The McDermed Dispatch for May 13th

Cannabis Legalization Legislation Filed

Specifics:

  • Illinois residents (21+) could possess up to an ounce (30 grams) of marijuana, and non-residents half an ounce (15 grams). Adults could also have up to five plants if they’re locked in a room, out of public view, and approved by the landowner;
  • Cannabis could not be smoked in public and would fall under Smoke Free Illinois requirements;
  • Permit fees would range from $100,000 for growers and $30,000 for retailer. Lower fees for applicants from communities affected by convictions in the war on drugs;
  • Permit approval would be granted to current large-scale commercial growers who serve the medical cannabis community as well as small “craft” growers who fall under the minority-business umbrella;
  • Local governments may reasonably zone where craft growers and dispensaries may go. They may opt out of having cannabis related businesses in their borders all together but they must vote to opt out within the first year via ordinance;
  • A low-interest loan program, Restoring Our Communities, is established and will receive 25% of the revenues from the Act, to help defray costs for business owners from low-income and/or drug-affected communities trying to gain licenses;
  • Misdemeanor and Class 4 felony marijuana convictions would be expunged. Unless the violation was part of other offenses, the expungement process is automatic and there is no mechanism for law enforcement or local State’s Attorney’s to object;
  • Allocation of state revenue: 35%to the General Revenue Fund, 25% to ROC, 20% for mental health and substance abuse programs, 10% for the backlog of unpaid bills, 8% for law enforcement grants, and 2% to the Drug Treatment Fund;
  • Nothing in the proposal prohibits employers from adopting workplace cannabis policies or firing an employee for violating those terms;
  • No landlord can be punished for leasing to someone who smokes cannabis and no person or establishment who owns property are required to allow cannabis to be used on the property.

I understand that this kind of legislation has a lot of support nationwide and the current momentum is pushing us towards legalization, but my first priority on this issue is safety and making sure that our law enforcement are given the tools they need. The bill as currently written is opposed by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. I am still in the process of reviewing and researching this bill. I welcome any and all comments on the matter.

House Democrats Rush Infrastructure Bill

On Thursday, the House Revenue & Finance Committee advanced an amendment to the full House that would raise the gas tax and related fees by $2.4 billion to fund transportation infrastructure needs. House Amendment #1 to HB 391 contains language proposed by Local 150 to provide funding for “horizontal” capital, i.e. roads and bridges. The major revenue components include increasing the motor fuel tax by 25 cents (a 132% increase) and increasing vehicle registration fees by $50 (a 51% increase):

I serve on the Revenue and Finance committee and vehemently spoke out against the rushed nature of the process surrounding this bill. This huge amendment was filed the night before the hearing and the discussion in committee on such an important bill lasted less than an hour. The committee advanced the bill on a party line vote.

It is important to note that these bills have not been negotiated or agreed to by all parties involved and do not represent a finalized capital infrastructure funding plan.

Revenue Up Significantly Last Month

More than $4.1 billion in individual and corporate income tax revenues were deposited into the General Funds in the month of April, up $1.14 billion or 38% from April 2018. This is also more than $1.5 billion internally projected for the month. As an immediate result of the strong April performance, coupled with revenue collections year-to-date, the State of Illinois will be able to address most of the $1.6 billion shortfall in the enacted FY19 budget because of the April revenues alone.

This means we just got really lucky. Last year we passed a budget that was $1.6 billion dollars out of balance. I didn’t vote for the budget for that very reason. We were going to have to move funds around and address that shortfall in this year’s budget. However, April’s tax receipts were so unexpectedly lucrative for the state that we will be able to plug last year’s budget hole.

This year’s payments to the retirement systems total $9.1 billion. Controversially, Governor Pritzker was planning to take a pension holiday (pay less than the money owed to the pension systems) so that he could try to balance his budget and other spending priorities. As a result of the unexpected April windfall, the Governor announced that he no longer plans to do so for this year. However, as far as we know, his plans to take pension holidays in the coming years remains the same.

Unacceptable DCFS Audit

The Auditor General has completed his audit of the abuse and neglect investigations conducted by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services between FY2015 and FY2017. We passed a House Resolution ordering the audit after the May 2017 death of 16-month-old Semaj Crosby of Joliet. While the report only covers those years, which saw an 11% jump in cases, DCFS is facing renewed criticism for its role in the deaths of 3 children since January of this year. The summary of the report can be read here. The report is a damning display of how overloaded DCFS investigators are and includes troubling statistics like “For 65.3 percent of indicated investigations sampled, there was a lack of documentation regarding whether any services were received by the families involved and the duration of those services.”

The Auditor General made 13 recommendations for improvement, which will hopefully be implemented as soon as possible by the Department with the help of the General Assembly. Already last week legislation was filed to require the deputy director of child protection to create a system for checking 5 percent of cases where allegations were not substantiated and the child is younger than school age, meaning they may not have come into contact with teachers, social workers or other mandated reporters. Additionally, the measure bans incentives, monetary or otherwise, from being offered to child investigators or private contractors deciding which services to offer a family or whether to close a case.

Republicans File Own Constitutional Amendment

Last week the Illinois Senate passed the graduated income tax amendment to the Illinois Constitution after just 7 minutes of debate. The amendment proposed by the governor and Democrats would open the floodgates to all sorts of new tax rates and brackets with just 60 votes in the House (of 118 members total). We remain opposed to the amendment and will fight it as best we can, but we are also proposing an additional safeguard. House Republicans filed a constitutional amendment requiring a supermajority vote on any future income tax increase proposals. HJRCA 34, will require a 2/3rds majority to raise any new taxes.

Survey Results

Thank you to everyone who took my legislative survey. You can view the survey results here