Legislative Update: August 26, 2016

In the coming days my 2015-2016 Legislative Report should land in District 48 mailboxes. This document provides citizens with an in-depth look at the last year and a half of activity in Springfield, and an overview of legislation I have passed so far during my first term in the General Assembly.

A legislative survey is included in this mailing, and I hope you will take the time to fill it out and return it to my Lombard office. The survey is also available on line at this link. I will read every survey, so I’d appreciate hearing from you.

Governor Signs Several Key Breen Bills into Law
During the summer months, the Governor takes action on the hundreds of bills that were approved during the previous spring legislative session. I was successful this year in passing eight bills, each of which will have a positive impact on the people of the 48th Legislative District. These new laws include: 
  • HB 5684 (Public Act 99-0646): Curbs “pension spiking” for local government employees who are part of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF). Pension spiking occurs when longtime public employees who have accrued large balances of unused sick and vacation time are allowed to transfer those days into pre-retirement cash payments. The new law requires that, before any potential pension spiking payment can even be considered, a local unit of government must provide a full public disclosure of exactly how a retiring employee’s salary would be affected by the payment. 
  • HB 5683 (Public Act 99-0714): Closes a loophole in the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and improves government transparency by extending the timeframe for citizens to file suit when they believe an OMA violation has occurred. It is common practice for a citizen who believes an OMA infraction has taken place to first contact the Attorney General’s office for an opinion. If the AG’s investigation into the allegation takes more than 60 days, and a non-binding opinion is issued, the period of time for a suit to be filed will have expired. This new law ensures that citizens can go to court to seek justice for 60 days after the decision by the AG’s office is issued.
  • SB 2174 (Public Act 99-0695): Requires appointed members of government boards of public universities and colleges to complete professional development and leadership training. Appointed board members will have to show proof of taking at least four hours of training within two years of beginning their service, and within every two years of service thereafter. 
  • HB 5930 (Public Act 99-0652): Improves efficiency and reduces cost by allowing electronic communication instead of requiring mailed paper correspondence between an employer and the state of Illinois to check the license of a certified nurse’s aide. 
  • SB 2286 (Public Act 99-0565): Expands our current laws as they relate to posting requirements for our state’s human trafficking hotline. SB 2286 would ensure that notices would be posted to ensure that employees of hotels and motels have the resources they need to get them out of a trafficking situation.
  • SB 2512 (Public Act 99-0625): Improves outcomes for kids in the Department of Children and Family Service’s care to keep those kids out of shelters and in family homes, by requiring judges to ask parents/guardians to provide the court with a list of all known names, addresses, and telephone numbers of living adult relatives who could possibly care for the child who requires placement.
  • SB 2524 (Public Act 99-0659): Amends the Illinois Identification Card Act to remove the current $10 fee for a first state identification card for children who are wards of the state. These kids are already our state’s responsibility, and proper identification will help them better participate in society.
  • SB 3047 (Public Act 99-0858): Ensures the proper tax treatment of innovative cancer treatments, to keep them taxed at the same 1% rate as prescription drugs and other medical devices, instead of the much higher consumer product tax rate. SB 3047 specifically protects cancer treatments recognized by the FDA as “Class III” medical devices.
Illinois Supreme Court Boots Fair Maps Proposal from November Ballot
In a 4-3 vote on Thursday, Illinois’ highest court affirmed a ruling by a Cook County judge that a voter referendum seeking to change how the state draws legislative district maps was unconstitutional. With no other judicial recourse available, the issue will not appear on the November ballot. The 4-3 vote by the justices fell along party lines.

Today, politicians from the majority party draw maps that favor incumbents from their party and all but guarantee the continuation of their majority status. The citizen-led and bipartisan Independent Maps coalition gathered more than 563,000 signatures on petitions seeking a fair and non-political process, calling for an 11-member commission to be in charge of drawing maps.

Chief Justice Rita Garman and Justice Robert Thomas issued stinging statements that articulated their dissent of the decision. Here are excerpts from both statements:

Justice Thomas
“The Illinois constitution is meant to prevent tyranny, not to enshrine it.”

