Illinois This Week in Springfield – 99-14

SNAP DISTRIBUTION
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION
GOVERNOR’S AGENDA
RETAIL THEFT
TORT REFORM
DATA SECURITY
MILLIONAIRE TAX
SERVICE TAX
WEEK AHEAD

This Week In Springfield, the House continued bringing components of Governor Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda to the floor for debate and vote. Additionally, with the scheduled date of adjournment looming, both chambers were busy moving and debating legislation including, data breach, heroine abuse, SNAP, and millionaire’s tax.

 SNAP DISTRIBUTION

 

A large problem for grocers, their employees, and their customers will soon get a lot worse. Unfortunately, it is being portrayed by some as a win-lose proposition when it can easily be a win-win situation.

SB 1847 (Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie/Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston) will allow more people in Illinois to qualify for SNAP benefits.  It is estimated that the bill will add 40,000 more SNAP cases (cases include individuals and families) to the program.  While IRMA generally would not be opposed to such a measure, when we consider the current manner in which SNAP benefits are distributed in this state, IRMA feels compelled to oppose this bill at this time as it simply inserts more eligible participants into a distribution system that fails recipients, grocers, and employees of grocers. While these outcomes are not the desire of the sponsors of SB 1847, these outcomes will occur as a result of unnecessary unilateral changes made by the Illinois Department of Human Services during the administration of former Governor Pat Quinn.

Prior to 2013, Illinois had one of the most workable SNAP distribution schedules in the country because it distributed benefits throughout the month.  After making some software changes in 2013 that were allegedly necessitated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Department also elected to change SNAP distribution to the first 10 days of the month.  This change was not required by ACA and was particularly baffling because it was made after the USDA (the federal Department that issues SNAP benefits to the states) wrote a letter to all of the states encouraging them to distribute benefits throughout the month.  In response to the letter, a number of states began expanding their distribution beyond the first few days of the month.  Illinois was the only state to move in the opposite direction.

Amidst IRMA’s strong objection, the Department moved forward with the distribution change.  A few months later, IRMA submitted proof that changing the distribution caused job loss and a significant reduction of employee hours and store traffic in the latter half of the month.  Presented with that data, the previous administration agreed to temporarily add additional dates beyond the 10th of the month to relieve the pressure on the independent grocers that largely serve communities in need and to put their employees back to work.  As this was a temporary compromise, a resolution was passed that required everyone to come back to the table in 2015 and hammer out a permanent fix to SNAP distribution that was fair to everyone involved in the program.  Before the group reconvened, SB 1847 was introduced to add more people to the SNAP program and further exacerbate the existing distribution problem.

IRMA has proposed a permanent solution that will allow customers, regardless of how they pay for their groceries, to be served with dignity, offered healthy, perishable items at all times of the month, put our employees back to work throughout the month and allow for grocery stores that are operating in areas where there is high SNAP usage to remain viable.  In order to turn this into a win-win proposal, all that is needed is an amendment requiring the Department to make permanent the temporary fix by February 1, 2017.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION

 

The last few weeks, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan has put before the House for consideration parts of Governor Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda.  As reported in previous issues of TWIS, the House has considered amendments regarding right to work, property tax freeze, and budget cut initiatives. This process is being used by the House Democrats to publicly debate and attempt to frame components in Governor Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda.  In response, the House Republicans largely voted ‘present’ on the proposals as a way of protesting the process which they see as a ‘sham’.

Following the same format, and as a follow up to the Workers’ Compensation Committee of the Whole last week, Speaker Madigan introduced four workers’ compensation amendments to HB 1287 (Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago) for consideration and debate. The amendments largely provided for business friendly reforms to the workers’ compensation system.

House Amendment 1 to HB 1287 included a heightened ‘causation’ standard that would require the workplace be the major contributing cause of injury (at least 50%).

House Amendment 2 to HB 1287 would have allowed the determination of permanent or partial disability to be corroborated by independent medical examinations and treating medical records (such as AMA Guidelines).

House Amendment 3 to HB 1287 proposed a significant reduction in the medical fee schedules. These schedules are used to determine what medical providers will be paid for the procedures they perform related to workers’ compensation injuries. Despite a 30% reduction in 2012, Illinois still has the fourth highest medical fee schedule in the nation.

