Please note: The Week in Review is compiled by the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus each week as a public service to provide constituents with information about legislative action and activities during the week.
Springfield, Ill. - During the past week legislation extending one of the state’s major economic tools was signed into law, as well as measures affecting education, fire safety and housing assistance, State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) said.
Under Senate Bill 3616/PA 97-0905, Illinois’ Enterprise Zone program will be extended for 25 additional years. According to statistics released by the Governor’s Office, more than 354,000 jobs have been created over the life of the program, while more than 536,000 jobs have been retained and more than 42,000 businesses have participated in the program.
The Enterprise Zone bill not only extends the program, but creates a new process for communities to apply for the designation. Under the new procedure, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) will accept and review all applications to determine if they meet three of 10 criteria to be certified as a zone, including unemployment rate, infrastructure, plant closure/job loss, education, poverty rates, and high commercial and industrial vacancy.
The measure also creates a new Enterprise Zone Board to review applications and increases the reporting requirements for companies that receive tax benefits.
“This is a program that has had proven success,” Sen. Sandack said. “Thanks to Governor Quinn signing this measure into law, the Enterprise Zone program will continue to encourage job growth and economic development as it has done in the past. These are the types of policies that we need to be implementing in Illinois – policies that promote a business-friendly environment instead of ones that hinder job creation and drive companies out of the state.”
In addition to the Enterprise Zone extension, measures signed into law recently would make immunization information easier to obtain, increase penalties for mortgage fraud and promote college dormitory sprinklers and fire equipment purchases for local departments.
House Bill 5013/PA 97-0910 would make immunization and health exam statistics more widely available, in an effort to raise awareness and enable parents to get a better idea of how many of their children’s classmates have been vaccinated. The State of Illinois requires vaccinations to protect children from a range of diseases, but the State Board of Education reports that more than 60,000 students (about three percent) were not in compliance with immunization or health exam mandates during the 2010-11 school year.
House Bill 4521/PA 97-0891 raises fees for mortgage company licensees and significantly increases fines penalizing mortgage fraud to better protect homeowners. The new law also strengthens the ability of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation’s Division of Banking to investigate and prosecute mortgage fraud throughout the state.
Four measures affecting fire safety were also signed into law. Senate Bill 3373/PA 97-0901 will consolidate three separate state funds used to finance local equipment purchases like trucks, ambulances and station upgrades into a single fund. House Bill 5283/PA 97-0900 will encourage fire protection districts to buy equipment built in Illinois by providing for lower interest rates on loans to purchase fire vehicles that are partly or fully manufactured in state. If a vehicle is fully built in Illinois and meets other requirements, the local fire district could qualify for a zero percent interest loan.
House Bill 4757/PA 97-0899 extends the deadline by one year for all post-secondary schools in Illinois with dormitory housing to have sprinklers installed. The new deadline will be 2014. Institutions that do not meet this deadline will face a $1,000 a day fine. Finally, HB 4715/PA 97-898 makes changes to current firefighter testing requirements, so that tests will be based on current industry standards.
In other news, lawmakers are preparing to return to Springfield on Aug. 17 after Governor Pat Quinn called a special legislative session to address pension reforms. Quinn has not detailed exactly what he hopes to achieve during the special session, but appears to be increasingly locking himself in to a plan that would shift major pension costs from the income tax to local property taxes.
Downstate and suburban lawmakers from both parties are unlikely to support the shift to property taxes to cover pension costs. When lawmakers left Springfield at the end of May, there was general agreement among the Governor and legislative leaders of the broad outlines of pension changes. However no final agreement could be reached when pension reforms became linked to shifting the cost for teacher pensions to local property taxpayers, rather than state income taxes.
Opponents of the cost shift point out that it would not save taxpayers’ money. Absent a major breakthrough on the issue, it is unlikely that the special session will result in comprehensive pension reforms. However, it is possible that the Illinois House might take up a more limited reform which previously passed the Senate. That measure, HB 1447, would impact only the state employees and General Assembly retirement systems.
