Week in Review for week of 6/9/14 to 6/13/14

Legislative Audit Commission schedules next NRI briefing for July 16. The Legislative Audit Commission, which reviewed the performance audit of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) on May 28, is continuing its investigation of the troubled NRI program. This was the program, overseen by the since-disbanded Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, which distributed grants to Chicago social workers for the stated purpose of increasing neighborhood and community ties and fighting street crime.

Monies started to be distributed on the Chicago streets in late 2010. When the program was audited, however, the officials who had overseen the program could not provide adequate records to show where the money had gone, to whom it had gone, or for what purposes it had been spent. The time the money was being spent coincided with the final weeks prior to the Illinois general election for a slate of offices headed by the Governor of Illinois.

July 16 has been set as the scheduled date of the next briefing of Commission members on the continuing investigation; an agenda is being prepared. In addition, press reports in late April indicated that a criminal grand jury was conducting a parallel investigation into the scandal-plagued program.

Cupcake Law
“Cupcake bill” will allow limited home baking activities for fundraisers & community events. Rep. Charlie Meier was the lead sponsor of HB 5354, a bill that closes a loophole that had barred local public-health officials from officially allowing home bakers to sell baked goods and other unlicensed food supplies prepared in home kitchens. The bill was signed into law on Tuesday as Public Act 98-643.

Up until now, local governments have not been allowed to legally authorize baked food supplies to be sold in community fundraisers, church suppers, and the like. The food-prepared-at-home issue made headlines in January 2014 when then-11-year-old pastry chef Chloe Sterling, artisanal baker in Downstate Illinois’ Madison County, was forced to stop selling her hand-made cupcakes for $2. Sterling, who has since celebrated her 12th birthday, was featured in an appearance on the Rachael Ray show, broadcast nationwide.

Under the agreed language of HB 5354, local governments with direct jurisdiction over a home kitchen are authorized to enact an ordinance to allow home food preparation activity. Home kitchens, in counties, townships, and municipalities with an ordinance of this sort, will be allowed to prepare and sell a limited quantity of baked goods. The home kitchen will be required to label the goods by written notice to the purchaser as having been prepared in a home; local health officials will continue to have the right to inspect a kitchen if there is a health complaint.

Downstate/Poker Runs
New law reaffirms legality of popular fundraising activity. SB 3312, a new law sponsored in the House by Rep. Rich Brauer, was strongly supported by ABATE, bikers and many other adult social groups. Communities often organize “poker runs,” summertime fundraising activities that use a variety of game tokens (not necessarily poker cards). By paying a small entry fee, players get the right to stop at a series of festival locations and pick up a token at each stop. Gamers then turn in their tokens at the finish line for small prizes.

Poker runs are primarily fundraising and fun runs, but the prizes given to the winners mean that their legal status needed to be reaffirmed under Illinois law. After several false starts, it became clear that the best way to do this would be to enable the local police to treat a poker run the same way as they treat a charity raffle under existing law. SB 3312 turns the old Raffles Act into the Raffles and Poker Runs Act. This change eliminates State regulation of the poker runs and the need to get a poker run license from Springfield. Bikers’ groups worked with Brauer to get the bill’s rapid approval from the General Assembly and the Governor. The House vote on SB 3312 was 108-6-0 and it was signed into law Tuesday as Public Act 98-644.

Troublesome “microbeads” to be phased out of personal care products sold in Illinois. These small plastic particles have been added to several brands of over-the-counter drugs, cosmetics, and personal care products as a mild abrasive safe for use on the skin or in the mouth. Products in which they are used include shampoos, facial cleansers, and toothpastes. However, research has found that the synthetic plastic microbeads pass unscathed through Illinois’ sewage treatment plants and do not degrade or decompose when released in large quantities into fresh water. In particular, the small plastic particles may look like eggs or larvae and can be eaten by fish and other animals.

Concerned about microbeads, Illinois legislators have worked with manufacturers to identify alternative exfoliant products and achieve a phasedown of microbeads in Illinois. SB 2727, which was signed into law Monday as Public Act 98-638, is the first law passed anywhere in the U.S. that will lead to a complete ban on the sale of products containing synthetic plastic microbeads. The phasedown, which will conclude on December 31, 2019, will give affected industries time to develop and utilize alternative products. The agreed bill received unanimous approval from the General Assembly.

FY14 and FY15 Budgets
New supplemental bill spends more State money in FY14. HB 6060 deals only with final taxpayer money for FY14 (the rapidly-ending State fiscal year that will come to a close on June 30, 2014). Gov. Quinn now faces the entire “package” of FY15 appropriations legislation brokered by key Democrat legislative leaders in Springfield during the final hours of the May 2014 spring session. The remainder of the budget must be approved prior to the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2014. The Governor has the right to sign line-item vetoes later in June 2014 and make changes to the FY15 budget.

Appropriations bills are different from bills that are written to add to the statutes of the State; but like “substantive” legal bills they are passed by simple majorities of the House and Senate. For FY15, House and Senate Democrat leaders ignored the Governor, Republican lawmakers, and the public to develop a secret budget that contained a pay raise for legislators and included numerous “pork” projects, taxpayer-funded extras slipped into a lengthy appropriations bill in order to provide favors for certain lawmakers and local political leaders.

The FY14 supplemental appropriation, which ignores a previous commitment to allocate surplus State revenues to paying down old and unpaid State bills and meeting the State’s back-pay commitments to its workers in full, was an integral part of this FY15 budget package. Like other budget bills, the FY14 supplemental appropriation bill (HB 6060) was approved in the Illinois House on a largely partisan roll call vote of 65-48-1. It was signed into law on Monday, June 9 as Public Act 98-642. Other FY15 budget bills are currently moving from the Illinois House and Senate to the Office of the Governor for signature or veto.

