Week in Review for July 15 - July 19, 2013

Diabetes and Public Health
House Republican measures aimed at improving public diabetes awareness become law.  The bipartisan Illinois Legislative Diabetes Caucus 2013 agenda included two measures to raise funds for diabetes research and direct that the State systematically monitor the growing diagnosis of diabetes among Illinois residents.  HB 1815 (Cross/Hunter) and HB 2199 (Durkin/Muñoz) were signed into law on Thursday, July 18 as P.A. 98-96 and P.A. 98-97.
  • HB 1815 creates the Diabetes Awareness special Illinois license plate.  As with most other Illinois special license plates, persons showing a commitment will help to raise money for a cause recognized by the State.  The supplemental fee for original issuance of this plate will be $40, and the fee for annual sticker renewal will be $27.  $25 from each sum will be transferred to the Diabetes Research Checkoff Fund, and will be used to supplement the monies raised from the State income tax checkoff for diabetes treatment and research.
  • HB 2199 will create a biennial report to be submitted by the State Diabetes Commission, an independent panel staffed by the State’s Department of Public Health.  The report, which will be submitted every two years starting in January 2015, will list not only the number of Illinois residents with diabetes, but also (a) the number of Illinois family members directly affected by these diagnoses, (b) the financial impact of diabetes upon the Illinois economy and its public-sector budget, and (c) the costs and benefits of anti-diabetes public health and diabetes prevention measures.  The report will also direct the State to look at, and continuously monitor, the level of cooperation between different State and other public-sector programs that are aimed at the treatment of diagnosed diabetes and the slowdown and prevention of existing cases of metabolic syndrome and other pre-diabetic conditions from progressing to a diagnosis of diabetes.  
Moody’s downgrades $8.2 billion in City of Chicago general obligation and sales tax debt.   On Wednesday, July 17, Wall Street’s largest bond-rating agency reduced the standing of Windy City debt from Aa3 (seven notches above junk-bond level) to A3 (four notches above junk-bond level) with a negative outlook.  The New York-based firm observed that the approaching “ramp” in annual pension payments scheduled by current statutory law for the 2015 budget year would “place material strain on the city’s operating budget.”

The debt-rating professionals observed that this pressure could be relieved if the State of Illinois were to enact pension reform that would stand up to litigation and constitutional challenges.  Pension reform of this type, even if initially enacted to benefit the State of Illinois’ budget, could create a precedent that would also be applicable to Chicago.

In addition, some of the pension reform proposals recently suggested in Springfield would also explicitly benefit Chicago – in some cases, by transferring some Chicago pension liabilities to Illinois taxpayers outside Chicago.

Elements of the Chicago public sector are responding to their city’s worsening financial situation.  Chicago Public Schools announced on Thursday, July 18, that 2,113 personnel, including 1,036 teachers and 1,077 other staff personnel, would face layoffs.  This followed the letting-go, earlier in the summer of 2013, of 850 employees due to the closure of 48 Chicago schools and school buildings.  The layoffs were described as a partial CPS response to the budget crunch created by a mandated $600 million 2013-14 school board payment into CPS’s troubled pension fund.

Urban violence in Chicago. General Assembly takes action to strengthen prosecutions of criminal gang leaders.   In Chicago, the second weekend of July saw ten persons wounded and four persons killed between Friday, July 12, and Sunday, July 14.  This followed the four-day Independence Day weekend period in Chicago, in which a reported 67 persons were shot and 12 killed.  2013 Chicago violence rates are generating totals only slightly below 2012, in which 512 persons were murdered in Illinois’ largest city.  An extrapolation of current homicide rates indicates that the 2013 Chicago toll could pass 400.  Although the City of Chicago has one of the nation’s strongest sets of “gun control” laws, the ordinances did not appear as of mid-July to have been effective in reducing rates of inner-city violence in 2013.

Many of these shootings and homicides are described in Chicago police blotters as being related to criminal gang activity.  In the 2013 spring session, the General Assembly enacted the Gang Crime Witness Protection Act of 2013, aimed at strengthening the ability of witnesses to testify against gang crimes.  HB 1139 was signed into law as P.A. 98-58 on Monday, July 8.

