Gambling expansion in the Senate and pension reform in the House of Representatives were the headliners as the final scheduled month of the 2013 regular legislative session got under way during the first week of May.
Senators also began the process of conducting committee reviews of legislation sent from the House. A handful of other measures were also sent from the Senate to the House for consideration.
The Senate kicked things off early in the week with a “subject matter only” hearing before the Senate’s Executive Committee April 30 on pension reform. Senators were allowed to voice their proposals; however, the committee did not advance any specific measure.
On May 1, the Executive Committee did advance a major expansion of gambling in Illinois, including a Chicago-based casino. Senate Bill 1739 was sent to the Senate floor, where it was approved by a 32-20 vote then sent to the House on a 32-20 vote. I voted against Senate Bill 1739.
In addition to a Chicago-based casino that would be allowed up to 4,000 gambling positions, Senate Bill 1739 allows for four new riverboats or casinos, slot machines at Illinois racetracks, and a major increase in the number of gambling positions allowed at existing riverboats. The four new riverboats or casinos would be in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and Southern Cook County.
On May 2, the House approved and sent back to the Senate a heavily amended Senate Bill 1, which replaced all of the bill’s original language with a pension reform proposal crafted by the House Speaker that incorporates a number of ideas floated by Republicans and Democrats over the past several months.
The House-approved measure promises savings of about $150 billion over 30 years, including about $2 billion by 2015. The savings come largely from reducing retired teachers’ and other employees’ pension cost-of-living increases.
The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate. The changes were grafted onto a bill sponsored by the Senate President, who has passionately argued that unilateral cuts in benefits cannot survive a constitutional challenge.
Key changes contained in Senate Bill 1, as approved by the House, include:
Higher retirement age for employees currently younger than 45;
Reduced cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) on pension benefits;
COLAs delayed until either age 67 or five years after retirement, whichever comes first.
A cap on the salary that is eligible for pensions. The cap would be $109,971 and would be increased at half the rate of inflation each year.
Employees would be required to pay an extra 2% of their salaries into the pension fund.
To guarantee funding, the various pension systems could sue the state to enforce payment.
In other action, Senate committees reviewed House proposals and lawmakers worked on the Senate floor to send measures to the House for debate there, including:
Passed by the Senate
Puppy “Lemon Law” (SB 1639): Allows a customer to receive monetary compensation if a veterinarian finds that a diseased dog or cat was sold by a pet shop. Opponents raised concerns that the measure applied only to pet shops and not other sellers of animals, as pet shops only account for 14% of dogs and cats sold in Illinois.
Auto Insurance (SB 1898): Increases the automobile insurance minimums to $25,000 for death/injury of one person, $50,000 for death/injury for two or more persons and $20,000 for damage to property. Effective Jan. 1, 2015.
Smoke Free Universities (SB 2202): Prohibits smoking on the campuses of all state-supported institutions of higher education, beginning July 1, 2014. Smoking would not be prohibited in a vehicle. Opponents have argued that the measure is an overreach and would even apply to parking lots where tailgate parties take place before university football games.
Trooper Memorial Rest Stop (HJR 12): Names the northbound and southbound Coalfield rest stops located at mile post 64 on Interstate 55 as the “Trooper Kyle Deatherage Memorial Rest Stop.” District 18 State Trooper Deatherage was killed in the line of duty in 2012.
Approved by Senate committees
Primary Voting for 17 Year Olds (HB 226): Allows a 17-year-old who will be 18 by the general election to vote in the primary election.
Crimes Against Police Alerts (HB 2893): Creates an alert system called the “Crimes Against Police Officers Advisory” to warn State Police and local law enforcement that an individual may be targeting officers.
No Indoor Tanning for Minors (HB 188): Prohibits a tanning facility from permitting anyone younger than 18 to use tanning equipment that emits ultraviolet (UV) radiations. Exempts spray-on, mist-on or sunless tans.
Sex Education (HB 2675): Requires all school districts that provide sex education courses to use a “comprehensive” sex education curriculum. School districts have the option to not offer sex education, but if they do, it must be “comprehensive.”
Unlimited Assets (HB 2262): Eliminates the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program’s asset limit, which is currently $3,000 (for a family of two) in non-exempt assets. An individual’s home, one personal vehicle, household furnishings and clothing are already excluded from the $3,000 cap.