May Legislative Update

This coming week denotes that the end of spring session is coming to a close. Beginning May 18th, the House is scheduled to be in session every day (including weekends) until midnight on May 31st. We have a lot of issues to address despite what you may have heard in the last two weeks.

There has been working group meetings for an array of issues, most importantly, the FY16 budget. These groups have been tasked to work collectively in hopes of finding a bipartisan solution. However, as many have noticed in the media, republicans have been voting “present” on all of the big ticket items that have come to the House floor for a vote.

Why did the republicans vote “present” on these pieces of legislation? The Speaker of the House decided that instead of going through the legislative process and working together in these meeting groups, it was best to file the bills hours before the vote; thus giving no one enough time to thoroughly read the legislation. To bypass the legislative process that our constitution created is disingenuous and outright disrespectful to everyone in Illinois.

We have a $6 billion dollar deficit to fill in the FY16 budget. People’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake while the Democrats continue to play political gotcha games, it’s embarrassing.  We were elected to represent the people and to come together to find a solution that is going to help fix the financial crisis we live in today. That is what I am focused on and will continue to focus on.  It’s not going to be easy, but everyone must understand that we have to do this together.

Here are some highlights from the last two weeks in Springfield:

FY16 Budget Sham: In a divisive spirit, House Democrats short-circuited the budget process by bringing the Human Services budget directly to the House floor with little notice and no committee deliberations, then defeated the bill with unanimous Democrat opposition. This action was not genuine; it was intended to send a message. Recognizing that, the House Republicans voted “Present.”

Immediately thereafter, House Democrats filed 15 additional amendments, cherry-picking various programs vulnerable in the budget and began running them one at a time, again in the hopes of deliberately sabotaging the budget working groups that have been meeting for months, and continue to meet.  Again, House Republicans voted “Present.”

Workers Compensation: A lengthy Committee of the Whole hearing on workers’ compensation issues was held before the full House on Tuesday, May 5.  Injured workers, members of their families, and other stakeholders testified to lawmakers on the strengths and problems of Illinois’ current system of workers’ compensation.    

Tort Reform: Trail-lawyer-friendly State laws and court procedures, which go far beyond the rights granted to trial lawyers in neighboring and comparable states, are blamed for a substantial share of the continued economic gap between Illinois and the rest of the U.S.  House Republicans are working with civil justice reform groups to enact needed reforms to these laws.

In southern Illinois, Madison County and St. Clair County, twin counties located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, have become a haven for venue-shopping. Civil actions are filed in Madison County at double the rate of Cook County, 6.5 times the rate of filings in Illinois outside these three counties, and many times the rate of filings of other U.S. states that do not encourage plaintiff law.  Advocates have long called Madison County a “judicial hellhole”.

Sham hearings continue – this time on Right to Work:  Continuing to put partisan game-playing before progress, House Speaker Michael Madigan again moved to divide the legislature this week by prematurely pushing a right-to-work proposal onto the House floor, dropping the language a few short hours before the vote. This is the latest in a series of un-negotiated proposals that forced Republicans to unite in protest against Madigan and the Democrats’ game-playing.

Property Taxes: It is not without reason that House Republicans question the majority leadership’s commitment to property tax relief when out of the clear blue sky they embrace so-called property tax freeze legislation that neither includes reforms nor guarantees that property taxes won’t increase (so no freeze).  It’s not hard to draw the accurate conclusion that it is just political theatre.

Pensions – Illinois Supreme Court SB 1 Ruling: On Friday, May 8, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed a lower circuit court ruling on State pension system reforms contained in SB 1 (P.A. 98-599).  In response to enactment of P.A. 98-599, five separate actions were filed in Cook County and Sangamon County courts to enjoin implementation of the pension reforms, claiming the reforms were unconstitutional due to a violation of the provision in the Illinois Constitution (Article XIII, Section 5) that asserts pensions are a contractual right and cannot be diminished or impaired. The five suits were subsequently consolidated into one action in Sangamon County Circuit Court.

As always, please feel free to contact my office on any issue.