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Week in Review: Senate Finishes First Week of "Lame-duck" Session; Sandack, Other Officials Meet with Quinn on Pension Reform

A compiled review of Senate activities from the week.

Springfield, Ill. – Despite speculation that a long list of controversial measures might be undertaken, the Illinois Senate wrapped up the first days of the "lame-duck" January session with most major proposals sitting on the sidelines, according to State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove).

Major pension reform untouched in Senate
Chief among the proposals not addressed was major pension reform. Senate lawmakers saw the first two days of the session fade away with no plan or movement toward major reform.

Absent other alternatives, in the final hours of Jan. 3, Senators revisited a limited reform that would affect only state employees and the General Assembly. House Bill 1447 passed in the spring, but was never brought to a vote in the House of Representatives. In the lame-duck session, lawmakers sent a follow-up bill to the House that would keep that option open by adjusting the dates when the reforms would take effect.

Sandack, other state and local officials meet with Gov. Quinn on pension reform
Sen. Sandack joined fellow suburban lawmakers and DuPage County officials for a meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn on Jan. 4 to discuss the push for comprehensive pension reform before the end of the 97th General Assembly.  The unfunded liabilities of Illinois’ pension system grown by $17.1 million every day and continues to squeeze out funding for crucial state services such as education, health care, and public safety from the state budget.  

Sen. Sandack has long advocated for pension reform, calling it the most crucial issue facing the state.  

“Reforming the five public pension plans is undoubtedly the most important priority facing the state,” Sen. Sandack said.  “This has been true for at least over a year.  I find it highly unlikely that it will be addressed in the lame-duck session, but it is my hope that it will happen early on in the 98th General Assembly.  I appreciated the Governor’s meeting with us today and I look forward to finding a bipartisan solution to this massive problem affecting us all.”

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, who served in the General Assembly for almost 20 years, attended the meeting and also stressed the need for pension reform.

“Illinois' pension disaster is a statewide problem, not a Springfield problem,” Chairman Cronin said. “The consequences of this crisis know no boundaries and the solution should have no sole ownership or obligation. Taxpayers expect all of us who serve in public office – from the statehouse all the way down to here at the county and local level – to step up and support meaningful reform measures. The future viability of our state depends on it.”

Other legislators in attendance include: Sen. Tom Johnson, Rep. Darlene Senger, Rep. Chris Nybo, Rep. Michael Fortner, Rep. Jim Durkin, Rep. Michael Connelly, Rep. Patti Bellock, Rep. Franco Coladipietro, Rep. Randy Ramey, and Rep. Dennis Reboletti.  

The 97th General Assembly is scheduled to end the legislative session on Jan. 9.

Gun control measures stall in Senate
Gun rights advocates scored a major victory when two anti-gun measures were shelved, Sen. Sandack said. House Bill 1263 would ban semi-automatic weapons while House Bill 815 would ban ammunition clips containing more than 10 rounds. Nearly 200 witnesses registered their opposition to the measure in a Senate committee.

In addition to banning ammunition clips, both House Bill 815 and House Bill 1263 also imposed major new requirements on recreational shooting ranges.

Fate of same-sex marriage legislation uncertain
Although there was much discussion prior to the start of the lame-duck session that gambling expansion, legalization of medical marijuana and same-sex marriage would all be on the agenda, only same-sex marriage surfaced in the Senate. House Bill 4963 was approved by the Senate Executive Committee, but the sponsor elected not to call it for a final vote. While the measure could still be voted on before the new General Assembly is sworn in Jan. 9, supporters indicated they would likely wait until spring to revisit the issue.

Parliamentary maneuver derails state employee unionization restrictions
A measure to that seeks to address the high costs associated with the state's growing number of unionized public employees won approval, but then was held using a parliamentary maneuver. Senate Bill 1556 prohibits some state employees, including liaisons, lawyers and legislative employees, from joining unions and also gives the Governor the authority to set aside as non-union positions some workers that report directly to his office. The measure allows the Governor to remove some employees from unions who joined over the past four years.

After the bill was approved, a senator filed a "motion to reconsider" which effectively prevents the measure from being sent to the Governor until the Senate acts on his motion.

While most of the "headline" proposals failed to materialize, a number of other bills were addressed in the Senate. These included:

Affordable Homes Program Extension (HB 5019): Extends the Making Home Affordable Program to Jan. 1, 2014 (was Jan. 1, 2013). Also, delays the effective date of sections that concern the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

CDB Repeal Legislation (SB 281): Addresses a situation relating to P.A. 97-786, which took effect on July 13, 2012, and changed the repeal date of the Capital Development Board Act from June 30, 2012, to June 30, 2016. There was a gap in time between June 30 and July 13 where the law would have been considered repealed. This amendment establishes that the intent of the General Assembly was that Section 9.02a of the Capital Development Board Act was not to be subject to repeal on June 30, 2012, and that it is deemed to have been in continuous effect since June 30, 1988, and will continue to be in effect henceforward until it is otherwise lawfully repealed.

