Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: August 17

JOBS
·        Illinois’ unemployment rate drops to 4.2%.  The numbers also showed that Illinois’ economy created 3,700 new nonfarm payroll jobs in July 2018.  The new 4.2% unemployment figure approaches the 4.0% benchmark traditionally used to signify “full employment,” and come as a signal that Illinois is continuing its recovery from the 2008-09 economic crash and Great Recession.  The numbers were compiled and posted on Thursday, August 16, by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). 

“The state’s unemployment rate continued its downward trend in July and stands at its lowest point in 18 years,” said IDES Director Jeff Mays. “Illinois payroll employment also saw its largest over-the-year gain in more than two years.”

“The Illinois economy continues its comeback,” said Illinois Department of Commerce Director Sean McCarthy. “We are seeing what reduced red tape, a competitive economy, and investment in workforce and career pathways can do to promote growth and opportunity across the state.”

In a change from recent trends, Illinois job creation growth in July 2018 was led by the manufacturing sector, which created 2,400 new jobs in the month.  Leisure and hospitality created 2,000 new jobs, and professional and business services created 1,900 new jobs.  There was a net loss of 1,700 jobs in the Illinois public sector. 

Illinois’ 4.2% unemployment rate continued to slightly underperform the numbers posted by the U.S. economy as a whole.  In July 2018 the nationwide unemployment rate was 3.9%.  Joblessness has dropped by 80 basis points, or 0.8%, when calculated year-over-year.  From 5.0% in July 2017, the Illinois unemployment number has dropped to 4.2% in July 2018.

BUDGET
·        Debt refinancing will reduce risk to Illinois taxpayers.  The State of Illinois, which has stabilized its credit rating in recent months, is taking final steps to monetize this improved status by refinancing a troublesome $600 million chunk of debt.  The more-than-half-a-billion issuance of State of Illinois obligations bears a “floating” interest rate that could increase with changes in worldwide quantitative easing policies and global business conditions.   

By issuing new debt with a fixed interest rate, the State will be able to reduce this risk to Illinois taxpayers.  The refunding debt will also raise additional money to continue meeting the State’s capital needs, including infrastructure improvements to Illinois’ heavily-used roads and bridges.  As of this week, terms were being finalized to issue $920 million in new general obligation bonds.  Most of the money raised through the new issuance will be used immediately to redeem the floating-rate debt.

CHILDREN
·        Governor signs life-saving infant-screening panel expansion bill.  A bill requiring the Illinois Department of Public Health to provide all newborns with screening tests for the presence of spinal muscular atrophy was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner on Tuesday in an important step to detect and treat the leading genetic cause of infant death.  SB 456 was signed into law as Public Act 100-864.

“Spinal muscular atrophy is a neuromuscular disease in which patients can lose the ability to walk, eat, and breathe,” said Rep. Dan Swanson, chief co-sponsor of the bill.  “SMA can be treated, but to be most effective it must be detected early.  Adding this screening to the newborn panel should help drive down this leading genetic cause of death for babies.”

“The U.S. Department of Health& Human Services recently added spinal muscular atrophy to its list of recommended newborn screening,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav D. Shah.  “In light of this recent acceptance, as well as new therapeutic options for the disease, we look forward to implementing this test for newborns in Illinois.”

The bill, which amends the Newborn Metabolic Screening Act, will add the new screening test by 2020 to a panel of tests that now includes screening for a number of disorders, deficiencies, and diseases prevalent with newborns.  Newborn screenings began in Illinois in 1965.  Each year, more than 700 babies are diagnosed through newborn screening, according to the Department of Public Health.

Four states have adopted newborn screening for SMA, with Indiana passing legislation in early May.  Rep. Swanson brought local families with loved ones suffering from SMA to Springfield to testify in support of the bill during the Committee Hearings on SB 456 earlier this spring.

HIGHER EDUCATION
·        MAP grant change helps colleges keep Illinois students in the state.  Governor Rauner signed legislation Monday that gives the state’s colleges and universities tools they need to attract in-state students with improved financial aid plans, a more liberal application of credit transfers, and increased student counseling supports. 

