Springfield, IL - Independence Day became the backdrop for signing legislation to benefit Illinois veterans, while the state began its new fiscal year July 1 with enactment of a $33.7 billion budget, according to State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove).
Also signed into law during the past week was a bill to allow police to arrest family members who help a relative flee the country to avoid arrest or prosecution.
The measures for Illinois veterans included Senate Bill 2837 (PA 97-739) which adds a veteran designation to driver's licenses and other ID cards issued by the state. This is intended to make it easier and quicker for state agencies to identify a veteran when the person applies for services, such as healthcare, student loans or grants or employment.
Sen. Sandack said another measure, HB 4586 (PA 97-738) expands a conservation jobs and training program for youth to allow veterans to participate as well. Under the new law, unemployed Illinois veterans and members of the Illinois National Guard are eligible for job opportunities with the Illinois Veteran Conservation Corps and Illinois Veteran Recreation Corps.
A third bill (SB 3689/PA 97-740) expands the allowable uses for proceeds from the state's special Veterans Cash lottery tickets, so that funds can be used to support veterans employment and employment training. Funds are already used to provide grants to nonprofit organizations for health care and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, housing assistance, disability benefits and other services to Illinois veterans.
The crackdown on those who help criminal relatives flee the state or country was contained in SB 2520 (PA 97-0741), Sen. Sandack explained. The measure closes a loophole in state law that protected immediate family members from prosecution. Now, family members who aid in such cases will be subject to a prison term of one to three years and/or a $25,000 fine. Illinois was one of only 14 states to exempt family members.
On June 30, the day before the state's new fiscal year began, Governor Quinn signed most of the state budget, cutting $57 million in General Funds out of a $33.7 billion budget.
The largest reduction came by eliminating funds the legislature had added to try to keep several state facilities open, including state prisons in Tamms and Dwight and mental health and developmental centers in Jacksonville, Tinley Park, Centralia and Rockford. Also tagged for closure were adult prisoner transition centers in Carbondale, Decatur and Chicago and youth centers in Joliet and Murphysboro.
In all, the Governor said he intends to close 57 state facilities, which includes all the office consolidations and communications centers associated with the state facilities.
“These types of decisions are not easy ones, especially when they impact communities,” Sen. Sandack said. “But the fiscal mismanagement of the state has led the Governor to make the decision to shutter these facilities in an effort to start pulling the state out of debt. The process of closing the facilities needs to be deliberate and thought out while keeping in mind how it will affect the communities. This is not what anyone wants to see happen, but it is the discretion of the Governor to make these tough decisions to right the fiscal house of the state.”
In signing the budget, the Governor also complained about the General Assembly's cuts to education and the Department of Children and Family Services. Yet, Sen. Sandack pointed out the Governor left intact a number of controversial funding programs, including a $1 million earmark for the failed "Grow Your Own Teachers" program. That program has spent more than $19 million in its first six years and produced only 29 teachers – at an average cost of $662,000 per teacher.
Also untouched by the Governor's veto pen was a $1 million appropriation to pay parents $4,000 to "volunteer" at their children's schools.
“There were several questionable areas of this budget that Gov. Quinn could have adjusted to save more money,” Sen. Sandack said. “Illinois’ budget is riddled with waste and by not taking steps to reduce those areas, we are only exacerbating our fiscal woes. The facility closures were a difficult choice, but these controversial programs are easy decisions to make and cut out of the budget.”
The Governor used his budget veto message to again lobby for changes to the state's pension programs. The Governor and four legislative leaders have been meeting to try to hash out an agreement on pension reforms. However, the discussion has bogged down because the House Speaker and Governor have linked reforms to funding changes that would shift major pension costs onto local property taxpayers.
Several other measures were signed during the week, including:
Business Survey (HB 1882/PA 97-721): Creates a number of new responsibilities for the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity including: requiring a survey of businesses in the State and those that have left the State in the past 10 years; implementing an Engineering Excellence Program; setting requirements for website posting of available economic benefits to businesses and recaptured tax exemptions and extending the time period to set the annual eligibility level for energy assistance.
Carnival Safety (SB 3380/PA 97-737): Expands the state's Carnival-Amusement Safety Board from eight members to nine.
Electrologist Licensure (SB 3385/PA 97-724): Allows for a specific electrologist to be included amongst the 150 other licensed electrologists grandfathered into the new law. The electrologist inadvertently missed the deadline for being grandfathered into new requirements, and would otherwise have to complete a new 600-hour program.
Gold Star License Plates (SB 2494/PA 97-723): Makes Gold Star license plates available to family members, including siblings, of a person who has lost his life while serving.
Gubernatorial Appointees (HB 1084/PA 97-719): Clarifies the law regarding gubernatorial appointments that are subject to confirmation by the Illinois Senate. Also states that after the initial terms for workers' compensation arbitrators appointed pursuant to the reforms of 2011, the term of arbitrators shall be 3 years. Requires Senate confirmation of all arbitrator appointments in the future.
Ham Radio (HB 1390/PA 97-720): Prohibits municipalities from regulating the placement, screening, or height of amateur radio antennas or support structures.
No Wheelies (SB 3452/PA 97-743): Imposes a minimum fine of $1,000 for driving a motorcycle on one wheel while speeding. Also prohibits the sale of license plate covers that cover up or obscure a license plate number and limits motorcycle handlebars to the same height at the driver's head (currently handlebars cannot be higher than the operator's shoulders.)
Public Assistance Payment (SB 2820/PA 97-735): Authorizes expeditious payment from the Public Assistance Emergency Revolving Fund for a variety of fees for child support services, including process fees to sheriffs and other public officials, and fees to county clerks and recorders of deeds. The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services has been paying these fees with petty cash, which is not in compliance with state law.
School Days (SB 2850/97-742): Restricts school districts from having shorter school days on the opening and closing days of a school term.
Shark Fin Ban (HB 4119/PA 97-733): Prohibits a person from possessing, selling, trading, distributing, or trying to sell a shark fin on or after January 1, 2013.
State Board of Health (SB 174/PA 97-734): Requires the State Board of Health to deliver the third installment of the State Health Improvement Plan to the Governor by Jan. 1, 2016, and every five years thereafter.
State Surplus Fund Transfer (HB 4139/PA 97-722): Increases the amount transferred into the state's General Revenue Fund from the State Surplus Property Revolving Fund for any balance exceeding $1 million (currently $500,000). Central Management Services requested this threshold be increased in order for them to maintain a solid operating budget.
Township Officers (SB 3324/PA 97-736): Prohibits township officers from receiving compensation for future or anticipated dates of service; compensation can only be for time actually served. This bill addresses circumstances where township officers were giving themselves salary advances.