LEGISLATION WOULD SHINE LIGHT ON STATE GRANT PROCESS
A legislative ethics package, sparked by a CNN investigative report that found millions in taxpayer dollars had been misused by Gov. Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) grant program, passed the Illinois Senate on April 23. SB 2380 and SB 2381 focus on increasing government transparency in the allocation of state-financed grant dollars.
Senate Bill 2380 and Senate Bill 2381 were introduced after a CNN investigative report aired, revealing that millions in taxpayer dollars had been misused by Gov. Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) grant program. A four-month investigation showed that state grant funds were used to pay teens to march in a parade with the Governor, hand out flyers promoting inner peace, take field trips to museums, and attend a yoga class.
Currently, the state’s Ethics Act doesn’t apply to grant recipients. SB 2380 explicitly places language in state law that grant recipients are prohibited from using taxpayer funds for political activities, like marching in parades. SB 2381 takes it a step further and places that information online so Illinois’ citizens can track who is receiving these taxpayer funded grants and what they are using it for.
COMMITTEE APPROVES BILL TO INCREASE SCHOOL FUNDING TRANSPARENCY
Legislation that seeks to bring greater accountability and transparency to the state’s system of funding schools was approved on April 25 by the Senate Appropriations II budget committee.
SB 1984 requires that allocation of the state’s General State Aid (GSA) and its primary components, which include Foundation Level grants, Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) adjustments, and poverty grants, must be clearly delineated in the state budget and available for public review. The bill’s sponsor, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, has said that she will work with the State Board of Education to refine the legislation before final passage.
The legislation came as a result of a school funding report unveiled in March by the Senate Republican Caucus that examined claims by some that downstate and suburban schools in Illinois get a “free lunch” because of the state’s contribution to teacher retirement funds.
In investigating these claims the Caucus found that Chicago schools receive a disproportionate share of state school funding despite the state’s contribution to downstate and suburban teacher pensions.
Further investigation revealed that school funding in Illinois has been skewed by bad policies and behind closed door decisions conducted without the benefit of public input or thorough legislative review.
In fact in 2000, 88% of the School Aid Formula was contained in Foundation Level grants, which is the equalization part of the formula designed to ensure that each school district, regardless of property tax wealth, receives a minimum level of funding per student. Back then, poverty grants accounted for 10% of the funding formula and PTELL adjustments represented just 2%. Today, the Foundation Level grants have dropped to 53% of the Formula, while Poverty grants have climbed to 34% and PTELL adjustments now represents 13% of the Formula.
That represents a 432% increase in Poverty grant funding and a 1,267% increase in PTELL adjustments. If the trend continues, Foundation Level grants will soon represent less than half of the School Aid Formula.
The shift in funding has been hidden from the public and has never been submitted to policy makers for open debate and review. This is a major policy that is not even disclosed in the annual budget submitted by the Governor.
Ensuring quality care for Illinois’ senior citizens and others in the state’s Community Care program was the goal of House Bill 2275, which was approved by the Senate on April 25, sending the measure to the Governor.
The bill would implement long sought anti-fraud measures and institute performance standards to provide better care for seniors and help them remain in their homes.
Reforms would encourage sharing of critical data, provide electronic verification of caregiver visits, establish task-based service parameters and increase the use of managed care.
A companion measure, House Bill 207, provided $173 million to the Department on Aging for the program and deposits $151 million into health care provider relief fund in order to reduce the backlog of bills facing many community care providers.
In an effort to increase safety in Illinois’ schools in response to school shooting incidents in other states, the Senate approved four measures this week.
The measures would:
- Require that school safety drills include a "shooting incident" drill which would be coordinated with local law enforcement agencies. Drills would include both evacuation and "reverse-evacuation" drills, in which students are moved to a safe place within the school confines. (Senate Bill 1625);
- Create a School Security and Standards Task Force to study the security of Illinois’ schools, make recommendations and draft minimum standards for use by schools to provide a safer learning environment for students. (Senate Bill 1931);
- Require school boards to consult with law enforcement and security experts in the design and planning of any new school building or major remodeling. (Senate Bill 1932); and
- Establish a School Crime Watch program modeled after Neighborhood Watch Programs (Senate Resolution 91).
TRIGGER LOCK SALES TAX EXEMPTION
Legislation designed to provide additional protection from gun violence by creating a sales tax exemption on trigger locks and other firearm safety devices like safes, lock boxes, and barrel locks, passed the Illinois Senate on April 23.
The sales tax exemption would be available until Jan. 1, 2015. As the only state in the nation without some form of right-to-carry law, Illinois is under a federal court order to adopt legislation this spring giving firearms owners the right to carry weapons in public. The legislation is designed to offer an incentive to gun owners to secure weapons in the home and in vehicles once Illinois adopts right-to-carry.
SENATE PASSES LEGISLATION TO THE HOUSE
The deadline to advance Senate legislation to the Illinois House was April 25, and a wide range of issues were addressed. A full listing of the legislation that passed in the Illinois Senate this week can be found at this link.