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SPRINGFIELD – Minutes after the Senate put the final touches on first-term Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s sweeping legislative agenda Sunday, June 2, the governor addressed media and delivered a message: “Illinois is back.”

“Today, the people of Illinois can be proud that we are putting state government back on the side of working families,” Pritzker said at the news conference. “They can be proud that we are restoring fiscal responsibility after many years of crisis and deficits.”

Pritzker stood beside Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican, and several senators of both parties as he addressed the media in his office after receiving overwhelming bipartisan approval on several key measures.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a press conference in April. 

“Throughout this session, Senate Republicans were not afraid to speak up when needed, and were not afraid to stand together when warranted,” Brady said in a statement. “I commend Governor Pritzker for working across the aisle on those key issues that produced bipartisan support. Now, as we move forward, Senate Republicans will continue to fight for the issues important to Illinois residents.”

Pritzker touted the bipartisan process and the working groups that negotiated the budget behind closed doors. The 1,500 page document was released publicly just 12 hours before it was approved.

Legislative leaders from both parties called the $40 billion operating budget a balanced, responsible state funding effort, and Republicans emphasized the inclusion of several pro-business reforms and tax incentives that were added to the package upon their request.

Those measures include tax incentives aimed at enticing data centers to locate in Illinois; eliminating reporting of the retailer's discount in the comptroller's tax expenditure report; eliminating the franchise tax; reinstating the manufacturers purchase credit; and a “Blue Collar Jobs Act to help attract large scale projects.”

While the passage of the budget itself gave Pritzker a major victory, it often seemed an afterthought as the General Assembly passed a slew of other hot-button issues.

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Those include a $45 billion capital infrastructure plan for road, bridge, building and broadband internet projects, a massive gambling expansion, legalization of recreational marijuana, a reproductive rights expansion bill, a graduated tax constitutional amendment and a minimum wage increase.

The infrastructure plan is the first in more than 10 years and is made possible by revenues expected to come from sports betting licenses, a $1 increase to the state’s cigarette tax and a doubling of the state’s motor fuel tax to 38 cents from 19 cents along with increased driver’s license fees among others.

Upon adjournment, Pritzker said he will work to ensure new policies are implemented correctly before returning for the fall veto session and the second legislative session of his first term.

“Make no mistake. We still have a lot of work ahead,” he said. “Our budget and pension challenges unfolded over many years, and they won’t go away overnight. We have more big things to do: to bring more efficiencies to state government, to grow our economy at a faster rate, to create jobs, to invest in our future.”

* * *

BUDGET BILL SIGNED: Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a new, $40.1 billion state budget bill into law Wednesday, June 5, along a revenue package to pay for it and a bill that would establish a new, multi-bracket income tax structure in Illinois, provided voters approve a constitutional amendment allowing it in the 2020 elections.

The budget bill, Senate Bill 262, adds about $1.14 billion in new spending during the fiscal year that begins July 1. It passed the General Assembly over the weekend with broad bipartisan support, but it came about only after weeks of contentious negotiations between legislative Democrats and Republicans.

“Just a few years ago, simply passing a budget was considered nearly impossible. And for years before that, the budget included gimmicks and tricks, and was balanced in name only,” Pritzker said during a bill-signing ceremony at the Thompson Center in Chicago. “Those days are over. That this budget is balanced and bipartisan demonstrates just how far we have come.”

Some of the highlights of the budget, according to the governor’s office, include an $80 million increase in funding for the troubled Department of Children and Family Services to hire additional staff and to increase reimbursement rates paid to social service providers who work on contract with the agency.

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K-12 and higher education will also see funding increases next year, with more than $378 million in new funding going to public schools and another $66.7 million in additional base funding for public universities and community colleges.

The budget plan also includes a full payment into the state’s pension systems. And it adds $410 million to the current fiscal year’s budget to cover costs associated with unpaid union contract obligations dating back to fiscal year 2016.

That new spending was made possible by passage of a revenue bill, Senate Bill 689, that levies a new tax on the private insurance companies that administer the state’s Medicaid program. Money from that assessment will be used to draw down additional federal matching funds, thus freeing up about $530 million in state general revenues to be used for other purposes.

* * *

NURSING HOME FUNDING: Funding for nursing homes serving the state’s most vulnerable elderly populations will increase by $240 million next fiscal year as part of the state’s recently-passed budget.

Of that $240 million, which will be split between the state and federal government, $70 million will be directly appropriated to help nursing homes meet minimum staffing requirements. Another $170 million will update the reimbursement formula for support costs such as food, utilities, maintenance and equipment.

