A bipartisan committee began the task of examining how the state’s school-aid formula has been transformed over the past decade, focusing on how to return the program to its original intent.
Also during the week, two measures affecting Illinois motorists were signed into law. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the speed limit on all interstates and toll highways will increase to 70 miles per hour (mph), and Illinois residents will no longer be allowed to talk on cell phones when they are behind the wheel, unless using hands-free technology.
Bipartisan Committee tackles education formula
The special bipartisan Senate Advisory Committee on Education Funding met in Springfield Aug. 19 to hear testimony from the Illinois State Board of Education and others. The Committee was prompted by a Senate Republican study of school funding in Illinois (http://www.senategop.state.il.us/Portals/0/Docs/Cost-Shift-FINAL.pdf) that first drew attention to shifts in school-aid funding and called into question school financing decisions that have been made largely out of the public eye. Upon further review, Senate Republicans found these decisions appear to steer a disproportionate amount of general state education dollars to Chicago public schools.
The state’s general state-aid formula was created as a “resource equalizer” to assure that all school districts receive a core foundation of financial support from the state. However, over the past decade core education funding has flat-lined, while specialized formulas for property tax and poverty grants have skyrocketed. As a result, more and more state dollars have been directed to schools in Chicago and away from downstate and suburban school districts with little or no debate among public policy makers.
One component of general state aid – property tax adjustments – saw a 1,267% increase from Fiscal Year 2000 to Fiscal Year 2012. Another component – poverty grants – increased by more than 400%. In contrast, general foundation grants actually fell by 6% during the same period.
One goal of the Committee will be to determine if the funding shifts have a fact-based foundation in education, or if they instead represent political decisions to steer funding to specific areas of the state.
Much of the first committee meeting was given over to a presentation by the State Board of Education, which confirmed the trends outlined in the GOP report.
One contentious issue is likely to be the formula used by the state to allocate poverty grants to school districts. Rather than use the federal government’s clear-cut income guidelines to define children in poverty, Illinois has elected to define poverty by using a child’s eligibility for other assistance programs. Additionally, the state follows a formula that heavily weights the amount of aid a school district receives based on the percentage of students in poverty.
This weighting means that some districts receive nearly $3,000 for each child defined as poor, while other school districts may receive only $355. Critics of the program acknowledge that while school districts with a high percentage of poverty students may need more money to educate those students, the allocation formula appears arbitrary and based on political, rather than educational, considerations.
New law sets speed limit at 70 mph in 2014
Beginning Jan. 1, Illinois’ speed limit will be in line with most of the rest of the country, under a new law I cosponsored.
Signed Aug. 19 by Gov. Pat Quinn, Senate Bill 2356 increases the maximum speed limit to 70 miles per hour (mph) on all interstates and toll highways.
Sponsored by lawmakers from both political parties who represent all regions of our state, the new law updates speed limits to reflect the reality of current driving speeds in Illinois and other states. Interstates were designed for a higher rate of speed, and currently, there are 34 states with speed limits of 70 mph or higher. All of Illinois’ neighboring states, except Wisconsin, have speed limits of 70 mph. Fifteen states have speed limits of 75 mph and one state has a speed limit of 85 mph.
At the request of the Illinois State Police, Senate Bill 2356 provides public safety enhancements in the form of a lowered threshold upon which the penalty for speeding is increased from a petty offense to a misdemeanor. Speeding in excess of 26 miles per hour but less than 35 mph (currently 31-40 mph) will be a Class B misdemeanor. Speeding in excess of 35 mph (currently 40 mph) will be a Class A misdemeanor.
Senate Bill 2356 also allows Cook County, the collar counties, Madison County and St. Clair County to opt out of the higher speed limit via ordinance.
The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2014.
Use of cell phones while driving ban to take effect Jan. 1
Illinois drivers will no longer be allowed to talk on cell phones while driving, unless using hands-free technology, under a new law that takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014. Illinois is one of about a dozen states with similar laws banning the use of cell phones while driving, and already has a prohibition in place for texting and driving.
Proponents say the new law will cut down on distracted driving, making Illinois roads safer. Opponents, however, argue that it should be up to drivers to exercise proper safety precautions instead of leaving this burden to the police who will enforce this new law. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found little difference between safety of drivers who use hand-held cell phones and those who use hands-free devices.
Devices that are still allowed include Bluetooth headsets, speaker phone systems built into car stereos, and mounted cell phone holsters that allow a driver to use the speaker function on their phone without holding it. Additionally, drivers will still be legally allowed to make calls on hand-held phones in emergency situations.
Violators of the law will be fined $75 for a first offense. Fines of as much as $150 could be issued for repeat offenses, and offenders could face a moving violation on their driving record.
New law establishes protections for Illinois’ homeless
A new law signed Aug. 22 makes Illinois one of the first states in the nation to enact a Bill of Rights for the homeless.
Senate Bill 1210 establishes that a person’s rights, privileges or access to public services cannot be denied or altered solely because of his or her homeless status. It protects an individual’s right to maintain gainful employment, access emergency medical care; protects their right to the privacy of personal property, records and information; and protects their right to vote on the same basis as other people. If someone believes that their rights have been violated because of their homeless status, Senate Bill 1210 allows that person to take legal action and pursue damages.
Previously, Rhode Island was the only state in the nation with a law granting legal protections for homeless.
New laws I sponsored
Gov. Pat Quinn faces an end-of-August deadline for acting on most measures approved by the General Assembly during the spring legislative session. I am the sponsor or cosponsor of several laws recently signed by the Governor:
MS Task Force (SB 1640): Creates a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Task Force in the Illinois Department of Public Health to develop strategies to identify and address unmet needs and provide greater access to various treatments and other therapeutic options available.
State Checks (HB 2363): Allows any state-issued check that is more than five years from the issuance, but no more than 10 years, to be replaced if certain conditions are met. Also removes a requirement that home addresses of state employees be listed on the Comptroller’s state employee list.
Auto Insurance (SB 1940): Beginning with the 2016 registration year, requires that mandatory insurance information must be provided before any vehicle registration can be issued. Any person that knowingly submits false insurance information will face charges of a Class C misdemeanor. Also requires that the remittance agents to turn this information over to the Secretary of State or face the loss or revocation of their licenses.
Crowds on Railroad Tracks (HB 3255): Prohibits having a parade on roadways without receiving a permit from the local municipality. If permits are not required by the municipality, then permission is required from the principle law enforcement officer of the community. The municipality or principal law enforcement officer may prohibit any portion of the route that requires crossing active railroad tracks. This stems from an incident in 2012 where four veterans were killed and 16 other people were injured when a train slammed into the parade float that was carrying them to a banquet to honor them in West Texas.
Concrete Mixers (HB 2361): Increases the weight limits for 3-axle truck mixers, registered as a Special Hauling Vehicle, and used exclusively for the mixing and transportation of concrete. Further increases the weight limit for 3-axle combination sewer cleaning jetting vacuum trucks registered as Special Hauling vehicles. Also removes provisions limiting the weight limits to model years prior to 2015.
Residential Mortgages (SB 1667): Allows for a person who is currently exempt from licensing as a residential mortgage lender to apply for registration exemptions on the behalf of employees who act as mortgage loan originators. This is an initiative of State Farm to allow independent agents of the company to be able to act as Mortgage Loan Originators. As it stands now independent agents with State Farm must license themselves as an Individual Mortgage Loan Originators and as a residential mortgage company. This will allow independent agents to act as Mortgage Loan Originators though State Farm.