Legislation that ensures access to the State Employees Group Insurance Plan for adopted children of plan participants was approved unanimously in the Illinois House of Representatives on Friday. Specifically, HB 817 creates a uniform definition of terms for interstate adoptions as they relate to the availability of State health insurance coverage.

The bill, sponsored by State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard), amends portions of Illinois law to eliminate ambiguity about exactly when a child born in another state can be added to the Illinois adoptive parents’ insurance plan. As part of their own recent interstate adoption, Peter and his wife, Margie, learned that Illinois law did not account for other states’ adoption practices, and was out of compliance with federal law on placing children for adoption.

“Parents adopting kids in other states are in a particularly vulnerable situation, and the last thing they need to worry about is whether their new daughter or son will be covered on their insurance plan,” said Breen. “This bill adopts the federal definition of placement for adoption, to ensure that our state’s law is flexible enough to account for the variety of adoption practices across the other 49 states in the Union.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

To hear Rep. Breen's floor comments about the bill, click here.
Legislation sponsored by State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) that would provide a clear enforcement mechanism to ensure a detailed review of purchases made through out-of-state joint purchasing agreements received a unanimous vote of recommended approval on Thursday from the House State Government Administration Committee.

“This issue was brought to my attention because of purchases made by Illinois government units through joint purchasing agreements with other states’ government units. Illinois law requires competitive bidding, but because other states’ laws are not always as protective of taxpayers as our own, we need a strong enforcement mechanism to make sure Illinois law is followed. House Bill 2424 gives our state’s Chief Procurement Officer, who is charged with enforcing that law, the authority needed to thoroughly review these out-of-state procurements for compliance with Illinois law.”

According to Breen, joint purchasing agreements are very common among local units of government and allow for quantity discount pricing, which ultimately saves taxpayers money. While group purchasing is typically done by entities within the same state, there are occasions when joint purchasing agreements cross state lines.

“After filing this bill, I’ve had numerous other situations involving multi-state agreements that appear to have skirted Illinois’ Joint Purchasing Act,” Breen said. “As our school districts and other units of local government continue trying to bring down their costs through these types of purchasing agreements, we need to support those efforts while making sure our competitive bidding laws are being followed.”

Breen said he is currently negotiating an agreed amendment to the bill with stakeholders that will be added prior to the bill’s final consideration on the floor of the House.
A group of bi-partisan state legislators have come together to announce a slate of bills that seeks to remove barriers to local food production in Illinois. The bill package, unveiled at a press conference hosted by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance this past week, also shows support of small businesses and Illinois farmers.

State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) participated in the press conference and discussed his HB 2466, which would broaden Illinoisans’ access to raw milk. “Consumers are demanding more food choices today,” said Breen. “They are looking for organic and locally-grown options, and a growing number of people are looking for unpasteurized milk. My House Bill 2466 will remove costly and unnecessary restrictions, to allow for the expansion of the safe production and distribution of raw milk beyond dairy farms and to local farmers’ markets across the state.” State Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) has filed an identical bill in the Senate.

SB1469/HB2820, sponsored by Koehler and State Representative Steven Andersson (R-Geneva), would add additional allowable foods for production by Cottage Food Operations (homemade foods) and streamline certain farmers market food sanitation rules across counties. An additional bill, sponsored by State Representative Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago), would expand the cottage food market even more. Guzzardi’s HB3063 would allow food producers to sell any harvested or homemade food to an informed end consumer for personal home use, without inspection or certification (excluding non-poultry meats). State Representative Carol Ammons (D–Champaign) is also advancing HB 2592, which would create a statewide permitting system for farmers’ markets.

State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) has introduced the Industrial Hemp bill (SB1294) which would create an opportunity for Illinois farmers to apply for permits from the Illinois Department of Agriculture in order to grow industrial hemp, reviving a once thriving market for Illinois farmers and processors. Neighboring Kentucky has a similar law in place and has already enrolled over 135 farmers, 4,500+ acres, and 40 processors in hemp projects.
This week brought the governor’s annual budget address. As well, the Illinois Senate is expected to continue negotiating a “grand compromise,” which would tie together spending, reforms, and revenue into one package. Every day at the Capitol, new rumors spread about the contours of possible solutions to the state budget crisis.

