End of Session Wrap Up

End of Session Wrap Up

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BUDGET
Democrats pass $42.3 billion budget full of pork, pay raises and higher taxes. Minutes before midnight on the May 31 deadline, House Democrats passed a $42.3 billion State budget for Fiscal Year 2022. Their budget adds a billion dollars in pork projects for Democrat districts, includes a nearly $1,200 pay raise for legislators, and raises taxes on Illinois businesses by more than $650 million. 
Showing their utter disdain for Illinois taxpayers and the legislative process, the Democratic supermajority rammed their tax-and-spend budget through in less than 24 hours. House Democrats filed their first budget amendment after 12:30 AM on Monday, May 31 (Memorial Day). Their final budget amendment was filed less than an hour before the midnight deadline for passage. Democrats moved to suspend the
House Rule 21 notice requirement so they could vote on the final budget prior to the deadline. Legislators and the public were given no time to review the budget before final passage.

The Democrats’ tax-and-spend budget was drafted behind closed doors, at the last minute, without any openness, transparency or accountability to the taxpayers. In an affront to the legislative process, Democrats ended debate on their massive spending bill in less than 15 minutes. Republicans were allowed one speaker, Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer, who was abruptly cut off so that the ruling party could ram their budget through by the midnight deadline. The FY22 Budget and capital plan were contained in SB 2800, approved by the House on a partisan vote of 72-44-1.

House Republicans wish we could say this was unexpected, or something we haven’t seen before, but we all know this is a familiar playbook. We began this spring session with the promise of a new day from the new Speaker of the House, the start of a new era marked by transparency and bipartisan work across the aisle.

We took this promise to heart and our caucus participated in working groups and tried to engage in the process of crafting a truly bipartisan and balanced budget for the people of Illinois.

Unfortunately, former Speaker Madigan’s playbook has proven hard to throw out. This familiar playbook is exactly why, when House Republicans introduced our package of reforms earlier this year, we proposed that all appropriations bills should be thoroughly vetted through both chambers with a mandatory amount of time for public comment.

Transparency, especially in our budgeting process, is vital to the fiscal health of our state. What we witnessed on Memorial Day was a huge disappointment for many reasons. We haven’t seen any honest attempt at addressing key issues with a huge impact on the budgeting process including meaningful pension reform and property tax relief.

For years, we have heard constituents tell us that property taxes in this state are too high, and for years, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly has failed to provide relief.

Similarly, pensions eat up roughly a quarter of the state’s budget, but no meaningful attempt has been made to rein in this ballooning cost. The longer we wait to enact meaningful pension reform, the greater the risk to the essential government services that people depend on.

Any budget that fails to address these priorities can never be truly balanced and falls short of what the people of this state deserve.

Many years of unbalanced budgets and wasteful spending put Illinois in a dire financial situation. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be the year that changes. Democrats are adding hundreds of millions in new discretionary spending and asking businesses in Illinois to pay for it.

Democrats are relying on four tax increases on Illinois businesses in an effort to feed their insatiable spending appetite. These tax increases, which total more than $650 million, include:

  • reinstating the onerous and burdensome franchise tax on any business making more than $1,000; 
  • capping the amount of losses business can deduct;
  • stifling immediate investment in the economy by backloading when business can depreciate purchased assets; and
  • raising taxes on foreign income brought back to the U.S. from overseas.

Meanwhile the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund is running on fumes, with a $5 billion deficit in the Fund with no way to fill the hole – despite the fact that American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds can be directly deposited into the UI Trust Fund. Many other states did just that.

Illinois Democrats were more interested in funding their pork projects with the magic federal money, instead of using ARPA funds responsibly. Democrats added $1 billion in pork projects for their districts, paid for by federal ARPA funds meant to help states struggling with the negative fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Make no mistake about it, the $5 billion hole in the UI trust fund will have to be filled, and if APRA funds aren’t used, then it will come in the form of reduced benefits for laid-off workers and higher contributions from Illinois employers.

There was an opportunity this year to pass a truly balanced budget that met the State’s needs, with no new taxes. Instead, we are stuck with more taxes and nothing to change the trajectory of the failing Illinois economy.

