Friday, April 12, 2013
A proposal to expand gambling, a key reform that targets past abuses of state grant programs, economic development incentives, new safeguards to protect the elderly and assistance for returning veterans were among the bills considered by the Illinois Senate during the week of April 8-12.
The Senate Executive Committee conducted a “subject matter only” hearing on a major gambling expansion bill, giving representatives of the Illinois Gaming Board an opportunity to outline their concerns about the measure. Senate Bill 1739 would authorize a Chicago casino, allow slot machines at horse racing tracks, create four new casinos outside Chicago and legalize “iGaming,” a form of internet gambling.
Tense Exchange over Gambling
The hearing grew heated at times as Aaron Jaffe, Chairman of the State Gaming Board and a former Illinois House member, went up against the sponsor and supporters of the gaming expansion. Supporters grew frustrated when Jaffe seemed unable to offer specific objections or suggestions on how to fix what he viewed as flaws with the legislation.
Jaffe expressed concerns about the size and complexity of the legislation, saying “it’s impossible to read.” He emphasized that the gaming board must be given the same regulatory and investigative authority that it has over other gambling outlets in the state, over any Chicago casino.
Taking Aim at Grant Abuse
Other important measures making their way through the Senate take aim at the use of state-financed grant dollars for political purposes, and increase transparency of state grant dollars given to non-profit and community based organizations. Though Illinois allocates hundreds of millions of state grant dollars each year, there isn’t a straightforward way to review grant recipients, nor have reasonable limitations been placed on the organizations that receive these dollars.
In fact, evidence uncovered by a CNN investigative report found millions in taxpayer dollars had been misused by Governor Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) grant program. A four-month investigation revealed state grant funds were used to pay teens to march in a parade with the Governor, hand out flyers promoting inner peace, take field trips to museums, and attend a yoga class.
In response, the Senate Criminal Law Committee this week advanced Senate Bill 2380 to prohibit grantees or their employees from intentionally using grant funds, or goods and services paid for using grant dollars, for a prohibited political activity. Similarly, grant funding cannot be used to compensate someone for time spent engaging in a political activity. Current state law banning political activity on state time and prohibiting the use of state resources for political activity only applies to state officials and employees. Senate Bill 2380 targets situations like those uncovered by CNN, where NRI grant recipients were paid to walk in a parade with Governor Quinn, which is considered a political activity.
Another measure, Senate Bill 2381 was previously approved by the Senate Executive Committee and would require the state to add a searchable database to a publicly available state website that would allow the public to view the names of all community-based or non-profit organizations that receive state grants, the zip codes of the locations served and the state agency that made the grants or distributed the funds. The bill also requires an annual report on state grants be given to the Governor and the General Assembly.
Job Creation, Veterans, Elderly and Child Protection
Legislation designed to encourage manufacturing was among the more significant bills recently passed by the Senate. Senate Bill 1519 allows counties, cities, villages and townships to offer a property tax break to qualified tool and die business property, beginning in tax year 2014. Any other taxing districts would also be able to abate the portion of their taxes on the property.
The measure is designed to encourage investment in manufacturing. Recent studies have shown that, despite the state’s chronically high unemployment rates and generally sluggish economy, manufacturing has been among the bright spots in the state.
Another bill (Senate Bill 1908) gives local authorities more flexibility to hire veterans as police officers, by allowing them to count military service in lieu of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Measures targeting criminal activity are also moving through the General Assembly. In order to protect the elderly, Senate Bill 1287 would ban people from being appointed to serve as a guardian of a person or an estate of an elderly person, if they have been convicted of felony harm or threat to a minor. Previously, only a person convicted of a felony involving a threat or harm to an elderly or disabled person was not allowed to serve as an elder guardian.
Another measure designed to protect potential victims was Senate Bill 1814. The proposal allows evidence of prior offenses of child abduction that involve the luring of a child to be introduced in a trial to prove a propensity of the defendant.
Bills Passed by the Senate
Other measures passed by the Senate and now up for consideration in the House of Representatives include:
Updated Statutes (SB 72): Annual statutory clean-up bill for the Environmental Protection Agency to update statutes and delete obsolete language.
Tow Trucks (SB 922): Allows tow trucks to use white oscillating, rotating or flashing lights in combination with the amber lights already permitted.
