Senate Week in Review: April 7-11

The General Assembly arrived at a mid-point in the legislative session with the deadline for the Senate and House to act on bills that originated in their respective chambers. Senate lawmakers will now spend much of the remainder of the session reviewing bills that have already been passed by the House, Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said, while the Illinois House will concentrate on Senate measures.

The week also saw the approval of two Constitutional amendments, which means they will go on the November ballot for voter consideration.

A controversial and dramatic rewrite of the state’s system of funding schools is also under consideration, although what began as a bipartisan effort to address inequities in the state’s School Aid Formula has morphed into a partisan plan that could increase existing inequities in funding and force taxpayers statewide to subsidize pension payments for Chicago teachers.

Disaster Relief, Heroin Trafficking and More

Dozens of other bills, covering almost every imaginable issue, were debated and voted on by both chambers. Among the highlights were proposals that would help communities with disaster relief, crack down on heroin trafficking, increase penalties for a new “designer drug,” and a measure that says drivers would no longer have to surrender their driver’s licenses as bail when ticketed for a traffic offense.   

Victims’ Rights Amendment

The Illinois Senate unanimously lent its support April 10 to a Constitutional Amendment that would clarify crime victims’ rights.

Known as “Marsy’s Law,” House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 1 (HJRCA 1) explicitly outlines crime victims’ rights, stating they are entitled to fairness, respect, information about and notification of court proceedings, rulings and release information, restitution, safety, and can offer impact statements when relevant.

The amendment would supplement an existing section of the State Constitution on crime victims’ right.

Voting Rights Amendment

A second amendment seeks to preserve voting rights in Illinois. House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 52 (HJRCA 52) clarifies that “no person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income.”
Having been adopted by both chambers of the General Assembly, HJRCA 1 and HJRCA 52 will be placed on the 2014 ballot during the November General Election, at which time Illinois voters will decide whether or not to add these provisions to the Illinois Constitution. Constitutional amendments require either a three-fifths majority vote of those voting on the amendment or a majority of those voting in the election.

School Bill Subsidizes Chicago Pensions

The proposed revision of the state’s school aid formula is contained in SB 16. A detailed analysis of the impact the legislation would have on individual school districts in downstate and suburban areas has been hampered by a lack of data and the complexity of the changes being proposed.

Senate Bill 16, which was approved April 10 by the Senate Executive Committee on a partisan vote, completely rewrites the way school dollars are distributed in Illinois.  Sen. Rezin noted that the measure has been advanced with no official estimates from the State Board of Education and what the impact would be on schools is unclear.  

“It is completely irresponsible to vote on legislation that would drastically change the way our schools are funded without knowing what the numbers would be,” Sen. Rezin said.  “I’ve asked for feedback from my superintendents on this legislation and they’ve all expressed significant concerns with the process and the actual legislation.”

Despite the lack of data, several controversial provisions have emerged. One would have the state subsidize pension fund payments owed by the Chicago school system. This would be done by granting a special credit of about $175 million to the school district using state tax dollars.

Unequal Treatment of the Poor

Details have also emerged in recent days showing that an existing disparity in the way students in poverty are treated across the state would actually be greater under SB 16 than under the current system.

Currently, state funding for a student living in poverty can range from $355 to $2,994 per student by school district. The proposal would actually widen that gap, granting just $15 for students living in poverty in some districts and awarding more than $5,000 for students in other districts.

Although the legislation has its roots in a study from Illinois Senate Republicans the provisions of the bill actually exacerbate many of the inequities identified in that report.

Helping Communities

Legislation to aid in disaster recovery efforts sponsored by a bi-partisan group of legislators, including State Senators Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), Sue Rezin (R-Morris), Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) and Sam McCann (R-Carlinville), passed the Illinois Senate this week. Senate Bill 231 allows the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to provide special grants to units of local government, school districts, and community colleges following natural disasters like the tornadoes that tore through central Illinois in November of 2013.

In January the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied a request for aid, saying that the infrastructure damage after the storms was not severe enough to warrant federal assistance for local government. Under SB 231, the state’s Emergency Management Agency would be able to provide state assistance to local governments when there is a state disaster declaration.  

“This is a way to provide some help to communities hit by a disaster that is not contingent upon federal approval,” Sen. Rezin said.  “Last year communities across Illinois were hard hit by tornadoes, yet the federal government denied disaster funding.  Allowing communities to qualify for assistance based on a state disaster declaration can provide important aid to communities that they might not receive otherwise.”

Blocking the ‘Heroin Highway’

Cracking down on narcotics trafficking across county or state lines is the intent of legislation cosponsored by State Senators Michael Connelly (R-Naperville) and Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) to address the growing heroin problem plaguing many suburban communities.

Senate Bill 3469 will allow a judge to consider as a factor in sentencing, a defendant’s transportation of controlled substances from one Illinois county to another, or from another state into Illinois.

A Young Adults Heroin Use Task Force created in 2013 to study the problem of heroin abuse has met several times in recent months and is working to implement changes to the law to protect young people.

New Designer Drug

Reports of overdoses and fatalities among young people are associated with the growing use of a new designer drug, 25I-NBOMe (25I). To address the problem, the Senate sent to the House SB 3275, which would add “251” to the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported at least 19 deaths were tied to 25I between March 2012 and August 2013, and the drug is already considered a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government. The legislation brings Illinois into line with federal law, placing 25I in the same category as drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and ecstasy.

Sign and Drive

Senate Bill 2583 would reinstate the practice of allowing persons to simply sign for a traffic ticket, rather than require that persons surrender their driver’s license as a bond when charged with a speeding or other minor traffic offenses.

Illinois is one of only six states which holds a person’s license for a minor traffic offense. Prior to 1986, drivers in Illinois were not required to surrender their licenses for traffic violations.

Enrollment for MAP grants

Senate Bill 3306 Creates a two-year pilot program where there will be a second Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) enrollment period for dislocated workers after the initial suspension date is announced.  Dislocated worker is defined as in the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998.  

Poker Runs

Senate Bill 3312 removes “poker runs” from the Charitable Games Act, which is regulated by the state, and moves them into the Raffles Act, which is regulated by counties.

“Poker Runs” are generally charitable events in which persons travel from one establishment to another collecting a “poker hand.” A prize is generally shared with the winner and charity. They are particularly popular with motorcyclists.

The legislation authorizes counties to establish a system for the licensing of poker runs at the “key location” (i.e. concluding location where prizes are given).  Such license shall cover the entire poker run, including locations other than the key location.  The license may include a fee not to exceed $25 for each license.  

Each license is valid for one poker run or for a specified number of poker runs to be conducted during a specified period not to exceed one year.  The legislation also outlines certain limitations of the licensing system such as aggregate retail value of prizes, maximum retail value of prizes, maximum price charged for each poker run, and maximum number of days during which the poker run can be conducted.  

Lastly, it amends the Criminal Code to clarify that poker runs when conducted in accordance with the Raffles Act, is not considered a gambling activity or syndicated gambling.

Information on all bills that passed the Senate can be found on the “Senate Action” page of the Senate Republican website.

Mark your calendars: Rezin Recycling Event in Ottawa on May 3

Sen. Rezin will host a Recycling Day with Ottawa Mayor Robert Eschbach on Saturday, May 3 from 9:00 a.m. to noon.  The event will be held at the Woodward Memorial Parking Lot located at 300 Woodward Memorial Drive in Ottawa.  

Please CLICK HERE for more information, and HERE for a list of acceptable items.  

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