ETHICS REFORM
Small steps taken on much-needed ethics reform. Illinois is in desperate need of comprehensive ethics reform to end the culture of corruption in our state. In just the past two years, several current and former state legislators have been indicted on federal corruption charges. These scandals came to a head with the indictments of multiple Madigan insiders and the naming of former House Speaker Michael J. Madigan as “Public Official A” in the Commonwealth Edison Deferred Prosecution Agreement. Just last week, Madigan’s longtime chief of staff and former Clerk of the House Tim Mapes was indicted for lying under oath during the grand jury’s investigation of ComEd’s admitted bribery scheme benefitting Madigan.

For years, House Republicans have been the loudest voice in Springfield for reforms that would address the rampant corruption that has plagued our state. This week, we got some crumbs from the majority party that has been the subject of so many federal investigations.

Senate Bill 539 is an ethics omnibus bill that contains a number of provisions included in the Democrats’ ethics bill from the January lame duck session. It creates a revised Statement of Economic Interest, which requires increased disclosure of assets, debts, creditors and income. It prohibits in-person fundraising on any day the legislature is in session, and the day before and the day after legislative session (in-person or virtual, covering the entire state).

The bill includes a six-month revolving door prohibition for legislators and executive branch officers and prohibits legislators from lobbying for compensation on behalf of a lobbyist or lobbying entity that is registered to lobby the General Assembly or Executive Branch. If they are not required to register to lobby the General Assembly, then the legislator may lobby a municipality, county or township.

SB 539 grants the Legislative Inspector General the ability to initiate an investigation without the approval of the Legislative Ethics Commission. It prohibits an individual who is appointed to a compensated position that requires Senate confirmation from having a candidate political committee or to be a candidate who is supported by that committee.

SB 539 passed the House by a vote of 113-5-0, with the Senate concurring on a vote of 59-0-0.

This legislation barely scratches the surface of what needs to be accomplished for ethics reform. Debate on the bill revealed that the revolving door prohibition outlined in the legislation would allow current members of the legislature to become lobbyists for the General Assembly one day after their retirement. This is not real reform. This is the status-quo!

The fact that we are considering an ethics bill at all is a step forward, the smallest step the Democratic majority would allow. While something is better than nothing, we must do so much more to close current loopholes in our state laws.

Illinois residents are tired of corruption in our statehouse; this bill does little to quell that fear, but rather, is the bare minimum that the House Democrats felt was allowable.

To restore public trust back in our government we have supported this first step in the right direction – where we can continue to make improvements to give the people of Illinois the government they deserve.

Too many legislators and public officials in Illinois have used their public service to cash in after, and in some cases, during their time in office. For current lawmakers, this will not change if this bill becomes law.

We could have done so much better. House Republicans have introduced more than three dozen ethics reforms in this General Assembly alone. Our ethics reform package is much tougher. We’re going to keep pushing for more reforms.

There is so much more work to do and House Republicans intend to lead the effort to clean up corruption and pass further reforms to tighten up economic interest disclosure statements, implement a true revolving door, and maybe, finally, one day, end corruption in Springfield and the State of Illinois.

REDISTRICTING
Gov. Pritzker breaks his promise to voters, signs partisan redistricting maps. As a candidate for governor in 2018, JB Pritzker was asked the following question regarding redistricting: “Will you pledge as governor to veto any state legislative redistricting map proposal that is in any way drafted or created by legislators, political party leaders and/or their staffs or allies?”

Then-candidate Pritzker’s verbatim response: “Yes, I will pledge to veto. We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, but in the meantime, I would urge Democrats and Republicans to agree to an independent commission to handle creating a new legislative map. That designated body should reflect the gender, racial, and geographic diversity of the state and look to preserve the Voting Rights Act decisions to ensure racial and language minorities are fully represented in the electoral process.”

Today, Governor Pritzker broke his promise to Illinois voters by signing into law partisan redistricting maps drafted and passed by House and Senate Democrats. These maps, drawn by Democrats behind closed doors, were crafted using incomplete and flawed data, and were then passed through the legislature less than 24 hours after being released. The Democratic supermajority ignored the repeated requests and testimony from nonpartisan reform groups that the legislature should wait until the U.S. Census data is released in August before drafting the legislative maps for the next decade. A flawed process produced a flawed result.