Video gaming continues rapid growth path in Illinois. Figures provided by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) indicate that new terminals continue to be installed in many locations throughout Downstate and the suburban Chicago area. The number of licensed, operating video gaming terminals increased during the first calendar quarter of 2014 from 14,413 in January to 16,380 in April, an increase of 13.6% over the three-month period. Net terminal income increased over the same period by 36.2%, from $38.4 million in January to $52.3 million in April.

A typical location for a licensed video gaming machine is a bar, tavern, restaurant, fraternal meeting house, veterans’ post, or truck stop. Each licensed location can operate up to five gaming machines. Careful licensing procedures make applying for a license to host video games a lengthy process; applications should be sent to the Illinois Gaming Board. Substantial taxes are paid from this net income to the State of Illinois and to the local governments that have not “opted out” of the video gaming law. The public should be aware that video games playing in “opt-out” communities are operating illegally. Municipalities that have “opted out” include the City of Chicago.

General Assembly
510 bills sent to Governor in spring 2014 session. In order to be presented to the Governor’s desk, bills must be passed by majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. In the 2014 spring session which adjourned on May 31, 510 bills were approved by the House and Senate – 267 House bills and 243 Senate bills. Other bills on which action was not completed may be taken up again by the General Assembly when the members reconvene for their fall session in November. The Illinois General Assembly website contains a complete list of all of the bills introduced over the past two years, together with a summary of the actions taken on them by the 98th General Assembly so far.

Every bill passed by both houses returns to the clerk in its house of origin, who must present it to the Governor within 30 days of passage. This delay dates back to the founding of Illinois when bills were handwritten and had to be checked carefully for spelling errors. After a bill is sent to the Governor’s desk, the chief executive has an additional 60 calendar days to sign or veto the measure. As of this week, Gov. Quinn has acted on 22 of the 510 bills enacted in the 2014 spring session (4% of the total). In prior years, this 90-day flow chart meant that actions on bill signing had continued throughout the summer until late August.

Subscribe to the “Week in Review” to follow these bills throughout the summer and track the ongoing work of the Illinois General Assembly.

Juvenile Crime 
Juvenile expungement bill signed into law. SB 978 creates a pathway for automatic expungement for a wide variety of juvenile adjudications. Records that will be expunged include court records of acts that would have been criminal acts if they had been committed by an adult, or if the juvenile charged with the act had been charged and convicted as an adult. Records covered by this bill include an arrest or incident that occurred before a person’s 18th birthday. Sex offenses, Class X felonies, Class 1 felonies, and Class 2 felonies are excluded from this expungement.

Several key law enforcement groups had asked the State to think carefully before taking this step. Law enforcement professionals are required, by law, to treat offenders at different levels depending on the defendant’s prior offenses. These groups wonder how they are supposed to carry out this treatment if they are faced with impediments in the way of knowing what these priors are. Unanswered questions like these were on the minds of many House Republicans who voted against the measure, which passed the House on a vote of 74-40-0. However, the controversial bill was signed into law on Monday, June 9 as Public Act 98-637.

9-1-1 & Telephone Bills 
9-1-1 measure, which includes Chicago telephone tax increase, signed into law. While many of the bills enacted by the General Assembly in May 2014 are expected to have to endure many weeks of scrutiny in the Governor’s office before being signed into law, one tax increase measure received near-immediate approval. HB 2453 contains bailout provisions that benefit 9-1-1 systems in Downstate Illinois without an increased levy on local phone users, but another feature of the complex measure increases the authorized 9-1-1 tax on monthly phone service within the City of Chicago from $2.50/month to $3.90/month. This is a Chicago-only hike of 56%. The tax increase, requested by the Mayor of Chicago, applies to both cellular and landline phones.

HB 2453 also contained features aimed at improving coordination between different 9-1-1 systems and between law enforcement and the 9-1-1 universe as a whole. The new law creates an Office of the Statewide 9-1-1 Administrator and staff within the Illinois State Police, and creates a 9-1-1 Services Advisory Board to plan for the creation of a unified 9-1-1 system that will serve all of Illinois other than Chicago. Telecommunications service providers and police executives, such as police chiefs, sheriffs, and the Director of the Illinois State Police, are represented on the Board. The House vote on HB 2453 was 83-22-3, and the bill was signed by Gov. Quinn on Friday, June 6 as Public Act 98-634.

After much delay, Gov. Quinn signs Chicago pension bill. SB 1922 reduces the future pension benefits to be paid to, and increases the future pension contributions to be paid by, several significant sectors of City of Chicago workers. The bill does not cover other sectors of Chicago workers: police officers, firefighters, and teachers.

Proponents of this bill expressed the hope that this measure could head off cuts in Chicago’s debt rating. These bond rating cuts, if continued, could threaten the city with insolvency and even bankruptcy – a trajectory parallel to the one suffered by the troubled city of Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013. Opponents agreed that Chicago could be headed towards a fiscal cliff, but expressed the fear that the significant property taxes that could be imposed by the city as part of the SB 1922 pension package could drive productive residents out of the city and lead to the same result by a different path. The House vote on SB 1922 was 73-41-1. Signature by Gov. Quinn on Monday, June 9 made this measure Public Act 98-641. The bill was signed on the afternoon of the last possible day allowed by the state Constitution.

Week in Review
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