A constitutional amendment that would allow the General Assembly to set higher tax rates on greater amounts of income passed its last legislative hurdle Monday, May 27, and will head to the voters for final approval about 18 months from now.

After more than three hours of debate in which all 44 House Republicans spoke on the floor, the vote cleared its constitutionally mandated three-fifths majority by two votes. All 73 representatives voting in favor were Democrats.

While Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker played no formal role in the legislative process to put the amendment on the ballot, at least one Democrat who previously said he would vote against the bill credited the governor for his sudden switch.

I was a very vocal critic about this, obviously, I came out with some concerns,” Rep. Jonathan Carroll, a Northbrook Democrat, said. “… Gov. Pritzker reached out to me right away, had some conversations with me and heard that my issue is property taxes.

Along with his help and the help of my colleagues in the House and the Senate, we’re going to form a property tax task force to review how we tax in Illinois for property taxes and make sure that we do it better and we do it right.”

The state does not levy or collect property taxes in Illinois; only local taxing bodies such as school boards, municipal governments and counties have that authority. The largest contributor to most local tax bills are K-12 schools, which for years have faced funding shortfalls and proration from insufficient revenues provided by the state.

Still, Carroll and Rep. Sam Yingling – a Grayslake Democrat who also said at one time he would vote against the graduated tax – said state action is needed to overhaul the property tax system and the graduated tax is part of that process.

The current system does not work and we all know that,” Yingling said in his floor speech. “The process of property tax restructuring will not be easy. But I submit that that process begins today.”

Republicans, however, were more skeptical of any actual tax relief coming from the bill, and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, accused the governor of “horse trading” in order to get the 73 votes in favor.

Let’s make no mistake. Today’s vote is the end result of the Illinois Democrats’ historical, ravenous, irresponsible budgeting and spending,” Durkin said. “However it was also clear that today’s vote was a fait accompli. It’s a foregone conclusion.

I know how this bill went down. I know how this amendment went down. And please, don’t think that there wasn’t any horse trading to get these votes. I know better, you know better, we know better.”

Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 1’s passage means the voters, in November 2020, will be given the opportunity to decide whether the state can have the authority to set graduated tax rates. Either 60 percent of those voting on the question or the majority of those voting in the election will have to support the measure for it to become law.

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ABORTION BILL: Lawmakers on Tuesday, May 28, narrowly approved a bill overhauling Illinois’ abortion statute after more than two hours of debate that was passionate and, at times, emotional.

The Reproductive Health Act would replace the state’s current law with one backers and detractors agree would be the most liberal reproductive health statute in the nation.

It creates access to contraception, pregnancy benefits, abortion procedures, diagnostic testing and other related health care as a fundamental right, banning government from impairing access to those things for women and men.

The bill now moves to the Senate. Melinda Bush, a Democratic senator from Grayslake and the act’s sponsor in that chamber, said Monday she thinks it will succeed there. A committee hearing is expected soon.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has vowed to “make Illinois the most progressive state in the nation for access to reproductive health care.” He said in a statement Tuesday he looks “forward to continuing my work as an ally by signing the Reproductive Health Act into law.”

The legislation’s passage comes as a hard-fought triumph for its sponsor, Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy. She said after months of working to advance this initiative down a path that at times has “not been very easy,” she is “very pleased” at its success.

Cassidy said she is also feeling “relief, just relief that this step is over and that we are poised to affirm our support for reproductive freedom in Illinois and intentionally stand out from all these other states that are attacking women's rights.”

The  General Assembly’s lack of action on the measure harmed Illinois women, she added.

I think people have a false sense of security around these issues, when the reality is that women are in real danger in Illinois as the result of our inaction,” Cassidy said at the beginning of the month.

The final vote was close — there were 64 Democrats voting in favor, 50 legislators from both parties voting no and four Democrats voting present. 60 votes were needed to pass the act successfully.

Advocates were trying to change minds and secure a favorable outcome right up until the vote. Several sources said Pritzker spoke to lawmakers Tuesday morning about why the tenets of the legislation were important to him.

Pritzker “did offer his support,” his spokesperson said.

One member who was wavering was Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, a Democrat from Oswego. She ultimately voted yes.