Dental Assistant and Anesthesia (SB 1217): Allows dental assistants to monitor nitrous oxide and general anesthetic. A dentist may supervise a maximum of 4 dental assistants at a time for the monitoring of nitrous oxide.
CMS Health Care Purchasing (SB 1256): Amendment makes changes to statute affirming Governor’s Executive Order 1 (2012). This legislation codifies the executive order into statute, and moves all changes that impact health care purchasing back to Central Management Services from Healthcare and Family Services.
Public Guardians (SB 1280): Requires that a person holding power of attorney must make all required records available to a representative of the public guardian during any investigation of whether a petition for guardianship must be filed. The bill would also allow public guardians to be awarded fees, costs and other relief if the responsible party fails to provide the requested records.
State Nature Areas (SB 1329): Reclassifies a number of state nature facilities such as wildlife areas, trails, natural areas and habitat areas within the proper site naming system.
County Borrowing (SB 1430): Allows a county to borrow from a local bank instead of having to use a tax anticipation warrant, as long as the funds are repaid within two years. Winnebago County suggested the bill to save taxpayers’ money because officials believe they can borrow short-term more cheaply from a bank.
Forest Preserve/County Boards (SB 1431): Clarifies the law on filling a vacancy in a forest preserve district office (in counties outside of Cook). Also allows board members in any county to hold certain other elected offices, including school boards, fire protection district boards and community college boards.
Red Cross Plates (SB 1439): Creates an American Red Cross License Plate with a portion of the proceeds going into a new Red Cross Fund. Money in the Fund will be paid as grants to the American Red Cross subject to appropriation by the General Assembly.
Electrologist Licensing (SB 1495): Extends the sunset date of the Electrologist Licensing Act to Jan 1, 2024; increases penalties to $10,000 for those found to be practicing electrology without a license; and makes others changes in definitions, registration requirements, grounds for disciplinary action, and enforcement.
Surgical Assistant Licensing (SB 1496): Extends the sunset date of the Surgical Assistant and Registered Surgical Technologist Title Protection Act until January 1, 2024; increases the penalties for violations of this Act to $10,000; and makes others changes in definitions, registration requirements, grounds for disciplinary action, and enforcement.
Lottery Game (SB 1541): Creates a special instant scratch-off lottery game to benefit Illinois charities that are involved in youth development and have a budget of less than $500,000. Revenue from the game will go into a fund used by the Attorney General to award grants to charities that offer youth-development services.
Independent Living Skills (SB 1550): Provides that the first Individualized Education Plan when a child with disabilities turns age 14 ½ must have at least one goal of independent living skills, instead of independent living skill goals being optional and/or up for discussion.
Guardians (SB 1565): Allow for the termination of a short-term guardianship of a minor at the conclusion of specified judicial proceedings. The termination of such guardianships must be in the best interest of the minor child.
Harness Racing (SB 1608): Defines “sufficient competition” for Illinois-foaled harness racing as a competition between five or more horses. Under current law, racetracks are required to have at least two races on each program limited to Illinois conceived and foaled horses. However, these requirements can be suspended if “sufficient competition” is not available.
State Grant Payments (SB 1637): Requires that at least 50% of state Opens Space Land Acquisition and Development grants (OSLAD) must be paid to a local government unit at the time the grant is awarded. The remainder of the grant will be given quarterly on a reimbursement basis.
Weights and Measures (SB 1715): Clarifies laws affecting agricultural weights and measures scales. Specifically it was proposed by grain and feed, fertilizer and construction aggregate associations to address problems in regulating and assuring consistency in heavy truck scales.
Veterans Home Fund Check-off Exemption (SB 1823): Creates an exception to the state’s requirement that income tax check-offs must generate at least $100,000 in order to remain on the state’s tax forms. Under this measure, the Veterans’ Home Fund check-off will only be removed if it fails to meet the $100,000 contribution requirement for two consecutive years, rather than one year. This will assure that the check-off will be on the income tax return for tax year 2013.
Veteran Memorial Maintenance (SB 1824): Allows counties, townships and municipalities to appropriate funds to maintain veterans’ memorials that are erected. Park Districts that lease land for the use of a memorial may transfer the maintenance of the memorial to the organization holding the lease.
