This Week in Springfield – 100-02

This Week in Springfield, the Governor delivered his annual State of the State address and the Senate held subject matter hearings on their compromise budget framework while discussions on potential changes continues.

SENATE BUDGET COMPROMISE

TWIS readers are aware that prior to the expiration of the 99th General Assembly, the Senate leaders had reported that they had reached a tentative bi-partisan agreement on a budget package framework. Although the package was filed in the last days of the 99th General Assembly, the 99th General Assembly adjourned Sine Die and the leaders promised that they would take the package up for consideration the first week of the 100th General Assembly. Immediately after convening the 100th General Assembly on Wednesday, January 11th, the framework package was introduced in 13 separately filed bills.

Continue reading “This Week in Springfield – 100-02”

This Week in Springfield – 100-01

This Week in Springfield a bipartisan framework for a budget compromise was proposed by the Senate leaders prior to the adjournment of the 99th General Assembly and reintroduced immediately after the 100th General Assembly officially began as starting point for discussions.  The convening of the 100th Assembly also witnessed new members taking their seats and the election of Senate and House leaders.

EASY ON CRIME TOUGH ON ILLINOIS BUSINESSES

This week, the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform (“Commission”) released a report recommending a series of proposals allegedly designed to decrease the population of state prisons by 25%. One of the Commission’s recommendations is raising the retail theft felony threshold from $300 to $2000—which would give Illinois the second highest felony threshold in the nation. Additionally, the recommendation provides that a retail thief could only be charged with a felony if they had a prior felony theft conviction. This means that an individual can repeatedly steal $1,999 worth of goods and only be charged with a misdemeanor.

Continue reading “This Week in Springfield – 100-01”

This Week in Springfield – 99-41

ILLINOIS ELECTION RECAP

 

Conventional wisdom holds that presidential election years are generally very good for Democratic candidates as voter turnout is higher than in non-presidential election years. Illinois has witnessed elections where Republicans did well around the nation but not here. This year, voter turnout was indeed high but the conventional wisdom only held for statewide offices and one congressional district.

Illinois Republicans scored impressive wins last night in the various Illinois General Assembly races netting a four-seat pick-up in the House and a two-seat pick-up in the Senate. However, this changes very little. When the 100th Illinois General Assembly convenes on January 11th, the Democrats will continue to hold a sizeable 67-51 majority in the Illinois House and a veto-proof 37-22 majority in the Senate. Nevertheless, Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto pen is now strengthened.

Continue reading “This Week in Springfield – 99-41”

This Week in Springfield – 99-39

Illinois Passes Stop Gap Budget

For a little more than a year Illinois has been without a budget and has operated under a series of consent decrees as lawmakers have been unable to pass a FY16 or FY17 budget. Despite the condition of the state and pressure from constituents, lawmakers were unable to come to a budget agreement and for a second consecutive year the General Assembly adjourned on May 31st without a budget.  With no FY16 or FY17 budget and the specter of impending November elections, it appeared that a budget agreement would be delayed until next January.

With a full FY16 or FY17 budget agreement seemingly out of reach, working groups from both parties and the governor’s office continued to meet in an attempt to reach a temporary stop-gap budget designed to fund necessary services through the end of 2016. While the working groups met, pressure continued to mount on the legislative leaders from social service providers, prisons, schools, municipalities and newspapers to name a few.  With one day remaining until the end of the fiscal year, lawmakers reached agreement on a temporary stop-gap budget. In essence, the stop-gap budget would address the most pressing matters including ensuring schools open on time, road projects and other capital projects would be funded, and some human service providers would be able to continue with a temporary lifeline from the state. The stop-gap appropriates a total of $75 billion — $25 billion for FY16 and $50 billion for FY17 — for agency operations, grant lines, capital and other state spending.

In order to ensure that K-12 schools opened up on time in the fall, $11.1 billion was appropriated to the State Board of Education, including $7.5 billion in General Revenue, $71.5 million in Other State Funds, and $3.6 billion in Federal funds for K-12 funding. Additionally, the agreement would provide relief to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) by infusing $300 million from the state and giving CPS the authority to levy another $250 million from property taxes.  Given the existence of the classification system in Cook County, this does mean commercial and industrial property owners will bear the majority of the burden of this latest property tax increase. Moreover, the agreement establishes Chicago pension parity for FY17 by requiring the state to make a $205 million contribution to the Chicago Teacher’s Pension Fund. These were offered in exchange for a pension reform bill that must be passed by January.

To keep road projects and other capital projects continuing during the summer months, the stop-gap appropriates $14.6 billion to the Illinois Department of Transportation for annual operations, various grants, and some capital spending for FY16 and FY17. Specifically, $1.5 billion of this amount represents the annual costs to IDOT and the remaining $13.1 billion is appropriated for capital projects, funding roads, bridges, rail, aeronautics, and permanent improvements. Additionally, lawmakers passed separate legislation that would allow Chicago to use substantial revenue from a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to help access federal money for mass transit projects. The proposal holds CPS harmless, but it would divert money from libraries, parks and the water district.

