Session approaching scheduled adjournment; Back pay bill finally passes

Session heading into its final days
The House and Senate are scheduled to adjourn on Thursday May 31. Under the Illinois Constitution, both houses must complete their work by May 31 or it becomes much harder to pass bills – they need a three-fifths supermajority instead of just a majority in order to pass. These last days of the scheduled session are always very hectic as members rush to get their bills through the process and on their way to the Governor before the deadline.

There was much going on around the Capitol building this week, including a moving tribute to fallen Illinois military personnel in advance of Memorial Day. We also had a visit from a group of 4-H students who came to Springfield to talk about the value and importance of 4-H programs. I enjoyed our conversation very much.

Budget negotiations have been proceeding, but no final product has been released yet for review. The Republican and Democrat leaders in each chamber have been meeting with the Governor, and members of the various appropriations committees have also been negotiating next year’s budget. This is itself an encouraging sign because in recent years we have approached late May with nobody talking at all. There is still a lot of work to be done, but there is also a lot of optimism that it is going to get done on time this year. What a refreshing change that would be!

Back pay bill finally passes House
In a major development for many residents of the 106th district, the House on Thursday passed long-overdue legislation to appropriate money for back pay owed to thousands of state employees. This back pay dates back to the Quinn administration. These state workers were owed raises which were part of their contract, but the legislature refused to appropriate the funds. The matter went to court where the state was ordered to pay up.

For years, the legislature did not appropriate the money to pay the wages, but this week we finally succeeded in getting a bipartisan bill passed to make these funds available. These court-ordered payments have been described as the state’s oldest overdue bill. This week the House finally acted to make these funds available, voting 98-10 in favor of the legislation to appropriate the funds.

I was proud to co-sponsor the bill and was thrilled to see it get enough votes to pass. House Bill 4290 appropriates the wages that are owed, as well as the state’s share of the Social Security contributions that would have come with these wages had they been paid. This bill was sponsored by a Democrat, and had more than a dozen Republican co-sponsors. It is another example of what we can accomplish if we are willing to work together.

The bill now goes over to the Senate for their consideration.

Bennett-sponsored Senate bills moving in the House
This week the House began hearing bills which have already passed the Senate and now must come to our chamber for approval. I was proud to work with our local senators, Jason Barickman, Chapin Rose and Chuck Weaver to carry some of their bills in the House. This week, two of the Senate bills I sponsored in the House passed and went on to the Governor. Three others reached the House floor and could be called for votes next week.

To protect and enhance the outdoors experience of Illinoisans, Senate Bill 2713 creates a Greenways and Trails Advisory Council at the state level to serve as Illinois’ advisory council to the federal Recreational Trails Program. It is also intended to be a forum for public discourse and participation on recreational trails in Illinois. The legislation also clarifies some language about stickers and stamps for off-highway vehicles.

Senate Bill 2875 is what is known as “cleanup language,” a bill that amends the law governing the Department of Agriculture to formally repeal several programs that are no longer functioning, but which still exist on paper. It also moves some existing programs around within the Department of Agriculture in order to make it easier for the Department to administer them.

Still remaining to be acted upon are three more Senate bills and a Senate Joint Resolution which I am sponsoring.

Senate Bill 3135 makes a change to the state’s Environmental Protection Act to clarify that a person does not have to obtain a permit from the Illinois EPA in order to apply a commercially-available algicide, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, to a body of water that is entirely on private property, not subject to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and not used as a community water source.

Certain solar energy sites in Illinois could obtain a certification from the Department of Natural Resources that they are “pollinator friendly,” under Senate Bill 3214, which also specifies the conditions the site would have to meet to earn such a designation. This legislation would help the environment by creating more habitats for honey bees and butterflies. It would also have benefits for farmers and other growers, as it could increase the number of pollinating insects in our state.

To enhance public safety, Senate Bill 3255 allows an Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (ARPN) or a Physician Assistant (PA) to practice within the Illinois EMS system as EMS personnel for emergency care before a person reaches a hospital or during non-emergency medical transports, if the ARPN or PA meets certain specified requirements. The legislation creates greater flexibility in the medical system by allowing medically-qualified individuals to utilize their training to help those in need of care who have not yet reached a hospital.

Senate Joint Resolution 8 honors the life of firefighter Dana Schoolman, a member of the Ashkum Township Fire Protection District and the Ash-Clif Ambulance Service, by naming a section of U.S. 45 in Iroquois County the “Firefighter Dana Schoolman Memorial Highway.” Dana Schoolman lost his life in the line of duty at the age of 31 when he was involved in an accident while responding to a call on an icy road in November 1988.

How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,832,934,623 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

How the Supreme Court decision on sports gambling affects Illinois
Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law which prohibited sports gambling in most U.S. states, including Illinois. Illinois’ Criminal Code also currently bans many kinds of sports wagering, with the exception of bets on horse racing.

The Supreme Court’s action has opened the door for the General Assembly to consider amending or modifying Illinois’ ban on sports betting. On one side, opponents argue that sports gambling will lead to problems with corruption. Supporters look at sports gambling as a possible revenue source for the state: money that does not have to be collected through income, sales or property taxes. Some early potential revenue estimates from legalizing sports betting in Illinois range anywhere from $300 million to more than $600 million.

Possible slowdown in FOID card renewal process
The Illinois State Police are advising Illinois firearm owners of a possible slowdown in the process of renewing their FOID cards due to an expected heavy volume of renewals. In 2008, FOID card terms were extended to 10 years, meaning as many as 50,000 of the cards will be coming up for renewal over the next few months. The State Police are asking those seeking renewals to get their paperwork in early so that they can minimize delays.

The State Police previously sent notices to holders of Illinois FOID cards which will expire in the coming weeks, but many more will be coming due over the summer. To renew your card online, visit Renewals cost $10, and required information includes your Illinois drivers’ license or state ID card number. Paper applications or other assistance is available from the State Police by calling (217) 782-7980.

The five-year concealed carry licenses which were first issued in March of 2014 will begin to come up for renewal next spring. More than 240,000 Illinois concealed carry licenses have been issued since that time. Those who were among the first to obtain their concealed carry license should be mindful of the possibility of another busy period of renewals next spring.

Did You Know?
Illinois was the 21st state to join the union when we attained statehood in 1818. This fact is represented by the 21 stars on the Illinois Bicentennial logo.