The House and Senate Republicans repeatedly urged the Governor to uphold his promise and veto these partisan maps. Governor Pritzker chose to break his promise to the voters. The Governor chose to side with his Democratic allies over the will of the people of Illinois.

“Today, Gov. Pritzker affirmed to all Illinois families why they can’t trust him to run the state,” said Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie.

“By signing this map, created using flawed data and drawn by political insiders, the governor broke the promise he made to the people of Illinois. He also proved that he cares more about keeping power for his political friends than fair elections where the people of Illinois can pick their elected officials, instead of politicians picking their voters. He proved today that he’s just another old-school, tax-raising politician who cannot be trusted.”

“As a member of the House Redistricting Committee, we repeatedly heard from government reform advocates to use US census data and that they would require two weeks to provide adequate public review of the new map to see if it meets Voting Rights Act compliance,” said Rep. Ryan Spain. “This is why Governor Pritzker broke his promise after only one week; before Democrats’ lies could be exposed as the deception Democrats intended to perpetrate all along. Through bad data, fake transparency and false urgency, Pritzker, Welch, and other Democrats pulled the wool over voters’ eyes. They assume they can get away with it because this is Illinois. The next election must be a referendum on whether voters will openly permit their own politicians to lie to them.”

ELECTION LAW
2022 Primary moved to June; Democrats enact partisan changes to Illinois’ election laws. Further highlighting the blatantly partisan nature of their legislative redistricting maps, Illinois Democrats enacted omnibus elections legislation that will move the 2022 General Primary to June 28 (from March 15). This change was necessary because the U.S. Census data will not be released until August, thereby delaying passage of U.S. Congressional redistricting maps.

Senate Bill 825 contained the omnibus elections law changes. In addition to moving the 2022 Primary date, Democrats added “vote-by-jail” language that will allow jails outside of Cook County to set up polling places in their facilities. The bill allows election authorities to create permanent vote-by-mail lists that voters may opt into, as well as accessible vote-by-mail procedures to enable a voter with a disability to independently and privately mark their ballot.

The omnibus legislation makes Election Day (November 8, 2022) a state holiday for schools and universities and requires closed schools to be available for use as polling places. It requires high schools to permit voter registration on premises and provide application information to students. It requires every county to have at least one universal voting center for the 2022 Primary and General elections. The legislation extends the county deadline for redistricting to December 31, 2021 (from July 1) and allows counties to use reasonable data including the most recent ACS 5-year data (currently, counties are required to use census data).

In a particularly egregious example of legalizing previously illegal activity, SB 825 allows political committees to use funds to make expenditures related to vehicles not owned or leased by the committee. This change was made after the current Auditor General’s former political committee spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on vehicle servicing and repairs during his decades in office as a state representative.

Senate Bill 825 passed the House by a vote of 72-46-0, with the Senate concurring by a vote of 41-18-0.

EDUCATION
General Assembly passes legislation to end practice of student restraint and isolated “time outs.” Educators face continuous challenges in maintaining classroom order and discipline. One method that school personnel are allowed to use is to remove a child from a school setting for a “time out.” A November 2019 investigation, by the Chicago Tribune and by the freelance investigative service ProPublica, showed that in some cases, schools turned “time outs” into terrifying episodes of solitary confinement. In other cases, students were physically restrained by adults.

In 2020, lawmakers inquired into the allegations and held hearings on the controversial practices. After an extended discussion that included participation by many stakeholders, including teachers and parents at schools that specialize in teaching children with challenges, legislators crafted language aimed at protecting students and teachers by preventing misuse of these methods of discipline. A bipartisan agreed bill, which won unanimous support in the Illinois General Assembly, will almost completely ban the use of isolated child solitary confinement and physical restraints upon children.

The time-out bill was passed by both chambers as HB 219, approved by the House by a unanimous vote of 114-0-0. The measure now goes to the Governor’s desk for final action.

