Today, the House Tollway Oversight Committee unanimously approved a bill by State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) to ensure a consistent 70 m.p.h. speed limit on most of the Illinois Tollway System.

HB 2938 would require a consistent speed limit of 70 m.p.h. on all Illinois tollways, with the exception of I-294, which is due for reconstruction. The bill would also require General Assembly permission to go below 70 m.p.h. on those tollways. Through legislation approved in 2014, maximum speed limits in Illinois were raised to 70 m.p.h. on most interstates. According to Breen, the administrative authorities decided not to increase the effective speed limits on most of the tollways. They instead maintained 55-65 m.p.h. speed limits.

“This bill will ensure that our tollway speed limits are consistent across the system at the prevailing rate of 70 m.p.h.,” said Breen. “Folks on the tollways are driving in the range of 70 m.p.h., and numerous studies show that a consistent, realistic speed limit improves roadway safety.”

HB 2938 was approved by a 5-0 vote, and will be given full consideration in the House in the coming weeks. If approved and signed into law, the effective date for HB 2938 would be 12 months after being signed by the Governor.
Real-time video and audio has taken off recently, allowing anyone with a cell phone to become a content creator. From hosting your own live talkshow to providing an up-close view of breaking events, locally or abroad, the possibilities of this technology to inform and enrich are great. But there’s a dark side to these new capabilities, with the distribution of disturbing or highly inappropriate videos and audios.

Recently, a 12-year-old from Georgia livestreamed her own suicide on social media—and the video was widely distributed by others in the days following the incident. A few days before that incident, a 14-year old from Florida also livestreamed her suicide, from the bathroom of her home, and that video went viral. We have nothing but sympathy for the families of those who take their own lives—the spread of the videos of their children’s suicides is an abuse, possibly repeated thousands of times, of those families and the memories of their children.

The tragic incidents in Georgia and Florida represent only two of many cases where video footage of suicides have been widely distributed to a broad audience. Sadly, today our law enforcement officers have very few tools at their disposal to stop people who further victimize these people by distributing their suicide videos. The viral nature of these videos may also cause other children to consider suicide. We need to address this growing issue immediately.

In an effort to protect vulnerable segments of our population, this year I filed legislation in Springfield that would criminalize the act of publishing, selling, or delivering video or audio that depicts a child or intellectually disabled person committing suicide. Cognizant of constitutional concerns, I drew specifically upon statutes banning the distribution of child pornography in drafting this bill. Protecting these classifications of people is a good starting point, but my eventual goal is to include all people, regardless of age or mental capacity, in the statute.

Suicide is very personal issue for me. Two of my own close high school friends committed suicide while we were in college, and another college friend committed suicide shortly after graduation. While most of us do not speak of the pain and loss caused by these terrible deaths, we all know people and families impacted by suicide.

Specifically, my bill, HB 825, would amend the criminal code to create the offense of Criminal Distribution of a Suicide Depiction. Through this legislation, an individual would be guilty of a 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.

Common sense and human decency dictates that, when inappropriate videos are posted for public viewing, the video or audio stream should not be shared, sold, or distributed. However, a basic understanding between right and wrong often falls to the wayside, as violent and inappropriate videos quickly go viral in our new digital world. With the rapidly-increasing use of the Internet for live-streaming of videos, legislators have to ensure that the law keeps up with technology, especially when faced with alarming trends like this one. We must do everything we can to deter lost or troubled people from choosing to take their own life, and putting stiff penalties in place for those who share or sell videos of children who commit suicide is a good start.

Breen Bill to Address Secrecy of Group Home Abuse Records Clears House Committee
This week I advanced legislation that was filed in response to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune that uncovered an alarming number of instances of safety violations at state-funded group homes for adults with significant disabilities.

HB 3515, which cleared the House State Government Administration Committee unanimously on Wednesday, would improve transparency and lift the veil of absolute secrecy that has shielded some of the worst offending facilities from public scrutiny. Last year the Chicago Tribune uncovered more than 1,300 instances of abuse and neglect in a study of taxpayer-funded group homes in Illinois from 2013-2016. Shockingly, 42 of the cases involved client deaths.

In the course of their investigation, the blanket prohibitions within the Freedom of Information Act allowed that law to be used as a shield of the wrong-doing. My bill increases transparency by allowing those abuse records to be accessible without compromising existing protections that provide patient confidentiality. Personal identifiable information would remain protected.

I will be amending the bill slightly to address some concerns expressed by agencies, and hope to bring the bill to the House floor for full consideration in April.

