EDITORIAL: Shining a Light on Springfield

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.

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