The General Assembly arrived at a mid-point in the legislative session with the deadline for the Senate and House of Representatives to act on bills that originated in their respective chambers.
The Senate will now spend much of the remainder of the session reviewing bills already passed by the House, while the House will concentrate on Senate measures.
A controversial and dramatic rewrite of the state’s system of funding schools is also under consideration, although what began as a bipartisan effort to address inequities in the state’s school-aid formula has morphed into a partisan plan that could exacerbate existing inequities in funding and force taxpayers statewide to subsidize pension payments for Chicago teachers.
Dozens of other bills were voted on by both chambers, including proposals that would crack down on heroin trafficking and help communities with disaster relief. Lawmakers also approved two Constitutional amendments, which will go on the November ballot for voter consideration.
Information on all bills that passed the Senate can be found on the “Senate Action” page of the Senate Republican Web site.
Minimum Wage Compromise
During the week, I reached out to employers and across the aisle to my Democrat colleagues to offer a compromise to the current debate about raising Illinois’ minimum wage.
On April 8, I introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 2004, which would raise the minimum wage for workers ages 26 and older to $9.00 per hour on January 1, 2015; to $9.50 per hour on January 1, 2016; and to $10.00 per hour on January 1, 2017. The amendment would also prevent municipal leaders from requiring a higher minimum wage in their communities.
As a long-time business owner, I have seen first-hand the impact of across-the-board minimum wage increases. As a lawmaker, I know how divisive this issue is, both across party lines and within party caucuses. I am offering a compromise. By increasing the minimum wage for adult workers in steps over three years, Senate Bill 2004 will help working families, but should not kill jobs.
I recognize the difficulty working men and women face when trying to support their families, so I am open to the idea of a higher minimum wage for adult workers. However, we must be careful. Illinois has one of the highest minimum wages in the country and is underperforming nearly every state in jobs, while the number of people in poverty grows. The other minimum-wage proposals out there right now only address across-the-board increases, which will result in significant job losses and are particularly unfair to young minority workers who already face high unemployment rates.
The reactions to my amendment so far are mixed. Some are concerned. Some acknowledge that this is a workable compromise. I will be working with business leaders and with lawmakers from both sides of aisle to make a minimum-wage increase possible without the very real economic harm that other minimum-wage proposals would cause.
The Senate unanimously lent its support April 10 to a Constitutional amendment that would supplement and clarify an existing section of the State Constitution on crime victims’ rights. Known as “Marsy’s Law,” House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 1 (HJRCA 1) outlines crime victims’ rights, stating they are entitled to fairness, respect, safety and information about court proceedings and rulings. Victims can also offer impact statements when relevant.
A second amendment seeks to preserve voting rights in Illinois. House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 52 (HJRCA 52) clarifies that “no person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income.”
Having been adopted by both chambers of the General Assembly, HJRCA 1 and HJRCA 52 will be placed on the 2014 ballot during the November General Election, at which time Illinois voters will decide whether or not to add these provisions to the Illinois Constitution. Constitutional amendments require either a three-fifths majority vote of those voting on the amendment or a majority of those voting in the election.
School Bill Lacks Data
The proposed revision of the state’s school-aid formula is contained in Senate Bill 16. A detailed analysis of the impact the legislation would have on individual school districts in downstate and suburban areas has been hampered by a lack of data and the complexity of the changes being proposed.
However, several controversial provisions have emerged. One would have the state subsidize pension fund payments owed by the Chicago school system. This would be done by granting a special credit of about $175 million to the school district using state tax dollars.
Details have also emerged in recent days showing that an existing disparity in the way students in poverty are treated across the state would actually be greater under Senate Bill 16 than under the current system.
Currently, state funding for a student living in poverty can range from $355 to $2,994 per student by school district. The proposal would actually widen that gap, granting just $15 for students living in poverty in some districts and awarding more than $5,000 for students in other districts. Although the legislation has its roots in a study from Illinois Senate Republicans, the provisions of the bill actually exacerbate many of the inequities identified in that report.
Blocking the ‘Heroin Highway’
Cracking down on narcotics trafficking across county or state lines is the intent of legislation to address the growing heroin problem plaguing many suburban communities.
Senate Bill 3469 will allow a judge to consider as a factor in sentencing, a defendant’s transportation of controlled substances from one Illinois County to another, or from another state into Illinois.
A Young Adults Heroin Use Task Force created in 2013 to study the problem of heroin abuse has met several times in recent months and is working to implement changes to the law to protect young people.
Legislation to aid in disaster recovery efforts, sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators, passed the Senate during the week.
Senate Bill 231 allows the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to provide special grants to units of local government, school districts, and community colleges following natural disasters like the tornadoes that tore through central Illinois in November of 2013.
In January, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied a request for aid, saying that the infrastructure damage after the storms was not severe enough to warrant federal assistance for local government. Under Senate Bill 231, the state’s Emergency Management Agency would be able to provide state assistance to local governments when there is a state disaster declaration.