Week in Review for December 20, 2019

Illinois unemployment rate drops to historic low, but remains above national average. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced Thursday that the unemployment rate fell -0.1 percentage point to 3.8 percent, a new historical low, while nonfarm payrolls lost -17,200 jobs in November, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. The October monthly change in payrolls was revised from the preliminary report from +1,900 to +8,300 jobs.

The state's unemployment rate is +0.3 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for November 2019, which was 3.5 percent and down -0.1 percentage point from the previous month. The Illinois unemployment rate was down -0.5 percentage points from a year ago when it was 4.3 percent.

Illinois payroll employment has shown variability since the beginning of the year, as have national payrolls. Average payroll employment in Illinois during the September to November three-month period, which provides a more stable measure of payroll employment change, was about unchanged, down -100 jobs, compared to the August to October three-month period. The largest average gains were found in Government (+1,800), Educational and Health Services (+1,700), and Leisure and Hospitality (+1,200).

Three Illinois counties labeled “judicial hellholes.” The counties, each of which has their own circuit court system, are high-population Cook County (Chicago), Madison County (Alton-Edwardsville) and St. Clair County (East St. Louis-Belleville). These counties were posted as places of extreme judicial delay and a judges’ bench slanted towards the needs and desires of aggressive plaintiffs’ attorneys, the branch of the law who members are loosely called “trial lawyers.” The “judicial hellhole” designation comes from the American Tort Reform Association, a business-oriented advocacy group. Members of the Association are often defendants in lawsuits filed within these three counties.

The three “hellhole” counties all have case law that encourages filing lawsuits on flimsy grounds. In some cases, a lawsuit may have little to do with Cook County, Madison County, or St. Clair County other than the fact the papers were filed in the local courthouse. In its “award,” the Association pointed to three relatively new areas of burgeoning, plaintiff-friendly case law in these counties: (a) “no-injury class action lawsuits” that lack proof that all of the members of the allegedly injured class were actually injured, (b) secondary asbestos lawsuits, and (c) lawsuits alleging violation of a plaintiff’s privacy rights under the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

House Republicans strongly support tort reform and have filed a series of bills to dial back the case laws being churned out in these and other Illinois circuit courts. These job-friendly measures are, by what is now annual tradition, blocked every year by the majority party in the Illinois General Assembly.

Sports betting rules released. Action taken by the General Assembly in June 2019 authorized the State to move towards granting Illinoisans the right to place bets on sporting events. Under the new law, Illinois is moving towards sports betting in a two-phase process. In phase 1, existing sports and betting facilities such as riverboat casinos will be granted the right to set up in-person sports betting windows. At these windows, a bettor will be able to submit a sports bet in person. Bets will be placed in the same way as bettors place wagers on horse races at racetracks and at off-track-betting parlors under existing law.

On Thursday, December 19, the Illinois Gaming Board released phase 1 sports betting rules. This will allow providers of in-persons sports betting window services to begin the physical and legal processes necessary to open up these windows and start taking sports bets. The phase 1 sports betting rules have been drafted after extensive public comment and an overview process by the Board, which has analyzed the implementation of sports betting in large states such as Indiana and Pennsylvania that have already enacted it.

At the same time, the phase 1 rules will allow applicants for master sports wagering licenses to begin the process of also submitting applications. Because of the complexity of safely taking sports bets by mobile device and the problems that have cropped up in mobile sports betting states like New Jersey, the law provides for an eighteen-month period from application to implementation of licensed master sports wagering. The Gaming Board may well make changes during this period to the current proposed setup for Illinois licensed master sports wagering. In the interim period, the implementation of in-person sports wagering at Illinois betting windows will give the State a chance to see this new industry in action.

“Sixth video gaming machine” coming; Gaming Board takes action to strip a video gaming license. State laws enacted in 2019 authorized the Illinois Gaming Board to take steps to authorize Illinois video gaming hosts to expand the number of games offered to customers. Each location that is currently licensed to host up to five gaming machines will not be authorized to host up to six machines. In addition, the machines will be authorized to offer “progressive jackpots” featuring prizes up to $10,000. Video game play is taxed in Illinois, with a slice of the tax money going to the municipality in which the machine is located and the State of Illinois using some of the money for capital infrastructure needs.

