Week in Review for 1/19/15 - 1/23/15

Governor Bruce Rauner
Governor takes steps to increase opportunities.  Moving beyond traditional “affirmative action,” Gov. Bruce Rauner called on Tuesday, January 20 for increased participation by Illinois veterans and members of opportunity groups in Illinois business procurement, apprenticeship programs, and trade union training programs.  In addition, the Department of Central management Services (CMS) - the state’s chief hiring and procurement arm – is instructed to study the hiring and awarding of contracts to Illinois veterans.  The Governor’s instructions are included in Executive Order 15-12.

CMS is directed to study participation of veteran-owned businesses in Illinois’s procurement process, with a report due by June 30, 2015.  The executive order also reaffirms the State’s commitment to procurement support for businesses owned and controlled by members of opportunity groups, with a report due by December 31, 2015.  Opportunity groups listed by the Governor include members of racial minorities, women, and persons with disabilities.  The Department is instructed to recommend solutions and methods to remedy any disparity in procurement awards.

More than 800,000 veterans of the United States Armed Forces live in Illinois.  Although these are individuals who have put their civilian careers aside and, in many cases, come under hostile fire to defend our Nation’s freedoms, the members of this group have not in some cases been given the bonus considerations for Illinois jobs and procurement opportunities to which they are entitled by law.  The Chicago Sun-Times describes how Rauner’s order is expected to help veterans.

Revenue – Amazon/Internet Sales Tax
State to redouble efforts to collect sales taxes from non-traditional businesses; Amazon to start collecting sales tax.  Under federal law, each state must fulfill certain legal conditions in order to enjoy the right to mandate that a business that is not physically located in Illinois must charge Illinois sales tax when physically selling something to an Illinois resident.  New administrative rules, which took effect on January 1, 2015, expand the definition of out-of-state retailers that fall under these conditions and are subject to these requirements.  This technical-sounding change in State law could lead to more demands for sales taxes popping up on Illinois residents’ video screens in future as we shop online for taxable goods and services.  The Associated Press has the story.

Illinois consumers already routinely pay sales taxes of 6.25 percent and up on goods purchased over a traditional sales counter and physically carried out of the store.  Goods purchased online and shipped by parcel delivery do not have a physical location that matches the traditional legal definition of where a State sales tax can be charged and collected.  Many of the 50 U.S. states have taken actions aimed at creating statutory laws, case laws, and administrative laws that will govern these online sales and legally enable sales taxes to be charged and collected.  The change in Illinois administrative law was pushed through by officials for the former Gov. Quinn administration.  It covers entities that sell $10,000 or more in taxable goods and services to Illinois residents in the prior year through catalog, mail-order, and Internet sales platforms.  Amazon.com has agreed to cooperate with Illinois’ new law and rules, and will start charging and collecting Illinois sales taxes on February 1, 2015 for deliveries made to addresses in Illinois.  

The National Conference of State Legislatures, which is monitoring Internet and other out-of-state sales throughout the U.S., estimates that Illinois is failing to collect an estimated $1 billion in annual sales taxes that would be paid if the goods were to be purchased over a physical in-state sales counter.  However, a marketing association representing cross-state-line retailers expressed disagreement to an AP reporter with the legal status of the new Illinois administrative law.  It is possible that a legal challenge will be mounted against this new push from Springfield.

Criminal Law – Heroin 
Southern Illinois law enforcement officers report increase in heroin busts, medical crises.  The trend in the Carbondale area matches similar trends reported in the Chicago area and other regions of Downstate.  The Southern Illinoisan profiles increased heroin activity in the rural town of Carterville.

Increases in heroin arrests and overdoses are now a familiar story for nationwide health providers and law enforcement.  Changes in federal law and in nationwide medical practice are reducing the quantities of prescription opiates dispensed through conventional channels.  While these policy changes are successful when they are coupled with other medical interventions aimed at professional pain management for individual patients, they are also sharply reducing the street supply of opiates available to persons with addiction challenges.  In some regions of Illinois, heroin is now actually cheaper, on an opiate-equivalent basis, than the “street price” of illegally purchased prescription opiates.  Some people with addiction challenges are switching to heroin, despite its dangers.  Health providers, law enforcement, and substance abuse care providers are working with the General Assembly to try to meet this new reality.    

Downstate – County Fairs
Study indicates that county fairs, Illinois State Fair are $170 million annual marketplace.  The study of 4,600 attendees of Illinois county fairs gathered evidence about the experiences being enjoyed by fairgoers and the goods and services they were buying. The study’s results are covered by the Quad Cities’ WQAD-TV/Channel 8.

Survey respondents turn to Downstate Illinois fairs for family-friendly entertainment, including music and carnival rides.  The Illinois General Assembly has enacted a package of laws over the past five years to strengthen criminal background checks on carnival ride and “midway” personnel, and to strengthen enforcement of safety inspections on carnival rides.  Other features of Downstate fairs mentioned by survey respondents include alliances with local community organizations, education about agriculture, opportunities for local groups to carry out fundraising, and maintenance of valued entertainment traditions.

Downstate fairs will be held throughout the summer of 2015.  The Illinois State Fair will be held on August 13 through 23, 2015.

Education – FY16 Budget
Illinois State Board of Education requests budget hike of almost 11 percent.  The Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois’ chief agency that oversees elementary and secondary education, has the right to submit a public budget request to Governor Bruce Rauner.  On Wednesday, January 21, ISBE’s governing board recommended that the State increase funding for elementary and secondary education by 10.7 percent in fiscal year 2016 (FY16).  Monies designated in this budget area will cover the State’s general state aid (GSA) grants to local school districts, as well as many targeted programs that are partially or mostly funded by the State.  Additional State aid includes general funds intended to partly cover the cost to local school districts of “mandated categoricals,” programs mandated by State or federal law.  There have been sharp increases in the costs of many programs intended to help students with special needs and enable local school districts to meet their responsibilities to students with individualized education plans (IEPs).  Federal and local tax funds are also used to cover these mandated costs, as well as the general cost of teaching students and maintaining each school district.

