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Senate Week in Review: March 6-10, 2017

Legislators wasted much of their time in committees during the week as a series of “subject matter only” hearings were held on elements of Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget proposal.  Most of this was Democrat Kabuki theater to try to show that a balanced budget is not possible without tax increases.

Also during the week, the Senate Criminal Law Committee heard testimony on a controversial criminal justice reform proposal that combines elements of the City of Chicago’s “mandatory minimum” firearms sentencing bill with drug penalty reductions.

Illinois got some good news March 8 when the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition (ISTC) reported an increase in entrepreneurial activity at Illinois’ universities.  Over the past five academic years, students and faculty at the state’s universities have created more than 800 startup companies.

Budget hearings

Most Senate committees during the week were dedicated to hearing testimony on elements of the Governor’s spending plan.

The Governor has consistently advocated for a multi-pronged approach, stressing that a combination of budget cuts and reforms to fix Illinois’ broken system would have to be in place before even considering asking taxpayers to pay more.  A comprehensive package will include a balanced budget, substantial spending cuts, common sense reforms, and taxpayer protections while encouraging entrepreneurs to create more Illinois jobs.

Senate committee hears controversial legislation 

On March 9, the Senate Criminal Law Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 1722.  A key component of this measure is a request by Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson that would impose stiffer sentences for felons convicted of gun crimes, which Superintendent Johnson believes would hold repeat gun offenders accountable.

Senate Republican committee members, recognizing the importance of this request, raised concerns about other provisions tacked onto the legislation, such as a provision that would ease penalties for some drug-related crimes including possession of 100 grams or more of cocaine, heroin, or fentanyl.  This concern was shared by Superintendent Johnson who told the Chicago Sun-Times that “…the drug trade is what drives gang violence in Chicago and lessening the consequences for high level narcotic dealing and possession makes me very uncomfortable.”

Because of these concerns, Senate Republicans voted against the bill in hopes a clean bill will be presented to address these important concerns.

Illinois Innovation Index reveals good news

Illinois has experienced record growth in entrepreneurial activity at its universities, according to the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition (ISTC), which released its Illinois Innovation Index on March 8.  The Illinois Innovation Index reports on key metrics of the state’s innovation economy.

The ISTC attributes the increased startup activity to efforts at Illinois’ universities to provide students and faculty with resources like classes, programming, competitions, and mentorship, which facilitate entrepreneurship.  According to the index, students and faculty at Illinois universities have created 804 startups through technology licensing, entrepreneurship programs, competitions and other university initiatives during the past five academic years.

Senate committees approve legislation

Senate committees approved nearly 60 pieces of legislation during the week on topics ranging from insurance and education, to pensions and criminal law.  The deadline to pass substantive Senate bills out of committee is March 17. 

Read more about the legislation that cleared committee this week at the Senate Action Page.

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