House Amendment 4 to HB 1287 would have subjected insurance companies to a rate approval process.

Similar to the past debates, the House Republicans referred to the process as disingenuous. As a result, Republicans voted ‘present’ on the four amendments while Democrats voted ‘no’ on the first three amendments. Consequently, the first three amendments failed. On the fourth amendment, the Democrats voted ‘yes’ contending the amendment would force insurance companies to pass workers’ compensation savings to businesses. Consequently, the fourth amendment was adopted to the bill but was held on the order of Second Reading and was not called for a vote.

Prior to the votes in the House, a coalition of employer representatives, including IRMA, issued the following statement calling on all members to vote present: “At this time, we are asking all House lawmakers to vote present on the workers’ compensation amendments filed today until our elected officials have reached comprehensive agreement on reform.  Illinois employers stand ready to work with leaders on both sides of the aisle.”

TORT REFORM

 

Speaker Madigan continued to submit pieces of Governor Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda to the full House. This week, tort reform was considered.  As TWIS readers are aware, a Tort Reform Committee of the Whole was convened last week to discuss tort reform in Illinois. The committee was stacked with witnesses that suffered from a variety of injuries from negligent or other tortious actions. As mentioned above, this process is being used by the Democrats to frame the discussions around the Governor’s initiatives.

According to the Turnaround Agenda, the Rauner Administration is seeking, among other things, to limit joint and several liability, and limit damage awards as a result of medical expenses to those expenses that are actually paid.

In response to the Tort Reform Committee of the Whole debate, and Governor Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda, Speaker Madigan has filed House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 37 (HJRCA 37) (Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago) that would limit awards for damages for certain tort claims. Specifically HJRCA 37 limits punitive damages to no greater than three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $50,000. Additionally, HJRCA 37 limits the total amount recoverable for an injury or death of a patient as a result of medical malpractice to no more than $1,250,000; limits a health care provider’s liability for medical malpractice to $250,000 per occurrence; and limits the damages for the loss of consortium to no more than $300,000.

HJRCA 37 is scheduled to be heard in the Judiciary Civil Law Committee next Tuesday.

 GOVERNOR’S AGENDA

 

TWIS noted several weeks ago that the Governor had created a number of working groups comprised of representatives of each of the four legislative caucuses, the Governor’s office, and key staff. The working groups were decided to facilitate compromise in the following subject areas: tax reform, infrastructure, economic development, ethics, state budget, and pensions. While those groups have met, progress has been minimum at best.

Friday morning, six pieces of legislation were filed in each chamber by Republicans on behalf of the Governor’s office containing most of the Governor’s desired goals. These proposals are as follows:

  • Senate Amendment #1 to SB 1046/HB 4224 contain property tax freeze proposals, changes to collective bargaining with public sector unions, and prevailing wage reforms.
  • HB 4214 allows municipalities to declare bankruptcy.
  • SJRCA 14/HJRCA 39 contain proposed term limits. These are proposed constitutional amendments. In order to be placed on the ballot they must pass each chamber with a 3/5ths majority and then be approved by 60% of the voters voting on the question in a general election (November 2016).
  • SJRCA 15/HRJRCA 40 contain a proposal to establish a non-partisan redistricting commission to draw the boundaries of legislative districts every ten years. Currently, if one party holds both chambers of the Assembly as well as the Governor’s Office, that party will draw the boundaries. If one of the two legislative chambers or the Governor’s office is held by a different party, the tie-breaker goes to a drawing. The winner of the drawing gets to draw the maps. Again, these are constitutional amendments and must follow the process noted above.

RETAIL THEFT

SB 202 (Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago/Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Chicago) passed out of the House Judiciary Criminal Committee this week on a 9-1-0 vote.  The bill is an initiative of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to institute an accelerated resolution court pilot program for misdemeanor retail theft cases as well as criminal trespass to real property and/or state supported land.  This measure comes out of concerns raised by the Sheriff about jails overcrowded with non-violent offenders and the housing of non-violent offenders in jail who cannot afford to bond out.  Persons accused of the aforementioned crimes, if they qualify, will either have a final adjudication of their case within 30 days of arrest or be allowed to bond out of jail on their own recognizance until their hearing date.

