SPRINGFIELD, IL – On Friday, May 8, the Illinois Supreme Court voted to strike down Illinois’ 2013 pension reform law. According to State Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) the next step is for lawmakers and the Governor to come together to find a constitutional solution to Illinois’ pension woes that preserves earned benefits, and eases the burden on Illinois taxpayers.
Ongoing budget negotiations hit a speed bump this week as Illinois Democrats chose playing political games over working toward filling the projected $6 billion hole in next year’s budget. With less than a month to go before the scheduled May 31 adjournment the majority party seems to be operating like it’s “business as usual,” and avoiding making real progress on the issues holding Illinois back.
Also this week the Illinois Senate approved a resolution honoring the military service of the seven Powell brothers, all of whom served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II. That same day legislators paused to honor Illinois’ police officers at the 2015 Illinois Police Officers Memorial Ceremony.
Several interesting measures passed in Senate committees, one of which aims to stop the expansion of taxing bodies in Illinois. Another, more controversial bill could decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession.
Meanwhile, working groups established by the Governor covering a wide range of state issues continue to meet as lawmakers work toward essential reforms of state government. However, progress on workers’ compensation reform was called into question, when a rare full House hearing was called to invite public feedback on the issue, but limited testimony was allowed from major stakeholders.
IL Supreme Court strikes down pension law
The Illinois Supreme Court struck down Illinois’ pension reform law on Friday, May 15. Public Act 98-0599, the result of the work of the Conference Committee on Pension Reform, aimed to gradually reduce Illinois’ unfunded public employee pension liability.
Currently, nearly a quarter of Illinois’ budget is used to pay pensions or to pay off past loans taken out to cover short-term pension costs. Illinois’ current unfunded liability is around $105 billion and growing, and in recent years the state has carried the dubious distinction of having the worst funded pension system in the nation.
Following the ruling, members of the Senate Republican caucus affirmed their commitment to continuing to work toward finding a constitutional solution to fix Illinois’ pension system that preserves earned benefits, and eases the burden on Illinois taxpayers.
Read the full opinion here: http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2015/118585.pdf
Resolution Honors WWII’s Powell Brothers
A resolution honoring the seven Powell brothers from Greene County, all of whom served in World War II, unanimously passed the Illinois Senate on May 7. Senate Joint Resolution 2, sponsored by Senator Sam McCann names a section of Route 67 through Greene County the “Powell Brothers Memorial Highway.
“When tyranny threatened the entire globe, seven brothers stood up to defend the cause of freedom,” said Senator McCann. “These heroes deserve to be remembered for their dedication to God and country.”
The seven brothers were scattered throughout the Western European, Russian, and Japanese theaters of combat. Arthur, Earl, Fred, and George Powell served in the Navy. Adrian, Everett, and Max Powell served in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the modern Air Force. Everett was shot down in his P-47 Thunderbolt over Belgium, and was held in a German prisoner of war camp for 18 months. All seven brothers survived and returned home after the war.
The brothers were commended by the United States Senate in May of 2014. The family’s hometown, Hillview, erected a memorial flagpole in their honor in 1988.
SJR 2 now heads to the Illinois House for approval in that chamber.
Police Memorial held at Illinois State Capitol
Hundreds of police officers from throughout the state gathered at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 12, for the 2015 Illinois Police Officers Memorial Ceremony. The annual ceremony honors officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
The memorial statue, which sits on the West Lawn of the State Capitol, serves as a reminder to the people of the State of Illinois of the sacrifices made by the brave police officers who protect our safety.
Watch a video here about this year’s memorial service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPErL1dsYM0
Measure Aims to stop expansion of taxing bodies
State Sen. Michael Connelly (R-Wheaton) is leading the charge against the expansion of taxing bodies in Illinois.
House Bill 228 will prevent the General Assembly creating any new units of government or subdividing any existing ones. The bill’s sponsor said Illinois has units of government that focus solely on regulating things like mosquitos, tuberculosis, museums, hospitals, exposition halls, and airports.
Illinois leads the nation with 6,963-plus units of government, double the number of neighboring states Wisconsin and Missouri. Illinois’ other three neighbors – Kentucky, Indiana, and Iowa – combined have 1,000 less units of government. Illinois’ total is staggering when compared to California’s 4,425 and Texas’ 5,147, considering the relative size of the Land of Lincoln’s population.
House Bill 228 does not prevent two existing units of government from combining or eliminating and consolidating services into one taxing body.
Senate considers cannabis measures
Legislation to extend the state’s medical cannabis pilot program and decriminalize small amounts of cannabis advanced out of Senate committees this week.
Helping reduce the number of non-violent offenders in the state’s overburdened court and correctional systems is one of the primary objectives of House Bill 218. The legislation would reduce penalties for possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis, making the offense punishable by a maximum $125 fine.
However, opponents point out marijuana continues to be an offense under Federal law, and a number of law enforcement organizations are concerned about the impact of a provision in the bill that establishes THC levels—the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects—that are allowable while driving. Additionally, challengers of House Bill 218 note that the state just approved the medical marijuana program and has not yet had the opportunity to analyze its impact of communities, let alone the impact of decriminalization of cannabis for recreational use.
Proponents, including the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, argue that the bill will create a uniform penalty throughout the state, and could help relieve an overcrowded court system. Additionally, they say it makes it easier to prosecute drivers found to be under the influence of cannabis.
On a related front, the sponsors of the state’s medical cannabis pilot program are asking for more time to analyze the program’s impact in Illinois. They’ve introduced House Bill 3299, which would extend the current January 1, 2018 repeal date of the program, changing it to four years after the filing of the first dispensary organize registration; likewise, patient registry cards would be extended from one year from that date.
Opponents say it’s too soon to extend the program, noting that at this time there is nothing to examine to see if it is worth extending. Registration for the dispensaries and cultivation centers have only recent been issued, and patients have not yet began using medical cannabis for treatment.
Senator Barickman meets with Senate Majority Leader Christine Radogno and Deputy Leader Matt Murphy on the Illinois Senate floor.