SPRINGFIELD – A newly-formed bipartisan commission created by Gov. Bruce Rauner tasked with recommending a comprehensive solution to reform Illinois’ school funding formula met this week for the first time.
The Illinois School Funding Reform Commission received an informative presentation on national “best practices” regarding school funding, discussed the current system in Illinois and stressed defining “adequacy,” “equity” and “wealth” will be a critical as lawmakers seek to increase parity in education funding.
In other Statehouse news, a number of new laws are now on the books in Illinois, after receiving Rauner’s signature late last week. Notably, one new law reduces penalties for individuals caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana; now those violators will be ticketed, as opposed to being arrested. Rauner also signed a package of new laws aimed at curbing waste, fraud, and abuse in higher education.
Also during the week, motorists received good news when the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office announced it will once again start mailing reminder notices to vehicle owners about renewing their license plate stickers. That practice had been stopped for months due to the state’s budget impasse.
Additionally, in response to health findings that Zika virus has infected individuals in Miami, the Illinois Department of Public Health is advising pregnant women to avoid southern Florida.
Finally, Illinois State Fair visitors are encouraged to utilize a new technology to make it easier to navigate the Illinois Fairgrounds and make their fair experience more enjoyable.
New bipartisan committee meets to find solution to reforming Illinois’ school funding formula
A newly-formed bipartisan commission created by Gov. Rauner and tasked with recommending a comprehensive solution to reform Illinois’ school funding formula met for the first time in Chicago Aug. 3.
During the meeting, the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission looked at how other states fund education, reviewed Illinois’ current funding formula, and discussed what should be improved.
The commission, which is chaired by Secretary of Education Beth Purvis, is composed of 25 members, which includes five designees from Gov. Rauner’s Administration and five designees from each of the four legislative caucuses.
The five appointees from the Senate Republican caucus include:
Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington)
Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville)
Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Lake Zurich)
Sen. Karen McConnaughay (R-West Dundee)
Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Peru)
The Commission’s report is to be presented to the Governor and General Assembly by Feb. 1, 2017. Lawmakers say the goal is to have the General Assembly take action on a proposal in 2017.
In June, lawmakers and the Governor approved a full year budget for K-12 education that fully funds the foundation formula for schools for the first time in seven years. It also includes a hold harmless provision that guarantees no school district will receive less money than it did in the previous year.
“In recent years, there have been efforts to reform our broken and outdated school funding formula, but none had the strong bipartisan support necessary to make it happen,” said Senator Barickman. “I believe the leadership of the Governor and his administration – in concert with bipartisan, bicameral legislative participation and input from stakeholders -- is what will allow this effort to finally be successful.”
New law decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana
People caught in possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana will now face a fine of up to $200, as opposed to being arrested and possibly facing jail time, under a new law (Senate Bill 2228) signed by Gov. Rauner July 29. The new law makes Illinois the 17th state in the country to adopt a measure that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana.
Opponents argue the new law sets a bad example, noting marijuana use and possession is still an offense under Federal law. They also expressed concerns with provisions in the law that would automatically expunge citations twice a year. Additionally, critics said they would have liked to see a mechanism included in the law to provide for court supervision, treatment, and intervention, for both adults and minors.
However, proponents of the law argued it creates a uniform penalty on cannabis possession throughout the state, and will help reduce Illinois’ overcrowded jails and court systems, which are often inundated with minor drug cases. Removing these low-level offenders from the system would free up public resources for law enforcement, state’s attorney’s offices and county jails. In addition, the reduction in penalties and expungement of the civil offense means low-level violators won’t have to live with harsh lifelong consequences, such as lost employment, education, or housing options, due to a small possession arrest.
Though the legislation was worked out with input from prosecutors and law enforcements, a number of law enforcement organizations said they are concerned about the impact of a provision in the law that establishes THC levels, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects that are allowable while driving.
Under the new law, only drivers with a THC level of five nanograms or higher in their blood will face DIU charges, as opposed to a zero-tolerance DUI law Illinois had on the books regarding marijuana. However, proponents stressed that this provision addressed situations where an individual may have had only a trace amount of marijuana in their system from using it weeks ago, and while they were no longer under the influence of the drug, they would have been charged with a DUI under the state’s former zero-tolerance policy.
Senate Bill 2228 took effect upon being signed into law.
Package of new laws targets corruption in higher education
In response to the College of DuPage administrative scandal that resulted in the firing of school President Robert Breuder in 2015, a package of legislation addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in higher education was signed into law July 29 by Gov. Rauner.
Senate Bill 2155 requires that as part of a community college’s recognition process by the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), a review of compliance with state and federal laws regarding employment contracts and compensation must be conducted. An advisory committee, formed by the ICCB, will then review the findings and make recommendations for changes or additions to the laws or review procedures.
