McHenry, IL… This is the final installment of a three-part report looking back on some of the high-profile issues addressed by the Illinois General Assembly during the spring legislative session, plus an update on two of the issues previously covered and local events.
In Part 1 and Part 2, I covered the $45 billion public infrastructure program, legislative pay hikes that Senate Republicans opposed, marijuana legalization, gambling expansion – including sports betting – and a new law virtually eliminating all restrictions on abortion.
Before I move to Part 3 and two additional hot button issues passing in the final hours of the spring session, I wanted to give you an update on the marijuana issue and a few comments about two recent community events.
Marijuana Legalization Update
On June 25, the Governor signed House Bill 1438 into law legalizing marijuana for adult-use. If you recall, in my Part 1 column, House Bill 1438 makes it legal to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis or marijuana; however, possession above that limit remains a class 4 felony. While there is acknowledgment that our current prohibition regarding marijuana does not work, I don’t think the measure went far enough to fully address my concerns about responsibility and accountability. Ultimately I voted no, but I was closely monitoring the negotiations, and while I was excited about the direction they were going, there were less-than-desirable changes made to the final proposal that did not address my concerns.
New Casinos and Sports Betting Update
On June 28, comprehensive gaming legislation was signed into law by the Governor. I previously reported on this issue in Part 2 of my Special End of Session reports. The new law allows for six new casinos, an increase in the number of video gaming machines and – for the first time – legal sports wagering in Illinois. Senate Bill 690 authorizes casinos for Rockford, Chicago, Walkers Bluff, Danville, Waukegan, and the south Chicago suburbs. Video gaming locations can add a sixth terminal. Truck stops will be allowed 10 terminals. The law also allows sports wagering at casinos, racetracks, Lottery and online. Tax revenue generated by gaming will be directed toward funding the $45 billion public infrastructure program, which I touched on in my Part 1 report.
We had beautiful weather June 22 for the ceremonial retirement of hundreds of U.S. Flags, as well as Service Flags and POW/MIA flags. All had become either tattered, torn, faded, or otherwise served their duty with distinction and earned the honorable retirement service hosted by the McHenry VFW and performed with the help of local Scouts.
On Friday, June 21, we had a nice turnout for my second “Conversations Untapped” get-together at Buddyz Pizzeria in McHenry. I enjoy these outings to talk about issues of concern and answer questions. We also discussed the recently-concluded legislative session. There are a number of ways to reach out to me. I have a legislative website, a new Facebook page and my district and Capitol offices are a phone call away. You can also email me directly. The contact information is at the end of this report.
The final high-profile issues to cover from the spring session are Sexual Harassment, Ethics and the Second Amendment. By the way, the Special End of Session Editions, Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be found at my legislative website: (https://senatorwilcox.com/Media/news/).
Sexual Harassment Prevention and Ethics Legislation
The final days and hours of the spring session also produced new legislation addressing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, protecting hotel and casino employees from sexual harassment by guests, and updating government ethics laws.
Under Senate Bill 75, which is under review by the Governor’s office, all employers in the state would 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 safety or notification devices.
The legislation would also make 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 would be required to take sexual harassment and unlawful discrimination prevention training annually. For both the Executive Inspectors General and the Legislative Inspector General (IG), 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 also creates a Complainant’s 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.
Second Amendment Assault Stopped…For Now
One of the more satisfying outcomes from the spring session was the growing public resistance to legislation attacking our Second Amendment rights. That opposition had an impact on Springfield.
Senate Bill 1966, the so-called “fix the FOID” bill, would have required fingerprinting of an individual who wanted to apply for a Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card. It also included increased fees. Although the measure passed the House, it never garnered enough votes in the Senate for a vote.
Proponents argued the legislation was needed to combat gun violence. However, burdening law-abiding citizens and making it harder for them to exercise a constitutionally-recognized individual right of liberty is not the way to address gun violence.
Had this proposal passed, new FOID applications and renewal fees would have increased from $10 to $20. The most controversial part of the measure would require applicants to be fingerprinted, and pay the costs for fingerprinting and processing of 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 have to be paid twice as often.
The measure, viewed by many as a direct infringement on the Second Amendment and their privacy rights, stalled out during the last week of the spring legislative session. However, I would caution you that stricter FOID regulations is not a dead issue. Don’t be surprised if the proposal reappears later this year during the fall Veto session.
In other news, be aware that on July 1, stiffer penalties will take effect as a result of Illinois’ law restricting the use of hand-held devices while driving.
“Texting While Driving” Law Goes into Effect on July 1
Passed by the General Assembly in 2018, House Bill 4846 counts first-time occurrences of driving while operating a handheld mobile device as a “moving violation.” Prior to the new law, first offenses of distracted driving would be considered a “non-moving violation.”
An operator using a hand-held device while the car is in drive could face a $75 fine. Exceptions to the rule are made for situations such as a driver using a cell phone to report an emergency, using a device in hands-free or voice-operated modes, or a driver using a communication device while parked on the shoulder of a roadway.
By the way, three moving violations in a year can result in a suspended license in Illinois.
Keep In Touch/Stay Informed
To keep in touch and stay informed, I have a new legislative Facebook page at www.facebook.com/senatorwilcox. It’s a good way to stay on top of the latest news from the 32nd District and at the State Capitol. Your calls, letters and emails are important too. My district phone number is 815/455-6330. At the Capitol, my office can be reached at 217/782-8000. You can email me at email@example.com.
I also post news and information on my legislative website at www.senatorwilcox.com. You can use the site to connect to state government agencies and resources. There’s also an extensive list of sites for veterans covering such topics as job opportunities, education and service records. Don’t forget to sign up for my free newsletter.