Senate Week in Review: August 13-17

Springfield, Ill. – Unable to come to grips with the need for comprehensive pension reform, Governor Quinn and his legislative allies punted, failing to take action on reforms to the state’s five retirement systems, said State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), instead considering—and ultimately failing to pass—a limited bill that would have applied only to the General Assembly Retirement System (GARS).

The failure to accomplish meaningful reforms came as little surprise to most lawmakers, Sen. Rezin said, since the Governor seemed to have little idea about what he intended to accomplish after he called lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session on Aug. 17. Following the failed session, Republican Leaders again pledged support of comprehensive reforms in order to avert a financial collapse of the state’s retirement systems and called on the Governor to offer more than bromides.

“The day in Springfield was disappointing,” Sen. Rezin said.  “The Governor wasted taxpayer money and the state still has no solid pension reform solution.  It was a waste of taxpayer’s money to ask us to come back to Springfield when there was no legislation to really be voted on.  It’s my hope that before the Governor calls legislators back to town again, there will be a formidable reform proposal that has enough support for the legislation to pass.”  

The proposal offered in the House and contained in an amendment to Senate Bill 3168, offered current and retired General Assembly members the choice between retaining their existing benefits but losing access to state-sponsored health insurance, or retaining access to the health insurance system but accepting more modest cost of living increases after retirement. House lawmakers adjourned without passing the measure after a vote on the amendment revealed the bill did not have the 60 votes needed to advance.

Many House Republican lawmakers, as well as some Democrat legislators, voted against the measure, calling instead for comprehensive reforms that would apply to all five state retirement systems. Most who voted against the measure criticized the measure’s limited savings, which were estimated at between $41 and $43 million in the short-term.

In contrast, under new, more accurate, accounting standards that are likely to soon be adopted by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, Illinois’ pension liabilities are expected to be pegged at as much as $146 billion. Moody’s Investor Services has also indicated that it will adopt similar stringent standards. Looking forward, without reform of all state retirement systems, between now and 2045 Illinois will pay more than $630 billion toward state retiree pension obligations.

Legislation signed into law this week:

Handicapped Plates (HB 1151/PA 97-918): Outlines requirements for a disabled veteran to qualify for a license plate with the international symbol of access, and to park in a handicapped parking space.

Domestic Battery Jurisdiction (HB 4636/PA 97-919):  Allows for the use of any prior conviction in another jurisdiction for an offense that could be charged in this State as a domestic battery or violation of an order of protection, so that a violation of an order of protection offense in this State can be charged as a Class 4 felony (rather than a Class A misdemeanor). This legislation will allow for the State to treat those from out of state the same as violators who have committed the same offense in Illinois.

Trusts (HB 4662/PA 97-920): Modernizes Illinois trust laws. Based on model legislation in other states, it is designed to give those who administer long-term trusts the ability to adapt to changing circumstances while preventing abuses that could adversely affect the trust.

Directed Trusts (HB 4663/PA 97-921): Establishes a “directed trust” in the Trust and Trustees Act. The Illinois State Bar Association proposed this new form of Trusts to help bring Illinois trust law in line with other states and add flexibility to Illinois estate planning and administration of such trusts.

State-owned Vehicles Monitoring (HB 5650/PA 97-922):  Requires each State agency (exempts the judicial branch, the legislature, and units of local government) to designate a vehicle use officer to monitor the use of State-owned vehicles.

Scrap Metal Theft (HB 3825/PA 97-923): Addresses the growing problem of metal theft by strengthening record-keeping requirements to make it more difficult to sell stolen metal, requiring greater proof that the seller owns the scrap metal and by providing tougher criminal penalties for selling or buying stolen scrap metal. Records of transactions must be retained for 3 instead of 2 years.

Copper Purchases (HB 4013/PA 97-924): Requires recyclable metal dealers purchasing recyclable metal containing copper to enter specified identifying information into forms provided by the State Police and retain a copy of the form for 2 years for each transaction. Currently this only applies to purchases of recyclable metal valued at $100 or more and metal street signs.

