Senate Week in Review: February 10-14
With the promise that he will detail a five-year budget plan for the state, expectations are likely to be high for Governor Quinn’s budget speech in late March, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.
Quinn successfully sought a delay from the original Feb. 19 scheduled date for releasing a proposed budget. Officially, the Governor said he wanted to delay the message so that he could submit a detailed five-year spending plan for the state.
Republicans were skeptical of that claim and noted that the date requested by the Governor would conveniently fall after the March primary. Still, the Governor won an extension thanks to votes from fellow Democrats.
Rezin asks officials to take regional approach in flood preparation
Sen. Rezin said the message was clear from the Feb. 12 meeting of local government officials on flooding: planning for future flooding is more important now than ever.
The meeting, spearheaded by Sen. Rezin and the first of its kind, drew over 60 local government representatives who heard from several speakers, including Paul Osman, the Floodplain Program Manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Osman warned that flooding would only get worse in the future and steps to mitigate damage should be taken now.
The purpose of the meeting was to encourage local government officials to take a comprehensive regional approach to flood planning.
Sen. Rezin noted during the meeting that major rivers are no longer the only threat of flooding and it is imperative for the entire region to prepare now for the future.
“Due to development and growth upstream, creeks and smaller rivers have become a huge liability now in addition to the major rivers,” Sen. Rezin said. “Last spring, we saw substantial damage along the Illinois River and Fox River as well as damage to communities that were along creeks and tributaries. That’s why it was important to invite all officials from the 38th Senate District to engage in this discussion, and I’m pleased that so many of them came to the meeting.”
Attendees heard from Mike Sutfin, a certified floodplain manager and Ottawa building official who was instrumental in implementing a flood control program in the City of Ottawa. He shared the success of the program in Ottawa that had just recently been implemented before last spring’s rain created record flooding in the area. Despite the record flooding, the city sustained minor damage.
After learning about the success of Ottawa’s program, Sen. Rezin was impressed and felt that the information should be shared with all local government officials in her district in order to better prepare for future flooding.
Sutfin said Ottawa was able to avoid the kind of flood damage other areas experienced last spring due to three steps. First, the city joined the Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management which provided the city with a wealth of information and data. The city then had one city worker – Sutfin – become a certified floodplain manager. Sutfin mentioned it was important that cities have someone who is able to read a floodplain map and manage a flood-control program. Lastly, the city participated in a rating program to get city residents flood insurance at the cheapest possible rates.
Sen. Rezin and Sutfin now want to add a fourth step to the program and have the entire area work together to implement the same procedures to protect everyone in the flood zone.
At the end of the meeting, Sen. Rezin asked how many of the city officials would be interested in joining such a coalition committed to flood control in the region. Every hand went up.
Sen. Rezin was pleased and highly encouraged by the meeting and hopes that it is a strong first step towards ensuring better preparation for flooding and the protection of buildings and lives in the area. She also noted that more meetings would be held in the future.
Sen. Rezin is pictured above speaking at the flood meeting at Ottawa City Hall on Feb. 12.
Governor’s plan reveals $10 billion deficit
Even a one-year budget was expected to present a challenge, as a major portion of the 67% income tax hike, which went into effect in 2011, will expire midway through the coming budget year.
In January, the Governor’s budget office issued three-year projections predicting the state’s backlog of unpaid bills will increase by $10 billion by 2017 under a Quinn administration. That forecast also showed the Governor’s office plans to run up annual deficits exceeding $4 billion in 2016 and $4.5 billion the next year.
While previous projections predicted spending would be held level or cut, the January plan showed substantial spending hikes – increasing spending by more than $2.3 billion – despite reduced revenues.
Bill introduction deadline
With a Valentine’s Day deadline for legislative proposals to be introduced in the Illinois Senate, hundreds of measures were being filed. By the first week of February, nearly 500 new bills had been filed since the first of the year with hundreds more expected before the Feb. 14 deadline.
One measure introduced by Sen. Rezin seeks to help animal shelters and stores across the country better screen potential animal owners.
Senate Bill 3138 would create an Animal Abuse Registry in Illinois. This is part of a national effort to identify persons convicted of animal abuse crimes and share that information with shelters, rescues, pet stores and individuals. Information would be available in one database to make it easier to screen potential adopters and customers.
Look for more information about this legislation to come.
Listed below is a sampling of some of the other topics under consideration:
Workers’ Compensation Reform (Senate Bills 2623, 2624, 2625 and 2626): The chief measure in this package is SB 2624, an omnibus bill that incorporates several major reforms designed to address issues identified both in a major report from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and in a 2012 report to legislative leaders from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Sunday Car Sales (SB 2629): Repeals the prohibition that has prevented Illinois consumers from being able to buy cars on Sundays.
Sex Offenders (SB 2912): Imposes tougher penalties on sex offenders who fail to notify authorities when they lose work. The legislation was prompted by a request from an assistant state's attorney at the McLean County State's Attorney's office. The bill is in response to a court decision that identified a loophole in state law. A 'change in employment' is a reportable event under existing statute, but a 'loss of employment' does not trigger the same reporting requirement.
Concealed Carry (Senate Bills 3141, 3142 and 3143): While the Illinois State Police are still in the process of reviewing applications and no concealed carry permits have yet been issued, there is no shortage of legislation to change the law. Both gun control advocates and Second Amendment proponents have filed measures to make changes. These bills (SB 3141, 3142 and 3143) would lift some bans on carrying firearms in parks and on public transportation.