HB 5020 revises MAP to give priority access for eligible returning students. MAP renewals are awarded annually throughout a student’s post-secondary education but now there will be a priority consideration for existing recipients. Nearly 130,000 students received MAP grants in FY18 and all but graduating students may be eligible for priority status in FY19.
“Our colleges and universities are among the greatest in the world” said Rauner, “and they ought to be choices of first resort for students who reside here. The MAP Grant revision means our schools are now in a position to make aid offers that Illinois-based students will be more eager to accept.”

Rauner also signed SB 2354, which makes it easier for thousands of students to transfer credits from one Illinois school to another. The new law encourages institutions to counsel students more closely on how best to apply credits toward degrees and requires students who submit 30 or more credits to declare their degree interest so that the schools can advise on the best path to completion. The idea is to help prevent students from spending time and money on needless credits. 

“Illinois college and university students will now have a point in their academic journey, at 30 credit hours, where they can receive guidance from an adviser,” said Rep. Norine Hammond. “This guidance will save them time and money by reviewing their completed courses and informing them of required courses for their degree — preventing them from taking any unnecessary classes. Additionally, the new process for reversing transfer credits will make it easier to attain an associate degree from a community college.”

PUBLIC SAFETY
·        Gov. Rauner signs public safety legislation; gives 60-day grace period to FOID card holders submitting renewals on time.  Governor Rauner signed legislation Friday that gives gun owners a 60-day grace period to keep their Firearms Owners Identification Card active while their renewal application is being processed, even if the processing period extends beyond the card’s expiration date. 

Previously, FOID cards were deemed invalid if they expired during the renewal process.

“We shouldn’t punish gun owners who make every effort to get their renewal applications in on time,” Rauner said. “This grace period will ensure there is no interruption in their rights to keep their firearms.”

House Bill 4855 gives Illinois State Police 60 business days, instead of 30 calendar days, to review and approve renewal applications that are received in a timely manner.

“This is a win-win solution to problems for both gun owners and the ISP regarding FOID card suspensions, revocations and renewals,” said State Police Director Leo Schmitz.

The legislation also adds additional protection to keep guns out of the hands of individuals with mental illness who have been deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

HB 4855 clarifies the reporting standards for hospitals and requires they report all mental health admissions to the state’s Department of Human Services. Tightening the reporting standards allows the state police to intervene more quickly and suspend a person’s FOID card.

“With nearly two-thirds of gun deaths attributable to suicide, this needed legislation will tighten up the regulations that serve to keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable individuals,” said Rep. Barb Wheeler. “At the same time, we’re shoring up the Second Amendment rights of responsible FOID card holders by speeding up the renewal process and removing the component that needlessly allows these cards to expire.”

Rauner also signed SB 2640 which allows retiring state agency law enforcement officers from Illinois State Police, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, State Fire Marshal, Security of State Police and Capitol Police to buy the badges they wore during their careers.

“They earned these badges and wear them with pride,” Rauner said. These officers can also purchase their service firearms at replacement cost, effective immediately.

HB 5231 was also signed into law to encourage police officers to seek mental health treatment, without jeopardizing their career. The legislation provides that a police agency cannot make a FOID card a condition of continued employment if the card is temporarily revoked because of inpatient mental health treatment absent any determination of the officers being a danger to themselves or others.  The bill is effective immediately.

Finally, HB 4348 was signed to require Illinois law enforcement agencies, medical examiners, and coroners to seek support from appropriate state and federal agencies, including the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, to facilitate prompt identification of human remains. It is estimated that nationwide 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year, with approximately 1,000 of those bodies remaining unidentified after one year. The new law is effective immediately.

PROFESSIONAL REGULATION
·        New law cuts red tape for real estate professionals, businesses.  Governor Rauner signed legislation this week to reduce burdensome licensing requirements for real estate businesses. The new licensing program is expected to save the State money by reducing a duplicative and unnecessary licensure structure that provides no benefit to the public and discourages business creation and growth.

House Bill 5210 is a win for small business and licensed professionals in Illinois,” Rauner said. “It is another step forward in our goal of reducing the amount of red tape, paperwork, and regulatory burden that puts our business owners and our state at a disadvantage.”

The bill was supported by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). 


Additionally, it clarifies that a licensed individual may establish a limited liability company to receive commissions directly, allowing them more flexibility in selecting a business entity that fits their needs. The new practice will also allow the individual to derive more favorable tax treatment than they would receive when operating as an individual.  

Finally, the legislation pushes back continuing education deadlines, establishes one basic standard for all business entities, simplifies the business entity license application, establishes common sense ownership requirements, and reduces barriers to industry.