Advocates for the nursing home industry say the added funding will help stem a tide of 20-plus skilled- and intermediate-care facility closures that occurred over the past five years due to crippling budget cuts and decades-old Medicaid reimbursement rates.

“This money means survival,” said Pat Comstock, executive director of the nursing home advocacy group Health Care Council of Illinois. “Our members are thrilled, but they're also relieved because these dollars are going to provide some much needed relief from the struggles to survive that members are experiencing.”

The legislation also creates fines for nursing homes that fail to meet staffing minimums, and provides safeguards against the use of psychotropic drugs. Labor and senior care advocates say this will help hold nursing homes accountable and make life better for workers and patients.

The $70 million for nurse staffing will be distributed by a funding formula to be decided by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. That formula will drive greater funding to the nursing homes with more Medicaid bed days.

The $170 million for support costs would update reimbursement rates currently determined by costs dating back to 2004. The distribution formula is still to be determined, but $37 million of that sum will be used to ensure facilities will not lose funding as a result of the new formula.

* * *

PAY RAISES: Illinois lawmakers will get their first pay raises since 2008 after the House chose not to concur with a Senate action that would have prevented the salary increases.

Lawmakers earn base salaries of $67,836, a rate which would rise by more than $1,600 July 1 once statutory cost of living increases are applied. They also receive per diem reimbursements and some receive added pay ranging from $10,326 to $27,477 per year for committee chair and leadership positions.

Since 1990, Illinois law allowed lawmakers a cost of living increase of about 2.4 percent each year, but in the past decade it has become routine for each chamber to adopt language prohibiting those increases from taking effect.

Language that would have stayed the raises this year was not included in budget implementation legislation as it has been in years past. Senate Republicans questioned the absence of the language when the budget bills passed late May 31 into June 1, and that chamber rushed to pass a measure preventing the increases.

That measure, House Bill 837, passed unanimously and went to the House, where sponsorship was transferred to Rep. Thaddeus Jones, a Calumet City Democrat. He filed a non-concur motion, and the House never took the final vote that would have prevented the pay increases.

A Sunday call to Jones was not returned by Tuesday.

But Pritzker told Chicago media Tuesday he would sign the budget as is—even without the added language to prevent pay increases—echoing comments he made upon the Legislature’s adjournment Sunday.

* * *

GAMBLING EXPANSION: Six new casinos, along with legalized sports betting, are coming to Illinois after Senate lawmakers approved a massive gambling expansion bill Sunday, June 2.

Senate Bill 690, sponsored by Indian Creek Democratic Sen. Terry Link, passed that chamber on a 46-10 vote after being approved by House lawmakers the day before. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has already announced his intention to sign it into law.

“I’ve only been doing this for 20 years to get this done, and it’s a little emotional,” said a teary-eyed Link during floor discussion of the bill.

Link estimated that gambling expansion along with other revenue-raising measures in the bill could net Illinois more than $12 billion in the next six years.

“This key piece of legislation really is going to make an economic difference of keeping our dollars home,” he said, adding he expects “thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in construction across the state.”

That construction would go toward the six new casinos authorized by the bill in Waukegan, Rockford, Danville, South Suburbs, Williamson County and downtown Chicago.

Casinos, race tracks and sports facilities that seat more than 17,000 people – such as Wrigley Field or United Center – would also be eligible to buy sports betting licenses under the bill, making Illinois one of about a dozen states to legalize the practice after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year allowed it.

Revenues raised from the new casinos, the selling of sports betting licenses, and a higher tax on video gambling machines would go toward funding the vertical components of a long-term capital infrastructure plan, such as state building renovations. Sports betting licenses would range from $3.2 million to $20 million and be offered to both brick-and-mortar facilities and to online operators, with taxes of 15 percent.

Under the bill, race tracks in the state would be able to install slot machines and table games, turning them into racinos. A pilot program will also assess sports betting through the Illinois Lottery, a plan that was considered but dropped by lawmakers earlier in the session.

* * *

HOUSE PASSES BUDGET, CAPITAL PLAN: The Illinois House closed out what was perhaps the most monumental legislative sessions in recent memory Saturday, June 1, after passing the final pieces of a budget for the upcoming year and a $45 billion capital improvements program that will be partially funded by expanded gambling.

Those measures, though, were only the finishing touches on a session that also saw passage of a minimum wage increase, a constitutional amendment to overhaul the state’s income tax system, legalization of recreational marijuana and a sweeping expansion of abortion rights.

