Legislative Update: April 7, 2016

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 This bill eliminates an outdated provision from Illinois statute that currently requires written correspondence between an employer and the state of Illinois to check whether a certified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.