Week in Review for 5/25/15 - 5/29/15

Budget – FY16
House, Senate Democrats introduce fake State budget. House and Senate Democrats introduced a series of spending bills for FY16 (starting July 1, 2015) that spends more than $4 billion what nonpartisan revenue estimates expect the state to bring in. Ignoring their constitutional responsibility to enact a balanced budget, the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate rammed through spending bills they readily admit they cannot pay for, while at the same time walking away from the reform negotiations Governor Rauner has called for.

Illinois is estimated to bring in $32 billion next year, and the Democrats proposed budget would spend over $36 billion. The proposed spending is 12% higher than projected revenue and would push the state’s backlog of bills to over $10 billion, equaling 30% of our total revenue. The Democrats budget gives false hope to those who rely on state services and is an outright lie to schools, service providers and the state’s most vulnerable.

With locked-in increases intended to cover higher costs for Medicaid expenses, pension contributions, and other mandated and constitutional responsibilities, the House Democrats’ FY16 budget calls for spending more than $36 billion. House Republican members rejected the unconstitutional budget; calling upon the majority to change course and come back to the negotiating table so that a responsible, bipartisan budget with structural reforms can be agreed to. On party-line votes, the Democrats’ spending bills were approved by the Illinois House and Senate.

Gov. Bruce Rauner – Agenda
Rauner, House Republicans introduce Illinois Turnaround agenda. Key issue areas covered by the Governor’s agenda include measures to enact or ratify term limits for elected officials, legislative map reform, a property tax freeze, tort reform, workers’ compensation reform, and municipal bankruptcy reform.

Republican Leader Jim Durkin was the lead sponsor of five Illinois Turnaround measures in the Illinois House, with tort reform filed as HB 4222, workers’ compensation reform filed as HB 4223, the property tax freeze filed as HB 4224 , term limits filed as HJRCA 39, and redistricting reform filed as HJRCA 40.

Chicago – Memorial Day violence; HB 1
Violence again erupts in Illinois’ largest city; drug gangs blamed. The police blotter for the three-evening Memorial Day weekend (Friday, May 22 through Monday, May 25) listed 56 casualties on Chicago streets, of whom twelve were killed and 44 wounded. Victims were as young as age 4.

Typical scenes from this tally of early summer Chicago gunplay, described to reporters by witnesses and survivors, included drive-by and sidewalk shootings. Veteran police officers and other observers describe this violence pattern as characteristic of the turf operations of organized gangs. House Republican Representatives John Anthony, John Cabello, and many colleagues in both political parties are sponsoring HB 1, a 2015 Illinois House bill to fight back against gang crime by reducing dependence by many Illinoisans on opioid painkillers. Many of the painkillers taken by Illinoisans for non-prescribed or addiction reasons are available to them from the streets of urban cities like Chicago. John Anthony and John Cabello have relied on their experiences as a sheriff’s deputy and a police officer to help craft the anti-opioid features of HB 1. See “Drug crime,” below.

Drug crime – HB 1 
House Republicans help pass bill to reduce opioid dependency. The bill, HB 1, includes both penalty enhancements and a new commitment to education and rehabilitation. It contains numerous provisions intended to discourage and prevent patients from misusing opioid prescriptions and developing a dependence upon these dangerous drugs. Dispensing pharmacies would be forbidding from selling a vial of opioids containing more than a 10-day supply. One key feature of the bill contains a process to make Narcan, a one-time-use opioid antagonist, available to all Illinois first responders (police, fire, EMT) for administration to persons in an opioid overdose emergency.

HB 1 contains expanded commitments to drug courts, diversion pathways for nonviolent drug offenders, mandatory drug treatment, and other pathways intended to reduce addiction and recidivism. The May 27 House vote on HB 1 was 114-0-0, sending the measure to the Senate for final action.

Economy – Illinois unemployment
State unemployment rate holds steady at 6.0%. Numbers for April 2015, released by the Illinois Department of Employment Security, were identical to the 6.0% figure for March 2015. 5.92 million Illinois residents were collecting paychecks from nonfarm employment in April, but this was only 4,800 more jobs than in March. Jobless figures for April 2015 were 6.0% in Illinois and 5.4% nationwide.

Unemployment is increasingly concentrated in Downstate and rural areas. Illinois and its job-counting partners calculate individual unemployment rates for 13 separate metropolitan areas. All 13 of these areas had jobless rates lower than the 6.0% statewide average. April 2015 Illinois metro jobless rates fell into a range bounded by 3.9% in Bloomington-Normal, the state’s most prosperous locality, and topping out at 5.9% in Chicago, Danville, and Decatur. Unemployment was higher, however, than the 6.0% statewide in many rural counties located outside these thirteen urban areas.

The numbers continue to show the Prairie State underperforming neighboring states. While many U.S. states now have many more jobs than they did before the 2008 downturn, Illinois numbers indicate that our job count will not recover to pre-recession levels until July 2016. The April 2015 jobless rate, calculated by states was 5.4% in Indiana, 3.8% in Iowa, 5.0% in Kentucky, 5.7% in Missouri, and 4.4% in Wisconsin. Even hard-hit states such as Michigan (5.4%), Ohio (5.2%) and Pennsylvania (5.3%) had lower unemployment rates than Illinois in April 2015.