School Consolidation (HB 4043/97-925): Provides that if a petition is filed for the consolidation of Christopher Unit School District 99 and Zeigler-Royalton Community Unit School District 188, the change is granted and approved at election, and no appeal is taken, then the change shall become effective after one or both of the school districts have been awarded school construction grants under the School Construction Law (instead of after the time for appeal has run for the purpose of all elections).

Support Orders (HB 4129/PA 97-926): Seeks to abate frustration with current law with regard to administrative support orders by allowing them to be registered in circuit court by either DHFS or a party to the order. Also allows for the modification of that order by the court, once it is registered.

Veterans’ Home Eligibility (HB 4442/PA 97-927): Adds “Gold Star” mothers and fathers through adoption to be allowed admittance into an Illinois Veteran Home should vacant beds exist. “Gold Star” parents are parents of service members killed while on active duty.

Prisoners and STDs (HB 4453/PA 97-928): Establishes a process for confidentially notifying and testing prison inmates for Sexually Transmitted Diseases. HIV/AIDS affect inmates nearly 2.5 times more than the general U.S. population. About 1% of Illinois inmates have HIV/AIDS, the largest infected population of inmates in the nation.

“Drano” Purchases (HB 4523/PA 97-929): Exempts “household products” from the requirements to show a photo ID and sign a log to purchase drain cleaners and other household products. This corrects a problem created by a previous law that was intended to make it easier to track purchases of caustic substances that were used in disfiguring acid attacks on individuals; however, the provisions were interpreted to be more restrictive than intended.

Child Screening (HB 4566/PA 97-930): Requires that within 45 days the state must conduct developmental and social-emotional screening of children placed in temporary custody of the state. Children who are placed in the state’s custody often have undiagnosed developmental disabilities which need to be considered in preparing a plan for caring for and protecting the child.

Violation Funds (HB 4577/PA 97-931): Designates which funds money will be deposited into after it has been collected from people convicted of offenses related to reckless driving, or for speeding in excess of 40 miles per-hour over the posted speed limit when the violation caused an incident resulting in an emergency response.

State Efficiency and Savings (HB 4601/PA 97-932): Amends the State Records Act, the Comptroller’s records act, the state finance act, the Illinois procurement code, the state prompt payment act, the Governmental Account Audit Act, the Counties Code, and the Municipal Code for various “efficiency” and “savings” initiatives.

Pension Benefits (HB 4622/PA 97-933): Amends the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund and the State Universities Article of the Pension Code to make technical changes aimed at correcting language and removing obsolete procedures. Also extends from 90 to 180 days the period in which a participant in the State University Retirement System portable benefit package may elect an optional form of retirement benefit.

Coal Permits (HB 4697/PA 97-934): Clarifies that hearing officers may issue interim orders allowing the Department of Natural Resources or applicants to correct or alter a coal permit.

Unclaimed Funds (HB 4748/PA 97-935): Returns unclaimed bond funds to their rightful owners. The bill allows the State Treasurer to move certain funds that are now deposited in a “Matured Bond and Coupon Fund” into the “Unclaimed Property Trust Fund.”

Military Re-enactors (HB 4901/PA 97-936): Establishes a short barrel rifle exemption for military re-enactors, as well as Curio and Relic (C&R) license holders.

Car Booting (HB 4988/PA 97-937): Allows the City of Chicago to create an ordinance that will allow them to boot vehicles if the owner has failed to pay fines that were issued because they haven’t registered their vehicle with the City. This bill addresses a loophole in current law that requires a code officer to physically deliver the violation notice, rather than allowing the City Clerk to mail out violation notices and then immobilize the vehicle.

I-SEARCH Elimination (HB 5023/PA 97-938): Removes “I-SEARCH” references in current law and replaces with State Missing Persons Clearinghouse. “I-SEARCH” no longer exists.

Cell Phone Insurance (HB 5047/PA 97-939): Requires the Department of Insurance to maintain a registry of all entities that provide or solicit portable electronics insurance coverage within the state. These companies offer insurance on cell phones.

