Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: February 17

Governor’s Budget Address
·         Governor Rauner delivers budget address to General Assembly.  Speaking to a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate on Wednesday, Governor Bruce Rauner delivered his annual Budget Address, outlining his priorities and introducing his third balanced budget in as many years to be considered by lawmakers.

Saying “We must think anew and act anew,” the Governor presented a balanced budget that focuses on the future.  It invests in Illinois’ future with record funding for education, transforms our pension system, and makes structural changes to improve our jobs climate.

At the request of senators from both parties, Governor Rauner outlined his parameters to the General Assembly on the Senate’s “grand bargain” compromise.  He made it clear that the final product must be a good deal for taxpayers and job creators.  Rauner laid the foundation for balanced budgets for years to come, controlling spending so government lives within its means, and enacting real spending reductions with meaningful pension reform.

Governor Rauner once again said he would consider new revenue if it accompanies changes to grow the economy.  He asked legislators if they make an income tax increase permanent, the property tax freeze must also be permanent.  Rauner also reminded the legislature that term limits are important to restoring confidence in state government and workers’ compensation reform is critical to attracting job creators to Illinois.

General Assembly
·         House committees meet, begin to advance bills.  House members filed 3,921 bills in January and February 2017.  Under the “First Reading” deadline, bills filed by mid-February may be considered in a House committee in the 2017 spring session.  House bills filed after Friday, February 10 cannot be considered this spring as independent, free-standing pieces of legislation.  

Following the bill introduction deadline, the House schedule has set aside six weeks of session time in February and March for committee action.  During this six-week period, House committees will hold hearings, listen to testimony from witnesses, and hold votes on bills to be advanced to the House floor for further discussion and debate.  In spring 2017, the House has organized 57 permanent and special committees to hear bills and conduct legislative action.  Many of these committees began to meet this week.

Criminal Law – Inmate Legal Bills
·         Rep. Brian Stewart sponsors legislation to reduce legal bills run up by criminal inmates.  A Republican State Representative has introduced legislation that would require inmates with financial resources to pay for their own defense if they’re charged with committing a crime while behind bars. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner quickly said he supports the bill.

The legislation is in response to a WGN Investigates report that found Drew Peterson’s court-appointed legal team charged Illinois taxpayers $264,000 to defend the former Bolingbrook cop. Peterson was convicted of plotting from prison to hire a hit man to kill Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow. Glasgow was the prosecutor who put Peterson in prison for killing his third wife Kathleen Savio.

“Taxpayers are on the hook too easily for inmate legal bills,” Rauner said in a statement to WGN. “In a time when financial resources are tight across state government, there are better uses for the more than $200,000 the state is paying to defend Drew Peterson.” Read more.

Jobs – Chicago and Downstate
·         Study shows vast majority of new jobs in Illinois has been concentrated in Chicago area.  A study released this week by RCF Economic & Financial Consulting tracked the new jobs created in Illinois since the official end of the most recent nationwide economic recession in December 2009.  The figures show that 85% of the private-sector jobs created in Illinois in the 2010-16 period have been created in the Chicago area, with only 15% created in Downstate Illinois.   

The RCF study indicates that in terms of total job numbers, the Chicago area has recovered from the 2008-09 recession.  Employment dropped from 3.5 million in 2009 to under 3.2 million in early 2010, before beginning a recovery to just under 3.6 million jobs in late 2016.  These figures indicate that Chicago’s employment is now at an all-time record high, with particular strength showed by specialized tertiary service sectors such as health care and financial consulting. 

However, similar figures cannot be posted for the 96 counties of northern, central, and southern Downstate Illinois.  After losing 106,000 positions in the 2008-09 recession, these regions of Illinois have recovered less than half of the jobs lost.  Historically oriented towards manufacturing, Downstate Illinois remains locked in a jobs recession that is now almost one decade old. 

Labor – Illinois Sick Leave Act
·         National labor-law publication highlights legislation passed by Rep. Peter Breen.  After confusing elements were discovered in the text of the Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act, prompt action was necessary to research the problem, hear from affected workers and employers, and draft legal language to clean up the new Act.  SB 2799, sponsored in the House by Rep. Peter Breen, tightens up the definitions of “personal sick leave benefits,” the key legal term used in the Act to set off the benefits that an employee is allowed to use to provide care and companionship to a close family member.  The Act, as amended, allows some Illinois employees – employees with personal sick leave benefits – to use some of these employment-related benefits when a parent, spouse, child, stepchild, or other defined type of relative or family members becomes ill or suffers a health crisis.  The Act became effective on January 1, 2017, so prompt action was necessary to clean up concerns about the new law.

Although SB 2799 is officially a Senate bill, the key language of the January 2017 measure was added in the House by an amendment authored by the chief House sponsor, Rep. Peter Breen.  After the House unanimously approved the amendment by a bipartisan vote of 113-0-0, the Senate then approved the House amendment by concurrence.  Governor Rauner’s approval of the measure made it law as P.A. 99-921.  Bills of this sort, that create needed fixes to the legislative language of complex new laws, are often called ‘trailer bills” or “cleanup bills.”   This week, the National Law Review noted the passage of P.A. 99-921 and the importance of the trailer bill to Illinois employment and labor law.     

