- Laws supported by many House Republicans led to 2012 Chicago teacher negotiations and preliminary agreement. In the past, the Chicago School District and unionized Chicago teachers had a relationship marked by dysfunctions of all sort; learning patterns were disrupted, the needs of students were de-prioritized or ignored, and there was a teachers’ strike in 1987. Two laws, controversial at the time, are pointing the way towards a better outcome in Chicago. In 1995, House Republicans led the fight and sponsored the bill (HB 206 – P.A. 89-15) to move control over Chicago school management to the mayor of Chicago. This meant management positions would be in the hands of a figure known to most Chicagoans and there would be clear lines of responsibility. In 2011, SB 7 (strongly supported by House Republicans) imposed new provisions that required additional responsibility of Chicago teachers’ unions and school management to discourage strikes. The combination of these two laws helped lead to preliminary success in negotiations with Chicago schools for the 2012-13 school year, with no strike and an agreement by management and labor to continue negotiating on the tremendous challenges facing the system, such as educator pay and pensions. However, many serious questions remain unresolved.
- Drought worsens across downstate Illinois. Despite unprecedented heat and well below average rainfall, only 26 of Illinois’ 102 counties have so far received disaster declarations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.). Designation as a disaster county is important for many inhabitants in drought-stricken areas, especially those in the Ag. industry who are given additional opportunities to apply for emergency loans, establish eligibility for non-insured crop disaster assistance, and apply for other forms of financial aid. On Sunday, July 22, Gov. Pat Quinn asked that the U.S.D.A. re-designate 69 additional counties as disaster counties. If all of the applicant counties are re-designated, 95 of Illinois’ 102 counties would qualify for assistance programs.
- Tamms shutdown begins. Illinois’ “supermax” prison, located in Tamms, is scheduled for shutdown on August 31, 2012. The prison, which is only 17 years old, contains both maximum-security and minimum-security inmates. The 175 minimum-security prisoners help to maintain and operate the correctional center. As Tamms approaches shutdown, these minimum-security inmates started being transferred to other facilities on Thursday, July 26. Most of the maximum-security prisoners are scheduled to be reintegrated with the “max” prisoners at other correctional centers such as Pontiac and Menard. A few prisoners who are not allowed to communicate with other Illinois inmates will be exchanged with correctional systems in other states.
- Jobless rates remain in double digits for many Illinois metropolitan areas. Statistics released on Thursday, by the Department of Employment Security, show double-digit unemployment rates for June 2012 in four Illinois cities and their suburbs: Danville, Decatur, Kankakee, and Rockford. In greater Rockford the unemployment rate was 11.5%. Many smaller Downstate counties also continue to post jobless numbers above 10.0%. The statewide Illinois unemployment rate in June rose to 8.7%. Illinois House Republicans continue to advocate for job-creation measures blocked from debate in the spring 2012 session, such as targeted tax cuts, real workers’ compensation reform and employee retraining measures. Our neighboring states have shown such policies work, posting lower unemployment rates than Illinois: 7.9% in Indiana, 6.8% in Wisconsin, and 5.1% in Iowa.
- House Republican bill fights back against threat of Asian carp. The hungry, fast-growing fish have recently exploded in population up and down the Illinois River and its tributaries. Studies show that if these fish were to pass over the Chicago-area electronic barrier and enter the Great Lakes, they could possibly dominate North America’s largest freshwater ecosystem. Representative JoAnne Osmond has long taken the lead on supporting Illinois’ Lake Michigan coastline, and HB 3888 (Osmond/Schmidt) continues this work by banning the movement of a boat or other vehicle from one body of water to another if it has aquatic animals or plants attached. This law affects not only Asian carp, but also zebra mussels and other invasive species. On Thursday, July 26 the Governor signed HB 3888 into law as P.A. 97-850.
- Clock ticks down toward implementation of video gambling across Illinois. The Video Gaming Act passed in 2009 asked the Illinois Gaming Board to undertake an unprecedented screening program to list eligible business forms for license applications and background checks. After three years, the Board has reported to the General Assembly that a final key element of regulatory enforcement over video gaming, the Board’s central computer system, became operational in mid-July. The system will provide 24/7 surveillance over statewide video gambling activities. The Board’s announcement triggered a 30-day period for Illinois establishments to dispose of their non-licensed games of electronic chance. Starting August 18, Illinois establishments such as veterans’ posts, fraternal organizations, truck stops, and taverns will be required to obtain host licenses from the Gaming Board and operate only machines that are licensed by gaming circuit operators. Many local governments are debating ordinance changes necessary to enable their municipalities to host these gaming devices. Video gaming tax revenues will be a key element in the State’s ongoing $31 billion public works program, which includes funding for school, road, bridge, railroad, and mass transit construction and upgrades.
Housing and mortgages
- New law increases consumer rights in high-risk mortgage contracts. Many Illinoisans are familiar with high-risk mortgages, which are imposed upon consumers with credit ratings that require them to pay higher interest rates and submit to additional credit procedures before the mortgage can be signed. SB 1692 limits some of the penalties that lenders can impose upon borrowers of high-risk home loans. Penalties that are limited and regulated by this bill include prepayment penalties, balloon payment demands, and late fees. The bill also places an interest-rate cap on lenders who offer high-interest loans to customers in anticipation of income tax refunds. Under the new law they will no longer be allowed to charge an interest rate higher than 36 percent. SB 1692 was signed into law on Wednesday, July 25, as P.A. 97-849.
- “Julie’s Law” creates stricter standards for court supervision eligibility. “Julie’s Law” is named in honor of Julie Gorczynski, a 17-year-old teenager from Orland Park who was killed in summer 2011 after being hit by a young driver that had received at least seven separate court supervisions for moving violations. The driver who hit Julie was allowed to continue driving and at the time of the accident was clocked at more than 36 mph over the posted speed limit. In response to this tragedy, Representative Mathias helped craft new legislation that will stop the courts from granting court supervision to drivers who are cited for speeding more than 30 mph above the posted speed limit, and 25 mph over the posted speed limit for urban roads that are not classified as highways. The bipartisan SB 2888 passed both houses in May. The Governor took final action by signing this bill on Friday, July 20; the new law is P.A. 97-831.
- New State laws will reduce able-bodied misuse of disability parking spaces. HB 5056 and HB 5624, two bills designed to comprehensively reform disability-parking law and reduce disability-parking abuse, were signed into law on Monday, July 23. Both bills strike back against misuse of disabled-parking placards. The bills increase fines for the misuse of disabled-parking placards (including the use of an unexpired placard issued to a person who has died) and for disabled-placard forgery, as well as divide the disabled-parking population into two groups. Persons within the group that have more severe disabilities will have the right to apply for an enhanced placard that will allow them to enjoy a full parking meter fee exemption, including in the city of Chicago. The new laws are P.A. 97-844 and P.A. 97-845.