This week marks the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Illinois Constitution.

1870 was the last year a constitutional convention was held in Illinois prior to 1970, leaving that constitution in place for 100 years. The 1870 Constitution expanded the powers of the executive and judicial branches.

Illinois then adopted its fourth, and current, Constitution on December 15, 1970. Samuel Witwer, an attorney from Kenilworth, was chosen as president of the Constitutional Convention.

The 1970 Convention had widespread cooperative bipartisan support. One of the earliest decisions was the intent to focus only on basic state laws to ensure effective state government. A key provision was home rule. Home rule increased taxing authority to cities of more than 25,000 in population and counties of more than 200,000 while seeking to reduce confusion with the public since many Illinois residents at the time were under jurisdiction of more than one taxing body. Home rule was a prime example of the new constitution’s goal of simplifying state government for efficiency.

The 1970 Constitution also included a provision the 1870 Constitution previously had not: banning “discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, national ancestry, and sex in the hiring and promotion practice of any employer or in the sale or rental of property.”

Illinoisans will have access to COVID-19 vaccines based on federal guidelines, according to an Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) plan that has a four-phase approach to distribution.

The first shipment of the vaccines arrived Dec. 14 at regional distribution centers in Illinois.

State health officials caution that the plan is subject to change, however, as conditions change relating to the status of COVID-19 cases within Illinois, or if the federal government issues additional guidelines.

The initial supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses available is limited, so first efforts will be focused on making it available to critical populations, and ensuring that storage, distribution and reporting systems are sufficient and operational.

In Phase 1, those groups expected to receive first vaccines are healthcare personnel and residents of long-term-care facilities.

Pending further recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a committee within the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other initial groups could include essential frontline workers, adults with high-risk medical conditions, and those older than 65.

In Phase 2, as more vaccine doses become available, the focus will be on ensuring access to vaccine for members of Phase 1 critical populations not yet vaccinated, then extending efforts to reach Phase 2 critical populations. Pending further recommendations by ACIP, possible Phase 2 groups could include workers in industries and occupations important to the functioning of society, and people with moderate comorbid conditions.

In Phase 3, as vaccines are even more widely available, and pending further ACIP recommendations, possible groups could include children, if a pediatric vaccine is approved/available; and young adults (ages 18-30).

In Phase 4, with the supply of vaccine doses available for the entire state, and pending further ACIP recommendations, the focus will be on everyone who is qualified and who wants a COVID-19 vaccine.

Check https://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/vaccination-plan for more information about the IDPH’s COVID-19 Vaccination Preparedness Plan, as well as answers to frequently asked questions about the plan.

The Illinois General Assembly welcomed President Barack Obama to the Capitol February 10—nine years to the day he announced his candidacy for President in downtown Springfield—to speak about the need for bipartisanship and reforms to the political process.

Obama is the just the fourth sitting president in Illinois history to speak to the General Assembly.

Occasionally joking about his time as a former State Senator, from 1997 to 2004, and reminiscing about memorable moments with colleagues from both political parties, the President stressed the need for compromise and encouraged state leaders to set aside rancor and embrace bipartisanship to accomplish good things for the people of Illinois.

President Obama called Illinois the “microcosm of America, where Republicans, Democrats, Independents and good people of every faith and ethnicity share certain bedrock values.” He called on the General Assembly to listen to all of these diverse voices to help “bridge differences” and find common ground on the state’s most important issues.

Republican lawmakers and the Governor have consistently expressed their willingness to compromise on a budget and reforms in order to end the state’s current budget impasse. To date, the state’s legislative Democrat leaders have refused to come to the negotiating table on any reforms.

It is my hope that the President’s message of bipartisan cooperation and compromise will resonate so we can work together to address the significant challenges Illinois faces.

President emphasizes need for redistricting reform

In his speech, President Obama not only called for Republicans and Democrats to work together to solve our state’s problems, but also stressed the need for redistricting reform.

