Week in Review for week of 11/17/14 - 11/21/14

General Assembly – veto session
Illinois legislature convenes for first week of “veto session.”  By constitutional law, the lawmakers must gather in November to consider vetoes by the Governor while addressing any pressing issues of public concern.  In all, eleven House committees held meetings to look at these bills and issues. 

This week they were joined by Sheri Jesiel of Winthrop Harbor, a new member who enjoyed her first session day in Springfield as the appointee to serve out the term of retiring Representative JoAnn Osmond.  The second week of veto session is scheduled to take place immediately after Thanksgiving.

General Assembly – Jim Durkin
Jim Durkin elected to full term as House Republican Leader.  On Wednesday, November 19, the House Republican Caucus of the 99th General Assembly – the incoming group of 47 men and women who will take the oaths of office on January 14 – met in Springfield.  Their unanimous choice for House Republican Leader was the 82nd District’s Jim Durkin, of Burr Ridge.

Durkin, in 2015, will enter into his second full year as leader of his Caucus.  The Illinois Constitution asks the House members of both political parties to choose a leader, and gives responsibilities to both.  He’ll be tasked with leading a fresh faced House Republican Caucus, more than a quarter of whom (12 of 47) were newly elected in November 2014.  The 99th General Assembly will serve from January 14, 2015, until January 2017.     

Governor-elect Bruce Rauner – hiring freeze
Chief executive-elect faces massive budget challenge; Rauner calls for hiring freeze.  Faced with a multi-billion-dollar ‘hole” in the State budget, Governor-elect Bruce Rauner pushed strongly this week for the State to impose a hard freeze on the hiring of additional permanent civil service employees during the transition period.  Until January 12, outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn remains the chief executive, and his State departments will have the right to hire new employees, make appointments, and to grant promotions to existing employees.

Rauner’s call was for a blanket freeze on all state employee hires, appointments, and employment reclassifications (such as promotions and new employee responsibilities) during the remaining weeks of the outgoing administration.  The “Chicago Sun-Times” covered Rauner’s call.  The incoming governor told reporters that his new team plans to carry out a “very aggressive agenda” after the transition on January 12.

Governor-elect Bruce Rauner – transition committees
Bruce Rauner further fills out transition committees.  Only fifteen days after his election as Illinois’ incoming chief executive, Bruce Rauner and running mate Evelyn Sanguinetti announced the co-chairs of ten new transition policy committees.  The move adds 37 additional voices to the team advising Rauner as he and his team prepare to take the helm in Springfield. 

The new committees will concentrate on specific issues facing Illinois and its residents.  Overall issue areas include economic development, education, and health care.  Specific constituent concerns include agriculture, public safety, and veterans..  The “Chicago Tribune” lists the new committees and their members: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/chi-rauner-adds-37-to-transition-team-20141119-story.html.  

Daylight savings time – repeal
Mitchell bill would repeal Illinois law requiring daylight savings time.  Representative Bill Mitchell, of Decatur, introduced a measure this week to exempt Illinoisans from daylight savings time (DST).  Although daylight savings time has been required by federal law since 1966, states have the right to opt out from it.  Arizona and Hawaii have exercised their right to exempt themselves from DST.  Filed with the Clerk of the House, the Illinois daylight savings time repeal bill is HB 6325 (http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=6325&GAID=12&GA=98&DocTypeID=HB&LegID=83207&SessionID=85).   

Energy – fracking
Fracking progress continues.  On Friday, November 14, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/Pages/default.aspx) published on its website the final version of much-awaited rules intended to govern the process of granting permits to shale drilling crews.  The publication followed a move by state lawmakers to demand changes in the draft rules so that they would closely follow the intent of the General Assembly.  Legislative action on these rules has been aimed at harmonizing them with the intent and language of the fracking legalization bill, SB 1715 (http://ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=1715&GAID=12&GA=98&DocTypeID=SB&LegID=72606&SessionID=85), which was signed by outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn in June 2013. The Illinois Environmental Council calls SB 1715 “the most stringent regulations on high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the country.”  The 108-9-0 House vote to pass SB 1715 is here: http://ilga.gov/legislation/votehistory/98/house/09800SB1715_05302013_030000T.pdf.

