The 99th General Assembly met for a final two days before we said goodbye to old colleagues and hello to new ones at the inauguration of the 100th General Assembly. The ceremony took place at the University of Illinois in Springfield last Wednesday. Each General Assembly (GA) is a two year period and this GA will celebrate the State’s 200th year in 2018. Both the Senate and the House reelected their majority leaders; in the House it was Speaker Michael Madigan and Republican Leader Jim Durkin. It was an honor to be sworn in again as your representative down in Springfield.
Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) tax credits, which expired at the end of the year, are a major tool used by the executive branch to attract jobs to Illinois. The controversial program has been plagued with questions about its effectiveness and implementation. In the final days of the 99th GA, the EDGE tax credits were extended for four months to allow legislators time to tinker with the program. Since taking office the Governor has made minor changes to the tax credits in order to make them more effective, but it is up to the legislators to completely overhaul the incentivizing program and ensure we are getting results and not wasting any taxpayer money.
Lead Testing Coming to a School Near You
The GA also passed a law which would require testing for lead in the tap water found in school buildings.The cost of testing will be borne by school districts and could cost $500 to $5,000 per school building. School districts will be able to tap in to their Health, Life, and Safety Fund; money specifically put aside for these such purposes. School systems that have already tested their water would be exempted from this state mandate and lead testing results would have to be made public.
Criminal Justice Reform
There was another win in the House for criminal justice reform, a major bipartisan issue over the last two years. The legislation includes additional counseling and other services for crime victims paid with federal funds, allowing prisoners to complete improvement programs to shorten their sentences, and gives judges more leeway to order probation in drug cases. The law is entirely federally funded so it won’t cost the state anything and will likely save the state money in the long run through reduced incarceration costs.
Reducing Illinois’ overcrowded prison population has been a major tenet of the Governor’s agenda. The Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Commission issued its final report last week with 13 recommendations for the transformation of Illinois’ criminal sentencing system in addition to the 14 it proposed last year.
The 6 month temporary budget stopgap expired at the end of the year meaning that state spending on higher education and some social programs was halted. The Governor has said the time for stopgaps is over and the focus must be on getting a real budget passed. We are in the midst of the nation’s longest running budget standoff and partly as a result Illinois’ unpaid bill backlog now stands at $11 billion, and the Prairie State’s credit rating has dropped to 50th among the 50 states.
You may have heard on the news about a so called bipartisan ‘Grand Bargain’ that was brewing in the Senate. Senate President Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Radogno have been attempting to reach an agreement on the major issues and reform proposals holding up the budget.
The comprehensive package includes a number of proposals still being debated and discussed. As of right now there is no clear picture, but Senate Leaders are working to finalize their proposal by February 1st.