Last Thursday evening, on the House floor, we witnessed something that shocked even veteran members of the Illinois General Assembly. Speaker Madigan lost control of the Democrat caucus.

The House was in session Thursday night, but business came to a screeching halt, as rank and file Democrats huddled in various groups, scattered across the floor. Over here, a faction of the Black Caucus met, over there were city and near-north-suburban liberals, and other groups formed organically without any noticeable defining characteristic.

Mike Madigan has kept the House Democrats in line for 30-plus years, with differences of opinion or dissent quickly quashed—and certainly never put on public display. Such a level of power is unique in American politics, but it’s understandable when you consider that Speaker Madigan is personally responsible for electing many, if not most, of the House Democrats.

The Madigan campaign program is legend: he often plucks a person out of obscurity who could never be elected to the General Assembly on their own. (Sometimes these individuals are even registered Republicans, but no matter, they switch parties in order to be part of “the program.”) Then Madigan provides them with millions in campaign cash, along with paid staff members and “volunteers.” For some of these candidates, work as a General Assembly member is the best employment they’ll ever have—it’s a steady paycheck with benefits, and folks deferentially call you “Representative” and spontaneously and instantly hold doors open for you.

However, when that person wins a seat in the Illinois House, they understand that the price of the seat is predicated on absolute loyalty to Speaker Madigan. If you cross him, (poof!) you’re out. Just this past year, Chicago Democrat Rep. Ken Dunkin—a 13-year veteran of the House—went against the Speaker on a small number of votes. The Speaker then found an opponent to run against Dunkin in the Democrat primary, and Madigan showered the opponent with millions of dollars in campaign donations. Madigan took a “scorched earth” approach to the election, repeatedly and personally tarring Dunkin. Madigan beat Dunkin in that very ugly primary election last month, destroying Dunkin’s public reputation in the process. That’s the Madigan program.

But last week, the reality of the past 30-plus years was suspended, due to intense pressure on Democrat representatives from the impact of the budget crisis on higher education. Chicago State said it would shut down on May 1, which is the same day students must make their college choices. Many feared that high school seniors would reject Illinois public institutions altogether because those institutions could not guarantee they’d be open and fully operational in the fall, due to lack of funding.

As a result, downstate and Black Caucus Democrats abruptly broke with Madigan to negotiate with Republicans, and together, we reached a compromise on emergency funding for state universities, community colleges, and Monetary Assistance Plan grants for poor students. Unlike the prior “spending plans” put forward and passed by Mike Madigan, which either had no funding or grossly insufficient funding, this emergency plan was fully funded, with state dollars from a special fund for education. For that reason, the governor gave the plan his approval and signed it first thing this past Monday morning.

Was this display of bipartisanship a one-time thing, or a sign of momentum? Will Speaker Madigan come around to embrace compromise, or continue to dig in his heels? Will Madigan snap his members back into line, or will he continue to lose them?

In the end, this crack in the walls of “Madiganistan” may be just the opportunity to get us where we need to go as a state: substantial reforms, proper government services, and a balanced budget to pay for them.
Legislation sponsored by State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) that aims to curb the practice of pension spiking for employees within the Illinois Municipal Retirement System (IMRF) is headed to the Senate, after it received nearly unanimous support in the Illinois House on Friday.

“Across the state, taxpayers are suffering because of pension spiking, which occurs when longtime public employees who have accrued large balances of unused sick time and vacation time are allowed to transfer those days into pre-retirement cash payments,” said Breen. “Through HB 5684, local government boards will be required to hold an open meeting with full disclosure of exactly how a retiring employee’s salary would be affected, before any potential pension spiking payment can be considered. This much-needed layer of transparency will hopefully put an end to this budget-busting practice.”

According to Breen, the Village of Lombard experienced such a situation a few years ago, when a retiring employee received a salary bump which translated to an over $200,000 increase in the village’s pension liability. “Pension spiking leads to unsustainable pension costs, and in the end it’s the taxpayers who must foot the bill,” Breen said. “This is a solid taxpayer protection measure, and one that received broad support in the House from both sides of the aisle.”

The bill will be considered in the Senate when lawmakers return to Springfield in May.
I'm writing you from the floor of the House, where I just witnessed an unprecedented event. Last night, Speaker Mike Madigan tried to spike a bipartisan, agreed bill to provide a bridge to fund higher education, until a full budget is approved. Madigan forced his members to back off that agreement at the last moment—instead he filed another wildly out-of-balance spending bill. After the filing of that bill, Republicans and Democrats went back to their respective caucus rooms to discuss it.

