Senate Week in Review: July 7-11

Three new boating safety measures are among bills signed into law in recent days, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.

Other new laws meant to assist communities with rebuilding after tornadoes, make it easier for public employees to donate to the Red Cross and allow adults greater access to the adoption records of their grandparents have also been approved.

Audit Commission hearing

In the meantime, a legislative panel examining a scandal-plagued grant program created by Governor Quinn will consider at its July 16 meeting an unusual request to place their investigation on temporary hold.

The Legislative Audit Commission is scheduled to hold hearings July 16-17 on the Governor’s controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. Subpoenas have been approved seeking testimony from seven former Quinn administration officials. But, the Audit Commission also expects to consider a request from the U.S. Justice Department to wait 90 days before proceeding.

The co-chairman of the panel, Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) said it should be up to the full panel of lawmakers on the Audit Commission to consider the request and decide if they should proceed. The request did not come from prosecutors, but rather from the Justice Department’s Legislative Affairs division. He pointed out that witnesses have already been subpoenaed and told to appear July 16.

Patronage hiring under Quinn

And, in another ongoing controversy, a prominent anti-patronage crusader challenged Governor Quinn’s efforts to shield his administration’s hiring practices from the scrutiny of a federal monitor.

Michael Shakman, a prominent anti-patronage lawyer, filed a challenge in federal court July 8, declaring Quinn’s attempts to block the appointment of a monitor a “straw man” argument.

Shakman, who is best known for a 1972 anti-patronage court decree that bears his name, is seeking a federal monitor to review hiring at the state, following revelations of widespread political hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation under Quinn and his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich.

Gerrymandering opposed

Political mapmaking has also been in the news recently, with the Decatur Herald and Review the latest newspaper to weigh in on the need for reforming the redistricting process, which governs how legislative districts are redrawn every decade.

Declaring “the way the state draws legislative maps is seriously broken,” the newspaper editorialized in support of a plan that “would have taken that all-important task out of the hands of the very politicians so many Illinois voters are fed up with.”

Legislative supporters are likely to introduce redistricting reforms during the next legislative session. Republican lawmakers have consistently supported reforms, arguing that the current system allows politicians to pick their voters, rather than voters picking who will represent them in Springfield.

Boating safety and other new laws

Boating safety measures signed into law included SB 3434 (PA 98-0699) which would allow law enforcement to seize boats or other watercraft under certain circumstances involving alcohol or drug use. Two related measures were also approved:

•    SB 2731/98-0697 requires that any watercraft towing a person must display at the highest point of the area surrounding the boat’s helm, a bright or brilliant orange flag visible from all directions, continuously, from the time the person gets out of the boat until they get back into the boat; and

•    SB 3433/PA 98-0698 provides for new boating certification requirements, beginning Jan. 1, 2016, including restrictions on persons younger than 18 operating a motorboat.

A devastating tornado in Gifford and other communities prompted legislation intended to help businesses rebuild after such storms. Senate Bill 3259/PA 98-0702 provides a preferential property assessment for small business-owned commercial or industrial property, which is destroyed by a tornado disaster.

This preferential valuation would be valid for 15 tax years following the tornado, or until the property changes hands. This attempts to lessen the impact to a business that is rebuilding after a natural disaster and is similar to the Natural Disaster Homestead Exemption for homeowners.  
Under the “Illinois Gives” initiative contained in HB 4590/PA 98-0700, state employees and retirees would be able to automatically have a portion of their pay or retirement benefits withheld as a contribution to Illinois chapters of the American Red Cross.

Helping persons learn more about their family histories and possibly better treat medical conditions is the goal of HB 5949/PA 98-0704. Under the measure, adult grandchildren of persons who were adopted will have greater access to original birth certificates and adoption registries and be able to meet with confidential mediators when seeking records related to their grandparents.

Also approved was HB 5755/PA 98-0968 which places the following question on the November 4, 2014 general election ballot: “Shall any health insurance plan in Illinois that provides prescription drug coverage be required to include prescription birth control as part of that coverage?”

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