It did seem like a bill that did a lot, and we did need to make sure everything was correct. I believe abortion should be safe and legal, but I believe it should also be rare,” Kifowit said. “My concern with the bill was with some of the language changes, and the legislative intent had to be there to make sure that it’s crystal clear what we’re doing.”

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GRADUATED TAX RATES: On Friday, May 24, a graduated tax rate structure bill was sent to the full Illinois House.

The bill, which adopts the same rates approved by the state Senate, was advanced by the House Revenue and Finance committee on a 9-6 party line vote with two “swing vote” Democrats who serve on the committee having been replaced with substitutes.

While the amendment would need 71 of the chamber’s 74 Democrats to vote for it, the rate structure only requires 60 ‘yes’ votes.

Per the rate structure approved by committee Friday, single filers would pay the maximum rate of 7.99 percent on all income once their taxable income tops $750,000. For joint filers, that rate takes effect once income tops $1 million.

For joint filers outside of the top brackets, the rates are 4.75 percent on taxable income from $0 to $10,000; 4.9 percent from $10,001 to $100,000; 4.95 percent from $100,001 to $250,000; 7.75 percent from $250,001 to $500,000; and 7.85 percent from $500,001 to $1 million.

For single filers, tax rates are the same as joint filers up to $250,000; but the 7.75 percent rate applies from $250,001 only to $350,000, while the 7.85 percent rate applies from $350,001 to $750,000.

The bill also includes an increase in the property tax credit from 5 percent to 6 percent, and a $100 per-child tax credit for couples earning less than $100,000 and single persons earning less than $80,000.

Currently, the state constitution mandates that taxes be levied at a flat rate. The current rate is 4.95 percent.

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LEGALIZED GAMBLING: One of the state’s largest labor unions urged lawmakers to pass an expanded gambling bill in the waning days of the 2019 session, saying it would not only create new jobs in Illinois but would provide needed funding for a multi-billion-dollar capital improvements plan.

Illinois is recovering from the trauma of four years of budget impasse, starving out vital services, and a public works stagnation,” Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said during a Statehouse news conference Tuesday, May 28. “An expansion of gaming will help fund much-needed infrastructure construction and be a shot in the arm for revenue for this state.”

The biggest obstacle to passing a gambling measure this year, however, is that with only three days left in the regular session, the bill still hasn’t been written.

We have 80 hours to go. What are you worried about?” quipped Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, one of the lead supporters of expanded gambling in the Senate. “The bill is being drafted. It’s not like this is all new concepts. We’re working off of bills we’ve done in the past. We’re tweaking. We’re changing them around a lot.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has asked lawmakers to pass a bill legalizing sports betting in Illinois, something the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states are entitled to do. He is also seeking an increase in the tax rate that Illinois levies on the profits that gaming companies earn from video gambling, raising the rate to 50 percent instead of 30 percent, on profits above $2.5 million a year.

Meanwhile, owners of the state’s 10 existing riverboat casinos are seeking a bill that would let them expand into additional markets, including land-based casinos.

Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, said supporters of expanded gambling are working on a single omnibus bill that would contain all of those elements, but the details are still being worked out.

Another complicating issue in the whole gambling debate is a request from Midwest Gaming and Entertainment LLC, owner of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, to insert what some people have called a “penalty box” provision into any bill legalizing sports betting.

Such a provision would bar any company that has been offering online sports betting platforms, which are currently illegal in Illinois, from obtaining a license to operate legal sports betting in the state for some period of time. Midwest Gaming is suggesting an 18-month “regulatory waiting period.”

A House committee held a hearing on that issue Tuesday during which a number of lawmakers questioned whether such a provision would be constitutional.

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LEADERS MEETING: Illinois’ four legislative leaders met Thursday, May 23, with Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker in an hour-long conference which covered a broad range of issues, according to the two Republicans present.

Republican Senate Leader Bill Brady, of Bloomington, called it a “nice meeting,” while House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said there’s still “no clarity, no consensus” on a range of issues with just seven days remaining in the legislative session.

On the budget, the group is “close,” Brady said, as the discussions were aided by an unexpected $1.5 billion April tax revenue windfall and a recent upward projection of $800 million for fiscal year 2020 revenues.

I think the budget is probably the most workable portion of this,” Brady said. “I doubt that we'll have bipartisan support on the tax increases.

