The General Assembly arrived at a mid-point in the legislative session with the deadline for the Senate and House to act on bills that originated in their respective chambers. Senate lawmakers will now spend much of the remainder of the session reviewing bills that have already been passed by the House, while the Illinois House will concentrate on Senate measures.
The week also saw the approval of two Constitutional amendments, which means they will go on the November ballot for voter consideration.
A controversial and dramatic rewrite of the state’s system of funding schools is also under consideration, although what began as a bipartisan effort to address inequities in the state’s School Aid Formula has morphed into a partisan plan that could increase existing inequities in funding and force taxpayers statewide to subsidize pension payments for Chicago teachers.
Disaster Relief, Heroin Trafficking and More
Dozens of other bills, covering almost every imaginable issue, were debated and voted on by both chambers. Among the highlights were proposals that would help communities with disaster relief, crack down on heroin trafficking, increase penalties for a new “designer drug,” and a measure that says drivers would no longer have to surrender their driver’s licenses as bail when ticketed for a traffic offense.
Victims’ Rights Amendment
The Illinois Senate unanimously lent its support April 10 to a Constitutional Amendment that would clarify crime victims’ rights.
Known as “Marsy’s Law,” House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 1 (HJRCA 1) explicitly outlines crime victims’ rights, stating they are entitled to fairness, respect, information about and notification of court proceedings, rulings and release information, restitution, safety, and can offer impact statements when relevant.
Voting Rights Amendment
A second amendment seeks to preserve voting rights in Illinois. House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 52 (HJRCA 52) clarifies that "no person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income."
School Bill Subsidizes Chicago Pensions
The proposed revision of the state’s school aid formula is contained in SB 16. A detailed analysis of the impact the legislation would have on individual school districts in downstate and suburban areas has been hampered by a lack of data and the complexity of the changes being proposed.
Unequal Treatment of the Poor
Details have also emerged in recent days showing that an existing disparity in the way students in poverty are treated across the state would actually be greater under SB 16 than under the current system.
Currently, state funding for a student living in poverty can range from $355 to $2,994 per student by school district. The proposal would actually widen that gap, granting just $15 for students living in poverty in some districts and awarding more than $5,000 for students in other districts.
Legislation to aid in disaster recovery efforts sponsored by a bi-partisan group of legislators, including State Senators Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), Sue Rezin (R-Morris), Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) and Sam McCann (R-Carlinville), passed the Illinois Senate this week. Senate Bill 231 allows the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to provide special grants to units of local government, school districts, and community colleges following natural disasters like the tornadoes that tore through central Illinois in November of 2013.
Information on all bills that passed the Senate can be found on the “Senate Action” page of the Senate Republican website.