A press release from State Senator Pam Althoff:
Senate Week in Review: Nov 4-8, 2013
The General Assembly concluded its annual fall veto session with no resolution to the state’s ongoing public pension challenges, leaving many lawmakers disappointed.
But, behind the scenes discussions offered some hope that the legislative leaders may be able to arrive at an agreed-upon proposal that can be put before legislators.
Still, the timing of when, and if, that might occur remains up in the air, State Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry) said.
Other key issues, such as economic incentives to retain major employers and proposed new penalties for gun crimes, also were not resolved. But progress on those issues seemed possible as well at the end of the fall session.
Cards for Veterans
In between committees and floor action, many lawmakers took a moment to sign holiday cards for soldiers, an annual Red Cross project that Althoff is encouraging others to participate in. The timing was especially appropriate with Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
The American Red Cross’ Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign sends holiday greetings and personal messages to military families, veterans and active-duty service members at hospitals and installations around the world.
Those interested in sending their own Christmas greetings can find more information at www.redcross.org/holidaymail.
Althoff Resolution Designating November 30 as “Small Business Saturday” Adopted
Senate Resolution 672, sponsored by Althoff, designates November 30, 2013 as “Small Business Saturday” in the State of Illinois and urges the citizens of Illinois to support small businesses and merchants on the day as well as throughout the year. The resolution was adopted by the Senate on Nov. 7.
Althoff drafted the resolution in recognition that several advocacy groups and both public and private organizations across the country have endorsed the Saturday after Thanksgiving as Small Business Saturday.
“There are more than 28 million small businesses in the country,” Althoff said. “It’s well known that they represent more than 99 percent of American companies, create two-thirds of new jobs, and general half of private gross domestic product. Small businesses are the driving force of our economy and we should support them in whatever way we can. I encourage people to patronize a small business or two on November 30 and all throughout the year.”
Same Sex Marriage
Legislation authorizing same sex marriages did win approval, making Illinois the 15th state to allow persons of the same sex to marry.
The measure was pushed through the House and Senate Tuesday, November 5. Senate Bill 10 was originally passed by the Senate on Valentine’s Day of this year, but initially failed to garner enough support to be called to a vote in the House.
Despite language aimed at exempting religious institutions and private clubs from having to perform or host same-sex marriage ceremonies, receptions or related events, many religious leaders argued the bill did not adequately safeguard the rights of religious institutions and raised concerns that churches might still be forced to allow the use of reception halls and similar facilities to same sex couples, in violation of their religious tenets.
Questions were raised on how the redefinition of “marriage” will affect communities, families and individuals. Concerns were also voiced on whether private vendors who object to same-sex marriage would be forced to provide services for same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Funds for Concealed Carry
One accomplishment was approval of a supplemental spending measure needed in order to assure the timely implementation of the state’s new concealed carry act.
House Bill 209 added $50.2 million to the current year state budget. However almost all of those dollars would come from special dedicated funds and user fees, rather than general tax dollars.
The largest component was $34 million to implement the state’s concealed carry law, which would be paid for through concealed carry license fees. Most of the money would go to the Illinois State Police, while about $2.5 million would be used by the state’s Human Services agency to comply with the mental health reporting requirements of the new law.
The only portion of the spending bill that used general tax dollars was $500,000 to pay Court of Claims awards owed by the state.
Although the Governor asked for $112 million to settle a back-pay dispute with the state’s largest employee union, those funds were not included in the supplemental funding. Opponents argue that the administration needs to find those funds within the existing budget rather than seek new spending.
Gun Crime Penalties
Despite a push by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a proposal to require mandatory prison terms for certain gun crimes never came to a vote. The Senate’s Executive Committee was poised to take testimony on the concept when word came that the Illinois House had adjourned for the week without taking up the measure.
Several anticipated business relocations have sent companies to the legislature to ask for state incentives. Among the more visible is the planned move of the headquarters of farm product processor Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) from Decatur. The company has expressed an interest in keeping the headquarters in Illinois, with Chicago the most likely location.
In addition, the merger of Naperville-based Office Max and Florida-based Office Depot has prompted the combined company to assess where its corporate headquarters should be located. Legislation that would allow the merged firm to qualify for a state tax credit advanced out of committee, but was not voted on by the full Senate.
Road Projects – Illiana Expressway
Measures designed to encourage two major road construction projects south of Chicago did win approval.
Senate Bill 2365 is intended to clear the way for a design-build proposal for the Illiana Expressway, which would link Interstates 55 and 576 in Illinois with Interstate 65 in Indiana.
The highway connecting Will County, Illinois with Lake County, Indiana has been discussed by transportation planners for years. The legislation would allow the public-private partnership contractors to partner with a design-build contractor prior to signing a contract with IDOT.
The state transportation department argued that because the design-build contractor is one of the elements upon which IDOT will evaluate the private partner’s bid proposal, it would be illogical to prohibit the private partner from selecting a design-builder prior to the bidding process.
Road Projects – Weber Road
The other measure, SB 1219, allows the state to begin the Weber Road interchange project on Interstate 55 in Will County, without the sale of land that was anticipated when the project was authorized in 2007.
The original legislation called for the sale of surplus property owned by the Department of Corrections to help finance the project. However, the assessed value of the land has dropped significantly and the Department of Transportation does not want to be forced to sell the land under current market conditions.
Variety of Measures Approved
A number of other measures, many dealing with local or regional issues, finished out the annual fall session. Details on these measures can be found by going to the Senate Action Page on the Senate Republican Website (http://www.senategop.state.il.us/AbouttheSenate/SenateAction.aspx)
A sampling of those issues includes:
Medicaid Reform Rollback (HB 1516): Rolls back all adult dental reforms that were included under the 2012 Medicaid reform SMART Act. When the reforms took effect, the cost savings were estimated at $51 million. An earlier partial rollback cost the state $16 million, so this rollback is estimated to cost an additional $35 million.
Sex Offender Evaluators (SB 1600): This extends the effective date of the implementation of new licensing and disciplinary processes for sex offender evaluators and treatment. If this date is not extended the State of Illinois could be without approved sex offender evaluators and without approved sex offender treatment providers.
Illinois Corn Processing (SB 635): Clarifies that the Pekin-based Illinois Corn Processing company will not be treated as a natural gas utility. Because of the volume of natural gas used by the company, it could be defined as a utility under state law and face regulations that are intended for public utilities.
Chicago Park District Pension Reform (SB 1523): As amended, this bill makes changes to the Chicago Park District pension system. Includes changes to employee contributions, retirement ages, cost of living adjustments and disability payments. The measure is important in part because it contains changes similar to those being discussed regarding state pension reform.
Jacksonville/Joliet Facilities Re-Use (SB 341): Creates a special tax credit for renovating and repairing state owned buildings. This is intended to encourage the renovation and adaptive re-use of the former Illinois Youth Center in Joliet and the former Jacksonville Developmental Center.
Township Meetings (SB 497): Changes the requirements to place advisory referenda on township ballots. This is in response to the Governor’s amendatory veto of similar legislation – HB 2454. In some areas, small groups of voters have forced townships to add questions of state and national policies to the township ballot, even if the questions have no relevance to township duties.
Medical Practice Act Sunset (SB 1496): Extends the Medical Practice Act by one year until December 31, 2014.