Usually, the parties then emerge from their caucus meetings ready to fight. But something happened inside the House Democrat caucus meeting. Some House Democrats revolted. They held a lengthy and heated meeting, finally forcing Speaker Madigan to back off the unbalanced bill and accept the bipartisan compromise. A lengthy discussion was held about the agreed bill and this morning it was approved.

This is the first real crack we’ve seen in the Democrat establishment since the beginning of the budget crisis. Today, a ray of hope shone through, showing that some members of the General Assembly do have the ability to compromise. We’re still a long way to a solution, but this is at least a step in that direction.

Breen Opposes Bills that Weigh Down Illinois Businesses with Unnecessary Mandates
We’ve had some really bad bills come before us this week, including some that put additional unnecessary mandates on Illinois business. For example, our state Treasurer, Michael Frerichs, pushed a measure this week, HB 4633, to force life insurance companies to take additional and expensive steps in relation to payouts.

The bill would take the unprecedented step of declaring Illinois companies to be engaging in “unfair business practices” for following their duties under their legally enforceable contracts. I made this point and others on the House floor—you can click on the image above to watch that debate.

Milton & York Township Officials Visit Springfield
Earlier this month, some of our local officials from Milton and York Townships visited Springfield to talk with legislators about issues affecting townships in Illinois. We had a great discussion, and I appreciate all the work our elected local officials do on behalf of the citizens of Milton and York Townships.

Breen Bill that Strengthens Open Meetings Act Approved in House
A bill I sponsored that closes a loophole in the Open Meetings Act is one step closer to becoming law. HB 5683 seeks to extend the timeframe during which citizens who file Open Meetings Act grievances with the IL Attorney General’s office can seek a remedy in the court system. Today, when a violation of the Act occurs, a 60-day clock begins where a suit must be filed in the courts. A problem comes into play when an individual first seeks an opinion from the Illinois Attorney General’s office. Oftentimes an investigation by the Attorney General’s office takes more than 60 days, and if upon the conclusion of the investigation a non-binding opinion is issued, the clock will have expired and the citizen left without recourse. My bill ensures that the clock doesn’t start until after a decision by the Attorney General’s office.

This loophole was brought to my attention by a situation involving disgraced former College of DuPage (COD) President Robert Breuder. A resident contacted the Attorney General’s office seeking a ruling on a violation of the Open Meetings Act about a July 2011 COD board meeting where an extension of Breuder’s contract was discussed. The Attorney General responded to the inquiry, four years later in 2015, confirmed that a violation occurred, and issued a reprimand to the board. In that case, the citizen who sought relief could not sue to have the illegal Breuder contract reversed.

HB 5683 passed with broad bipartisan support in the House and now moves to the Senate, where Senator Chris Nybo will sponsor the bill.

Breen Seeks Comprehensive Solution to Gerrymandering of Legislative Maps
The movement to remove the legislative map-drawing process from the hands of politicians is an issue that has wide, bipartisan support across the state. A measure currently pending in the Illinois House offers a good solution; but unfortunately the Democrat sponsor only offered a half-response.

HJRCA 58 was rushed to the House floor by Democrats who proposed a change for how House and Senate District maps are drawn, while completely omitting the broken process of drawing congressional district maps. The congressional map drawn by those same House Democrats in 2011 was a joke: they assigned Congressmen from Wrigleyville to represent Elmhurst and from Wheaton to represent folks at the Wisconsin border. If we are truly going to reform how legislative maps are drawn, we need to be comprehensive in our efforts and include congressional maps in the new process.

The Amendment, if approved by a 3/5 majority of the House and Senate, would appear on the November ballot, with new maps to take effect for those elected beginning in 2022. You may hear me speak in greater detail about the bill and my amendment by clicking on the image above.

Illinois House Approves Measure to Stop Fines for Late Vehicle Registration renewals
When Secretary of State Jesse White announced last fall that his office would suspend the practice of sending out reminders to drivers that their vehicle registrations needed to be renewed, I knew the impact on Illinois motorists would be significant. Because motorists who rely on those notices should not be penalized for the legislature’s inability to approve a balanced budget, I promptly filed HB 4306 in early October. My bill would have prohibited the Secretary of State from imposing a fine when the registered owner of a vehicle had not been provided with a postal mail or email notice of the date the registration expires. My bill was blocked by Speaker Madigan’s House Rules Committee, and since that time, the state has collected more than $5 million in these late renewal fees.

