Spring session and the bulk of the legislative work for the year has concluded. Let’s start with the budget…
After years of the contentious end of fiscal year battles over the budget, the FY19 proposed budget passed the House and Senate with relative ease and bipartisan support. The budget’s proponents claim it is “balanced”, but that is primarily because it uses revenues from the considerable tax hike imposed on Illinois families last year and one-time revenues available only this year. In addition, it relies on $300 million from the sale of the Thompson Center in Chicago, which the state does not yet have the legal authority to do.
The budget also contains frivolous spending like over $180 million siphoned from the “Road Fund” for former President Obama’s Presidential Center in Chicago and $50,000 for one legislative group to attend a national convention.
It also does not include any significant reforms to worker’s compensation, property taxes, or the bloated pension systems. The budget merely continues the status quo and Illinois cannot afford to continue limping by from one budget to the next. People are fleeing this state in droves and the residents that remain are crying out for solutions to corruption, astronomical pension debt, sky-high property taxes, and more. Sadly, this budget does nothing to steer Illinois in a better direction. For these reasons, I voted no.
Elements of the Budget:
Education- $350 million increase in K-12 education to honor the commitments made when lawmakers overhauled how the state funds public schools last year. The new funding formula ensures every school district will see an increase. In addition, there is a $50 million increase for early childhood programs. Higher education sees a 2 percent increase after years of budget cuts. That translates into a $25 million increase for public universities and community colleges. The budget deal DOES NOT include shifting millions in state pension costs onto local school districts.
Human Services- The budget includes and funds a 50-cent wage increase for caregivers who work primarily with developmentally disabled individuals.
Local Government- A 10 percent cut in the Local Government Distributive Fund in the current budget is reduced to a 5 percent cut. That results in a nearly $100 million increase for local governments. The existing budget also implemented a 2 percent administrative fee for the state processing sales tax revenue for local governments. I fought for that to be reduced and it is in the FY19 budget to 1.5 percent. The result is an increase of nearly $20 million going to local governments.
Pensions- A series of voluntary pension reforms are projected to bring in $445 million in budget savings. Those reforms include:
- Inactive buyout: Former public sector workers vested in the program and owed an annuity when they reach the qualifying retirement age would gain the option of cashing out now for 60 percent of the value. Savings estimated at $41 million
- COLA buyout: Tier 1 employees owed a compounding 3 percent COLA in retirement would get the option of having the state buyout the compounded COLA for 70 percent of the value. Savings estimated at $382 million.
- Pension spiking: End of career raises would be limited to 3 percent, currently 6 percent. This means if school districts award end of career raises in excess of 3 percent, the retirement system charges them to cover the increased expense to state taxpayers. Savings estimated at $22 million.
Billion Dollar Infrastructure Plan
The Governor recently announced a plan to invest $11.05 billion in the state’s roads and bridges over the next six years, including $2.2 billion of state and federal funding in the upcoming fiscal year. The Illinois Department of Transportation Multi-Year Proposed Highway Improvement Program will focus on projects that provide the greatest economic benefit to communities and take advantage of long-term strategies that save money over time.
Based on current funding levels, the FY2019-2024 Proposed Highway Improvement Program aims to improve a total of 1,945 miles of road and 525 bridges maintained by the state. The multi-year program also includes funding for upgrades to more than 750 miles of local roads and 922,933 square feet of local bridges.
One of the plan’s major highlights included $148.4 million for bridge work and other improvements on Interstate 80 through Will County. Other specific projects affecting infrastructure in the 37th district can be found here. The plan in its entirety can be found here.
