Legislative Roundup – May 29

Budget Bill

The Illinois Senate is expected to advance a 2015 budget as the Legislature moves closer to adjourning its spring session.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Thursday with the $37.5 billion budget and several other issues on their agenda.

Among them is whether to ask voters in November if Illinois should impose an additional tax on millionaires. The non-binding referendum is an effort by Democrats to increase turnout among their base.

Legislators also could approve spending an additional $1.8 billion in the current fiscal year.

But the biggest issue remains the 2015 budget, which passed the House on Tuesday.

It keeps spending flat for schools and most agencies next year, but could lead to layoffs, facility closures and a post-election extension of Illinois’ temporary income tax increase.

Additional 2014 Spending

The Illinois House has approved legislation to allow the state to spend an additional $1.8 billion in the current budget year.

The measure passed by a 65-48 vote on Wednesday. It now goes to the Senate.

The Legislature approved a roughly $35.4 billion 2014 budget last May.
Rep. Greg Harris is a Chicago Democrat and a House budget negotiator. He says the state had higher-than-projected revenue this year, thanks to an improved economy that generated more sales and income tax than was anticipated.

The supplemental budget legislation allocates about $900 million to paying down Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills. The comptroller’s office said earlier this month that the backlog is about $4.7 billion.

Extra funds also will go toward Medicaid and public safety.

The bill is HB 6060

Capitol Construction and AFSCME Raises

The Illinois House has approved legislation that funds continued work on nearly $20 billion worth of capital construction projects.

The legislation is part of a $31 billion capital construction program that lawmakers approved in 2009. The package was largely paid for through legalizing video poker, raising taxes on candy, liquor and beauty products and privatizing the Illinois lottery.

The legislation was approved Wednesday. It next heads to the Senate.
The legislation contains $10 million for renovation of Chicago’s Uptown Theatre, $13 million for sewage treatment and water projects and $75 million for school construction.

The legislation also authorizes the state to pay about $50 million in raises to AFSCME union workers that were promised in 2011 and another $50 million for Chicago teachers’ pensions.

Expunging Juvenile Records

Illinois lawmakers have advanced a plan that would erase some arrest records for kids who weren’t charged or convicted of the alleged crime.

The House voted 74-40 on Wednesday to approve a proposal that would require the Illinois State Police to annually delete its arrest records for those minors. The measure would exclude alleged sex-related offenses, higher-level felony arrests and those occurring within the previous six months.

Democratic Rep. Arthur Turner of Chicago sponsored the legislation. He says the plan would give kids a better chance to get jobs, enter college and avoid gang violence.

Some lawmakers say they’re concerned because the measure doesn’t guarantee that some lower-level arrest records wouldn’t be made public.
The legislation goes to the Senate for further consideration.

The bill is SB978.

State Grant Oversight

An Illinois Senate panel has approved a plan that would beef up oversight of state grants.

The proposal calls for adopting federal regulations for grant funds. It also would establish a unit within the governor’s Office of Management and Budget to give regular updates, among other things.

Democratic state Sen. Dan Kotowski is a sponsor and says the idea is to improve transparency. The Senate Executive Committee approved the plan Wednesday.

However, Republicans expressed doubt, particularly in light of recent issues with Gov. Pat Quinn’s 2010 troubled anti-violence program. A state audit this year detailed mismanagement and misspending.

Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy raised concerns over the proposal hinging on the governor’s office policing itself.

Bill: HB2747 (Senate Amendment 3)

Partial Medicaid Restoration

The Illinois House has voted to expand Medicaid despite Republican concerns about how to pay for it.

Lawmakers voted 75-37 on Wednesday to restore funding for adult dental and podiatry services. Those services were cut in 2012 as a cost-saving measure.

But Democratic Rep. Greg Harris says the cuts didn’t save the state money because people wound up in the emergency room, where care is more expensive.

Harris says the additional services will cost about $221 million this year. But he says federal funds will cover some of the expense, making the final cost to taxpayers about $125 million.

Republican Rep. Patricia Bellock of Hinsdale says the GOP is concerned about how to sustain services for those who need it in a tough budget year.

The bill is SB741.

