A press release from State Senator Pam Althoff:
Springfield, Ill. – State Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-Crystal Lake) said last week the Senate passed a pension reform measure backed by the Senate President and acted on a number of other measures, including medical marijuana legislation, a bill to open the state’s system of education funding up to additional scrutiny and a measure creating the state-based health insurance exchange.
Pension Reform – Senate Bill 2404
On May 9, Senate President John Cullerton presented his pension reform legislation to the Senate, Senate Bill 2404, and chose to ignore Speaker Madigan’s pension proposal that already passed the House. President Cullerton’s measure passed with some bipartisan support.
Althoff voted in favor of the measure in order to keep the discussions of reform moving forward as she feels this is not the final version of reform.
“All stakeholders should be a part of the discussion for the pension reform solution,” Althoff said.
“Although the current form of Senate Bill 2404 does not produce the same savings as Speaker Madigan’s proposal, it does in fact save the state money.
“With that said, there is opposition to this bill and it is assumed that these issues will be taken up with other aspects of the Madigan proposal in the House.
“It is important that these discussions move forward and we achieve a solution that sustains our systems while protecting our retirees and workers.”
Rough estimates project Senate Bill 2404 will reduce the state’s pension payments in the upcoming fiscal year by $850 million, and would save a total of $46 billion over the next 30 years. While the measure would not strengthen the current funding formula, it would guarantee the state could make the pension payments required under current law.
However, opponents of the bill say Senate Bill 2404 does not do enough to stabilize the pension systems or reduce the state’s pension liabilities, which have been estimated by some to exceed $100 billion. They noted that in comparison Senate Bill 1, the pension proposal being pushed by Speaker Michael Madigan, promises savings of about $150 billion over 30 years, including approximately $2 billion in 2015.
Supporters of the measure contend that it may be more likely to meet Constitutional muster through provisions which give employees a choice of benefits. But opponents said there was no guarantee that the proposal would be held constitutional and pointed out that a retired teachers organization has already pledged to challenge the measure in court.
Senate Bill 2404 would require employees in every system but the Judges choose one of three options:
- Keep their current Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) on their future pension benefits – which is 3% compounded annually. Give up access to State health insurance when they retire and have future salary increases not count for their pension; or
- Keep the current COLA but agree to a three-year delay in that COLA. Retain retiree health insurance. Future raises would count toward pensions. Workers would be required to pay an additional one week’s pay each year toward their pensions; or
- Take a lower COLA (3% with no compounding) and agree to a two-year delay in that COLA. Employees could keep their retiree insurance and pensionable raises and not have to make extra contributions.
Retirees would be able to retain their current 3 percent compounded COLA, but must choose between:
- Keeping access to health insurance and having a 2-year freeze in their COLA; or
- Giving up health insurance with no COLA freeze.
The measure now moves to the House for consideration, although successful passage of it remains rather unlikely.
Education Funding Transparency – House Bill 3133
In addition to pension reform, Senate lawmakers turned their attention to other matters, including a bill sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno that would open up the General State Aid formula to greater public scrutiny.
The Senate Executive Committee approved House Bill 3133, which would require the approximate amounts forecast to be paid for state Poverty Grants and Foundation Level Grants to be listed out in a state budget bill for easy review; the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law adjustment must also be listed separately.
The measure was introduced in response to a study conducted by Senate Republicans that revealed the General State Aid allocation has been listed as a lump sum in the state budget, which makes it difficult to decipher how state education funding is being allocated.
House Bill 3133 seeks to increase transparency of the state’s system of education funding, which will allow policy-makers to detect trends that—until very recently—had been concealed, and ensure that schools are being funded in the way the General State Aid formula was intended.
Medical Marijuana – House Bill 1
The Senate Executive Committee also advanced legislation that would allow for the dispensation of medical marijuana, a measure which has received significant attention from the media and the public. House Bill 1 would allow a patient who has been issued a registry identification card by the Department of Public Health to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis during a 14 day period. The measure specifies certain qualifying diseases and illnesses, but does not include general eligibility for chronic pain or nausea.
The measure establishes criteria for medical marijuana cultivation centers and requires them to be registered by the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture may approve up to 22 licensed marijuana growers, but no more than one per State Police District.
House Bill 1 stipulates that a cultivation center would only be permitted to provide medical cannabis to dispensing organizations whose purpose is to dispense cannabis and paraphernalia to qualified patients. The dispensing organizations would have to register with the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR); IDFPR would be allowed to approve up to 60 dispensaries.
In response to safety concerns, the bill provides a framework to allow for employer regulation and discipline for use of cannabis in the workplace. It also stipulates that a patient may not drive while under the influence of medical cannabis. A provision was included in the bill allowing for field sobriety tests to be administered to a medical cannabis card holder suspected of driving under the influence, and states that evidence would be admissible in court.
State Health Insurance Exchange – House Bill 3227
The Senate also moved forward with implementation of a state-based health insurance exchange as part of the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare.” The Senate Insurance Committee approved House Bill 3227, establishing and outlining the structure of the Illinois Health Benefits Exchange. It is projected plan enrollment will begin Oct. 1, 2014. The exchange will initially have two components, one serving individuals and one serving businesses with 50 or fewer employees. In 2016, the two parts could be merged and could also include employers with up to 100 employees.
Additional Senate Action
The Senate considered a number of additional measures both in Senate Committees and as a full body. You can catch up on legislation moving through the Senate, as well as measures that have been approved by the General Assembly, at the Senate Republican’s “Senate Action” page.
Governor Quinn Requests Federal Assistance for 11 Counties Affected by Flooding
On May 9, Gov. Quinn asked President Obama to declare 11 Illinois counties major disaster areas following the storms and heavy rainfall in April. If that request is approved, the residents in those counties will be eligible to apply for grants and low-interest federal loans to help recover from the historic flooding. The counties included in the request are Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Fulton, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, McHenry and Will.