Thank you, everyone, that came out to my free shred event on Saturday for your patience. We had a huge turnout. We will be hosting another free shred event on Saturday, August 25th. More details will be provided later, so keep an eye out.This spring session we passed 611 bills; 301 from the House and 310 from the Senate. The entire list of bills can be found here. Below are a few examples of bills that could become law if the Governor signs them:
Government Severance Payments Limited
This bill would limit the ability of units of government to offer “golden parachutes” to employees. It’s a clear response to a number of cases in the last few years where colleges, universities and municipalities have provided generous employment packages, lavish spending accounts, and lucrative severance agreements such as at the College of DuPage. The bill states severance pay may not exceed more than 20 weeks of compensation, and prohibits severance pay when the employee in question has been fired for misconduct.
Firearm Restraining Order Act
In numerous recent tragedies, we have heard that there were warning signs and red flags associated with the perpetrator long before the action took place. In response, the Illinois General Assembly passed, and I voted for, the Firearms Restraining Order Act. This bill was extensively negotiated with all interests and strikes a good balance between wanting to prevent tragedies and respecting a person’s second amendment rights.
The bill allows a blood relative or cohabitor may “request an emergency firearms restraining order by filing an affidavit or verified pleading alleging that the respondent poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or another by having in his or her custody or control, purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm.”
The courts have to review any petition and certify that a considerable burden of proof is met before any warrant is issued to seize firearms. There must be PROOF of imminent danger to themselves or other because the person possesses firearms. Any ruling that would lead to an at most 6 month denial of access to firearms is not arbitrary and the person must be a proven danger to themselves or others. The person who files the petition is subject to perjury (a felony) charges for filing a false petition. The Illinois State Rifle Association was not opposed to the bill.
Mental Health Parity
I was the chief cosponsor of legislation to expand mental and behavioral healthcare coverage requirements for certain individual health insurance policies. In addition, the bill would require the Illinois Department of Insurance to effectively communicate policy coverage because many of those with mental health or addiction issues don’t always understand what’s covered with insurance. The legislation has been labeled the strongest health parity law in the nation as it increases compliance and access to treatment, so that health insurance plans cover mental illness and addictions on par with other medical conditions.
Drone Use By Law Enforcement Approved
SB2562 allows law enforcement to operate surveillance drones over large gatherings and received significant debate on the House floor. After initially falling short of enough votes to pass, the bill was amended to address civil liberties concerns by banning the use of facial recognition technology, which does not currently exist, on the drones and raising the threshold for “large gatherings” to 1500. One such instance where this kind of technology would come in handy is Lollapalooza, a huge event in Chicago that the gunman behind the Las Vegas tragedy considered targeting.
This bill adds the “Dutch Reach” method to Illinois’ Rules of the Road manual and add bike safety questions to the state driver’s license exam. The Dutch Reach method encourages drivers and passengers to use their far hand and reach across their body to open car doors after parallel parking, forcing people to look back for approaching cyclists and other traffic before exiting the car. I voted no because it requires the re-printing of Illinois’ Rules of the Road booklet around the state, a considerable cost for the Secretary of State’s office.
Immigration Safe Zones
As a direct response to President Trump’s immigration policies and rhetoric, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Immigration Safe Zones Act. The bill does not allow police to question people they assume to be illegal immigrants in state funded spaces, like schools, hospitals and the library. It also prohibits schools, including public higher education institutions, from asking about a student’s immigration status or that of their families. In addition, the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) is required to provide training on immigration issues. Both DHS and the IL Statewide School Management Alliance were opposed to the bill because of the considerable cost and administrative burden it would put on both the agency and schools statewide. I voted no.
21 To Purchase Tobacco
Cigarette addiction is real and the earlier you start the harder it is to quit. Like it or not the tobacco industry dedicates hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising specifically targeting teenagers. Five states and 14 Illinois cities and counties, including Chicago, have already adopted local ordinances setting the age at 21. I supported the statewide measure to raise the tobacco purchase age in honor of my mother who tried for years and years to quit smoking, but never could.
Service Member Employment and Reemployment Act
This bill consolidates and modernizes workplace protections for individuals who are called up for military service or to respond to a natural disaster or any other duty. Such individuals cannot lose their job, seniority status, health coverage and other standard benefits offered to employees. It affects both private and public employers of service members.