The Illinois Legislature adjourned its 2011 regular session on schedule Tuesday. Below are some of the highlights of the session.
• Education reform: This major reform package will award teacher tenure based on proven success in the classroom rather than just longevity, and make other changes. Teachers unions, normally hesitant, help craft the plan, with an eye on other states that have been dismantling union rights this year. Quinn supports the changes but said they will require additional school funding to complete the education reform process. The Aurora Chamber supported this effort.
The Aurora Chamber thanks Reps. Tom Cross, Linda Chapa LaVia, Darlene Senger, Kay Hatcher and others for their leadership of this reform package in the House.
• Science Magnet School: Senate Bill 621 allows the partnership school to be operated jointly by the West Aurora, East Aurora, Indian Prairie and Oswego school districts with support from Aurora University. The selective enrollment school will be made up of the same number of students from each school district. Students will be selected based on their academic proficiency in science and mathematics, using standards established by the partnership school and approved by the districts’ school boards. The Aurora Chamber supported this effort.
“This is an important step to improving student achievement and increasing their interest in school,” Senator Linda Holmes said. “We owe it to our students to ensure that they aren’t being shortchanged during these tough economic times. It’s essential that we give them the tools needed to become future leaders in Illinois.”
The Aurora Chamber congratulates Senator Holmes and thanks her for her sponsorship and leadership on this bill. Also, the Chamber thanks Reps. Linda Chapa LaVia, Tom Cross, Darlene Senger, Kay Hatcher, Tim Schmitz and others for their leadership on this effort in the House.
• Workers Compensation Reform: After the initial bill failed in the Senate in April, a revised form (without causation included) was presented toward the end of session in the House. With a “nuclear bill” to dismantle the current workers’ compensation system left on the table — and some difficult votes at the end – the legislation was passed through the concurrence process on the last day of session. House Bill 1698 addresses a number of concerns with the current workers’ compensation system, including some of the most egregious areas of abuse. Notably the measure restricts intoxicated employees from recovering workers’ compensation benefits.
“We should not consider this a final product. It’s my hope that we will continue to monitor our workers’ compensation system, and eventually come to an understanding on causation. If we don’t have a causation standard, then it becomes virtually impossible to prevent fraud,” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno explained.
The Aurora Chamber supports workers’ compensation reform and agrees with Sen. Radogno and the Illinois Chamber that further action is necessary.
• State Budget: The Legislature passed what lawmakers claim is a full and balanced budget for the next fiscal year. Gov. Pat Quinn says the $33.2 billion spending plan falls short in education funding and wants to revisit the numbers. Illinois is still saddled with crushing debt and billions in unpaid bills despite a 67 percent income tax hike that took effect this year.
• Gaming Expansion: A bill passed in the final hours of the session Tuesday would create the biggest expansion of gambling since the state started the current casino system 20 years ago, with five new casinos and slot machines at horse racing tracks. Quinn hinted Wednesday he might alter the bill to keep a Chicago casino without the rest.
The Aurora Chamber continues to oppose this expansion as it will have a detrimental impact on the Fox Valley Region. We urge Governor Quinn to follow through on his comments. The Aurora Chamber opposed this effort.
The Aurora Chamber recognizes Senators Linda Holmes, Thomas Johnson and Chris Lauzen as well as Reps. Linda Chapa LaVia, Kay Hatcher, Tim Schmitz and Darlene Senger for their opposition of this legislation in their respective houses.
• Redistricting: Lawmakers approved new legislative and congressional district maps that will affect elections for the next decade. If Quinn signs the bills, a court challenge is likely.
• Online sales tax: Beginning July 1, Illinois will force Internet retailers to collect the state’s 6¼ percent sales tax on online purchases.
In other areas:
• Health Insurance Benefit Cooperatives: The House passed a bill that would have enabled small employers to join together to provide more affordable and stable health insurance programs. Small employers in Illinois frequently experience premium volatility and the absence of meaningful choice among health insurers. This bill It would have facilitated the creation of health care purchasing cooperatives, which have been successful alternatives for small employers (especially in the agricultural industry) in states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington. It did not get through the Senate. The Aurora Chamber supported this legislation.
The Aurora Chamber appreciates Reps. Linda Chapa LaVia and Kay Hatcher for their support of this effort.
• Minimum Wage Increase: Senator Lightford proposed raising the state’s minimum wage in a bid that eventually would boost pay for the working poor to more than $10 an hour. The plan would shift additional costs onto Illinois businesses that absorbed a 46 percent hike in corporate income taxes. It also would have given other states another argument to convince businesses to relocate to their states. Illinois’s five neighbors all have minimum wages that mirror the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. The proposal failed to pass out of the Senate. The Aurora Chamber opposed this effort.
• Pension Reform: The inability to find enough support in the House for an historic pension reform bill prompted the decision to forestall the effort until the Fall Veto Session. SB 512 would have altered benefits for current employees of the five state-funded pension systems, as well as some Cook County and Chicago non-public safety pension funds. The Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) and the downstate police and firefighter funds were not included in the bill. The Aurora Chamber supports this effort.
The Aurora Chamber appreciates Rep. Tom Cross, Darlene Senger and Tim Schmitz for their leadership in these discussions.
• Fox Valley Park District: SB 2139 would have transitioned the existing park district board consisting of six appointed trustees with four-year terms to a board of seven elected commissioners with four-year terms by providing for the appointed trustees now serving to be replaced as their terms expire by elected commissioners. While the Senate passed the legislation on a 57-01-00 vote, the proposal did not have enough support in the House. The Aurora Chamber supported this effort.
The Aurora Chamber thanks Sen. Chris Lauzen for his sponsorship of this proposal and thanks Sen. Linda Holmes and Rep. Kay Hatcher for their support.