“This has been an extraordinarily productive session of the General Assembly. Simply historic,” House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said just before the House adjourned.

Saturday’s action in the House effectively marked the end of an intense competition between Democratic and Republican leaders that had threatened to send lawmakers into extended overtime.

The final 48 hours were marked by heated discussions and intense negotiations between Democrats and Republicans and a constant flurry of back-door meetings with House and Senate caucus leaders and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Although Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers, Republican votes were needed on some key measures to get them over the finish line, especially after the session stretched into Saturday, June 1, which triggered a constitutional requirement that bills taking immediate effect receive three-fifths majorities in both chambers – 71 votes in the House and 36 votes in the Senate.

But Republicans held out because they wanted Democrats to agree to a number of pro-business initiatives that included tax incentives for businesses hiring construction workers for major projects, other incentives for developing high-tech data centers and phasing out the franchise tax, to name a few.

When Democrats finally agreed to those measures, the final pieces of the budget package fell into place with broad bipartisan support.

One of the pieces needed to make the budget work was a revenue bill, Senate Bill 689, which included, among other things, a new tax on Medicaid managed care organizations that will allow the state to draw down additional federal matching funds, freeing up about $390 million in general revenue funds for other purposes. It passed by a vote of 107-to-9.

Another was what’s known as a “budget implementation bill,” Senate Bill 1814, that spells out specifically how money appropriated to various agencies is to be spent. That bill includes pay increases for home care providers who deliver home and community-based services to the elderly and disabled. It passed by a vote of 97-17.

The final piece was House Bill 142 authorizing the state to issue $1.7 billion in bonds, the proceeds of which will be used to pay down the state’s backlog of unpaid invoices, a measure that is expected to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year in interest costs.

The capital improvements program also consisted of a package of three bills.

House Bill 62 spells out how the $45 billion will be spent. It calls for $33.2 billion, or about 74 percent of the total, to be spent on roads and bridges, what lawmakers refer to as “horizontal” infrastructure. Another $3.5 billion, or 8 percent of the total, would be spent on K-12 and higher education facilities.

The remainder would be divided between state facilities, environmental conservation projects, deployment of broadband internet, and health care and human service facilities.

The other two bills provide the funding for those projects.

Senate Bill 1939 provides funding for the horizontal projects through a combination of a 19-cent per-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax, increases in vehicle registration fees, especially for electric vehicles, plus a variety of other miscellaneous fees. It passed the House, 83-29.

And House Bill 690 provides funding for the “vertical” infrastructure projects. It includes legalized sports betting and expansion of casino gambling, a $1 per-pack increase in cigarette taxes, new taxes on parking fees, and extending the state sales tax to purchases made remotely, including online purchases from out-of-state retailers that do not have a brick-and-mortar nexus in Illinois. It passed the House, 87-27.

* * *

ABORTION BILL: Legislation that backers and detractors agree will be the most liberal reproductive health statute in the country is headed to the governor’s desk after about 80 minutes of impassioned debate by the Illinois Senate late Friday night, May 31.

The abortion repeal-and-replace measure was a source of controversy this session. From its introduction in February, the Reproductive Health Act drew calls of support from advocates looking to the General Assembly to respond to restrictions enacted by some states across the country, and those of warning from opponents concerned about protections being struck from current law.

Sen. Melinda Bush, a Democrat from Grayslake and the bill’s sponsor in that chamber, said she hopes passage of the legislation will make the state “a beacon for the country.”

“I’m so proud that Illinois is standing up and saying, we’re not going back, we’re going to continue to fight and we’re going to make sure that women are equal here. Their reproductive rights are part of that,” she said.

In a statement, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he will sign the measure.

“In Illinois, we trust women to make the most personal and fundamental decisions of their lives — and now, that will be the law of the land, even as it’s under threat in other states,” he said.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy, the initiative’s sponsor in the House, was on the floor during the debate. In the back of the chamber were a handful of other Democratic representatives who supported the legislation — they stood and joined hands during Bush’s closing remarks.

“That was amazing to have them all over here — I was there when it passed in the House — because it was so important to all of us,” Bush said. “To have that amazing camaraderie and support and really love for each other; I’m just so proud of all these amazing women. It really felt like a sisterhood.”

The measure received 34 Democratic yes votes. Twenty senators voted no, including lone Democrat, Bunker Hill Democrat Andy Manar. Three Democrats voted present.

The measure, Bush said, “codified current practices” and repealed parts of Illinois law enjoined by courts.