Semi-Truck Towing (SB 1825): Prohibits a towing company from removing a vehicle by operating the vehicle under its own power, except as otherwise authorized by law enforcement.
Anti-Bullying (SB 1845): Adds anti-bullying programs to the list of what is an approved school social work service.
Court Fee Waiver (SB 1846): Intended to simplify the process for identifying which low-income clients are eligible to have their court fees waived by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative court hearings. Instead they will be able to use the current streamlined process used by legal service agencies. The goal of this proposal is to improve the administration of justice in the courts, improve efficiency for overburdened legal aid organizations and pro bono programs, and in the process improve access to justice for low-income and disadvantaged Illinoisans who depend on these programs for critical legal assistance.
Drug Fund Change (SB 1862): Changes the Fund in which the current $25 assessment for drug-related and methamphetamine-related offenses is deposited, and provides that moneys in that Fund will be administered by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority rather than the Department of State Police. Also removes references to Metropolitan Enforcement Groups (MEGs) to make it clear that the Illinois State Police will remain responsible under the Intergovernmental Drug Laws Enforcement Act for MEG units.
Water Infrastructure (SB 1869): Updates language in the state’s Municipal Code to allow cities and villages to construct, and maintain storm sewers, detention basins and retention basins (currently drains, ditches, levees, dykes, pumping works, and machinery). An amendment allows construction of “green infrastructure” including green roofs, rain gardens, bioswales, tree boxes, porous pavement, porous pipe systems, native plantings, constructed wetlands, and cisterns. Cities and villages may also acquire land to manage runoff by infiltration, evapotranspiration, or collection.
Prostitution Penalty Enhancement Elimination (SB 1872): Deletes provisions in state law that enhance prostitution, typically a Class A misdemeanor, to a Class 4 felony. Proponents argued that a felony conviction can make it difficult for former prostitutes to find legitimate work.
Optometrist Definition (SB 1876): Replaces an outdated definition of “therapeutic optometrist” with “optometrist.”
Paperless State Checks (SB 1884): Provides that the state is no longer required to mail receipts for direct deposit to state employees or pension recipients. Would allow recipients to request paper receipts and would also provide receipts to be posted on secure website. Expected to save $350,000 per year.
Senior Disabled Income Freeze (SB 1937): Exempts the income of a permanently disabled member of the household from being considered in establishing the income levels that qualify for the Senior Citizens Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption. This is intended to enable seniors to receive the exemption when they have a disabled child or other family member living with them.
Metro Water District (SB 2155): Expands the range of legal costs that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District can use its reserve fund to pay for. The District is self-insured and due to the evolution of tort law, not all legal cases are covered under the reserve fund.
Excuses Disabled Students from PE (SB 2157): Allows a student with a disability who is participating in an individualized education program that includes an adaptive sports program outside of school can be excused from daily physical education requirements.
Academic Residency (SB 2167): Beginning with the 2013-2014 academic year, if a person is utilizing benefits under the federal Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (or any subsequent variation) then that person will be considered an Illinois resident for purposes of tuition.
State Loan Repayment (SB 2172): Eliminates a provision that allowed the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) to replace a borrower’s board of directors if loan repayment is in jeopardy. The Authority believes this will help attract limited-profit entities to build more low-income housing. IHDA will maintain other safeguards to address loans that go bad, including the power to replace a general partner or a property manager or to foreclose on the property. Also prohibits limited-profit entities (business/corporation) from accessing the equity in their developments in excess of 6%.
Interns and Teaching (SB 2199): Allows candidates for Professional Educator Licenses to participate in an internship or residency without having first passed a content area exam. Students would still not be allowed to teach or student-teach until passing the subject exam, but could undertake an internship.
Early Intervention (SB 2217): Makes several technical changes to the Early Intervention Services System Act to keep Illinois laws in compliance with federal rules and law. One of the more controversial provisions would allow families, in certain cases, that already have private insurance to use taxpayer-funding to cover expenses rather than their own private insurance.
National Guard Grants (SB 2229): Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the measure gives any person who has served over 10 years in the Illinois National Guard an additional two years of tuition and fee waivers from any public university or public community college. This would increase the tuition and fee waivers to six years.
Short-Sale Legislation (SB 2230): Clarifies that compulsory sales are not limited by deed type. A compulsory sale is a short-sale (sale of real estate for less than the amount owed to the mortgagor). This is in reference to determining equalization by an assessor or the Property Tax Appeal Board.
