A 70 mile-per-hour speed limit, police drones, former methamphetamine labs and a state tollway “shame list” were just a handful of the topics coming before the Illinois Senate during the week of April 15-19.
The state’s Department of Transportation (IDOT) also unveiled their annual road plan and the Illinois House sent a medical marijuana bill over to the Senate.
In other news, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) updated members of the Senate Republican Caucus April 19 on the status of the flooding issues.
Governor Pat Quinn has declared 38 counties state disaster areas. The disaster declaration will accelerate and expand access to state emergency resources as well as allow the state to formally pursue federal relief and support. For flood safety information, real-time updates and information about road closures and shelters, please visit Ready.Illinois.gov.
Higher Speed Limit
I am the lead sponsor of legislation, Senate Bill 2356, that will increase the maximum speed limit to 70 miles per hour (mph) on all interstates and toll highways in Illinois, though Cook and the collars can opt out if they so choose.
The interstates were designed for a higher rate of speed and traffic was allowed to drive 70 mph on rural interstates prior to the gas shortage of 1975. Currently, there are 34 states with speed limits of 70 mph or higher. All of Illinois’ neighboring states, except Wisconsin, have speed limits of 70 mph. Fifteen states have speed limits of 75 mph. One state has a speed limit of 85 mph.
I have worked with the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois State Police and the trucking associations to address their concerns about this legislation. Senate Bill 2356 does allow Cook County, the collar counties, Madison County and St. Clair County to opt out of the higher speed limit via ordinance. Senate Bill 2356 passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee April 17 by a 13-1 vote and has already garnered 30 sponsors – a majority of the Senate.
Six-Year Transportation Plan
The state’s $2.4 billion fiscal year 2014 state transportation improvement program will begin July 1, as part of Illinois’ $9.53 billion, six-year plan. A listing of local projects expected to receive funding during Fiscal Year 2014 can be found on my Web site. Maintaining Illinois’ transportation infrastructure is critical to the state’s employers, given Illinois’ central location and its vast network of railways, waterways and airports, some of the most important routes in the nation.
The first year of the road plan is encouraging; however, the last five years of the plan will average a little more than $1.4 billion per year, significantly less than the almost $3 billion annually IDOT officials say is needed to maintain roads at 90% acceptable or good repair, and bridges at 93% acceptable or good repair.
Texas Governor Hunting for Illinois Companies
While the state’s central location and extensive transportation infrastructure remain Illinois’ bright spots, the many other challenges employers face in Illinois has lured another state leader to the state to try to convince Illinois companies to move. Texas Governor Rick Perry announced plans to be in Chicago to actively encourage local companies to relocate or expand to the Lone Star state. Perry’s campaign to lure state employers kicked off early with an ad on WBBM radio and in Crain’s Chicago Business titled “Get out while there’s still time.” Though Governor Perry said the intent of the ad campaign is not to bash Illinois, the advertisement was anything but subtle.
Governor Perry may receive a chilly reception from state and city leaders, but in a recent editorial Reboot Illinois points out that while the Texas Governor’s message may have ruffled some feathers, Governor Perry’s critique of the state’s business climate isn’t off base. Reboot Illinois echoed concerns Senate Republican lawmakers have long raised, pointing out:
- We raised our corporate income tax rate in 2011 from 4.8 to 7 percent (Texas has no personal or corporate income tax);
- Our public pension system costs are out of control, creating an unstable environment in which no one knows what the tax picture will look like in 2015; businesses hate this kind of unpredictability;
- Despite reforms, Illinois’ workers compensation costs for employers remain among the most expensive in the country (Governor Perry notes in his ad that Illinois’ workers comp costs to businesses are roughly triple those of Texas).
After months of reportedly being “one or two” votes short of passage, a measure to legalize marijuana for medical use was passed by House lawmakers 61-57 on April 17. The measure did not follow partisan lines, as House lawmakers from both parties voted for the legislation, while it also drew opposition from both Republicans and Democrats. If passed by Senate lawmakers and signed into law, Illinois would become the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana.
House Bill 1 creates a four-year pilot program that allows patients diagnosed with one of 33 specific illnesses or medical conditions to obtain the special identification card they would need to purchase restricted amounts medical marijuana. Individuals could be prescribed up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana over two weeks. Proponents contend this would be the most restrictive medical marijuana program in the country, with stringent conditions on qualifying illnesses, physician approval and production of the drug. Opponents include those in law enforcement, members of the health care community and the federal government. Concerns were raised about the impact medical marijuana consumption has on motorists, while others maintained this measure would pave the way for recreational consumption of the drug and send people—particularly children and teens—the wrong message about the acceptability of drug use.
No Drones without a Warrant
One bill that did pass the Senate would prohibit police from using airborne drones to gather evidence without a search warrant. Senate Bill 1587 would apply to the use of drones over private property and includes exemptions for emergency situations.
Former Meth Labs
Another measure approved by the Senate (SB 2101) is aimed at protecting mobile home buyers from unscrupulous sellers by requiring that owners and operators of mobile home parks must tell a potential buyer if a unit was used as a methamphetamine lab.
Tollway Hall of Shame
In an effort to go after tollway cheats, Senate Bill 1214 would allow the Toll Highway Authority to publish the names online of persons who rack up more than $1,000 in fees and fines.
Making Government More Accountable
Several bills aimed at making government more accountable and transparent are working their way through the Senate.
Senate Bill 2105 would require that within 30 days of the state adopting its annual budget, the budget must be published online in its entirety. In addition, the Governor’s Office would be required to publish on the web a list of each sweep or administrative charge-back required to implement the budget.
Under Senate Bill 337, taxpayers would receive an electronic receipt from the state that shows in graph form spending categories, with spending versus revenue information, when they file their taxes online.
Also poised for passage is Senate Bill 2381, which would shed light on grants awarded by the state. The measure grew out of CNN investigative report that exposed grant abuses under Gov. Quinn during his 2010 election campaign.
Finally, in an effort to shrink the size of government, a new “Board of Repealers” would be created by SB 1415 to identify duplicative, contradictory and obsolete state laws for repeal. The Board would be funded by private donations, rather than taxpayer dollars.
Dozens of other measures won approval in the Senate during the week and can be found on the Senate Action Page of the Senate Republican Web site.