The Gaming Board is taking active steps to protect the integrity of Illinois video gambling. In action taken on Tuesday, December 17, the Board filed legal papers to strip Gold Rush Amusements of their license. Gold Rush is a major terminal operator that operates many gaming machines throughout northern Illinois in alliance with host facilities in many locations.

SIU-Carbondale says many applicants will no longer have to submit ACTs/SATs. Southern Illinois University will continue to ask applicants to submit other metrics of performance, including high school grade point averages and voluntary achievements. The SIU-Carbondale admissions department is following a nationwide trend, with one report saying that about 40% of U.S. accredited four-year colleges have stopped requiring standardized test scores. The standardized-test decision comes amid continuous reports that some admissions metrics grant greater privileges to some groups over others.

In place of standardized tests, SIU-Carbondale will encourage students with good grades to submit applications and attend SIU-C. Applicants with a grade point average of at least 2.75 are automatically admitted regardless of whether or not they submit test scores. Students with GPAs below 2.75 will continue to be encouraged to submit standardized test scores to SIU-C as part of the admissions process.

First responders’ pension consolidation reform signed into law. On Wednesday, Governor JB Pritzker signed the first responders’ pension consolidation bill into law. Senate Bill 1300 will consolidate Illinois’ 649 downstate and suburban police and fire pension funds. By consolidating pension assets, SB 1300 will increase investment returns and decrease the cost of managing the funds.

State Representative Mark Batinick was the chief Republican negotiator of the bill, which passed in the House of Representatives this fall. As the Republican Spokesperson on the House Personnel and Pensions Committee, Rep. Batinick has pushed for pension reform efforts and proudly supported this initiative as the bill’s Chief Co-Sponsor.

“Our state’s broken pension system has been a heavy weight on the backs of Illinois taxpayers,” said Batinick. “With today’s bill signed into law I can proudly say that we are providing relief to our hardworking residents. This was a significant bipartisan reform effort that will make positive change. The work is not done on pensions, but today we can all celebrate this success.”

Over the next five years, this pension consolidation is expected to produce an additional $820 million to $2.5 billion in investment returns alone, which could mean lower contributions funded by property taxes.

New Year, New Laws. On January 1st, more than 200 new laws will go into effect in Illinois. Among them are laws that provide additional protections for victims of sexual assault, greater access to healthcare, expanded consumer protections, improved public safety and more benefits for veterans.

Here are 7 new state laws to know in 2020.
  • HB 38: Enhances criminal penalties for violence committed in a place of worship.
  • HB 889: Mandates insurance coverage of tick-borne illnesses.
  • HB 1873: Doubles fines for illegally passing a school bus.
  • HB 2135: Eliminates statute of limitations for prosecution of criminal sexual assault.
  • SB 162: Makes mammograms more accessible.
  • SB 651: A consumer protection bill that targets abusive and unscrupulous alternative retail energy and gas suppliers; also holds harmless suppliers that play by the rules in the competitive retail electric or natural gas markets.
  • SB 944: Adds motorcycles to the types of vehicles for which an eligible applicant may be issued a set of license plates for veterans with disabilities.
Click here for the full list of new state laws.

State hires broker to offer Thompson Center for sale. The State of Illinois, owner of the iconic James R. Thompson Center in Chicago’s Loop, has hired Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors to broker the building for possible sale. Real estate insiders expect that if the Thompson Center is sold, its most likely fate is to be torn down and replaced by a standardized office building.

Opened in 1985, the Thompson Center occupies a full square block on Chicago’s strategic La Salle Street corridor. Much of the Center’s footprint is taken up by an immense atrium designed by architect Helmut Jahn. Illinois taxpayers must pay a significant HVAC bill to heat or cool an immense open, empty space. Current planning activities include preliminary preparations to move state workers from the Thompson Center to other office facilities throughout the Chicago area, including the Bilandic Building across La Salle Street from the Center.

The move to offer the Thompson Center for sale follows legislative pushes from members of the Illinois General Assembly, including bills sponsored by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and his leadership team. House Republicans support efficiency in State government, including looking hard at existing underutilized State assets.

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