Legislative update 7.31.2015

by Beth Camplain | Jul 31, 2015
This was a short week in Springfield, though lawmakers took a few actions to share.

Next week both the House and Senate are back in session with hopes they can make progress with the Governor on multiple items, most importantly the FY16 state budget.

Here are the highlights from this week in Springfield:

Governor vetoes bill that would require arbitration
Earlier this week, Governor Rauner and AFSCME Council 31 agreed to temporarily extend the terms of the 2012-2015 collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which will prohibit a strike or lockout until the end of September. At the same time, Governor Rauner vetoed union-backed SB 1229, sponsored by Sen. Harmon (D-Oak Park), which would have prohibited the Governor from locking out state employees, instead requiring the parties to proceed to arbitration after impasse. Despite the extension, AFSCME states the sides remain “very far apart.”

Adding to the already tense negotiations, the Rauner administration has been contacting retired state employees and the National Guard in the event of a possible strike or lockout.

House panel questions State Superintendent about pension, benefits
The House held a hearing this week to discuss concerns stemming from recent reports that the Governor is providing a special cash stipend to the new State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Tony Smith. The committee argued that Dr. Smith is being treated differently than other new hires in order to make up for the lesser Tier II pension benefit he receives as a new state employee.

The story broke at a time when Governor Rauner continues to push a pension proposal that would slash the constitutionally-guaranteed benefits of teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public employees by essentially forcing them into detrimental plans.

In light of these outrageous revelations, IFT President Dan Montgomery commented on the Governor’s pension proposal calling it, “illegal, hypocritical, and a stunning display of the Governor’s priorities”.

House votes to skip lawmaker pay raises – Senate vote expected next week

The Illinois House voted Tuesday to block a pay raise for Illinois lawmakers.

The 101-1 vote still needs Senate approval before going to the Governor’s desk. The Senate is expected to approve the measure when they come back next week.

AG Madigan may file appeal on pension ruling to the US Supreme Court

In May, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the reduction of pension benefits was unconstitutional, citing that benefits may not be diminished. Now, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is considering appealing that ruling to the US Supreme Court.

Our We Are One Illinois labor coalition responded to the news with the following statement:
“The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state Constitution, ratified by the people, protects the pensions,” Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said, speaking on behalf of the We Are One Illinois coalition. “This is solely a matter of state law. . . .We once again urge the state to devote its efforts to real pension funding solutions, not further litigation."

And John Fitzgerald, whose Chicago law firm Tabet DiVito & Rothstein represented retired teachers in the Illinois Supreme Court case, said the firm will oppose the cert petition: “This case involves purely issues of Illinois law and presents no basis on which a certiorari petition could be granted. The Illinois Supreme Court's unanimous interpretation of the Illinois Constitution's Pension Protection Clause is conclusive.”
Illinois has until August 6th to appeal to the nation’s highest court.

House Revenue and Finance Committee requests information – salaries of Governor’s appointees

Rep. Bradley (D – Marion) convened a hearing this week to inquire how Governor Rauner’s appointees are being paid. Rep. Bradley made the point that a $1.7 million gap exists between what Governor Rauner is paying his staff and what was paid under the previous administration. He also stated that Illinois doesn’t have a budget in place for FY16, and these salary differences could represent significant savings. Administration representatives declined to participate in the hearing.

Illinois House hears details about cuts to epilepsy programs

The Illinois House convened a Committee of the Whole to hear details about the cuts facing the Epilepsy Foundation.

Without a FY16 budget, service providers to Illinoisans living with epilepsy face severe cuts. According to the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, Illinois currently spends less than $10.00 per year on individuals living with Epilepsy, but the state is cutting this funding to zero. The Epilepsy Resource Center in Springfield closed its doors on July 1, due to the lack of state funding for its services and further cuts are expected to providers who serve over 130,000 Illinoisans who suffer from epilepsy. These cuts are expected to increase healthcare costs to all Illinois residents, as those suffering from epilepsy will seek emergency support from hospitals.

August 15, 2015 designated “Vision 20/20 - 21st Century Learning Day”

The House Education Curriculum and Policies Committee unanimously supported HR 641, sponsored by Rep. Lang (D-Skokie), a resolution designating August 15 as “Vision 20/20 - 21st Century Learning Day.”

The resolution calls attention to Vision 20/20, an outline for education in Illinois developed by the Illinois Association of School Administrators and other school management groups. Rep. Lang told the committee that the resolution would shine the spotlight on the need for Illinois to invest in technology.

A look ahead

Both the House and Senate will return next week. The Senate is expected to vote to reject lawmaker pay raises and may take up a workers compensation proposal. The Illinois House will once again hold a Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the FY16 budget. The House Personnel and Pensions committee will hold a hearing to listen to Governor Rauner’s pension proposal. For weeks, the House Revenue and Finance committee has requested the Governor’s office to testify regarding the salaries of high-ranking officials in the administration. To date, no one has showed.

For more information or to listen live to the committee hearings click here.

Watch Under the Dome for updates.