Breen Co-Sponsors Comprehensive Pension Reform Bill
Our state desperately needs pension reform. On Friday I joined House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and a coalition of House Republicans in filing a comprehensive pension reform bill that would provide significant savings for taxpayers and $215 million to the Chicago Public Schools for a one time pension parity payment. HB 4027 would not affect current retirees, but for current and future pension system participants it: 
  • Includes Senate President John Cullerton’s “consideration model” that would require members of TRS, SURS, SERS, GARS, and CTPF to exchange their Tier 1 COLA for the right to have future raises to be counted as pensionable, or keep their COLA and sacrifice future raises as pensionable. 
  • Provides a one-time normal cost payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund of $215.2 million for FY 17. 
  • Closes new member participation in GARS. 
  • Offers Tier 1 TRS, SURS, SERS and GARS employees the option to participate in a defined contribution (DC) plan. 
  • Creates a voluntary Tier 3 Hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new Tier 2 employees under TRS, SURS, and certain SERS members who do not participate in Social Security. 
This compromise bill, drawn from prior language agreed to by Democrats and Republicans, will save taxpayers billions of dollars, both immediately and over the long term. The bill also ends pensions for legislators, which is long overdue. I’m proud to join with 25 other legislators to support this common sense measure. As you may recall, immediately after being sworn in to the Illinois House, I rejected a pension for my legislative service. Since that time, I have consistently advocated for sustainable pension reforms that protect both taxpayers and vulnerable retirees. It is estimated the State of Illinois will realize short-term savings of $2.25 billion dollars from the general funds, which represents a substantial step towards closing the deficit gap.
State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) joined House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and a coalition of House Republicans today in filing a comprehensive pension reform bill that would provide significant savings for taxpayers and $215 million to the Chicago Public Schools for a one time pension parity payment.

The legislation, filed in Springfield today as HB 4027, is modeled after legislation introduced in a bipartisan manner in the Senate. Specifically, HB 4027:
  • Includes Senate President John Cullerton’s “consideration model” that would require members of TRS, SURS, SERS, GARS, and CTPF to exchange their Tier 1 COLA for the right to have future raises to be counted as pensionable, or keep their COLA and sacrifice future raises as pensionable. 
  • Provides a one-time normal cost payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund of $215.2 million for FY 17. 
  • Closes new member participation in GARS. 
  • Offers Tier 1 TRS, SURS, SERS and GARS employees the option to participate in a defined contribution (DC) plan. 
  • Creates a voluntary Tier 3 Hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new Tier 2 employees under TRS, SURS, and certain SERS members who do not participate in Social Security.
“Our state desperately needs pension reform,” said Breen. “This compromise bill, drawn from prior language agreed to by Democrats and Republicans, will save taxpayers billions of dollars, both immediately and over the long term. The bill also ends pensions for legislators, which is long overdue. I’m proud to join with 25 other legislators to support this common sense measure.”

Immediately after being sworn in to the Illinois House, Breen rejected a pension for legislative service. Since that time, he has consistently advocated for sustainable pension reforms that protect both taxpayers and vulnerable retirees. “It is estimated the State of Illinois will realize short-term savings of $2.25 billion dollars from the general funds, which represents a substantial step towards closing the deficit gap,” Breen said.

HB 4027 was filed with Durkin as the Chief Sponsor and with an additional 25 House Republicans as co-sponsors. “With our 26 votes the House Republicans have provided their pro-rata share of support for a structured roll call vote on this important issue,” said Durkin. “This means we will provide our fair share of votes. The Speaker needs to provide his 34 votes to move this legislation to the Senate.”
Sometimes in Springfield, the truth beats any fiction you could invent.

One of my bills this term seeks to fix a quirk in Illinois law that negatively impacts nonprofits and small businesses. Every nonprofit and business in Illinois must file an “annual report” with the Secretary of State. That report provides basics about the board members of the operation and includes the annual fee—it’s required to remain in good standing as a corporation.

I discovered in filing one of those reports this year that there is an electronic filing option. That was great news: instead of hand-writing the required information on a sheet of paper, cutting a check, and sending the papers in the mail, you could e-file with a credit card.

Here’s the problem: the Secretary of State’s office charges you an extra fee of $25, $50, or more for e-filing.

Because our fee statute hasn’t been rewritten in a while, the law had lumped e-filing in with “expedited services,” which allows to folks who need same-day treatment of their filing to pay an extra fee for that service. But most folks don’t need “expedited service,” especially when filing something like their annual report with the Secretary of State’s office.

My bill simply says that an e-filing will be treated like any other filing—it’s not an expedited service solely because of being conveyed electronically.