Ballot Referenda

The Illinois Legislature has approved a plan to ask voters whether the state should increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour.

The legislation now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, who supports an increase. The Senate voted 39-17 on Wednesday to put the nonbinding question on the November ballot. The measure comes after Democrats failed to gather enough votes to increase the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $10.65 per hour.

Democratic state Sen. Kimberly Lightford of Maywood sponsored the legislation. She says the referendum gives unsure lawmakers more confidence to support an increase.

Republicans have called the measure an election year gimmick. Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove says the referendum is meaningless because lawmakers have wage increase proposals available.

The Senate Executive Committee approved a measure Wednesday on a non-binding resolution asking voters if the Illinois Constitution should be amended to add a 3 percent surcharge to annual incomes of more than $1 million. The idea is to generate money for education.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan sponsors the measure.

The Senate Executive Committee has also approved a November ballot question asking if Illinois voters think prescription drug coverage plans should include birth control. Illinois already requires insurance providers that cover prescription drugs to also cover FDA-approved contraceptive drugs for women. That legislation became law in 2003.

Immigrant Detention

Legislation that could alter how some immigrants in Illinois are jailed has received backing from a state Senate panel, but the measure isn’t expected to resurface for months.

The Senate Executive Committee approved a plan Wednesday that would stop honoring so-called immigration detainers. Detainers allow immigrants to be jailed without probable cause at the request of U.S. immigration authorities so they can be considered for possible deportation.

Cook County stopped complying with detainers in 2011 and the practice is under scrutiny nationwide. Immigration officials argue detainers help apprehend criminals living in the U.S. illegally.

Senate President John Cullerton introduced the legislation shortly before lawmakers’ summer adjournment. Cullerton agreed to hold the plan and work together on possible changes after Republicans said they wanted more time.

Energy Resolution

Illinois lawmakers have advanced a plan urging environmental agencies to adopt nuclear power-friendly rules following financial struggles at a major state energy provider.

A House committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Speaker Michael Madigan’s non-binding resolution. The request comes as government agencies are scheduled to require new standards for nuclear power plants this year.

The Chicago Democrat says nuclear power plants should be treated the same as other low-carbon energy suppliers. He says possible plant closures would hurt job growth and reliable energy sources.

Exelon Corporation has said several of its nuclear power plants could be closed if their financial outlook doesn’t improve.

Environmental activists argue that Illinois should invest in renewable energy sources because nuclear power produces emissions.

The resolution is HR1146.

Cook County Pensions

A plan to overhaul Cook County’s pension system by increasing county payments and reducing some benefits for employees cleared another hurdle.

A House committee voted 6-4 late Wednesday to approve changes Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle says are necessary to keep the retirement system from dissolving in 20 years. The Senate passed the measure Tuesday.

The plan calls for a roughly $145 million increase in the county’s payment in 2016. It would increase the retirement age and contributions, and change 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 heads to the House floor.

Reagan Statue

A state senator has introduced a proposal to place a statute of president Ronald Reagan on the state Capitol’s grounds in Springfield.

The resolution is sponsored by state Republican Sen. Darin LaHood of Dunlap. LaHood says the statue would be paid for by private funds.
LaHood also authored a letter sent to the architect of the capitol and Legislative leaders informing them of the plan.

Two presidents with Illinois roots have been honored with capitol statues — Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.

Reagan was born in Tampico and spent time in Chicago, Monmouth, Galesburg and Dickson before moving to California, where, after a movie career, he served two terms as governor.

Hunting Fees

Sportsmen and women older than 75 would pay just $1 for hunting and fishing licenses under legislation the Illinois Senate has approved.
The measure is sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks — a Marengo Democrat. It must return to the House for approval on Senate changes.

Franks says seniors have been paying for licenses their entire lives and the state should make it a priority to ensure everyone can enjoy Illinois’ natural settings.

The legislation also eliminates the fee to obtain the pheasant, furbearer, habitat and migratory waterfowl stamps and the inland trout and salmon stamps for fishermen.

Franks says he heard from a constituent contending that while license fees are reduced for those over age 62, they still are too expensive for some.

The bill is HB4329.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)