Fair Map – General Assembly redistricting maps
House Republicans, Governor call for bipartisan maps. U.S. voters vote for legislators – members of Congress and state legislators – who represent “districts” that are drawn on maps to contain equal numbers of people counted by census. At the time the U.S. Constitution was adopted, maps were drawn by hand. It was presumed that legislative districts would be compact or follow the boundary-lines of existing communities, or both.

In recent years, however, the invention of demographic software has made it possible for computers to draw maps that ruthlessly cross existing lines, sprawl across many different jurisdictions and virtually certain to elect politicians from one political party. Here in Illinois, two “Democratic maps” drawn in 2001 and redrawn in 2011 have led to fourteen straight years of uninterrupted control by the Chicago-based political party over both chambers of the state legislature in Springfield.

In November 2014, a strong margin of voters elected Republican Bruce Rauner to be Governor of Illinois, yet because of politically-drawn legislative maps, Democrats retained veto-proof supermajorities in both the Illinois House and Senate.

Other U.S. states have removed politics from the all-important job of mapmaking. HJRCA 40, a House Republican measure introduced on May 22, creates an Independent Redistricting Commission made up of members of both major political parties to draw the maps. The constitutional amendment provides a nonpartisan process to break a tie and draw the map if the two parties cannot agree.

Governor Bruce Rauner has stated his strong support for HJRCA 40, and has called for the House and Senate to consider the measure. House Republicans see redistricting reform as one aspect of reforms needed to enact a balanced budget and move beyond the failed policies of former Governors Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn under Democrat-controlled legislative maps. Redistricting reform as supported by Governor Rauner and House Republicans would succeed in taking politics out of the drawing of legislative maps.

Higher education – COD scandal
“Lavish perks” discovered at other campuses in wake of COD scandal. The investigation, described by the “Chicago Tribune” on May 22, described employment-related benefits authorized by friendly trustees for a wide variety of Illinois public university and community college presidents. The reported benefits include housing allowances, private club memberships, expense accounts, retention bonuses and supplemental retirement plans. Supplemental benefits like these are routinely provided to administrators whose market services are in demand.

The investigation followed efforts by newly-elected trustees at the College of DuPage (COD) to cooperate with a growing investigation of a sheaf of supplemental benefits and perks provided to retiring COD president Robert Breuder, who is currently on leave of absence. Reports that Breuder and his inner circle enjoyed an extensive tab for gourmet food and drink at the high-end restaurant operated by the college’s school of culinary arts have raised questions about Illinois public higher education compensation issues.

Police – Bodycams 
Illinois House passes bill to encourage police forces to adopt bodycams as routine element of uniform. Nothing in SB 1304 will require a police force to use bodycams, but a variety of provisions in the bill – worked out with the active participation of statewide law enforcement groups – will strongly encourage them to do so. Video taken by bodycams will have to be kept for at least 60 days and can then be erased by the police force or its data-security partner, unless specific enumerated events took place and were photographed by the camera and the video must be secured for a longer period of time.

Other features of SB 1304 will expand the existing protocol used by police officers in tracking statistical information on individuals detained in traffic stops. Under this bill similar information will be gathered, also for statistical purposes, on pedestrians detained by a police officer.

The bill contains a $5 supplemental fine imposed on motor vehicle moving violations. Money from the fee will be allocated to a grant fund to help individual police departments obtain bodycams and for the police-training process. Police training will include increased information for new and retrained officers on the use of bodycam video in day-to-day police work.

Two House Republican members with experience as serving police officers, Rep. John Anthony (R-Morris) and Rep. John Cabello (R-Machesney Park), were co-sponsors of SB 1304. The vote on SB 1304 was 107-3-4, sending the measure back to the state Senate for concurrence.

Term limits
Republican freshmen members lead call for term limits. The call was issued on May 20 at the State Capitol in Springfield. This call was backed up on May 22, with the introduction of HJRCA 39, a term-limit amendment to the Illinois Constitution. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin was the lead sponsor of HJRCA 39.

If the voters are allowed to vote on and enact HJRCA 39, then starting in 2017 the State will start phasing in a fixed, 8-year term limit on the terms of Illinois statewide elected officials, including the Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Comptroller and Treasurer. HJRCA 39 will also place a 10-year cap on the length of time that members can serve in the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate.

Proponents of HJRCA 39 believe that future Illinois officials and lawmakers should be drawn from the voting electorate, and they need to look forward to returning to the places from where they came. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 15 states have legislative term limits. States with legislative term limits include comparable Midwest and neighboring states such as Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio.

Governor Bruce Rauner has repeatedly pointed to ultra-seniority Illinois lawmakers from the legislative majority party as key barriers to Illinois’ movement into the future. He has reiterated his strong support for Illinois political term limits and HJRCA 39 is part of his “Turnaround Illinois” agenda for 2015 policy action.

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