May 11th, 2015
With so little time left before the end of the scheduled session, a lot is going on each week down in Springfield. For that reason, I’ve decided to send out my newsletter weekly for the next few weeks.
Buckle up folks, we’re in for a bumpy ride.
My bills continue to move forward in the Senate as expected. I filed two House resolutions this week. One memorializes Bruce Ebert, a longtime Frankfort community leader. Another mourns the death of Olivia Kresach, a local young woman who died last year from glioblastoma. It also designates May 9, 2016 as Gray Day in Illinois to raise awareness for brain cancer. I’m grateful that part of my job as State Representative allows me to highlight local leaders and such important issues.
As I said last week, there are a number of ongoing working groups hammering out proposed reforms and the budget. However, on Wednesday morning, House Speaker Madigan started the day off by filing a 125 page amendment to a shell bill, HB4141, giving legislators barely an hour to read it. It contained similar language to the yet to be negotiated human services budget cuts proposed by Governor Rauner. The amendment was then voted down by the Democrats in the assembly. Speaker Madigan did not even vote.
House Democrats continued the charade by introducing hundreds of pages of additional budget amendments mere hours before they were voted on, denying representatives, committees, and constituents an opportunity to fully read or offer input on them before they were rammed through. The budget amendments totaled billions of dollars of spending. House Republicans voted ‘Present’ to highlight this irregular and purely partisan disruption of the budget and committee process. Unfortunately this move is politics as usual for the Speaker. Madigan used this to send a message to the Governor and in the process wasted valuable time which could have been spent productively working together. It is a far cry from the bipartisanship the Speaker touted in January when we were sworn in for this General Assembly.
On Tuesday, the House held session for over seven hours in a rare ‘Committee of the Whole’. A committee of the whole is when a legislative body or assembly is considered one large committee. They are convened by the Speaker usually for the purpose of hearing important testimony or giving greater consideration to the discussion of a bill. Worker’s compensation, an area highlighted for reform to create jobs by Governor Rauner, was the subject of Tuesday’s committee.
Worker’s compensation was reformed in Illinois back in 2011, but businesses were promised much greater savings than has actually materialized prompting the calls for more reform. It is considered by businesses in and outside of Illinois the number one barrier to doing business here. Currently, Illinois worker’s compensation costs are the 7th highest in the country, an improvement from 3rd before the 2011 reforms. The names of those testifying were not released until Tuesday morning. There were seven panels of witnesses, mostly injured workers from Illinois and other states as far as Oklahoma. They all shared their stories and testified that Illinois should not cut worker’s benefits, a move which is certainly not being considered. Only one business representative, the CEO of the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association, was invited by Speaker Madigan to give testimony. Many considered it to be a dog and pony show that produced little results on what changes actually need to be made.
There are serious issues that need to be addressed with Illinois’ system and businesses need to be consulted while ensuring that workers do not lose benefits. Our time would be better spent discussing what we should do and not discussing what we shouldn’t do or what isn’t even on the table. Instead our focus should be on examining the lengthy litigation process and fixing the system so that it doesn’t take years for workers to get their benefits.
House vs Senate Softball Game
After a long session on Wednesday, the House and the Senate played in their annual softball game. The game was tied for a bit until the House ran away with it in the 3rd inning and never looked back. The House won the game 16-10. Congratulations to our neighbor, Representative Anthony DeLuca, on being named the House MVP.
State Pension Law Struck Down
In 2013, to help combat the over $100 billion dollars in pension liability facing the state, the General Assembly passed a pension reform law that limited the annual raises for pensions, raised the retirement age, and imposed other changes to reduce costs. The law was immediately challenged in court and therefore never implemented. The state argued that Illinois’ severe financial problems gave the state police powers that allow it to change pensions despite the pension protection clause in the state Constitution, which states that pension benefits cannot be diminished or impaired. The court disagreed and, in a unanimous decision on Friday, declared the pension reform law unconstitutional. It’s now back to the drawing board on pension reform.