Well, more than a month after I filed my bill, a Democrat colleague filed an almost identical bill, which I was glad to cosponsor. Speaker Madigan allowed that bill to move. This bill is now pending in the Senate and will hopefully be advanced to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible.
Calling a Democrat lawmaker’s proposal to change how legislative maps are drawn in Illinois a “half-measure,” State Representative Peter Breen has filed an amendment to HJRCA 58 that would add congressional maps to the redistricting legislation.

“It’s time for the General Assembly to take politics out of map drawing,” said Breen. “The proposed constitutional amendment rushed through by House Democrats is only a half-measure, omitting our horribly broken process of drawing congressional districts. The congressional map drawn by those same House Democrats in 2011 was a joke: they assigned Congressmen from Wrigleyville to represent Elmhurst and from Wheaton to represent folks at the Wisconsin border. If House Democrats were truly interested in reform, instead of just scoring political points, they would accept this simple amendment to clean up the map drawing process for all of the maps drawn by the General Assembly.”

HJRCA 58 was filed less than one week ago as a Democrat response to Republican efforts to get a fair map proposal on the November ballot. This newest constitutional amendment request would provide for the creation of an independent redistricting commission comprised of eight members chosen equally between the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and the most senior justice from the opposing political party. The measure also provides that if the commission of eight does not reach consensus on a plan these justices will appoint a ninth member to break the tie. The Illinois Supreme Court would have exclusive jurisdiction over redistricting.

The constitutional amendment would also include prioritized criteria for the new districts including (in order of importance):
  • Substantially equal in population;
  • Provide racial/language minorities with equal opportunity in the political process and opportunity to elect candidates of their choice;
  • Provide racial/language minorities who constitute less than voting-age majority with the opportunity to substantially influence the outcome of an election;
  • Be contiguous;
  • Be compact;
  • Respect integrity of units of local government;
  • Respect communities that share common social or economic interests;
  • Bar discrimination against or in favor of any political party or individual.
The Amendment, if approved by a 3/5 majority of the House and Senate, would appear on the November ballot with new maps to take effect for those elected beginning in 2022. The bill is currently being considered by the House.

Click on the image above to hear more about this bill amendment.

New legislation that places a new unfunded mandate onto the backs of Illinois businesses was approved in the Illinois House this week. During the floor debate on HB 4633, State Representative Peter Breen was vocal in his opposition to the bill and suggested a moratorium on Democrat-sponsored anti-business bills in Illinois.

You may listen to Representative Breen’s questioning of the bill sponsor by clicking on the image above.
It’s deadline month for the General Assembly, that time of year where pending bills must meet the various time limits set for consideration. We spent most of last week in committee hearings on the thousands of bills filed this year. This week, we will negotiate amendments for bills that need additional work, with a few more bills reaching agreement and advancing, while the rest are deemed dead for this session. We’ll also begin House floor consideration of bills that are in final form. This is the regular cycle of the House: committee, amendments, floor, passage.

The budget and larger debates over the future of the state hang like a fog over the legislature, but this “regular order” is still observed. There are still many laws to tweak, add to, or subtract from in our Illinois code, just as in other years. Amidst a deeply divided General Assembly—and deeply divided Illinois—the fact that we can find enough common ground to advance mundane legislation may be an indication we’ll be able to work together on the bigger issues facing the state down the road.

Even so, I hear from the old-time legislators that the current acrimony is the worst they’ve seen. One even compared the current situation in the General Assembly to the trench warfare in World War I: combatants on both sides pinned down in their respective trenches, with no easy means of obtaining more than a couple of feet of ground.

The sides are pretty well fixed: Speaker Michael Madigan wants to spend $36 billion this year, but the state will bring in $32 billion in tax revenue—so he needs a tax hike—but he doesn’t want his Democratic caucus to be seen as responsible for that tax increase. Governor Bruce Rauner wants government and business reforms, and he sees his election in 2014 as a mandate for those reforms. The business community wants to see some progress to prove that Illinois is truly turning around, whether that means changing the way legislative districts are drawn (by an independent commission instead of by whichever party is in power), or term limits for legislators, or substantial regulatory and tax reform. For young people just starting out and for those who have lost jobs, they want to see Illinois return to being the economic engine that it should be. For seniors, they want the brakes put on property taxes and other government taxes and fees, so they aren’t forced to move out of state and away from friends and family. The people of the state generally just want the whole mess fixed, so they can go about their lives.

