Week in Review for 4/11/16 - 4/15/16

FY16 Budget
As budget crunch deepens, Republicans offer real solutions. As of April 2016, the State has entered its tenth month without a balanced budget, making Illinois the only state that has not yet enacted a spending plan for the current fiscal year. No plans have been enacted to control and continue State spending during this period. Many providers of essential social healthcare services, including vitally-needed services for seniors, veterans, persons with challenges relating to mental health or developmental disability, and victims of domestic and sexual violence, have been affected by this lack of budget appropriations. Many of these entities have been forced by cash-flow realities to reduce services. Some of these service providers have been forced to lay off personnel, and in some cases to completely shut their doors, in the communities they serve or have served.

In this impasse, House Republicans and House Democrats have responded in different ways. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is co-sponsoring HB 6553, the “lifeline” bill, with Senate Republican Leader Radogno. Supported by members of the House Republican Caucus, HB 6553 would allocate $1.3 billion in funding to providers of community services in areas where the need is most intense. The measure is backed by transfers of real money, including proceeds to the State from immediate pension reform measures. HB 6553 is backed by Governor Bruce Rauner, who has assured General Assembly members of both parties that he will participate in negotiations to finalize what spending items should be covered in this measure. The Governor has told Illinois House Members and Senators that he expects to be able to sign a “lifeline” bill similar to HB 6553 if it conforms to the broad outlines of this proposal, is passed by both houses of the General Assembly, and is transmitted to his desk.

In contrast to the Republicans’ lifeline proposal is language generated this week by House Democrats as House Amendment #1 to SB 2046. SB 2046 attempts to deal with the deepening crisis facing Illinois social service by spending more than $3 billion in completely imaginary money. SB 2046 allocates these appropriations, from an empty bank account, to state stakeholders from non-existent General Revenue Fund cash flows.

Like other Illinois elected officials, Governor Bruce Rauner is bound by the balanced-budget requirements of the Constitution of Illinois. Governor Rauner’s office has told the General Assembly that the Governor cannot and will not sign SB 2046 as amended. Although this statement has been made, the Illinois House voted for SB 2046 on Tuesday, April 12 on partisan lines with a roll call of 65-42-3. The bill was sent to the Illinois Senate for further debate.

Criminal Law – “Justice for Molly”
House approves part one of Rep. Bryant’s “Molly’s Law.” State Rep. Terri Bryant received unanimous support from the Illinois House of Representatives Tuesday for legislation she says will extend the time families would have to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Bryant introduced HB 6083 or "Molly’s Law” back in February alongside supporters of the Justice for Molly movement. Bryant thanked her House colleagues and the supporters of Justice for Molly for their assistance.

“Today’s unanimous passage of HB 6083 out of the House is another victory for the Young family and I want to thank Molly Young’s father, Mr. Larry Young, and the entire Justice for Molly movement for their support for this bill and for their efforts to lobby their own elected officials to ensure that this bill passed,” Bryant said. “To see the bill gain unanimous support from my House colleagues means that everyone sees how important this issue is to the Justice for Molly movement. I was proud to lend my name as the sponsor of this measure.”

HB 6083 extends the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases to 5 years, instead of 2 as is the current law. Bryant says this change is important for families that are trying to get their day in court.

“Investigations into incidents involving death caused by violent means can take a really long time,” Bryant said. “One of the hurdles that the Youngs faced in trying to file their wrongful death lawsuit was that time simply ran out on them. This new limit of 5 years would have helped them have their day in court, and it will likely lead to another family that finds themselves in a similar situation have their day in court as well.”

An accompanying bill that is considered “part two” of Molly’s Law is HB 4715. The bill makes significant changes to the Freedom of Information Act and calls for stiff financial penalties to be imposed on units of government that fail to comply with court orders to release information through FOIA.

Domestic Violence
Rep. Jesiel advances legislation to enhance protection for domestic violence victims. State Rep. Sheri Jesiel has advanced legislation that would expand the training standards for police to enhance protection for victims of domestic violence. While all law enforcement officers in Illinois are trained in procedures to recognize and handle domestic violence situations, Jesiel’s legislation, House Bill 5538, would improve the training standards for officers to prevent further victimization caused by the emotional trauma of domestic violence.

“Domestic violence causes damage to a victim that goes far beyond the physical impact,” said Jesiel. “It’s very important that we ensure that the training of our law enforcement officers focuses not just on procedures when responding to incidents of domestic violence, but also on preparing them to understand the psychological dynamics between abusers and their victims.”

House Bill 5538 updates the Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 and the Domestic Violence Act of 1986 to ensure that law enforcement training for new recruits includes more than just tactical procedures. The legislation also provides that every five years, continuing education programs for current officers will also be implemented in coordination with other agencies and community organizations that work with victims.

