Senate Week in Review: March 3-7

SPRINGFIELD – Evidence of fraud and abuse revealed in a recent Inspector General Report on Chicago Public Schools, coupled with the inherent unfairness of the current system of state education funding, has prompted a renewed push to prioritize reforms that would treat students fairly across Illinois, according to State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris).

Lawmakers said the report from the Chicago Board of Education’s Office of the Inspector General raises concerns that downstate and suburban school districts are being penalized. That is because scarce education dollars are wasted, while the current allocation system allows Chicago schools to make an end-run around the formulas that all other school districts fall under.

Some of the problems uncovered in the report included cases where “ghost students” were added to inflate a high school’s enrollment numbers and gain funding for added positions, travel expenses were falsified, fraudulent free-lunch and reduced-lunch program applications were submitted, and residency rules were violated.

Sen. Rezin said fraud within the free-lunch program is especially offensive because at the same time that was happening, other schools across Illinois are owed more than $500 million in backlogged bills, including bills for free-lunch and reduced-lunch programs.

Sen. Rezin noted that school districts in the 38th Senate District and surrounding area are owed over $5.7 million from the state.

Bipartisan committee said to end special Chicago grant

For many lawmakers, the report simply underscored the need to adopt a bipartisan recommendation to end the special grant allocations for Chicago schools and bring all schools under a single formula.

The Chicago Public Schools block grant awarded Chicago schools $477 million for the 2012-2013 academic year—nearly double what they would have received if they were reimbursed the same way as other schools across the state. If the same funding formula was used, Chicago schools would have only received $252 million. 

Earlier this year, a bipartisan Education Funding Advisory Committee, of which Sen. Rezin is a member of, recommended eliminating the Chicago Public Schools block grant and requiring city schools to qualify for funding like all other districts.

Rezin legislation to kick start national Do Not Adopt Database

Sen. Rezin has introduced legislation aimed at helping animal shelters and stores across the country better screen potential animal owners. 

The measure, Senate Bill 3138, allows Illinois to opt into the national Do No Adopt Database – a first of its kind national database administered by Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) – which would streamline the screening process for shelters.  The legislation would keep animal shelters from having to negotiate a patchwork of independent, localized registries that are not linked to one another when screening individuals who are seeking to adopt an animal. 

Illinois is the first in the nation to introduce such legislation.

“I am very excited for the potential of a national animal abuse database so we are protecting animals and making sure that animals are being placed in safe homes,” Sen. Rezin said.  “This will be a service for the shelters and organizations that work hard to place animals in good homes and give them peace of mind knowing that they have a database to rely on when screening potential animal owners.  I look forward to passing it through the Illinois General Assembly.”

Sen. Rezin said the concept was first brought to her by Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland.  They then worked with Chris Green, Director of Legislative Affairs for ALDF, to draft legislation.  Green shared that states have tried to establish databases of their own, but the fiscal impact was too great.  It was then that ALDF decided to take action and create a national database. 

The national Do No Adopt Database will compile animal abuse conviction data into one database that will be accessible across state lines.  This will allow shelters and pet stores to screen potential adopters and customers to ensure that they have not been convicted of animal abuse crimes, such as dog fighting or hoarding. 

If a person 18 years or older is convicted of animal cruelty, aggravated animal cruelty, animal torture, animal fighting, poisoning an animal, dog fighting or other animal crimes, the crime will be reported and recorded in the national Do Not Adopt Database.  Any animal shelter, pet store, animal breeder, or person will conduct a search of the national database before selling, transferring, delivering, or placing for adoption an animal to another person. 

Illinois has consistently been ranked first among states with the best animal protection laws in the United States by ALDF.  This legislation solidifies the state’s commitment to protecting animals.  
The legislation is currently in the Senate, awaiting passage. 

Sen. Rezin has an online petition available on her website pertaining to the bill.  She is asking people to register their support of the measure for her to use in the legislation process.  She also urges everyone to sign up for her newsletter in order to receive bill status updates. 

Concealed-carry permits in the mail

As nearly 3,000 sports and gun enthusiasts converged on the Capitol March 5 for their annual lobby day, it was with the knowledge that Illinois had finally joined 49 other states in authorizing its citizens to carry concealed handguns in public.

Indeed, more than 5,000 concealed-carry permits had been mailed out by the end of February.

The Illinois State Rifle Association sponsors the Illinois Gun Owner Lobby Day (IGOLD) each year, encouraging gun owners to lobby their representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives for pro-Second Amendment legislation. Other participating organizations this year include Guns Save Life, Sangamon County Rifle Association, and the McHenry County Right To Carry Association.

Future farmers visit

On March 6, the State Capitol hosted hundreds of Future Farmers of America (FFA) members from across Illinois who were in Springfield for the annual Illinois Ag/FFA Legislative Day.

Sen. Rezin welcomed members from the Seneca and Putnam County FFA Chapters to the Senate floor.  She is pictured here with both groups.  
Bills approved, sent to House

The Senate approved and sent to the House several dozen measures during the week ending March 7. A full list can be found on the Senate Action Page of the Senate Republican Web site. Listed below are some of the more notable measures.

Sex Offender Unemployment Reporting (SB 2912): Requires that a registered sex offender who loses his or her employment must report in person to the law enforcement agency with which he or she last registered his or her loss of employment within three days of that loss of employment.

Proof of License Plate Renewal (SB 2802):
Allows a printed receipt of an online license plate renewal to be used as proof of renewal until the physical sticker is received in the mail.

Prevailing wage (SB 2648): Requires the Department of Labor to go through Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and publish rules when it interprets the Prevailing Wage Act. The Quinn Administration has been circumventing the regular rulemaking process that allows for public notice and review before implementing new rules.

GED Cost Savings (SB 2729): Changes references in state statutes from “General Educational Development” (GED) test to “high school equivalency.” The GED test owner has contracted with a private company to administer GED tests, with a significant increase in the cost. This legislation changes state references to GED to a generic reference of high school equivalency, so that as competing tests are developed, it will be easier for Illinois to use a less costly test.

EIU Tuition Discount Program (SB 2765):
Creates the “Panther Promise” pilot tuition discount program at Eastern Illinois University. The program would be geared to students who have a minimum GPA of 2.0 and who are from households with a median annual family income of $35,000 to $70,000.

Railroad Police (SB 2791): Clarifies that railroad police have the authority to issue citations. This is being sought to clarify the authority of railroad officials to eject passengers on METRA trains.

Drones (SB 2937): Prohibits a law enforcement agency from using a drone owned by a private third party to acquire information (with certain exceptions). An amendment allows the use of a drone without a search warrant, if law enforcement is using a drone during a disaster or public health emergency (flood, tornado, earthquake, etc.). It does not require an official declaration of a disaster or public health emergency prior to use.

Off Highway Vehicle Stamp (SB 2633): Sets a new price of $10 for ATV Usage Stamps for vehicles with engine capacities of 75 cubic centimeters and below. Current law is $15 for all Usage Stamps, and this price would be kept in place for vehicles with an engine capacity exceeding 75ccs. Exemptions for the stamp includes vehicles for business use, golf carts, vehicles used by people with disabilities, vehicles used only at commercial riding parks, and vehicles used at sanctioned competitions.

Extending Probation (SB 3074):  Allows a court to extend a defendant’s term of probation or conditional discharge that was concurrent to, consecutive to, or otherwise interrupted by a prison term, if needed to provide additional time to complete an order of restitution.

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