The finalized rule language, which was approved by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (http://www.ilga.gov/commission/jcar/), is intended to create one of the safest and most strictly regulated fracking industries among the 50 states.  Special mandates govern drilling and drill-related processes such as the monitoring of drilling samples for potential radioactivity and the disposal of wastewater from drilling rigs.  The drilling industry was willing to accept these and other mandates because of their belief that the thick New Albany shale beds that underlie much of southeastern Illinois could become one of America’s next major crude oil fields.

Publication of the finalized rule language opens the door for this issue to move to Illinois’ third branch of government, the judicial branch.  Concerned parties opposed to frack drilling, the process of drilling into and injecting sand, water, and chemicals into shale rock to force the rock to yield crude oil and natural gas, continue their stance.  DNR’s next step will be to move to republish the rules and move them from its own website to the “Illinois Register,” the place where rules are published after they have become part of the Illinois Administrative Code.  Litigants will try to block this republication and are expected to take other legal actions to try to strike down the fracking rules.  The “Chicago Tribune” covers the story: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-fracking-rules-published-1115-biz--2-20141114-story.html.   

Health care – Medical Practice Act reauthorized for 12-month period
House takes action to maintain licensure status.  The Medical Practice Act governs the licenses for all persons permitted to practice medicine as an M.D. in Illinois.  The Act is periodically renewed as part of overall discussions of medical care issues in Illinois.  The House on Thursday, November 20, amended language onto SB 649 (http://ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=649&GAID=12&GA=98&DocTypeID=SB&LegID=69976&SessionID=85) to reauthorize the Medical Practice Act of 1987 for calendar year 2015.  The reauthorization will now be taken up by the Illinois Senate for final action.  The House vote was 112-0-0 (http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/votehistory/98/house/09800SB0649_11202014_013000T.pdf).   

Higher education – University of Illinois
University names Timothy Killeen as new president.  The State University of New York (SUNY) vice chancellor was named the 20th president of the University of Illinois (http://www.uillinois.edu/) on Wednesday, November 19.  A physicist and engineer, Killeen specialized in atmospheric research, with frequent contact with challenges in meteorology.  Spending much of his research career at the University of Michigan, he authored more than 150 publications in peer-reviewed journals.  As his research career continued, Killeen moved in the second half of his career toward administrative responsibilities.  As president of SUNY’s Research Foundation, Killeen took on an executive role in the development and monetization of U.S. higher education research.  

The University of Illinois has three primary campuses at Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield.  It also oversees numerous satellite medical campuses, institutes, and affiliated facilities.  With more than 78,000 students, it is one of the highest-profile universities in the United States, and has taken significant steps in recent years to protect and enhance its global brand and reputation.  The appointment is made pending formal approval by the University’s board of trustees at their next meeting on January 15, 2015.  The University’s press release announcing the pending appointment is here: http://www.uillinois.edu/20thPresident.    
New figures show U. of I. is top draw for students from abroad.  The Institute of International Education tracks the number of students from non-U.S. homes attending American institutions of higher education.  The University of Illinois’ 2013-2014 student count included 10,843 students from abroad, making the Champaign-Urbana-based multi-campus university #1 in terms of public schools with enrollments from abroad and #3 overall.  New York University and the University of Southern California, both private schools, were #1 and #2.   

Trends at the University of Illinois match numbers posted by other institutions of higher education across the United States.  A record 886,052 international students attended U.S. universities in 2014-2015.  The “Chicago Tribune” describes the numbers to subscribers here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-international-students-met-20141116-story.html.

Jobs – unemployment
Official unemployment rate remains at 6.6%.  The new figures, which cover October 2014 (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4Bi-iePG1O6LU1UWVNZZDRVNEU/view) were released by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (http://www.ides.illinois.gov/Pages/default.aspx) on Thursday, November 20.

The state’s official job counters tallied the Illinois labor force at 6,531,100, of whom 429,000 are unemployed.  The ratio of officially unemployed persons to the State’s total non-agricultural labor force generated the 6.6% figure, which was unchanged from September 2014.  In addition, many hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans are involuntarily working in part-time jobs or have withdrawn from the labor force.  Many veterans, parents of young children, persons with specialized skills, and persons burdened by student loans are numbered amongst the jobless.  Illinois’ unemployment numbers have remained above the “recession-level” benchmark – commonly described as 6 percent joblessness or higher – for more than six years. 