Universities, community colleges and low income student MAP grants also received funding which relieves pressure on the university system in Illinois. The agreement appropriates $997 million to various higher education agencies, universities and community colleges which funds them up to 90% of the monies they would have received in FY15. Additionally, the agreement appropriates $151 million from the Education Assistance Fund to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) to cover MAP grants for low income students. This will also reimburse all universities who fronted the costs for MAP grants for the spring 2016 semester.

Human services also receive some funding through a $752 million appropriation from the Commitment to Human Services Fund. Specifically, the Department of Human Services, the Illinois Department of Public Health and Department of Aging received some funding for operational expenses. Additionally, programs that received funding include but are not limited to SIDS, HIV/AIDS, and Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening, the Autism Project, Funeral and Burial Expenses, Psychiatric Leadership Grants, Independent Living Centers, Community Care Program, Illinois Council on Aging, Grants to Area Agencies on Aging, and the Ombudsman Program.

The stop-gap budget is just that – a stop-gap. While it represents some bi-partisan progress and provides a temporary partial reprieve, it does not provide a sustainable budget for the long term, adds to the bill backlog, and does not contain any of the much needed reforms Illinois needs to regain stability, reign in local government, and otherwise ensure Illinois’s long-term competitiveness. It will be interesting to see what develops after the November elections.

This was a deal negotiated by the Governor who will sign it upon receipt.

Contact Information:

robtanyaalec

This Week in Springfield – 99-38

STATE BUDGET
EGG LOT CONSOLIDATION
TOBACCO AGE OF PURCHASE
LIQUOR LICENSE FEES
EMPLOYEE SICK LEAVE ACT
VESSA LEAVE
PHARMACY
PENSION RELIEF FOR CHICAGO

This week in Springfield the General Assembly reached the scheduled end of the spring session without a budget for the second straight year. As the budget impasse lingers, the House lawmakers are scheduled to meet every Wednesday in a continuous session over the summer to attempt to reach a consensus. The Senate has announced they are available but have not yet scheduled session days. Below is a recount of the action.

STATE BUDGET

As TWIS readers know, the state of Illinois is in the last month of the 2016 Fiscal Year with no budget. There is no budget on the horizon for the coming Fiscal Year 2017 which starts July 1st.

Throughout this current fiscal year, many programs have been operating under one of 80 consent decrees issued by lower courts. Recipients covered by these consent decrees include, but are not limited to, doctors and hospitals that treat children in Cook County covered by Medicaid, Medicaid services for children throughout the State and all Medicaid providers.  As long as no one appeals these consent decrees or otherwise forces a higher court to review, they will stay in place.

Last week, the House narrowly passed a budget most observers pegged at $7.5 billion out-of-balance. This budget only appropriated monies for programs not covered by the aforementioned consent decrees. Those program areas include K-12 education, higher education, public safety, human services, and back-pay for state employees. This House proposal also contained appropriations of nearly $4 billion for capital expenditures. Governor Bruce Rauner publicly stated he would veto this proposal should it reach his desk. He needn’t have worried. Late Tuesday night, the Senate undertook consideration of this House budget as contained in SB 2048 (Sen. John J. Cullerton, D-Chicago/ Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago). SB 2048 only received 17 votes – 13 votes short of the minimum number necessary for passage.  Subsequently, the Senate Democrats voted on their own proposal aimed solely at funding K-12 education contained in HB 2990 (Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago/ Sen. John J. Cullerton, D-Chicago).

HB 2990 sought to appropriate $1.6 billion for K-12 education – $900 million more than the spending proposed in the defeated House proposal. This proposal narrowly passed the Senate 37-19 with only one Republican, Senator Sam McCann (R-Carlinville) voting in favor. However, it was soundly defeated in the House 24-92, a whopping 36 votes short of the minimum needed for passage. The apparent reason this bill failed to pass is the fact it spends more money on Chicago public schools and does not increase funding much, if at all, for suburban and downstate school districts.

In the end, each chamber adjourned to the call of their respective chairs having passed something related to the budget but nothing that was truly a comprehensive budget and could ultimately pass both chambers or be signed by the Governor. For his part, Governor Rauner initially rejected Senate President Cullerton’s call for a stop-gap budget – a budget that would fund state programs through part of FY 2017 in order to get past the November election. His office later publicly suggested the idea and introduced a proposal. The Governor’s proposed stop-gap would include K-12 education funding, funding to ensure state vendors are paid so prisons and residential facilities are served, utilities, vehicle maintenance, and other spending that keeps the basics of government operating. The idea of a stop-gap budget was described by the Speaker’s Office as feasible but it was not immediately embraced. Underlining all the budget-related proposals is the question of how to pay for it – a question that will, in all likelihood, not be answered until after the November election.

