Senate Week in Review: February 4-8, 2019

The Senate voted 39-18 during the week to advance a Democrat plan to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour – a plan that could have huge repercussions for employers across the board, including public universities, school districts, and not-for-profit organizations.

In other action, the Senate Republican Caucus hosted a press conference at the State Capitol Feb. 6 to support a resolution to place a fair maps amendment on the next statewide ballot—and urged voters to join them in demanding a more transparent, fair and nonpartisan redistricting process.

Also during the week, key initiatives were introduced to target the issue of campaign fund corruption between lobbyists and legislators, and to save taxpayer dollars with government consolidation.

Minimum wage hike would hinder business

On February 7, Senate Republicans voted against a Democrat initiative to incrementally increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next six years. Senate Republicans oppose the measure because the higher costs for public and private employers would be passed on to customers and/or taxpayers by raising prices or reducing services/products, or to employees by cutting hours, benefits or jobs.

Increasing the minimum wage will have far-reaching implications for employers across the board, including an increase in annual costs for state agencies, local school districts, human service providers and hospitals. And who will pay those costs? It will be the hard-working families of Illinois, who have told me time and time again that their top concern is the rising costs associated with government.

A better way to increase wages for working families is to create and boost economic opportunity. The more jobs created, the more people go to work. The more demand for employees and employers will increase wages to secure good employees, providing a living wage for more working families. It’s not complicated. This way increase wages through economic growth, not an unfunded government mandate.

Senate Bill 1 now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Republicans make push for fair maps amendment on ballot

With the U.S. Census and the redrawing of Illinois’ Congressional and General Assembly legislative maps fast approaching, the Senate Republican Caucus voiced their support Feb. 6 for a fair maps amendment on the upcoming statewide ballot.

The ballot initiative, which has garnered bipartisan support, would grant the control of the redistricting process to a nonpartisan, independent committee to draw the districts, rather than trusting the task to entrenched politicians.

Senate Republican lawmakers are giving the people of Illinois the opportunity to voice their support for fairer maps in Illinois by visiting http://senategop.state.il.us/ and signing the fair maps petition. A petition is also available on my legislative website at http://senatorstewart.com/.

The current redistricting system in Illinois allows one party to draw legislative boundaries in such a way as to significantly influence the partisan makeup of a district. “Gerrymandering” allows politicians to steal the election before the voters even go to the polls, and shape the direction of our state government and public policy for decades.

I stand with the people who are demanding change. We need a constitutional amendment to ease the stranglehold that a few leaders have on the process. It’s time to open the doors and air out those back rooms where politicians have forced their deals upon us … for far too long. Let’s let the people of Illinois decide.

Senate Joint Resolution-Constitutional Amendment 4 (SJR-CA 4) gives voters the opportunity to amend the Constitution to create a new, non-partisan system for drawing maps. It would establish an independent redistricting commission, increase transparency in the process and provide for public hearings to allow Illinois residents to weigh in.

Prevent campaign fund corruption between lobbyists and legislators

In an effort to target campaign fund corruption between lobbyists and state legislators, new legislation filed in the Senate aims to prohibit lobbyists with political campaign accounts from donating to members from that account. 

Under current law, there are no regulations to prevent newly registered lobbyists who have access to a campaign account from donating campaign funds to members of the Illinois General Assembly. Senate Bill 128 would specify that donations to members from campaign accounts are strictly prohibited, and will remain forbidden for two years after the individual’s lobbyist registration expires.

The legislation is a preventive and precautionary measure to prevent retired legislators-turned-lobbyists—and new lobbyists involved with a Political Action Committee (PAC)—from misusing campaign funds to benefit their lobbying career, as well as help stop the corrupt flow of campaign money in the State Capitol.

Senate Bill 128 is currently awaiting a Senate Committee assignment.

Government consolidation could help reduce property taxes

Legislation to allow the dissolution of unnecessary drainage districts passed out of the Senate’s Local Government Committee during the week, which presents a proactive and valuable opportunity to reduce the property tax burden in Illinois.

Senate Bill 90 particularly targets suburban regions of Illinois that used to be farmland, and are now residential areas and paying taxes to both the municipality and the drainage district. These circumstances are costly and duplicative for the taxpayer, as the municipality is already taking on the drainage responsibilities for those areas, rendering the drainage district unnecessary.

By allowing municipalities to dissolve drainage districts, taxpayers should see significant property tax relief and a more streamlined government.

Senate Bill 90 will now move to the Senate for consideration.