Senator Barickman’s Senate Week in Review: Aug. 29 – Sep. 2

Springfield – With the waning days of summer comes the beginning of the school year for Illinois students. Though schools will open on time due to the approval of the stopgap budget passed in late June, Senate Republicans stressed the General Assembly’s work is not done. In order to ensure other state priorities receive the state assistance and support they need, Senate GOP lawmakers emphasized the same spirit of bipartisanship and compromise that led to the temporary budget plan must be part of a budget compromise for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017.

In other news, a recent decision by the board of the Teachers Retirement System will increase the state’s pension payment by millions; a new report shows reductions in the state’s inmate population; new laws impact sportsmen and life insurance beneficiaries; and a September awareness month underscores the importance of emergency preparedness.

For sake of state, bipartisanship must extend beyond education

As students throughout Illinois begin another school year, Senate Republican lawmakers are stressing that even with the historic investment in education funding that Republican lawmakers pushed for, more work must be done to ensure schools—and other Illinois programs and services—receive the state resources they rely on.

Through the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission, some of that work is already underway. The third meeting of the Commission will take place Sept. 7, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle continue to meet with stakeholders in the education community to develop a new school-funding formula that will ensure every student in Illinois, from Chicago to Carbondale, has access to a quality education. This bipartisan Commission will present its recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly by Feb. 1, 2017. This will allow lawmakers to take action in advance of the 2017-2018 school year.

However, Senate Republican lawmakers underscore that it is imperative this bipartisan collaboration extends beyond education. In order to truly recover from the state’s year-long budget impasse and restore Illinois’ fiscal house, lawmakers and the Governor must work together to pass a balanced, full-year budget that incorporates the needed structural reforms that will help improve our state’s economy, while also drawing employers to Illinois and creating good-paying jobs.

The stopgap budget, and the willingness to come together, demonstrated to Illinois residents that change was possible. Now, Senate GOP legislators say the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner must show the public that compromise wasn’t fleeting, but indicative of a positive way forward.

TRS changes investment rate of return assumption

Senate Republican lawmakers are working with the Governor’s office and their legislative colleagues on options, in response to the recent decision by the non-elected Teacher’s Retirement System Board that will cost taxpayers additional millions in future pension payments.

The board voted 10-0 on Aug. 26 to reduce the rate of return assumption on its investments from 7.5 percent to 7 percent. The change may seem small, but that half a percent will add an estimated millions of dollars to the state’s budget obligations—a significant blow to the state’s already shaky finances. Though Senate GOP legislators had urged the TRS Board to refrain from acting until the public was given an opportunity to weigh in, the board chose to move forward.

Senate Republicans say it is imperative lawmakers explore options in response to the recent TRS board decision, which forces the state to direct scarce resources to cover the obligation. This will direct precious state dollars away from education and social service providers, many of whom were hit hard during the budget crisis.

September is National Preparedness Month

The recent flash floods that shutdown the Illinois State Fair in August underscore the importance of recognizing that inclement weather can happen at any moment.  September is National Preparedness Month, an initiative that seeks to raise awareness about the importance of individuals, businesses and organizations planning and preparing for unexpected disasters. 

Flooding accounts for the majority of disasters that occur in Illinois.  The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has several programs that assist communities recover following disasters. 

For more information on programs available through DCEO contact the agency at (312) 814-2811 or at the website: https://www.illinois.gov/dceo/CommunityServices/DisasterRecovery/Pages/default.aspx

Illinois prisons report drop in population

The Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) recently reported a reduction in the state’s inmate population of more than 4,200 since fiscal year 2014. The DOC reported a total prison population at 44,680 as of July 1, 2016, down from 48,921 in June 2014.

The Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform was created by Gov. Rauner and charged with identifying a path to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent over the next decade.  The Commission has identified recommendations to help reduce the inmate population and recidivism rates and help offenders more successfully reintegrate into society. A number of the Commission’s proposals have been signed into law this summer.

Although the inmate population has slowly been decreasing in recent years, judges, state’s attorneys and law enforcement officials will utilize the commission’s recommendations in order to reduce the burden on the state’s court system and correctional facilities, whose resources are stretched thin. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, it costs about $40,000 a year to incarcerate someone in Illinois.

However, the John Howard Association of Illinoi pointed out that even though the population numbers are down, prisons are still overcrowded by almost 12,000 inmates.

Illinois ranks 20 in personal freedom

The CATO Institute, an independent public policy organization, recently released its 2016 Freedom in the States report that ranks the American states based on how their policies promote freedom in the fiscal, regulatory and personal realms.  While Illinois ranked 44 in the states, it ranked number 20 in personal freedoms. 

CATO Institute claims Illinois, in the past four years, posted one of the most dramatic improvements in personal freedom that it has ever seen.  They attribute this to new laws for conceal carry, same sex marriage, legalized medical marijuana, driver’s licenses, and educational choice.

Although Illinois ranks middle of the road in personal freedoms, it ranks low for fiscal health.  The institute suggested “enacting a strict, ex post balanced budget requirements in the constitution in order to reduce state debt and improve the state’s poor credit rating.” 

See the results and other recommendations for Illinois at: http://www.freedominthe50states.org/overall/illinois.

New sportsmen bills enhance conservation efforts

Expanding on personal freedoms, new sportsmen bills were recently signed adding trapping to the youth license program, including various species for hunting and increasing hunting season for landowners with 40 acres or more.  Senate Bill 2410 adds trapping to the youth license program.  Hunters age 18 and younger may apply for a Youth Trapping License, as well as the current hunting and fishing licenses available for this age category.  Anglers will now be able to catch catfish using bowfishing equipment under House Bill 5788, and hunters are now permitted to hunt three additional species of birds on public hunting grounds.  Landowners with 40 acres or more will now be able to obtain free landowner permits for both deer and turkey, according to Senate Bill 3003.

Law requires insurance companies to locate beneficiaries

A recently signed law requires insurance companies to more quickly locate beneficiaries of unclaimed life insurance policies and distribute amounts they are owed by the policy. 

The Treasurer’s office has been conducting hearings across the state after the office identified more than $550 million in unpaid benefits owed to Illinois residents since 2011.  The General Assembly also responded, advancing a new law requiring companies to be more diligent about determining the death of a policyholder and distributing funds in a timely manner to beneficiaries. 

Proponents of the law pointed out that people who have purchased life insurance policies expect the benefits to be paid out to the intended recipients. The new law requires insurers to utilize federal death records to identify deceased policyholders.  Companies must conduct an initial check after January 1 and then twice each year moving forward in order to locate beneficiaries of the policies.

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