191 new laws take effect January 1, 2017. Here is a preview of 26 new laws that may be of interest to Illinoisans:

Social media right to privacy
Public Act 99-610, House Bill 4999
Amends the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act to make it illegal for an employer or prospective employer to request or require an employee or applicant to access a personal online account (such as Facebook) in the presence of the employer. It is also illegal to request or require that an employee or applicant invite the employer to join a group affiliated with any personal online account of the employee, or applicant, or join an online account established by the employer.

Employee Sick Leave Act
Public Act 99-841, House Bill 6162
Under the new law, employees may now use personal sick leave benefits for purposes dealing with a child, spouse, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent or step parent. The employee can use such time as may be necessary on the same terms that employee would use the time for their own illness or injury.
Attendance at the Springfield, Illinois 2016 State Fair dropped by more than 13% on a year-to-year basis. While severe weather events – heading by a flood-level cloudburst on the night of a key scheduled musical concert – were blamed for part of the attendance shortfall the overall numbers indicated growing problems with bringing in fair-going customers and exhibitors this year. Springfield fair attendance fell from 411,547 in 2015 to 357,409 in 2016.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture, which operates the Illinois State Fair, has begun an 80,000-recipient survey exercise. A wide variety of selected Fair attendees are being sent online questionnaires intended to gather data about their State Fair visit. Questions include requests for data on potentially controversial subjects, such as the recent hike in State Fair admission ticket prices. People who get the survey will be asked to rate various facets of the State Fair experience, including exhibits, entertainment, and food. Respondents will also be asked to help the State Fair understand how many miles people travelled to attend the Fair, how many tickets were bought by a household, and whether a ticketholder also visited the Fair on a different day.
Under the Constitution of Illinois, persons negatively affected by criminal convictions (including, but not limited to, prisoners in State prisons) have the right to petition the Governor of Illinois for clemency. Nothing in the Constitution says that the Governor has to respond at once, though, and previous Governors had let a backlog of more than 2,300 clemency petitions build up in the Office of the Governor without final action.

When he took office in January 2015, newly-elected Governor Bruce Rauner pledged to work with his staff to eliminate this massive backlog of clemency requests. Upon digging into the pile, at least one unanswered request was found that had been filed thirteen years earlier, in 2003. Most of the clemency requests were standard pleas that a prisoner or convicted felon should not be punished. Although all of the 2,300 petitions were read, Governor Rauner granted pardons in less than 4% of the cases. Approximately 80 pardons were handed out. The backlog has now been eliminated, which will enable new requests to be read and acted on in a timely manner.
Do you need help paying your mortgage? Have you experienced a drop in household income? If so, you may qualify for up to $35,000 in federal assistance at no cost to you.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service - CCCS of Northern Illinois, Inc. is a non-profit service that has helped save over 2,000 homeowners in the area and has again been chosen to sponsor the Illinois Hardest Hit program. Thousands of Illinois homeowners have successfully kept their home through this federally funded program administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
The Champaign-Urbana geological think tank will study and develop technologies to enable the continued burning of fossil fuels in Illinois and around the world. Concerns have been raised about the emission of carbon dioxide when oil, gas, coal, and other fuels are burned, but geologists have long known that it is possible to gather carbon dioxide generated by fixed sources of energy (such as power plants) and inject them deep into the earth. The technology, called carbon “sequestration,” could be used to make it more attractive to burn coal and other fossil fuels for future energy.

The Illinois State Geological Survey has been asked to evaluate the feasibility of injecting more than 50 million metric tons of CO² into geological strata deep under Illinois. The study will build on previous core drillings and other empirical research that shows that much of central and southern Illinois lies on top of beds of impermeable shale. Hypothetically, carbon dioxide could be injected into or beneath the shale and would never come back to the earth’s surface.
With the “stopgap” six-month budget for the first half of FY17 scheduled to expire on December 31, pressure is being placed on key Illinois officials to develop a budget agreement. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Governor Bruce Rauner, and other leaders were meeting almost daily in Chicago. Key issues include cash flow for State spending areas covered in the “stopgap” budget. Renewed appropriations are required if these areas are to get funding in January 2017 and following months. However, no agreement has yet been reached.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce has named State Representative Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) a Champion of Free Enterprise. The Champion of Free Enterprise Award is given biennially to recognize Illinois lawmakers who support legislation that promotes free enterprise in Illinois to help the state foster a more competitive economic environment. In order to be eligible for the award, a lawmaker must receive an 85% positive voting record under the Illinois Chamber of Commerce legislative ratings – Wheeler received a 100% rating for 2015-2016.
SB 2814, which parallels a recent law passed in New York State, contains a cross-subsidization program for electric markets across Illinois to support the continued operations of two nuclear power plants in Clinton and Cordova, Illinois (“Quad Cities”). Due to ongoing operating losses, Exelon had previously announced plans to close the Clinton plant in 2017 and the Quad Cities plant in 2018. One underlying theme of the legislation is the preservation of important carbon-free generating capacity for Illinois to meet power demands in the future.

As a result of passage of the Future Energy Jobs Bill, 1,500 direct jobs were saved at the Clinton and Quad Cities plants, with a total of more than 4,000 jobs impacted. In addition to the jobs saved, keeping Illinois’ nuclear plants in operation will prevent large increases in energy prices. Closure of the plants would have had a detrimental effect on electric rates, on the reliability and capacity of the grid, and on jobs and economic activity. The Illinois Commerce Commission had studied the effects of nuclear plant closures and in almost every scenario, rates would increase across the state. A report released in November by leading Illinois business organizations, including the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA), the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, indicated that preserving the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants will save Illinois businesses and consumers over $3 billion in electricity costs over the next ten years.