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Senate Week In Review: May 1-5, 2017

Illinois Senators completed final action on legislation during the week, while also holding a public hearing on school funding reform, and honoring those police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty. 

Innovative school funding reform plan gets hearing

Every lawmaker under the Capitol Dome believes Illinois needs to reform the way it funds elementary and secondary education. After years of debate, special commissions and studies, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony May 4 on a fairer method to fund schools based on known and unique economic facts of each district.

Senate Bill 1124 is an evidence-based school funding plan endorsed by Senate Republicans. It would reallocate more than a half-billion dollars in funding to help school districts meet financial adequacy targets, without requiring an increase in state funding. The evidence-based approach uses 27 different known variables to indicate a fair funding level for each school district. Under this approach, funding would be based on the real costs of the districts, accepted best practices, and student demographics. While the legislation removes the Chicago Block Grant for Chicago Public Schools (CPS), it is tied to another piece of legislation where the state would pick up CPS’ pension costs, something the state currently does not pay.

Senate Bill 1124 is based on the findings of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Illinois School Funding Reform Commission, a group of bipartisan lawmakers who were tasked with providing solutions to fix Illinois’ current school funding system.

The committee also heard testimony on Senate Bill 1125, which would provide schools with significant mandate relief, as well as Senate Bill 1, which is similar to Senate Bill 1124 but provides no mandate relief and contains funding for the Chicago block grant. 

Republicans put people over partisan politics

Senate Democrats tried, and failed, this week to advance a measure (Senate Bill 1424) that would force Illinois taxpayers to pay for political campaigns.  

It is estimated this measure would cost taxpayers from $12 million to $50 million, and would come with a continuing appropriation.  Senate Republicans noted that Illinois’ struggling schools and human service providers aren’t even funded with a continuing appropriation, and therefore the state shouldn’t be putting partisan politics ahead of people. 

While the measure failed to receive the 30 votes necessary to advance, it could still be called again under a provision in the Senate’s rules. 

 

Unloading JRTC “win-win” for taxpayers and CPS 

In other news, Senate and House Republican Leaders joined Gov. Rauner in renewing support for the sale of the James R. Thompson Center (JRTC) in Chicago by offering a unique plan to help fund financially-strapped Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

 

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) filed legislation (Senate Bill 2209) that will direct all future property tax receipts from the redevelopment of the JRTC to CPS.

 

“This is a win-win, which will provide savings for the taxpayers of Illinois, while at the same time providing a much-needed economic boost to the City of Chicago,” Leader Radogno said.

 

Senate Bill 2209 would provide CPS with a stable source of additional revenue for years to come, and would let Illinois off the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and maintenance costs on a dilapidated building the state can no longer afford.

 

The JRTC currently occupies an entire city block in Chicago's Loop. By selling the building, Illinois taxpayers could earn hundreds of millions in a sale and Chicago could generate up to $45 million annually in property taxes.

 

Veteran suicide prevention

Another bipartisan effort is underway to address veteran suicide. A 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that, on average, 22 veterans take their lives every day in the United States. Awareness of the problem prompted the creation of the Illinois Veteran Suicide Task Force, which identified potential causes and possible solutions. Ultimately, the Task Force’s recommendations became the foundation for House Bill 2647, which received preliminary approval during a hearing May 3 by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. House Bill 2647 would improve coordination between the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense and improve services for, and outreach to, returning vets.

 

The Senate also took action on dozens of bills during the week, with some measures receiving Senate Republican support, and others not. Legislation approved by Senate this week included:

 

Transparency for property taxpayers

Senate Bill 1072, sponsored by Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods), requires local property tax bills to clearly indicate when a local taxing body chooses not to collect the full amount of property taxes for that year, giving taxpayers the opportunity to clearly see which units of government are returning their hard-earned money. The proposal requires every property tax bill to list the total dollar amount that would have been due if no decrease was given, the dollar amount of any "abatement" or tax reduction, and the total reduced tax bill that is actually due.

Financial protections for the elderly

Senate Bill 1409, sponsored by Sen. Michael Connelly (R-Naperville), would strengthen laws against the financial exploitation of the elderly or disabled. The measure also makes a technical change in current Illinois law expanding the legal venue for bringing prosecutions in financial exploitation cases. There are frequent instances, under current law, when a suspect lives in a different county or state from the victim, which creates an impediment to prosecution.

No cooperation on Federal Immigration Law

Senate Bill 31, which was approved along party lines, essentially bars Illinois law enforcement from complying with federal immigration detainers. The bill would also bar other government agencies and schools from cooperating with the federal government in upholding U.S. Immigration law. Senate Republicans voted against the measure because they are concerned the blanket prohibition could result in leaving criminal illegal immigrants, including those accused of violent crimes, on the streets.

Concealed carry permits for active-duty military

Senate Bill 1524, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria), would allow active-duty military personnel who are not residents of Illinois, but permanently stationed in Illinois, to obtain an Illinois Concealed Carry Permit. Supporters argue that by the very nature of their service to our country, members of the military are qualified and capable of meeting the responsibilities that go with carrying a concealed firearm. The legislation received full bipartisan support.

Fallen police officers honored

Hundreds of police officers from across Illinois came to the Capitol May 4 to honor the lives and the service of those officers, from years and decades past until today, who gave their lives during the line of duty. The Police Memorial Statue is located on the Capitol grounds, but because of inclement weather, a ceremony marking the event was held at the State Library adjacent to the Capitol. The names of 12 officers were added to the memorial this year.

Illinois Parks Day at the Capitol

Park districts and lawmakers gathered in the Capitol Rotunda May 2 to celebrate Illinois Parks Day. During their visit, representatives from park districts across the state had the opportunity to talk with their local legislators about their communities and priorities. The event also included the Illinois Association of Park Districts Annual Legislative Conference, which featured five lawmakers invited to participate on a legislative panel discussion. One of those lawmakers, Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) is a former member of the Mt. Sterling, Illinois Park Board, and was asked to share her perspective on Illinois’ fiscal future, and its potential impact on the funding for parks, recreation and open space.

Illinois responds to flooding

Prolonged periods of rain continued to pound Illinois, prompting Gov. Rauner to activate the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on May 2. Several more inches of rain fell on the state following the previous weekend’s heavy rain, causing rivers and creeks to swell. The decision to open the Springfield-based Operations Center puts state agencies, personnel and equipment in place for quick deployment to assist local communities in their response to flooding threats. For flood updates visit the Ready Illinois website at www.ready.illinois.gov?.

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