Senate Week in Review: May 27-31

SPRINGFIELD, IL – State Sen. Sue Rezin said the 2013 legislative session came to a close on May 31 without any pension reform accomplished.  While bigger measures, such as concealed carry, passed the Illinois General Assembly, the largest and most pressing issue – pension reform – failed to garner enough support to pass both chambers.

With unfunded pension liabilities reaching $100 billion by some conservative estimates, the Illinois General Assembly’s main priority for this session was to reform and stabilize the state retirement systems.  Nevertheless, lawmakers have left Springfield without accomplishing that task.  

Sen. Rezin said the lack of leadership in the state that has been shown this session is astounding, and it is the taxpayers who suffer.  House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton were unable to come to an agreement on pension reform, despite independent versions passing the Senate and House.  After passing his version in the Senate, President Cullerton called Speaker Madigan’s version, Senate Bill 1, for a vote on May 30 only to fail 16-42.  Speaker Madigan did not call President Cullerton’s measure, Senate Bill 2404, at all in his chamber.  

“The General Assembly made some progress on a number of important issues this session,” Sen. Rezin said.  “However, the failure to accomplish pension reform is likely to overshadow all other accomplishments.  All parties in the state recognized that pension reform was the number one issue for the state and that it was ours to solve.  Yet here we are, returning to our districts, with the problem left unsolved.  Now, retirees and taxpayers alike are left to wonder what will happen to their pensions and to the liabilities that face this state.  It’s completely unnecessary and truly unfortunate.”   

Rezin concluded by saying she wished that she was returning to the 38th District with some better news for retirees and for the taxpayers of Illinois.  

Sen. Rezin said that the state budget the Senate majority advanced to the governor’s desk this session does nothing to address the education funding inequities in Illinois.  The sponsor of the school funding legislation, Senate Bill 2555, acknowledged that inequity in school funding still exists with this budget, but pushed members of the Senate to support it anyway.

Rezin voted against the measure, which reduces the effective Foundation Level by $233 per student from last fiscal year despite an overall spending increase of $155.4 million. The Senator explained Foundation Level Grants are considered a resource “equalizer” that take into account the property wealth of school districts and attempts to even out the funding available to schools. By moving away from Foundation Level Grants, the state budget directs disproportionate amounts of funding through other formulas that direct more state dollars to the Chicago Public School system.

“This year’s education budget does nothing to correct the funding disparities nor does it let the public know how the budget divides up the state aid formula throughout the state as it is required to,” Sen. Rezin said.  “Though there was a bipartisan effort to create a task force to study these inequities, when the leadership in the state has the chance to really make a difference, they disappoint.  It’s very frustrating to see these disparities continue for another year.”  

In March, the Senate Republican Caucus unveiled a six-month long study on education funding in Illinois.  It revealed that despite enrolling roughly 18 percent of the state’s public school children, Chicago Public Schools has received $772 million of additional funding each year through special considerations and grant lines.

After months of negotiation, the Illinois General Assembly advanced House Bill 183 affirming a citizen’s right to carry a concealed firearm. The bill will allow Illinois to join the rest of the nation in allowing some form of Right-to-Carry. Illinois was under a June federal court deadline to adopt Right-to-Carry.

The bill imposes common sense safeguards to ensure training and background checks for those who wish to carry a concealed firearm. The legislation preempts all local ordinances affecting concealed firearms and ammunition, including registration, licensing, possession and transportation, for those with a concealed carry license.  

An applicant does not have to show a need in order to carry, but they do have to undergo 16 hours of training, which is more than any other state, and pay a $150 application fee.  The license will be good for five years.

The legislation also specifies prohibited places a firearm cannot be carried.  This includes any schools or child care facilities, bars, hospitals, government buildings, airports, sporting events, and more. The bill also prohibits carrying firearm under the influence of drugs or alcohol and outlines strict penalties for those who are found to be under the influence. Additionally, applicants cannot have been convicted of a misdemeanor and the bill outlines strong mental health standards and reporting procedures.

Lawmakers also approved model legislation covering hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”). The technology holds out the promise of new jobs and greater energy independence. Extensive negotiations between environmental groups and industry representatives ultimately yielded SB 1715, which defines how Illinois will regulate and monitor the practice.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting pressurized water and materials underground to crack rock layers and free up natural gas or oil that can then escape to the surface where it is recovered.

It has been estimated that hydraulic fracturing could create as many as 40,000 jobs in Illinois, many in southern Illinois and other job-starved areas of the state.

To view a complete list of legislation approved by the General Assembly this session, please click here.

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