Senate Week in Review: February 27 – March 2

Springfield, Ill. – Senate lawmakers spent much of their week in committees, advancing bills through the legislative process in anticipation of the March 9 committee approval deadline, while in other news, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said House and Senate lawmakers have come to an agreement on a revenue estimate for the coming year.

Also during the week, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed their heartfelt sympathy for Southern Illinois residents impacted by the deadly tornado system that swept the region in the early morning hours of Feb. 29. Senator Rezin said her thoughts and prayers were with the residents of Harrisburg, Illinois and the surrounding area, as they recover from the devastating F4 tornado that struck their community.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the storms this week,” Sen. Rezin said.  “These things are devastating, but it’s been great to see so many come together to provide relief to the Harrisburg community.  It is my hope that the efforts help begin the healing process and the area can quickly rebuild.” 

Organizations throughout the state are doing what they can to bring relief to the area and help the people of Harrisburg begin to rebuild.  The Southern Illinois Community Foundation has established a Harrisburg Disaster Relief Fund. For more information, call 618-997-3700 or visit www.sicf.org. More information on ways to support disaster relief efforts in the Harrisburg area can be found at www.senategop.state.il.us.

In legislative action during the week, lawmakers paved the way for budget discussions for the upcoming 2013 fiscal year, advancing $33.719 billion as the official revenue estimate. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) has said she will sponsor a bipartisan resolution to formally establish the state’s available estimated Fiscal Year 2013 general funds at $33.719 billion.

The resolution, House Joint Resolution 68, was adopted March 1, on a 95-11 vote in the Illinois House, and now moves to the Senate. Senator Rezin said that the estimate was agreed upon after a serious bipartisan review and discussion of state fiscal experts’ reports and projections.

Agreement on the state’s available revenue is the first step in what will likely be a long and challenging road to developing a state budget for the new fiscal year, which begins on July 1. The most difficult task to developing a state budget will be reaching consensus between lawmakers on how much the state should spend, and where the revenue should be allocated.

“This is just the beginning for the budget process,” Sen. Rezin said.  “While recognizing lower numbers to work with is a good start, it’s important to remember that many things need to be looked at across the board in order to pass a budget that is fiscally responsible for the state.  We need to make sure we have a budget that will help and not further hurt Illinois.” 

Both House and Senate Republican leaders emphasized that the revenue estimate cannot be viewed as a spending target, and are opposed to any budget plan that includes increased and unsustainable spending. The Senate Republican Caucus once again stressed their willingness to sit down and discuss the budget in a fair and open manner, noting that spending must be significantly reduced in the coming fiscal year.

Cuts and reforms will need to be made across the board, including the Medicaid program and public employee pensions and healthcare. Though reductions will be difficult, Republicans said that continuing to delay action on these issues will only exacerbate the state’s fiscal problems.

 The revenue estimate is about $221 million below estimates from the Governor’s office and $271 million below estimates from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. Estimates were arrived at after extensive testimony from financial experts with the joint Revenue Committee usually opting for the more conservative estimates from experts.

In related news, lawmakers spent much of their time meeting in Senate and House Committees, considering and voting on legislation introduced by State Senators and State Representatives.

Committee hearings begin the process of moving a bill through the Legislature. The House and Senate lawmakers who sponsor a piece of legislation, usher the bill through the committee process in hopes that it will eventually be approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor.

Though many bills were considered this week, one measure of note to pass the Senate Criminal Law Committee will amend a controversial law passed in 2011. House Bill 2193 was advanced by lawmakers last spring, imposing restrictions intended to target the criminal use of industrial-grade cleaning products as a way to harm or disfigure victims.

House Bill 2193 required customers to provide identification and sign a log when purchasing these types of caustic materials. However, varying interpretations of the law led retailers to strictly apply the restrictions to many commonly-used household products, for fear of being found in non-compliance. This was overly burdensome for consumers, and lawmakers acknowledged it was not likely to prevent the type of harm the law sought to thwart.

Senate Bill 3655 narrows the scope of House Bill 2193, specifically exempting “household products” from the requirements and providing greater clarification for retailers as to what products are covered by the registry. Under the new measure, customers would not have to sign a log and show I.D. to purchase products customarily made or sold for home use. This includes cleaning agents, drain cleaners, pesticides, epoxy, paint, stain, and other similar substances.
Some other notable legislation approved by Senate Committees during the week includes:

Aiding Fugitives (SB 2520): Establishes that it is a Class 4 felony for anyone 18 or older to aid or assist an offender in fleeing the jurisdiction in order to prevent being apprehended.

Ag Fees (SB 3292): Requires all fees collected by the Department of Agriculture at an animal disease laboratory to be deposited into the Department’s Agriculture Laboratory Services Revolving Fund.

