Senate Week in Review: October 28-November 1

Lawmakers return to Springfield November 5 for the final week of the annual fall veto session with no vetoed bills left on the agenda and uncertainty over whether other major issues will be acted on, or delayed until the January session begins.

One complicating factor, Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) explained is that Illinois’ constitution imposes a higher vote requirement on measures that pass between July 1 and Dec. 31. Bills passed during those months must have a 3/5 majority vote to go into effect immediately. Come January 1, the clock resets and only a simple majority is required.

The extra hurdle means that controversial measures, such as a major reform of the state’s pension system, could have an easier time passing in January than in November.

Rezin visits with classrooms at Plainfield South High School, speaks on legislative process and much more

Sen. Rezin visited with several students from Plainfield South High School Friday to discuss the legislative process and her experience as a state senator.  Students asked her several questions about education and energy policy in the state as well.  

Sen. Rezin frequently makes visits to area schools to discuss the legislative process and answer questions from students.  She is pictured here with students from Grand Ridge School last year.  

Bills Sent to the Senate

During the first week of the fall session, the House sent four measures to the Senate, which must now review and approve or reject amendments added in the House. These include:

Weber Road Interchange (SB 1219): This measure will allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to begin work on the Weber Road interchange project along Interstate 55 in Will County, without the sale of land previously authorized. In the 95th General Assembly, HB 735 linked the project to the sale of surplus property owned by the Illinois Department of Corrections.  However, the estimated value of the land has dropped significantly in recent years and the Department of Transportation does not want to sell it in the current market.        

Doctor Licensing (SB 1496): Extends the Medical Practice Act for one year until December 31, 2014.

Chester School Construction (SB 1595): Allows Chester Community Unit School District #139 to proceed with an emergency project to replace a condemned gymnasium and classrooms. The school district has qualified for a school construction grant, but the project has been delayed because of the need to get certification from the United States Green Building Council. This would allow the district to receive the grant and proceed without that certification.

Sex Offender Treatment (SB 1600): This is a follow up to the state’s Sex Offender Evaluation and Treatment Provider Act. It provides alternate methods of meeting qualifications for licensure under the Act. Without these changes, there is concern that the state will not have enough evaluators and treatment providers to provide the needed services to meet the state’s mandates for treatment and evaluation of sex offenders.

Tracking Local Government Finances

It is now easier to track local government finances thanks to Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s release of an online public information website called the “Warehouse.”

This site compiles more than 9,200 financial reports from local units of government across the state. It was designed to increase accountability measures for local spending in counties, municipalities, and special taxing districts.

Governor Wants More Money

Governor Quinn is reportedly seeking to add about $221 million in new spending to the current fiscal year budget.

Just over half of those funds, $112 million, would be used to pay back wages owned to about 25,000 state workers as a result of a lawsuit the administration lost. Quinn had refused to pay workers raises required under the state’s labor contract arguing that the legislature’s failure to include the money in a previous budget allowed him to skip the payments.

However, the Governor’s request could fall on deaf ears as some in the legislature believe the Quinn administration should find the money in existing agency budgets rather than add funds to the budget.

The administration also wants to add about $40.5 million to the state Department of Corrections budget. A request that is also likely to be controversial since the Governor closed several correctional facilities last year saying it would save the state money. Another $34 million is being sought by Quinn in order to implement the state’s new Right-to-Carry law.

Study Finds Agreement on Spending Priorities

While the Governor seeks to up state spending, a Senate Republican budget expert, State Sen. Pam Althoff (R-McHenry) joined with a Democrat colleague to publicize a new study showing major agreement among Illinois citizens, regardless of party, on what the state’s budget priorities should be.

The study, from the Center for Innovation & Public Value (CIPV), sought to identify the outcomes that Illinois taxpayers want from government and how they want their tax dollars spent.

The Public Value Monitor survey directed respondents to assume the role of state budget director and allocate tax dollars according to their preferred outcomes.  Those responses revealed that Democrats and Republicans both ranked increased employment as the top priority for the state.  Closely following attracting and growing business was ensuring public safety and improving infrastructure.  

Perhaps surprisingly, the sample of approximately 1,000 Illinois residents showed that member of both parties want to spend less on education and healthcare outcomes and basic government support functions.  

Paying for Road Improvements

An Illinois group comprised of business and labor organizations associated with road construction, local governments and economic development agencies is backing a plan to change the way Illinois taxes motor fuel.

The Transportation for Illinois Coalition wants to replace Illinois’ current 19 cents per gallon gasoline tax with a 9.5% fuel wholesale tax, which would be applied to the fuel purchased by the service station.  How this new tax structure would be applied to the price at the pump is unclear.

The point of the new tax structure from the Coalition’s point of view is to generate more revenue for road and bridge projects and other transportation improvements. The organization says reduced funding for transportation from state and federal dollars is putting the integrity of the state’s 16,000 miles of roads and thousands of bridges at risk.

Legislation to implement the TFIC plan has already been introduced as Senate Bill 2589 and House Bill 3637. Both measures are pending before their respective legislative chambers.

New Chief Justice for State Supreme Court

Illinois has a new Chief Justice for the state’s Supreme Court. Justice Rita Garman of Danville was sworn in as the new Chief Justice Oct. 28 at the Vermilion County Courthouse in Danville.

Garman has served on the state Supreme Court since 2001 and is the first of the state’s top jurists to have served in virtually every judicial capacity on circuit, appellate and Supreme courts. She began her legal career with the Vermilion County Legal Aid Society and has been a judge since 1974.

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