In many cases of domestic violence, the victim may exhibit behavior that, without understanding history and background, can be misinterpreted by those responding and investigating these incidents. It is not uncommon for the psychological trauma to cause a victim to react in a similar manner to someone with Stockholm Syndrome, causing the victim’s response to their abuser to be misunderstood. These kinds of complex situations emphasize why it’s so important for officers to recognize the psychological signs of abuse.

“The abuser-victim relationship is rarely straightforward and it’s crucial that our officers know how to work with the parties to avoid unwittingly exposing the victim to more trauma,” said Jesiel.

Energy – Downstate Coal
Peabody Energy files for bankruptcy; hard-hit Southern Illinois county affected. Blaming low demand for coal used to generate electricity, the Downstate Illinois coal mine operator took this legal move on Wednesday, April 13. The St. Louis-based Peabody has obtained $800 million in debtor-in-possession financing, which will enable it to continue operations for now under the supervision of federal bankruptcy court. The future operations of Peabody, and the job statuses of its miner-employees, are uncertain. Concerns have also been raised about the status of funds set aside by Peabody for mine site cleanup and reclamation.

Peabody owns and mines coal from thick seams located in Saline and Gallatin Counties near Harrisburg, Illinois and in Randolph County, near Sparta, Illinois. Saline County, in far southern Illinois, is in the heart of the Illinois coal belt. The county has already notched substantial negative impacts from previous coal mine closures and other economic events, including the shutdown by Peabody of the Willow Lake Mine in 2013. In February 2016, the most recently reported month, unemployment in Saline County was 10.3%. By contrast to Saline County, the Randolph County unemployment rate of 6.3% in the same month was impacted positively by the county’s proximity to St. Louis, and by the presence of a large Illinois prison complex near the county seat of Chester that generates other jobs.

Peabody’s production statistics indicate that in terms of tonnage mined, it is the largest private-sector coal-mining firm in the world. The company’s underground and surface mines produced 6.3 million tons of coal from Illinois seams in 2013, the most recent year for which results have been reported. This marked approximately 13% of total Illinois coal production. Approximately 600 Illinois miners dig coal for Peabody Energy. In addition, many retired Peabody coal miners depend on health and insurance benefits historically provided by the firm.

Higher Education – Western Illinois University
WIU announces layoffs of 110 non-instructional personnel. The announcement was made in a university-wide management mailing to faculty and staff, made public on Thursday, April 14. The letter did not delineate the positions to be suspended or eliminated, but stated that this information would be made available next week.

Blaming the failure of the State to enact a balanced budget, university President Jack Thomas stated that the layoffs would be necessary to maintain the ability of the University to operate with a minimal continued supply of ready cash. The letters, naming the persons or positions to be suspended or eliminated, are expected to present affected personnel with at least 30 days’ notice of the loss of their positions.

The announcement by President Thomas was a follow-up to February warnings from WIU’s management that the university would be forced to reduce its budget by $20 million over a two-year period. This move was expected to lead to the loss of approximately 100 positions. The status of these affected positions, and the ability of the university to call their holders back, is expected to be contingent upon the ability of the State to pass a budget that includes payments to the university.

In addition to these announced layoffs, approximately 500 WIU employees are currently participating in a mandatory furlough/pay reduction program, which has been imposed upon those work units within WIU where the relevant bargaining units have agreed to the furlough action.

Jobs – March 2016 Unemployment Rate
Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announces further increase in State jobless rate. The U-3 unemployment rate is limited to persons who are participants in the labor force, are completely unemployed, and are engaged in an ongoing search for employment. Over the most recently calculated 30-day period, this rate increased 0.1% from the U-3 rate of 6.4% in February to a rate in March 2016 of 6.5%. The March 2016 jobless rate was 60 basis points above the comparative year-earlier Illinois rate of 5.9% in March 2015, and was 150 basis points above the nationwide unemployment rate of 5.0%. During the past 12 months, the nationwide jobless rate has declined by 0.5%, from 5.5% to 5.0%; but during the same period the unemployment rate faced by Illinois has increased by 0.6%, from 5.9% to 6.5%. In addition to U-3 unemployment, other ways exist to count additional unemployed and under-employed Illinois workers. These alternative pathways, such as U-5 and U-6, generate even higher numbers for Illinois joblessness.

The IDES reported that Illinois’ weakest employment sector in terms of net jobs created/lost was once again manufacturing, with a net loss of 3,100 jobs in March 2016. This job loss included not only the closures of entire plants and divisions, as publicly reported under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining (WARN) Act, but also the marginal loss of single headcount positions that are found to be redundant. In cases like these, a single factory worker or members of a single work station are let go and not replaced.