Public Health – Vaccination Requirements
·         Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) clears key hurdle to approve new requirements for many Illinois children and young people.  The new vaccination and immunization requirements will be enforced when most children are enrolled in child care, public school, or private school in Illinois.  Their parents will be required to present either an immunization certificate or a medical form when the child is presented or enrolled in a group environment.  The Department is authorized to impose vaccination requirements by rule as part of its overall legal authorization to protect Illinois public health.

One problem with vaccination requirements is that they have become much more complex over the past thirty years.  Many older Illinoisans remember getting a measles shot and then a polio shot.  The simple progression of shots that many parents remember from their own childhoods have been replaced by a complex schedule of immunizations  in which a lengthy list of contagious conditions, many referred to by acronyms, are merged into a complicated schedule of immunization windows that open and close at different times as an infant grows into childhood and young adulthood.  For example, here is an immunization chart for children from birth to 6 years of age.

The IDPH immunization rule reflects the recommendation of nationwide public-health authorities, including panels convened by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that try to optimize the series of immunizations that most infants, children, and young adults need to have.  The complex schedule of windows that open and close is supposed to implement this optimization.  In a few cases, some immunizations are contraindicated for some young people.  The new IDPH rules contain provisions for a family to seek medical counsel.  If a physician has evidence that a child should not get a particular kind of shot or immunization, he or she can sign a contraindication exemption form.  A school will be required to accept the form as a valid substitute for certification that the child has been immunized.   

The IDPH immunization rules were presented this week to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), a bipartisan panel of the Illinois General Assembly that scrutinizes the rules generated by administrative agencies such as the Department of Public Health.  After full discussion over a two-month period, the legislative panel approved the IDPH rules for filing. 

State Government – Get Government Back on Track
·         Rep. Tom Demmer files government reform package.  House Republican Conference Chairman Tom Demmer has filed a package of bills and constitutional amendments designed to fix a broken state government system.  The Dixon Republican collectively calls the proposed reforms the Get Government Back on Track package.

“It’s time for us to modernize the House and Senate. The current system is a relic of the backroom deals and power grabs of years gone by. If we want a different result, we have to build a different system,” said Rep. Demmer.

Demmer’s government reform package would do six things:

o   Make Illinois more relevant and more accurately represented in the Electoral College by awarding Presidential Electoral Votes by Congressional district instead of the current winner-take-all formula (HB 495);
o   Create the Joint Committee of the General Assembly on Rules and Operations, a bipartisan panel of legislators who would review and make recommendations on House and Senate rules, committees, procedures, and structure of the General Assembly (HB 787);
o   Create a Board of Repealers to review and make recommendations on how to eliminate outdated, irrelevant, or conflicting laws, instead of just adding more to the books every year  (HB 789);
o   Give the Governor the ability to call for a vote on a specific bill through a new “fast-track” authority (HB 3119);
o   Make the current Illinois constitutional requirement that the State enact an annual balanced budget enforceable by requiring the budget to be certified by the Illinois State Comptroller (HJRCA 19); and 
o   Combine the office of Illinois State Comptroller and Illinois State Treasurer into one office with consolidated responsibilities (HJRCA 25).

State Government – State Employee Pay
·         First decision favors State workers over Attorney General.  State employees have continued to be paid, in the absence of a State budget, due to a district court injunction handed down in July 2015 by District Court Judge Robert LeChien of St. Clair County. 

Citing the continued absence of a budget, and her belief that the threat of a complete government shutdown could help to generate one, Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently filed a motion to intervene in the case and lift the injunction. In opposition to Attorney General Madigan’s move was a counsel for the Office of Governor Bruce Rauner, who argued that the court should continue to allow State employees to be paid for their work.  On Thursday, February 16, Judge LeChien refused to lift the injunction, thereby maintaining the current status of Illinois state workers’ paychecks.  The judge’s refusal does not, however, close the case.  The Attorney General has pledged to appeal this district court decision.       

Illinois Bicentennial – Illinois Statehood Day
·         Rep. Tim Butler works with House to pass bills to correct and celebrate Illinois’ true birthday.  The rim of the Great Seal of the State of Illinois, the symbol of Illinois’ statehood, carries the date “August 26, 1818.”  Illinois’ true birthday is December 3, 1818, the date that Congress admitted the Prairie State to the Union as the 21st state. 

Rep. Butler’s HB 479 directs the Secretary of State to change the date and correct the birthday.  The Secretary of State is the Keeper of the Great Seal, the symbol used to officially recognize the laws of Illinois.  All of the laws with the old Illinois Seal will continue to be valid.  HB 489, also from Rep. Butler, declares each December 3 to be Illinois Statehood Day, a commemorative (non-job-holiday) State holiday. 

A change to the Great Seal of Illinois is a major symbolic move, as the Great Seal has not been redesigned since 1867.  A large section of the Seal’s design, although not the rim with its mistaken date, is printed on the Illinois state flag.  These changes are meant to be part of the preparation for Illinois’s Bicentennial (200th birthday) less than 2 years from now, on December 3, 2018.  The House approved both Bicentennial bills on Thursday, February 16.  

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