Senate Week in Review: Special End of Session Edition

The Illinois General Assembly adjourned for the summer on June 2, two days after the regularly scheduled adjournment, after addressing a number of high-profile issues.

Senate Republicans say NO to pay hike

Senate Republicans rejected a budget that included a pay hike for legislators in the final days of the spring legislative session. Late on the night of May 31, Senators were surprised to find a $1,600-per-year salary increase in the budget presented to them.

The $39.9 billion budget, which includes a 2.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to legislators’ base salary, was considered initially in the Senate on May 31 just before the clock struck midnight. State Sen. Dale Righter was the first to point out that the previously agreed to COLA freeze was missing from the legislation.

In Illinois, COLA increases for legislators are automatic in state law unless the legislature takes action to block them. Blocking these pay increases has become a routine practice and, for a decade, budget legislation has included language to freeze salaries.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Righter said, “Don’t try to slip it through in the last hours of session, because that’s what people resent.”

Freeze language was added to legislation that the Senate voted to send over to the House; however, the House sponsor filed a motion to reject the freeze, and the bill was never called for a vote.

Despite optimism that a bipartisan state budget was within reach, without language to freeze this pay hike for legislators, all 19 members of the Senate Republican caucus ultimately voted “no” on the budget proposal.

Recreational marijuana legalization and medical expansion pass the General Assembly

In the final days of the spring legislative session, lawmakers approved controversial legislation legalizing adult use of recreational marijuana, and expanding the state’s medical marijuana program.

House Bill 1438 allows for the adult use of recreational marijuana. The bill makes it legal to possess up to 30 gram of cannabis; however, possession above that limit remains a class 4 felony.

Opponents note that marijuana remains illegal at the Federal level, even though House Bill 1438 legalizes the adult recreational use of cannabis at the state level, which sends the wrong message to young people. Opponents say lawmakers are rushing to legalize recreational use, when more time is needed to analyze the social impacts of legalized marijuana, as seen in other states. They question whether tax revenues from the program will offset higher costs of resulting social problems that will place additional burdens on taxpayer dollars.

Another measure, Senate Bill 2023, expands the list of qualifying medical conditions in the medical cannabis program to include ulcerative colitis, autism, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, osteoarthritis, anorexia nervosa, Ehlers-Danios Syndrome, Neuro-Bechet’s Autoimmune Disease, neuropathy, polycystic kidney disease, and superior canal dehiscence syndrome.

Controversial abortion expansion heads to Governor’s desk

A controversial measure to expand legal abortion in Illinois is on its way to the Governor’s desk. Senate Bill 25, which critics say goes much further than simply keeping abortion legal in Illinois, passed the Senate on May 31.

Proponents of the measure framed it as necessary to protect legal abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade were to be overturned at the federal level. However, as opponents pointed out, the measure went far beyond this simple mission, massively expanding what would be allowed in Illinois.

Among the provisions of concern was one that would establish abortion as a “fundamental right” in Illinois. A fundamental right, which in this case would be created by statute instead of being part of the state’s constitution, could supersede any statute on the books and could overturn any restrictions currently in place for abortions including parental notification for a minor girl seeking an abortion, late-term abortions, and sex-selective abortions.

Opponents also pointed out that Senate Bill 25 did not need to become law in Illinois to protect abortion rights. Under House Bill 40, which was signed into law in 2017, abortions would remain legal in Illinois even if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

The legislation passed the Senate on a partisan roll call and now heads to the Governor’s desk to be signed.

Sexual Harassment Prevention and Ethics Legislation Advances

Also during the week, the Senate approved an omnibus bill addressing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, protecting hotel and casino employees from sexual harassment by guests, and updating government ethics laws.

All employers in the state will now be required to provide sexual harassment prevention training to their employees, with enhanced training required for those working in restaurants and bars. Hotels and casinos will be required to have anti-sexual harassment policies in place and to provide employees with a safety or notification devices.

Another provision prohibits a union from having the same union representative representing both the victim and the alleged perpetrator in a sexual harassment case. Victims of gender violence will be allowed to take unpaid leave to seek medical help, legal assistance, counseling, safety planning or other assistance.

The legislation also makes a number of changes to update sexual harassment prevention and ethics laws regarding public officials, and for those who interact with the legislature.

Beginning in 2020, State Officials, state employees and lobbyists will be required to take sexual harassment and unlawful discrimination prevention training annually.

For both the Executive Inspectors General and the Legislative Inspector General, the time frame for filing a complaint with the appropriate Ethics Commission will be 12 months after the IG’s receipt of the allegation of the violation. The bill creates a Complainants Bill of Rights for persons who are subjected to discrimination, harassment, or sexual harassment, and spells out a complainant’s rights in the case.

Other governmental units are required to adopt an ordinance amending their sexual harassment policies to provide for a mechanism for reporting and independent review of allegations of sexual harassment made against elected government officials.

The bill also clarifies which offices file statements of economic interest with the Secretary of State and which offices file with the County Clerks.

Finger-printing, fee increases for FOID stall out

A measure decried by Second Amendment advocates as an unnecessary infringement on privacy rights stalled out during the last week of the spring legislative session. Senate Bill 1966, a so-called “fix the FOID” bill, would have required fingerprinting to apply for a Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card and increased fees.

New applications and renewal fees for a FOID card would have increased from $10 to $20 under the controversial measure. Applicants would also have been required to pay costs for fingerprinting and processing a background check – an extra expense on top of the application fee.

Additionally, FOID cards would have been valid for only five years instead of the current ten, meaning the increased fees would be twice as often.

Facing opposition, the measure failed to move during the spring legislative session.

Gaming expansion clears the General Assembly

A sweeping expansion of gaming in Illinois cleared the Illinois General Assembly in the final hours of the spring legislative session. If signed by the Governor, the measure will allow for six new casinos and legal sports wagering in Illinois.

Senate Bill 690 authorizes casinos for Rockford, Chicago, Walkers Bluff, Danville, Waukegan, and the south suburbs.

The measure would also allow for sports wagering at casinos, racetracks, lottery and online. Fantasy sports sites, like FanDuel and DraftKings, will be able to partner with a casino, racetrack, or other sports venue that offers a sports book, and those wishing to engage in sports betting would then physically enter a casino to register to place and place deposits. The in-person deposits would allow them to place bets through the online services.

Additionally, the bill allows a sixth terminal at video gaming establishments other than truck stops where ten terminals will be allowed. Terminals will be taxed at 33 percent of revenue which will increase to 34 percent in the second year.

Brian Stewart

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