Senate Week in Review: April 29-May 3

Gambling expansion in the Senate and pension reform in the House were the headliners as the final month of the 2013 regular legislative session got underway during the first week of May, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.

But, while those were the major issues undertaken, Senators also began the process of conducting committee reviews of measures sent to them from the House, Sen. Rezin explained. And, a handful of other measures were sent from the Senate to the House for consideration in that chamber.

The Senate kicked things off early in the week with a “subject matter” hearing on pension changes that allowed Senators to voice their proposals. However, the hearing before the Senate’s Executive Committee April 30 did not advance any specific measure.

The following day the same Executive Committee moved forward with a major expansion of gambling in Illinois, including a Chicago-based casino. The gambling measure, SB 1739, was advanced to the Senate floor and then sent to the House on a 32-20 vote.  Sen. Rezin did not support the measure.  

In addition to a Chicago-based casino that would be allowed up to 4,000 gambling positions, the bill allows for four new riverboats or casinos, slot machines at Illinois racetracks, and a major increase in the number of gambling positions allowed at existing riverboats. The four new riverboats or casinos would be in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and Southern Cook County.

At the close of the week, the House approved and sent back to the Senate a heavily amended Senate Bill 1, which replaced all of the bill’s original language with pension changes crafted by the House Speaker. Those changes incorporated a number of ideas floated over the past several months.  

The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate. The changes were grafted onto a bill sponsored by the Senate President, who has passionately argued that unilateral cuts in benefits cannot survive a constitutional challenge. Instead, he has argued that because the Illinois Constitution protects retirement benefits, any changes must offer teachers and other employees a choice between existing benefits and a new plan.

The House measure seeks savings largely from reducing retired teachers’ and other employees’ retirement cost-of-living increases.

At the same time, union leaders announced they were in discussions with the Senate President to craft a measure that would be constitutional. However, no details have been released.

Key changes contained in SB 1, as approved by the House, include:
•    Higher retirement age for employees currently under age 45;
•    Reduced Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) on pension benefits;
•    Cost of Living Adjustments delayed until either age 67 or 5 years after retirement, whichever comes first.
•    A cap on the salary that is eligible for pensions. The cap would be $109,971 and would be increased at half the rate of inflation each year.
•    Employees would be required to pay an extra 2% of their salary into the pension fund.
•    To guarantee funding, the various pension systems could sue the State to enforce payment.

But, Pensions and Gambling were not the only issues in the Senate, as committees worked their way through reviews of House proposals and took to the Senate Floor to send measures to the House for debate there.

The following were among the items up for consideration. The Senate Republican website contains a complete listing of Senate action.

Passed by the Senate
Puppy “Lemon Law” (SB 1639): 
Creates a lemon provision, in which a customer may receive monetary compensation if a veterinarian finds that a diseased dog or cat was sold by a pet shop. Opponents raised concerns that the measure applied only to pet shops and not other sellers of animals when pet shops only account for 14% of all dogs and cats sold in the state.

Auto Insurance (SB 1898): Increases the automobile insurance minimums. This would set the mandatory auto insurance at $25,000 for death/injury of one person, $50,000 for death/injury for two or more persons and $20,000 for damage to property. Effective January 1, 2015.
Smoke Free Universities (SB 2202):
Creates the Smoke-Free Campus Act.  Beginning on July 1, 2014, smoking would be prohibited on the campuses of all state-supported institutions of higher education. Smoking would not be prohibited in a vehicle. Opponents have argued that the measure is an overreach and would even apply to parking lots where tailgate parties take place before university football games.

Trooper Memorial Rest Stop (HJR 12):
Names the northbound and southbound Coalfield rest stops located at mile post 64 on Interstate 55 as the “Trooper Kyle Deatherage Memorial Rest Stop.” Trooper Deatherage was killed in the line of duty in 2012. He began his career in law enforcement with the Staunton Police Department. He later worked for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office before becoming a State Trooper with District 18.

Approved by Senate Committees
Primary Voting for 17 Year Olds (HB 226): Allows a 17-year-old who will be 18 by the general election to vote in the primary election.  

Crimes Against Police Alerts (HB 2893):
Creates an alert system called the “Crimes Against Police Officers Advisory” to send out alerts giving State Police and local law enforcement a warning that an individual may be targeting officers. It would be similar to other emergency alert systems, such as child abduction alerts.

No Indoor Tanning for Minors (HB 188):  Prohibits a tanning facility from permitting anyone under 18 to use tanning equipment which emits ultraviolet (UV) radiations.  Provides for exemptions for spray-on, mist-on, or sunless tans.  

Sex Education (HB 2675): This bill requires that all school districts that provide sex education courses must use a “comprehensive” sex education curriculum. School districts have the option to not offer sex education, but if they do, it must be “comprehensive.” Opponents raised concerns that this would actually discourage some school districts from providing sex education because “comprehensive” curriculum includes instruction in the use of condoms, abortion and other controversial topics and could preclude abstinence-based programs from qualifying.

Unlimited Assets (HB 2262): Eliminates the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program’s asset limit, which is currently $3,000 (for a family of two) in non-exempt assets. An individual’s home, one personal vehicle, household furnishings and clothing are already excluded from the $3,000 cap. Opponents questioned why persons with multiple homes, multiple vehicles and significant assets should be able to receive taxpayer-paid welfare benefits.

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