The McDermed Dispatch for June 10th

The last week of session was filled with some of the longest debates I’ve seen in my time in Springfield. The final day of session for the House was on Saturday, June 1st and a lot happened. It is important to note than none of these votes occurred in a vacuum. All together they were largely negotiated as a package of bills.

It has been a long session and I want to thank everyone who took the time to reach out to me to share their views on issues and specific legislation. If I have not been able to get back to you yet, rest assured your input was still heard and it did make an impact in my calculus on how to vote. I will do my best to followup with everyone over the summer.

Now that session is over, I will be sending out this Dispatch less often, but will still keep you informed on legislative developments and events I have planned to benefit the community. Given the sheer number of topics we took up in the last week of session, buckle up, this is a long update…

19th Amendment Milestone

Today is the 100th anniversary of Illinois’ ratification of the 19th amendment. The 19th amendment forbids the states or the federal government from denying a person the right to vote on the basis of sex, opening the door for women to vote for all offices, including president, for the first time in the United States. Earlier in the spring I passed House Resolution 96 to commemorate the passage of the amendment with special attention to Illinois proud place in the effort. Illinois is home to storied women’s right advocates and suffragists like Jane Addams, Frances Willard, and Ruth Hanna McCormick.

In 1913, Illinois became the first state east of the Mississippi to grant women the right to vote. When Congress proposed the 19th Amendment in 1919, it was sponsored by Illinois Republican Congressman James Mann. Thanks to the efforts of Ruth Hanna McCormick and Grace Wilbour Trout, Illinois was ready when it was sent to the states on June 4th and on June 10th Illinois became the first state to ratify it. With the help of activists, such as Addams and Trout, and political figures, such as McCormick, the 19th Amendment was ratified nationwide in less than eighteen months.

In addition to commemorating this historic event with a resolution, I have planted yellow roses outside my office, an idea promoted by the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. I encourage you to do the same and share pictures of them on social media.

Capital, and yes, a Gas Tax Increase

The General Assembly passed a six year $44.5 billion dollar capital plan. It includes over $848 million for I80 projects. 

When I took office I asked my constituents what was most important to them and transportation was far and away number one, which is why I took the lead in committees and planning for this capital bill. Everyone who drives, rides, or walks in Illinois can see clear as day that our infrastructure is in a desperate state of disrepair. The longer we put this off, the worse it will be to eventually fund and fix it.

Illinois has not had a major capital and infrastructure package since 2009. As a result, roads, bridges, and state buildings including schools have accrued a lot of deferred maintenance and damage. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave Illinois a C- on their annual infrastructure report card, including a D for roads and transits. The number of state highways that needed repair grew from 2,560 miles in 2012 to 3,292 miles in 2017. By 2022, that number is expected to grow by another 2,000 miles. In addition, there are more than 660 bridges in less than acceptable condition right now in Illinois, including the I-80 bridge over the DesPlaines River. By 2022, that number is estimated to be over 1,000 bridges.

The capital plan does contain additional sources of revenue, including a hike in the gas tax, but it is necessary long-term sustainable funding that will help us avoid the peaks and valleys of intermittent funding, which leads to starts and stops on projects our communities are counting on.

The gas tax has not been raised for two decades. By raising this tax as opposed to any other, we can capitalize on Illinois’ location as the crossroads of the country. We can capture the tourists, the trucks, and the cross country travelers who use our roads daily and contribute to their deterioration.

In 2016 Illinois voters approved an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that created a so-called “lockbox” on road funds. This will prevent the General Assembly from raiding the fund to pay for things unrelated to infrastructure maintenance, as they did many times in the past. Throughout the negotiation process I’ve tried to get rid of the additional sales tax on our gas. While this plan does not do away with them, it does require them to be put in to the state’s transportation lockbox as opposed to the General Revenue Fund. You can rest assured that while gas taxes may be increasing, all of the taxes you pay at the pump will go towards fixing our roads and bridges, not to fill the budget holes made by irresponsible legislators.

Further, people who drive on our roads every day are paying for it, they just don’t realize it.

A recent report from TRIP, a Washington based national transportation research group, found that the current state of our infrastructure cost Illinois motorists a total of $18.3 billion statewide annually due to higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays.

In all my years in public service, I have never voted to raise taxes. I did not make this vote lightly. However, if ever there was an element of our state worth investing in, it would be our crumbling roads and bridges. Illinois must remain a major hub for transportation. Most importantly, I’m willing to swallow some lumps if it means my constituents can feel safer driving along I-80. 

House Republicans Force Concessions on Democrats

None of the votes that took place Saturday occurred in a vacuum. It is important to note that some politicians voted unusually because all together the bills were part of a larger negotiation. Despite our position in the superminority, House Republicans were able to fight for and get some of our demands. This includes tax credits for data centers (a booming segment of the nationwide economy), the elimination of the state’s franchise tax, and the tabling of SB 1407, a bill business groups called “forced unionization” of merit shops.