Additional legislation signed into law this week includes:
Ethnicity Education (HB 1473/PA 97-909): Allows the Chicago Board of Education to develop a plan for implementing a program that seeks to establish common bonds between youth of various backgrounds and ethnicities. The program may be similar to that of the “Challenge Day” organization, which sponsors all-day events at schools to challenge and subsequently create connections between students.
High School Success (SB 3259/PA 97-911): Creates the Commission for High School Graduation Achievement and Success to evaluate graduation rates, alternative education programs, mandatory attendance age, and other issues relating to HS graduation. The Commission will issue a report on its findings.
Semi-Retired Teachers (SB 3597/PA 97-912): Allows a retired Chicago teacher to work as a teacher on a temporary and non-annual basis or on an hourly basis without loss of pension so long as the person does not work as a teacher for more than 100 days in a school year, and does not get paid more than $30,000. Retired principals can return to work at the average daily rate paid to principals.
Gas Pipelines (HB 4573/PA 97-906): Eliminates the state responsibility for inspecting carbon dioxide pipelines because the federal government already inspects and regulates these pipelines.
Crossbows (HB 4819/PA 97-907): Designates a special crossbow hunting period from the second Monday following Thanksgiving until the last day of the archery deer hunting season. Previously, only persons who were disabled or aged 62 or older could use crossbows.
Road Districts (SB 3047/PA 97-908): Allows municipalities to form a road district in counties that do not have township governments.
Early Intervention Council (SB 820/PA 97-902): Increases membership size of the Illinois Inter-agency Council on Early Intervention to range between 20 and 30 members (current Membership ranges between 15 to 25) with the intention of adding council members who can help make changes and updates to current law. This will bring the state into compliance with federal law.
Equal Pay Violations (SB 2847/PA 97-903): States that under certain circumstances an officer of a corporation can be held personally liable for equal pay act violations. The individual must willingly and knowingly permit the violation.
Active Notice of Orders of Protection (SB 2869/PA 97-904): Requires the sheriff or other law enforcement official charged with maintaining ISP records to notify the Department of Corrections within 48 hours when an order of protection, a civil no contact order, or a stalking no contact order is entered against an individual who is committed to DOC or who is on parole or mandatory supervised release.
Sex Trafficking (HB 5278/PA 97-897): Allows prosecution for sexual trafficking and sexual servitude for a minimum of one year after the victim turns 18, but not less than three years after the offense occurred. This is designed to make it more likely that underage victims of sexual trafficking will report the crime after they turn 18.
Housing Grant (HB 5450/PA 97-892): States that local administering agencies and developers may use grant funding to develop integrated housing opportunities for persons with disabilities, but not housing restricted to a specific disability type.
MWRD Public Affairs Officer (HB 4500/PA 97-893): Requires the executive director of the MWRD to appoint a public and intergovernmental affairs officer.
Water District Pensions (HB 4513/PA 97-894): Increases the employee pension contributions for certain Metropolitan Water Reclamation District employees to stabilize the MWRD pension fund. Also increases the MWRD Employer Property Tax Levy Multiplier for pensions.
Purchasing/Workers Compensation (SB 2958/PA 97-895): This is an omnibus Procurement Code reform designed to make it easier for companies to do business with the State. Also draws clear lines of authority governing state procurement. In addition this legislation contains a provision that would outsource the State's Workers' Compensation Program to a third party vendor. Requires the State (CMS) to relinquish responsibility to the third party on January 1, 2013, and transfer all parts of the program to the vendor. State government has been hit hard not only by skyrocketing Workers’ Compensation costs, but also by scandals highlighting mismanagement of the program.
School Bus (SB 3487/PA 97-896): Allows a 9th – 12th grade student to be transported in a multi-function school activity bus (such as a large passenger van) for any curriculum-related activity, except for transportation between school and home. This would save districts money.