End of Session Wrap-Up Report from Senator Craig Wilcox

Democrats pass reckless budget
In what’s becoming commonplace in the Illinois General Assembly, this week major pieces of legislation were rushed through in the dead of night in an effort to bypass transparency. One such measure was the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, which was filed and voted on within hours, all while the public was asleep.

In the late hours of May 31, Democrats filed a more-than-3,000-page budget and voted on it a few minutes later in the House of Representatives. An hour later, it was brought over to the Senate, where it was taken up and passed in the early morning hours of June 1.

While details of the partisan plan are still being reviewed, there are several glaring issues within the budget, currently on the Governor’s desk.

First, it includes $666 million in tax hikes on businesses. These tax increases include the elimination of programs designed directly to grow jobs. With unemployment still high and many businesses struggling to get back to some type of normal, more jobs are desperately needed. Unfortunately, these tax hikes will likely slow job growth and hurt economic recovery efforts. The budget also includes a pay-raise for lawmakers, despite strenuous calls from Senate Republicans to block any increase to legislator salaries.

Despite a $10 billion to $12 billion deficit in the unemployment trust fund, the source of unemployment checks that was so critical to so many during the pandemic, the Democrats only appropriated $100 million to the fund, amounting to little more than an interest payment.

The budget also failed to properly fund services for persons with developmental disabilities. Funding for those programs is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit and consent decree. The Democrats’ budget only provides the estimated amount needed for half of a year.

There were some positive notes, however. Thanks to pushback from Senate Republicans, funding for local governments and mass transit districts was left intact. The budget also fully funds the evidence-based formula for K-12 schools, ignoring Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s original proposed plan to underfund schools.

Gerrymandered district map passed
Less than 24 hours after it was introduced, the bill creating new Illinois House and Senate districts was passed by the Senate and House last Friday. After promising a transparent and inclusive process, ultimately the map was drawn in a back room behind a locked door where a select group of politicians from the majority party met to select which voters they would represent. Just like the final draft of the budget, there was no transparency in this process whatsoever. It was done solely for partisan gain using unreliable population estimates rather than concrete U.S. Census data.

When Governor Pritzker was gubernatorial candidate Pritzker, he repeatedly promised to veto maps drawn by politicians or their staffs. We are watching closely to see if the Governor keeps that pledge, or if that promise was nothing more than empty words used to gain votes.

General Assembly in session on Memorial Day; pays tribute to those lost in service to country

It is not unusual for the Senate and House to be in session on Memorial Day. This year we began our day on Monday, May 31 with a tribute ceremony outside of the Springfield Capitol. We paid tribute to members of the military who gave their last full measure in service to our country while protecting our freedoms. We also honored our Gold Star Families, who shared their sons and daughters with a grateful nation and state.

The featured speaker this year was Gold Star Mother Vonda Rodgers, whose son Sgt. Josh Rodgers was killed during his third deployment in Afghanistan on April 27, 2017. Her words were very moving, and her family has my most sincere condolences and profound gratitude for his selfless service.

Later that day I spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of honoring our fallen heroes on Memorial Day, and how in our area the Field of Honor honors our fallen heroes since 9/11. Click here to listen to my floor speech.

Senate Republicans help to strengthen ethics laws, still want more reform
On May 31, the Illinois General Assembly approved a package of reforms that address some of Illinois’ most glaring ethical problems.

Senate Republicans say the package that was sent to the Governor will hold elected officials to a higher ethical standard by empowering the Legislative Inspector General (LIG) to independently investigate allegations of political corruption without first having to obtain permission to investigate from a panel of sitting lawmakers.

The package also:

  • Reforms and strengthens the statement of economic interest disclosures by adding new disclosure requirements for legislators and their spouses, including disclosure of debts;
  • Requires consultants to register and for lobbyists to disclose any contractual relationship with a consultant for the purpose of influencing the legislature; and
  • Prohibits fundraisers across Illinois on session days or the day before or after a session day.Despite the good measures found in the proposal, Senate Republicans noted that this is just the first step to rooting out corruption and they will continue to advocate for giving the Attorney General powers to use a statewide grand jury to investigate, indict, and prosecute public corruption crimes so that Illinois doesn’t have to wait on the federal government to come in.

 

Additionally, Republicans continue to advocate for a stronger legislator-to-lobbyist revolving door prohibition so that sitting legislators cannot resign and become a lobbyist the next day.

The reform package is found in Senate Bill 539, which has been sent to the Governor to sign.

Senate leaves Springfield without taking up controversial Prisoner Review Board appointments
After weeks of requests by members of the Senate Republican Caucus, the Senate Executive Appointments Committee failed to take up the 10 pending Pritzker appointees to the Prisoner Review Board, who are actively serving and making controversial parole decisions.

Between March 2019 and April 2019, Gov. Pritzker appointed four individuals to the Prisoner Review Board, which is a body that determines if convicted felons should be released from prison. The Illinois Constitution requires that these appointees be confirmed by the Illinois Senate within 60 session days. In March 2021, the clock was approaching the 60 session days and the Senate had failed to take up their confirmation.

Rather than the Senate taking a vote on these individuals, Gov. Pritzker withdrew their appointments and reappointed them just days later, which reset the 60-day clock. Therefore, these four appointees have been serving for over two years and continue to make potentially dangerous decisions, all while Democrat Senate leaders continue to provide the Governor cover by not forcing them to testify in front of the Senate Executive Appointments Committee and failing to vote on their confirmation.

Additionally, Gov. Pritzker has appointed another six appointees to the Prisoner Review Board between February 2021 to May 2021, none of which have been confirmed either. This makes a total of 10 unconfirmed appointees who are currently serving on the 14-member Prisoner Review Board without ever being approved by the Senate.

Most of trailer fee increase rolled back
Ever since small trailer registration fees jumped by 666% in 2019 (from $18 to $118 per year), many legislators have been fighting to see that fee brought back down to reasonable levels. Thankfully, legislation passed in the final days of session to reduce the trailer fee to $36. I would have preferred to have seen the fee reduced back down to $18, but at $36 the fee is much more palatable.

Democrats attempt to hijack Illinois Supreme Court
Majority Party leaders managed to ram through and pass new Illinois Supreme Court districts, despite never doing so for about 60 years, and despite the Illinois Constitution not requiring it. Their excuse for doing so is to address population disparity. However, these new districts still include a population disparity of more than 200,000 people.

Senate Republicans argue that the remap is a direct result of the Democratic Party being fearful of losing their partisan influence in the higher court. This fear comes from last November when Thomas Kilbride, a Democrat justice from the Third Supreme Court District, lost his vote for retention. This was the first time that an Illinois Supreme Court justice had lost a retention election since the process was created in 1964.

This retention failure now threatens the Democrats’ 4-3 advantage on the Illinois Supreme Court. In much the same way that legislative Senate and House districts were redrawn to protect Democrat control in Illinois, the newly-drawn Supreme Court map all but guarantees Democrats will retain their 4-3 advantage on the state’s highest court.

Unresolved issues remain as session adjourns
While the Senate and House adjourned after passing a slew of bills in the final days of May and into June 1, several bills stalled as negotiations broke down. We have been told we may return to the Capitol later this month to take up legislation on some additional issues, including:

  • Energy
  • FOID
  • Chicago elected school board
  • Gaming

 

It is important to note that as of June 1, a supermajority vote is required to pass legislation. In the Senate a minimum of 36 of the 59 will be required, and in the House a minimum of 71 of the 118 votes will be required. This makes bill passage of any controversial measure extremely difficult.

Secretary of State launches automated system for liability insurance verification
This week the Secretary of State’s office launched a new system of motor vehicle liability insurance verification. State law requires motorists to have a valid insurance policy for any vehicle with a current Illinois registration. The information on file with the State must also include an up-to-date address. If you need to update information regarding your vehicle registration, please do so online at www.cyberdriveillinois.com.

As the SOS office moves through the process of verifying that all vehicles in Illinois are attached to a proper address and a current liability insurance policy, those found to be in violation will see their vehicle registration suspended. The suspension can only be removed after the vehicle owner pays a $100 reinstatement fee and files a valid certificate of liability insurance for their vehicle electronically via www.ILIVS.com.  Those who receive a letter of non-compliance from the SOS office should NOT go to the DMV, but instead should check verification of insurance online or by phone.

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