The meeting added “some clarity” on a capital improvements bill, Durkin said, but “still not anything to put on paper.”   

Democrats, if they're looking for support from my caucus, I just can't go in with general statements, I need to see a plan in place,” he said.

Pritzker laid out a $41 billion capital spending plan last week which relied on $1.8 billion in new or higher taxes, including doubling the gas tax. Durkin, however, said there was no agreement as to how a capital plan would be funded, although he said revenues from sports gambling would be “extremely important” in the process.

In terms of other revenue, Durkin agreed with Brady that many tax increases would likely lack bipartisanship.

There are some things in there that I just can’t sell to my members,” he said. “There’s a lot of taxes that we’re seeing.”

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LEGALIZED GAMBLING: Efforts in the Illinois House to pass a bill authorizing land-based casinos took a sharp turn Monday, May 27, when a key committee voted to strip out the contents of a Senate-passed bill and send it back to the full House in a form that lawmakers call a “shell bill.”

One source familiar with the negotiations said that likely means lawmakers are working on a single, “omnibus” gambling bill that will have provisions dealing with sports betting, expanded casino operations and possibly higher taxes on video gambling, all of which are items Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others in the General Assembly have suggested as ways to raise additional money for the state.

In its original form, Senate Bill 516 would have expanded the authority of the Illinois Gaming Board to regulate both riverboat gambling and “casino” gambling.

Under current law, “riverboats” are defined as self-propelled excursion boats or one or more permanently moored barges on which gambling is authorized or licensed. There are 10 riverboat casinos operating in Illinois.

A “casino” would be defined as any facility in which lawful gaming is authorized, meaning it would not have to be attached to a body of water. The bill also would authorize existing riverboat casinos to relocate to other areas, opening the possibility of a casino in the Chicago area.

Meanwhile, casino corporations have been pushing for years for permission to move beyond the riverboat market to allow for full land-based casinos elsewhere in the state.  Their efforts have intensified in recent years since Illinois legalized video gaming terminals, which the casinos argue have “cannibalized” their business.

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PROPERTY TAXES: A pair of measures aimed at addressing high property taxes in the state passed committee Tuesday, May 28, one day after being touted by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker upon passage of a graduated income tax constitutional amendment.

Those measures will create a property tax relief fund (Senate Bill 39 Amendment 1), and a property tax task force (Senate Bill 1932 Amendment 2).

Republicans in the House Revenue and Finance Committee were skeptical that any real property tax relief would result from the task force sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Carroll, a Northbrook Democrat, which passed committee unanimously.

I’ve been here five years, and I have absolutely no confidence that anything whatsoever will change other than the folks that like the status quo the way it is will destroy your hopes as they have everyone else’s. Good luck,” Rep. Margo McDermed, a Mokena Republican, said.

Carroll, who was initially opposed to the graduated income tax amendment but credited the governor for his switch to supporting the measure, said he wasn’t looking to the past, but the future.

I would hope that you’d be a part of the solution and not necessarily continue naysaying on it,” he said.

While the Republicans voted unanimously to pass the task force bill, all of them voted against the creation of the property tax relief fund.

Rep. Rita Mayfield, a Waukegan Democrat, said there would be no new state revenues needed to sustain the fund, and it would be up to future state Legislatures to determine whether appropriations would be provided for the fund.

McDermed, who serves on a capital infrastructure task force, said spare funds are not easy to come by in Illinois’ budget.

I am not aware, and believe me, our group has scoured under every rock in the state of Illinois for a penny, so where exactly are you going to find this money?” she asked.

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LICENSE SUSPENSIONS: Several lawmakers on Tuesday, May 28, promoted legislation that would make the Illinois secretary of state reinstate driver's licenses to people who have committed a number of violations, including not paying parking fines, that don’t deal with driving.

The legislation would also remove language that makes the secretary of state automatically suspend licenses or revoke vehicle registrations for such violations, which happens nearly 50,000 times a year, according to the advocacy group Chicago Jobs Council.

We’re saying to all of our cities in the state of Illinois that you can no longer use the secretary of state’s office as your collections agency. You cannot suspend a person’s license for non-payment of non-moving violations,” said Rep. Carol Ammons, a Democrat from Urbana, who is leading the charge in the House to pass the legislation.