Illinois unemployment rises to 9.2%, making the Prairie State 49th of 50 in the U.S. in joblessness.  The rate for June 2013 was published by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) on Thursday, July 18.  IDES also found that Illinois’ private-sector employers had created 9,000 new jobs throughout Illinois in June, but this was not enough to counter the effect of lost public-sector jobs and new entrants into the Illinois labor force.  48 states have lower unemployment rates than Illinois.  Nevada, hit hard by a downturn in the state’s destination resort industry, posted an unemployment rate of 9.6% in June 2013, the highest rate in the U.S.

Many states that neighbor Illinois have significantly lower jobless rates.  Examples include Michigan (8.7%), Kentucky (8.4%), Indiana (8.4%), Missouri (6.9%), Wisconsin (6.8%), and Iowa (4.6%).

General Assembly
Pay stoppage approaches after Governor Quinn’s veto of HB 214.  This appropriations bill contained more than $13.8 million allocated for General Assembly pay and stipends.  Citing the failure of both houses of the General Assembly to enact major pension reform, the Governor on Wednesday, July 10, exercised his line-item veto powers, and signed this bill in such a way as to strike out this money.  

During the week starting on July 15, public comment on the situation centered on the deadline facing General Assembly members wishing to take action.  The Governor’s veto meant that the Comptroller, the State official that signs the State’s paychecks, no longer has legal authority or appropriations money to sign paychecks for State lawmakers for pay periods on and after Thursday, August 1.  Members of the Illinois House and Senate earn base pay of $67,836 per year; many also receive small stipends for serving as chairpersons, vice chairpersons, or spokespersons on legislative committees.

State Police, gun owners prepare for implementation of new concealed carry law.  The Illinois State Police has been directed to implement P.A. 98-63 (HB 183), the new Illinois concealed carry firearms law.  The enactment of this bill into law on Tuesday, July 9 wound up a series of clocks that have been delivered to Illinois local governments and the State Police.  Each clock has set a deadline for various actions to take place, and these clocks have started to tick down.

After ten days (i.e. by Friday, July 19), Illinois local governments will no longer be allowed to ban the possession of so-called “assault weapons.”  After sixty days (i.e. by September 7), the State Police are expected to begin approval of certified firearms instructors and firearms training courses.  After 180 days (i.e. by January 5, 2014), the State Police are expected to make concealed carry license applications available to the public; license applicants will be required to contract with approved, certified firearms instructors to undertake the training courses they will be required to attend in order for their license applications to be approved.

Although Illinois’ previous law (which banned concealed carry) was invalidated in December 2012 by a federal appeals court, the new law has not yet achieved the full implementation stage, and many law enforcement professionals are instructing those who ask that no person will be allowed to legally carry a concealed firearm in Illinois until they are licensed under the provisions of this Act.

Chapter 9 filing by City of Detroit increases pressure on Illinois to develop solution to growing pension crisis.   The Michigan filing on Thursday, July 18, under Chapter 9 of the federal Bankruptcy Code, increased pressure on all of the downgraded and at-risk public-sector entities of the United States to get their fiscal houses in order.   Detroit has suffered repeated downgrades of its debt in recent years by nonpartisan bond rating agencies, as have the State of Illinois and other units of government with troubled budgets.

At the time of the bankruptcy filing, the troubled Michigan city was described as having approximately $18 billion in debt and unfunded liabilities outstanding – a debt load significantly greater than that of Illinois on a per-capita basis, but far below total Illinois debts of more than $100 billion (including at least $97 billion in unfunded pension liabilities).  The federal Bankruptcy Court that will hear the case created by this Chapter 9 filing will have the right to impose certain remedies upon the city and its creditors, including the city’s debt-holders, creditors, pensioners, and workers with vested pension rights.

Supreme Court Rules on Parental Notification
Final legal obstacle cleared from path of 18-year-old State law.  In 1995, the Illinois General Assembly passed HB 955 (P.A. 89-15), a then-pioneering measure that required most underage women seeking legal abortions to obtain parental consent.  The controversial measure was strongly opposed by some members of the General Assembly, and this opposition continued after the bill was signed into law.  An 18-year-long series of legal battles took place, with opponents raising a series of barriers to active implementation of the measure.

On Thursday, July 11, the Illinois Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling to dismiss the final state-court challenge to the law and finalize the rules to be used to implement the law.  Since 1995, the concept of mandatory parental consent has come to be supported by a body of state and federal case law.  Currently, 38 of the 50 states require some form of parental consent for most abortion procedures performed by a practitioner and a juvenile patient.  Illinois will become the 39th state unless enforcement of the law is further blocked by possible appeals in federal court.