License Plate Charity Decals (SB 2568/PA 97-940): Allows designated charities to design and establish a fee for the purchase of decals for retired military license plates designating the branch of service, theater of action, or both.

Terms of Divorce (SB 2569/PA 97-941): Imposes conditions and timetables in divorce proceedings for property dissipation claims and codifies case law regarding child support obligations for extra expenses such as medical needs not covered by insurance, child care, education and extracurricular activities.  

PPV Leases (SB 2761/PA 97-942): Expands the definition of “PPV Lease” to include improvements at military training facilities, military bases, and military support facilities in Illinois. Currently, the definition only applies to naval training facilities, naval bases, and naval support facilities. A PPV lease is a leasehold interest in U.S. military property that is leased to another whose property is not exempt for the purpose of the design, finance, construction, renovation, management, operation, and maintenance of rental housing units and associated improvements.

Fox Waterway (SB 2993/PA 97-943): Provides that the executive director of the Fox Waterway Agency must be a person of recognized ability in business or waterway management.

Property Tax Code (SB 3250/PA 97-944): Amends the Property Tax Code by stating that unpaid property taxes are delinquent on June 1, September 1, or the date specified on the bill.

EPA Permit Streamlining (SB 3672/PA 97-945): Helps businesses adhere to federal EPA air permit changes in a more timely manner by requiring ILEPA to mirror any changes made by the USEPA to air permit regulations in state law.

ISAC Debt Collection (SB 3800/PA 97-950): Authorizes the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) to deduct salary, wages, commissions, and bonuses of any employee in and outside of Illinois for the recovery of a student loan debt from ISAC.  However, ISAC must give the employee an opportunity to contest the debt’s existence before any levy is applied.

Service Member Courts (HB 4926/PA 97-946): Provides that Veterans and Servicemembers Courts may be established as a problem solving court, and includes a mental health court. Makes it easier for courts and mental health providers to share information. The intent of this legislation is to create greater possibilities for veterans to receive assistance from the Veterans and Service members Court.  

Deceased Police/Fire Plates (HB 4982/PA 97-947):  Expands eligibility for deceased police officer or firefighter license plates to include the parents of the deceased. Previously parents only qualified if the deceased had no surviving spouse.

Veterans to Conservation Police (HB 4983/PA 97-948): Makes it easier for combat veterans to qualify to become Conservation Police Officers, by allowing them to waive the college education requirements. Applicants must still pass any examination required and meet other requirements.

Veteran Disability Exam Leave (HB 5006/PA 97-949): Grants veteran employees at the Secretary of State’s Office 4 (rather than 2) days per year to visit a veterans’ hospital for examination of a military service-related disability.

School Bus Lowest-Bidder (HB 4029/PA 97-951):  Eliminates private carriers of transportation (i.e. school buses) from the requirement to award a contract to the lowest bidder. Currently school boards are allowed to accept the lowest bid contract without considering factors like safety, driving records, etc. Currently, low-bid contracts are excluded for the transportation of children with special needs; this excludes all transportation contracts awarded to lowest-bidder.

Rental House Support Expenses (HB 4615/PA 97-952): States that operating expenses under the Rental Housing Support Program for local administrating agencies can not exceed 10 percent for grants less than $500,000 and 7% for grants more than $500,000 on an annual pro rata share. This is to prevent overpayment by the Illinois Housing Development Authority to the local administrative agencies on grants that last longer than one year.  

Radon Resistant Construction (HB 4665/PA 97-953): Provides that all new residential constructions must include passive radon resistant construction; outlines installation requirements. Establishes that the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has the primary responsibility for the coordination, oversight and implementation of all matters concerning radon.

Gift Certificate (HB 4689/PA 97-954): Expands the definition of a “gift certificate” to include a credit slip issued by a store to a consumer who returns goods, if the credit slip enables the consumer to receive other goods of similar value in exchange for returned goods.

Insurance (HB 1577/PA 97-955): This legislation represents an agreement between insurance agents and the Illinois Department of Insurance regarding surplus line insurance. Surplus line insurance is a form of specialized insurance that enables agents to offer coverage for higher risks than ordinary insurance would cover. The legislation addresses a number of technical issues and brings Illinois into line with federal law.

