The House and Senate convened in special session on Friday, August 17, 2012; in addition, many important bills, including House Republican measures, were signed into law.
- House Republican law brings together farmers, environmentalists to protect Illinois groundwater. HB 5642 (Tryon/Frerichs), a bipartisan bill signed into law on Wednesday, August 15, brings Illinois livestock producers and the Illinois environmental community together in support of a new law under which those in the livestock industry will pay fees to cover the cost of monitoring their concentrated animal feeding operations. Feeding operations are often noted by neighbors and passers-by for the manure odor produced, and the operations’ discharge ponds need to be monitored and local groundwater protected. The legislation sponsored by Representative Mike Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) was supported by key elements of both the environmental community and the farmers that produce a significant percentage of America’s pork, beef, and specialty meats. The bill was signed into law as P.A. 97-962.
- House Republican law exempts familiar consumer products from onerous poison-control procedures. Existing State law requires purchasers of caustic substances to show a driver’s license and to sign a poison log. Enforcement of this law was leading to a situation where people were being required to show photo ID and sign the log before buying bottles of a well-known brand of drain cleanser. HB 4523, sponsored by Representative Kent Gaffney (R-Wauconda), carves out an exception from the caustic-poison rules for household products only. The bill was signed into law on Friday, August 10 as P.A. 97-929.
- House Republicans address growing problem of metal theft. HB 3825, sponsored by Representative Mike Unes (R-Pekin), will enhance criminal penalties for thefts of certain kinds of metal, particularly from electric, gas, water, or other utility service infrastructures. The bill also bans recyclable metal dealers from purchasing certain scrap-metal items that are often stolen, such as catalytic converters, manhole covers, street signs and cemetery plaques. Restrictions are also placed upon the sale of HVAC coils and condensers. Metal dealers must improve their mandated records, maintain their records for longer periods, and notify the police of suspicious transactions. HB 3825 was signed into law on Friday, August 10 as P.A. 97-923.
- House Democrats signal that they will continue push for medical cannabis legalization in Illinois. HB 30, a bill to legalize marijuana sale and use under specified conditions, was released from the House Rules Committee on Tuesday, August 14 and returned to the House floor for a possible second vote. A first attempt to pass this bill, on May 5, 2011, had failed to get the necessary 60-vote majority to move it to the Senate.
- Bill to allow construction of a controversial coal-based synthetic natural gas plant is vetoed by Governor. SB 3766 contained language that was seen as a necessary element to underpin the financing and operation of a proposed $3 billion coal-to-gas plant, Chicago Clean Energy, which would have operated on Chicago’s Southeast Side. The plant, which would have been operated by a consortium headed by the Leucadia National Corporation, would have subjected Illinois-mined black coal to an industrial process that would have generated fuel gas with a fuel potential similar to natural gas. The synthetic gas would have been piped into Illinois homes and commercial/industrial boilers, and perform similarly to natural gas. The coal-to-gas process was seen as offering hope to Illinois beleaguered coal industry, but concerned parties pointed out the synthetic gas would have cost more than natural gas. Illinois gas consumers who purchase gas from the firms of Ameren and Nicor would have been required to buy the plant’s product, resulting in higher rates. The bill was vetoed on Friday, August 10, 2012.
- Former Representative Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) is expelled from the Illinois House of Representatives by a vote of 100-6-0. The adoption of HR 1191 on Friday, August 17 by an extraordinary two-thirds majority could end Smith’s public service in the Illinois legislature, although he remains on the November 2012 ballot. This expulsion move followed Smith’s indictment by a federal grand jury on charges of receiving a cash bribe of $7,000. After federal charges were brought against Smith, a House Special Investigating Committee and then a special House Select Committee on Discipline heard the case and referred it to the full House for proceedings carried out under the provisions of the Illinois Constitution. Smith’s case has not yet been decided in a court of law. His indictment began court proceedings that are separate from this expulsion procedure. Smith’s service in Springfield was brief; an appointed House member, he had taken the oath of office in March 2011. According to Article 4, Section 6(d) of the Illinois Constitution, a member can only be expelled once for the same offense. Therefore, Representative Smith cannot be expelled again in the 98th General Assembly if elected to a full term in November, unless it is for a separate offense.
