Week in Review for 1/13/14 through 1/17/14

Concealed Carry
State Police report to General Assembly on concealed carry implementation.  As of Tuesday, January 14, an estimated 20,000 e-applications for concealed carry permits had proceeded to the payment stage.  State Police senior staff told the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), a key General Assembly oversight panel, that new applications were proceeding toward the approval stage at a rate of approximately 1,000 applications each working day.  This marked continued progress towards providing concealed carry permits for an estimated 400,000 Illinois residents who qualify for them. Applicants are required to submit identification information, and proof of firearms training, to move to the permit stage of the process.  The State Police told JCAR that they hope to start releasing the first wave of concealed carry permits in early March.

In addition to the concealed carry e-application process, organized Illinois gun owners have asked for a traditional paper application process to be set up and opened for the use of Illinois residents. Many Americans are not comfortable with submitting confidential identification information, including fingerprints, through electronic means.  Citing the need for rapid pass-through of the initial wave of permit applications, the State Police has asked the first group of applicants to submit their requests by electronic means only.  Members of the General Assembly, acting through JCAR, have requested that the State Police work with its security vendors to develop a paper application system for concealed carry permits.  The State Police told JCAR that they are working on a paper process which could be ready as soon as July 1, 2014.

For more information on concealed carry, including how to apply for a permit, please visit the State Police’s concealed carry website.

House Republicans unanimously oppose tax hike proposal.  At a press conference Wednesday to discuss the latest call to renew a tax increase proposal, Rep. Ron Sandack told reporters that all 47 Republicans in the Illinois House oppose a graduated/progressive income tax.

The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, hosted the press conference on the effects of a proposed tax increase in Illinois.  The Tax Foundation’s analysis of the proposed progressive tax legislation found that: 1) Illinois’ “State Business Tax Climate Index” ranking could fall to 44th from its current 31st ranking if the proposed progressive income tax hike passes; 2) Illinois already fell from 17th over the last few years with several rounds of tax increases, which did not succeed in alleviating Illinois’ financial situation or improve the economy; and 3) Higher and more progressive income taxes generally contribute to worsening economic performance.

Legislators in attendance at Wednesday’s press conference in Chicago included State Rep. David McSweeney, chief sponsor of House legislation that opposes a progressive income tax increase, along with Reps. Ron Sandack, Ed Sullivan, Darlene Senger, Tom Morrison, Patti Bellock, Jeanne Ives, and Senators Matt Murphy and Michael Connelly.

The Illinois Policy Institute applauded these legislators for taking a stand against a progressive income tax increase, which would destroy the state’s business climate.  The Tax Foundation’s full report, “Illinois Considers Further Income Tax Increases as Temporary Tax Nears Expiration,” is available here.

Tornado Recovery
House Republicans urge approval of Illinois’ appeal for FEMA aid.  A group of House Republicans whose districts were severely impacted by November’s tornadoes have sent a letter to President Obama urging him to approve the State of Illinois’ appeal of its denial for FEMA aid to local governments in nine counties.  State Representatives John Anthony, Dan Brady, Chad Hays, Charlie Meier, David Reis, Keith Sommer and Michael Unes signed the letter on behalf of their communities affected by the tornadoes.

Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied a request for aid to local governments in Illinois after deadly tornadoes swept the state in November.  Governor Quinn announced the State will appeal the decision within 30 days to FEMA.

On December 19, the Governor requested federal aid for local governments in Champaign, Douglas, Grundy, Massac, Tazewell, Vermilion, Washington, Wayne and Woodford counties. That request included documentation of tornado-related expenses, such as emergency protective measures, debris removal and repair or replacement of government-owned facilities incurred by the nine counties and the state.

Those costs, which totaled more than $6.1 million, were compiled by a joint damage assessment conducted by FEMA and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) in early December. That total is short of the federal threshold for Illinois of $17.8 million, which is based on the state’s population multiplied by $1.35.  This calculation hurts the chances of aid for geographically large states with large urban centers like Illinois.

Deadline to register for federal disaster assistance is Monday, January 27.  Persons affected by the squall line of deadly twisters that affected Illinois on November 17, 2013, are urged to submit their applications for federal emergency management relief on or before this mandatory deadline.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in charge of tornado relief, and has set up a website with a map setting forth the 15 counties whose residents could be eligible for relief, and descriptive blog postings about the recovery application process.  The FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in East Peoria will remain open for business until 6 p.m. on Saturday, January 25, to walk affected persons through the application process.  Small business low-interest loans, available through FEMA, are one avenue of recovery for residents and employers affected by the natural disaster.

Transportation – Mass Transit
Rep. Sandack requests committee hearing on Metra system failure during extreme cold weather; hearing scheduled for Jan. 27th.  State Rep. Ron Sandack sent a letter to Speaker Madigan Tuesday requesting a hearing to get to the bottom of the near-total shutdown of the Metra commuter rail system during last week’s extreme cold weather.

Dozens of Metra trains were cancelled on January 6 and again on January 7 due to the polar vortex that settled on top of the region.  Thousands of commuters were stranded or delayed, and in an era when most people have access to data on their phones, information regarding the trains was absent or extremely slow to be posted.

“The extreme wind chills associated with last week’s cold weather was a big test for Metra, and unfortunately Metra failed,” said Sandack.  “I heard from people who were stranded for hours on trains, who had their trains cancelled, or who stood in sub-zero weather with dangerous wind chill factors for trains that were either significantly delayed or that never showed up.  Metra’s breakdown posed a serious health risk for a lot of people.”

In the letter, Sandack requested that a committee hearing be scheduled so that legislators could ask questions about service reliability – weather-related or otherwise, and learn about the protocol for communicating service interruptions to customers.  A hearing of the House Mass Transit Committee has been scheduled for January 27th in Chicago to review mass transit agency operations and recent train service schedule interruptions.

Safety could be increased by monitoring Metra engineers who drive commuter trains in Chicago area.  After a significant commuter train derailment in New York City in 2013, safety officials began to look at compulsory monitoring of commuter train drivers by video camera.  The monitoring would parallel the monitoring of many other U.S. workers, such as retail employees and security guards.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced on Monday, January 13, that they were commencing a rulemaking process that could result in the imposition of this requirement for commuter train systems throughout the U.S., including the Metra system in Illinois.  Unions that represent train engineers are expected to oppose the proposed new rule, which is meant to strike back against incidents of dangerous or distracted train driving.

Transportation – Motor Vehicles
70 mph speed limit now in effect on most Downstate Interstate highways.  Most Downstate stretches of non-toll road Interstate highway had a maximum speed limit of 65 mph prior to the passage of SB 2356 in May 2013.  The signing of this bill into law brought Illinois’ rural Interstate speed limits into line with the speed limits enjoyed by drivers in neighboring states such as Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and Missouri.  Some highly-trafficked sections of Illinois Interstate highways, including the Chicago metropolitan area and the Metro-East near St. Louis, will continue to require and enforce slower traffic speeds.

Cellphone ban enforcement begins.  Law enforcement officials reminded Illinoisans this week that the new ban on the use of non-handsfree cellphones went into effect on January 1.  The enforcement status of the law, enacted in spring 2013, means that law enforcement officers will no longer be required to release persons stopped for this offense with a warning.  The cellphone citation will not apply to handsfree personal communications devices.  A first violation of this ban will draw a fine of $75, and a second or subsequent violation will draw an increasing fine schedule and will, in addition, be treated as a moving violation on the driver’s insurance record.