Senate Week in Review: April 8-12, 2019

A Senate committee advanced a controversial graduated income tax plan during the week, while the full Senate passed a number of bills to the House ranging from regulations to prevent deadly ethylene oxide leaks, to rules that would secure classrooms in the event of an armed intruder, and a bill to help ease the teacher shortage.

Graduated income tax would raise taxes on middle-income families

This week, the majority party in the Senate advanced out of committee a proposed graduated income tax that provides no protections for middle-income families and would give those lawmakers the ability to raise taxes in the future.

The measure, Senate Joint Constitutional Amendment (SJRCA) 1, would place a referendum on the 2020 General Election ballot asking voters if they support moving Illinois from a flat tax to a graduated tax structure.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, who like his Senate Republican colleagues opposes a graduated income tax, noted that the crafters of Illinois’ current constitution chose a flat tax, which the people of Illinois embraced, because the flat tax provided middle-income families better protections from politicians.

And while the measure advancing in the Senate deals with putting the question on the ballot, there is no legislation showing what future tax rates would be if it’s adopted. 

In March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his proposed rates; however, Pritzker’s rates are yet to be introduced in legislative form. Testifying before the Senate Executive Committee, when asked for a commitment the administration wouldn’t seek to raise income tax rates down the road, Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes was unable to give middle-income taxpayers any assurance that these rates would remain level in coming years.

In hopes of providing some protections for Illinois families, Senate Republican lawmakers have offered SJRCA 12 to require a two-thirds super-majority vote in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly to increase any tax or fee. Currently, legislators only need a simple majority to pass a tax increase or to implement a new tax.

Despite having declared “let the people vote” on the graduated income tax, when asked during a press conference this week if he would support the Senate Republican’s amendment to protect middle-income families from future tax increases, Gov. Pritzker said “…the future is unknown, and so you want to make sure they have the options are available in this constitution.”

Senate Republicans are also calling on the Administration to let the people have their voice heard on other important issues, such as term limits, pension reform and fair maps.  

Improving school safety

The Senate passed legislation during the week aimed at letting Illinois schools utilize an affordable and easy-to-use option for locking classrooms to protect students in case of an intruder or other threat to students’ safety.

Senate Bill 1371 allows school districts to use door locking mechanisms that attach to the door and are lockable and unlockable from the inside of the classroom without a key. The mechanisms must be unlockable from the outside by a key or tool, and police and fire departments would be informed of the locations of the locks.

The legislation offers a way for teachers and students to lock their classroom securely from the inside in the event of an emergency.

Current regulations prevent schools from investing in such locking mechanisms. The legislation’s sponsor, State Sen. Chapin Rose, noted that his legislation corrects this “ridiculous” policy while increasing student and teacher safety.

This legislation was a suggestion of Rose’s constituent Tuscola School Superintendent Mike Smith. It’s a good example of what can be accomplished when concerned citizens actively participate in the legislative process.

Addressing teacher shortage

Legislation aimed at helping to relieve the current teacher shortage also passed out of the Senate during the week.

Senate Bill 1809, sponsored by State Sen. Don DeWitte aims to help students enter the teaching field, by expanding the eligibility of MAP grant recipients to include students who have already received bachelor degrees or have 135 credit hours, but are seeking to earn their teaching certificate through an educator preparation program.

The bill also requires that the recipients must teach in Illinois for three out of the next five years, and states that they can only be eligible to receive the grant for one academic year.

Senate Bill 1809 passed with a 56-1 vote and now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Worker-protection legislation passes

The Illinois Attorney General’s office may soon have a dedicated team of lawyers working to combat wage theft and other unsafe conditions for employees.

Senate Bill 161, which passed the Senate unanimously on April 11, establishes the Worker Protection Unit and the Worker Protection Unit Task Force within the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. These new additions would be focused on ensuring that employees are properly paid and have safe workplaces. The ultimate goal is to eliminate unfair competition from businesses that aren’t following the rules.

The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. John Curran, was an initiative of Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who testified in committee on behalf of the proposal. The bill is now headed to the House for a vote in that chamber.

Exempting school lunches from sales tax

Legislation to exempt school lunches also cleared the Senate during the week. Under current law, sales tax is only exempt if the school itself provides meals to the students. If a school has outside businesses provide food directly to students, however, those sales are subject to sales tax.

Under Senate Bill 1755, the lunches from outside providers would also be exempted from sales tax. The goal is to put schools on a more even ground, even if some school don’t have the ability provide meals to students.

Targeting Sterigenics crisis

Members of the Senate unanimously passed legislation during the week that would protect Illinois residents, like those Willowbrook residents impacted by Sterigenics, from the hidden dangers of ethylene oxide.

Senate Bill 1854 prohibits any facilities from having any fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide six months after it takes effect. The IEPA will be required to study ethylene oxide levels throughout the state to set a baseline for the levels.

In addition, it would subject facilities to stack testing, which tests emissions at all release points at least once per year. The facilities would also be subject to ambient air testing, at random, four times per year. Any facility that emits Ethylene oxide at a level higher than standards set in the federal Clean Air Act or by the IEPA would be required to immediately cease operations until sufficient changes are made to reduce the emissions below both federal and state standards.

Senate Bill 1852 also cleared the Senate during the week. The legislation states that the case of an ethylene oxide leak, facilities are required to notify local government officials and affected property owners within 2500 feet of the leak.