Senate Week in Review: February 17-21

Republican Senators used Feb. 19 – the date when Gov. Quinn was originally scheduled to deliver his annual budget to the General Assembly – as an opportunity to call for a bipartisan push to give taxpayers a promised rollback of the state’s largest tax increase, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.

During a state capitol press conference, the GOP lawmakers said the legislature’s top priority should be to put the state on the road to economic recovery, by emphasizing job creation rather than simply seeking new ways to tax Illinoisans.

Sen. Rezin said they fear that Quinn’s refusal to release a budget until after the March primary may foreshadow another post-election plan to raise taxes, as happened after the 2010 election. They noted that at the time of the 67% tax hike, Democrats promised to use the money to pay down bills, restore the state’s credit rating and get Illinois back on track.  Despite $26 billion in new tax dollars since the increase passed, Illinois continues to face serious challenges, including:
•    Illinois has the 3rd highest unemployment in the nation.
•    Illinois has the worst credit rating in the United States.
•    Illinois has a backlog of $6.3 billion in unpaid bills.
•    Illinois is spending more than taxpayers can afford – year after year.
•    Illinois has record high taxes – with more on the horizon.
•    The Senate President now says Illinois has a $3 billion budget hole, but he has not offered any solutions and all but admits they intend to make the tax increase permanent.
•    On top of that income tax threat, a proposed progressive income tax will mean even higher taxes for most Illinois residents.

Moving forward – Fixing the state’s economy

The Republican Senators laid out several steps that could be taken immediately to move the state forward.

Improve our Jobs Climate and remove the barriers to economic development that are holding Illinois back from recovery – driving jobs and people out of Illinois.
•    Roll back the 2011 income tax increase as promised and required by law;
•    Take the progressive income tax – a job-killing tax hike – off the table;
•    Enact a “primary causation” standard in workers’ compensation to build on 2011 reforms and bring Illinois’ employer costs closer to those of neighboring states;
•    Develop long-range, sustainable economic development programs.

Restore Fiscal Discipline and address waste, fraud and excessive state government spending
•    Bring state spending in line with revenues;
•    Prohibit the creation of new programs and expansion of existing programs;
•    Target and eliminate wasteful “pet” programs/expenditures, including the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, Grow Your Own Teachers and other failed programs.]

Seize the opportunity for savings
•    Follow the bipartisan Education Funding Advisory Committee recommendation to address the inequities in the state school aid formula including eliminating the special Chicago Block Grant – which allows an “end run” of the state aid formula at the expense of downstate and suburban schools;
•    Support the bipartisan agreement to fully engage an independent review that has been uncovering and eliminating fraudulent recipients of taxpayer-paid medical services;
•    Restore SMART Act roll backs that eliminate the savings from the Medicaid Reform Act;
•    Urge the Attorney General to seek an expedited opinion from the Illinois Supreme Court on comprehensive pension reform.

Rezin speaks at Illinois Energy Association annual breakfast

Sen. Rezin addressed a room full of Illinois Energy Association members on February 19.  She was invited to speak in front of the group since she is currently the Republican Spokesperson for the Senate Energy Committee.

She highlighted past legislative accomplishments in the committee, including the Smart Grid legislation and “fracking” legislation, and previewed what could be expected in this current session.  She also spoke about how prevalent the energy industry is in her district, and how it was important that the industry continue to improve infrastructure and develop the workforce for future generations.  

She is pictured here speaking to the group.

Senators warn seniors of Obamacare consequences

Two Republican Senators, Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) and Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) want to make sure Illinois citizens know the potential risks if they opt in to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare).

The Senators warn that persons 55 and older face the possibility that their assets could be claimed by the state if they access the Medicaid program as allowed under the expanded Obamacare income guidelines.

They are worried that some of those over age 55 with eligible income levels are being told they must enroll in Medicaid and are not being informed of the financial risk of asset seizure.

For example, they said a couple in their early 60s, who are not yet eligible for Medicare, might have a low enough income to qualify under new Medicaid guidelines. The fear is that once in the Medicaid program the couple can be subject to stringent Medicaid rules that allow the state to lay claim to their assets to cover certain medical expenses.

According to Syverson, a federal law passed by Congress in 1993 mandated states in many cases to recover money from the estates of those who received Medicaid benefits.  The asset recovery law predates the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but the new law did not create an exception for those enrolling in Medicaid as part of the ACA.

Dillard and Syverson said Governor Quinn should seek a waiver to extend the open enrollment period until the federal government clarifies its position on asset seizure and adequate time is given to notify those over age 55 who have already been enrolled in Medicaid. In the meantime, the lawmakers are calling on Quinn to require those enrolling individuals in Medicaid to inform enrollees of the possibility of asset seizure following an accident or illness, in addition to explaining what private options are available to them off the exchange.

Committees approve bills

Senate Committees began meeting in full force during the past week, sending several measure to the full Senate for consideration. Listed below are some of the notable measures that were approved by committees – a full listing of committee action can be found on the Senate Republican Website.

Revenge Porn (SB 2694):  Makes it a Class 4 felony to post nude or sexually explicit pictures of another person without his or her permission on an internet site. The bill also would make it a crime to require a fee to get the pictures removed from a website. An amendment specifies the bill only applies to people 18 years or older, and reinforces the definition of “sexual conduct” is the one contained in the Criminal Code of 2012—so it wouldn’t apply to situations of a baby taking a bubble bath, for instance.

Sex Offender Unemployment Reporting (SB 2912):  Clarifies that a registered sex offender who loses his or her job must report in person to the law enforcement agency with whom he or she last registered his or her loss of employment within three days of that loss of employment. This results from case where a court held that the current state law requiring sex offenders to report a “change” in employment, did not apply to the loss of a job.

Olympic Winnings Tax Deduction (SB 344):  Allows a person to deduct prize money and the value of an Olympic medal from their adjusted gross income for the 2014 tax year. This would only apply to the athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Community Service (SB 2709):  Provides that giving blood or volunteering at a blood bank does not qualify as community service.

County Collections (SB 2841):  Gives county governments the same ability that municipalities have to use collection agencies and hire attorneys to collect fines or penalties. Any fees imposed as a result of the collection effort would be the responsibility of the offender.

Search Warrants (SB 2852):  Allows a search warrant upon a written complaint to be issued by use of electronic mail in addition to by facsimile transmission machine.

Tax Prep Task Force (SB 2774): Creates the Tax Return Preparation Task Force. Right now there aren’t any particularly qualifications an individual must meet to prepare tax returns; this task force would seek to establish qualifications.

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