Ag Research (SB 3270): Appropriates funds for food and agriculture research among public and private universities, with the amounts determined by the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research Board of Directors.

DCFS Employees (SB 3517): Provides that no applicant may receive a license from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services or be employed by the Department or a child-care facility who has been convicted of committing or attempting to commit certain financial crimes.

Development Districts (SB 3402): Allows municipalities to establish development districts that would offer certain tech upgrades that would allow municipalities to be more competitive and technologically inviting. Establishes how a municipality would create the districts, how they would be financed and the services they would provide.

Domestic Abuse History (SB 3510): States that evidence of prior domestic abuse offense is admissible in murder trials that involve domestic abuse.

Drop-out Age (SB 3259): Changes the compulsory age at which a student can drop out of school from 17 to 18.

Electronic Payment (SB 3257): Stipulates that any itemized voucher of less than $5 is to be paid out by the Comptroller through electronic funds transfer.

FOIA – Inmates (SB 2902): Places new restrictions on prison inmates with regard to what they are allowed to request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Foreclosures (SB 2534): Helps expedite the process for foreclosures of abandoned property.

Human Service and Support(SB 3404): Requires the Department of Human Services to ensure that developmentally disabled, mentally ill and those individuals with substance use dependencies are afforded the same array of services and supports, whether they are currently living in the community or transitioning into the community.

Inmate Records (SB 2873): Adds information that the Department of Corrections must maintain in an individual inmate’s “master record file,” including inmate grievances, criminal history and administrative tickets.

Nursing Home Representative (SB 3461): Allows facilities to request that a guardian designate a representative to act on the guardian’s behalf in the event the guardian cannot be located during an emergency, and allows the guardian to designate in writing what the representative can do during such emergencies.

Postal Worker Protection (SB 3665): Enhances to aggravated assault or aggravated battery the assault or battery of a letter carrier or postal worker while that individual is performing his or her duties delivering mail for the United States Postal Service.

Program Efficiency (SB 2574): Seeks to promote efficiencies within the medical assistance programs by cutting costs, streamlining healthcare payment processes, and eliminating duplicative services.

Prompt Payment (SB 3245): Limits the lapse-period spending under the Prompt Payment Act to FY2012 and FY2013 and states that an interest penalty voucher submitted against a future year appropriation must be submitted within 60 days after the issuance of the associated voucher, and requires the Comptroller to issue the interest payment within 60 days after acceptance of the interest voucher. Allows the Comptroller to make payments on bills that were received prior to the lapse-period spending deadline until all liabilities are paid.

Public Assistance Fund (SB 2820): Authorizes the Public Assistance Emergency Revolving Fund to be used for additional purposes/payments, including various state and local child support service fees.

Religious Observance (SB 2949): Provides for excused absence for students at institutes of higher learning who are unable to attend class, or participate in any exam, study, or work requirement, on a particular day due to religious beliefs. The students will be given an opportunity to make up the mixed exams or assignments, providing this does create an unreasonable burden on the institution.

Repo Company Licensure (SB 3249): Requires repossession companies to be licensed with the Illinois Commerce Commission. Exempts auto rental companies, tow companies acting on their behalf and persons engaged in repossession of collateral that is incidental and within the scope of the person’s primary business, provided that it is not repossession.

Retired Teacher Pensions (SB 3597): Allows retired teachers to return to work for no more than 100 days per year, and stipulates that their pay cannot exceed the daily pay of a substitute teacher. Currently, the law simply states they cannot teach a full school year.

School Reporting Requirements (SB 3415): Requires school principals to file a police report on any firearms, violence, certain sexual acts, and drug-related incidents that occur on school property. Also requires school personnel to notify the principal if they observe any of these acts occurring.

Senior Homestead Exemption (SB 3366): Changes the annual application requirement in Cook County for the senior homestead exemption to bi-annual, and prohibits all other counties from requiring the senior homestead exemption application more than once every two years.

Service Benefits (SB 3287): Extends benefits to service members who are on active duty or members of the National Guard, who have been on a duty for more than 30 days. Benefits include the right to terminate a residential property lease; stay of administrative proceedings; default judgment protection; protection from property repossession on installment contracts; and court authorized adjustment to loan obligations in foreclosure proceedings.

State Government (SB 3671): Removes the annual requirement of Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs to conduct a review that compares benefits received by Illinois veterans with the benefits received by veterans in all other states and U.S. territories. It was almost impossible to get the information from the Federal government that was needed to fulfill this requirement.

Veterans Homestead Exemption (SB 3389):  Expands the disabled veterans’ homestead exemption to make it easier for disabled veterans to qualify.

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