GAMING
Illinois House advances major changes to State gaming law, Senate action awaited. Illinois’ current gaming law is based on big moves enacted in 2019. To meet consumer demand, Illinois legalized sports wagering, expanded video gaming machine numbers, asked the Illinois Gaming Board to look into legalizing several new casino locations, and authorized existing casinos to move from floating locations to land-based operations. New tax revenues from these expansions were dedicated to the Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan.

The 2020 pandemic showed that some of these changes will take time to fulfill. Others facets of gaming expansion jumped into existence almost at once, despite a challenging year. The sharp growth in Illinois sports wagering was a matter of particular note. New gaming legislation advanced by the Illinois House at the end of the 2021 spring session takes account of the new data that has come in since 2019. If the House language becomes law, Illinoisans will be allowed to place bets on Illinois college teams for the first time. The Chicago Sky WNBA team, through their use of Wintrust Arena, was added to the list of sports teams that will be allowed to sponsor sports wagering platforms.

Video gaming players are threatened by moves, in some Illinois municipalities, to enact local “push taxes” that will impose a small tax every time a video game button is pushed to start a play. The House’s bill, SB 521 as amended, bans enactment of “push taxes” by local governments. The measure also authorizes the meeting places of U.S. veterans, and the meeting places of fraternal organizations (such as the Elks Club or the Knights of Columbus) to apply for the right to host video gaming terminals in communities that do not have any machines right now.

The gaming bill language was included in SB 521, as amended in the House. When the House approved the measure on Tuesday, June 1 by a vote of 96-11-1, the vote sent the measure to the Illinois Senate for further debate and action.

GUNS
No final action on FOID/CCL changes. Competing proposals in the House and Senate that would have made sweeping changes to Illinois’ gun laws were held up at the end of the May session.

House Bill 1091, backed by anti-gun House Democrats, would ban private transfers of firearms, require fingerprints for FOID applications and renewals, double the application fee of a FOID to $20 while halving the duration to five years, and increase the processing time for FOID cards. These proposals would make it more difficult and expensive for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights. HB 1091 narrowly passed the House by a vote of 60-50-0, but was held in the House by a parliamentary motion to reconsider the vote.

House Bill 562, as amended in the Senate, would incentivize voluntary fingerprinting for FOID applications and renewals, provide for the automatic renewal of FOID cards for people that have voluntarily supplied fingerprints to the Illinois State Police, combine and synchronize FOID/CCL into one card, and require background checks for the private transfer of firearms. HB 562 passed the Senate by a vote of 40-17-0, but was not called for concurrence in the House prior to adjournment.

COVID-19
More than one-half of Illinois adults are now fully vaccinated against coronavirus. As of this week, more than 11.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Illinois. Nearly 51% of Illinois adults are now fully vaccinated, and more than two-thirds – 67% – of Illinois adults – have received at least one dose.

Hospitalizations and deaths continue from COVID-19. The great majority of these outcomes are occurring in patients who have not been vaccinated. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported on Thursday, June 3, that 997 Illinoisans were reported to be hospital inpatients with COVID-19. Of these patients, 273 were in intensive care units (ICUs), and 154 were on ventilators, a condition that with coronavirus indicates very serious illness. Twenty-four COVID-19 death were reported over the most recent 24-hour period, including three individuals aged in their 30s.

Public health leaders continue to urge all eligible adults to get the free vaccination services provided by health care providers statewide. All persons age 12 and up are now eligible for vaccination.

HEALTH CARE
New permanent Illinois telehealth law. Illinois’ proposed telehealth law applies to the medical procedures covered by workplace-based health care insurance and insurers, not Medicaid. As approved by the General Assembly, HB 3308 gives health insurers the tools and legal standing to negotiate future contracts with medical care providers and employers. Under these future contracts, some of the contacts between a doctor or other health care providers on the one hand, and a patient on the other, can be done over a video screen.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these contacts were successfully completed by video conferencing throughout Illinois. Patients were happy to know that they were getting professional medical care and advice from home without putting themselves in potential harm’s way. HB 3308 will make this telehealth care pathway permanent in Illinois. HB 3308 was approved by the House by a vote of 118-0-0 and sent to the Governor for final action.

