Week in Review: Budget, DCFS, Gambling & More

House Republicans Call for No New Taxes, Spending Restraint in FY21 Budget. Governor JB Pritzker gave his second annual budget address on Wednesday to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly. Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer responded to the governor’s remarks.

“The General Assembly has some work to do,” said Rep. Demmer. “I disagree with Governor Pritzker’s proposal to spend $1.4 billion of hypothetical revenue, and his threat to cut healthcare and education spending unless voters approve his tax increase. Instead, I’ll work with colleagues on a balanced budget that takes advantage of revenue growth from our strong national economy and low unemployment. We can pass a responsible budget without another tax increase.”

On Tuesday, Rep. Demmer participated in a press conference with House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and other members of House Republican leadership to discuss their Fiscal Year 2021 budget priorities. In that press conference, Demmer pointed to growth in state tax revenues as an opportunity to hold the line on taxes even as new investments in programs are made.

“Last year, lawmakers were able to craft a bipartisan, balanced FY20 budget without tax increases because we listened to each other’s priorities and compromised,” Rep. Demmer continued. “It is our hope that we can replicate that process for a successful FY21 budget. Thanks to the strong national economy, state income and sales tax revenues are up nearly $1 billion over last year. I urge my Democratic colleagues to show spending restraint because we don’t need any new taxes to balance the budget while making new investments in education and other programs.”

Governor JB Pritzker has on several occasions asked his agency directors and department secretaries to propose spending reductions in their budgets. Most recently in September, Deputy Governor Dan Hynes and the GOMB director instructed agencies to identify 6.5% in reductions to achieve efficiencies that do not result in hardships on those who receive state services. Rep. Demmer called on budget makers to consider those potential reductions in spending when negotiating the FY21 budget.

“Even as tax revenues grow thanks to the strong economy, lawmakers and state officials should be looking for efficiencies and spending cuts everywhere we can,” said Rep. Demmer. “Appropriations committees in the General Assembly should be considering these proposed cuts from agency directors when crafting the FY21 budget. We have an obligation to cut spending whenever efficiencies can be made so we can give taxpayers real value for their hard-earned tax dollars.”

Rep. Avery Bourne, House Republicans Denounce Pritzker Decision to Tie School Funding to Graduated Income Tax Approval. Assistant Republican Leader Avery Bourne joined a group of House Republicans on Thursday to denounce Governor JB Pritzker’s decision to place passage of his graduated income tax proposal ahead of a commitment to fully fund education, health care and public safety in the FY21 budget.

Bourne, who serves as the Republican Spokesperson on the K-12 Education- Curriculum & Policies Committee, called the Governor’s decision to tie full funding of key budget areas- especially schools- to his political agenda “extremely self-serving.

“Governor JB Pritzker’s call for $1.4 billion to be withheld as conditional spending pending voter action on his graduated income tax proposal is out-of-line and unnecessary,” said Bourne.

Bourne went on to explain that in his February 19 budget address the Governor recommended holding back $150 million in funds for the evidence-based school funding formula and an additional $40 million for mandated categorical payments for school special education and transportation. The result is that less funding would be available to help close the equity gap for schools. In addition, his recommendation would disproportionately impact funding for rural and small schools.

“The Pritzker budget speaks volumes about the Governor’s priorities,” said Bourne. “He would rather withhold funding from our schools to further his political agenda than provide a stable and responsible budget that fully funds schools and lives within our means.”

Because school districts must complete their levies and budgets prior to the November vote on the graduated income tax Constitutional Amendment, Bourne explained that the Governor is putting schools in an impossible situation. There will be no certainty on the funding that schools will receive from the State, forcing them to delay hiring decisions and to potentially increase property taxes.

“Schools need and deserve certainty as they determine their levies and craft their budgets,” Bourne said. “How are they supposed to make decisions on hiring and on classroom resources if they don’t know how much funding the State will provide?”

Bourne also questioned how the Illinois State Board of Education would implement a State Education budget that includes almost $200 million in hypothetical money.

“The responsible thing to do would have been to introduce a budget that gives schools and taxpayers certainty,” added Bourne. “The Pritzker budget does neither. With record revenues coming into the State, it is possible to sit down and craft a bipartisan budget that meets the minimum funding levels without any new taxes and without a reliance on Governor Pritzker’s graduated income tax proposal.”

Crisis at Department of Children and Family Services. Injuries and deaths of children under active case management demonstrate the serious level of the challenges facing Illinois. The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is responsible for responding to reports of child neglect and child abuse. These reports, including calls made to the DCFS hotline for child abuse reporting, multiply every year. Each new report means that a case file should be opened for that child. Case files are supposed to be actively monitored and followed up by full-time DCFS staff personnel. In some cases, though, after a case file is opened, the abuse continues, and a child is injured or killed.

The Governor’s proposed DCFS budget for FY21 appropriates a significant increase in funds for the troubled Department, including funds to hire 298 new full-time employees. Advocates hope that more caseworkers can mean better supervision of child case files and more intensive oversight of troubled family settings. House Republicans strongly support protecting Illinois children endangered by abuse or neglect, but are also seriously troubled by the longstanding mismanagement of DCFS and the tragic deaths of many children under DCFS’ protection.

Rep. Weber files AJ Freund Act to Reform DCFS. During a press conference at the Illinois State Capitol this week, State Representative Tom Weber presented the AJ Freund Act to reform the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

New Illinois State Police “Forensics Dashboard” unveiled. As a new measure of transparency and accountability, the Illinois State Police Forensic Services Command unveiled to the public a forensics dashboard showing the number of case assignments and average completion times.

The dashboard is updated monthly and includes the number of case assignments completed by each section of the lab, the average number of days it took to complete those assignments, and the number of assignments pending completion in each section - commonly known as backlog.

The dashboard shows all the forensic disciplines including trace chemistry, footwear and tire tracks, fingerprints, drug chemistry, toxicology, firearms and biology/DNA. It also shows the average number of days to complete testing and the current backlog of cases.

The ISP FSC has implemented a laboratory information management system, conducted an independent audit and added automated processes in an effort to improve turnaround times. Last month, ISP forensic scientists completed 6,034 assignments, including 1,325 biology/DNA assignments. Biology/DNA currently has an average turnaround time of 193 days.

The Illinois State Police Forensic laboratory system is one of the largest in the country, the only system in the nation that serves both an entire state and a massive metropolis like Chicago, providing forensic support for all police departments in Illinois.

Work by Representative Margo McDermed on SB 1411, signed into law in 2019, was a key factor in the development of this online forensics dashboard.

Seclusion rooms in schools continue to draw scrutiny. The seclusion rooms are used by schools to provide a time-out space when teachers and educators are overwhelmed. Illinois this week adopted administrative rules against certain uses of physical restraints and “quiet rooms” in many cases of day-to-day contact between pupils and educators. In a few cases, schools that specialize in special education will be allowed to continue the use of quiet rooms. The rules, drafted by the staff at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), were adopted by the State Board on Tuesday, February 18.

Illinois’ seclusion-room policies have been at the center of an investigative report by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune. The reporters were able to scrutinize thousands of seclusion-room case reports taken down by schools and forwarded to officials under law. The new State Board seclusion-room rules will be scrutinized by the General Assembly’s rules-oversight panel, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR). This new rulemaking will also be closely looked at by educators and school security professionals. ISBE chairperson Darren Reisberg pledged that the State Board would spend a six-month period listening to reports and reviewing the effectiveness of the new rules.

Sports wagering now imminent in Illinois. Springfield crossed the final hurdle this week to legally open “sports betting windows” at Illinois casinos. These betting windows will operate in a manner similar to betting windows at racetracks and Las Vegas casinos. Bettors will be required to physically go to the casino to place their bets on major sporting events for which odds will be posted. The Illinois Gaming Board believes these windows will open in time for the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in March.

The General Assembly took the first steps toward sports betting in Illinois by enacting the Sports Wagering Act in the 2019 spring session. The Act asked the Gaming Board to study the sports wagering industries of other states and develop a proposal for controlled, secure betting in Illinois. New rules to provide legal guidance and protection for casino sports betting window operators and regulators were promulgated by the Gaming Board and were approved by a General Assembly oversight panel on Tuesday, February 18. The Gaming Board will now move to draft and implement similar rules for sports betting windows at horse racetracks, off-track-betting (OTB) parlors, and sports arenas.

Demmer, McCombie, Spain reject budget based on hypothetical revenue. State Representatives Tom Demmer, Tony McCombie and Ryan Spain reject the Governor’s proposed budget, calling instead for a responsible state budget that doesn’t rely on hypothetical revenue projections.

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