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Kennedy Clark, 2, pets the tail of a cat that is up for adoption while visiting animals at the Macon County Animal Control and Care Center on Wednesday. Pets in Illinois will receive the similar treatment as children in divorce cases under a new law that takes effect Jan. 1. 

JIM BOWLING, HERALD & REVIEW

While wrangling over a state budget hogged the spotlight for much of 2017 in the General Assembly, state lawmakers still found time to pass more than 200 new laws that take effect in 2018 and touch nearly every corner of residents' lives.

Some attracted media attention at the time of their passage, such as the law designating Aug. 4 as "Barack Obama Day," or House Bill 40, a measure under which the state will pay for abortions for Medicaid recipients and women covered by state employee health insurance.

Other measures flew under the radar, but affect everything from who gets Fido in the divorce to how police officers are educated about mental illness. Here are five of them: 

In divorce, treating pets as children

Senate Bill 1261, or Public Act 100-0422, calls for courts to treat animals the same way that children are treated in divorce cases. Before pets were considered as property, like furniture, but now it will be up to the court to determine who will be the best person to have custody of the pet.

"The court is to consider the well-being of the companion animal," said Nrupa Patel, partner at Bolen Robinson & Ellis in Decatur. "What that means, no one really knows." 

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Cats lie in the sunlight in the cat colony room at the Macon County Animal Control and Care Center Wednesday. Under a new Illinois law, judges could grant custody arrangements for pet owners who divorce. 

Alaska became the first state last year to enact a similar provision in its divorce laws. 

Patel said it is likely the court will now have to determine factors such as who takes the dog for a walk, who buys the pet food and other parts of normal care when determining who will keep the animal. 

The law could create some interesting situations for courts in the future. Patel said she would not be surprised to see instances in which judges award joint ownership of the animal, set visitation rights and determine who will cover certain costs of pet care.

The law would not apply to service animals. Patel said she did not think it would apply to animals purchased before the couple got together.

Government consolidation

Senate Bill 3, or Public Act 100-0107will allow township boards to hold referendums for voters, which will ask them whether they want to dissolve their townships. It also allows townships to follow a similar process to abolish road districts with less than 15 miles of road.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has long pushed for consolidating more units of local government. The measure was also praised by the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, which has argued the state has too many taxing bodies.

But the way Township Officials of Illinois Executive Bryan Smith sees it, townships already have the ability to consolidate with neighboring townships.

"I've told folks that for years, there are some cases where it just makes sense for a township to consolidate," Smith said. He pointed specifically to a case in Macon County when voters approved the consolidation of the Milam Township with the Mount Zion Township in 2008.

Smith said he did not perceive the law as an attack or effort to eliminate townships across the state.

Mental health training for law enforcement

House Bill 375 or Public Act 100-0247 requires law enforcement officers to take a course on mental health issues to learn signs, symptoms, common treatments and medications for various illnesses. Courses, which could be available in an electronic format, will also cover possible interactions between officers and individuals with mental health issues, their families and their service providers.

Decatur Police Chief Jim Getz estimated that half his officers have already had "crisis intervention training" and he supports the new law mandating the education for all officers.

“We always have money in our training budget, and we’ll adjust it to achieve what we have to get done,” Getz said.

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Jim Getz

Getz

He said the biggest obstacle with having to pull officers off the streets and into the classroom is covering those gaps, but he said this training is worth the time and effort.

“I attended CIT Class several years ago and, I’m telling you, it’s some of he best training ever to deal with people in a non-forceful way. It just gives you more options, it’s really good training,” he added.

Getz said cutbacks in mental health treatment budgets and a shortage of facilities means people with mental illness find themselves on the streets where police have to cope with them. “And we are seeing more and more of these issues,” he added.

Know what you're paying for

Senate Bill 298, or Public Act 100-0207, requires hair stylists, barbers, dry cleaners and people who alter clothing to provide price lists for services upon request. The bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, said it was meant to expose gender-based discrimination.

“Women have been unfairly charged more than men for the same services for far too long,” Bush said earlier this year. “Transparent pricing among service providers will help women know whether they are getting a fair deal for services.”

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Student barber Amos Berryman gives Aiden Stoutenborgouh, 7, a haircut at Lockhart's Barber College in this September 2016 file photo. Under a new state law, barbers are among the businesses that must provide a price list for services to customers upon request. 

The law does specify that it is not an unfair business practice to charge different prices based on time, difficulty and market conditions. 

Kalle Ryan, owner of Studio 7 Salon & Day Spa in Decatur, said she had not heard of the new law, but there's a good reason why men are often charged less than women for haircuts.  

"Men can take 15 minutes and women can take up to an hour (to cut)," she said. "We want to get paid by the hour just like everyone else, you know." 

The salon has seven stylists and two nail techs, she said, and they all charge different prices. To comply with the law, each one would have to provide her own price list, she said.  

Corn as the state grain

House Bill 470, or Public Act 100-0109, makes corn the official state grain of Illinois. It joins state symbols that include the state dance (square dancing, since 1990), state snack food (popcorn, since 2003), state fruit (the GoldRush apple, since 2007) and the state pie (pumpkin, since 2015). Dennis School students successfully pushed for the designation of the monarch butterfly as the state insect in 1975. 

With Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Tate & Lyle operations in Decatur, corn has been a lifeblood of the city's economy for generations, and its state designation might be stating the obvious to anyone driving the highways of Central Illinois. Agricultural commodities generate more than $19 billion annually for Illinois, and corn accounts for 54 percent of that total, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. 

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Central Illinois farmers deposit harvested corn on the ground outside a full grain elevator in Virginia, Ill., in this September 2015 file photo. In 2018, corn will become the official grain of Illinois when a new law goes into effect.

Field corn, as distinguished from sweet corn that people purchase for eating, finds its way into livestock feed, ethanol, cereal, corn starch and corn syrup among its many uses that contribute to the state's economy. 

"Corn is by far the largest grain produced in the state of Illinois and No. 2 in the U.S. I view it as a recognition for corn," said Rodney Weinzierl, executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, based in Bloomington. "Agriculture is a very large sector of the overall economy (in Illinois)."

Field corn is different than sweet corn, which was already recognized when lawmakers made sweet corn the state vegetable in 2015 after a push from Chatham elementary students.

Not everyone is keen on the idea of so many state symbols. Earlier this year, Republican Sen. Tom Rooney of Rolling Meadows proposed a bill that would eliminate all but a few of them, saying the quantity of state symbols has decreased the value of the "important" ones. Rooney's bill, which was stalled in a legislative committee, would only keep the state flag, seal, motto and song.

Herald & Review staff writers Tony Reid and Tom Lisi and editor John Reidy contributed to this story. 

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Staff Writer

Government-watchdog reporter for the Herald & Review.

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