Seems easy enough, right? If anything, e-filing should cost the Secretary of State’s office less than processing all those paper forms and checks. And you eliminate issues like forgetting to include your check or the form getting lost in the mail. Not to mention avoiding the problem of someone mistyping your handwritten information into the Secretary of State’s database.

Well, in Springfield, nothing is that easy.

I got word that the Secretary of State’s office opposed my bill. The reason: money.

The staff at the Secretary of State’s office said they didn’t want to lose the extra money they are making off these fees. I’ve tried to make the case that most folks running nonprofits and small businesses are like me: when I saw the $50 fee I’d have to pay for e-filing, I went back and grabbed my pen, checkbook, and a stamp. There’s no way I was going to pay $50 extra for the privilege of e-filing.

The reality of Springfield is also that, because the Secretary of State is a popular Democrat, it’s nearly impossible to move a bill if his office is opposed. Before the committee hearing on the bill, I was having real trouble getting folks to sign on to the measure. (To her credit, Rep. Carol Sente, a Democrat from Vernon Hills, agreed to sign on as my chief cosponsor.)

Then came the committee hearing at the end of last week. I testified, and then the staff person from the Secretary of State’s office testified. All of the sudden, with both sides’ arguments laid bare, you could see the looks on the faces of the committee members change. They were not happy. Then came the questions:

“We charge people more to e-file, even though it costs us less to process?”

“Why don’t you guys get into the 21st Century?”

“If anything, shouldn’t we charge people more to file by mail, not less?”

It didn’t go well for the Secretary of State. The bill advanced on a bipartisan vote of 6-1.

While the prospects now look good for this bill, there are plenty of other similar measures that die quietly. This is a mentality we run into every day at the Capitol. The question isn’t whether a particular fee or tax makes any sense, or whether it best serves taxpayers, nonprofits, and small businesses.

Instead, the fees and taxes are imposed because those inside the government see the fees and taxes as their money. They forget that “We the People” send that money—the product of our labor and industry—to fund a proper state government.

When you’re looking where to lay the blame for the dysfunction in Springfield, you can start with the roadblocks I ran into here. There’s way too much deference to politically powerful people and offices, and bureaucrats forget that government exists to serve taxpayers and not the other way around.

The one way I know to fight these mindsets is to shine a bright spotlight on them whenever they rear their ugly heads. As it’s said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Bill that Addresses Penalties for Aggravated DUIs Sails through House Committee
It’s always a good sign when the chairman of the committee where a bill is being vetted signs on as the Chief Co-Sponsor. That was the case on Wednesday when the House Transportation: Vehicles & Safety Committee considered my HB 3084. DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin joined me in Springfield for the presentation of the bill, and told committee members the legislation was needed to update the term “aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol,” and ensure that penalties given for while driving under a suspended or revoked license because of a violation to the reckless homicide statute also applies to aggravated DUI when the violation results in death. The bill now heads to the floor of the House for a full debate and vote.

Breen Bill to allow 360-Lid Technology for Craft Breweries Receives Unanimous House Support
Yesterday, legislation I am sponsoring that allows craft brewing companies in Illinois to utilize new 360-lid technology took one more step toward becoming a law. These 360-lids are the newest innovation in beer can technology. By essentially removing the entire lid of a beer can, an aluminum drinking vessel is created that allows consumers to better enjoy the aromas associated with IPAs and other hoppy beers. Fourteen states already allow this technology, and the adoption of HB 2386 will allow craft brewing companies in Illinois to remain competitive. The idea for HB 2386 was brought to me by the owners of Lombard’s Noon Whistle Brewing Company, when they discovered that the Environmental Protection Act from the 1980s prohibited the removal of any portion of the top of a beverage can. Through my legislation, the small aluminum tabs that posed a safety hazard 30 years ago are still banned, but a narrow exception is carved out for these much larger 360-lids in the craft brew industry. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Illinois Toll Highway Authority to Eliminate Plastic Coin Collection Buckets
The Illinois tollway authority plans to remove the familiar plastic bucket cones into which motorists can throw coins. The cones, which are posted on tollway cash pay lanes, feed coins into electromechanical coin-counting machines. They will be replaced by new electronic touch screens that will accept credit cards, bills, and coins. This switchover will not affect I-PASS users. On Monday, February 27, the Authority told the press that they still had 100 coin-counting cones deployed on their network of highways, mostly at unmanned tollway exit ramps.