Sen. Omar Aquino, a Chicago Democrat who filed the original legislation in the Senate, said the practice of suspending licenses for violations unrelated to driving affects minorities more than anyone else, leading to a cycle of debt and poverty from which it is difficult to escape.

When people lose their licenses, they lose their ability to get to work,” he said.

Aquino cited numbers from ProPublica that show 44 percent of Illinois license suspensions were in majority black ZIP codes, although only 14 percent of Illinois residents are black.

Prospects for the bill’s passage before Friday’s end-of-session deadline, however, are slim. After passing its original chamber, the bill became stuck in a House gatekeeping committee earlier this month, until lawmakers called the news conference Tuesday.

I would have loved to have this done by May 31,” Ammons said. “Unfortunately, there are just many, many pieces that we are trying to finish up. But we are poised to finish it this year.”

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E-CIGARETTES: The Illinois Senate is considering a bill that would expand the state’s general ban on smoking in public places to include e-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine products, but the vaping industry is resisting, saying their products do not produce “smoke” and don’t pose the same public health risks.

During a hearing Tuesday, May 28, in the Senate Public Health Committee, supporters of the bill argued that the public health effects from exposure to second-hand fumes from those devices are still unknown, but that the state has an interest in regulating their use.

Electronic cigarettes are completely unregulated tobacco products that have been sold in the United States for a little over a decade,” said Kathy Drea, vice president of the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest. “Because there has been no (Food and Drug Administration) review of the products on the market, we do not know what is in each individual product.”

The bill being considered is Senate Bill 1864, which passed out of the committee on March 5, but was sent back to the committee recently for a technical amendment to make the language consistent with the state’s new “Tobacco 21” law, which prohibits selling tobacco products to people under age 21.

Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills), the bill’s chief sponsor, said that because of the lack of regulation, e-cigarettes and other vaping products have become pervasive among underage people in public schools.

But Craig Kitson, who lobbies for the Smoke-Free Alternatives Coalition of Illinois, argued that vaping products are one way to help people quit smoking tobacco, and he said he believes the bill goes too far.

The Smoke-Free Act is about protecting others from the dangers of smoke from combustible tobacco. I think we all can agree that it is very necessary to have the Smoke-Free Act here in Illinois,” he said. “To add vaping products into this legislation ignores the basic fact that vapor products do not contain smoke.”

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COAL ASH: A bill aiming to ensure safe closure of toxic coal ash pits and financial protections for taxpayers should the pits cause environmental disaster is on its way to the governor.

Senate Bill 9 passed the Illinois House on Monday, May 27, eighteen days after passing the Senate.

This bill will set the parameters of how coal ash will be handled in the state of Illinois,” Democratic Rep. Carol Ammons of Urbana said.

Coal ash is the byproduct left behind when coal is burned to produce power, and it contains harmful heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic which can seep into groundwater. In many cases, coal ash is placed in unlined pits, where it remains long after the power plants are closed.

There are approximately 25 known coal ash impoundments which are already closed in the state. Senate Bill 9 would establish processes to address the other 50-plus impoundment sites which have yet to close.

The bill would require a coal ash impoundment owner to submit to the EPA a “closure alternatives analysis” addressing several closure scenarios and options laid out in the legislation. It would give the EPA the authority to choose the safest plan for coal ash remediation.

Senate Bill 9 would also create initial fees of $50,000 for each closed coal ash plant and $75,000 for those that have not yet been closed. Owners of operational impoundments would then pay an annual fee of $25,000, and a $15,000 fee would be charged for closed plants that had not yet completed “post-closure care.”

Coal ash impoundment owners would also be required to provide bonds ensuring closure and remediation of coal ash pits. Per the bill, the only acceptable form of bond would include “a trust fund, a surety bond guaranteeing payment, a surety bond guaranteeing performance, or an irrevocable letter of credit.”

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IMMIGRATION POLICY: The Illinois House on Monday, May 27, passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would prohibit local governments and local law enforcement agencies from entering into certain kinds of agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to enforce federal immigration laws.

House Bill 1637, known as the Keep Illinois Families Together Act, would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from participating in ICE’s “287(g) program.” The name comes from a 1996 addition to the federal Immigration and Nationality Act that allows local law enforcement to be deputized into federal service to help identify, arrest and serve detainer warrants on foreign-born individuals with criminal charges or convictions.