JOBS
Illinois House demands that Pritzker administration reopen State unemployment offices. Taxpayer-funded offices, operated by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), are supposed to help unemployed Illinoisans navigate the notoriously cumbersome process of applying for unemployment benefits, including unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Visitors to the offices also get advice on how to work towards new employment, including career changes when necessary. However, since March 2020 these IDES offices have been closed to the public. Pleading danger from the COVID-19 pandemic, IDES offices have been closed for almost fifteen months ago, and have not yet reopened.

The Department has tried to replace the services traditionally provided by their now-closed offices with a set of telephone banks and help lines. However, Illinoisans have told legislators that they often have to wait long periods of time to talk to IDES personnel on the telephone. Furthermore, filing a valid UI application often requires the applicant to produce paperwork, such as identification paperwork and documentation of proof-of-prior-employment. Senior IDES personnel have issued vague promises and assurances that they would reopen their network of in-person service offices, but they have not been able to set any date to actually implement this reopening.

House Republicans have repeatedly called out the Department for their failure to commit to a reopening timeline. With constituent pressures rising for all Illinois lawmakers, the Illinois House adopted a resolution this week to urge Gov. Pritzker to reopen the IDES service offices immediately. Representative Joe Sosnowski sponsored House Resolution 226 to pressure the Governor and the IDES to reopen local offices throughout the state for in-person services to assist Illinois residents with unemployment claims. In floor debate, Sosnowski pointed out that many other facets of Illinois state government, headed by the Secretary of State’s drivers’ license offices, have successfully reopened. On Saturday, May 29, HR 226 was approved by the House by a vote of 108-0-1.

LABOR
Constitutional amendment on workers’ rights to be placed on November 2022 ballot. The language of SJRCA 11applies to the Bill of Rights within the Illinois Constitution. The amendment, if approved by voters in 2022, would provide that employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work. The proposed constitutional amendment would ban right-to-work laws and ordinances at the state and local level.

The right of an employee to join a union and participate in its organizing work is already protected by existing law, and critics pointed out the taxpayer expense of putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot, calling the exercise unnecessary. The House vote on SJRCA 11, held on May 26, was 80-30-3.

TRANSPORTATION
Illinois trailer fees reduced, vehicle trade-in cap eliminated. In a rare victory for Illinois taxpayers, the General Assembly passed legislation that will sharply reduce trailer license fees and restore the full vehicle trade-in credit.

As reported by Capitol News Illinois: The Illinois House passed a bill that would lower small trailer license fees from $118 to $36, which lawmakers said on the House floor Sunday could remedy an issue that has resulted in an uproar of complaints from their constituents.

In 2019, lawmakers raised the fee for licensing a small trailer in Illinois from $18 to $118 as part of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan.

Senate Bill 58, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, lowers the annual fee to a compromise $36, along with removing a $10,000 cap on sales tax credits on vehicle trade-ins.

Multiple proposals for lowering the trailer fee were filed this session, including House Bill 36, sponsored by Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Collinsville, and House Bill 636, sponsored by Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville.

Both of these proposals were held up in the House Revenue and Finance Committee as lawmakers worked on a compromise.

Stuart and Bourne’s bills would have lowered the fee back to the previous cost of $18. But the Transportation for Illinois Coalition – a group of statewide and regional business, organized labor, industry, governmental and nonprofit organizations which lobbied for the capital bill’s passage in 2019 – warned that lowering the fees would take revenue away from state construction projects.

Lawmakers reached a unanimously approved compromise by raising the certificate title fee by $5, from $150 to $155, to replace the revenues lost from the lowered trailer fee. The certificate title fee is only paid when titles are transferred for registered vehicles.

“I think this is long overdue as a correction,” Bourne said on the House floor. “I wish it was down to $18, but we can’t get everything we want in this building. Hopefully this helps everyone who has gotten calls about the trailer fee.”

Bourne also clarified with Evans that individuals could keep their same license plate and simply renew it under the bill.

SB 58 also restores the full credit trade-in rates that had been capped at $10,000.

 

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