Legislative Roundup – May 28

Minimum Wage

An Illinois Senate committee has approved a plan to ask voters whether the state should increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

The plan to put the nonbinding question on the November ballot passed the Executive Committee on Tuesday by a 10-5 vote. The measure comes after Democrats failed to muster enough votes to increase the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $10.65 per hour.

Democratic Sen. Kimberly Lightford of Maywood is sponsoring the legislation. She says the referendum will give unsure lawmakers more confidence to vote for an increase later.

But Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine calls the plan a “gimmick” to boost Democratic voter turnout in the election.

The measure now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

School Funding

A plan to overhaul the way Illinois funds its schools has cleared an important hurdle in the Legislature.

The Senate voted 32-19 on Tuesday to pass a plan that would require schools to demonstrate need before receiving money.

That would reduce the amount of state aid that wealthier districts receive. The current method, in place since 1997, factors in a district’s poverty for some types of state aid but not others.

Republicans say they oppose the plan because it will force property tax increases to support schools.

Democrat state Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill is sponsoring the legislation. He says the plan is one step toward fairly funding schools but admits there’s work to do.

The legislation now moves to the House.

Soda Tax

An Illinois House committee has rejected a proposed tax on sweetened drinks that supporters say would help fight obesity.

The House Revenue and Finance Committee defeated the so-called “soda tax” 2-7 Tuesday. It would have added a tax of 1 cent per ounce to any sweetened beverage.

Rep. Robyn Gabel told legislators the tax would give people an incentive to choose a healthier drink. It also would generate an estimated $600 million in annual revenue.

Mark Denzler is a lobbyist for the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. He says the tax — which would equal $2.88 on a case of soda — could lead to job losses because Illinois residents may cross state lines to buy drinks and other groceries.

Cook County Pensions

Illinois lawmakers have quickly advanced a plan to overhaul Cook County’s pension system by increasing county payments and reducing some benefits for employees.

The Senate voted 36-16 on Tuesday to approve the changes that Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle says are necessary to keep the retirement system from dissolving in a couple of decades.

The measure calls for a roughly $145 million increase in the county’s payment in 2016. The proposal would increase the retirement age, contributions, and change the cost-of-living adjustments. It resulted from negotiations between county leaders and some unions. One labor group says it may sue over the changes.

Republicans who oppose the proposal say it will lead to property tax increases.

The measure now moves to the House.

Cupcake Bill

Illinois lawmakers have revived a so-called “cupcake bill” introduced after a young girl’s home baking operation was shut down.

The Senate on Tuesday initially defeated the proposal, which paves the way for home kitchen businesses making less than $1,000 per month.

Republican Sen. Jim Oberweis was among opponents. The dairy magnate said proposed regulations tacked on to the bill would have sidetracked his own entrepreneurial spirit at a young age.

But the Senate later moved to reconsider the bill and that amendment was withdrawn. Lawmakers then voted 57-0 to pass the measure. Sen. Heather Steans says: “Let them eat cupcakes.”

The legislation arose after the Madison County Health Department shut down 12-year-old Chloe Stirling’s cupcake business in Troy. It now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn.