The General Assembly completed another spring session on May 31 that highlighted several different issues: pension reform, budget, gaming expansion, fracking, education, human services and Medicaid.
Illinois’ budget of $35.4 billion, passed by the General Assembly for the first time in four years, did not include any cuts for education and other critical human service programs. Additionally, local governments will be able to receive their share of appropriations again that had been reduced and held back over recent years. This was attributable to a robust month of April tax receipts used to pay down old bills and free up the excess funds to maintain programs at FY 12 and FY 13 levels. Furthermore, the significant amount of bills that need to be paid to Illinois vendors will be decreased from $7.5 billion to $5.9 billion. The following is the list of budget appropriation bills: HB 206 Supplemental, HB 208 Education, HB 213 Human Services, HB 214 General Services, HB 205 Public Safety, SB 2555 Education, SB 2556 Higher Education, SB 1329 Budget Implementation.
Both chambers could not agree on a pension reform package that would save the state needed revenue. Instead, the inaction will put the annual pension payment for 2014 at $6 billion, one-fifth of the state’s General Revenue Fund - thus possibly further lowering the bond rating. The House plan would shift the cost to downstate school districts, colleges and state universities. The Senate felt this shift would cause a dramatic increase in property taxes; they preferred a phase in overhaul that was drafted by Senate Pres. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) that has union support and could hold up in court if challenged. Speaker Michael Madigan’s SB 1 failed in the Senate. Senate President Cullerton’s Senate Bill 2404 was not allowed for a hearing in the House. Consequently, Gov. Pat Quinn called for a special session on June 19, to get both chambers back together to discuss the issue. The result: the Senate voted 45-11-0 to non-concur with House Amendments 1 and 3 on SB 1, Speaker Madigan’s proposal. The House followed by refusing to recede from House Amendments 1 and 3 on SB 1.This action has resulted in a conference committee of 10 General Assembly members to be established and given the task of drafting a pension compromise that can pass both chambers. Both chambers will meet in Springfield on July 9 for another special session day.
The House and Senate could not agree on a gaming measure either. Proposed legislation would have added five new casinos in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Chicago’s south suburbs and Lake County. Additionally, it would have also allowed for video gaming at horseracing tracks, including Fairmount Park in Collinsville. The disagreement is over the Chicago casino being separated out because of potential issues with ethical oversight. (SB 1739)
The Senate passed fracking legislation (SB 1715) which will regulate the industry in Illinois and bring an anticipated several thousand of jobs to Southern Illinois.
The General Assembly passed Medicaid Expansion legislation (SB 26). The Affordable Care Act is attended to provide health care insurance for U.S. citizens by expanding the state’s Medicaid plan. By opting into the Act, Illinois will be reimbursed up to 100 percent of the costs of the new population using Medicaid for the next three years.
Conceal and carry was passed by both chambers. This legislation allows for firearms to be carried in public except in such places as schools, bars, and parks - but only if kept in a car. It requires the Illinois State Police to issue FOI cards to residents who have taken mandated training of 16 hours and have paid a $150 fee. (HB 183)
Both chambers passed the Capital Infrastructure Reauthorization Legislation that will allow for $2.7 billion in bonds as part of the $16 billion Illinois Jobs Now! capital infrastructure program that was approved in 2009. The funds include $2.23 billion in GRF bonds for roads, universities, school construction and other projects, and $543 million in Build Illinois bonds for member initiatives and other projects. (HB 2869)
Medical marijuana was approved by both chambers as well (HB 1). This legislation will allow patients with specific illnesses to get a prescription for using marijuana based upon their diagnosis. Both patient and caregiver must have background checks and comply with state regulations concerning how much can be in their possession.