Illinois actually increased the total number of nonfarm payroll jobs posted within State lines in March 2016 by 14,700 job positions over February, with strength concentrated in leisure, hospitality, construction, and financial activities. Despite this increase, U-3 unemployment rates increased in line with the return of additional adult Illinoisans to the labor force and their resumption of an active search for work. Illinois, in March 2016, remained 46,100 jobs short of the peak employment level achieved by employers and employees within the State in September 2000. Although more than fifteen years have taken place since this peak employment month, the State continues to generate fewer nonfarm payroll jobs than it had in that long-ago month.

Jobs – Major Layoffs
March private-sector layoff filings total nearly 900 Illinois jobs. Under the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, large employers (defines as employers with 75 or more full-time employees) must make a public filing of intent to reduce their workforces by at least 250 employees or by at least 33% of their workforce. Unless the employers has been forced through circumstances outside its control to shut down at once, the WARN Act requires them to provide at least 60 days’ advance notice of the layoff.

The largest single job loss posted in March 2016 was posted by Stoller Wholesale, a wholesaler of alcoholic beverages. Stoller was merged into a nationwide alcohol distribution holding company in 2013. After a transition period, the new parent holding company (Dallas-based Glazer’s) has announced its intent to shut down the 170-job Stoller warehouse in Elk Grove Village. The closure on June 1 was explained as being due to the redundancy of Stoller’s to the parent firm’s operations. Stoller’s WARN Act posting, like the other ones on this list, was filed in March 2016 and is included in the month-long WARN Act summary.

The largest single March 2016 announcement of lost Illinois manufacturing jobs was posted by Assembled Products, a unit of Wisconsin-based Jason Incorporated; Assembled Products is a maker of metal stampings. Eighty-one Assembled Products workers are expected to be laid off in Buffalo Grove, starting May 15. At the Chicago facility of paper packaging-maker WestRock, 49 jobs are expected to be permanently moved starting May 11. WestRock has formed a joint venture with a Mexican packaging company, a move that is expected to include the transfer of some the firm’s manufacturing work to its partner. Most of the job losses published this month were geographically located in the Chicago area.

Public Health – Zika Virus
Number of confirmed Illinois cases hits double digits. The tenth case of Zika has just been confirmed in Illinois, with two of the cases occurring among pregnant women. Infection with the mosquito-borne virus has been tied to microcephaly in fetuses, stillbirths, miscarriages, and the adult neurological condition Guillain-Barre syndrome. Public health officials in some Latin American countries are so alarmed by the rapidly spreading outbreak that they have taken the extraordinary step of advising women across their countries not to attempt to have a child. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control is advising women who are pregnant, or who are attempting to conceive, to avoid travel to Zika-affected areas.

The attention of U.S. public health authorities is now moving toward the possibility that Zika-infected mosquitoes may enter the United States. As of April 6, all 346 confirmed cases of Zika virus infection are associated with travel, and no confirmed cases are associated with transmission from mosquito to person within the United States. It is not yet known whether it is possible for infected humans to bring the virus back into the United States and become vectors of the infection through getting bitten by American mosquitoes. Experts are calling for redoubled efforts within the United States to reopen public health programs aimed at strict mosquito control, a pathway to public health that was partly abandoned in the 50 U.S. states after the invention of DDT sharply reduced transmission of malaria and yellow fever in the 1940s.

State Government – State Jobs
Jimenez advances resolution aimed at bringing state jobs back to Springfield. State Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez advanced legislation Thursday in the Illinois House aimed at bringing as many state jobs as possible back to the capital city. Rep. Jimenez stressed that the home of Illinois’ state government should also be home base for as many of our state government employees as possible.

Jimenez’ resolution, HJR 133, calls on agencies under the Governor to compile a report listing the number of state employees in each county, their job description and a justification of why those positions, specifically upper and middle management, cannot be located in Springfield. The report would not require detailed information about direct service workers, just the number of such positions by division and facility.

“As I’ve talked with local leaders and residents in the district, moving state government back to the capital city is a major priority,” Rep. Jimenez said. “In addition, now more than ever, we need to find ways to cut costs and improve efficiency in state government. This study and the resulting report will help provide a roadmap.”

Jimenez said she understood the need for frontline personnel who interact directly with the public to be stationed throughout the state, but she wants to find out which personnel could be located in the capital city. The goal of the study would not be to force any state employee to move to Springfield immediately, but to see if a vacated position could be re-located to Springfield to be filled. Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder testified on the benefits of conducting the study.