The State’s Attorney’s office has expressed some concern about their ability to adjudicate cases within 30 days and there has also been some conversation about whether felonies should be included.  An amendment was introduced this week to address some of those concerns.  It is unclear at this writing whether the amendment will come back to committee or whether it will be agreed to on the House floor.

IRMA would like to thank Sheriff Dart, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Rep. Zalewski and Sen. Cunningham for including us in this important conversation.  Reducing the taxpayer burden in Cook County while ensuring that non-violent offenders get a speedy trial is sound public policy that IRMA supports.

DATA SECURITY

The House Judicial Civil Committee passed the data security bill out of committee this week with a party-line vote of 7-4-0.  SB 1833 (Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie/Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago) changes what is currently considered “personal information” for the purposes of requiring notification if the information is breached.  Specifically, the bill charts some new territory by requiring notification for breaches of consumer marketing and geolocation information.  After months of negotiations with the Attorney General’s office, IRMA was able to negotiate several key changes to the bill which, in total, will remove our opposition and place IRMA in a neutral position.  Some of the significant changes include:  narrowing the definitions of consumer marketing and geolocation information to more closely target specific behavior of concern to the Attorney General, removing the requirement to notify the individual when geolocation and consumer marketing information is breached, raising the threshold that triggers notification requirements, and expanding the time allowed for businesses to notify individuals and/or the Attorney General when information is breached.  There were a number of other changes made in a good faith effort by the Attorney General’s office to address IRMA’s concerns.  The bill has been sent to the House floor where it will be considered next week.

IRMA would like to thank Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Rep. Williams and Sen. Biss for their earnest efforts to address many of our initial concerns as this bill has moved through the legislative process.

MILLIONAIRE TAX

In 2014, voters were asked if they would support a higher tax on personal income over $1 million to help fund schools.  The results of that non-binding ballot initiative revealed that 60% of the voters were indeed in favor of the additional 3% tax.  Armed with that information, Speaker Madigan renewed his bid for a change to the Illinois Constitution that would permit such a tax to help fund schools.  After a hearing in the House Revenue Committee, HJRCA 26 (Rep. Michael Madigan, D-Chicago) was passed on a vote of 8-5-0.  This week, that measure was debated on the House floor.

A long, heated debate ensued regarding several points including:  whether higher earners should pay more in taxes, the reasons why businesses are leaving the state and taking jobs with them, how Illinois’ tax structure compares with neighboring states and whether the state’s current system of taxing personal income is “fair.”  In the end, the measure failed to receive the necessary number of votes for passage, falling three votes short, and it was postponed for further consideration.  If the measure had passed, it would have put forth a ballot question in the next general election (November 2016) where it would have to be approved by 60% of those voting on the question. “Postponed Consideration” is a procedural maneuver that allows a proposal to be voted on one more time should the sponsor so desire. If it again fails to receive the required number of votes, in this case 71, the measure is considered ‘lost’.

SERVICE TAX

A report advocating for the expansion of the Illinois sales tax to services was jointly issued this week by the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. According to the report, their proposal would generate an additional $2 billion in tax revenues. Business-to-business transactions would be exempt because such taxes would result in taxes being paid on taxes – a process known as ‘pyramiding’.

WEEK AHEAD

Both chambers have adjourned for the Memorial Day weekend and will reconvene Monday afternoon. When they reconvene, we will be six days from the scheduled adjournment of May 31st. If the Assembly has not adjourned by midnight on June 1st, 3/5ths is required to pass any item including a budget.

As noted above, the Governor convened working groups to attempt a compromise. He has also had several pieces of legislation introduced containing his reform agenda. The Democrats are reportedly working on a budget with cuts not as severe as those proposed by the Governor. The Governor has signaled a willingness to consider additional revenues but only in exchange for some of the reform items noted previously.

If the Assembly passes a budget to the Governor, he could sign it (unlikely), either reduction veto certain line-items to bring it into balance with anticipated revenues, or outright veto the budget. The Governor will then have to call the Assembly back into Special Session to consider the budget and any other items he specifically designates in his call.

This week, the Springfield State Journal-Register carried a letter from the Governor telling everyone associated with the legislative process to “expect a very long extra session” if the Assembly passes a budget but not his reforms.

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