So, barring any surprises, Illinois will close out the FY ’16 budget year without a budget and enter the FY ’17 year without a budget. That said, and as noted above, the House is scheduled to return every Wednesday this month and the Senate is on stand-by. The working groups put together by the Governor and the four legislative leaders to discuss and attempt to reach agreement on the Governor’s Turnaround Agenda will continue to meet as well.

Return to Top

 EGG LOT CONSOLIDATION

IRMA’s initiative to bring egg handling in Illinois into line with USDA recommendations and the practices of 41 other states is on its way to the Governor’s Desk.  HB 6287 (Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Buffalo Grove/ Sen. John G. Mulroe, D-Chicago) includes extending the current 15 day sell/use by date for grade AA eggs to 30 days and the 30 day sell/use by date for grade A eggs to the widely accepted 45 days. Additionally, HB 6287 implements an egg consolidation program that will allow retailers to remove a damaged egg from a carton and replace it with an egg from the same brand that is inspected, graded, sized and dated at the same time within the same lot, rather than disposing of the whole carton as currently required in Illinois. This process retains the “identity” of the egg so that health officials may track the egg back to its source. It is estimated that one in every 10 dozen eggs is thrown out which equals roughly five billion eggs annually. Moreover, the USDA has reported that consumers throw out another 23% of all eggs.

Egg lot consolidation is practiced in 41 states and approved by the USDA. Currently, this means that while retailers in surrounding states can save good Illinois produced eggs through egg lot consolidation, retailers in Illinois are required to discard good Illinois produced eggs. As a consequence, this inequity puts downward pressure on an egg industry in a state that is considered egg deficient. While some Illinois egg producers support the legislation, others do not. In response to these concerns, a farmer opt-out provision allows any in-state producer to prohibit its brands from being consolidated in Illinois.  No other state provides an exemption for its in-state producers. Additionally, the legislation requires mandatory retail employee training and retail recordkeeping requirements. Only one other state requires training and only Illinois would require keeping records for one year. Most other states only require keeping such records between 60-90 days.

After passing out of the House with bipartisan support by a vote of 91-22, HB 6287 passed the Senate this week on a bipartisan vote of 45-6. IRMA would like to thank Sen. John Mulroe, Sen. Dave Syverson, Sen. Jim Oberweis and Sen. Linda Holmes for their support and comments on the Senate floor during the debate.  IRMA would also like to thank Rep. Elaine Nekritz for her sponsorship and leadership in the House. 

Return to Top

TOBACCO AGE OF PURCHASE

SB 3011 (Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago/Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago) seeks to raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21 years old, but maintains the age to sell at 18 years old. The bill would also decriminalize the possession of cigarettes. As such, a minor can possess and use tobacco products as long as the minor purchases the product either from an out-of-state retailer or from another person or is simply given the product by another person.  While advocates argue that the brain is still developing until the age of 21 and a person under that age cannot be expected to fully understand the decision they are making when choosing to use tobacco products, persons under age 21 are also allowed to vote, join the military and risk their lives for this country, enter into legally binding contracts and drive.

It took two attempts for the legislation to pass the Senate by a narrow margin of 32-22-2. Upon reaching the House, the legislation was assigned to the House Consumer Protection Committee. The House Sponsor did not call it for a vote after it became apparent the measure did not have the adequate number of votes in the committee to pass. Subsequently, the legislation was re-assigned to the House Human Services Committee in order obtain a more favorable roll call. Despite this procedural maneuver, the bill still failed to receive a hearing because of the lack of support in that committee as well.  Although the General Assembly will continue to meet over the summer, it will be difficult for the proponents to garner the super-majority 71 votes required by the Illinois Constitution for approval of any measure beyond May 31st.

Return to Top

LIQUOR LICENSE FEES

Liquor license fees for retailers will be increasing at least $100 per year if legislation passed by the Assembly is signed into law by the Governor. SB 2989 House Amendment #1 and House Amendment #2 (Sen. James F. Clayborne, Jr., D-East St. Louis/Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville) originally sought to make changes to how wine is shipped from wineries to Illinois residents.  In addition, it establishes penalties for transferring alcohol into the state without a license to do so.  IRMA was neutral on that portion of the bill.  When the bill came over to the House, an amendment was added to raise license fees for virtually all persons manufacturing, distributing, shipping or selling alcoholic liquor in Illinois.  This amendment is an initiative of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC).  The Commission is seeking the additional revenue to hire more enforcement officers to help crack down on the illegal trafficking of alcohol into the state.