And, while everyone believes that the end must be coming soon, no one is quite sure when or how that end will look. Without stretching the analogy too far, the tide of the “Great War” was turned and won through the addition of an overwhelming outside force: the United States military. If you had to guess where that new “outside force” would come from in Illinois, a safe bet would be some type of crisis. The lack of funding for social services and higher education have added pressure, but not enough to force a resolution. Soon enough, we’re going to see larger crises, such as the insolvency of the Chicago Public Schools (or of the City of Chicago itself). It’s tough to imagine this dispute continuing much past a crisis of that magnitude.

But until then, regular order in the House continues, and we remain “in the trenches.”
Legislation sponsored by State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) that closes a loophole in the Open Meetings Act and improves government transparency received unanimous approval in the Illinois House on Tuesday.

HB 5683 would extend the timeframe during which citizens who file Open Meetings Act grievances with the IL Attorney General’s office can seek a remedy in the court system. “It is common practice for citizens who believe an Open Meetings Act violation has occurred to first contact the Attorney General’s office for an opinion,” said Breen. “If the investigation into the allegation takes more than 60 days and a non-binding opinion is issued, the period of time during which a suit can be filed in the courts will have expired. HB 5683 will delay the start of the 60-day clock to the point of a decision by the Attorney General’s office.”

Breen pointed to the bipartisan sponsorship of the bill as an indicator of the bill’s importance. “This is one of those issues that is not ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat’: it’s an issue of fairness for all,” Breen said. “This bill will preserve the intent of the Open Meetings Act and close a loophole that was preventing some Illinoisans from having their day in court.”

Last year, the Attorney General’s office issued a decision agreeing with a local resident who had challenged an illegal vote on a contract extension for the disgraced former president of the College of DuPage and reprimanding the COD Board. However, because that Attorney General decision was issued more than 60 days after the challenged vote, the resident was unable to go to court to seek to void the illegal contract.

HB 5683 now moves to the Senate for consideration.
After a five-week break, forced on members of the House of Representatives by Speaker Mike Madigan, we are back in Springfield for a week of committee hearings. Typically, legislators spend a great deal of time in committees, several weeks usually, to ensure proper vetting for bills. But this year, all of that work has been compressed into just one week. Any bill that has not received a favorable committee vote by this Friday, April 8, will be essentially dead.

Breen Bill to Guarantee Citizen Rights Under Open Meetings Act Advances to House Floor
A key bill that I filed this year to strengthen the Illinois Open Meetings Act received a unanimous favorable vote in the House Judiciary-Civil Committee on Tuesday. This bill now moves to the House floor for a full debate and vote. HB 5683 would amend the Open meetings Act to extend the timeframe to seek a judicial remedy for citizens who file Open Meetings Act grievances with the Illinois Attorney General’s office.

Today, those who believe a violation of the Open Meetings Act has occurred have just 60 days from the date of the violation to seek remedy from the courts. But many citizens first contact the Attorney General’s office for an opinion by the Public Access Counsel (PAC). If the PAC investigation takes more than 60 days, the clock for filing a grievance with the courts will have expired. This bill will start the 60-day clock only after the decision by the Attorney General’s office.

HB 5683 applies in cases where the Attorney General’s office issues “non-binding” decisions, as it does in response to the large majority of complaints. Under current statute, a non-binding opinion is not reviewable, whereas a binding opinion is reviewable in court. Today, if an individual does not receive a binding opinion—and even if the offending unit of government ignores the Attorney General’s non-binding opinion—that individual is left without any effective relief for an Open Meetings Act violation. This bill will ensure that every citizen can have their day in court on violations of the Act.

Breen’s HB 5930 Receives Unanimous Nod from Labor & Commerce Committee
On Tuesday I was also successful in moving my HB 5930 out of committee. This bill eliminates an outdated provision from Illinois statute that currently requires written correspondence between an employer and the state of Illinois to check whether a certified nurse’s aide is licensed in this state. HB 5930 will allow the employer to check the registry of certified nurse’s aides online, saving employers time and state taxpayers money.

Breen Bill that Addresses End-of-Career Salary Spiking Advances from Personnel & Pensions Committee
A bill I filed that would close a loophole which allows salary windfalls for end-of-career payments to public employees who are part of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) is also headed to the House Floor for a full debate and vote. These end-of-career salary spikes often lead to outsized pensions.