We also were able to get the Blue Collar Jobs Act, which includes tax credits like EDGE, enterprise zones and high-impact construction jobs credit, passed. The Act is designed to increase capital construction by businesses in Illinois. It will increase jobs by benefiting Illinois construction workers and the permanent workers that would be hired after a new business facility is completed. The tax credits wouldn’t be applicable until after the construction is complete. There is no risk to the state if a business or company does not follow through.

Further, we were able to negotiate to remove the satellite TV tax, a streaming (i.e. Netflix) tax, increased ridesharing (i.e uber/lyft) fees, increased alcohol taxes, and other taxes that the majority party wanted to impose.

Gaming Expanded, Sports Betting Legalized

As a part of the effort to fund “vertical capital” (i.e. state buildings like schools) Illinois managed to pass a massive gambling expansion bill over the weekend.

The 816 page bill authorizes the six new casinos in Illinois; Chicago, Waukegan, south suburbs, Rockford, Danville and Williamson County. The Chicago casino would be privately owned, and the revenue would be split in to thirds among the owner, the state, and the city. The city asked for a casino to specifically help it’s potentially crushing pension debt payments, which are estimated to go up more than $1 billion to $2 billion by 2023. It expands video gaming, even going so far as to allow them at Chicago’s airports. In addition, it transforms the state’s horse racing tracks into “racinos” by permitting casino operations at the state’s three existing tracks while allowing two more to open.

The idea to address gambling initially began with the goal of legalizing sports betting. If you recall, the U.S. Supreme Court found a New Jersey ban on sports betting unconstitutional a year ago. This has opened up a lot of states to consider legalizing and regulating sports gambling. In Illinois that effort turned in to a huge omnibus bill affecting all parts of gaming statewide like video gaming and casino expansion. The gambling bill’s biggest hold up was a fight between Rivers Casino owner, Neil Bluhm, and online sports betting/fantasy sports giants, FanDuel and DraftKings. Bluhm wanted to ban them from sports betting in Illinois for a period of time, based on the allegation that they are “bad actors” who have been operating illegally in Illinois. While that may be true, it should be noted that last year Bluhm founded his own sports betting company, which would be a direct rival to already established companies like theirs.

A compromise was found in giving casinos a head start. Sports betting licenses will initially go to all existing and newly authorized casinos as well as horse racetracks and sports venues. However, fantasy sports wagering firms could partner as an online vendor at casinos, racetracks or sports venues. Sports leagues would not get any of the cut, and wagering on Illinois college teams would be prohibited by the legislation.

Sexual Harassment and Legislative Ethics

The House and Senate unanimously passed bipartisan, bicameral workplace sexual harassment and legislative ethics omnibus legislation. The bill combines a number of smaller pieces of legislation and is the culmination of nearly two years of work, which first began when the Illinois statehouse and the nation were rocked by stories of sexual harassment. It is also the end result of the Senate Task Force on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention’s hearings.

The bill extends to the private sector many of the same increased workplace protections of a 2018 bill addressing sexual harassment policy in the Legislature. Employers would be required to provide sexual harassment prevention training program once a year. Recognizing that tip earners at restaurants and bars are in a unique situation, owners of those establishments would have to give new employees within their first week of employment information about the business’ sexual harassment policy and how to report incidents. In addition, hotels and casinos would be required to provide employees who work in isolated spaces with panic buttons in case they are sexually harassed or assaulted. It also creates the Workplace Transparency Act to provide that no contract or agreement, even a nondisclosure one, can prohibit or restrict an employee from reporting allegations of “unlawful conduct” to federal, state or local officials to investigate.

With regards to the government, SB 75 requires state officials, employees, and lobbyists to complete sexual harassment and discrimination prevention training and requires local governments to report and provide an independent review of allegations of sexual harassment made against local elected officials.

GA Passes Largest Budget Ever

On the final day of session, May 31st, at around noon, a 1,581 page $40.628 billion dollar budget was finally submitted for our consideration. To put that in to perspective, legislators would have to read more than 2 pages a minute to read the entire budget bill before midnight’s adjournment. All while continuing to debate and vote on a myriad of other complex issues.

In order to meet Governor Pritzker’s promise of passing a budget by the end of May, we voted on the budget later that night. The rest of the legislative work was put off until Saturday.

I voted no. This budget proposal is massive and spends nearly $1.5 billion more than the Governor proposed in February. The truth is nobody had time to read all 1,581 pages before it was voted on 10 hours later. I can’t vote on something, let alone the largest state budget ever, if I don’t know what’s in it. Any bill that increases spending in Illinois so dramatically needs more time in the light of day, because it’s guaranteed that Illinois budgets never get smaller, only bigger. 