- New state bill will allow cities to place “boots” on vehicles whose owners have not bought a city tax sticker. Many cities, led by Chicago, require local vehicle owners to pay an ownership tax for the right to own and park a car within the city. HB 4988, signed into law on Friday, August 10, authorizes a local municipality to create a program of vehicle immobilization to facilitate enforcement of municipal vehicle tax liability. Municipal vehicle taxes are typically enforced by a decal sticker that is attached to the windshield of a car whose owner has paid the tax. Many House Republicans voted against this controversial bill, which passed through the House by a vote of 64-46-0.
Veterans and military service personnel
- Illinois enacts new law to create license plates to honor certain veterans with disabilities. Some veterans have become disabled in the service of their country in ways that do not qualify them for disability-parking spaces under consensus international standards. In order to honor members of this group for their service, HB 1151 was signed into law on Friday, August 10. The law creates a new, non-parking-space veterans’ disability license plate. The legislation was co-sponsored by Representative Patti Bellock (R-Westmont), and became P.A. 97-918.
- Veterans in most major U.S. combat theaters given alternate pathway to active service as police officers. Most new police officers hired throughout Illinois must fulfill certain law enforcement higher education requirements. HB 4983, signed into law on Monday, provides that veterans of active international service in various theaters, including Afghanistan and Iraq, may qualify without these higher education transcripts and credentials. The bill became P.A. 97-948.
Other important items of note from around the state:
- Mayor Rahm Emanuel-sponsored job move from Lake County to Chicago leads to loss of 700 jobs. After Google Inc. acquired control of historic Libertyville-area phonemaker Motorola Mobility, it announced that its 3,000-headcount Illinois operations would move to Chicago. Taxpayers who had committed in May 2011 to pay more than $100 million in tax breaks (over a 10-year period) to Motorola with the promise of keeping at least 2,500 jobs in Illinois were consoled that at least these jobs would stay within the state. However, after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel repeatedly portrayed this move as a job-creating coup for his city, Google announced significant worldwide cuts to its Motorola Mobility operations on Monday, August 13. These cuts are expected to reduce the headcount of existing employees retained at the new Chicago headquarters from 3,000 to slightly above 2,250, breaching the terms of the 2011 agreement. Approximately 750 of the employees previously working in Libertyville will not be offered jobs in Chicago.
- As closing dates approach for Dwight and Tamms, Governor Pat Quinn takes steps to bar reporters and members of the press from visiting Illinois prisons. In controversial moves, the Governor has announced plans to close two State prisons (Dwight and Tamms) and move the prisoners to other facilities. Opponents of these moves have accused the governor of stuffing additional bed space into facilities that are already overcrowded. The press has sought to verify these overcrowding reports. Until Friday, August 10, the media could request to visit an Illinois prison, and these applications were typically granted; however, starting on the week of August 13-17, the official position of the Quinn administration and the Department of Corrections is that they will no longer grant these applications. Litigation continues in a final attempt to halt these controversial closings.
- Testimony before House committee indicates that Illinois unfunded pension obligations may be tens of billions higher than previously estimated. While the figure of $83 billion has been widely used, financial experts speaking to the House Pension Investments Committee on Tuesday, August 14 suggested that a more realistic look at future investment returns, such as that required by investment-rating firm Moody’s, would generate an unfunded-liability figure of approximately $130-$140 billion. The testimony was seen as increasing pressure on Illinois lawmakers to generate a comprehensive solution to the State’s mounting pension dilemmas, which include pension obligations to State workers, legislators, higher-education personnel, and teachers.