SPRINGFIELD – Senate Democrats narrowly rammed through legislation purported to represent school funding reform, despite analysis from the state school board showing that plan was little more than a thinly-veiled bailout for Chicago schools. The bill faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers are currently reviewing other options.
However, lawmakers did come together to pass a $700 million stopgap funding measure for struggling human services.
Another measure finding broad bipartisan support was a bill that could help save lives for those who suffer life-threatening allergic reactions. The legislation was partly inspired by a young girl who recently lost her life as the result of a severe reaction.
In addition, downstate lawmakers are working together to help save jobs tied to the coal industry, and firefighters from across Illinois were in Springfield to honor the bravery and sacrifice of some of their comrades.
Human services funding clears both chambers
Both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation to provide $714 million to human services programs. The legislation was aimed at providing stopgap funding to help keep struggling services and providers keep their doors open.
Senate Bill 2038 spends $456.8 million from the Commitment to Human Services Fund, a special fund that collected a percentage of revenue from the 2010 income tax hike. The remaining balance comes from several other miscellaneous state funds, but the entire package is based on existing revenue.
The Illinois Senate had previously passed a smaller version of the appropriation, but more funding was added when the bill moved from the House. During debate, Republicans raised important questions about the bill, asking why no money was included for operations. They pointed out funding is needed for essential operations, like utilities, maintenance, food, etc. Senate GOP lawmakers noted this operations funding is not only critical to mental health facilities, but to correctional facilities in all regions of the state. They also expressed concerns about language in the bill that could potentially hold up some of the intended spending.
A number of Senate Republican legislators also questioned why similar legislation to help fund higher education hadn’t been acted on by the House.
SB2038 now heads to the governor for his signature.
Senate Dems ram through dangerous school funding bill
Democrat Senators took advantage of confusion and misinformation to narrowly pass a bill they touted as the answer to the state’s broken school funding formula. But according to data released by the Illinois State Board of Education, the proposal would represent a windfall of approximately $750 million for Chicago Public Schools (CPS), while shuffling around the limited remaining dollars between the majority of the state’s school districts.
The legislation’s primary sponsor, State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), had proclaimed that it was “one formula for the entire state” with “no special deals” for any one district and that it would finally end the Chicago Block Grant. In reality, the bill keeps the majority of the Chicago Block Grant intact, which gives Chicago a larger share of several state grants than if they were treated the same as all other school districts. Combined, those grants would total $368 million in special deals for CPS.
In addition, the legislation alters the school funding formula to benefit Chicago, worth $175 million, and would give the financially strapped district a pension bailout costing $205 million. In total, CPS would receive $750 million in special deals at the expense of the rest of the state.
Sen. Manar touted a “hold harmless” provision that would keep all schools at their Fiscal Year 2015 funding level, but for just one year. Then the provision would taper off by 25% per year, leaving schools to face the full brunt of the cuts in just four years.
That provision, and another that would provide adequacy grants to help schools, would only be possible with an extra $442 million. With the state’s budget deficit at several billion dollars, it seems very unlikely that the sponsor can find another half-a-billion dollars to pay for it, which leaves schools facing the full brunt of the cuts immediately.
Future of school funding uncertain in House
Manar’s school funding bill is now in the House, where it is not expected to see any action any time soon. In fact, just a couple hours before it passed the Senate, many downstate Democrat lawmakers held a press conference pushing the idea of fully funding the existing school funding formula for the first time in seven years. Senate Republicans and the Govenor have been advocating for that approach, saying it helps all schools right now, while giving lawmakers time to craft a real solution to the future of school funding.
A House committee is also currently exploring the school funding issue. During the week, they heard from members of the education community, including the Vision 20/20 organization, a coalition of educators, administrators and other stakeholders. The Vision 20/20 group is backing a different type of funding reform, one that would base the entire system on evidence rather than politics. They have already filed legislation in the Senate, sponsored by State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington), but so far Democrat leaders have blocked that bill from even being heard in committee.
General Assembly passes legislation to help battle life-threatening allergic reactions
The House and Senate have approved legislation to expand access to epinephrine auto-injectors (epi-pens) to treat life-threatening allergic reactions, honoring Annie LeGere, a young Elmhurst girl who died in August 2015.
House Bill 4462 would allow state police and other law enforcement agencies to conduct training programs for officers on how to recognize and respond to anaphylaxis, including administration of an epinephrine auto-injector.
Last August, 13-year-old Annie suffered a very severe allergic reaction and unfortunately, epinephrine was not available to be administered to save her.
Annie’s mother, Shelly LeGere, came to Springfield April 5 to testify before the Senate Public Health Committee on behalf of the legislation. She was also present in the Senate May 11 when the bill passed by a unanimous vote.
Shelly LeGere has also created The Annie LeGere Foundation to increase awareness of life-threatening allergic reactions and equip first-responder emergency vehicles, schools and as many other public settings as possible with epinephrine auto-injectors. Information about The Annie LeGere Foundation is available at www.amazingannie.org.
Approved by a unanimous vote of the House of Representatives on April 19 and by a unanimous vote of the Senate on May 11, House Bill 4462 now moves to the Governor’s desk for consideration.
Lawmakers push for movement on procurement reform
Republican legislators were joined by the directors of the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Capital Development Board and Central Management Services in calling for the General Assembly to advance legislation that would save Illinois taxpayers $500 million annually through procurement reform.
The current procurement process is extremely cumbersome and takes nine to 12 months to complete. Senate Bill 2400 has been introduced to create a more efficient purchasing system in Illinois. Proponents of the measure say it would streamline bureaucracy, give greater flexibility to State agencies, and move Illinois to follow best practices of other states to achieve greater savings.
The reforms include the creation of a pool of pre-qualified vendors for supplies and services, and would allow State and local governments to enter into purchasing consortiums in hopes of leveraging buying power. In addition, the reforms would carve out procurement code exemptions for an array of instances including service contracts, trade shows and units of higher education, while at the same time speeding up the purchasing process.
Senate Bill 2400 also has transparency measures that continue to require high levels of qualifications for those involved in procurement, while at the same time requiring an audit of procurement by the Auditor General every two years. Not only will the legislation speed up the procurement process, it ensures high levels of ethical conduct and transparency at all steps of the procurement process.
Downstate lawmakers work to protect downstate coal jobs
A bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers gathered at the Capitol on May 10 to voice their support for an innovative plan aimed at reviving Illinois’ coal industry.
As the major power companies are presenting their plans for the state’s future, the proposal aims to keep coal a part of the state’s broad energy portfolio.
The proposed Illinois Energy and Environmental Security Act requires Illinois utilities to have purchasing agreements with clean-coal burning facilities, with a goal of those agreements representing at least 40 percent of their retail customer load starting in 2020. It also authorizes the Illinois Commerce Commission to devise a way to pay for “scrubbers” that allow Illinois coal-fired power plants to burn Illinois coal cleanly. In addition, the act allows the State of Illinois to purchase and sell Illinois coal to generating facilities if it chooses.
The lawmakers pointed out that Illinois coal burns hotter, and can be used to create more energy and decrease CO2 emissions.
Firefighters gather to honor fallen comrades
The 23rd Annual Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial ceremony on May 10 brought in firefighters from across the state to honor 27 of their comrades for acts of bravery and sacrifice.
Three firefighters received the Firefighter Medal of Honor to “recognize those that took extraordinary actions to help protect the lives of their fellow firefighters and citizens.”
Firefighters also mourned four fallen comrades who gave their lives in the line of duty. The fallen firefighters were each posthumously awarded the Duty Death Gold Badge.