Chicago Parking Lots (HB 5547):
Allows the City of Chicago to charge parking taxes on a percentage basis, rather than as a flat tax.

Chicago Parking Lots Follow-up (HB 4148): States that Cook County or Chicago can’t charge parking taxes to free parking lots, i.e. supermarkets, retail stores, etc.
 
E911 Sunset Extension (SB 1543): Extends the sunset of the Wireless Emergency Telephone Safety Act from April 1, 2013, to July 1, 2013.

Budget Implementation (HB 2891): Changes the date of the Governor's annual budget address to March 6, rather than Feb. 20. Transfers up to $9.6 million into the state's Medical Disciplinary Fund to cover a shortfall. Nearly $12 million has been taken out of the fund over the last 10 years to pay for other state programs. Transfers $151 million from General Revenue Funds to be used for Medicaid payments. Requires the Governor's budget office to submit an annual report detailing fund transfers.

First Informer Broadcasters (HB 5528): Allows broadcasters in Illinois to cooperate with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency or the Illinois Broadcasters Association in coordinating plans for and responding to an emergency or disaster. First Informer Broadcasters will be allowed access in an emergency to transmit essential emergency or disaster-related public information programming.

FOID Card Exemption (HB 1237): Establishes procedures by which an active law enforcement officer employed by a unit of government, who is denied, revoked, or has his or her Firearm Owner's Identification Card seized because the officer had been a patient in a mental institution within the past five years, may apply to the Director of State Police requesting relief if the officer did not act in a manner threatening to the officer, another person, or the public.
 
Fraternal Order of Police License Plate (HB 2842): Includes a provision that requires the approval of the Illinois State Police before a person may renew a Fraternal Order of Police License Plate. ISP wants to make certain people are paying membership dues annually before they can have this plate.

Hall High School District 502 Bond Issuance (SB 3297): Allows Hall High School District 502 to exceed its statutory debt limit by issuing bonds with an aggregate principal amount not to exceed $32 million, as long as five specific conditions are met. The school would like to finance construction of a new school, since the current building has been deemed a health hazard.

HMO Deductible Plan (SB 3233): Permits HMOs to begin to offer plans that have a deductible, subject to annual limits set by federal law.

Liquor Licenses (HB 3450): Grants three special exemptions to the state law prohibiting liquor sales within 100 feet of churches and hospitals. The exemptions are all for Chicago restaurants. Also allows Illinois State University to serve liquor at events that are not student-related activities. Seeks to resolve a disagreement affecting craft distillers, by allowing them to distill up to 30,000 gallons annually, increasing to 35,000 gallons after one year. Also allows the craft distillers to sell up to 2,500 gallons themselves (amounts over that must be through a licensed retailer).

Medical Malpractice (HB 5151): Brings the state statutes into line with Illinois Supreme Court decisions rejecting past medical malpractice reforms. Replaces a sliding scale of contingency fee limits for attorneys with a cap of 33 1/3% of all sums recovered. Also deletes provisions for court review of contingent fee agreements for fairness.

Mental Health committee (HB 2105): States that a township doesn't have to provide direct mental health services to be exempt from having to appoint a mental health advisory committee, but may merely fund such services and also be exempt from the requirement. Current law requires county board chairman (other than Cook County) or township supervisors in Cook County to appoint a volunteer seven-member mental health advisory committee, if no community mental health board has been established in the county or township as provided under the Community Mental Health Act. Townships that currently provide mental health services are exempt from this mandate.

Open Meetings Training (HB 5315): Authorizes a commissioner of a drainage district or a director of a soil and water conservation district, to satisfy training requirements of the Open Meetings Act through an alternative training arrangement, such as a conference or group training, rather than electronic training.

Sex Abuse (HB 6193): Expands the areas of continuing professional development for teachers to include training programs on sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention. Also requires schools to provide age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention curriculum in grades Pre-K through 12.
 
Transfers Anti-Violence Program (HB 3816): Transfers the controversial Neighborhood Recovery program from the Illinois Violence Prevention Agency to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
 
West Northfield School District Aggregate Extension Base (HB 5495): Adds an exemption to the PTELL limits for the West Northfield School District #32 to address a situation wherein the school district is stating that even after a recent referendum to raise money, the school district is still $1.2 million short of what they anticipated. This shortfall is due to the fact that the school district opted for a Limited Rate Referendum not anticipating the decrease in Equalized Assessed Value, which dramatically affected their projected income. Rather than advance another referendum (as the law states) to ask for more money from taxpayers, in order to recover that lost revenue, the school district wants the Legislature to give them permission to levy taxes directly.

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