Illinois lawmakers finished their legislative responsibilities for the year on Thursday as the General Assembly concluded this year’s veto session.
With a Democratic majority in the House, Senate and governor’s mansion, this year’s session was quieter than recent ones, but a few important pieces of legislation passed.
Perhaps the most significant of those was Senate Bill 1300, which consolidates 649 downstate police and firefighter pensions into just two funds – one for each group.
A task force Gov. JB Pritzker created in February recommended this step. The goal of consolidation is to put the funds on a path to stability and relieve pressure on local governments throughout the state to raise property taxes.
These 649 funds have an unfunded liability of $11.5 billion total.
The measure passed 96-14 in the House of Representatives and 42-12 in the Senate.
State Rep. Nathan Reitz (D-Steeleville) voted for it, saying the change will grow the funds and cut administrative costs.
“I think that was the biggest win, especially for all our small pension funds,” he said. “People hate turning over money, but…if you can make greater gains by having a larger pool of money, it makes sense. And there’s probably much more consolidation that needs to be done, but that’s a start.”
State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) voted against the consolidation.
“I did not feel comfortable voting in favor of legislation of this magnitude with still so many questions unanswered,” said Schimpf. “There were no real actuarial numbers from the task force to show the impact to municipalities over time. Unfortunately, the state of Illinois has an atrocious record of not protecting its citizens’ money. Process is important and this proposal should have received full scrutiny during the normal legislative session.”
That bill now heads to Pritzker’s desk.
Another measure that could have a local impact is Senate Bill 1557, which is a trailer bill for the one that legalized adult-use recreational marijuana.
Described as a cleanup bill, this legislation did not change anything major but clarified some parts of the law.
It spelled out that public consumption of cannabis will not be allowed at establishments that serve food and drink, marijuana-related paraphernalia will no longer be illegal and employers can maintain a zero-tolerance policy for cannabis.
The bill, which passed the House 90-20 and the Senate 41-6, also clarified a provision in the law that prohibits lawmakers and their families from profiting from having a direct financial ownership interest in cannabis businesses until two years after they leave office.
That was the sticking point for Reitz, who voted against the proposal despite liking other aspects of it.
“I personally thought it should go further and possibly be a lifetime ban,” he said.
Schimpf voted for this bill, citing provisions like the ban on consuming marijuana in restaurants and bars and on lawmakers profiting from marijuana.
“(It) restricts the legalization of recreational marijuana that I voted against last spring,” Schimpf summarized.
Reitz and Schimpf’s votes were switched on a bill Reitz co-sponsored in the house that caps prescription insulin costs for some health insurance plans.
The law limits insurers to charging $100 out-of-pocket for a 30-day supply of insulin for those whose insurance is regulated by Illinois starting January 2021.
That will impact an estimated 20 percent of the state’s 1.3 million insulin users.
“It is wrong that there are folks out there that have to choose between filling their prescriptions or buying groceries and keeping a roof over their head,” Reitz said. “We all know and love a person with diabetes. These people should not have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for a medication that they need to survive.”
Schimpf disagreed with the principle of the legislation.
“Illinois has no business setting the price of a commodity in a free-market, capitalist economy,” he argued. “Senate Bill 667 sets a precedent for politicians choosing arbitrary prices for milk, propane, baby formula and other staples of life. I expect this type of government meddling in Venezuela, not Illinois.”
Additionally, a bill that would put Illinois permanently in Central Daylight Time passed in the Senate but remained in committee in the House.
A final noteworthy measure from the veto session was the passage with broad bipartisan support of two ethics reform bills.
One measure created an ethics reform commission, while another required grater lobbyist disclosure.
Schimpf and Reitz both voted for the latter bill, but Schimpf voted no and Reitz voted yes on the former measure.