Redistricting reform is an initiative proposed by Governor Bruce Rauner and long supported by the Senate Republican Caucus, which has spent years introducing proposals to change Illinois’ current process that allows elected officials to draw the state’s legislative and congressional boundaries. We have long underscored a point the President made during his Wednesday address, when he declared that, “American politicians should not pick their voters, voters should pick their politicians.”

School districts statewide waiting for Senate President’s next move

School districts across the state will be nervously watching Senate President John Cullerton’s next move after he told WBEZ during the week, “I don’t think any school should be funded until Chicago schools are funded fairly.”

Such a statement makes some wonder if legislative Democrats plan to hold hostage funding for downstate and suburban schools in an attempt to bail out Chicago Public Schools (CPS) with nearly $500 million in additional funding.

President Cullerton has proposed a state bailout of Chicago Public Schools, which are facing a $480 million budget shortfall. Senate GOP lawmakers have stressed that they will not bridge the gap for the ailing school system at the expense of downstate and suburban communities.

Chicago schools already benefit from sweetheart deals that suburban and downstate schools don’t receive. A recent report from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) confirmed serious inequities exist in the state’s system of education funding, which Senate Republicans first highlighted in a 2013 report. According to ISBE, during the 2014-2015 school year, Chicago Public Schools received $256 million more from a special block grant than they would have if they were treated like every other school district in the state.

According to the report, “CPS received $474,870,400 from FY 15 and FY 16 appropriations….CPS would have received $219,301,959 had the district been reimbursed in the same manner as other districts.”

When looking at Chicago Public Schools enrollment numbers, despite only serving about 19 percent of the state’s student population, CPS receives approximately 36 percent of the combined statewide appropriations for special education; free lunch and breakfast programs; low-income students; early childhood education; and through a windfall from the Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax and the PTELL adjustment. 

In the 2015-2016 school year, Chicago Public Schools’ overall funding for these six grant lines provides $565 million more than CPS would receive if funding was consistent with student enrollment.  Partially balancing that, though, is the fact that Chicago Public Schools are responsible for their own pension costs.

Illinois Senate Republicans Go Red in February

During the month of February, my colleagues and I are working to raise awareness about ways to prevent heart disease in recognition of National Heart Month.

While heart disease certainly affects both men and women, the risk factors are much higher in women between the ages of 18-55. Heart disease and stroke cause one in three deaths among women each year – more than all cancers combined. The good news is that 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education and action.

Senate Republicans will be joining members of the Conference of Women Legislators and health officials in wearing red for the annual Go Red Day at the Capitol on Feb. 17. The goal of the event is to spread awareness of heart disease in women, and to encourage them to schedule a Well-Woman Visit with their doctor to get a full overview of their heart health.

This week is the 46th annual commemoration of National Emergency Services Week.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford authorized National Emergency Services Week celebrate EMS practitioners and the important work they do in our nation’s communities. NAEMT partners with the American College of Emergency Physicians to lead annual EMS Week activities.

Thank you to EMS professionals for all you do to keep our communities safe!

Senator Jim Oberweis talks with students from Gary Elementary School in West Chicago at TECH 2013, a demonstration of school technology May 7 in the State Capitol Building in Springfield.

TECH 2013 allows students to display their projects and show state leaders what skills will be needed for the Illinois work force and how technology can improve teaching and learning.

Pictured here on the first floor of the Capitol are (from left) Audrey Miller, 6th grade; Senator Oberweis; Teacher Amy Heavey; Dylan Borja, 4th grade; and Gloria Gonzalez, 3rd grade.

Senate Republicans offered a constitutional amendment during the week to give Illinois residents a stronger voice in proposed tax increases, as lawmakers acted on legislation that will provide cost-savings measures, and resolve issues with out-of-date mandates.

In other news, thousands of 2nd Amendment gun rights advocates came to Springfield for the annual Illinois Gun Owner Lobby Day.

Also during the week, the Illinois Department of Public Health urged residents in and around flood zones in northern Illinois to take precautions as the clean-up begins after historic flooding forced hundreds of people from their homes.