Mental Health Records (SB 3123): Allows a court to order that a spouse, child, or parent of a person receiving treatment for mental health or developmental disabilities be notified, without the consent of the recipient, whenever there is a change in the recipient’s treatment plan.
Armed Violence (SB 3101): Changes the Criminal Code definition of a “Category III weapon” to include a bludgeon, black-jack, slungshot, sand-bag, sand-club, metal knuckles, billy or similar items. A “slungshot” is a throwing device that has a heavy weight attached to one end.
Estate Tax (SB 2837): This measure seeks to ease the estate planning burdens on family farms and small businesses by re-coupling Illinois' Estate Tax, or Death Tax, to federal law. For many years, the taxing threshold in Illinois for things like farmland and business assets was identical to, or coupled with, the federal government guidelines. When Democrat leaders passed a record tax hike in early 2011, they decoupled the state rate from the federal rate, raising tax liability for families that own farms and small businesses in Illinois. This legislation would once again “couple” the state’s rate to the federal rate beginning January 1, 2015.
Digging deeper: fleeing Illinois
On the heels of recent reports showing Illinois losing population through out-migration, Forbes Online Magazine recently took a deeper look at the trends behind the numbers. In a recent article, The States People Are Fleeing In 2014, Forbes dug into Illinois’ status as the No. 2 state for out-migration.
Professor Michael Stoll, chair of the Department of Public Policy at the University of California Los Angeles, told Forbes over time Illinois has lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs and a quarter of its jobs in construction.
Stoll noted the state’s unemployment rate may be much greater than the already high official 8.9% rate, explaining the Labor Department ceases to count people as unemployed once they stop pursuing work or accept a part-time job, which he said is the case when examining the state’s long term joblessness.
Jobless rates rise in most metro areas
A continuing slowdown in manufacturing is being credited for job losses and higher unemployment rates in nearly all of Illinois’ metropolitan areas during the past year.
A recent report by the state Department of Employment Security compared unemployment rates in December 2013 to unemployment rates in December 2012.
Unemployment increased the most in Danville, where the rate jumped from 10 percent to 12.2 percent, and in Peoria, where the jobless rate rose from 8.2 percent to 9.2 percent.
Unemployment fell in the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville and Davenport-Moline-Rock Island areas. The Chicago rate dropped from 8.6 percent in December 2012 to 8.2 percent in December 2013. In the Rock Island area, the jobless rate dropped from 7.0 percent to 6.8 percent.
New layoffs announced
Significant layoffs are planned at a number of Illinois companies. Illinois’ Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires employers with 75 or more employees who are planning plant closures or mass layoffs to notify the state 60 days in advance of their actions.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting more than 500 workers will lose their jobs in the latest round of layoffs at companies which must comply with the WARN Act.
A notice posted by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which overseas compliance with the Act, indicates all of the layoffs are permanent.
Schools consider “Act of God” to avoid longer school year
Record wind chills and continuous snowfall has led to hundreds of school closings across the state—prompting many school districts to consider applying for “Act of God” exemptions that would allow them to forgo making up excess missed days without penalty of losing state funding.
To retain their state aid, school districts are required to build five “emergency days” into each year’s academic calendar to ensure students attend 176 days. If those five days are exhausted, districts can request approval for “Act of God” exemptions that do not have to be made up during the year.
State law requires districts to apply for an exemption within 30 days of the missed school day.
ISBE reports there have already been over 400 Act of God exemption requests this year, and 100 more are pending as severe cold weather continues. A list of local school district calendars can be found on the Illinois State Board of Education website.
Senate President warns Chicago Teachers
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) may have been appearing before the Chicago City Club on Feb. 10, but his real audience seemed to be Chicago teachers and their union.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Cullerton said the public schools’ annual pension payment is expected to swell $417 million over the amount paid last year, to $613 million and warned, “The bulk of the money comes, likely, out of the classroom resulting in drastic teacher layoffs and increased class sizes.”
Cullerton’s comments were widely viewed as a warning to teachers and their representatives that they need to either negotiate reduced pension benefits or have reductions imposed on them.
Illinois-based manufacturers snubbed for IDOT contract
Several Midwestern states are currently in the process of implementing “high speed” rail service for passenger usage.
And, while Illinois boasts two of the world’s largest railway equipment manufacturers, the Illinois Department of Transportation’s recent contract award for 35 locomotives went to German-based Siemens, Inc.
Both Electro-Motive Diesel Inc., a subsidiary of Peoria’s Caterpillar, and Mt. Vernon’s National Railway Equipment Company lost out. Additionally, a third Illinois-based company GE Transportation in Chicago, which had entered into an agreement with a Pennsylvania firm – was denied the contract as well.
COWL scholarship applications now available
Sen. Rezin said the Conference of Women Legislators (COWL) is now accepting scholarship applications. The COWL Scholarship seeks to maximize educational opportunities for all income levels by offering tuition assistance to mature, deserving women who show evidence of furthering their education in order to make a contribution to their government, children, families and community. The one-year undergraduate scholarship will cover tuition, books and fees up to $2500 per year.
Applicants must be 25 years of age or older, be an Illinois resident, and plan to attend an accredited on-campus school in Illinois for at least six semester hours. Online colleges are not eligible.
Deadline for application is March 31, 2014.
For more information and to learn how to apply, visit www.cowlil.com.