Senator Barickman’s Senate Week in Review: June 8 – 12

Springfield, Ill.— Illinois government remains a creature of habit as legislative Democrats embracethe status quo, refusing to discuss job-creating, economy-boosting reforms as part of the state’s budget talks, and instead focusing on tax increases as a way to balance the state budget, according to State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).

As a result, political gridlock continues to block reforms proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner and Senate Republicans to turn the state around.  While there has been no momentum on a compromise to date, Gov. Rauner and Republican leaders remain open to compromise.

Nearly 500 bills were passed this spring by the General Assembly, but only a handful have been sent to the Governor to sign. One of those measures include a synthetic drug ban that would help law enforcement combat these fatal substances and save lives. Families and communities wait anxiously for this important piece of legislation, which received overwhelmingly bipartisan support in both chambers, to be signed into law.

In honor of Flag Day, June 14, ceremonies will be held across the state to honor the American flag and everything it represents. Senator Barickman said these events are an excellent way to learn about proper flag etiquette. Click here to read more about proper flag etiquette under the United States Flag Code.

Comptroller weighs-in on budget impasse

As legislative leaders and the Governor try and find common ground on a budget deal for the upcoming fiscal year, this week Comptroller Leslie Munger outlined how a failure to reach a budget agreement by July 1 will impact residents and organizations throughout the state. Munger echoed Senate Republican lawmakers and the Governor’s calls for reform, saying that these structural changes are critical to making the state more competitive and should come before any discussion about new revenue.

While the Comptroller said the state will continue to make payments authorized in the current Fiscal Year 2015—which includes the state’s existing $5 billion backlog—she will not have the appropriations authority to make new payments beginning in the new fiscal year that begins July 1. This could result in delayed payments to Medicaid providers, and beginning July 15 she would be unable to issue paychecks for state employees.

However, Munger noted that not all payments would automatically cease. Debt payments and payments for pension and retiree benefits would continue, as well as checks for some programs that provide assistance for needy families, seniors and the blind. Certain payments to local governments would also continue.

Political gridlock blocks reform in Illinois

Scoring political points over passing good public policy continued into the first week of the overtime session, as Democrat leaders continued to block critical reforms that would freeze property taxes and reform the state’s workers’ compensation system.

On June 9, the Senate convened a rare “Committee of the Whole” hearing, inviting testimony from tax experts and education and local government representatives. However it was noted that Illinois taxpayers—those most dramatically impacted by Illinois’ high property taxes—were notably absent from the panel.

Gov. Rauner and Senate Republicans stress that Illinois has some of the nation’s highest property taxes. According to the Tax Foundation and the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois’ latest study, over a five-year period Illinois had the third-highest residential property tax rate in the nation, behind only New Jersey and New Hampshire. Other recent studies show Illinois having the second-highest property tax rates in the nation.

Senate Republicans emphasize that property tax relief is critical to keeping more families and businesses from fleeing the state. Senate Bill 1046 is founded in Gov. Rauner’s plan to freeze property taxes, allowing residents to choose through referendum whether they want to increase taxes for education, libraries or other services. The proposal would also directly address several of the contributing factors to high costs at the local level. However, Senate Democrats rejected Senate Bill 1046, and have so far refused to work with the Governor and their Republican counterparts on compromise legislation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also met June 9 to discuss workers’ compensation legislation being pushed by the House Speaker. Codifying what is already current law and making no real reforms, Senate Republicans say House Bill 1287 fails to address the issues that contribute to Illinois having the seventh-highest workers’ compensation rates in the nation—a distinction that employers say increases their costs and drives jobs out of Illinois.

Instead they point to Gov. Rauner’s proposal (Senate Bill 994) as a more effective option, saying the measure would have reduced workers’ compensation rates for businesses by instituting a number of reforms, including a provision that would ensure the workplace is the major contributing cause of the injury.

Senate Republicans remain open to compromise and continue to advocate for reforms in Illinois that will make the state more competitive, create new jobs and improve the overall economy. 

Synthetic drug ban to be sent to Governor

While the spring session hasn’t technically concluded, nearly 500 bills were approved by the General Assembly before the scheduled session deadline of May 31.

One of the last measures to receive approval was Senate Bill 1129, which would give law enforcement a new tool in combating the sale, distribution and possession of synthetic drugs by banning their underlying chemical structure.

Synthetics mimic marijuana, cocaine and meth but with significantly higher potency and significantly more dangerous to the user. In the past, efforts to outlaw the drugs failed because only specific synthetic drug formulas were made illegal.

Subsequently, the creators of the drugs altered the formula to skirt the law. Known side effects of the drugs include suicidal thoughts, confusion, violent behavior, hallucinations and chest pains.

Senate Bill 1129 received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and the House, but to date, it has not been sent to the Governor’s office for consideration.

Honoring the red, white andblue

Leading up to Independence Day, the nation celebrates Flag Day on June 14 to honor the American flag and what it represents. Over the weekend, Flag Day ceremonies will be held across the state—offering Illinoisans an opportunity to learn about proper flag etiquette and honor the “red, white and blue.”

The American Flag is a powerful symbol of liberty and equal opportunity for all who live in the United States. On May 30, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation establishing a national day to honor the country’s flag. Flag Day commemorates the adoption of the stars and stripes as the official flag of the United States in 1777.

Under federal law, there are flag etiquette standards that must be followed out of respect for the flag. Click here to read more about proper flag etiquette under the United States Flag Code.

Rain slowing Southern Illinois farmers

Rain and continuing wet conditions have left farmers in parts of Illinois behind schedule—threatening Illinois’ overall soybean, corn and wheat production this year. 

In the southwestern region, the 2015 soybean crop is only 56% planted, compared to the southeastern area at 72% planted, and the statewide average of 88%. Overall, 77% of the state soybean crop has emerged, with 74% rated as good or excellent. Corn conditions are looking slightly better, with 78% rated as good or excellent, and 96% emerged.

The USDA has released its estimate for the upcoming 2015 winter wheat harvest at 570,000 acres, down 15% from 2014, with the total yield estimated at 37.6 million bushels, down 16% from last year.

Boating safety in Illinois

As summer fun begins on the lakes and rivers in Illinois, Senator Barickman would like to remind boaters that there are new laws and regulations regarding watercraft safety.

Senate Republicans have supported several legislative measures that address watercraft safety concerns that have recently gone into effect or will in the next year: 

Boating Regulations (SB 3433/PA 98-0698): Establishes new boating certification requirements starting in 2016 that restricts anyone under the age of 18 from driving a motorboat.

Watercraft Towing (SB 2731/PA 98-0697): Requires that any watercraft towing a person must display at the highest point of the area surrounding the boat’s helm, a bright or brilliant orange flag visible from all directions, continuously, from the time the person gets out of the boat until they get back into the boat.

Drunk Boating (SB 1479/PA 98-0103): Requires that any person who operates a motorboat and who has been involved in a fatal accident or accident with serious injuries to submit a blood alcohol test.

Boating Violations (SB 1310/PA98-0102): Clarifies and updates a number of boat rental violations. This was requested by the Department of Natural Resources, which has found it difficult to force some boat renters to comply with state law because of weak penalties.

For a complete list of 2015 Illinois boating laws and regulations, please refer to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Boat Registration & Safety Act Information handbook.

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