Miniature Horses as Service Animals (HB 3826/PA 97-956): Redefines “service animal” to allow miniature horses to be used as service animals so long as certain provisions are made in public places.

Swimming Pool Licensure (SB 3727/PA 97-957):  Establishes a fee structure for DPH to impose construction, license, and inspection fees for swimming pools and water facilities. Outlines qualification requirements of architects and professional engineers and contractors who would provide services to the public for designing, constructing and modifying public swimming facilities.

Slow-moving Vehicles (HB 4598/PA 97-958): Prohibits a slow-moving vehicle emblem from being displayed in public view from a highway on an object other than a vehicle. The bill also triples the fine for failure to use a slow-moving vehicle emblem from $25 to $75 for the first offense.

Nuisance Deer (HB 5115/PA 97-959): Adds cattle pastures to the areas where the Department of Natural Resources can declare that certain animals are nuisance animals. This is designed to address a situation where deer overrun a pasture.

Fertilizer Regulation (HB 5539/PA 97-960): Creates the Nutrient Research and Education Council to address nutrient efficiency and water quality challenges, and provide funding from the fertilizer industry to support the Department of Agriculture’s fertilizer regulation programs.

Ag Building (HB 5540/PA 97-961): Designates the Department of Agriculture administration building at the State Fairgrounds in Springfield as the John R. Block Building. Block served as Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture from 1977 to 1981, and as Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture from 1981 to 1985.

Water Permit Fees (HB 5642/PA 97-962): Initiates new water permit fees on livestock farms. The fees range from $750 for large farms, to $350 for medium farms, and $150 for small farms.

Retired Legislators (HB 3969/PA 97-967): Designed to prevent pension “spiking” by former legislators and other members of the General Assembly Retirement System (GARS). Some former legislators have taken short-term jobs with local governments or others at a high salary that significantly boosts, or “spikes” their pensions. The legislation says that if the former legislator takes a job for less than two years, the added pension cost must be paid by the new employer rather than the General Assembly Retirement System.

SURS Rehiring (HB 4996/PA 97-968): Targets situations where employers within the SURS system were rehiring annuitants to work full time, but declaring them to be “temporary employees.” States that for annuitants rehired for more than 18 weeks by an entity of the State Universities Retirement System, the employer must be responsible for contributing the necessary contribution for the employee into SURS.

Comptroller Voucher Payment (HB 5337/PA 97-969):  States that any itemized voucher that is less than $5 must be paid out by the Comptroller through an electronic funds transfer (exempts legislative branch). This was initially anticipated to save hundreds of thousands of dollars; as of May 29 the Comptroller’s Office was working on cost savings projections.

Circuit Court (SB 180/PA 97-970):  Allows the clerks of the circuit courts to enter into a reciprocal offset agreement with the State Comptroller in order to intercept tax refunds and other state payments to people who owe money on past due fines to the clerks of the circuit courts. This will improve the circuit clerks’ ability to collect unpaid debt and provide more revenue without raising taxes or increasing fees.

Metro East Police (SB 549/PA 97-971): Creates a special police district in St. Clair county that incorporates the corporate boundaries of East Saint Louis, the Village of Washington Park, the Village of Alorton, and the Village of Brooklyn. This bill was controversial because it permits TIF funds to be used to hire police officers in East St. Louis and surrounding areas.

Autism Insurance Mandate (SB 679/PA 97-972): Stipulates that an individual who has been diagnosed as having an austism spectrum disorder for which treatment is medically necessary shall remain eligible for coverage even if subsequent changes to the diagnostic criteria are adopted.

Chicago Park District (SB 3629/PA 97-973): Changes the fiscal year for the Park Employees and Retirement Board Employees Annuity Benefit fund (effective only for Chicago) to January 1 to December 31.  States the amount of service earned between July 1, 2012, and December 31, 2012 can not exceed ½ year. Makes conforming changes to the Chicago Park District Article of the Illinois Pension Code relating to computation of service, retirement annuities, and financing.

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