Senate Week in Review July 14-18

A legislative panel reviewing Governor Quinn’s failed anti-violence initiative put off testimony from subpoenaed former Quinn administration officials until October, complying with a request from the U.S. Attorney’s office, State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Peru) said.

The Legislative Audit Commission had intended to begin hearing from seven of Quinn’s former top aides, as the panel continues its review of the mismanaged and controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI). But, after meeting July 16-17 the panel delayed taking testimony until Oct. 8.

James Lewis, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, asked the Legislative Audit Commission not to interview witnesses for 90 days, so as not to impact any ongoing criminal investigation conducted by his office.

In the meantime, the Commission will continue to gather documents related to the program and will post those documents on the public website of the Audit Commission.

Grant transparency legislation

As the panel got underway, Quinn sought to deflect criticism of the management of the program he started in 2010, by signing a measure intended to increase accountability in state grant awards.

House Bill 2747 (PA 98-0706) creates the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act, which would basically adopt federal uniform rules for grants issued by state agencies.  The goal is to eliminate duplicative and conflicting guidance; provide for consistent and transparent treatment of allowable costs charged to grants; set standard application processes; reduce administrative burdens; and place greater reliance on audit reports to increase efficiency in required monitoring activities.

While applauding the intent, critics raised concerns because the legislation allows the Governor to appoint the members of the board that is supposed to oversee the actions of the Governor’s administration.

Moved to labor department?

Grant awards have been at the heart of the controversy over the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, with regular news stories detailing questionable and, in some cases, fraudulent activities related to grants handed out under the program.

Although the Governor has publicly tried to put the program behind him, lawmakers point to $20 million in new spending in the current year budget that they say could be used to fund a re-branded version of the same failed program. That $20 million was handed off to the Illinois Department of Labor with a vague description to fund a program that sounds almost identical to the NRI.

The cost of corruption

Critics say a recent study illustrates the cost to taxpayers of politicized programs like the NRI. Researchers from Indiana University and City University of Hong Kong recently released a study that attempts to put a dollar figure on public corruption. Illinois was among the state’s studied and the professors said that in the 10 most corrupt states (with Illinois among those 10) taxpayers pay an average “corruption tax” of $1,308 per person.

Concealed carry

In an announcement related to the state’s new concealed carry law, which was approved last year, the Illinois State Police said persons who have a permit denied because of an objection from local law enforcement authorities, will now have access to the reasons behind that denial and have an opportunity to refute the reasons for the denial.

The change was needed because, under the previous system, persons who were denied concealed carry permits were told they would have to go to court to challenge the denial. This resulted in hundreds of lawsuits and mounting legal costs.

As of mid-July about 64,000 concealed carry permits have been issued in Illinois.

Medical marijuana

Illinois also continues to move forward on medical marijuana. The legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules signed off on proposed regulations July 15, which detail how state agencies will comply with the legislation and administer the program.

Applications for those seeking to use, grow or sell medical marijuana are expected to become available in August, with the state starting to accept and review applications in September. The state’s medical marijuana program coordinator has said patients with the most serious medical conditions may be able to begin buying medical marijuana early next year.

State pension funds get settlement

Illinois’ troubled pension funds will get a small boost from a national settlement over problematic home loans that fed the 2008 nationwide financial crisis.

Illinois is scheduled to receive $84 million as part of a national $7 billion settlement with Citigroup Inc., over risky mortgage-backed securities. The state Teachers’ Retirement System is expected to receive $33.04 million, while the State Universities Retirement System will receive $3.12 million and $7.83 million will be paid to the board overseeing retirement systems for state employees, elected state officials and judges.

The remaining $40 million is to go to consumers, with an independent monitor appointed to oversee how the money is distributed.

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