Senate Republican initiative to protect middle-class taxpayers

Members of the Senate Republican Caucus unveiled a proposal on March 26 that could give a stronger voice to Illinois voters regarding new tax proposals and potential increases.

Senate Joint Resolution-Constitutional Amendment 12 proposes an amendment to Illinois’ Constitution that would require any increased state tax or new tax or fee to be approved by a two-thirds super-majority vote in both the Senate and House of Representatives.  Currently, legislators only need a simple majority to pass a tax increase or to implement a new tax.

A three-fifths majority vote of lawmakers is required to put Senate Joint Resolution-Constitutional Amendment 12 on the ballot in 2020.  For the amendment to be adopted, voters must approve it on the ballot with three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election.

If placed on the ballot and approved by voters, the amendment would require 40 votes in the Senate and 79 votes in the House to pass any new state tax or any state tax increase.

2nd Amendment supporters march in Springfield

Thousands of people supporting 2nd Amendment gun rights marched in Springfield on March 27 as part of the annual Illinois Gun Owner Lobby Day (IGOLD).

The advocates expressed their opposition to increasingly restrictive gun laws, as well as pending legislation seeking to further tighten regulations, which they say penalize law-abiding gun owners but do not stop criminals from getting guns.

Add ‘zipper merge’ method to Rules of the Road

Legislation that makes an effort to keep traffic flowing, prevent backups and promote safety passed the Senate during the week.  Senate Bill 2038 would require the Secretary of State’s Office to add information on how to properly merge into one lane of traffic to its Illinois Rules of the Road guide.

Under the legislation, the “zipper merge” method would be required to be taught to drivers.  Experts believe this is the proper and most efficient way to merge multiple lanes of traffic, as drivers utilize both lanes until they reach the point that one lane narrows.  Drivers then take turns merging with the other lane of traffic, creating a zipper-like effect.

Proponents note that studies show that merging early only creates one single long line and slows traffic because it minimizes the amount of usable road.  The “zipper merge” method, on the other hand, uses two lanes of roadway for as long as possible.

Stop exploitation of seniors, citizens with disabilities

Lawmakers are clamping down on those who financially exploit senior citizens and citizens with disabilities.

Senate Bill 69 would provide tougher penalties for those who prey upon our most vulnerable populations, and also make it easier to identify those with a history of this criminal activity.

The legislation expands the venue for the offense of “financial exploitation of an elderly person or a person with a disability,” to make it easier to prosecute perpetrators who live in a different state or facility than the victim.  The bill also makes “theft by deception from a person with a disability” a Class 2 felony, which could carry prison time and penalties.

It also prohibits sealing the records of certain offenses where someone was convicted of a financial crime against the elderly, along with eliminating the “consent” defense if the defendant knew the elderly or disabled person lacked the capacity to consent.

Senate Bill 69 was passed by the Senate March 27, and now moves to the House.

Common-sense changes in recordkeeping

The state could soon save schools money by updating outdated regulations for record-keeping and the outlined process for destroying old records.

Under current law, schools are required to keep certain types of records for various periods of time—some for as many as 60 years.  After that, they cannot be disposed of or transitioned to electronic format unless the district is able to contact the parent of the student and offer them a chance to first copy the information on record.  Current standard practice is to attempt contact parents by mail or publish a notice in the local newspaper.

The proposed updates in Senate Bill 117 would allow the school district to instead, send notice via email with receipt confirmation and also allow the communications to go to the former student.  Burdens in the current law often mean school districts are incurring unnecessary costs or forced to house records for much longer than necessary.

Senate Bill 117 was passed by the Senate March 27, and now moves to the House.

Health and safety tips for residents affected by floods

After historic flooding in Winnebago and Stephenson counties forced hundreds of people from their homes, the State of Illinois is urging residents in and around the flood zones to take precautions as the clean-up begins.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is warning residents in these areas against the potential harm floodwaters and sewer overflows can bring, including bacteria, viruses and other organisms that may cause disease.  The Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and IDPH provide important guidance for residents looking to return home and begin damage assessments.