“Over recent years, everyone is aware of the understandable downsizing of all governments, including the State of Illinois. Unfortunately, some positions were also moved outside of Springfield despite many of the office functions remaining in Springfield,” Mayor Langfelder said. “We are confident this report will uncover ways we can operate more efficiently as a government and a state capital.”

“Over the years, thousands of state positions have left the Springfield area and that has had a negative effect on our economy and the state’s bottom-line. Once this study is complete we can make responsible, informed decisions about where state jobs will serve our residents and taxpayers in the most productive way,” Rep. Jimenez agreed.

The resolution goes on to urge state agencies to fill vacant positions in Springfield first. The reports should be completed by August 31. Having passed the House Executive Committee, HJR 133 now advances to the floor for consideration by the full House.

Taxes – Delinquent Motor Vehicle Sticker Fees
House votes unanimously in favor of bill to suspend late fee. The supplemental fee for renewing a motor vehicle sticker is automatically charged whenever the owner of the motor vehicle delays filing a renewal slip and paying the vehicle license renewal fee. If the fee is paid on time, the driver will get a decal from the office of the Illinois Secretary of State to attach to the steel license plate on the relicensed motor vehicle. If the fee is not paid on time, the driver is required to pay an extra supplementary fee to re-license the motor vehicle, and the vehicle may also face the possibility of a police stop as a result of driving with an expired tag.

Until FY16, Illinois drivers received letters from the Office of the Secretary of State shortly prior to the expirations of their existing stickers. The letters contained friendly reminder notices intended to nudge the driver/vehicle owner to file the renewal application, pay the fee, and get the sticker. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State’s office no longer sends out these reminder notices. They point out that their agency has not gotten appropriated funds for its needs from the State of Illinois since the start of FY16 in July 2015. This explanation confuses Illinois drivers, who are well aware that the motor vehicle license renewal fees that they are required to pay every year contain more than enough to cover the costs of a robot mail piece.

A bill passed by the Illinois House on Tuesday, April 12 could help Illinois vehicle owners. HB 4334 carves out a fee holiday during periods when the license sticker warning notices are not being sent out. The fee holiday shall last as long as the period of time the warning letters are not being mailed. A second partial holiday, to last 30 days from the expiration of each’s vehicle sticker, is provided in this bill for motor vehicle drivers to use as an affirmative defense in court if they face a police citation for expiration of their motor vehicle license sticker. The House vote on HB 4334 was 114-0-0, and the bill was sent to the Illinois Senate for further discussion and debate.

Transportation – Mileage Tax
 New proposal would charge Illinois drivers by the mile. With the familiar “gas tax” generating inadequate funds to maintain Illinois roads, bridges, and highways, increasing attention is being given in Springfield to the enactment of a new, supplemental tax on mileage and the right to operate a motor vehicle. The proposal was advocated this week by Democrat Senate President John Cullerton

Under the Cullerton proposal, owners of motor vehicles licensed in Illinois would be asked to choose between three separate taxes, each intended to collect 1.5 cents per mile. The amount charged and collected would rise or fall depending on the level of surveillance the driver would agree to have imposed on his or her motor vehicle, with the highest level of taxation tied to the lowest level of surveillance. Under agreement A, the owner of a motor vehicle would allow an odometer reader/transponder to be placed in his or her vehicle, and would pay a tax of 1.5 cents per mile based on the number of miles sensed by the machine mounted inside the vehicle. This would represent light surveillance, with the State knowing how many miles the vehicle is driven during any segment of time but not knowing where the vehicle is at all times, and would subject the driver/owner of the motor vehicle to a medium level of additional taxation.

Under agreement B, the owner would agree to a “smart” odometer/transponder to be mounted in his or her vehicle. The machine would read the same total mileage, but it would know and report specifically where the vehicle is at all times and would make automatic deductions for miles driven outside of Illinois state lines or on Illinois toll roads. Vehicle owners submitting to agreement B would pay a lower total tax bill, because the 1.5 cents/mile would not be charged outside Illinois or on these specialty highways. This would represent substantial surveillance, with the State knowing where the vehicle is physically located at all times, and would subject the driver/owner of the motor vehicle to the lightest level of additional taxation.

Under agreement C, which would be reserved for persons opting out of surveillance of this sort, the owner of the motor vehicle would be deemed to drive the vehicle 30,000 miles/year and would pay a tax of 1.5 cents/mile on that basis. Any mile less than 30,000 miles/year driven by the vehicle would represent a supplemental penalty to be paid by the owner of the motor vehicle for opting away from light or substantial surveillance.

The Cullerton proposal could be coupled with a program that would allow mileage taxpayers to apply for and claim a refund of the motor fuel taxes they pay. The proposal may be discussed and amended in the state Senate. If it is approved in the Senate, it will move to the Illinois House for further discussion and debate.

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