“These reforms lower the cost of doing business in Illinois,” said chief sponsor Representative Tom Demmer. “We should look for more opportunities like this for state government to get out of the way of small business owners and grow our tax base.”

The governor also signed House Bill 5502 removing an unnecessary testing requirement to encourage new real estate appraiser trainees to enter the industry. This will reduce a barrier to entry and increase labor market liquidity within the industry.

“The signing of HB 5502 is the first step in rebuilding the appraisal industry here in Illinois,” said Representative Tony McCombie, who sponsored the legislation. “Due to the increased costs of education and mandates those receiving licenses have continued to decline. I am pleased to have sponsored this bill and the signing of this legislation is a positive change for Illinois. HB 5502 will grow jobs and opportunities for people wanting to enter the real estate appraisal field.”

The changes will reduce the regulatory burden on Illinois real estate related businesses and workers, while improving IDFPR operations. As of April 2018, there were 1,195 active branch office licenses, according to the IDFPR.

SMALL BUSINESS
·        Regulatory burden eased for Illinois brewers; beer offerings at breweries to expand.  Governor Rauner has signed legislation that makes it possible for Illinois brewers to serve a greater selection of beers at their own taprooms, giving smaller breweries new opportunities to expand their businesses without having to open new locations. The new law will also let brewers buy and sell ciders for the first time.

"This legislation removes antiquated regulatory barriers that have stifled the growth of smaller craft brewers and limited beverage choices for consumers who visit their taprooms," Rauner said. "Craft beer production is a growth industry in our state and this will help ensure its continued success."

Included in the legislation is an allowance for Illinois brewers to sell their own beer to other Illinois breweries, which will then be able to sell the purchased beer directly to customers in their taprooms, and to purchase cider for selling in their taprooms.

The Brewer Warehouse Permit created by HB 4897 will allow small and growing breweries to expand their operations by using warehousing and storage facilities instead of opening second locations or moving to larger spaces. The permit will allow for Class 1 and Class 2 Brewers to transfer and store, at an off-site warehouse within 80 miles, as much as 930,000 and 3.72 million gallons, respectively, of beer that the brewery manufactured.

Prior to this bill, brewers were restricted from any of the above by outdated regulations set forth by the Liquor Control Act of 1934. In addition to being unnecessary to ensure safe liquor consumption, the controls also created a barrier to market entry for small businesses and protected established businesses from competition.

"The craft brewing industry is growing every year across Illinois with wonderful, unique beers for consumers to enjoy in all regions of our state," said Rep. Tim Butler, chief co-sponsor. "These changes help ensure everyone can continue to explore and learn about our local breweries and support our local small businesses."

"Today represents an important step toward strengthening and growing the Illinois craft beer industry," said Danielle D'Alessandro, executive director for the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. "HB 4897 not only enables our state's taprooms to offer a more diverse selection of guest beer and cider, but it also eliminates product transfer and storage barriers that were cumbersome for our members. We're grateful for the support of Governor Rauner and all those who made this legislation a priority."

"There is a tremendous sense of community among Illinois craft breweries," said Matt Potts, founder, CEO, and brewmaster at DESTIHL in Normal, Ill. "This law allows our breweries to tap into that community even more, promoting collaboration, selling one another's craft beer, and giving our patrons more of what they want."

STATE FAIR/AGRICULTURE
·        Governor announces $1 million Rauner family contribution to begin restoration of Coliseum; takes action on package of agriculture legislation.  Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Tuesday that the Rauner Family Foundation is contributing $1 million to the Illinois State Fair for the naming rights to The Coliseum, the 117-year-old, 60,000-square-foot amphitheater that is “the pride and joy” of the state fairgrounds.

“Diana and I want to make this ‘The People’s Coliseum’ just as we made the Governor’s Mansion ‘the People’s House,’” said Rauner. “In that spirit, we are going to ask Illinois school children to help us to name the Coliseum in a naming contest. This building belongs to the future, so it is fitting that we let the young people who are the future do the naming.”  

Rauner made the announcement at the breakfast which kicked off Agriculture Day at the Illinois State Fair. Details of the naming contest will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead.