HB 5684 received a favorable vote on Wednesday from the House Personnel & Pensions Committee. The bill addresses a practice which occurs when longtime public employees who have accrued large balances of unused sick time and vacation time are allowed to convert those days into cash. Combined with retirement bonuses, which are also prevalent, this new income can drive up pensionable income, disproportionate to the amount of pension contributions previously put into the system by the worker and local government.

Many public pensions are based on an employee’s best four years of employment, which is typically the last four years on the job. Today, the statutes only limit how much of the final three months of an individual’s compensation can count toward their IMRF pension—but if these one-time benefits and bonuses are paid out more than 3 months before retirement, they count toward and increase pension payments for the rest of the pensioner’s lifetime.

This bill will require that any increase in income that exceeds 6% during an employee’s final 12 years on the job will have to be specifically approved in a public meeting that aligns with the provisions of the Open Meetings Act.

Breen Talks to Teens at Local Conference
Earlier this week, it was my pleasure to talk to a highly motivated and intelligent group of teens who were in Springfield for the TeenPact leadership training program. I talked to the group about being a legislator and about issues affecting the State of Illinois.

TeenPact was founded with a mission to train youth to understand the political process and value their liberty. Kudos to TeenPact Leadership Schools for helping to prepare our youth for the future!

Local Boy Scout Achieves Scouting’s Highest Rank of Eagle
On Saturday, April 2, I was honored to present an official Illinois House of Representatives certificate of recognition to Tim Gruenwald of Lombard for earning the rank of Eagle Scout. This is a huge accomplishment and one that Tim and his parents should be proud of and remember always. Becoming an Eagle Scout is not easy, it takes hard work, dedication and a supportive family. This experience is priceless and will provide Tim a strong foundation for his future endeavors. As an Eagle Scout myself, it is a privilege to be able to participate in these ceremonies.
A bill sponsored by State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) to strengthen the Illinois Open Meetings Act is advancing to the House floor, after receiving a unanimous favorable vote in the House Judiciary-Civil Committee on Tuesday.

HB 5683 would amend the Open Meetings Act to extend the timeframe to seek a judicial remedy for citizens who file Open Meetings Act grievances with the Illinois Attorney General’s office. “Today, those who believe a violation of the Open Meetings Act has occurred have just 60 days from the date of the violation to seek remedy from the courts,” said Breen. “But many citizens first contact the Attorney General’s office for an opinion by the Public Access Counsel (PAC). If the PAC investigation takes more than 60 days, the clock for filing a grievance with the courts will have expired. This bill will start the 60-day clock only after the decision by the Attorney General’s office.”

Breen’s bill applies in cases where the Attorney General’s office issues “non-binding” decisions, as it does in response to the large majority of complaints. “Under current statute, a non-binding opinion is not reviewable, whereas a binding opinion is reviewable in court,” Breen said. “Today, if an individual does not receive a binding opinion—and even if the offending unit of government ignores the Attorney General’s non-binding opinion—that individual is left without any effective relief for an Open Meetings Act violation. This bill will ensure that every citizen can have their day in court on violations of the Act.”

HB 5683 will be heard on the House floor in the coming weeks.
A long-time opponent of red light cameras, State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) is taking aim at excessive filing fees that are charged to motorists who request a court hearing to contest an alleged violation.

HB 5682, filed by Breen this legislative session, seeks to amend the Illinois Vehicle Code by limiting filing fees associated with a judicial review of a red light camera ticket to no more than $20. “The red light camera legislation currently in the Illinois statutes prohibits municipalities or counties with red light cameras from charging violators an additional fee for choosing to exercise their right to an administrative or judicial hearing to contest a ticket,” said Breen. “Unfortunately, those same considerations don’t apply in circuit court hearings, where filing fees can be in the hundreds of dollars.”

According to Breen, mistakes are common within automated red light camera systems, and it is not uncommon for motorists who lawfully enter interactions before a stoplight turns red, or who make a legal right turn after stopping, to receive a ticket in the mail. Breen says studies have also shown that the cameras produce massive revenue without significantly improving safety on roads. “We are learning more every day about these cameras, and the statistics show that they have not noticeably increased safety,” Breen said. “Municipalities are bringing in big money as a result of these tickets, and now motorists are taking a huge second hit from filing fees that sometimes exceed the cost of the original ticket. My bill would halt this practice by limiting filing fees to $20 or less.”

HB 5682 is scheduled for consideration in the House’s Transportation-Vehicles & Safety Committee on Wednesday, April 5 at 9:00 AM, in Springfield.