Legislative Update: Special Interests & Partisanship

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.

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