A fall “lame-duck” veto session is not the time for lawmakers to push through major policy initiatives on partisan roll-calls, but Democrat legislative leaders pushed through a number of significant and controversial measures prior to adjourning on December 4.
A more reasonable option would have been to wait until the state’s new governor and lawmakers are sworn-in next month and allow the 99th General Assembly to fully address any concerns or issues prior to passage of the legislation.
Lawmakers override Governor’s speed-limit veto
I am pleased to report that legislators overwhelmingly overrode the Governor’s veto with a bipartisan show of support for legislation I sponsored to raise the speed limit on Illinois toll highways from 55 mph to 70 mph.
I am pleased to report that tollway drivers can start driving 70 mph immediately under the new law, in my opinion. Transportation officials may conduct speed safety studies on toll highways to determine if 70 mph is a safe maximum speed for each particular stretch of road. This delay is ridiculous because this legislation first passed in May and transportation officials have had plenty of time to conduct these studies, so I will be working with them to get these studies done as quickly as possible.
Changes to election law raise concerns about election fraud
Major changes to Illinois election law approved during the week are being hailed by some as a means to increase access to voter registration, while others are raising concerns that the significant changes will make Illinois vulnerable to mass election fraud.
Senate Bill 172 changes how, when and where Illinois voters can register and cast their ballots.
The bill makes permanent and expands the same-day voter registration pilot program that was established prior to the 2014 general election. Voters will now be able to register to vote on Election Day at their polling place. Another significant change allows voter registration online or through a mobile application.
The changes in the bill won’t be in place until the 2016 Presidential election, leaving Senate Republican lawmakers questioning the timing of this bill’s passage.
Minimum wage hike
An effort to push through a statewide minimum wage increase was stymied this week after the City of Chicago voted to pass a $13 an hour hike in the city.
The recent decision by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to push through a more generous minimum wage hike in Chicago undermined a statewide effort, as most Chicago-area lawmakers balked at supporting legislation that would cap the minimum wage at $11 an hour—which would now be a reduction of pay for employees living in Chicago legislative districts.
While a measure to increase the minimum wage passed the Senate on December 3, the vote was considered moot since the House of Representatives had already adjourned for the week—with no plans to return and act on a minimum-wage hike. We have not heard the last of this issue. I proposed a common-sense alternative, which would have increased the minimum wage statewide to $10 over the next three years but would have applied only to those 26 and older, the age at which young adults have to begin paying for their own healthcare under Obamacare. I was fully prepared to discuss and negotiate such a proposal but the Democrat majority refused to even consider my common-sense solution. The problem with the Democrat bill is that it is a huge job killer, especially for teenagers, particularly minority teenagers.
New ridesharing bill speeds out of General Assembly
Lawmakers advanced legislation during the week imposing statewide regulations on the growing “ridesharing” industry, which includes the very popular Uber driving service. The emerging ridesharing industry, comprised of drivers who use personal vehicles to give rides, raised insurance and passenger safety concerns.
The measure establishes insurance requirements, background checks, a “zero tolerance” drug and alcohol policy, and parameters for “disqualifying” drivers within the ridesharing industry.
Controversial mesothelioma bill passes
Lawmakers passed a controversial measure that would indefinitely extend liability for injuries, disease, disability, or death associated with asbestos in construction cases. The disease most commonly associated with asbestos exposure is mesothelioma.
Senate Bill 2221 drew criticism because it creates a wide open avenue for litigation, allowing for claims that go back 50 years. Concerns were also raised the bill could create unlimited liability into the future. The bill does not contain language specifying whether or not this change would apply to pending cases. Nor does the legislation make it clear whether closed cases could be reopened or new cases could be filed, in situations where the statute of limitations has expired, but there is a newly discovered injury.
Proponents claimed (falsely in my opinion) that the legislation was necessary because asbestos-related mesothelioma does not manifest for at least 10 years, which limits the ability of those affected to file a lawsuit. This was widely pushed by the trial lawyers who see this as a path to more lawsuits.
Smart Grid extension
On December 4, the Senate approved legislation that would give Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois another two years until they have to report to the General Assembly on the progress of their digital “smart grid” plan.
Illinois’ smart grid program was approved in 2012, advancing a decade-long plan to modernize and upgrade the state’s electric delivery system. Delays in implementation of the plan brought the utility companies back to the General Assembly this fall seeking a two-year extension of the original 2017 sunset date, giving them time the utilities say is needed to fully implement the program.
Secure Choice Savings Program
The General Assembly advanced another mandate on employers this week, which would require businesses with 25 or more employees to enroll employees in a state-sponsored retirement savings program. The program would be in the form of an automatic enrollment payroll deduction IRA.
Employers would be forced to facilitate coordination with the state-held IRA accounts and automatically deduct at least 3 percent from the employees’ paychecks for contribution into the IRA account. Employees would have to actively pursue “opting out” if they do not want to participate.
While encouraging a higher level of personal savings for retirement is a good and proper goal, lawmakers should be careful about advancing legislation that would place additional burdens on Illinois’ employers.