More information is available on the state’s Ready Illinois Web site at  https://www2.illinois.gov/ready/Pages/default.aspx.

With less than two weeks left before the scheduled adjournment of the spring legislative session, Senate Republicans continue to work to pass a balanced budget, without another tax increase, by May 31.

In other action, Governor Bruce Rauner unveiled a major public safety initiative that reinstates the death penalty for mass murderers and cop killers.  Also during the week, the United States Supreme Court announced a major decision on sports gaming.

Budget negotiations continue
 
A bipartisan group of Senate and House lawmakers continued its work on the budget, and the four legislative leaders met with Gov. Rauner during the week in an attempt to meet the May 31 deadline for passing a spending plan for Fiscal Year 2019.
 
What I find frustrating, as a long-time businessman, is the last-minute nature of these budget talks.  At the beginning of each year, lawmakers know that they have to pass a budget for the next fiscal year.  They know the scheduled adjournment date.  And they can pretty well “guesstimate” what the spending priorities of the other caucus will be.  We have had many months to get our ducks in a row, yet here we are again, with less than two weeks left, no budget but plenty of stalling tactics and delays.  Do you love politics?  I don’t anymore. It is time for everyone in the legislature to look at the greater good for the state of Illinois instead of looking for a chance to get a political advantage.
 
Presenting a truly balanced budget does not have to be such a difficult task.  We need to handle our finances like hard-working men and women all across Illinois.  Pay our bills first, before we commit to any new spending.  If we work together, we can come up with a fair and balanced budget – without another tax increase – before May 31, but we need to get going.  We need to start negotiating in good faith.
 
Sports Betting

A recent major ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court May 14 striking down a 26-year old federal law banning commercial sports betting in most states is beginning to be felt here in Illinois.   Legalizing sports betting in Illinois has been a topic of conversation in the General Assembly for years.  Some legislators now want to move forward with legislation authorizing online sports betting.
 
Proponents argue it could be a way to generate more revenue for Illinois.  Combined video and riverboat gaming generated more than $836 million in tax revenue for state government in 2017.  However, opponents contend there are many negative societal costs to gaming, and legalizing sports betting adds to those costs.
 
Currently, there are several pending proposals at the Capitol about how Illinois could legalize sports gaming.
 
Addressing Public Safety

A multi-pronged approach to gun violence was unveiled by Governor Rauner on May 14.  The public safety initiative includes steps to fill the regulatory loopholes exposed in recent mass shootings.  His plan includes re-imposing the death penalty for mass murders and cop killers.  It would also extend the current 72-hour waiting period for delivery of handguns to all gun purchases in Illinois.
 
It would ban so-called bump stocks and trigger cranks used to make perfectly legal semi-automatic weapons shoot like fully automatic military firearms.  It includes restraining orders to disarm individuals deemed dangerous, makes judges and prosecutors more accountable by making them explain – on the record – why charges are reduced in plea agreements for violent offenders in gun cases, and provides new dollars to hire school resource officers and mental health workers to help intervene and prevent student violence before it occurs.
 
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady said, “The Governor’s action recognizes the need for a multi-pronged approach to dealing with deadly assaults.  Reinstating society’s most serious penalty for the most serious of violent crimes, with the proper safeguards, is an appropriate response to the horrific violence we have witnessed far too often in recent times.”
 
Senate Approves Gun Dealer Licensing

Meanwhile, the Senate approved a gun dealer licensing measure that would require Illinois gun dealers to obtain state certification, in addition to their federal firearms license.  Senate Bill 337 would also require Illinois gun dealers to increase in-store security, including video monitoring, provide training for employees and establish electronic-based recordkeeping.
 
Proponents argue requiring firearm dealers to obtain a state certification simply treats them like many other categories of businesses that are licensed or certified by the state, and will help crack down on illegal gun trafficking, which is fueling violence in Chicago and the suburbs.  Opponents say firearms dealers are already licensed and scrutinized by the federal government’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and that anyone in Illinois purchasing a firearm must have a valid Firearms Owners Identification card, as well as pass a mandatory FBI background check.