Video Gaming (SB 2234): Allows for the use of electronic vouchers for video gaming, instead of exclusively using cash.
Engineering Diversity (SB 2332): Expands eligibility for a new Illinois Department of Transportation Diversity in Engineering scholarship to include national origin, age, ancestry and disability. Opens the program to part-time students. Currently the program only considers race, color, or gender.
Deer and Turkey Hunting (SB 2347): Current Illinois law prohibits hunters from using bait to attract deer and turkey. This bill clarifies that water is not considered bait. However, the water cannot have any additives. This will assure that farm ponds or other bodies of water will not be considered as “bait.”
Video Gaming in Social Clubs (SB 2371): Allows for “social clubs” to be a licensed establishment under the Video Gaming Act. This will allow Knights of Columbus and other similar non-profit organizations to conduct video gaming.
Notice of Lien Repayment Plan (SB 2378): “Stops the clock” when a taxpayer has entered into and is complying with a repayment plan with the Department of Revenue. Currently, the Department has three years to file a lien, which means the Department must file liens against taxpayers who are complying with a repayment plan in order for the Department to avoid missing the three-year deadline.
Abandoned Property (SB 1674): Clarifies provisions of an expedited foreclosure bill approved in 2012. It affects collections, fees, processes, and time frames for clerks of courts and the borrower.
Ash Borer (SB1589): Expands the Emerald Ash Borer Revolving Loan Program to include the treatment of standing trees. Previously, the loans could only be used to plant replacement trees. Also allows municipalities to remove or treat infected trees on private property if the owner refuses to remove or treat the infected trees themselves.
Bow Fishing (SB 1538): Allows “sling bows” to be used to take carp, buffalo, suckers, gar, bowfin, shad, and drum fish.
Car Rental Insurance (SB 1784): Increases the daily amount rental car companies may charge for collision waiver insurance. Currently rental companies can charge a maximum of $12.50 per day for insurance. This would link the rate to inflation or 5%, whichever is less.
CMS Data Collection (SB 1670): Requires the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) to distribute a spreadsheet to each state agency to facilitate the collection of data on the state’s annual workforce characteristics, workforce compensation, and employee mobility. CMS would be required to make data received from each State agency available on the ITAP or another open data site annually.
Community College Ballot Provisions (SB 1763): States that no proposition affecting community colleges which is substantially the same may be included on the ballot more than once every three months (currently two months), except where the proposition is submitted as a consequence of a disaster, calamity or other Act of God.
Community College Bids (SB 1746): Brings bid requirements for community colleges into line with those for public universities by allowing an exemption to revise bids for perishable food and beverages.
Community College Funding (SB 1688): Currently base operating grants are allocated to community colleges based on two components: credit hours and square footage. This legislation would remove the square footage provision and base operating grants would be allocated only based on credit hours.
Cook County Pensions (SB 1584): Says that if a disabled Cook County “Tier Two” pension benefit member runs out of disability credit and still cannot return to work, they are eligible to continue to receive the benefit. This would make the practice consistent with the treatment of “Tier One” members.
Credit Insurance Limited Licensure (SB 1758): Allows those individuals selling credit insurance to only have to obtain a limited lines license.
Department of Insurance Lien Authority (SB 1730): Gives the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI) lien authority over real and personal property of an insurance company for failure to pay an assessed tax or penalty. This gives DOI with another way to recover these monies, as opposed to waiting to go to court, in which case the assessed person or company could have spent down the funds such that nothing is available by the time the court rules. In a lien situation, when the property is sold, holders of the liens get paid before the owner of the property receives the remaining funds from the sale.
Errors by tax collectors (SB 1737): Requires that if a county collector sends a separate bill for the arrearages of taxes due as a result of an administrative error on the part of the county, the bill may be due no sooner than 30 days after the due date for the next installment of taxes.
Golf Cart and ATV Highway Crossing (SB 1530): Communities may permit a person operating a non-highway vehicle, such as a golf cart or an all-terrain vehicle, to cross a State highway at an intersection of the highway with another public street, road or highway. This was requested by a community that has a highway as the major street through the town and wants to be able to allow persons to cross the highway.