“Today a muzzle has been placed on the people of this State, and their voices supplanted with judicial fiat. The whimper you hear is democracy stifled. I join that muted chorus of dissent."

"When the Reporter of Decisions sends out the majority's disposition, he should include a bright orange warning sticker for readers to paste over Article XIV, Section 3, of their personal copies of the 1970 Constitution reading, ‘Out of Service.’”

Chief Justice Garman
"I write separately to express my concern with the impact of the majority’s conclusion on the future of redistricting in Illinois. Article XIV, section 3, was included in our constitution to provide the people of this state with the power to act in situations where it is against the legislature’s self-interest to do so. Redistricting is clearly such an issue. Those elected have an incentive to draw maps that will help them remain in office."

You can read the ruling here.

Breen to Host Free Property Tax Forum in September
If you went into sticker shock when you opened your most recent tax bill, you are not alone. On Saturday, September 24, I’m inviting residents of the 48th District to join me for a free property tax seminar, aimed at helping citizens better understand their tax bill while learning how to appeal a property tax over-assessment. The session will take place from 9:30 AM until 11:00 AM in the Clayton Room at the Glen Ellyn Civics Center, 535 Duane Street, in Glen Ellyn. At the event, I’ll be joined by Milton Township Assessor Chris E. LeVan and York Township Assessor Deanna Wilkins. Folks who attend will gain a better understanding of an often misunderstood process, along with learning about the tools you need to challenge your assessment, if it is too high. RSVPs are appreciated for this event. To RSVP please contact my office at (630) 403-8135.

ILHEAP to Accept Applications for Low Income Energy Assistance Program
The state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will begin accepting applications for winter heating assistance for seniors and people with disabilities on September 1. LIHEAP and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) program are funded as part of the stopgap funding plan signed into law by Governor Rauner. LIHEAP is a state and federally funded energy assistance program for low-income families, in which heating bill payments are made on behalf of households. Applications are processed through a network of 35 local administering agencies around the state. These agencies will accept applications on a first-come, first-served basis. Residents must bring all required documentation when applying for assistance, including: 
  • Proof of gross income from all household members for the 30-day income period beginning with the date of the application.
  • A copy of their current heat and electric bills issued within the last 30 days (if they pay for their energy directly). 
  • A copy of their rental agreement (if they are renting) showing that utilities are included, the monthly rental amount and landlord contact information. 
  • Proof of Social Security numbers for all household members. 
  • Proof that their household received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Aid to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled (AABD); or other benefits, such as Medical Eligibility or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), if receiving assistance from the Illinois Department of Human Services. 
A single-person household can qualify with a monthly income of up to $1,485; a two-person household up to $2,003; a family of three can earn up to $2,520; and a family of four can earn up to $3,038. For a complete listing of LIHEAP’s local administering agencies and additional information about the program, go to www.liheapIllinois.com, or call the energy assistance toll-free hotline at (877) 411-WARM.

Governor Signs Bills Honoring Gold Star Families, Increasing Services to Illinois Veterans
Governor Bruce Rauner recently took action on several bills as part of “Veterans Day” at the 2016 Illinois State Fair. The bills strengthen Illinois’ commitment to our veterans and their families by providing needed assistance and honor to those who have sacrificed so much for our country and our state.

HB 4389 designates the day after Gold Star Mother’s Day as Gold Star Family Day to be observed throughout Illinois as a day to honor and commemorate the families of men and women who gave their lives while serving with the armed forces of the United States. HB 4432 allows a child in any grades 6 through 12 to be absent from a public school for the purpose of sounding “Taps” at a military honor funeral held in Illinois for a deceased veteran. HB 4627 allows veterans to begin their college education upon discharge regardless of how the calendar year lines up. HB 4344 creates the Heroes Way Designation Program Act. It is a way to honor servicemembers who were killed in action by allowing a relative to apply to have an honorary sign with the name of the servicemember erected along designated Illinois roads. I’m proud to support initiatives like these, to support our veterans and their families, especially those who have given “the last full measure” in service to our country.