Senate Week in Review: May 19-23

Springfield, IL – As the General Assembly enters what should be its final week of the spring legislative session, majority Democrats appeared to be in disarray and disagreement over the fate of the state’s 2011 “temporary” tax hike.

After the Governor called for a permanent extension of the tax hike in his annual budget address and the House Speaker and Senate President immediately endorsed the extension, most observers assumed that the permanent extension would be a foregone conclusion in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

The administration and majority Democrats orchestrated a series of budget hearings to portray doomsday scenarios that would occur if they kept their promise to allow a major portion of the tax hike to expire, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) explained.

A series of budget bills that endorse and spend the revenues from the tax hike cleared the House, but were put on hold by the Speaker. The House Speaker has said he does not have enough votes to pass the tax hike extension, even though a majority of House Democrats voted to spend the money from the tax hike.

Republicans, who unanimously opposed the 67 percent tax hike and its extension, remained skeptical that majority Democrats would leave Springfield without the tax increase, Sen. Rezin said.

Throughout the spring legislative session, Republican lawmakers have argued that the drastic cuts laid out by the Governor and his allies exaggerate the impact of allowing the tax hike to expire. They point to new and expanded spending that the Governor inserted in his budget, and say that with state revenues coming in higher than originally projected a budget could be crafted that allows the tax hike roll back in January.

Call for basic school funding reform

Sen. Rezin joined several of her Senate Republican colleagues on May 22 to introduce new legislation, Senate Bill 3664, that will re-establish the “Foundation Level” as the number one funding priority in Illinois’ education system.  She is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Sen. Rezin said that the best way to help all Illinois schools is to fully fund the state’s “Foundation Level” education grant.

Senate Bill 3664 requires the Foundation Level grant within the state’s General State Aid formula be funded at 100 percent before directing education dollars to any other grant lines or programs. The lawmakers say this would be a simple, common sense approach that could be implemented in this year’s budget.

When the current debate over the allocation of school funding got its start with the March 2013 report, “School Funding in Illinois: An Examination” the top problem identified was the steady erosion of the Foundation Level, as more and more funds were diverted to special programs that aid specific school districts at the expense of overall state funding.

The school aid formula was originally designed to ensure that every school district in the state is provided with a base level of funding per student.  The current formula takes into account local property wealth, so that communities with fewer local resources receive more state aid.

However, as the legislature expanded other programs without restraint, cannibalizing funding from the Foundation Level portion of the formula, school districts have had their Foundation Level grants “prorated.” The result is greater inequity and fewer resources.

Just last week on May 13, Sen. Rezin had administrators, educators and board members from Streator travel to Springfield to share their concerns regarding funding for Streator Elementary School District #44.  They expressed their extreme concern over the continued proration of General State Aid funding and delayed categorical payments by the state.

“Streator Elementary School District has cut their budget by over $5.3 million and borrowed millions more to continue operating, yet they still had to cut programs and eliminate several positions,” Sen. Rezin said.  “This is due to the state’s delinquency in funding education.  It is a snapshot of what is happening all over the state and something must change.  The Foundation Level should be the number one education funding priority in Illinois.  This legislation takes the step to ensure that is the case.”

Measures sponsored by Rezin honor military and their families

Sen. Rezin is the chief sponsor and chief co-sponsor of two legislative measures that honor those who have died during military duty. 

Sen. Rezin passed Senate Resolution 1088 on May 19, which designates June 21, 2014 as “Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial Day” in honor of those who have fallen during the War on Terror.  She is the chief sponsor of the measure. 

“This wall is really a beautiful tribute to the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country free,” Sen. Rezin said.  “This resolution pays respect to those who have fought against terror and lost their lives protecting all that we hold dear.”

The Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial is located in Marseilles, Illinois with names commemorating the servicemen and women who have lost their lives in worldwide conflicts since 1979.  It was dedicated on June 19, 2004.

The second measure, House Bill 5475, allows the Illinois Secretary of State to issue Gold Star license plates to surviving sons or daughters of a Gold Star recipient.  Sen. Rezin is the chief co-sponsor and said this legislation will honor the memory of fallen soldiers in Illinois by offering their families this special designation. 

“We have several Gold Star recipients in the 38th Senate District,” Sen. Rezin said.  “They deserve recognition and privileges, which this legislation will afford.  This certainly isn’t a designation that they want, yet it honors the memory of those brave men and women who served our country. ”

Gold Stars are given to the spouse or next of kin of men and women who are killed in the line of duty.  

Having passed the Senate and the House, the measure will go to Governor Quinn to sign into law.

Legislation going to governor

As the legislature counted down to its scheduled adjournment on May 31, dozens of measures were receiving final approval and were set to go to the Governor for his review. A running list of bills passed by the legislature is maintained on the Senate Action page of the Senate Republican Website. Among the bills headed to the Governor’s desk were:

Cyber Bullying (HB 4207): Requires schools to address electronic bullying under certain circumstances even when it occurs off-campus and uses private computers, cell phones, etc. Applies if the bullying causes a substantial disruption to the educational process or orderly operation of a school. Applies when a school administrator or teacher receives a report that this type of bullying has occurred and does not require school district staff to monitor non-school related activities.  Requires school bullying policies or implementing procedures to include a process to investigate if the reported act of bullying is within the school or district’s jurisdiction. Opponents argued that expecting schools to regulate speech that occurs outside of the school day and school property breaks new grounds, places an unrealistic burden on schools and sets a dangerous precedent.

Farmers’ Market Regulation (HB 5657): Amends the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act by providing that regulation of farmers’ markets by local authorities may not be more stringent than regulation by the Department of Public Health. This legislation streamlines regulation of local farmer’s markets under one statewide code. Under current law, local-governmental units may regulate farmer’s markets as they see fit. This has led to non-uniform regulations across the state.

Medical Cannabis Zoning (HB 5674): Authorizes municipalities with a population of over 500,000 (Chicago) to adopt their own zoning requirements with regard to the location of a cultivation center or dispensing organization and its proximity to a pre-existing school, daycare facility or an area zoned for residential use.  The current law prohibits all cultivation centers and dispensing organizations from being located within 2,500 feet of a school, daycare facility or residential area. 

Benefit Fraud (HB 5682): Makes it a Class C misdemeanor for any person to assist or represent another person in completing or submitting an application for benefits under the federal (SNAP) program, the State’s (AABD) program, or the State’s (TANF) program in exchange for a portion of the applicant’s SNAP, AABD, or TANF benefits or cash or any other form of payment.

Heroin Task Forces (HB 4542): Broadens the focus of the Young Adults Heroin Use Task Force from just high school to grades 6-12.

Storm Shelter Law (HB 2513): Provides that all new school building construction governed by the “Health/Life Safety Code for Public Schools” must include in its design and construction a storm shelter.
Ticket Quotas (SB 3411): Prohibits counties, municipalities, conservation police and state police from implementing ticket quotas.

Poker Runs (SB 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.
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.

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