Senate Bill 2157 requires that all trustees elected or appointed to a community college board must complete training that covers ethics, financial oversight, audits, contract law, community college law, labor law, open meetings law, and freedom of information law.
Senate Bill 2158 establishes a blackout period where community college districts and boards cannot enter into employment contracts beginning 45 days before local elections and lasting until the first meeting of the new community college board of trustees.
Senate Bill 2159 requires contracts with community colleges and universities to be agreed to in open meetings.
In 2015, an investigation found former College of DuPage President Breuder spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer and donor dollars on lavish perks, participated in prohibited political activity, mismanaged college and foundation funds, and noncompetitive contracts were handed out based on clout, among other abuses.
These new laws will take effect January 1.
License plate renewal reminders to be mailed again
Illinois drivers will once again receive a reminder letter to renew their yearly license plate sticker from the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office. The Secretary of State’s Office says funds from the recent stopgap budget allow vehicle registration reminder letters to be reinstated. The practice of mailing reminders was halted in October due to the previous budget impasse.
A spokesman for the office said the mailings would be reinstated immediately. Motorists whose license plate stickers will expire toward the end of August will be the first to receive the mailed reminders.
Though the Secretary of State’s office urged motorists to sign up for electronic reminders, thousands still failed to renew their license plate stickers in a timely manner. As a result, many motorists were subsequently ticketed by law enforcement or paid late fees for expired license plate stickers.
A State Journal-Register article reported that from January to mid-July, about 563,400 motorists were assessed more than $11 million in late fees for failing to renew license plate stickers on time. During the same period in 2015, when renewal notices were still being mailed, about 252,700 motorists paid $5.5 million in late fees.
To help with the costs of mailing reminders, the Secretary of State’s Office says they are drafting legislation that would allow advertising on the mailings. Those that sign up for email reminders are removed from the office’s mailing list, which also helps reduce associated postage costs. Drivers can sign up for email notifications by visiting www.cyberdriveillinois.com.
To register for the program, vehicle owners need their assigned registration ID and PIN. That can be found on their current vehicle registration card. If that information is not available, motorists can call the Secretary of State public inquiry division at 1-800-252-8980 to obtain their Registration ID and PIN. Vehicle owners will then receive a series of three email notices per vehicle each year detailing the upcoming vehicle expiration date.
Illinois health officials: Avoid Miami due to Zika
With Zika virus cases in Florida linked to local mosquito transmission, the Illinois Department of Public health (IDPH) is joining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in advising pregnant women to avoid travel to the Miami, Florida area. Recently, the Florida Department of Public Health found Zika virus is spreading in Wynwood, a neighborhood in Miami. Zika virus has been linked to birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition where a baby is born with a much smaller head than what is considered normal.
The IDPH recommends for pregnant women and their partners:
Pregnant women should not travel to this area.
Pregnant women and their partners traveling to this area should follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.
Women and men who traveled to this area and who have a pregnant sex partner should use condoms or other barriers to prevent infection every time they have sex or not have sex during the pregnancy.
Pregnant women who frequently travel to this area should be tested in the first and second trimester of pregnancy.
Pregnant women with possible Zika virus exposure and signs or symptoms of Zika virus should be tested for Zika virus.
Pregnant women who traveled to or had unprotected sex with a partner that traveled to or lives in this area should talk to their health care provider and should be tested for Zika virus.
For couples who are thinking about getting pregnant:
Women with Zika should wait at least 8 weeks and men with Zika should wait at least six months after symptoms began before they try to get pregnant.
Women and men who traveled to this area or other areas where Zika is being transmitted should talk to their providers before they try to get pregnant.
The IDPH also urges travelers should take all the necessary steps to prevent spreading Zika virus by watching for symptoms after returning home and to call a health care provider immediately if they think they contracted the virus.
New app for visitors available for Illinois State Fair, which starts Aug. 11
The Illinois State Fair, a tradition dating back to 1853, will get under way Aug. 11 in Springfield. The 11- day event, which emphasizes Illinois’ rich agriculture, will see hundreds of thousands of people from across the state walk through the gates.
New this year for fairgoers is a free mobile phone app, which gives visitors access to deals and discounts during the fair. The app also allows fairgoers to purchase tickets to concerts and other events; displays the daily schedule of events and winners of competitions; and helps visitors find fair food staples like alligator on a stick, elephant ears, or corn dogs.
The app is available through the Google Play store for Android devices and the iTunes App Store for Apple devices.
Tickets to the fair cost $10 for adults (ages 13-59), $3 for seniors (ages 60 and older), and free for children (ages 0-12).
For more information on the daily schedule of events, Grandstand lineup, livestock shows, special ticket price days, and much more, visit the Illinois State Fair website.