Senate Week in Review: February 18-22, 2019

Illinois’ new Governor outlined his spending plan for the coming year during the week, after signing a controversial minimum-wage measure into law.

In other action, Senate committees continued their work of hearing public debate of bills to determine if they will advance to the full Senate for a vote.

Also during the week, two environmentally-minded legislative packages, which have gained bipartisan support, would offer communities greater protections from ethylene oxide, and would help protect the primary water source for Central Illinois.

Budget Address

Governor J. B. Pritzker delivered his first Budget Address February 20 to a joint session of legislators in the House of Representatives Chamber.

The annual Budget Address is where we begin negotiations, and start the process of considering every option and hammering out the details. This year, our new Governor promised that he will work in a bipartisan manner; however, many of his early ideas, legislative actions, even this Budget Address do not reflect a spirit of compromise.

The working class deserves more than lip service. I have real concerns about some aspects of this budget proposal. New taxes plus more spending without common-sense reforms or cuts to wasteful government programs are not the best ways to prioritize working families.

A better approach would be for lawmakers to work together to make the tough decisions necessary to pass a balanced budget with structural reforms that will boost the economy and create jobs – thus increasing revenues for the state instead of simply relying on more and higher taxes.
 
Fiscal Year 2020 runs from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.

Governor signs controversial minimum wage hike

Less than a week after Democrat legislative leaders forced through a minimum wage hike, Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1 into law on February 19.  The controversial legislation was advanced by the Senate and House on party-line votes, despite economic concerns from employers and public groups.

The plan would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over six years, and to $13 per hour during the same period for those employees younger than 18.
 
Opponents of the plan noted the vast differences in the cost of living across Illinois.  They also raised concerns that the incremental increase could 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.

Greater protections from ethylene oxide

A package of legislation unveiled February 19 will address the public health crisis caused by the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook and its release of ethylene oxide into surrounding communities.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a seal order February 15 against Sterigenics, which provides sterilization techniques for medical devices.  The legislation will also ensure the proper policies and protections are in place to safeguard Willowbrook and all Illinois communities from the impact of this public health hazard. 

Senate Bill 1852 requires:

• A facility to notify all affected property owners and local governments within 2,500 feet when an ethylene oxide leak has occurred.

Senate Bill 1853 provides that:

• The IEPA shall reevaluate the current CAAPP (Clean Air Act Permit Program) permit of any facility emitting ethylene oxide, and conduct a 90-day public hearing process on such permits.

• No permit shall be renewed if the facility is in violation of any federal or state standards or current studies pertaining to ethylene oxide.

• A facility emitting ethylene oxide at levels higher than federal or state standards must cease operations until the level of emissions are reduced below the federal and state standards.

Senate Bill 1854 provides that:

• No facility shall have fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide above zero.

• Each facility is subject to regular and frequent, unannounced inspections and testing by a third party to ensure that no fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide exist.

•  Each facility is subject to fence line ambient air testing, at random, once within every 90-120 days for a duration of 24-hour samples of no less than six consecutive days.  Again, testing is done by a third party chosen by the municipality.

Protecting Mahomet Aquifer

Also during the week, a legislative package was introduced to protect the Mahomet Aquifer, the primary water source for Central Illinois.

Based on recommendations from the final report of Mahomet Aquifer Task Force, the package of bills is supported by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 2073 would create the Mahomet Aquifer Council to serve as a watchdog and to provide oversight for the Mahomet Aquifer.

Senate Bill 2071 would provide $1 million in funding for equipment for the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI) so that the organization can continue to research and study the Aquifer.  Senate Bill 2072 would provide $2.3 million in funding for ongoing PRI operations.

Senate Bill 2070 would appropriate $4 million for the utilization of helicopter-based time-domain electromagnetics technology for the purpose of mapping and studying of an area of the Aquifer known as Zone 2, where a recent leak of natural gas occurred.

Senate Bill 2074 would allow the State Treasurer to accept restitution payment from Peoples Gas, if a court finds the company liable for a recent leak of natural gas into the Aquifer.