Sen. Dan McConchie, a Republican from Hawthorn Woods, said if that was all the bill aimed to achieve, it would be one page — not 126.

McConchie sought clarification on whether any provisions of the legislation would render toothless the Parental Notification of Abortion Law, which requires a minor to consult her parents before getting the procedure. Bush said no part of her bill would impact that statute.

“This proposal leaves me stunned,” McConchie said. “For anyone who wants abortions to be legal and safe, this bill will do exactly the opposite.”

Republican Sen. Jil Tracy, from Quincy, called the bill “extreme.”

“It goes far beyond the current practice in Illinois. It has provisions that could endanger rather than protect a pregnant woman and it’s not needed under current Illinois law or federal law,” she said. “Once again in Illinois, we are passing bills looking to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”

* * *

ABORTION BILL OPPOSITION: Illinois’ dioceses have condemned the General Assembly’s passage of an abortion repeal-and-replace measure headed for the governor’s desk.

Both chambers approved the Reproductive Health Act, which proponents and opponents agree will be the most liberal reproductive health care law in the nation, during the final days of the legislative session.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement he will sign the bill.

“In Illinois, we trust women to make the most personal and fundamental decisions of their lives — and now, that will be the law of the land, even as it’s under threat in other states,” Pritzker said.

But Cardinal Blase Cupich, head of Chicago’s archdiocese, said in a statement Saturday, June 1, that the act’s passage “marks a sad moment in our history as a state.”

“We have worked to make the case for a consistent approach to human dignity in Illinois and will continue to do so even as elected officials single out unborn persons for particular disregard,” he said. “It remains our hope that Illinois will eventually distinguish itself as a safe place that welcomes not only those seeking a new life or second chance, but also the most vulnerable among us who deserve a chance at life.”

Joliet diocese Bishop R. Daniel Conlon called the Reproductive Health Act a “horrific piece of legislation;” Rockford diocese Bishop David Malloy called it “horribly misnamed;” and Springfield diocese Bishop Thomas John Paprocki said in a statement lawmakers passed the bill in a “gravely immoral action.”

* * *

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: Legalized recreational marijuana is on its way to the governor’s desk, and by all indications he will sign it.

In the first legislative action in the Illinois House of what had been scheduled as the last day of the session, Senate Bill 1438 passed on a 66-47 vote after more than three hours of debate Friday, May 31.

Marijuana legalization was one of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s marquee campaign points. It joins a graduated income tax constitutional amendment as one of the major campaign promises that have passed both houses.

Once the governor signs the bill, the goal will be to have marijuana available to consumers by Jan. 1, 2020. Per the bill, Illinois residents could possess up to 30 grams, or roughly one ounce, of marijuana flower, five grams of THC concentrate and five grams of THC in a marijuana-infused product.

The bill authorizes the state to issue a limited number of licenses for cultivators, processors and retail dispensaries, and to charge excise taxes on the retail sale of marijuana products.

Medicinal marijuana patients would be allowed to grow up to five cannabis plants in their home.

The bill also allows for expungement through the governor’s clemency process if the case involves less than 30 grams of marijuana. For cases involving amounts greater than that, up to 500 grams, individuals and state’s attorneys would be allowed to petition a court to vacate a conviction.

The Senate passed the bill Wednesday, May 29. The vote was 38-17, with two Republicans joining 36 Democrats in supporting it.

“This bill is going to set the model, I believe, the gold standard for how to approach social equity issues, relating (to) cannabis legalization,” Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, the bill’s chief sponsor, said in her closing statement on the Senate floor.

The action came just hours after a new, revised version of the bill was made public, and it is substantially different from the one Steans introduced on May 3, a proposal that sparked strong resistance from law enforcement, business groups and some local governments.

“I think what is proposed today is a significant shift from what was proposed, what, two or three weeks ago,” Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, told reporters following a committee hearing on the bill Wednesday. “Moving that off the table, I think, paved the way for us to resolve a bunch of other issues that were very important that weren’t resolved initially.”

* * *

CIGARETTE TAX: A pack of cigarettes will cost an extra dollar in Illinois after the Senate on Sunday, June 2, approved a bill passed a day earlier by the House.

Buried on page 170 of an 800-page bill providing funds for vertical infrastructure projects is a usage tax increase on cigarettes and a new tax on e-cigarettes.

The language increases the state’s current $1.98 per-pack cigarette tax by $1, and is expected to generate about $159 million in revenue per year, according to advocates. That new money will go toward capital projects including building construction, land acquisition and utilities improvements.

In his February budget outline, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed increasing the usage tax on cigarettes by only 32 cents, about one third of the number approved by the House Saturday.

