Legislative Update: How We Turn Illinois Around

I hear from a lot of folks who fear for the future of our state. They read the daily reports of woe about state government, and wonder if there will be a place in Illinois for them and their children and grandchildren.

Last week, the Pew Charitable Trusts reported that, when you take the entire pension debt of all 50 state governments, Illinois’ $130 billion debt is roughly 10% of the nation’s total. And that number doesn’t include the roughly $50 billion we owe for retiree health benefits, and the tens of billions more owed to local pension plans. Even using the most rosy future investment return estimates, every household in Illinois owes about $50,000 to the state government, just to make our pension funds solvent today.

Since the 50 states directly compete with each other—and folks can move between them at will—there is a steep price to pay for falling behind your neighbor states. We saw that price paid with the report a few weeks ago that DuPage County lost over 9,000 residents last year, and our entire state lost over 35,000 residents. That makes three straight years we’ve lost more residents than any other state in the country. Many of those leaving cite Illinois’ highest-in-the-nation property taxes, which are roughly double the median among the 50 states, along with the various other problems with Illinois government.

Realistic appropriations bills haven’t been allowed to move forward in the General Assembly, and we’ve been without a budget for almost two years. Since I was sworn in as a representative in 2015, I still haven’t had the opportunity to vote on a balanced budget. I’ve written in this space about one key reason why: the state government continues to operate 90% of its programs (at 100% funding!), because the Attorney General agreed to let judges do the spending for us, by entering consent decrees and court orders against the state. These decrees and orders force us to spend billions more than we take in.

Against that backdrop, what can we do?

First off, we have to remember that Illinois has massive natural advantages. We have Chicago, a world class city. We have a well-educated, creative, and industrious workforce. We have great transportation hubs, rich farmland, and strong manufacturing capabilities. Together, these can be a strong foundation for future growth. However, if we abuse these advantages, we can lose them, and yield them to other states that are working harder to develop their own competing strengths.

Second, we have to make sure our neighbors and friends understand the gravity of our situation. We’re in a deep hole. I’ve been using some pretty strong language to describe the situation, in hopes of painting a picture for folks that can’t be ignored. But there are still a substantial number of legislators in Springfield who believe that the problems aren’t that bad—they literally refuse to believe the statistics that people are leaving. We have to make these legislators understand that folks will flee a state with excessively high taxes and bloated and corrupt government.

Third, we have to follow the advice of President Teddy Roosevelt, who urged, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” He wasn’t a person to wallow in self-pity and despair, and neither should we. Each of us is a free citizen in the greatest nation in the history of humankind.

We each have a voice and a mission, a unique role to play in this world. We each have the power to take action to confront the problems that face us. We can inspire others to do the same. We each have the ability to work to lift Illinois up, and stop our state’s continued drifting down. If we work on this project together, then we cannot help but improve from where we are, and eventually return Illinois to its rightful place as one of the best states in the Union to live, work, and raise a family.

House Democrats Vote for Taxpayer-Funded Abortion
Despite our state being functionally insolvent and having no budget, Illinois Democrats want to transfer tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to the abortion industry. In a party line vote on Tuesday, House Democrats used their majority to push through HB 40, a measure that would allow taxpayer funds to be used to pay for abortions for Illinoisans who rely on Medicaid and for employees on the State insurance plan. Today, state funds may only be used for abortions in cases where the mother’s health is in jeopardy or in cases of rape or incest.

I led the House Republican opposition to the bill, and pointed out that reliable data suggests that taxpayers would pay for over 30,000 abortions if this bill is signed into law, at an impact of $60 million to our Medicaid system. According to the Workers’ Action Guide published by the Illinois Department of Human Services, Medicaid provides medical coverage for pregnant women who make less than 213% of the federal poverty level. The latest numbers from the Guttmacher Institute, released in May 2016, indicate that 75% of women who receive abortions have income under 200% of the federal poverty level. Based upon this information, and published documentation from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services about the cost and frequency of abortion procedures, the $60 million price tag would decimate our Medicaid budget. Governor Bruce Rauner has pledged to veto the bill if it is approved in the Senate and reaches his desk.

You may watch my floor comments on HB 40 here.