Folks are glad that the senators are talking and trying to work together, but the word on the House floor is that Speaker Mike Madigan has made it clear that, no matter what the Senate does, any agreement is dead-on-arrival in Madigan’s House. You see, the big fight is still Governor Bruce Rauner vs. House Speaker Michael Madigan, and the belief in the Madigan camp is that any budget compromise will be seen as a “win” for the governor. On the policy level, Rauner has said he won’t agree to tax increases without major government and business reforms, while Madigan has made it clear he wants tax and spending increases with no preconditions.

The other complicating factor is that the roughly 80 court orders and consent decrees keeping the state government operating are forcing us to spend billions of dollars more than we take in. That overspending is adding to the pile of unpaid bills being racked up every month. And just a few weeks ago, Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a motion to reverse and eliminate the court order continuing wage payments to Illinois government workers. State workers have been paid under that court order for over a year and a half, but Attorney General Madigan stated she filed the motion just now to give the budget negotiations some “momentum.”

Now, one could applaud an action like this as “fiscally responsible,” and one would also typically believe in the purity of the motives of a state’s chief legal officer. The problem is, instead of filing this motion in each of the 80 courtrooms where these orders are pending—whether to end the orders or at least reduce the required payments to an affordable level—Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed in just 1 courtroom, leaving the other 79 orders and consent decrees in place. It doesn’t make sense as a financial or legal matter.

I’ve not seen any other media sources opine on this issue, but the reasoning seems simple enough to me: most state workers live in downstate districts, now represented by Republicans. Lisa Madigan’s actions make perfect political sense in that they increase pressure solely on Republican legislators, in hopes of weakening Governor Rauner’s ability to obtain reforms, while strengthening Mike Madigan’s ability to force tax and spending increases.

This is a high-stakes game of poker. The Madigan family has millions of dollars in campaign contributions at stake, from special interests and their lobbyists. Every one of those taxes and spending items being pushed by Mike Madigan has lobbyists dedicated to increasing them. However, Illinois taxpayers trying to eke out a living, and small businesses struggling to survive and grow, have only their elected officials to hold taxes and spending in line.

From my end, I’m advocating for two key items. First, we should immediately pay off our $11 billion in unpaid bills. By law, we’re forced to pay 12% interest on those bills—that means we’re flushing roughly $500 million down the toilet in short-term interest every year. There are plenty of ways to generate the necessary funds to pay down those bills, from issuing bonds to selling state assets. Second, we should immediately approve spending for the amount of money we have coming in, so that we stop all, or almost all, of the court orders and consent decrees which are causing our pile of bills to grow. Based on our best estimates, we are bringing in roughly $33 billion per year. By at least approving spending at that level, we can ensure that our social service providers and community colleges get immediate payment, of at least most of the funds they need, instead of continuing to suffer massive cuts and lengthy payment delays.

With a spending backstop in place, the legislature and governor could then take the time they need from now to the end of May to negotiate a full package of appropriate reforms, spending reductions, and revenues to move our state government and economy forward for the longer term. And, we will avoid the kind of gotcha games that are going on now, where state workers or other disfavored groups or programs get targeted in court, while unpaid bills pile up and residents and businesses are harmed even more deeply.

Key Breen Bills Begin to Move through Legislative Process
Last week marked the deadline for filing bills to be considered during this spring session. In all, I filed 27 bills as the Chief Sponsor. I will also serve as Chief Co-Sponsor or as a co-sponsor of another 10 pieces of legislation. A few of my more noteworthy bills this year include:

Eliminating/Regulating Red Light Camera Technology
In response to a recent Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) decision to allow the Village of Oakbrook Terrace to place a red light camera at the entrance of Oak Brook Center Mall at 22nd Street and Route 83, I filed HB 506, which would reverse the decision and prohibit a red light camera at that intersection. These cameras are a hidden tax on drivers, to boost government profits at the expense of hardworking Illinoisans. It’s especially unfair that Oakbrook Terrace did this to the detriment of its neighbor, Oak Brook, but the placement of a camera outside Oak Brook Mall will keep shoppers out of the entire area, devastating commerce not just at the mall but at surrounding shopping centers.