Home Repairs (SB 1539): Clarifies a state law that was originally designed to protect homeowners from predatory “storm chaser” contractors who come in following a natural disasters, perform shoddy repairs and then disappear. A definition in the law applied the provisions of the act to any instance in which more than one home was damaged, which resulted in the act being applied much more broadly than intended. This changes the law to apply to instances where three or more homes are damaged.
Law Enforcement Officer Definition (SB 1748): Includes court security officers in the definition of the term “law enforcement officer.” Law enforcement officers get compensation if they are killed in the line of duty, this will now extend to court security officers.
Loan Program Creation (SB 1498): Changes language in the Illinois Finance Authority Act, stipulating that the Authority “may” (currently, “shall”) administer an Emerald Ash Borer Revolving Loan Program, and a Farm Debt Relief Program. Neither program is currently active, so the language change will help clear up recurring audit findings.
Officer Suicides (SB 1653): Would allow a suicide of a law enforcement to be considered a duty injury when a mental health professional establishes that the injury was a result of the officer’s active duty service.
Optometric Insurance (SB 1547): Vision care insurance companies cannot require an optometrist or ophthalmologist to provide services to policy holders at a fee set by the insurer unless the services are “covered services” under the policyholder agreement.
Pertussis Vaccine (SB 1623): Requires parents of newborn babies in a neonatal intensive care unit to be offered information about the importance of parents, guardians, and immediate family members being immunized against pertussis (whooping cough) to minimize the chances that the disease will be communicated to the newborn child.
Risk-Based Capital (SB 1729): Extends Risk-Based Capital trend test reporting requirements to insurance plans provided by Fraternal Benefit Societies.
Roth IRA (SB 1534): Allows for state employees in the deferred compensation plan to also participate in Roth IRA plans. Additionally, instructs the Department of Central Management Services and local governments to amend their plans to allow designated Roth IRA contributions and in-plan rollovers to designated Roth accounts.
Savings and Loan Act (SB 1778): Repeals the state’s old Savings and Loan Act. Only one savings and loan remains in the state and that institution is in the processing of converting to a savings bank.
Sexual Evaluator (SB 1322): Allows a qualified evaluator to conduct the examination of a person alleged to be sexually dangerous. Current law requires the examination to be conducted by a psychiatrist. This bill would instead allow any reputable licensed physician, psychologist, or other licensed professional who specializes in the evaluation of sex offenders.
Veterans Probation Program (SB 1497): Clarifies that eligibility for a Veterans and Servicemembers Court program or a mental health court program (probationary programs) is limited to only those defendants whose crime is eligible for probation. Any defendant who is ineligible for probation is not eligible for a Veterans and Servicemembers Court program or a mental health court program.
Veterans Remembrance Day (SB 1703): Adds October 7 to the list of commemorative holidays recognized by Illinois public schools for an Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Remembrance Day. This legislation is a result of a class project from a school in the metro-east area, in which the classroom was given an assignment to come up with an idea for legislation.
Waste of Meat (SB1620): Makes it illegal to waste or destroy usable meat from game animals. This was introduced in response to cases where hunting outfitters have removed the heads from deer carcasses for their clients and then dumped the remaining carcass.
Water Reclamation District (SB 1691): Allows the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to extend its territory in order to take in an addition to the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington.
Resolutions adopted by the Senate include:
Ash Borer Plans (SR 83): Urges all municipalities to reevaluate their Emerald Ash Borer management plan in light of findings from the Society of Municipal Arborists. Also requires the Illinois Department of Agriculture to include on its Web site, information about Ash Borer management and the financial and environmental benefits.
Coal-Fired Steamship (SR 98): Urges the administrator of the United States EPA to deny the Lake Michigan Car Ferry’s permit application for the S.S. Badger, the nation’s last remaining coal-fired steamship.
Illinois Reads (SR 135): Supports the Illinois Reads program and urges the citizens of the state to become involved as Illinois Reads Ambassadors to support the Illinois Reads Council’s efforts to promote literacy.
School Mandate Waivers (SJR 25): Annual “mandate waiver” measure. Local school districts submitted a total of 91 mandate waiver applications during the spring 2013 cycle. Of these requests, two were approved by the State Board of Education, 14 were returned or withdrawn and 75 were submitted to the General Assembly for consideration. SJR 25 denies seven of the waivers requested by school districts.