The legislation also incorporates the initiative of Sen. Terry Link, a Democrat from Indian Creek, to include electronic cigarettes — such as e-cigars, vapes or hookahs — in the state’s definition of a tobacco product so Illinois can charge a usage tax on them too.

That tax is set at 15 percent of the wholesale price of such products. It is unclear how much revenue will be generated, advocates say, because there is no regulation on that classification of goods.

The new taxes on both cigarettes and electronic cigarettes will take effect July 1, 2019.

* * *

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: The Senate on Sunday, June 2, voted to permanently legalize medical marijuana in Illinois. The House OK’d the measure the previous day.

Lawmakers approved a pilot program for medical marijuana legalization in 2013 that is set to expire next year.

Rep. Bob Morgan, a Deerfield Democrat, said Senate Bill 2023 stabilizes the program, clarifies who can be certified patients, and adds a social equity component. The bill also adds 11 new qualifying conditions, including chronic pain, migraines, anorexia, and irritable bowel syndrome.

“There are tens of thousands of patients in Illinois that are relying on us to get this done, to stabilize and continue and extend this program for them,” Morgan said from the House floor Saturday evening.

* * *

WORKPLACE HARASSMENT: All businesses in the state would need to provide workplace sexual harassment training to employees under a robust bill approved by the Senate on Sunday, June 2, and the House a day earlier.

Senate Bill 75, carried by Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, requires all employees to provide workplace sexual harassment training at least once a year and advises workers on steps they can take after reporting incidents of harassment or discrimination.

The bill extends to the private sector many of the same increased workplace protections of a 2018 bill addressing sexual harassment policy in the Legislature.

Rep. Ann Williams, a Chicago Democrat who carried SB 75 in the House, said the legislation is the “next step in a series of bills” to strengthen workplace protections regarding sexual harassment statewide.

Under the new bill, failure to train employees could result in a $500 penalty to businesses with fewer than four workers, or a $1,000 penalty to those with four or more.

* * *

FOID OVERHAUL: Rep. Kathleen Willis said she was “extremely disappointed the Senate chose not to call” her bill to increase Firearm Owner’s Identification card fees and mandate fingerprinting before the end of session.

Willis, a Democrat from Addison, said she remains committed to working on the bill over the summer with hopes of reviving it during the fall veto session, a brief two-week period in November when lawmakers return to the Capitol.

“I always find bills can find ways to be better,” Willis said.

Under Willis’ proposal, both new applications for FOID cards and five-year card renewals would cost $20, up from the current cost of $10. The fees would have gone toward law enforcement revocation efforts.

“The bottom line is we need to fix the revocation system, and there's no doubt about that,” Willis said.

The increased fees and a mandate that FOID applicants be fingerprinted drew opposition from those who questioned the bill’s constitutionality and believed the increased fees would cost too much.

* * *

PROPERTY TAXES: A pair of bills aimed at addressing Illinois’ high property tax costs passed the General Assembly on Friday, May 31, and will head to the governor.

The property tax bills became part of the conversation this session at the request of several “swing” votes on the constitutional amendment, and were backed by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

One bill, Senate Bill 39, will establish a “property tax relief fund,” which would be used to pay refunds to Illinois property taxpayers, but it would be subject to the appropriations of future General Assemblies and would not take effect until January 2021.

It passed the House 98-16 Thursday night with one voting present, and it passed the Senate 56-0 with one present vote Friday.

“This bill will create a mechanism that will allow the General Assembly to provide direct property tax relief to every single homeowner in the state of Illinois,” Rep. Daniel Didech, a Buffalo Grove Democrat and the bill’s House sponsor, said.

Didech said a property tax task force will meet this summer in an effort to identify revenues for the fund and find other ways to provide property tax relief, and the General Assembly will decide on revenues in the future.

The legislation creating the task force passed both chambers Friday after heated debate Thursday night which led to a late amendment being pulled from the House record.

Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, pointed out the late amendment removed the authority of Republican lawmakers to appoint members to the task force.

“This is the first time in my time down here that the rights of the minority party have been completely trampled on an issue that you claim is important,” Durkin said. “But you’re saying in here that Republicans don’t matter. We have no voice in this committee. Shame on you.”

The sponsor of the bill, Democratic Rep. Jonathan Carroll of Northbrook, said the language was provided by the governor and he eventually pulled it from the record after initially refusing.

By Friday, Carroll added a fourth amendment to Senate Bill 1932 including the minority leaders in the task force appointment process once again.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

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