“Agribusiness is big business in Illinois,” Rauner said. “There are more than 72,000 farms and 2,400 food manufacturers in Illinois. We are the nation’s leading state for food processing, our ag commodities businesses produce $19 billion a year, and there’s billions more in ag-related industries. It is essential that we support the industry’s growth and advancement by sensibly reducing regulatory burdens and reforming our workers comp and property tax systems.”

At the Agriculture Day Breakfast, Rauner signed a package of legislation that will benefit farmers and ag businesses. First up was Senate Bill 3072, which provides for staggered board terms for the State Fair Advisory Board. The move ensures the operational interests of the fairs are more equitably represented.

The board exists to advise the director and the Department of Agriculture on operational matters for both the State Fairs and the State Fairgrounds.  

“These changes to the Board structure will help bring in new perspectives and help ensure that our State Fairs are offering the best family entertainment and value for fairgoers,” said Raymond Poe, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“The State Fair Board of Trustees performs a vital service to help guide the Springfield State Fair and the DuQuoin State Fair especially,” said Rep. Terri Bryant. “The Board is being trimmed from 20 down to 15 in order to increase the likelihood of filling the board and to cut down on the size of government. Every little bit of streamlining helps in Illinois. I am thankful to the governor for recognizing the need to keep the State Fair Board of Trustees a lean, mean and efficiently operating body and for signing SB 3072."

House Bill 4999 reduces the number of meetings for the Advisory Board of Livestock Commissioners and other administrative requirements, resulting in cost and staff time savings for administrative support.

“With this change in statute, the advisory board is able to easily meet at least once a year to compile their recommendations for the director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture,” said Rep. Avery Bourne. “Their input is essential for state agricultural success since they approve the rules and regulations of the department on prevention, elimination and control of diseases in our livestock.”

House Bill 5029 ensures the humane treatment of dogs and cats and makes certain breeders live up to legal standards for health. Anyone who intentionally breeds cats and dogs to sell, offer to sell, exchange or offer for adoption are now classified as breeders.

“This new law was created to clear up any confusion regarding the definition under state law for dog and cat breeders,” said Rep. Charlie Meier. “It will help reduce confusion for both licensees and consumers. It’s just common sense.”

The governor signed House Bill 5459 which amends the Horse Racing Act so that more foals can qualify for Illinois races, a big step to help the racing and horse breeding industries in the state.

Senate Bill 2752 changes definitions of “adulterated” meats and poultry to ensure the protection of consumers against food-borne illnesses.  

“Food safety is of critical importance to Illinois families,” said Rep. Brian Stewart, after Tuesday’s bill signing. “Ensuring Illinois conforms with federal guidelines and is implementing best practices with everyone on the same page is important for not just Illinois’ agricultural community, but also for consumers.

The governor signed Senate Bill 2875 giving the Department of Agriculture authority to develop and implement value-added certifications so that Illinois certified products warrant higher prices.  The legislation repeals several non-functioning programs including Forever Green Illinois; Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act Labeling and Certification; Illinois AgriFIRST Act of 2001; the Dairy Statistics Act; the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act; and the Trichinosis Control Act. 

“Under this legislation we are formally repealing some programs within the Department of Agriculture which have not functioned in years but which still exist on paper,” said Rep. Tom Bennett. “It is a good measure for streamlining government and avoiding possible confusion in the future.”

Senate Bill 3082 makes it possible for Farm Bureaus to participate more fully in the promotion of Ag Centennial, Sesquicentennial, and Bicentennial programs by considering the bureaus as agribusinesses.  

“Agribusiness is Illinois’ No. 1 industry and this new law shows our commitment to supporting agriculture in our state,” said Rep. Meier. “Whether your business is in production, processing or distribution, this new law will recognize your business as an ‘Agribusiness’ in the State of Illinois.”

“I am happy to have co-sponsored three of these bills that streamline the State Fair Board and reduce some of the bureaucracy and cost of the state and let taxpayers keep more of their money,” commented Rep. Dave Severin. “And in our modern economy where some agribusinesses promote farmers and produce as part of the overall $19 billion economy, I think it’s important to recognize not only farmers but those agribusinesses as well in our Centennial designation program for their positive impact on farming in Illinois.”

TRANSPORTATION
·        Governor signs Rep. Breen’s tollway transparency bill.  Governor Rauner signed legislation this week to better keep the public informed about pending actions of the Illinois Tollway Board.