These types of programs have been well documented and recorded as injecting bias and ethnic stereotyping into policing practices,” said Rep. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago), who carried the bill on the House floor. “Because of this, and despite many protective policies in place in our state, families continue to be afraid to seek police protection. This is a huge public safety issue.”

Some Republicans spoke against the bill, including Rep. Allen Skillicorn, of East Dundee, who called it, “full-on sanctuary.”

First off, they broke federal law by coming in here illegally,” he said. “Second off, they’re already in the system. Some of these people are domestic robbers, domestic abusers. These are not nice people and effectively, we’re letting some of them just go off in the streets.”

The bill passed 67-to-50.

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MANDATORY REPORTERS: Members of the clergy in Illinois would be legally required to report cases of physical abuse or neglect against children, and they would face possible criminal charges for failing to do so, under a bill that cleared the Illinois House on Sunday, May 27.

Clergy are already required to report suspected cases of sexual abuse against children, but Senate Bill 1778 would expand that requirement to include physical abuse and neglect as well.

Children under the age of 5 especially, in smaller communities around Illinois, sometimes the only people they really see are members of their church, their ministers,” said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, the bill’s chief sponsor in the House. “They are the go-to people. They are the ones that witness problems in families.”

The bill would reorganize all mandatory reporters in Illinois into 10 categories: medical personnel; social service and mental health providers; crisis intervention personnel; education personnel; recreation or athletic program or facility personnel; child care personnel; law enforcement personnel; funeral home directors; clergy members; and abortion service providers.

Under current law, which the bill does not change, mandatory reporters who “knowingly and willfully” fail to report cases of abuse and neglect can be charged with a class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a class 4 felony for a subsequent offense.

In addition, people who knowingly and willfully violate the act “as part of a plan or scheme” to prevent discovery of an abused or neglected child, or for the purpose of protecting or insulating someone from prosecution, could be charged with a class 4 felony on a first offense and a class 3 felony for subsequent offenses.

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GUN OWNERS: An amendment to a controversial bill to overhaul the state’s Firearm Owner’s Identification Act has a lesser increase in the cost of applications and card renewals, but remains firm on proposed fingerprint requirements.

Under the most recent proposal, both new applications for FOID cards and five-year card renewals would cost $20. That price was lowered from the $50 proposed fees in a previous amendment. The current cost for FOID applications and card renewals is $10.

The new amendment also places a cap of $30 on the price vendors can charge to carry out FOID fingerprinting, something that is not now required but would be if the legislation is passed.

Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, explained at a Monday, May 27, House committee meeting how revenue from the increased FOID fees would be shifted to give $15 to the State Police Firearms Service Fund and $5 to the State Police Revocation Fund, which helps officers retrieve firearms from those whose FOID cards have been revoked.

In previous testimony on Senate Bill 1966, state police officials said there is not enough funding to complete all FOID revocations.

Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, was critical of the bill, saying it does little to address the intended response to a fatal workplace shooting in February in Aurora – to better track FOID holders who have had their licenses revoked.

Todd Vandermyde, on behalf of the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois, opposed the bill’s price cap on fingerprinting. He said the average cost for fingerprinting on concealed carry licenses is $65 – more than double the proposed fee for FOID cards – but that fee is still too low for private vendors to continue offering the fingerprinting services.

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STERIGENICS: Industrial sterilization companies in Illinois which use the toxic chemical ethylene oxide may soon have to comply with stricter safety requirements.

The Illinois House on Friday, May 24, passed Senate Bill 1852 in response to an ethylene oxide leak that occurred at the Willowbrook plant of a Sterigenics facility, about 20 miles west of Chicago.

It's the most, I would say, most concerning health issue that I have encountered in my career in Springfield, and it happens to be in my district,” said House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, the lead sponsor of the bill.

Of the new standards included in the bill, testing will no longer be conducted in “one narrow location,” and all points of ventilation will need to be tested yearly.  

In counties with at least 50,000 residents, the bill prohibits similar companies from placing facilities within 10 miles of schools or parks.  Counties with fewer than 50,000 residents would require a 15-mile buffer.