In addition, I know I have been receiving a lot of inquiries about the “pay increase” for legislators. A 1990 law gave Illinois legislators a cost of living increase every year tied to data from the Federal Bureau of Labor statistics. The General Assembly has voted to prohibit the COLAs since 2009 and decrease per diem and mileage reimbursement since 2010. However, that bill this year, HB837, which passed the Senate, failed to be called by its Democrat House Sponsor. When it appeared that this would be the case, the House Republican caucus was added to our own bill, HB 2965, to demonstrate caucus opposition to an increased COLA, per diem, and mileage reimbursement. Governor JB Pritzker had the option to issue an amendatory veto of the budget implementation act to reject the COLA, but refused to do so and signed the budget as is on June 5th. Without state action, the COLA will occur automatically on July 1st. I promise to either refund the anticipated $1,600 back to the state or donate it to a local charity.

Cannabis Legalized

The Governor’s goal when crafting a proposal to legalize cannabis was making “Illinois a national leader in equity and criminal justice reform.” My goal has always been voting my district and with public health and safety in mind.

It was important to me that police and local governments had a strong say in the issue. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association all remain opposed and have voiced their concerns about their ability to regulate homegrow and catching those driving under the influence. There is no field sobriety test for cannabis in Illinois.

Opponents on the floor cited studies on the links between poor mental health, schizophrenia, domestic violence, traffic accidents, youth use and legalized marijuana. Ultimately, all the studies cited by those either for or against legalization tend to contain some concluding line similar to “results clearly suggest the need for more empirically-based research on this topic.” I am concerned that there is not enough data or research to make such comprehensive sweeping changes in our law and to our state’s culture. 

The results above are from my spring legislative survey and were very important in my decision to vote no. After extensive debate the 611 page cannabis legalization bill passed the General Assembly 66-47. Support and opposition were both bipartisan. States that previously legalized marijuana did so through ballot initiatives, not legislative votes.  

Other Bills that Passed the General Assembly

All told this spring the House and Senate passed 599 bills, much of which passed in the waning days of spring session, including:

HB2276 outlaws smoking in a car with a child under 18 regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion or stopped or whether the windows are down. Police wouldn’t be allowed to stop drivers solely for this violation, but it would carry a fine of up to $100 for the first offense.

HB1637 prohibits local law enforcement from working with federal immigration authorities. Local law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from entering into agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. No such agreements currently exist in Illinois. In addition, HB3196 creates the Immigration Task Force.

HB3534 allows drivers to select either male, female, or nonbinary on their driver’s license gender designation. If the bill is signed into law, Illinois would join a handful of states and Washington, D.C., in offering a gender-neutral option.

SB2023 makes the medical marijuana program permanent and expands conditions to include autism, Chronic Pain, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, osteoarthritis, anorexia nervosa, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome; Neuro-Behcet’s Autoimmune Disease, neuropathy, polycystic kidney disease, superior canal dehiscence syndrome, and ulcerative colitis. Medical marijuana was established as a pilot program in 2013 and was due to expire next year.

HB3101 requires hotels and motels to train employees on how to recognize instances of human trafficking and workers are required to report it. The bill also includes stronger penalties for businesses that “knowingly benefit” from ventures involving involuntary servitude.

HB2048 allows victims of “revenge porn” to sue people who share their private sexual images without consent and allows a court to issue a take down order of the images. 

FOID Bill Stalls in Senate

The House debated and passed a FOID law bill that would require fingerprinting to obtain a card, background checks for private sales between individuals, reduce the time a FOID card is valid from the current 10 years to five before requiring a new application, and require the state police to take steps to seize weapons from people whose gun licenses have been revoked. I support some of these proposals, which is why I co-sponsored a bill that would help the police keep guns out of the hands of the people who shouldn’t have them. However, this bill included portions I was not comfortable with. I voted no and here’s my statement why:

“The goal of improved public safety is laudable and one we should all be striving towards. However, this legislation goes beyond addressing believed deficiencies in FOID law. I oppose the fingerprinting of law-abiding citizens who have done nothing wrong other than wanting to exercise their constitutional right. It is a blatant privacy intrusion and 4thamendment violation requiring the Illinois State Police to maintain a database of 1/5th of Illinoisan’s fingerprints. No other constitutional right requires a fingerprint. This legislation will certainly be challenged in court, holding up the other aspects of the bill that will actually improve the FOID system. Furthermore, ISP already has difficulty processing the sheer number of FOID card requests and their renewals. This bill will lower the required renewal period from 10 years to 5 years, creating an even worse logjam of applications at ISP. Bottom line, while other legislation contains the same safety provisions, this bill puts additional undue burdens on ISP and law-abiding gun owners.”

The fingerprinting portion of the bill gave Senators enough pause for concern, as they chose not to vote on the legislation.

Governor, AFSCME Reach Deal

The prior contract between the nearly 40,000 state employees and the state expired July 1, 2015, although its terms remained in place because former Governor Rauner and AFCSME were unable to come to an agreement over new terms. Disagreement stemmed from issues like step increases (automatic pay raises) and merit incentives. The deal was announced, but none of its terms have been revealed yet.

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