In addition to this bill, I have also filed two other Red Light Camera bills currently pending in Springfield:
  • HB 2422: Prohibits the use of RLC technology in DuPage County
  • HB 2940: Requires a municipality or county to provide proof of a significant increase statewide in safety that has resulted from the use of RLCs before any RLC permit is issued by the Department of Transportation
Criminalizing the Sharing/Selling of Videos Depicting Suicide
Did you know it is not against the law to share or sell video that depicts a child committing suicide. I took steps to criminalize that practice this year with the filing of HB 825 in Springfield. Just a few weeks ago, a 12-year-old from Georgia livestreamed her own suicide on social media and the video was widely shared by people in the days following the incident. A few days prior to that, a 14-year old from Florida also livestreamed her suicide from the bathroom of her home and that video went viral. But our brave law enforcement officers have no tools to stop people who further victimize these children by distributing their suicide videos. We have to do everything we can to keep kids from taking their own lives, and the viral nature of these videos only promotes others to consider suicide. Specifically, HB 825 amends the criminal code to create the offense of Criminal Distribution of a Suicide Depiction. The bill targets suicides committed by those under the age of 18 and those with intellectual disabilities, protecting those in society who are most vulnerable. Cognizant of constitutional concerns, I drew specifically upon statutes banning the distribution of child pornography in drafting this bill. An individual is guilty of the crime if he or she knowingly publishes, sells, delivers, or makes an offer to sell or deliver, a video or audio depiction of a child or disabled person committing suicide. A first offense would be classified as a Class A misdemeanor, and those who engage in a second or subsequent offense would be guilty of a Class 4 felony.

Helping Local Small Business Maximize Opportunities for Success
Last year I was approached by the owners of Noon Whistle Brewing Company in Lombard, and they asked for my assistance in helping them remain competitive in an ever-changing marketplace. The newest innovation in beer can technology is the 360 lid, which when pulled removes almost the entire top of an aluminum can to create an aluminum cup. It has become very popular in the industry, but unfortunately it is illegal in Illinois due to the ban of removable pull tabs from beer and soft drink cans in the 1980s. I filed HB 2386, which would amend the Environmental Protection Act to permit this new technology and allow our local breweries to remain competitive.

Transparency of Group Home Records
In response to the Chicago Tribune’s investigation late last year into health and safety violations at group homes that provide services to adults with disabilities in Illinois, I filed HB 3515, which would allow Illinois citizens greater access to group home performance records. The Chicago Tribune uncovered more than 1,300 instances of abuse and neglect in a study of taxpayer-funded group homes from 2013-2016, and 42 of those cases involved client deaths. They uncovered an alarming trend that showed the facilities that were the worst offenders were shielded from public scrutiny due to exemption provisions in the Freedom of Information Act. As long as we can preserve a sense of privacy of individual clients who experienced abuse, the public should be able to access information about which institutions are failing to provide the level of safety and care our state’s most vulnerable citizens deserve.

Constitutional Rights on College Campuses
In light of the riots, violence, and “speech codes” shutting down peaceful demonstrations and lectures on college campuses across the country, my HB 2939 would solidify Free Speech protections for college students. The bill would create the Campus Free Speech Act and provide a framework that would be used for the creation of a policy on free expression by every institution of higher learning in the state. Our public institutions of higher learning have historically embraced a commitment to free speech, but in recent years we have seen colleges and universities abdicate their responsibility to uphold free-speech principles. This initiative will put Illinois in the forefront of ensuring robust, respectful speech on college campuses. College is a time of self-discovery and learning for students, and our institutions of higher education should be striving to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.

Breen to Serve on Several Key House Committees during 100th General Assembly
The first step for the legislation filed by State Representatives is a thorough hearing before a substantive House Committee. In addition to my assignment to the bipartisan and bicameral Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR), I will be serving on the following House Committees for the next two years:
  • Energy
  • Financial Institutions
  • Judiciary-Civil
  • Labor and Commerce
  • Public Utilities
  • Restorative Justice
  • Workers Compensation Subcommittee
In response to the Chicago Tribune’s investigation late last year into health and safety violations at group homes that provide services to adults with disabilities in Illinois, State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) has filed transparency legislation that would allow Illinois citizens greater access to group home performance records.

