Senate Week in Review: May 1-5, 2017

Illinois Senators completed final action more than 100 bills during the week, held a public hearing on school funding reform, and honored police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.


Innovative school funding reform plan gets hearing


After years of debate, special commissions and studies, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony May 4 on a fairer method to fund schools based on known and unique economic facts of each district.


Senate Bill 1124 is an evidence-based school funding plan endorsed by Senate Republicans.  It would reallocate more than a half-billion dollars in funding to help school districts meet financial adequacy targets.  The evidence-based approach uses 27 different known variables to indicate a fair funding level for each school district.  Under this approach, funding would be based on the real costs of the districts, accepted best practices, and student demographics.  While the legislation removes the Chicago Block Grant for Chicago Public Schools (CPS), it is tied to another piece of legislation where the state would pick up CPS’ pension costs, something the state currently does not pay.


Senate Bill 1124 is based on the findings of Governor Bruce Rauner’s Illinois School Funding Reform Commission, a group of bipartisan lawmakers who were tasked with providing solutions to fix Illinois’ current school funding system.


The committee also heard testimony on Senate Bill 1125, which would provide schools with significant mandate relief, as well as Senate Bill 1, which is similar to Senate Bill 1124 but provides no mandate relief and contains funding for the Chicago block grant.


Republicans put people over partisan politics


Senate Democrats tried, and failed, this week to advance a measure (Senate Bill 1424) that would force Illinois taxpayers to pay for political campaigns.


It is estimated this measure would cost taxpayers from $12 million to $50 million, and would come with a continuing appropriation.  Senate Republicans noted that Illinois’ struggling schools and human service providers aren’t even funded with a continuing appropriation, and therefore the state shouldn’t be putting partisan politics ahead of people.


While the measure failed to receive the 30 votes necessary to advance, it could still be called again under a provision in the Senate’s rules.


Unloading JRTC “win-win” for taxpayers and CPS


In other news, Senate and House Republican Leaders joined Governor Rauner in renewing support for the sale of the James R. Thompson Center (JRTC) in Chicago by offering a unique plan to help fund financially-strapped Chicago Public Schools (CPS).


Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs filed legislation (Senate Bill 2209) that will direct all future property tax receipts from the redevelopment of the JRTC to CPS.


Senate Bill 2209 would provide CPS with a stable source of additional revenue for years to come, and would let Illinois off the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and maintenance costs on a dilapidated building the state can no longer afford.


The JRTC currently occupies an entire city block in Chicago’s Loop.  By selling the building, Illinois taxpayers could earn hundreds of millions in a sale and Chicago could generate up to $45 million annually in property taxes.


Fallen police officers honored


Hundreds of police officers from across Illinois came to the Capitol May 4 to honor the lives and the service of those officers, from years and decades past until today, who gave their lives during the line of duty.  The Police Memorial Statue is located on the Capitol grounds, but because of inclement weather, a ceremony marking the event was held at the State Library adjacent to the Capitol.  The names of 12 officers were added to the memorial this year.


The Senate also took action on more than 100 bills during the week, with some measures receiving Senate Republican support, and others not.  Those bills included:


Transparency for property taxpayers: Senate Bill 1072 requires local property tax bills to clearly indicate when a local taxing body chooses not to collect the full amount of property taxes for that year, giving taxpayers the opportunity to clearly see which units of government are returning their hard-earned money.  The proposal requires every property tax bill to list the total dollar amount that would have been due if no decrease was given, the dollar amount of any “abatement” or tax reduction, and the total reduced tax bill that is actually due.


Financial protections for the elderly: Senate Bill 1409 would strengthen laws against the financial exploitation of the elderly or disabled.  The measure also makes a technical change in current Illinois law expanding the legal venue for bringing prosecutions in financial exploitation cases.  There are frequent instances, under current law, when a suspect lives in a different county or state from the victim, which creates an impediment to prosecution.


No cooperation on federal immigration law: Opposed by Senate Republicans, Senate Bill 31 essentially bars Illinois law enforcement from complying with federal immigration detainers.  The bill would also bar other government agencies and schools from cooperating with the federal government in upholding U.S. Immigration law.  Senate Republicans voted against the measure because they are concerned the blanket prohibition could result in leaving criminal illegal immigrants, including those accused of violent crimes, on the streets.  The Democrats are attempting to make Illinois a so-called “sanctuary city.”  Under questioning on the floor, I was at least able to get the sponsor, Senate President John Cullerton, to agree to reconsider the bill if it results in a loss of federal dollars. 


Concealed carry permits for active-duty military: Senate Bill 1524 would allow active-duty military personnel who are not residents of Illinois, but permanently stationed in Illinois, to obtain an Illinois Concealed Carry Permit.  Supporters argue that by the very nature of their service to our country, members of the military are qualified and capable of meeting the responsibilities that go with carrying a concealed firearm.  The legislation received full bipartisan support.

View All News Stories