file photo.

Pritzker signs measures ahead of second-term budget address

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed 15 bills into law, tackling policy areas from tourism to prison reform and making it easier for people previously convicted of felonies to legally change their name.

The laws passed the General Assembly in their recently concluded lame duck legislative session in January, and Pritzker’s signature came less than a week before his budget address, scheduled for Wednesday at the Capitol.

Tourism districts

House Bill 268, effective immediately, creates a framework for local governments to increase funding for local tourism projects in collaboration with hotels by creating local tourism districts.

Hotels can qualify for these tourism districts if they can shoulder half of the proposed costs. If petitioning hotels are approved, they can charge up to a 5 percent rate per-room per-night that will go toward a fund overseen by a state-certified local tourism bureau.

State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, a lead sponsor on the bill, said the law will help create additional resources for tourism promotion, while giving more control to business owners in the state.

“Tourism Improvement Districts put business owners back in the driver’s seat to direct marketing spending and spur growth,” Feigenholtz said in a statement. “The additional revenues generated by these special districts will be one more tool businesses can use to draw visitors to all corners of the state.”

In order to qualify, hotel owners must file a petition outlining a district plan including the boundaries of the proposed district, the length of the proposed term and a brief description of the proposed services and improvements they are requesting. They must also show they can pay more than half of the costs that will be taken on by the district.

The post-pandemic measure is an attempt at spurring economic growth as local communities continue to bounce back from the effects of COVID-19.

“The tourism and hospitality sector is the second-largest employer in Illinois,” Feigenholtz said. “Tourism Improvement Districts will enable regions of our state to use this additional tool in an effort to recover from the pandemic and bring visitors back to Illinois.”

Felon name changes

House Bill 2542 loosens restrictions for individuals with past felony convictions to change their name.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2024, allows individuals convicted of identity theft or those registered under the Sex Offender Registration Act, the Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registration Act or the Arsonist Registration Act to change their name “due to marriage, religious beliefs, status as a victim of trafficking or gender-related identity as defined by the Illinois Human Rights Act.”

The law also lifts a requirement that individuals must wait 10 years after sentencing to change their name.

Advocates of the law say it removes barriers for transgender and gender expansive individuals who want to change their name.

“The bill moves Illinois closer to a fair, modern system regarding the ability of transgender and gender expansive individuals, as well as survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence to change their names,” Khadine Bennett, advocacy and intergovernmental affairs director at the ACLU of Illinois said in a statement. “Survivors of human trafficking and transgender people too often are at risk simply because they do not have identity documents that align with their authentic selves. This is corrected under the new law.”

Judges make the final decision on the outcome of a name change petition. Additionally, if a petitioner’s sentence has not been completed, terminated, discharged or pardoned, they are not allowed to request a name change.

Life sentence for those under 21

House Bill 1064, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2024, changes parole requirements for individuals convicted before they are 21 years old.

Under the new law, if those individuals are sentenced to a term of life in prison, they are eligible for a parole review after serving 40 or more years of their sentence.

Cars and vans as school buses

House Bill 1688, which goes into effect July 1, allows cars, vans and other first division vehicles to operate as school buses with a permit from the secretary of state. First division vehicles are classified as those designed to carry no more than 10 people total, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Additionally, by Jan. 1, 2024, the secretary of state and Illinois State Board of Education would be required to create a course for individuals operating these vehicles as school buses.

The course will be offered in conjunction with ISBE and the state’s regional superintendents of schools.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Nika Schoonover is a reporter at Capitol News Illinois, based in Springfield.