Breen’s HB 2423 Approved at Committee Level
Common sense legislation that would allow townships to deliver surplus wood chips generated through routine tree maintenance to residents was approved on Thursday by the House Counties & Townships Committee. Based on concerns expressed during a subject matter hearing on the bill earlier this month, HB 2423 was amended to add flexibility to the process for distribution of the materials, including a provision that would allow the use of a random drawing to determine which residents may receive them. This bill is also a cost-saving measure. In York Township, for example, it actually costs more for the township to deliver the wood chips to landfills than it costs to deliver the materials to taxpaying residents who want to use them. The bill will now be heard on the floor of the House.
With a unanimous showing of support in the House of Representatives today, legislation sponsored by State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) that allows craft brewing companies in Illinois to utilize new 360-lid technology is one step closer to becoming a law.

“These 360-lids are the newest innovation in beer can technology,” said Breen. “By essentially removing the entire lid of a beer can, an aluminum drinking vessel is created that allows consumers to better enjoy the aromas associated with IPAs and other hoppy beers. Fourteen states already allow this technology, and the adoption of HB 2386 will allow craft brewing companies in Illinois to remain competitive.”

According to Breen, the idea for HB 2386 was brought to him by the owners of Lombard’s Noon Whistle Brewing Company, when they discovered that the Environmental Protection Act from the 1980s prohibited the removal of any portion of the top of a beverage can. “Under this legislation, the small aluminum tabs that posed a safety hazard 30 years ago are still banned,” Breen said. “This bill simply carves out a narrow exception for much larger 360-lids in the craft brew industry.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Legislation Initiated by Lombard Craft Brewery Headed for Full House Hearing
On Tuesday I was joined in Springfield by Paul Kreiner and Mike Condon of Lombard’s Noon Whistle Brewing Company as we presented a bill that would allow them and other Illinois craft beer brewers to use new 360-lid technology on their cans.

My HB 2386 would allow the owners of these small brewing companies the ability to remain competitive in an ever-changing marketplace. The 360-lid is already available in 14 states, and experts say the technology, which essentially pulls away the entire top of a beer can, allows consumers to have a fuller appreciation of the more fragrant beers, like IPAs or other hoppy beers. The owners of the Noon Whistle Brewing Company brought the idea for the bill to me after we discovered that the current Environmental Protection Act actually prohibits the use of any type of fully removable pull tab on beverages. My bill makes a very narrow exception to that rule to allow for this specific purpose in the craft brewing industry.

Paul and Mike did a great job fielding questions before the Tourism, Hospitality and Craft Institutions Committee, and we received unanimous support from committee members. The bill now moves to the floor of the House for full consideration.

General Assembly Celebrates Chicago Cubs Day in Springfield
There was a great deal of excitement swirling around the Capitol on Wednesday, as news traveled that Chicago Cubs Owner Tom Ricketts and Hall of Fame Second Baseman Ryne Sandberg were in town for the latest stop of the Cubs Trophy Tour. As our session day began, a joint session of the House and Senate gathered to watch the coveted trophy make its way to the front of the House chamber.

Mr. Ricketts spoke to the lawmakers about the three goals set by his family when they became owners of the ball club, including:
  • Winning the World Series
  • Preserving and improving Wrigley Field
  • Doing more for the Wrigleyville community
He also thanked Illinoisans for their love and support of the team over the many years that led to the 2016 Championship. Following the festivities at the Capitol, the trophy was available for public viewing at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, where Cub fans lined up as early as 6:00 AM for their chance to see this important part of sports history.

Bill that Removes Certain Fees for Nonprofits and LLCs that File Electronically Clears House Committee
A bill of mine that would abolish $25 or $50 extra filing fees for nonprofits and small companies that choose to file paperwork electronically received bipartisan support this week from members of the State Government Administration Committee. HB 3514 would amend several areas of Illinois law, including the Business Corporation Act, the General Not For Profit Corporation Act, the Limited Liability Company Act, the Uniform Partnership Act and the Uniform Limited Partnership Act to clarify that entities organized under the Acts may not be automatically labeled as “expedited” just because they choose to do their filings electronically. Today the Secretary of State’s office treats all e-filings as expedited, regardless of the filers’ intentions, and my bill removes those automatic fees. In spite of opposition by the Secretary of State’s office, which wanted to retain this revenue source, the majority of the committee members recognized the inadvertent fee that was being levied, and supported my bill. HB 3514 will now move to the House for a final vote.
The legislative session is in full swing in Springfield. The House was in session last week, while the Senate is in session this week. In the House, tempers are flaring due to lack of movement on a budget: the Democrats are blaming Governor Rauner for the budget impasse, while the Republicans are blaming Speaker Mike Madigan for refusing to hold hearings and consider reforms and spending bills.