“The Chicago Tribune uncovered more than 1,300 instances of abuse and neglect in a study of taxpayer-funded group homes from 2013-2016, and 42 of those cases involved client deaths,” said Breen. “They uncovered an alarming trend that showed the facilities that were the worst offenders were shielded from public scrutiny due to exemption provisions in the Freedom of Information Act. As long as we can preserve a sense of privacy of individual clients who experienced abuse, the public should be able to access information about which institutions are failing to provide the level of safety and care our state’s most vulnerable citizens deserve.”

HB 3515, filed last week in Springfield, seeks to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to allow currently blocked information to be available to the public. According to Breen, today’s confidentiality statues are excessive and deprive Illinoisans of information to which they should have easy access. “These facilities that service adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are hiding behind broad confidentiality statutes, and in some cases it has resulted in gross negligence and a complete lack of accountability,” Breen said. “Through HB 3515, watchdogs, concerned citizens, and the media will be able to know when and where these abuses are occurring.”

Breen’s legislation would complement a series of reforms proposed by the Illinois Department of Human Services in the wake of the Tribune’s investigative report.

In response to riots, violence, and “speech codes” shutting down peaceful demonstrations and lectures on college campuses across the country, a new Illinois bill would solidify Free Speech protections for college students. Filed this past week in Springfield by State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard), a constitutional rights attorney, HB 2939 would create the Campus Free Speech Act and provide a framework that would be used for the creation of a policy on free expression by every institution of higher learning in the state.

“With everything going on nationally right now, this is a timely bill that will serve as a reminder that the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech and expression,” said Breen. “Our public institutions of higher learning have historically embraced a commitment to free speech, but in recent years we have seen colleges and universities abdicate their responsibility to uphold free-speech principles. This initiative will put Illinois in the forefront of ensuring robust, respectful speech on college campuses.”

HB 2939 would require the governing board of each public university and community college to develop and adopt a policy on free expression and share the policy and rules with freshman students during the orientation process. Additionally, the bill would mandate at the board of higher education level the creation of a Committee on Free Expression, which would be required to issue an annual report on free speech activity on the campus.

“Free speech is a fundamental right in our society, and when young adults choose to gather peaceably, their actions—as long as within the purview of law—should not be discouraged or limited,” Breen said. “College is a time of self-discovery and learning for students, and our institutions of higher education should be striving to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.”

HB 2939 is awaiting assignment to a substantive committee.
State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) has filed legislation that would help local craft breweries remain competitive in an ever-changing marketplace.

“The newest innovation in beer can technology is the 360 lid, which when pulled removes almost the entire top of an aluminum can to create an aluminum cup,” said Breen. “It has become very popular in the industry, but unfortunately it is illegal in Illinois due to the ban of removable pull tabs from beer and soft drink cans in the 1980s. My revision to the Environmental Protection Act would permit this new technology and allow our local breweries to remain competitive.”

The idea for the legislation, filed last week as HB 2386, was brought to Breen by Jim Cagle, one of the three owners of Noon Whistle Brewing Company in Lombard. Cagle expressed his disappointment that he could not offer his customers this new innovation that allows patrons to better enjoy the full flavor and aroma of their beer, and asked if a legislative remedy was possible. “This is great for our customers,” said Cagle. “This would be an absolute advantage for us. We would be very excited to be one of the first Illinois breweries to offer this to our customers.”

According to Breen, HB 2386 would allow local business owners to stay current with trends in the craft beer industry. “These types of small businesses are the backbone of the Illinois economy and we need to be doing whatever we can to keep them thriving in our state,” Breen said. “The passage of this bill would allow these businesses to remain competitive while also enhancing the beer-drinking experience for those who enjoy craft beers.”
A strong supporter of the businesses that drive the Illinois economy, State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) proved through his voting record last year that it is possible to be both pro-business and pro-environment.