Local government – fraud scheme
Alleged $50 million fraud scheme uncovered.  Chicago-area municipalities were the target of an alleged swindle being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the office of the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois.  The lost money was invested in the Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund (IMET) (http://investimet.com/), which manages approximately $1.5 billion on behalf of Illinois local governmental institutions.  IMET was developed in 1996 as a joint venture between Illinois local governments to invest dollars for an intermediate-term rate of return.  As with other money-market investment funds, IMET has been hard-hit in recent years by global trends affecting interest rates on cash deposits.  

Approximately 293 Illinois municipalities are affected by the alleged fraud.  These are local governments that invested money in a fund within IMET which, in turn, allocated part of its holdings to the fraudulent scheme.  The Illinois Municipal League (http://www.iml.org/) is looking into how to prevent these activities in the future.  The story broke on Sunday, November 16, in the “Chicago Tribune”: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-loan-fraud-1116-biz-20141116-story.html#page=1.

Schools – SB 16 discussed
Bill would change formula used to distribute State money to local schools.  SB 16 (http://ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?GA=98&DocTypeID=SB&DocNum=16&GAID=12&SessionID=85&LegID=68381), which was approved by the Senate in the 2014 spring session, would direct more State funding to some districts and less to others. 

At a subject matter hearing on Tuesday, November 18, the two House committees with substantive and appropriations responsibility for elementary and secondary education heard concerns about the controversial measure.  Witnesses with concerns about the measure described how the proposed changes to the school aid formula could further increase pressure to raise property taxes in many school districts.   Witnesses in support of the measure voiced relief at the prospect of additional state support in areas of Illinois with lower property tax revenues to support schools.  

State museum – Alan J. Dixon
Illinois House begins action to rename Illinois State Museum building.  Downstater Alan Dixon, a Democrat, was elected to both houses of the Illinois General Assembly in 1950-1970.  He was elected to be State Treasurer in November 1970.  He rose to be Secretary of State following the 1976 election, and was chosen by the voters to fill the Adlai Stevenson III vacancy in the U.S. Senate in November 1980 where he went on to serve for two terms (http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=D000366).  After leaving office, he returned to the St. Louis area and resumed the private practice of law, passing away in July 2014 at age 86.

Located in Springfield, the main building of the Illinois State Museum is one of the buildings that makes up the southern border of the State Capitol Complex.  Under the provisions of HJR 109, the building will be renamed the Alan J. Dixon Building of the Illinois State Museum.  Other State Museum facilities in other sections of Illinois, such as Dickson Mounds near Lewistown, will keep their current names.  The House vote on HJR 109 was 113-0-0.  The measure now goes to the Illinois Senate for further action.

Uber – ridesharing industry
Negotiations continue on “key” bill in veto session.  Language enacted by the General Assembly in spring 2014 to further regulate Internet-platform and social-network-oriented ridesharing firms, such as Uber, was vetoed by outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn.  As the General Assembly moves towards the second week of veto session starting December 2, negotiations continued on the development of a policy compromise to further regulate this fast-growing industry.

Challenges facing future rideshare regulators include oversight of the drivers’ license status of ridesharing drivers, oversight of the drivers’ insurance status, mandated service by ridesharing firms to underserved areas, and wheelchair accessibility.  The vetoed ridesharing regulation bills are HB 4075 (http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=4075&GAID=12&GA=98&DocTypeID=HB&LegID=77989&SessionID=85)  and HB 5331 (http://ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocTypeID=HB&DocNum=5331&GAID=12&SessionID=85&LegID=80111).  As part of these compromise negotiations, new legislation may be prepared by the General Assembly to consider.  The new legislation would make official the terms of this possible compromise regulatory package. 
Warming centers
Illinois opens 100 warming centers.  A map and the addresses of the centers are available at http://www.illinois.gov/KeepWarm/SitePages/WarmingCenters.aspx. The centers, operated by offices of the Department of Human Services, oases of the Illinois Toll HighwayAuthority and facilities of other departments, can serve as respite centers for persons with emergency housing challenges.     

Winter conditions, with temperatures well below freezing statewide, hit Illinois this week.  Persons with no heat where they live have a hotline number to call for help and advice: 1-(800) 843-6154.  The Associated Press and its partner, the “Daily Herald,” describe the situation here.  

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