The week before Thanksgiving, the General Assembly returned to Springfield on Wednesday and Thursday to continue discussions on legislation addressing a number of topics and issues.
This week, Veto Session continues with the legislators returning for a second week Tuesday through Thursday. Although a number of topics are expected to be discussed, many observers believe few points of interest will be acted on.
Gov. Elect Bruce Rauner has asked current elected officials to hold off on passing anything major during the session. A recent conference call with Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs staff included highlights on the following:
Minimum Wage Hike
Despite nearly three years of legislative debate and an advisory referendum placed on the ballot last month that received more than 67 percent approval from the voters, it appears unlikely that a vote increasing the minimum wage will take place during veto session. Illinois already has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation and small businesses simply cannot afford an increase of nearly 21 percent to their labor costs as our state’s economy continues to recovery from the Great Recession and our economic growth lags behind neighboring states.
Amendment #5 to SB 68 was debated late last week. Current write up calls for a staggered minimum wage increasing from $9.25 to $11 over the next three years.
Many expect this to be a January issue andduring a recent conference call, reference was made that most of the fight would take place in the House.
Manufacturers’ Purchase Credit
In August, the Illinois Manufacturers’ Purchase Credit (MPC) was subject to the automatic sunset provisions of the Illinois sales tax. The Illinois Chamber has been actively reaching out to legislators over the summer to explain how important the MPC credit is to our manufacturing members throughout the state and working to make sure that extension of the MPC is on a list of items to be considered during fall veto session. While there are no guarantees given, extension of the MPC is certainly an opportunity for members of the General Assembly to send a signal that legislators are willing to be responsive to the needs of the Illinois business community.
Premium Tax for Self-Insured Companies
Active consideration appears to be given to repeal the recently-enacted insurance premium tax (SB 3324/Public Act 98-0978) during fall veto session. The new tax imposes a 3.5 percent tax on insurance premiums paid directly by Industrial Insureds to unauthorized insurers (without the use of a Surplus Lines Broker) — in short, almost all self-insurers, including some large not-for-profits.
Prior to SB 3324, these self-insurance transactions were exempt from premium tax. Most legislators, including the bill’s sponsor, have indicated that they were not made aware of the new tax and its significant negative effect on Illinois-based businesses as the bill moved through the General Assembly. In fact, the new tax was not mentioned during House and Senate floor debates on the bill. Legislators that did not understand the full impact of SB 3324 will hopefully now have an opportunity to reconsider their vote prior to the January 1 effective date of the new tax.
Health Benefits Exchange
Advocates and coalition members for a state-based healthcare exchange are expected to meet during veto session to discuss the possibility of introducing legislation in the House to create a state-based exchange. The Senate has already passed a bill. The House could not reach consensus on the issue and it stalled.
Gov. Pat Quinn is urging the creation of a state-based exchange so Illinois does not potentially lose the Federal subsidies if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes them down next year in their ruling. Illinois currently partners with the Federal government to run its healthcare exchange. Federal law, as written, states tax credits to be given to individuals in exchanges established by the states. The Supreme Court will rule whether those tax credits are applicable to individual in exchanges run by the Federal government.
Those health insurers not participating on the exchange will have a capped assessment at the five-year average from their previous contribution to CHIP.
Legislation may also be introduced to regulate lawsuit lending in Illinois. This has been an initiative of the Illinois Chamber and others in the past and continues to be a priority to regulate an industry that seeks out plaintiffs with promising pending lawsuits and offer them “up front” cash to cover immediate living or medical expenses while they are engaged in a lawsuit and await settlement. These third-party loans are provided at exorbitant interest rates, and are then paid back to the lender from any settlement or judgment award the plaintiff may later receive.
In a real sense, the consumer lawsuit lender is a gambler who bets on the plaintiff’s case being successful. If the plaintiff recovers substantially through settlement or a damages award, the lawsuit lender wins big. But, if the plaintiff loses, the lawsuit lender recovers nothing. This fact leads lawsuit lenders to seek control over strategic decisions in litigation in order to prosecute lawsuits in their own interests, even if those interests diverge from those of the plaintiffs.
Legal reform advocates, such as the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), and consumer advocacy groups are promoting legislation that would actually protect consumers and curb lending abuses by bringing lawsuit lending into alignment with existing state law. These efforts would make consumer lawsuit lending subject to the same fair-lending laws already in force in that particular state.
Income Tax Extension
No action is expected to take place during the session.
Legislation introduced earlier this year would mandate that employers set up an automatic Individual Retirement Account for their employees, a system to be administered by the Illinois Dept. of Revenue and a newly created board led by the Illinois Treasurer.
The legislation targets small businesses with 25 or more employees and forces them to set up the accounts and to automatically deduct at least 3 percent from their employees’ paychecks. An employee would have to actively pursue “opting out” if they did not want to participate.
The Illinois and Aurora chambers are part of a coalition that opposes this proposal as it is a mandate on employers, not an option. Small businesses currently have a variety of private sector options they may choose to participate in for retirement purposes. And the money from participants would not be held in or managed by a depository institution or a trained financial professional. Instead, it would be deposited into a new government holding account to be invested potentially by state officials. The consumer losses suffered under other state administered investment programs are reason enough to oppose implementing yet another government-run investment program.
Legislation for Public Utilities
During the first week of session, HA#1 and HA#2 were recommended to be adopted to HB 3975 in House Public Utilities Committee to extend the sunset date for the implementation of modernizing and upgrading Illinois’ electrical system.