Gov. Rauner has designated the Rev. James Meeks as chairman of the ISBE.  A former member of the State Senate, Rev. Meeks is expected to be confirmed in office by his former colleagues.  However, the request by Rev. Meeks and the ISBE board for additional monies will have to be weighed against the overall budget crisis facing the State of Illinois and its general funds.  The Chicago Tribune describes the Meeks-ISBE request.

Education – Social Media Passwords
Cyberbullying law gives new rights to school officials.  In continued efforts to combat cyberbullying, the Illinois General Assembly has enacted a new law to require the sharing of social media passwords.  The new law, which became effective on January 1, 2015, allows school and university officials to demand that a student turn over his or her social media password to authorities.  The new law is intended to unmask persons who attack their peers while sheltering under a pseudonym.  Fox/Channel 11 has the story.

Widely-disseminated news stories have mourned students who have harmed themselves in other states after being bullied by electronic messages posted in a public forum.  Illinois law, one of the toughest anti-cyberbullying legal packages in the U.S., gives authorities the power to reduce the possibility of events like this happening in this state.  School officials are empowered to take pre-emptive action against veiled, cloaked electronic bullying and posting of materials intended to hurt a student. The authorities are required to possess reasonable cause to believe that a student has violated a school’s disciplinary rule or policy.

Even with pre-emptive powers like these, it is not possible to reduce the rate of cyberbullying to zero.  Many Illinois school districts have taken the lead, however, in fighting back against bullying.  School districts routinely adopt written disciplinary rules and policies, which are distributed to students and their parents.  When written and distributed, these rules govern the conduct of all students on a 24/7 basis, including conduct carried out by a student when not physically located on school property.

Some persons have expressed concern about the new law, believing that it may go too far to one side in the ongoing battle over privacy and autonomy when one is not on government property.  The new law (HB 4207 - 98th General Assembly) was signed into law in August 2014 as Public Act 98-801.

Quinn – Executive Orders 
Seven executive orders rescinded.  In his final days in office, the departing Gov. Quinn issued seven decrees.  On Friday, January 16, new Governor Bruce Rauner rescinded all of them.  The action was taken in Executive Order 15-11.

The Quinn end-of-term orders had not been promulgated prior to the election.  They had not been scrutinized by the Illinois voting public, or by the state’s reporters and press.  They were all issued on or after January 5 in Quinn’s final week in office.   Several of the former executive’s orders, if they had been implemented, would have sharply increased the operating costs of the State of Illinois and its agencies in a time of budgetary crisis.

Nothing in Gov. Rauner’s actions prevents issues raised by the former executive from being re-drafted as bills in the General Assembly, and debated and negotiated in public.  The Rauner move clears the deck for new, mutually agreed policymaking.

Transportation – Toll Road Rebuilding
Toll highway rebuild to continue.  Governor Bruce Rauner has approved an exemption from the overall spending freeze for ongoing rebuilding and widening projects being implemented by the Illinois Tollways.  The package of construction projects is expected to cost more than $1 billion.  The rebuilding and widening projects are “self-financed” through toll increases paid for by toll road users.  They are expected to reduce traffic bottlenecks and increase the ability of toll road users to drive to work, go shopping, and carry out other day-to-day activities.  Immediately affected is a $174 million package of contracts for roadway and bridge reconstruction and widening on the close-to-Chicago section of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, a stretch of roadway that stretches between Elgin and O’Hare Airport.  This Jane Addams work can now go forward.  The Chicago Tribune describes the tollway projects and Rauner’s decision here.

Illinois Tollways debts are separate from the other debts of the State.  The Illinois Toll Highway Authority collects tolls and sells debt securities based on future Chicago-area and Northern Illinois toll revenues.  These future revenue streams are relatively predictable and secure, based upon the spreadsheets collaborated upon by the Tollways and their underwriters.  The Governor and his staff examined the financial status of the Tollways’ debt and projects and concluded that completing currently-planned Tollway expansion and reconstruction work would not damage the general fiscal standing of the State or the specific fiscal standing of the Illinois Tollways.

Transportation – Toll Road Speed Limits
Some sections of Illinois toll roads can now be legally driven at 70 mph.  A change in policy by the Illinois Toll Highway Authority, the independent panel that serves as a governing board for Illinois toll roads, was necessary to bring these limited-access highways into line with Illinois’ overall 70 mph policy.  The faster speed limit signs, which match signs already posted on many of Illinois’ Downstate freeways, are covered in AgriNews.

Other changes in law that affect toll road users include a 40 percent increase in tolls paid by drivers of two-axle and three-axle trailers, typically used by commercial drivers who guide Class 8 heavy freight-carrying trucks.  The toll increase became effective on January 1, 2015 as part of an overall package of toll increases imposed by the Illinois Tollways upon its users.  Proceeds from the toll increases are intended to service debts sold by the Toll Highway Authority to maintain and expand their existing inventory of infrastructure.  

Many limited-access highways located outside major Illinois metropolitan areas can now be legally driven at 70 mph.  Drivers are warned to continue to maintain safe speeds depending on actual driving conditions.  In addition, posted speed limits often drop sharply as a limited-access highway approaches a densely populated area.  Drivers should watch out for these changes in traffic density and obey posted speed limits.  Sections of toll roads that run through densely populated and trafficked areas, such as sections of the Tri-State Tollway, are not expected to be reposted to higher speeds.  

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