SB 2291 amends the Toll Highway Act to require that the board of directors post an agenda for each meeting at illinoistollway.com as well as at the authority's headquarters building at 2700 Ogden Ave., Downers Grove, two business days (rather than 48 hours) in advance of the meetings.

It also requires that specific details concerning contracts for projects over $100,000 shall be included, with Internet links to those details provided.

"This will better enable Illinoisans to have adequate advance notice when large sums of Tollway user-fee dollars are being considered for allocation toward transportation projects," Rauner said. "We're giving people greater opportunity to understand the issues and to provide timely input."

Agency officials also greeted the meeting notice changes, stating they have always followed Open Meetings Act standards. 

"The Illinois Tollway holds itself to a high level of transparency and welcomes any opportunity to further raise that standard," Executive Director Liz Gorman said.

"Agencies such as the Toll Highway Authority must be fully transparent with their operations so that those who fund them can see how their money is being spent," said Rep. Peter Breen, lead House sponsor of the bill. "This is common-sense legislation I was proud to support."

VETERANS
·        Rauner enacts legislation to streamline services for veterans.  Governor Rauner signed legislation this week that streamlines veteran identification services and makes it easier for homeless veterans to access needed medical benefits. Rauner also made Nov. 4th GI Bill of Rights Day to pay tribute to the American Legion committee, chaired by the 29th Governor of Illinois, that wrote the historic Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944.
  
“We should seize every opportunity to streamline services to better honor and support those who selflessly gave so much to our country,” Rauner said. “Providing a free medical record for homeless veterans will help them more easily access the critical services and benefits they earned, and the ID designations and license plates represent tokens of our gratitude for the monumental sacrifices made by Illinois veterans to protect our freedoms.”

To make it easier for veterans to acquire the benefits they deserve, Rauner enacted HB 4848, requiring health care providers to provide one free, complete copy of a patient’s medical records if the patient is an indigent homeless veteran. 

Also among the bills was HB 4332, legislation expanding acceptable forms of proof needed to obtain a veteran’s designation on identification cards, simplifying the process for Illinois veterans.

HB 4212 provides a mechanism for law enforcement to immediately respond to a missing veteran or active duty service member. Like an Amber Alert, the public will be notified in an effort to quickly locate the missing person and perhaps save a life.

“I am thankful for the Governor signing these important measures to assist our veterans and our military,” said Rep. Dan Swanson. “Those of us who served know how important this work is in ensuring those who served and those currently serving are cared for to the best of our abilities.”

Rauner also signed into law HB 4576 and SB 2225, allowing combat veterans and veterans who earned the Southeast Asia Service Medal during Operation Desert Storm to have the feat reflected on their auto license plates.

“The Veterans of Desert Storm and Desert Shield deserve this recognition for their service to our country and our state,” said Rep. Jerry Long. “It is heart-warming when legislation that honors our veterans receives such overwhelming bipartisan support. Legislators on both sides of the aisle were thrilled to sign on as co-sponsors when it was first introduced. It’s important that we recognize those who selflessly put their lives on the line for us.”

In addition to the veteran’s designation bills, Rauner enacted HB 4954, providing that each year, the 4th of November be observed throughout the state as GI Bill of Rights Day, commemorating the 1944 landmark legislation that provided benefits to World War II veterans.

“I am very proud of this distinction for our community to remember and celebrate our local influence on the legislation to help our returning soldiers from World War II,” said Rep. John Cavaletto. “The Department of Illinois American Legion recognized Post 128 as the birthplace of the G.I. Bill of Rights in 1958, and this designation is very fitting on the 75th anniversary year of that meeting by eight Legion members back in 1943. I want to thank the Salem Historical Commission and the American Legion for bringing this idea to me for consideration.”

“It is an honor to be the chief co-sponsor on this historic legislation that will honor those eight American Legion members who met Nov. 4, 1943, including our own former Gov. John Stelle from McLeansboro,” said Rep. Dave Severin.

“Governor Stelle’s work and efforts to ensure the passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 is well-documented. Stelle was the one leading the American Legion committee and after that success with the G.I. Bill, Stelle was selected as National Commander of the American Legion for 1945-46.”

Rauner also signed into law HB 4849, allowing the National Guard Construction Fund to be used for all construction costs, including maintenance and repairs, and ensures the Illinois Department of Military Affairs is federally compliant in distributing funds for construction projects.

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