Earlier this year, Sterigenics was placed under a seal of order, preventing the company from continuing its ethylene oxide operations.  

In August 2018, the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, monitored ethylene oxide levels of the facility and reported in a letter that there was an “elevated cancer risk” for anyone who lives near, or works in, the facility.

The March 29  findings of a study conducted near the Sterigenics facility determined some cancers were more prominent in the area and there were higher occurrences among the female population in the area, according the to the Illinois Department of Public Health

A March 2019 report from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency determined Sterigenics has remained in compliance with that order.  

The bill passed the Senate on April 10, but the House version made an amendment to it, which means the bill now has to return to the Senate for a vote on whether to concur with that amendment.

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BEER TAX: Craft beer brewers and advocates gathered Friday, May 24, at the Capitol to oppose a tax increase on beer and cider that Gov. J.B. Pritzker introduced last week to help fund a comprehensive capital infrastructure plan.

Under that proposal, the per-gallon tax on beer and cider would rise to 27.7 cents from the current rate of 23.1 cents, a rate established when lawmakers approved the state’s last capital plan in 2009.

Combined with similar tax increases on wine and liquor, the current proposal would bring $120 million in new revenue to help fund the Democratic governor’s proposed six-year, $41.5 billion capital plan that lawmakers have yet to approve.

Craft brewers, distributors and retail advocates held a press conference Friday, May 24 to argue that beer is already taxed enough, and that adding more taxes will only make it harder for small businesses to expand in the emerging craft beer industry that has taken over the Midwest.

Rob Karr, head of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said the state already loses about $8.5 million in tax revenue each year from people who drive into bordering states to buy beer. The governor’s tax proposal, he said, would bump that number up by an estimated $4.6 million.

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PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS: Members of the Progressive Caucus in the General Assembly on Thursday, May 23, addressed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.

The initiative is spearheaded by Rep. Kelly Cassidy and Sen. Heather Steans, both Chicago Democrats. They have been working for two and a half years negotiating pieces of the potential program.

Updated language is expected to be filed soon. Cassidy said getting it right is “an ongoing conversation.”

We’re getting very, very close to presenting what will be the most progressive, most inclusive, most expansive package ever put forth by any state,” she said. “Most states have done it by ballot initiative, so you get a paragraph. Here, you get 500 pages.’

One provision of the measure has spurred ongoing debate and questions. It calls for the automatic erasing of criminal records for those who were convicted of possessing marijuana.

Robert Berlin, president of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, said that aspect of the legislation is unconstitutional. Lawmakers can dictate an expungement process, but only the governor can make pardons or commutations.

But Ammons said this provision represents criminal justice reform.

There is no question that black and brown communities have really carried the brunt of the war on drugs and a lot of that is tied to marijuana possession,” she said.

Some Republican legislators have said automatically wiping clean criminal records is not the right way to go, and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker should instead issue a blanket pardon.

I would love to know that [Republicans] were going to vote for the bill no matter what the bill is,” she said in response to a question about how Democrats and Republicans could reach a compromise. “I don’t think that’s the case.”

Cassidy said there are ongoing conversations concerning the final version of the recreational marijuana legalization.

I think we are working to balance those interests. ... There’s one rule in this building, 30, 60 and 1. And that’s the goal,” she said

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CHILD WELFARE: Community-based child welfare providers are asking the state for $30.7 million in emergency funding to combat low wages, high employee turnover rates and inadequate resources which have caused some of them to cut programs or close.

Representatives of several of those private providers, which serve more than 80 percent of children and families in the state’s child welfare system, held a news conference Thursday, May 23, calling on lawmakers to include the money in the fiscal year 2020 budget which could be passed by May 31.

The money would go to the state’s Department of Children and Family Services, which would increase the rates for services contracted through the private providers. The services range from foster home coordination to therapy to group home and residential treatment, and reimbursement rates have remained largely unchanged since 2002.

That [$30.7 million] is a minimum, an emergency pressure valve,” said Andrea Durbin, CEO of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth, which advocates for many of the state’s community-based providers. “No one is going to think that $30 million is going to solve the problems in the child welfare system. We got here with 17 years of neglect, and it’s going to take us three to four years to turn things around.”

Durbin said employee turnover rates are approaching 50 percent per year for some of the providers, and every worker change delays some services, such as moving a foster child to a permanent home, by as many as six months.

