I introduced legislation in 2009 that would call for an autonomous, non-political entity to draw the district boundaries using computer technology to remove politics from the process. Senate Joint Resolution-Constitutional Amendment 78 would require the State Board of Elections to produce a redistricting plan using a computer program. Any map-drawing program should apply the following criteria:
• Create substantial equality of population;
• Comply with applicable federal laws to ensure that the interests of racial minorities are protected;
• Require contiguity and compactness of districts; and
• Minimize the number of districts that cross county or municipal boundaries.
SJRCA 78 was never allowed a public hearing by Democrat legislative leaders, but there is a current alternative sponsored by Senate and House Republicans that would put the mapmaking process in the hands of an independent commission.
SJRCA 104 mirrors the Fair Map Amendment favored by the Illinois League of Women Voters and other reform advocates. It would allow for public input through hearings and the timely display of proposed legislative maps. However, SJRCA 104 was voted down by a Senate Committee April 12.
Last year, the Senate held public hearings across the state to begin discussions about the redistricting process. Scholars at several Illinois universities and think tanks have advocated for redistricting to be handled more transparently and through a nonpartisan third party.
For more information on the redistricting process, please visit www.gerrymandering.senategop.net.
PENSION REFORMS NOW LAW
Also this week, bipartisan pension reform legislation was signed into law. Senate Bill 1946 (PA 96-0889) will not affect existing public employees. Beginning next year, new employees will be subject to a higher retirement age, limits on cost-of-living adjustments when they retire and an imposed ceiling on the maximum earnings that can be counted toward their pensions.
This bill was pushed through the General Assembly in a single day when threats of a major credit downgrade motivated majority Democrats and Governor Pat Quinn to action.
Under Quinn, the budget deficit has increased to at least $13 billion with close to $9 billion in unpaid bills continuing to add up. His mismanagement and failure to advance a solution to the state’s budget problems have contributed to the worst credit rating in Illinois history.
TAX CREDITS FOR NEW WORKERS
On April 13, legislation was signed that will enable the Governor to grant up to $50 million in job creation tax credits to small-business owners who hire new workers. Senate Bill 1578 (PA 96-0888) allows employers a credit against their liability for employee withholding. Businesses employing fewer than 50 workers would receive a $2,500 tax credit for each new employee hired between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011. Workers must stay in the job for at least one year and earn a minimum of $25,000. Proponents say that the measure could stimulate up to 20,000 new jobs.
BILL WOULD LINK CANDIDATES
On April 14, the Senate Elections Committee approved House Bill 5820, which would require the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to run together as a team in the Primary Election. Critics say the legislation prevents voters from choosing the one person they believe would be the best candidate for either one of the offices. Proponents say that linking the positions would require voters to choose a team of candidates they most believe in, and will promote additional examination of Lieutenant Governor candidates.
House Bill 5820 was introduced in response to the controversy surrounding the 2010 Democrat primary election victory of Scott Lee Cohen. Cohen’s personal history was subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism following his primary win, and he ultimately dropped out of the race. However, the incident prompted some lawmakers to pursue legislation that seeks to ensure Lieutenant Governor candidates are more adequately vetted prior to an election. Some people have proposed eliminating the position altogether.