Breen Passes Bill to Make Electronic Filing Free, Saving IL Businesses and Non-Profits Millions in Fees
During a week that was consumed by Democrat-led spending initiatives, on Friday I passed legislation that is estimated to save Illinois small businesses and not-for-profits millions of dollars in electronic filing fees. HB 3514 would amend state law to end the practice of charging “expedited service fees” of $25, $50, or more on every electronic filing with the Secretary of State’s office.

Our current law treats every e-filing with the Secretary of State’s office as an expensive ‘expedited service,’ regardless of whether the filing requires expedited handling. By making e-filing free, we will save our small businesses and non-profits millions of dollars and encourage greater use of electronic filing over filing by paper mail. Electronic filing reduces errors, saves paper, and saves money. As such, those who conduct business in this state should be encouraged to e-file. They certainly should not be charged extra fees to electronically file, over and above what they would be charged if they filed in person at the Secretary of State’s office. The House vote on my HB 3514 was unanimous.

Breen Bill that Addresses Penalties for Aggravated DUIs Receives Unanimous House Approval
Last week I received unanimous House approval on legislation that ensures consistency in sentencing when an individual is found guilty of driving on a suspended or revoked driver’s license, if driving privileges were suspended or revoked for committing aggravated Driving Under the Influence (DUI) resulting in a death or for committing reckless homicide.

Believe it or not, today there are cases where an individual caught driving on a suspended license when the license was suspended due to an aggravated DUI (killing someone while driving drunk) are receiving lesser sentences than those who are driving on a suspended license due to a reckless homicide (careless driving that results in a death). It’s an issue of equity and fairness. Those who ignore a license suspension or revocation after killing someone while driving drunk should, at a minimum, face the same penalty as an individual in a similar situation who committed reckless homicide.

I’m proud of the wide, bipartisan sponsorship of HB 3084, which brings into accord our statutes in cases where someone is caught driving on a suspended license that was the result of causing a death. It’s common sense legislation that cleans up our statutes. DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin brought the need for the bill to my attention and it was my pleasure to work with him on it. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration, where Senator Michael Connelly (R-Naperville) will carry the bill on my behalf.

Rep. Peter Breen Files Legislation to Protect Airline Passengers from Involuntary Removal from Airplanes
When passengers take their seat on an airplane, they are entrusting our nation’s commercial airlines to deliver them safely to their destination. In response to the recent incident at O’Hare International Airport when a ticketed and seated passenger was forcibly removed from an overbooked flight, I filed legislation that would prohibit that type of scenario from ever playing out again on an airplane parked at an Illinois airport.

HB 4034, filed April 14 Springfield, would create the Airline Passenger Protection Act. The Act would prohibit the involuntary removal by force of any properly ticketed and seated airline passenger unless the passenger disturbs the peace, is perceived as a danger to him/herself or others, or in the case of a public emergency. The bill also prohibits the filing of criminal charges against a passenger who refuses to yield a properly ticketed seat. HB 4034 also includes a provision that would allow those who file suit against an airline for being forcibly removed from a flight without cause to be entitled to attorney’s fees and costs from the airline if the passenger prevails in the suit.

Fake Workers’ Compensation Reform Bill Does Nothing to Fix Failing Workers’ Compensation System
Despite the fact that Illinois currently has over 300 entities already providing workers’ compensation policies in our state, House Democrats pushed through a terrible bill on Thursday that would put the State of Illinois in the workers’ compensation insurance businesses. HB 2622 would also put the taxpayers of Illinois on the hook for a $10 million loan for the creation of the new workers’ compensation insurance company.

The bill sponsor presented no business plan and no information for how they would seek paying clients, yet we were asked to blindly support the measure. Our state’s inability to work within a balanced budget is well documented. There is absolutely nothing that would indicate that this $10 million investment would deliver the returns promised by the sponsor. In my opinion, it was simply another ‘gotcha’ vote orchestrated by House Democrats who wanted to return to their legislative districts this week and say they voted for workers’ compensation reform.

HB 2622 is a fake reform measure that will look good in political mailings and newsletters, but will do nothing at all to reduce workers’ compensation costs in Illinois.

We need real workers’ compensation reform in our state to curb fraud and abuse of the system. Illinois employers pay $2.23 per $100 of payroll, making us the most expensive state in the Midwest for worker’s compensation costs. If we want to stop businesses from leaving our state, we need to provide them with real relief—not fake, irresponsible, do-nothing laws that ignore the true problems with the current system.

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