Week in Review for August 26-30

House Republicans
·         Rep. Jim Durkin named new House Republican Leader. House Republicans are proud to announce the unanimous election of State Rep. Jim Durkin (R-82nd District) as the new Leader of the House Republican Caucus. Durkin served in the House from 1995-2003, and rejoined the chamber in 2006. Prior to his service in the General Assembly, Durkin was an Assistant State’s Attorney in Cook County, and an Assistant Attorney General. He served as the Republican spokesman on the special House committee which investigated and ultimately impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Durkin is currently an Assistant Republican Leader in the House, and serves on five House committees: Accountability and Administrative Review, Financial Institutions, Housing, Judiciary and Transportation Regulation—Roads and Bridges. Durkin, 52, and his wife Celeste live in Western Springs. He is a graduate of Illinois State University and John Marshall Law School.

Budget & Legislation
·         FY 2014 budget analysis released by COGFA. The Committee on Government Forecasting and Accountability has released its roundup of the FY 2014 state budget. The entire document can be accessed here.

·         All legislation sent to the Governor has been acted upon. Governor Quinn on Tuesday completed action on all legislation which passed both houses and reached his desk this spring. In total, the Governor signed 355 house bills, 234 senate bills, and vetoed five bills, three of which were duplicates of other legislation. There was also one amendatory veto and one reduction veto.

·         New law allows Tollway to issue list of “super scofflaws.” On Tuesday, Governor Quinn signed legislation allowing the Illinois Tollway to make public the names of those who have accumulated at least $1000 in unpaid fines. One day later, the Tollway published its list: 157 names, including trucking companies, taxicab and limousine services, a day care center and others whom the Tollway claims owe more than $3 million in fines. Some of the firms listed have disputed the Tollway’s findings. 

·         Three more Metra Board members asked to resign. Four Cook County commissioners introduced a resolution which called on three members of the embattled Metra board to step down. Metra this week named an interim executive director, Don Orseno, in the wake of continuing fallout about clout and political hiring. The Metra board is down to six members after a series of resignations over the course of the summer. The non-binding resolution calls on members Don DeGraff, Arlene Mulder and William Widmer III to step down. The resolution calls on the members to submit resignations immediately, but to stay on until their replacements can be seated. The six remaining members represent a bare quorum necessary for the board to conduct business.

·         Farm Progress Show returns to Decatur. Legislators stopped by the Farm Progress Show in Decatur on Wednesday, visiting America’s largest outdoor farm exhibition as it made its bi-annual visit to Illinois. The show is held in Iowa every other year. This year’s show features more than 600 exhibitors from across a wide spectrum of agricultural goods and services. Among the exhibitors were displays on production and distribution of ethanol, research and development into improved crop yields and reduction in the risk of plant diseases, and technology to produce enough food to supply a growing global population. The three-day show brings to Central Illinois some of the largest agribusiness entities and agricultural trade groups in the world.

·         Southern Illinois officials visit Ohio to study effects of fracking. A delegation of city and county officials from southern Illinois traveled to Carroll County, Ohio, to visit fracking wells and learn first-hand about the impact of hydraulic fracturing on communities where fracking is already underway. The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan reported that the findings of the trip were mostly positive, but some concerns did arise over infrastructure, specifically damage to local roads from overuse by heavy trucks, and also housing for workers coming into the area to support the industry.

·         State Capitol West Wing renovation nearing completion. A two-year, $50 million renovation of the west wing of the State Capitol building is almost complete. Capitol architect Richard Alsop took statehouse reporters on a tour of the renovated wing this week, showcasing the renovated heating and air conditioning systems, upgraded life-safety systems and improved disability standards to bring the building into compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The project was funded through state bonds issued for the purpose of public works projects.

·         Actuarial review of pension conference committee plan finds $145.6 billion in savings. A draft plan being considered by the 10-member conference committee charged with coming up with pension reform legislation should save the state $145.6 billion through FY 2045 and would cut overall state pension liability by $18.1 billion according to an actuarial analysis of the plan in Monday’s Chicago Tribune. The plan would tie cost of living increases to inflation, instead of the current flat-rate 3% annual increase, and would reduce employee contributions by 1%. The conference committee has not yet produced its report to the General Assembly.

Highway Safety
·         Proof of insurance now required for automobile registration. Governor Quinn this week signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) to prevent uninsured motorists from registering a vehicle. Under the new law, a licensed driver would have to provide proof of car insurance when they attempt to register their vehicle. The law takes effect in 2016. A vehicle registration which is not accompanied by proof of insurance will be rejected. Falsifying proof of insurance will result in a Class C misdemeanor. 

·         Illinois approves six new specialty license plates. Illinois added six new specialty license plates this summer, and they should start appearing on Illinois highways as soon as enough people sign up for them. The Illinois State Police Memorial Park plate, the Legion of Merit plate, the Retired Law Enforcement plate, the H Foundation plate, Committed to the Cure plate and the Illinois Police K-9 plate were added to the roster of specialty license plates which Illinois already issues. The Secretary of State will begin production of each plate once 1500 people request it, raising at least $37,500 for the cause to which funds from the plates are dedicated. Illinois started this year with 104 specialty license plates.

·         Early-released inmate charged in Decatur homicide. Joshua A. Jones was released from the Illinois Department of Corrections in May as part of the state’s early release program for non-violent offenders. Jones, who was released 19 months into a 4-year term for selling crack and heroin, now stands accused of murder in connection with the shooting death of a man in Decatur earlier this month. Governor Quinn told the Associated Press that DOC officials followed the law “precisely.” The early-release program was suspended in 2009 after a series of scandals, but was reinstated last year.

·         Mandatory school age in Illinois lowered to 6. Governor Quinn signed legislation Sunday which lowers the required school age from seven to six, effective at the start of the 2014 school year. The legislation was in response to concerns voiced by Chicago school administrators that too many students were arriving at school for the first time at age seven and having to be sent straight to first or second grade. Opponents of the measure claimed it encroached on the rights of parents and would also cost schools and the state more money. Illinois joins 26 other states with a compulsory attendance age of six. Eight states and the District of Columbia set the age at five.

·         Governor Quinn Reappoints Gaming Board Chairman, Member. Governor Quinn on Friday announced the reappointment of Aaron Jaffe, the controversial Chairman of the State Gaming Board, and board member Michael Holewinski.  Jaffe has served on the board for eight years; Holewinski for two. Both men’s term expired on July 1st. Jaffe in recent years has evoked the ire of legislators who support the expansion of casino gaming in Illinois by actively speaking against expansion proposals under consideration in the General Assembly. Both men’s reappointment to the Gaming Board must be approved by the Illinois Senate.