On Friday, May 8, the Illinois Supreme Court voted to strike down Illinois’ 2013 pension reform law. According to State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) the next step is for lawmakers and the Governor to come together to find a constitutional solution to Illinois’ pension woes that preserves earned benefits, and eases the burden on Illinois taxpayers.
Ongoing budget negotiations hit a speed bump this week as Illinois Democrats chose playing political games over working toward filling the projected $6 billion hole in next year’s budget. With less than a month to go before the scheduled May 31 adjournment the majority party seems to be operating like it’s “business as usual,” and avoiding making real progress on the issues holding Illinois back.
Also this week the Illinois Senate approved a resolution honoring the military service of the seven Powell brothers, all of whom served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II. That same day legislators paused to honor Illinois’ police officers at the 2015 Illinois Police Officers Memorial Ceremony.
Several interesting measures passed in Senate committees, one of which aims to stop the expansion of taxing bodies in Illinois. Another, more controversial bill could decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession.
Meanwhile, working groups established by the Governor covering a wide range of state issues continue to meet as lawmakers work toward essential reforms of state government. However, progress on workers’ compensation reform was called into question, when a rare full House hearing was called to invite public feedback on the issue, but limited testimony was allowed from major stakeholders.
IL Supreme Court strikes down pension law
The Illinois Supreme Court struck down Illinois’ pension reform law on Friday, May 15. Public Act 98-0599, the result of the work of the Conference Committee on Pension Reform, aimed to gradually reduce Illinois’ unfunded public employee pension liability.
“The bottom line is we are still left with a pension system that is not solvent, and with an unfunded liability over $100 Billion that is growing at an unsustainable rate,” said State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford). “If we don’t address it, we will continue to see pension payments crowding out other important obligations, and pulling money from education and human services.”
Currently, nearly a quarter of Illinois’ budget is used to pay pensions or to pay off past loans taken out to cover short-term pension costs. Illinois’ current unfunded liability is around $105 billion and growing, and in recent years the state has carried the dubious distinction of having the worst funded pension system in the nation.
Following the ruling, members of the Senate Republican caucus affirmed their commitment to continuing to work toward finding a constitutional solution to fix Illinois’ pension system that preserves earned benefits, and eases the burden on Illinois taxpayers.
“There is not a painless solution to escape from the mess from the last 12 years of over spending, not paying bills, and failing to address the growing pension liability left over from the ruling party,” said Senator Syverson. “We have already asked taxpayers to give more. Human service, healthcare, and long-term care providers are all doing their part; now we need those in state government to do their part as well. A little shared pain from everyone will result in Illinois coming through this mess stronger and more vibrant.”
Read the full opinion here: http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2015/118585.pdf
Police Memorial held at Illinois State Capitol
Hundreds of police officers from throughout the state gathered at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 12, for the 2015 Illinois Police Officers Memorial Ceremony. The annual ceremony honors officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
The memorial statue, which sits on the West Lawn of the State Capitol, serves as a reminder to the people of the State of Illinois of the sacrifices made by the brave police officers who protect our safety.
Watch a video here about this year’s memorial service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPErL1dsYM0
Measure Aims to stop expansion of taxing bodies
State Sen. Michael Connelly (R-Wheaton) is leading the charge against the expansion of taxing bodies in Illinois.
House Bill 228 will prevent the General Assembly creating any new units of government or subdividing any existing ones. The bill’s sponsor said Illinois has units of government that focus solely on regulating things like mosquitos, tuberculosis, museums, hospitals, exposition halls, and airports.
Illinois leads the nation with 6,963-plus units of government, double the number of neighboring states Wisconsin and Missouri. Illinois’ other three neighbors – Kentucky, Indiana, and Iowa – combined have 1,000 less units of government. Illinois’ total is staggering when compared to California’s 4,425 and Texas’ 5,147, considering the relative size of the Land of Lincoln’s population.
House Bill 228 does not prevent two existing units of government from combining or eliminating and consolidating services into one taxing body.
Senate considers cannabis measures
Legislation to extend the state’s medical cannabis pilot program and decriminalize small amounts of cannabis advanced out of Senate committees this week.
Helping reduce the number of non-violent offenders in the state’s overburdened court and correctional systems is one of the primary objectives of House Bill 218. The legislation would reduce penalties for possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis, making the offense punishable by a maximum $125 fine.
However, opponents point out marijuana continues to be an offense under Federal law, and a number of law enforcement organizations are concerned about the impact of a provision in the bill that establishes THC levels—the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects—that are allowable while driving. Additionally, challengers of House Bill 218 note that the state just approved the medical marijuana program and has not yet had the opportunity to analyze its impact of communities, let alone the impact of decriminalization of cannabis for recreational use.
Proponents, including the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, argue that the bill will create a uniform penalty throughout the state, and could help relieve an overcrowded court system. Additionally, they say it makes it easier to prosecute drivers found to be under the influence of cannabis.
On a related front, the sponsors of the state’s medical cannabis pilot program are asking for more time to analyze the program’s impact in Illinois. They’ve introduced House Bill 3299, which would extend the current January 1, 2018 repeal date of the program, changing it to four years after the filing of the first dispensary organize registration; likewise, patient registry cards would be extended from one year from that date.
Opponents say it’s too soon to extend the program, noting that at this time there is nothing to examine to see if it is worth extending. Registration for the dispensaries and cultivation centers have only recent been issued, and patients have not yet began using medical cannabis for treatment.
Senator Syverson joins with Rockford Police Officers at the Capitol Police Memorial.
Senator Syverson on the Illinois Senate floor with Ben Slack from the Epilepsy Association of North/Central Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska.