State budget, laws passed

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Springfield saw its usual flurry of political activity Memorial Day weekend, as lawmakers passed a budget and several notable bills in the waning hours of the spring legislative session. 

Budget

The big-ticket item of the weekend was the state’s budget, which passed with no Republican support in the Illinois House or Senate. 

The spending plan, approved after 2 a.m. last Tuesday, calls for $42.2 billion in spending and predicts $42.3 billion in revenue. 

“For the third straight year, I’ll sign into law another balanced budget for Illinois that demonstrates fiscal responsibility works with a progressive vision of governance. All of these achievements collectively mark a significant turning point for our state,” Gov. JB Pritzker said. “Together, we’ve worked to solve the problems of the past while managing the challenges of the present and keeping a sharp eye on the future.”

The budget is balanced, mainly, because tax revenue was higher than expected and Illinois received about $8.1 billion from the federal government to spend over the next four fiscal years as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. 

The state plans to spend roughly $2.5 billion of that money this year, with approximately $1.5 billion funding things like economic recovery programs, public health infrastructure, violence prevention programs and affordable housing. 

Another $1 billion is earmarked for capital projects.

Other large expenditures in the budget include $9.4 billion for pensions, fully funding that obligation, $9.2 billion for education, $7.5 billion for medicaid and $1.9 billion for public safety.

The budget also allocates $2 billion to pay down bond debt and all interfund borrowing and includes money to pay off the state’s debt off the $2 billion loan from the Federal Reserve take in December sooner than anticipated with the state’s own funds.

Another point of contention is the budget generates $655 million in revenue by nixing four programs Democrats called “corporate tax loopholes” and Republicans described as tax cuts and business incentives. 

Pritzker originally said he would generate $1 billion from these moves, but dropped some proposals after GOP complaints. 

Notably, the budget does not include any major spending cuts or an income tax rate increase – both of which Pritzker said might happen after voters did not pass the graduated income tax amendment. 

Both of Monroe County’s elected officials, state Rep. David Friess (R-Red Bud) and state Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro), joined their fellow Republicans in voting against the budget. 

“The Democrat budget passed last night calls for greatly increased spending relying almost entirely on federal assistance and increased tax burdens on employers,” Friess said, adding the budget is a direct result of the “disastrous impact” of Pritzker’s “excessive” COVID restrictions. “This process was done in the dead of the night, behind closed doors, and at the very last minute. This budget includes hundreds of millions in new discretionary spending and asks our businesses to pay for it, including small businesses, which saw a tax hike. People have already been leaving the state and this budget will further drive them away.” 

Bryant largely agreed with her colleague’s assessment. 

“What we’ve seen here is the Democrat majority passing yet another bloated budget proposal on the backs of the hardworking men and women of this state,” she said. “Just as our business community is beginning the long road to recovery, Democrat lawmakers have decided to rip away over 600 million dollars in critical tax incentives from our job creators under the guise of closing so-called ‘loopholes.’ The reality is that Democrat lawmakers have no limit as to what they will take from the people of this state.” 

Police reform

In contrast to the budget, the General Assembly passed a bipartisan trailer bill that makes changes to the controversial criminal justice reform law passed earlier this year. 

OK’d 79-36 in the House and 42-17 in the Senate with a handful of Republicans in support, the Illinois State Police and Illinois Associate of Chiefs of Police threw their weight behind the legislation.

It changes the previous law in several ways, including allowing officers to use deadly force if a violent felony was committed in general instead of “recently,”  removing a provision that allowed a suspect not being able to be apprehended at a later date as a reason to use deadly force, redefining  a chokehold to not include maneuvers like a headlock that are not designed to restrict air intake and stipulating that the authorization to use deadly force ends when the immediate threat of “bodily harm to the officer or another” ends. 

The bill also says a police officer is not allowed to review body camera footage prior to writing a police report and requires that felony violation of body camera rules by an officer be intentional and in an effort to obstruct justice. 

Friess and Bryant were not among the Republicans who voted for these changes. 

“The problem with the original bill and the trailer bill is that the police are not allowed to view body-cam footage prior to completing an incident report,” Friess said after calling police “our everyday heroes.” “Assuming any event that would warrant generating an incident report would be a high-stress event, there is a high probability that there will be discrepancies between the original report and the amended report. This will subject the police officer to impeachment at any subsequent hearing or trial related to the incident.”

Bryant said the trailer bill was only a small step in the right direction. 

“Law enforcement was forced to negotiate to make small improvements to a terrible bill. In the end, the legislation did garner some support, but it didn’t address some of the critical, underlying, problematic issues of the original legislation, including how local departments are supposed to pay for body cameras,” Bryant said before calling for the bill to be repealed. 

Election changes

There was not bipartisan support for a bill that makes several alterations to how Illinois will run its elections. 

The new law pushed next year’s primary elections from March to June 28, a delay Democrats sought because they want to wait on census data to redraw congressional district boundaries. 

That change is only for 2022.

Going forward, the law creates a vote-by-mail registry so residents can automatically receive a mail-in ballot, making that a permanent option instead of needing to request a ballot each election. The law requires voters to receive a notice of this option. 

It also makes curbside voting permanent, provides for voting centers on Election Day where anyone in a jurisdiction can vote regardless of precinct and makes the general election day of Nov. 8 a state and school holiday. 

Friess took issue with the stipulation that counties can redistrict using American Community Survey data.

“The ACS data is not detailed or accurate enough on which to redraw districts,” he said. “In addition, the bill provided for email voting for disabled individuals. I encourage citizen participation, and I want everyone to vote. I am, however, concerned that email voting is going to be susceptible to voter fraud and manipulation.”

Bryant said her problem was the new law made permanent provisions instituted because of the pandemic. 

“These were never meant to be permanent changes,” she said. “Yet, as with much of what was accomplished this session, this proposal was rammed through by the Democrat majority with no Republican input.” 

Ethics reform

Back in the bipartisan realm, an ethics reform bill for politicians passed 113-5 in the House and unanimously in the Senate, though Republicans said the law does not go far enough. 

The legislation requires more financial disclosure from lawmakers on their statements of economic interest, mandating that they list debts over $10,000, sources of income over $7,500 and disclose any personal relationships with individuals who serve in government or work as lobbyists. 

It also outlaws lawmakers and officers of the executive branch working as a lobbyist within six months after they leave their government job. 

“I campaigned on ethics reform,” Friess, who voted for the bill, said. “Although I don’t believe SB539 went far enough, I believe it is a step, albeit a baby step, in the right direction. We can, and should, do better.” 

“Senate Bill 539 was a good start to moving forward with ethics reforms and the first step toward earning back the trust of Illinoisans in state government,” Bryant concurred. “Despite the good measures found in the proposal, I will continue to advocate for stronger anti-corruption reforms.” 

Local highlights

In terms of legislation he introduced, Friess pointed out one that Bryant helped pass through the Senate which helps the Kaskaskia Regional Port District.

He also touted one called the Women’s Equity Sports Act, which says only those who are females based on their biological sex can compete in female sports. That bill did not make it out of committee in the House. 

Bryant likewise highlighted several pieces of legislation of her own that have a local impact. 

One makes major changes to how Impact Incarceration Programs, also known as prison boot camps, are administered and another gives the Kaskaskia Regional Port District the ability to apply for state grants. 

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