Senate Week in Review: August 13-17, 2018

Regulatory burden eased for Illinois brewers

Intended to give a boost to Illinois brewers, recently-signed House Bill 4987 will give these entrepreneurs more freedom to sell, purchase, expand, and store beer and cider.

Craft brewing is a growth industry in Illinois, and will further benefit from the new law, which removes antiquated regulatory barriers that have stifled the growth of smaller craft brewers and limited beverage choices for consumers who visit their taprooms. Now Illinois’ craft brewers will more easily market their products and do business in Illinois since they can expand their operations and their market with fewer limitations.

Illinois brewers will also be able to sell their own beer to other Illinois breweries, which will then be able to sell the purchased beer directly to customers in their taprooms, and to purchase cider for selling in their taprooms.

The Brewer Warehouse Permit created by House Bill 4897 will allow small and growing breweries to expand their operations by using warehousing and storage facilities instead of opening second locations or moving to larger spaces. The permit will allow for Class 1 and Class 2 Brewers to transfer and store, at an off-site warehouse within 80 miles, as much as 930,000 and 3.72 million gallons, respectively, of beer that the brewery manufactured.

Prior to this bill, brewers were restricted from any of the above by outdated regulations set forth by the Liquor Control Act of 1934. In addition to being unnecessary to ensure safe liquor consumption, the controls also created a barrier to market entry for small businesses and protected established businesses from competition.

Education package to reduce teacher shortage in Illinois

In response to the state’s ongoing teacher shortage, new laws intended to cut red tape for teachers and offer more teaching opportunities for military spouses, were recently signed into law.

Senate Bill 1829 seeks to increase the number of eligible childcare professionals without lowering certification standards, while Senate Bill 3536 makes it easier for willing educators to expand their skills. Gateways Level 5 teachers in a community-based PFA program will now be able to earn a PEL through an alternative licensure program while staying at their current jobs.

Additionally, Senate Bill 2658 extends the validity of a Professional Educator License, with stipulations, from two years to three years for service members and their spouses. The measure has the dual benefit of making it easier for military spouses to secure work as an educator in Illinois, while also helping address the state’s ongoing teacher shortage.

House Bill 4742 allows school districts experiencing severe teacher shortages to contract with a third-party recruiting firm to supplement their substitute teaching search, empowering local school districts to address their teacher shortage, while also protecting existing school staff.

House Bill 5196 will decrease the fees teacher’s aides must pay to become licensed from $50 to $25, removing financial obstacles that have prevented individuals from maintaining and obtaining employment in Illinois.

Seventy-eight percent of the districts surveyed as part of a 2017 Teacher Shortage Survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools identified either a minor or serious problem with teacher shortages. More than half indicated a serious problem with substitute teacher shortages.

The new laws are a product of consultation and discussion between the Illinois Early Learning Council, the Illinois State Board of Education, the Governor’s Cabinet on Children and Youth, and a broad array of education experts and stakeholders.

New laws will streamline services for veterans

New state laws will streamline veteran identification services and make it easier for homeless veterans to access critical medical benefits they have earned. House Bill 4848 requires health care providers to provide one free, complete copy of a patient’s medical records if the patient is an indigent homeless veteran. 

Another new law, House Bill 4332, simplifies the process of obtaining a veteran’s designation on ID cards, by expanding the forms of proof that are acceptable. Also signed into law were House Bill 4576 and Senate Bill 2225, allowing combat veterans and veterans who earned the Southeast Asia Service Medal during Operation Desert Storm to have the feat reflected on their auto license plates.

In addition to the veteran’s designation bills, Gov. Bruce Rauner enacted House Bill 4954, providing that each year the 4th of November be observed throughout the state as GI Bill of Rights Day, commemorating the 1944 landmark legislation that provided benefits to World War II veterans. 

New law targets increased broadband access for Illinois seniors

A new law seeks to increase Illinois seniors’ access to high-speed Internet and provide more convenience with permanent identification cards.

The Broadband Advisory Council was created by House Bill 5752, and is charged with exploring new ways to expand broadband access, commonly known as “high-speed internet,” throughout the state, targeting unserved and underserved areas. Proponents say senior citizens would benefit from the resources and support offered on online platforms, such as telehealth, “smart home” system and home-based smart medical services.

Just under four-in-10 people aged 65 and older have high-speed internet access in their homes, compared to 77 percent of the 30- to 49-year-old demographic, according to AARP Illinois’ most recent data.

