Friday was the 3rd reading deadline in the House, which means it was the final opportunity for most House bills to be voted on and have a chance to become law.
The House takes another recess this week and when we return, will be in session every week from now until the scheduled end of session on May 31st.
Light At the End of the Tunnel?
We were in Springfield last week after a two week absence and the main issues of the day; the budget, pension reform, job growth, etc. were again put on the back burner and kicked down the road to May. In the flurry of activity before the final reading deadline, 179 bills passed last week, including a bill to require the teaching of cursive in public schools. Yet, instead of debating the budget, House Democrats voted on numerous pieces of legislation that, in total, would cost the state an additional $295 million. The priorities of House leadership are disappointing at best.
The legislature only has the month of May remaining to tackle the big issues. In the past two years at the end of May, the House Democrats have used their majority to pass budgets that were billions of dollars out of balance and wiped its hands of the issue. The House has thus abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget. This has left Illinois in an unprecedented and staggeringly bad financial position.
There was one notable piece of good news last week. Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan met for the first time in months. It remains to be seen whether this will be the start of meaningful budget negotiations.
HB40 Passes after Heated Debate
There was a long and contentious debate on House Bill 40 last week. What was promoted as a way to ensure access to abortion in Illinois regardless of federal action was in reality much more than that. The bill would have expanded Medicaid and state employee health insurance to cover elective abortions. I do not believe tax payer money should be spent on these kinds of procedures, especially now when we don’t have a budget and for that reason I voted against the bill. The measure passed the House and will presumably pass the Senate. However, Governor Rauner has said he will veto the bill and the majority Democrat party lacks the votes to override.
Quinn Patronage Hiring
A new report was issued last week by a court-appointed watchdog charged with looking into patronage hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation. The report details how top Democrats clouted relatives and friends into positions under former Gov. Pat Quinn, even as many of those hired had little or no experience. The Rauner Administration filed a motion to deny employees hired illegally by the previous administration the protection of a collective bargaining agreement. Currently, at least 36 employees who were improperly hired into the IDOT staff positions remain employed with the state. Due to collective bargaining protections, the Administration cannot terminate these employees.
The motion continues the Rauner Administration’s commitment to reforming the patronage mess it inherited. In direct response to the IDOT hiring scandal, Governor Rauner began requiring the state to publish all Rutan-exempt employees on the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal website during his first month in office. Additionally, the Rauner Administration has removed a level of bureaucracy in hiring civil-service positions, which has further protected the hiring process from unlawful political influence. Last September, Governor Rauner announced the abolition of the staff assistant position, which was at the center of the IDOT patronage hiring scandal. A 2014 OEIG report found the previous administration illegally hired staff assistants at IDOT and then transferred them into protected government positions or allowed them to perform job duties with little or no relation to their actual job description.