The Illinois Senate approved more than 120 bills during the week in anticipation of the April 25 deadline to move Senate bills to the Illinois House for review by lawmakers in that chamber.
On April 23, the Senate approved legislation I sponsored with Transportation Committee Chairman Martin Sandoval of Cicero that will increase Illinois’ speed limit to 70 miles per hour (mph) on tollways and interstate highways.
This change will bring Illinois in line with most of the rest of the country. The interstates were designed for a higher rate of speed, and currently, there are 34 states with speed limits of 70 mph or higher.
All of Illinois’ neighboring states, except Wisconsin, have speed limits of 70 mph. Fifteen states have speed limits of 75 mph and one state has a speed limit of 85 mph.
Senate Bill 2356 provides public safety enhancements in the form of a lowered threshold upon which the penalty for speeding is increased from a petty offense to a misdemeanor. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
Committee approves bill to increase school funding transparency
Bringing greater accountability and transparency to the state’s system of funding schools is the goal of legislation approved April 25 by the Senate Appropriations II budget committee.
Senate Bill 1984 requires that allocations of the state’s General State Aid (GSA) and its primary components—Foundation Level grants, Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) adjustments and Poverty grants—must be clearly delineated in the state budget and thus available for public review. The sponsor, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said she will work with the State Board of Education to refine the legislation before final passage.
The proposal was an outgrowth of a school funding report unveiled in March by Senate Republicans that took aim at claims by some that downstate and suburban schools in Illinois receive a “free lunch” through the state’s contribution to teacher retirement funds.
The Republican Caucus started out by simply looking at the claim that downstate and suburban schools receive an unfair financial benefit through teacher pension payments. They found that was clearly not the case and in fact, Chicago receives a disproportionate share of state school funding.
However, as they dug more deeply, it became evident that school funding in Illinois has been skewed by policies and decisions that are made behind closed doors without benefit of public input or thorough legislative review.
In fact in 2000, 88% of the School Aid Formula was contained in Foundation Level grants, which is the equalization part of the formula designed to ensure that each school district, regardless of property tax wealth, receives a minimum level of funding per student. Back then, poverty grants accounted for 10% of the funding formula and PTELL adjustments represented just 2%. Today, the Foundation Level grants have dropped to 53% of the Formula, while Poverty grants have climbed to 34% and PTELL adjustments now represents 13% of the Formula.
That represents a 432% increase in Poverty grant funding and a 1,267% increase in PTELL adjustments. If the trend continues, Foundation Level grants will soon represent less than half of the School Aid Formula.
The shift in funding has been hidden from the public and has never been submitted to policy makers for open debate and review. This is a major policy that is not even disclosed in the annual budget submitted by the Governor.
Legislation would shine light on state grant process
Increasing government transparency was also the focus of a legislative ethics package that prohibits the use of state-financed grant dollars for political purposes, and increases transparency of the hundreds of millions of state grant dollars given to non-profit and community based organizations by placing the information on a public Web site.
Senate Bill 2380 and Senate Bill 2381 were introduced after a CNN investigative report aired, which revealed that millions in taxpayer dollars had been misused by Governor Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) grant program. A four-month investigation revealed state grant funds were used to pay teens to march in a parade with the Governor, hand out flyers promoting inner peace, take field trips to museums, and attend a yoga class.
The state’s Ethics Act doesn’t currently apply to grant recipients. Senate Bill 2380 simply makes it explicit in state law that grant recipients are prohibited from using taxpayer funds for political activities—such as marching in parades. Senate Bill 2381 goes one step further and places that grant information online so people can track who is receiving these dollars and what they are using it for.
Improving the quality of care for senior citizens and others in the state’s Community Care program was the objective of House Bill 2275, which the Senate approved April 25, sending the measure to the Governor.
The bill would implement long sought anti-fraud measures and institute performance standards to provide better care for seniors and help them remain in their homes.
Reforms would encourage sharing of critical data, provide electronic verification of caregiver visits, establish task-based service parameters and increase the use of managed care.
A companion measure, House Bill 207, provided $173 million to the Department on Aging for the program and deposits $151 million into health care provider relief fund in order to reduce the backlog of bills facing many community care providers.
In response to school shooting incidents in other states, the Senate approved four measures designed to improve school safety. The measures would:
• Require that school safety drills include a “shooting incident” drill which would be coordinated with local law enforcement agencies. Drills would include both evacuation and “reverse-evacuation” drills, in which students are moved to a safe place within the school confines. (Senate Bill 1625);
• Create a School Security and Standards Task Force to study the security of Illinois’ schools, make recommendations and draft minimum standards for use by schools to provide a safer learning environment for students. (Senate Bill 1931);
• Require school boards to consult with law enforcement and security experts in the design and planning of any new school building or major remodeling. (Senate Bill 1932); and
• Establish a School Crime Watch program modeled after Neighborhood Watch Programs (Senate Resolution 91).
Senate Bills go to the House
A wide range of other issues also saw Senate action during the week. A complete list can be found on the Senate Action page.