Senate Bill 337 was approved by a vote of 35 to 18 and now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Jim Oberweis issued the following statement January 11 to let Illinoisans know about actions being taken by the Senate during lame-duck legislative session in the Capitol.

“Lame-duck session is underway in Springfield, allowing lawmakers who have been voted out of office to unduly influence major legislation.  Indeed, it is the 11th hour and Democrat leaders are trying to ram through legislation that will place an egregious tax burden on Illinois families.

Such is the way of the law-making system in the Illinois Capitol, which has long relied on back rooms and sleight of hand.  Illinoisans deserve to know and understand what are in these bills and how they will affect us all.  These bills have the potential to put Illinoisans on the hook for billions of dollars.  We must have more light and transparency in this process that has, so far, been handled behind closed doors.”

The proposed bills include:

Criminal Justice reform (HB 163 and HB 3653) that is opposed by every law enforcement agency in the state because it will empower criminals and make Illinois a more dangerous place to live for everyone.

Education/Workforce reform (HB 2170) that places unfunded mandates on an education system reeling from COVID-19.

Health Care reform (HB 3840) that costs billions of dollars at a time when our health care system is still battling a global pandemic and its economic consequences on hospital income.

Economic Omnibus reform (HB 2685) that provides no relief for thousands of Illinois businesses that have closed, or will close, because of government-imposed shutdowns.

Illinois Senate Republicans returned to the Capitol April 10, continuing to focus on the need for the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget that doesn’t put any additional tax burden on Illinois residents.

Senators spent hours hearing testimony, debating and advancing more than 200 bills through Senate Committees to meet an April 13 deadline for committee action on substantive bills. The next major deadline is April 27, the third-reading deadline for all substantive Senate bills. The Senate has a scheduled adjournment date of May 31.

Also during the week, farm groups from across the state celebrated Agriculture Legislative Day at the Capitol, and the Illinois Department of Public Health released its Opioid Data Dashboard.

Budget

With seven weeks remaining on the spring session calendar, Governor Bruce Rauner met with the four legislative leaders to discuss the need for a balanced budget that does not include any new taxes. He asked each caucus to certify its revenue estimates, support a full-year balanced budget, ensure revenues equal or exceed expenditures (as required by law) and include no tax increases.

Joining the Governor in this call for a balanced budget was Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, who earlier this week noted that while Governor Rauner has put forth a balanced budget proposal, “we are open to working on any budget proposal, as long as it’s balanced and does not put any additional tax burden on our already overtaxed residents.” 

Ag Day

On April 11, farm, agricultural commodity organizations and other diverse agriculture interest groups came to the state Capitol to meet with lawmakers as part of Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day (IALD). Participants provide baskets filled with agricultural products and specialty lunches for the legislators. The purpose of these baskets is to remind lawmakers about the multiple facets agriculture has in the lives of their constituents and the impacts their choices make on the world of agriculture.

Opioid Data and Trends Readily Available

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is announcing the launch of its Opioid Data Dashboard, an innovative way to access data on opioid overdoses and deaths. The Opioid Data Dashboard is an interactive website that offers information on how opioids are affecting people in Illinois. The dashboard consists of three categories: “Morbidity and Mortality,” “Trends,” and “Prescription Opioids.”

  • “Morbidity and Mortality” data includes the rate of fatal and non-fatal opioid overdoses by county, as well as the number of overdoses by ZIP code.
  • “Trends” looks at fatal and non-fatal opioid overdoses by age group, race, sex, and cause (heroin vs. other opioids).
  • “Prescription Opioids” includes data on the rate, by county, of opioids being prescribed, as well as the daily average of opioids being prescribed.       It also includes the annual number of total patients being prescribed an opioid and total number of prescriptions issued.

Earlier this year, IDPH released the State of Illinois Comprehensive Opioid Data Report, which includes data from a variety of sources across multiple state agencies. Both the dashboard and report are meant to inform statewide efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and implement the State of Illinois Opioid Action Plan