TOUGH ISSUES LEFT FOR ‘LAME DUCK’ SESSION
The Senate wrapped up its annual veto session December 5, acting on big issues such as road safety bill legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license, while leaving other prominent proposals—such as gambling and pensions—until early next year.
The Senate and House of Representatives will return to Springfield January 3 and are scheduled to work through January 10.
Legislative leaders hope to push through more controversial bills in the waning days of the 97th General Assembly, known as the “lame duck” session. Bills only need a simple majority to pass in January, as opposed to the three-fifths approval needed to advance legislation during the fall veto session.
HOUSE DOES NOT VOTE ON FUNDING
Despite the best efforts of local and state leaders, it seems that correctional centers in Tamms and Dwight, halfway houses in Decatur and Carbondale, and juvenile detention facilities in Murphysboro and Joliet could be closing.
The Senate had voted November 28 to restore an estimated $56 million vetoed by Governor Pat Quinn, but the House failed to act before it adjourned December 5 on legislation that would have overturned the Governor’s spending cuts for these facilities.
Without House action, the cuts stand.
PENSION REFORM LARGEST ISSUE
Pension reform remains the single largest issue facing the state. During the week, a coalition of House members floated a plan that was viewed as significant, not because of its specific provisions, but because it seemed to demonstrate that a number of rank-and-file lawmakers were ready to accept unpleasant choices in order to address the problem.
Illinois has the worst-funded pension system in the nation, driven largely by massive borrowing and the skipping of payments over the last decade under both Governors Quinn and Rod Blagojevich.
Governor Quinn has said he wants to address the problem during the first weeks of January. In November, he launched a new Web site, released videos and even created an official reform character, Squeezy the Pension Python, to build support for reforms, but has not unveiled a plan of his own.
CNN FINDS MISUSE OF FUNDS
Months after lawmakers called for an audit of a state program that was spending millions of state dollars without apparent oversight, a CNN investigation has determined that taxpayer funds have been misused by Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
An audit of the program is currently being conducted, with a report expected by the Illinois Auditor General’s office in spring 2013. However, late last week Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was placed under the microscope by CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. A four-month CNN investigation found that the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative paid teens to hand out flyers promoting inner peace, to take field trips to museums, march in a parade with the Governor, and attend a yoga class.
When questions about the program were raised during the spring 2011 legislative session, the Governor’s Fiscal Year 2012 request for the program was reduced by 70% and funded at approximately $10 million. As a result, the Governor made three massive transfers of funds out of his FY11 discretionary GRF lump sums into the non-appropriated Illinois Violence Protection Authority Special Projects Fund. The total amount transferred was approximately $95 million.
SENATE VOTES FOR PUBLIC SAFETY
Also during the week, the Senate voted in favor of legislation granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. I voted for the bill.
Senate Bill 957 now moves to the House for consideration and if approved and signed into law, would expand Illinois’ existing temporary driver’s license program for immigrants to include undocumented immigrants. If passed, this bill would impact the estimated 250,000 undocumented immigrants currently driving on Illinois roadways.
This legislation will move public safety forward in that it will educate, train and test drivers, and will authorize them to have insurance protecting the motorists that they may get into a conflict with.
Nearly 80,000 accidents involve uninsured drivers, costing $64 million in damage claims, and last year 42 percent of all fatal crashes in Illinois involved unlicensed drivers. There is also the potential economic impact – the legislation would stimulate $3.75 million in new revenue, ease the burden on jails and courts, assist first responders and healthcare providers, and increase the pool of urgently needed organ donors.
I was also able to support this particular bill at this time because it addressed prior security concerns I had about these IDs being used at airports, to vote and to purchase firearms. My suggestions were added to this bill and it now states that these temporary driver’s licenses cannot be used as identification for those purposes.
COMMITTEE ADVANCES GAMING EXPANSION
Setting the stage for potential consideration of a gaming expansion in early January, the Senate Executive Committee advanced legislation during the week that would be used as the vehicle for a gaming package. Governor Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several lawmakers remain in negotiations about a plan, which is expected to advance gaming licenses for a Chicago casino and riverboat licenses in four other communities.
Governor Quinn already vetoed a proposal (Senate Bill 1849) earlier this year that would have allowed for the establishment of five new casinos, including one in Chicago. The Governor said the measure lacked ethical safeguards, such as a ban on campaign contributions from the gaming industry. However, a number of legislators continue to push for a gaming expansion as a way to boost state revenues, and generate jobs and commerce in several Illinois communities.
Kudos to Illinois State University for being recognized among the top 25 public institutions in the country by The Education Trust for improvements in the graduation rates of Hispanic students. ISU was ranked 19th in two categories: improving Hispanic student graduation rates and narrowing the gap between the graduation rates of Hispanic students and white students in the education advocacy group’s recent report, “Advancing to Completion.” No other public university in Illinois made either top-25 list.
Kudos and thank you to Al Bowman for his many accomplishments during nine years of service as the 17th President of Illinois State University. His December 3 announcement that he will retire was a surprise and we are sad to see him go. We wish him well in his future endeavors.
AROUND THE DISTRICT
On December 6, I attended an area meeting for the Illinois Association of School Administrators. It was good to talk with education leaders about the issues lawmakers faced this spring and fall, and the issues we face in the upcoming General Assembly. Also attending the meeting were Representatives Dan Brady of Bloomington, Keith Sommer of Morton, Jason Barickman of Champaign and Representative-elect Josh Harms of Watseka.