Senate Week in Review: November 17-21

The first week of the fall 2014 veto session ended with lawmakers on the Senate Executive Committee advancing legislation that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 over the next three years.

The Senate and the House of Representatives also acted on a number of gubernatorial vetoes; however, at the end of the first week, it seemed unlikely lawmakers will move forward on legislation that would tighten regulations on ride-sharing companies or move the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from the auspices of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Judge declares pension law unconstitutional

A Sangamon County Circuit Court judge ruled that the Illinois pension overhaul, commonly referred to as SB1, is unconstitutional. The judge agreed with claims by retiree and state employee organizations that the law violated the Illinois constitution clause that states that pension benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

The state will likely appeal the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court, which will have the final say on whether the law meets constitutional muster. 

 

Minimum wage increase moves through Senate

On Nov. 19, Democrat legislative leaders pushed a measure through the Senate Executive Committee that would increase the state’s minimum wage from the current $8.25 per hour to $10 per hour on July 1, 2015.

The bill’s sponsor indicates she wants the legislation to be approved before the General Assembly before Jan. 1. Senate Bill 68 was amended to not only increase the minimum wage in Illinois to $10 per hour on July 1, but to incrementally increase Illinois’ minimum wage by an additional fifty cents over the next three years, bringing the minimum wage to $11 per hour by July 1, 2017.

Opponents of a minimum-wage increase underscore that increasing the minimum wage will hurt Illinois employers, resulting in layoffs and increased prices on goods and services. However, Gov. Pat Quinn has long supported passage of an increase, and recently stated a minimum-wage hike is his top priority before leaving office in January.

While Governor-elect Bruce Rauner has also indicated he would support a minimum-wage increase, he has stressed that would only be if it was coupled with business-friendly concessions, including tort reform, tax reforms and workers’ compensation reforms. Rauner points out that these initiatives would help employers create more jobs, which will help them absorb the cost of the minimum-wage increase.

Republicans on the Executive Committee said a discussion on the minimum-wage increase is one that should be held when the new legislature and Illinois’ new governor have been sworn into office—not during the fall veto session, or a possible lame-duck session in January.

The Senate Executive Committee also advanced legislation (HB 5485) that would add staffing levels, also known as “manning,” to the list of mandatory subjects of collective bargaining for firefighters. If an agreement cannot be reached, the local government and the collective bargaining unit will be subject to binding arbitration.

Opponents stressed that if manning is imposed on a city, and that city gets into a budget squeeze, it could not reduce minimum staffing without the union’s agreement. As a result, the bill could force local governments to raise property taxes to pay for increased staffing levels. Firefighters note that manning is already contained in many municipal labor agreements across the State (including Chicago) and that this bill would not require, only continue to allow, an arbitrator to award manning during arbitration. Arbitrators can still choose not to award a request to insert manning into a union contract. 

Many firefighters argue that understaffing has jeopardized public safety, and the safety of the firefighters, due to municipal budget troubles, which drives the need for the legislation.

Also on Nov. 19, House Bill 5485 was sent to the Senate for consideration and passed by a 42-11-4 vote after a long debate.

House education committees hold hearing on SB 16

On Nov. 18, members of the House Elementary Committee and the House Elementary and Secondary Appropriations Committee held a joint hearing on Senate Bill 16, highly contentious legislation that would significantly overhaul Illinois’ current school-funding formula.

At the lengthy hearing, proponents and opponents, including both superintendents and teachers from across the state, presented testimony outlining what changes they believe are needed to make the measure palatable. House lawmakers agreed that the state’s system of education funding is in need of reform. However, after the discussion held during the Nov. 18 hearing, it seems clear that Senate Bill 16 would require significant revisions in order for the legislation to be approved by House lawmakers.

 

Abraham Lincoln Museum separation from Historic Preservation Agency postponed

The House will postpone a decision to transition the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to a stand-alone agency until results of a study on the issue are released. The report is scheduled to be delivered in mid-January, the product of a study panel convened to look into the management at the Library and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

The issue of switching the library and museum to a separate agency arose last spring following complaints from the board members who cited hiring issues and difficulty implementing new programs due to the structure of the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency.

Illinois lawmakers act on gubernatorial vetoes

The Senate on Nov. 20 voted 44-5-1 to override Gov. Quinn’s veto of Senate Bill 2015, legislation that increases the speed limit on Illinois toll highways to 70 miles-per-hour. Senate Bill 2015 now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Quinn vetoed Senate Bill 2015 on Aug. 26, citing evidence that tollway drivers already exceed the speed limit in many cases, which he said can lead to serious accidents. However, a recent study found that differential speeds between vehicles were actually more problematic.

However, the House sponsor of legislation that would have imposed new statewide regulations on ridesharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar said he would not be pursuing an override of the Governor’s veto of his legislation (HB 4075/HB 5331). Instead, he indicated he would work with interested parties to draft a new bill that would impose fewer, less burdensome regulations on the companies.

Both the House and Senate have voted to override the following gubernatorial vetoes during the week of Nov. 17-21:

Construction Debris (HB 4606 – Amendatory Veto): Clarifies that facilities that accept only general construction or demolition or demolition debris and operate in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act are not considered a “pollution control facility.” Identical to SB 2944, which passed unanimously.  

Suburban Truck Speed Limit (SB 930 – Veto): Provides that in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, the interstate speed limit for second division vehicles, such as a semi-truck, is 60 mph on interstate highways. 

Anatomic Pathology (SB 1630 – Amendatory Veto): Spells out billing practices of “anatomic pathology services.”  Clarifies exemptions and specifies there is no prohibition against a referring physician, who takes a patient specimen, from charging a patient or a payer an acquisition or processing charge. Anatomic pathology is a medical specialty that is concerned with the diagnosis of disease based on the gross, microscopic, chemical, immunologic and molecular examination of organs, tissues, and whole bodies.

70 MPH Tollway (SB 2015 – Veto): Brings the state’s Toll Highway system in the Chicago region up to the same 70 mph standard. This is a follow-up measure to legislation that raised the speed limit on Interstate highways in Illinois to 70 mph in January.

Voluminous Requests (HB 3796 – Amendatory Veto): Amends the Freedom of Information Act to provide a process for handling “voluminous requests,” to allow for recovery of personnel costs to review documents for redactions of a commercial request, and to allow a public body to refer a requester to their website if the information is posted on the public body’s website. The bill was introduced as a way to help municipalities, which the bill’s sponsor stated sometimes receive “spiteful, harassing” Freedom of Information Requests.

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