Retail license fees, which are currently $500, will increase by $100 if the retailer renews their license online.  If the retailer chooses to renew by other means, the license fee will increase to $750.  IRMA is opposed to any fee increases for retail license holders.  Retail license fees are not the only fees being increased. Every licensed stakeholder in the liquor area will be experiencing some increase. The bill passed overwhelmingly with support from the wine and beer distributors as well as the Governor’s office by a vote of 104-9-1 in the House and a 53-2 vote in the Senate.  It will be sent to the Governor who is expected to sign the bill.  The bill takes effect January 1, 2017.

Return to Top

EMPLOYEE SICK LEAVE ACT

HB 6162 (Rep. Andrew F Skoog, D-Peru/Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins, D-Chicago) requires employers who have voluntarily provided sick days to their employees to expand the benefit so that employees can take the time to care for other family members.  This one-size-fits all mandate does not take into consideration the obstacles different businesses face that may dictate their voluntary employee benefits plan. This mandate may put a business in the position of choosing whether or not to continue offering employee sick time, paid or otherwise.

 

Additionally, by converting an employer’s current employee benefit plan by modifying leave, HB 6162 retroactively impacts private and collective bargaining contracts and could be construed to be an illegal action by the State. Specifically it would violate Article 1, Section 16 of the Illinois Constitution which prohibits any law impairing the obligations of private contracts.

The legislation passed the House last week by a vote of 78-35 and the Senate this week by a 38-19 vote. HB 6162 is on its way to the Governor for his consideration.

Return to Top

VESSA LEAVE

HB 4036 (Rep. Camille Y. Lilly, D-Chicago/ Sen. Toi W. Hutchinson, D-Chicago) requires employers with 15 or less employees to give four weeks of Victims of Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) leave to their employees. Under current law employers with less than 15 employees are not required to give VESSA leave. The current law recognizes the delicate situation of the employee while also recognizing the reality of a small businesses’ operations.

Moreover, within the last few years, the business community compromised with proponents of the issue to lower the employee threshold. Despite this compromise and testimony from the proponents that there are no statistics from the Department of Labor or any other source suggesting that there has been a problem of VESSA leave being denied by small businesses, HB 4036 passed the House by a vote of 72-26 and moved to the Senate. While in the Senate, the proponents of the legislation attempted to make a “technical change” to the legislation which would have expanded the legislation from 10 eligible leave categories to over 25 eligible leave categories. After it was pointed out that this was a wholesale expansion of the original intent of the statute rather than a mere “technical change” the proponents agreed to drop the proposed change. Subsequently, HB 4036 passed the Senate by a 40-14 vote and then the House on a 73-42 concurrence vote. HB 4036 now goes to the Governor for his consideration. Although we did not come to an agreement, IRMA would like to thank Sen. Toi Hutchinson and Rep. Camille Lilly for their conversation. 

Return to Top

PHARMACY

The dismissal of a pharmacist or pharmacy technician for actions which may have threatened patient safety will soon be reported to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) under an agreement contained in SB 3336 (Sen. Dale Righter, D-Mattoon/Rep. Mike McAuliffe, R-Chicago). SB 3336 will ensure pharmacists and pharmacy technicians dismissed for such errors are monitored by IDFPR and potentially have their license/registration revoked. The agreement protects the integrity of the system established by the federal Patient Safety Act that systematically addresses errors reported to Patient Safety Organizations. That system has resulted in errors below one-half-of-one percent nationwide – of which errors that could have caused patient harm are an even a smaller percentage of the one-half-of-one percent.

SB 3336 passed the Senate by a vote of 58-0 and the House by a vote of 117-0. IRMA would like to thank Rep. McAuliffe and Sen. Dale Righter for their leadership during this process. SB 3336 now proceeds to the Governor’s Desk for his consideration.

Return to Top

PENSION RELIEF FOR CHICAGO

The city of Chicago’s financial woes related to the severe underfunding of some of its pensions are well-documented.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been seeking relief from the state for its police and fire pensions, as well as its municipal employee pensions, not to mention funding for the Chicago Public Schools.  SB 777 (Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago)/ Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) sought to give the city another 15 years to make the police and fire pension nearly whole and defer several hundred million in payments this fiscal year.  The city has been seeking this pension relief since the last legislative session, but the bill had not been sent to the Governor for fear that he would veto the measure and the votes might not be there to override.  In the interim, the city has had to engage in some short-term borrowing in order to make a payment to the police and fire pension that was previously mandated by state law.  In light of the city’s precarious financial position, the Senate President decided to release the bill to the Governor and, as expected, Gov. Rauner vetoed the bill.

The Governor objected to bailing out Chicago for their past financial decisions particularly when no reforms were included. The Senate voted to override the veto this week by a 39-19 vote and by the House with a vote of 72-43-2. Surprisingly, the proposal received support from three Republican lawmakers in the House.  Public Act 99-0506 is now in effect.

Return to Top

robtanyaalec