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 Gov. 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 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
Dozens of other measures passed by the Senate and now up for consideration in the House of Representatives are listed on my legislative Web site.