Since budget bills aren’t being allowed for hearing, folks are moving their other bills through the typical committee and floor process. This is what I call “regular order,” where we consider bills that, while there may be differences of opinion, any differences are less about Democrats vs. Republicans and more about interest group disagreements or regional differences. If “regular order” is working, that means we’re observing a basic level of courtesy, and lines of communication are open among the representatives—lines that will have to be open, if we’re to do any serious work on a budget.

But even if the partisan divides aren’t as active on the bills moving right now, the special interests in Springfield are working overtime to protect their turf.

One recent example is a bill from Rep. Mark Batinick of Plainfield, to eliminate the state government’s “soybean ink mandate.” In his research on higher education costs in Illinois, Rep. Batinick learned that our state has a unique mandate that every agency, including all of our universities, must use soybean-based ink in all printing. About twenty years ago, the General Assembly imposed this mandate to help the young and growing soybean ink market, in hopes of helping Illinois’ soybean farmers sell more soybeans.

Today, however, the soybean ink market is well-established and is regularly used by newspapers and other more traditional printing presses. And in the two decades since the mandate was imposed, digital printing has taken off—but soybean ink is incompatible with this new technology. This means, for instance, that a university or government agency faced with a small print job that would call for digital printing instead couldn’t use that technology. Even for traditional large print jobs, there are times when soybean ink is more expensive or less appropriate. All the extra cost of mandating soybean ink comes directly out of your pocket.

This mandate means that our universities alone are paying at least $1 million more per year than they should for printing. Across the entire Illinois government, the cost would presumably be many multiples of that.

You’d figure that a bill to end the soybean ink mandate would be easy to support, especially during a time of grave fiscal crisis for our state government. But, unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

It turns out, the soybean farmers have a powerful group of lobbyists in Springfield, and they have so far successfully stalled Rep. Batinick’s bill. Again, this is not a partisan issue—representatives on both sides of the aisle are vigorously fighting against this small, simple reform. (I’ve signed on as a co-sponsor of Rep. Batinick’s bill, to help him end this costly and unnecessary mandate.)

There are two lessons I would offer from this example, just one of many reform bills now pending in the General Assembly. First, the negative one: even now, in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis in our state’s history, pushing even the smallest reform through the General Assembly requires a herculean effort. Second, the positive one: despite the despair so many have about Illinois and its future, folks like Rep. Batinick are in the General Assembly, willing to take on these challenges to beat back the special interest groups, so that we reach the hopeful and bright future that Illinois deserves.

As tough as things are now, that sort of optimistic and determined spirit can and must win out.

Bill that Erases Gap in Health Insurance Coverage for Adopted Children of State Employees Receives Unanimous House Approval
Legislation I sponsored 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 last week. 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 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 our own recent interstate adoption, my wife Margie and I 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. 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.

You can listen to my floor comments on the bill here. HB 817 is now pending in the Senate.

Breen Bill to Improve Oversight over Multi-State Procurement Agreements Clears Key House Committee
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. 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. Last week I moved a bill through committee that would provide for just that. 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. The bill, HB 2424, could be considered by the full House as soon as next week.

House Members Return to Springfield March 7 to Continue Vetting Bills
More than 3,000 House Bills were filed prior to the deadline this year. While State Representatives are in our home districts tending to the needs of our local constituents this week, we will return to the Capitol next week to continue vetting bills in committees and take final bill action on the House floor. A few of my bills that I hope to present at the committee level during the next few weeks include:
  • HB 2386: Would allow craft beer brewers in Illinois to use “360 lid” technology.
  • HB 2478: Would help match insanity evaluations for those found unfit to stand trial with the length of a sentence (especially in misdemeanor cases).
  • HB 2938: Would create a consistent speed limit (70 m.p.h.) on all expressways controlled by the Illinois Toll Highway Authority; permission to deviate would require General Assembly approval.
  • HB 3084: Would classify the offense of committing aggravated DUI while a license is suspended or revoked as a class 4 felony.
  • HB 3473: Expands the definition of “neglected child” in the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act and the Juvenile Court Act to include a child whose umbilical cord tissue contains any amount of a controlled substance, and that the cord tissue can be used as evidence in a court of law.
  • HB 3474: Provides that if a business is transferred to another individual or entity that, at the time of transfer, has any substantial common ownership or control of the company, then the experience rating records of the transferred business shall be transferred to the new owner.
  • HB 3514: Abolishes the up-to-$50 extra fee currently imposed for e-filing required annual reports by nonprofits, small businesses, and LLCs.