The Illinois Environmental Council has listed Breen as having a perfect voting record for 2016 and the Lame Duck Session of January 2017 with regard to 11 bills the Council included on their scorecard. “There were some very important pieces of environmental legislation that were brought before us during the second half of the 99th General Assembly,” said Breen. “These bills protected our environmental resources in ways that did not have a negative impact on the business community, and I was happy to support them. It’s an honor to be recognized by the IEC for my support of those initiatives.”

Illinois Environmental Council Executive Director Jen Walling praised Breen for his support of the IEC’s 2016 scorecard items, saying, “Representative Peter Breen voted 100% of the time with the environmental community on key legislation that promoted clean energy and safe drinking water. We are grateful to Rep. Breen for advancing these proposals and are especially honored by his remarks in favor of clean energy on the House floor."

A full list of the bills included on the IEC scorecard can be found here.
The governor delivered the annual “State of the State” address this past week, and he struck an optimistic and conciliatory tone in the speech. I hope folks on both sides heard his words and will take them to heart.

Unfortunately, the governor’s speech came one day after a colossal fight on the floor of the Illinois House over its “Rules,” which will govern the operation of the House for the next two years. Everything from how bills are considered to what committees will exist are in the “Rules.”

A study was done recently showing that, under Speaker Michael Madigan, our Illinois House Rules have become the most undemocratic in the country. Madigan’s Rules regularly prevent thousands of bills from being considered by the representatives, whether in committee or on the floor, with no true right of appeal. You could have 60 co-sponsors for a bill—over half the House, enough to pass the bill—but it still can’t even get a committee hearing if Madigan doesn’t bless it. Madigan’s Rules were also panned by the study, because of the total control they give him over who serves as a committee chairman—a position that comes with an immediate $10,000 raise for the representatives whom the Speaker chooses to elevate. And, Madigan has absolute power over when a particular bill is called, so we never know when measures will be brought to the floor. There have been times over the past two years where we’ve been given, literally, about 30 seconds to consider a bill and then vote on it.

Now, you’d figure that, in the wake of a study like this, there would at least be a feint at reform of the Rules. Instead, Madigan proposed even more draconian Rules (which I hadn’t thought possible) for the historic 100th General Assembly. We will go into our 200th anniversary as a state with a set of House Rules that the founders of Illinois wouldn’t recognize as fitting for a free people. You deserve better!

I wanted to give you an update after my last op ed about the re-election of Michael Madigan as our House Speaker in mid-January. I’d mentioned that one Democrat voted “present.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, but just last week, the results of that vote came to light. The member was stripped of his committee chairmanship, which means an immediate pay cut of $10,000, and despite being a former federal prosecutor, he was tossed off the Judiciary-Criminal Committee, where he had previously served with distinction.

But it gets better. It turns out, after the vote, Speaker Madigan gave each Illinois Democrat Representative an exquisite crystal clock, engraved on the back with the inscription, “The Honorable Michael J. Madigan. Longest serving Speaker of a state House of Representatives in United States history.” Well, everyone got a clock but our unfortunate “present” voter, who took to Facebook to complain about the snub.

The Democrats elect the most despised political figure in the state to run the Illinois House. They vote in a set of Rules that would make Vladimir Putin blush. And the lone Democrat who voted “present” complains that he didn’t get his engraved crystal clock.

Only in Illinois!

We all know this has to stop. It’s not a partisan issue. It’s time to come together and fix this mess.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has announced the appointment of State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), a bi-partisan, bi-cameral legislative oversight committee.

“State government regulations impact every aspect of the lives of Illinoisans, so it’s an honor to be selected to serve on this important oversight committee,” said Breen, a second-term lawmaker from DuPage County. “We need to ensure that our regulatory environment in Illinois helps small businesses create jobs and reduces government burdens on working families. I appreciate Leader Durkin’s faith in my ability to contribute to this important work, and I look forward to this new role.”

The members of JCAR oversee the rule-making process by state agencies, making sure the rules abide by the original intent of legislators when laws are passed. The committee is composed of 12 legislators who are appointed by the legislative leadership, with the membership apportioned equally between the two houses and the two political parties. It is co-chaired by 2 members representing each party and each legislative house. The members of JCAR are also charged with making sure the General Assembly is adequately informed of how laws are implemented through agency rulemaking and facilitating a public understanding of rules and regulations.