There’s a tremendous amount of turnover for case managers in child welfare,” said Dan Kotowski, CEO of community-based provider ChildServ. “What that means is a youth in care, … they may see three different case managers in the span of a three-month period.

Young people are looking for some kind of stability, and they’re not getting it,” he said.

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DCFS WORKERS: A group of Republican lawmakers on Thursday, May 23, urged the Senate to take up a bill that increases the penalties for attacks on state social workers employed by the Department of Children and Family Services.

The bill, in response to the death of DCFS case worker Pam Knight early last year in Whiteside County, makes it a Class 1 felony to batter a DCFS worker in the performance of official duties — the same protections against battery are given to police, firefighters and peace officers.

As with similar legislation introduced last year, the bill has garnered dozens of sponsorships from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle but has struggled to move through the legislative process to become law. This year, it passed the House on a unanimous 112-0 vote in early April, but stalled in a Senate committee shortly after.

Supporters of the measure, such as those at Thursday’s news conference, say it would better protect DCFS workers who sometimes face violent or hostile situations during their investigations.

The job of DCFS investigators is difficult, thankless and dangerous,” said Sen. Brian Stewart, the Freeport Republican who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Right now, police officers, firefighters and other peace officers are protected by the law. DCFS investigators should have the same protections.”

Opponents say the bill does not get to the root cause of the problem.

This bill doesn’t really address what happened in the one situation that people point to, and wouldn’t do anything to preclude that [from happening again],” said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Just simply adding on this enhanced penalty doesn’t really address that concern.”

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RAOUL FILES SUIT: Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed a federal lawsuit Thursday, May 23, against U.S. Attorney General William Barr over a Trump administration policy requiring state and local law enforcement agencies to cooperate in federal immigration enforcement.

It is the second such lawsuit Raoul’s office has filed challenging the Trump administration’s requirement that in order to receive federal law enforcement grants, state and local governments must show that they cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security in enforcing federal immigration laws.

As Attorney General Barr is likely aware, it is unconstitutional to place immigration-related conditions on funding for Illinois law enforcement,” Raoul said in a news release. “This lawsuit will help ensure that this important funding is not used as a bargaining chip as the administration continues to push its illegal and discriminatory immigration policies.”

At issue is the state’s access to roughly $6.5 million in annual funding for Illinois from the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program.

Those grants are awarded to states which, in turn, use them to fund a variety of state and local law enforcement initiatives such as prosecution, crime prevention and education, drug treatment programs and crime victim and witness services.

Soon after coming into office in 2017, President Donald Trump’s administration adopted new policies in order for states to qualify for those grants. Those included requirements that states document compliance with a federal law requiring states to allow local law enforcement agencies to communicate with federal immigration officials; that they give federal authorities advance notice of the release from custody of any person suspected of being in the country illegally; and that they give federal authorities access to people in custody who are suspected of being in the country illegally.

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SCOTT'S LAW: A bill that would increase penalties for Scott’s Law violations, Senate Bill 1862, passed the House unanimously Thursday, May 23. It returns to the House, where it was passed earlier, because language of the bill changed in the Senate.

Democratic Rep. Marcus Evans, of Chicago, said the 2002 “Slow Down or Move Over Law” was passed in memory of the death of Lt. Scott Gillen, a firefighter who was killed by a passing motorist while assisting a traffic accident.

First responders of Illinois, the message is clear,” Evans said from the House floor. “The Illinois General Assembly wants you to make it home safely.”

Evans’ legislation increases fines and creates a fund to better educate motorists on safe driving procedures when passing first responders, Department of Transportation workers, tow trucks and law enforcement that are stationary on the side of the road.

The fine for a first-time offense would increase from a minimum of $100 to a minimum of $250. A second offense would result in a fine of at least $750. The maximum fine is $10,000. Each offense would also incur a $250 assessment fee.

Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said he received a call from Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, who wanted to discuss ways to strengthen Scott’s Law after Illinois State Troopers Gerald Ellis and Brooke Jones-Story were killed by Scott’s Law violators.

Butler said the idea of the bill is to better correlate it with current construction zone driving laws.

I personally think this is one of the most important pieces of legislation that we’re going to consider this spring,” Butler said.

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