Legislative Update: February 17, 2017

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

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