Illinois Supreme Court Strikes Down Pension Reform Law
In December of 2013, the General Assembly took a vote on a controversial pension reform bill (SB 1) that made sweeping changes to benefits for current and past state employees. The new law was promptly challenged by the unions and has spent the last year and a half in the court system. Leading up to the December 2013 vote I was vocal in my opinion that the bill was inherently unfair to retirees and also unconstitutional. When the bill came up for a vote I voted against it.

On Friday, May 8, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed a lower Circuit Court ruling on the State pension system reforms contained in SB 1 (P.A. 98-599).  The Illinois Supreme Court ruling found P.A. 98-599 unconstitutional and permanently enjoined its enforcement.  Regardless of the severability provision that linked only certain reforms, written to allow some reforms to fall and others to stand if so ruled by the Court, the opinion held that the pension annuity reduction provisions were so central to the Act that the entire Act must fall.  The Court found that if all unconstitutional provisions were stricken, then the bill would no longer reflect the intent of the General Assembly and must be void in its entirety. 

Hays Named to Gaming Working Group in Springfield
While budget working groups continue to meet regularly in Springfield to iron out a FY16 spending plan, a new working group dealing specifically with the issue of expanding the gaming industry in Illinois has also been formed. I am pleased to announce that I have been chosen to serve on this bipartisan panel. An overwhelming number of constituents from this area have expressed support for a casino in the Danville area, so I am looking forward to representing my constituents’ views on this new committee.

House Republicans Reject Piecemeal Budget Components   
An all-too-often told story played out again Wednesday in the Illinois House of Representatives: the story of a broken, backwards budgeting process intended to divide, not unite. 

The process began with Governor Rauner’s introduced Fiscal Year 2016 budget, which is meant to be a starting point for negotiations through which changes are made, with a final budget arriving back on the Governor’s desk for either approval or rejection.  The budget process is designed to ensure all priorities are considered and more important that all decisions are made in an open and transparent manner.

Wednesday, in a divisive spirit and with a complete disregard for legislative procedure, House Speaker Mike Madigan and majority party leaders short-circuited the budget process by bringing the Human Services budget directly to the House floor with little notice and no committee deliberations. This action was not genuine; it was intended to send a message. Recognizing that, I joined my colleagues in the House Republican Caucus and voted “Present.”

Immediately after that vote, 15 additional amendments were filed by majority party leaders, 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.”

IDOT Listening Tour Draws Large Crowds Statewide
This month the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), in cooperation with the Illinois Capital Development Board, is sponsoring 40 meetings in 30 days across the state to discuss and seek input on the state’s infrastructure needs. At the conclusion of the meetings, Governor Rauner will be presented with a comprehensive package of recommendations. Citizens from this area were offered two opportunities to attend a meeting and have their concerns and priorities heard. I attended both of these meetings; the first in Champaign on April 27, and then the second in Danville on May 7. We had large crowds at both events and a lot of good information was shared. Thank you to all who took the time to attend a meeting.

House Republicans Call for Benefit Certainty, Process Reform for 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.     

House Republicans pointed out that many agree that benefit levels to workers should not be changed and there are substantial savings in prospect from reforms to the workers’ compensation process.  Existing pieces of the Illinois workers’ compensation process, including the standard of causation used to reach a definitive determination of what caused a workers’ injury, can be looked at to bring these standards into line with the standard practices of most other U.S. states.  As one benefit of these changes, reforms to the process could reduce fraud and speed up the determination of cause of a workers’ injury.  This could lead to faster compensations getting paid to injured workers.

Despite limited workers’ compensation reforms passed in 2011, Illinois still has the seventh highest workers’ compensation costs in the country.  These high structural costs drive jobs to other states, including Indiana, where workers’ compensation costs are more than 50 percent less.  For every $100 in payroll an Illinois employer pays another $2.35 in workers’ compensation premiums, whereas Indiana employers pay $1.06.  For 2014, Illinois’ rates are 27 percent higher than the national median.

Area Students Visit State Capitol
It was a very busy week in Springfield, with several groups visiting their capitol. Last week I had the pleasure of talking with 8th grade students from Westville Jr. High School, We are shown here outside of the House Chamber at the Capitol.

I also got to see a display in the Capitol rotunda put together by 3 rd grade students from Judith Giacoma Elementary School in Westville. These kids were part of a statewide celebration of technical education in our schools as part of Tech Day 2015: Students for the Information Age. I enjoyed talking with both groups of students, and a great time was had by all.

Governor Rauner Speaks to Chicago City Council, Warns No Bailout
As the fiscal picture darkens for Illinois’ largest city, some advocates have held out hope that Illinois taxpayer could be persuaded to ride to the rescue with moves intended to bail out Chicago.  However, in remarks delivered to the Chicago City Council on Wednesday, May 6, Governor Rauner told Chicago’s mayor and alderman their city has many strengths.  The Governor asserted that leveraging these strengths, combined with sacrifices by stakeholders, will lead to city-state cooperation that offers the best hope of achieving financial recovery. 

“Compromise,” the Governor urged.  “Accept things we might normally oppose.  That’s going to be required of all of us.”  Chicago issues in which State actions are possible include pension reform, a possible Chicago-based casino, school reform, and changes to labor-management law.  Bond rating agencies agree that the quality of Chicago’s debt is plunging, and just yesterday Moody’s downgraded the Chicago bond rating to” junk bond” status.

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