Governor takes action on agriculture legislation

A package of legislation was signed this week to benefit Illinois farmers and ag businesses. With more than 72,000 farmers and 2,400 food manufacturers in the state, Illinois leads the nation in food processing, and ag commodities businesses produce $19 billion annually—and billions more is stimulated by ag-related industry.

Senate Bill 3072 was signed to streamline and reduce some of the bureaucracy associated with the State Fair Advisory Board, which deals with operational matters impacting the Springfield and DuQuoin State Fairs.

House Bill 4999 reduces the number of meetings and other administrative requirements for the Advisory Board of Livestock Commissioners, which approves the rules and regulations of the department on prevention, elimination and control of diseases in our livestock. The changes were sought to achieve cost and staff time savings for administrative support.

Seeking to ensure the humane treatment of dogs and cats, House Bill 5029 makes certain breeders live up to legal standards for health. The new law clears up any confusion for licenses and consumers relating to the definition of a dog and cat breeder, establishing that breeders are anyone who intentionally breeds cats and dogs to sell, offer to sell, exchange or offer for adoption.

The Governor also signed House Bill 5459, amending the Horse Racing Act to allow more foals to qualify for Illinois races. Proponents say this will help the racing and horse breeding industries in the state.

Additionally, the signing of Senate Bill 2752 will change the definitions of “adulterated” meats and poultry to further protect consumers against food-borne illnesses. The new law ensures Illinois law conforms with federal guidelines, and that the state is adhering to best practices when it comes to food safety.  

Also signed into law was Senate Bill 2875, giving authority to the Department of Agriculture to develop and implement a value-added certification process and programs, which will guarantee Illinois certified products have traits and qualities that warrant higher prices.  The legislation also repeals some programs within the Department of Agriculture that have not functioned in years but still exist on paper.

Tollway transparency bill to keep public aware of topics, expenditures

Legislation has been signed into law intended to better inform the public about pending actions of the Illinois Tollway Board, and give Illinoisans adequate advance notice of transportation projects reliant on large sums of Tollway user-fee dollars.

Under Senate Bill 2291, the board of directors will be required to post an agenda for each meeting at illinoistollway.com, as well as at the Authority’s headquarters building at 2700 Ogden Ave., Downers Grove, two business days (rather than 48 hours) in advance of the meetings.

The new law also requires that contracts for projects costing more than $100,000 must include specific details via Internet links to the information.

MAP grant change helps colleges keep Illinois students in the state

New laws seek to give Illinois’ colleges and universities the necessary tools to attract in-state students, advancing improved financial aid plans, a more liberal application of credit transfers, and increased student counseling support. 

While the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP) renewals are awarded annually throughout a student’s post-secondary education, under House Bill 5020 priority consideration will now be given to existing recipients. Nearly 130,000 students received MAP grants in Fiscal Year 2018 and all but graduating students may be eligible for priority status in Fiscal Year 2019.

Senate Bill 2354 was also signed, a product of the General Assembly’s bipartisan, bicameral Higher Education Working Group organized with the goal of making Illinois’ colleges and universities more attractive and affordable for students across the state. The new law makes it easier for thousands of students to “reverse transfer” credits from one Illinois school to another, offering a low-cost alternative to award degrees to individuals who have accrued a significant number of college credits, but are left without a post-secondary credential despite having earned enough credits to be eligible for an associate degree.

In order to help prevent students from spending time and money on needless credits, the measure also encourages institutions to counsel students who expect to transfer to a public university on how best to apply credits toward degrees. This legislation seeks to help more students finish their degrees and prevent students from spending time and money on needless credits. 

New law to help protect East Central Illinois water source from natural gas leaks

A new law to protect Illinois families from contaminated water that could pose serious public health concerns was signed this week, requiring gas storage field owners to notify local communities if natural gas leaks threaten to expose residents and businesses to contaminated water. The new law also mandates annual storage field inspections by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Aimed at protecting the Mahomet Aquifer, East Central Illinois’ primary water source for more than 500,000 Central Illinois residents, House Bill 4746 responds to a gas leak in Champaign County in 2016. Local officials and area residents were not informed about the leak that contaminated private wells and was so severe that residents reported being able to light their water on fire.

The new requirements exceed federal standards, and were developed in consultation and cooperation with the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC). The legislation was pushed with its full support to require immediate local notification in the event of an incident.   

The annual DNR inspections will look for infrastructure deficiencies or failures that could affect public health. The costs of the annual inspections will be paid by the owners of the gas storage fields. The DNR will establish criteria for what constitutes an incident.

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