Daily Egyptian

Illinois lawmakers fail to approve budget, but did send 400+ bills to Rauner

By Celeste Bott, Chicago Tribune

Democrats and Republicans haven’t been able to agree on a state budget or education funding plan, but lawmakers still managed to send Gov. Bruce Rauner more than 400 pieces of legislation, from measures aimed at expanding voter access to extending a medical marijuana trial program to protecting a historic fish.

While much of the focus centered around the partisan political fight that’s left Illinois without a budget since last July, there were areas of compromise, namely in criminal justice.

Both sides are looking to re-examine a tough-on-crime legal system that drove up the state’s prison population, and the corresponding cost of prosecuting and housing offenders. That’s seen more liberal Democrats who traditionally have pushed for more diversion and rehabilitation programs now aligned with the conservatives who have long pushed to cut the cost of government.

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Here’s a look at a range of bills that are on the way to Rauner’s desk for him to act on:

Marijuana compromises: Democrats met Rauner halfway on legislation that would decriminalize marijuana after the governor used his amendatory veto powers to rewrite similar legislation last year, saying the old proposal set fines too low and allowed people to carry too much marijuana.

The new proposal drops the number of grams allowed from 15 to 10 and raises the range of fines from $55 to $125 to between $100 and $200. Municipalities could add to the fines and tack on other penalties, such as a requirement for drug treatment. Citations would be automatically expunged twice a year, on Jan. 1 and July 1. Under current Illinois law, possession of up to 10 grams is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,500.

On a related front, post-traumatic stress disorder and terminal illness soon could qualify as conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana, after Rauner, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs and Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie struck a deal to extend the state’s medical marijuana test program.

Rauner previously vetoed legislation that would have extended the program several years past a January 2018 expiration date. But the governor has since agreed to keep the test program in place until at least July 2020. The compromise? The Rauner administration now plays a bigger role in debating what new diseases are added to the program. It has nixed most new illnesses proposed this year.

First-time and young offenders: Lawmakers signed off on several bills designed to keep first-time offenders from entering the state’s prison system and to provide younger offenders with more protections.

One proposal would require judges to explain why incarceration is appropriate for offenders with no prior convictions. Another would require juveniles under 15 to be automatically provided with a public defender and read a simplified version of their Miranda rights.

“This is a bill that reminds us that kids are kids,” said sponsoring Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago. “Kids are not just littler adults. They are very different, in terms of their understanding of the world and what happens to them.”

A separate bill sent to the governor would limit the required five-year probation for minors who commit certain felonies. Under the bill, only murder would require a five-year probation, with shorter probationary sentences for lesser crimes.

“When juvenile offenders, especially those who commit nonviolent crimes, are steered back to their homes and to the treatment options they need, the results are life-changing,” said sponsoring Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, in a statement.

Bucking Rauner: Despite the accord on criminal justice, Democrats pushed through bills taking direct aim at cuts Rauner has pursued as he tries to manage the state’s cash-flow problems.

Most notably, Democrats approved legislation expanding the Child Care Assistance Program, which Rauner drastically scaled back last year by setting tougher income requirements and higher co-pays as a cost-saving measure during the budget stalemate.

While Rauner did ease up on the program’s eligibility restrictions a few months later, the bill would phase in even more increased eligibility over two years, making child care accessible for an estimated 52,000 more children. A similar measure would prevent the governor from tightening eligibility requirements for home health care for seniors or the disabled, another cost-saving idea Rauner has suggested in the past.

Meanwhile, home workers in the state’s Community Care Program would get a raise under a bill heading to Rauner that would gradually increase their wages to $25.08 an hour by July 2019.

Democrats also sent Rauner legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 for home health care workers serving the disabled, a move coming after the Rauner administration administered new rules limiting overtime pay for those workers.

Another initiative would require the state to provide vendors 30 days notice before canceling contracts with service providers. It was designed to prevent another “Good Friday Massacre,” so named when Rauner decided to cut costs by abruptly ending contracts with social service agencies in April of last year. After immense backlash, he restored the funding.

Republicans said the bill amounted to “gotcha” political maneuvering, arguing that it would be unnecessary if Democrats would be more willing to work on a comprehensive budget agreement.

Community colleges: Lawmakers approved a package of bills to increase oversight of the state’s community colleges after a Chicago Tribune investigation revealed former College of DuPage President Robert Breuder and other school officials spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer and donor money on food and alcohol.

The measures would require schools to undergo special audits every five years to examine contracts and compensation to school leaders; provide ethics and financial training to community college board members; and limit pensionable income for university and college presidents to their salaries. Under current law, those officials can get credit toward their pension for the cash value of perks like bonuses or cars.

Guns and gangs: Responding in part to Chicago’s continued gun violence, the General Assembly overwhelmingly approved legislation that would make firearm trafficking a felony offense. The proposal aims to help prosecute those who buy illegal firearms out of state and sneak them into Illinois to sell to buyers looking to avoid a state-required background check.

The new crime is punishable by four to 15 years in prison, a penalty House GOP Leader Durkin described as “strong but necessary.”

But lawmakers once again did not pass a bill toughening penalties for illegal use of a weapon, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his predecessor, Richard M. Daley, have long favored as a way to make gang members think twice about carrying guns with them when they leave their homes.

Women’s issues: Following a memorable debate that included Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago asking her male colleagues to stop telling her “what belongs in my body,” the House and Senate sent Rauner a bill that would make it easier for women to access a wider range of birth control options. Insurance companies already are required to cover a wide array of medication under the Affordable Care Act, but the state bill would eliminate a complex waiver process that can act as a barrier to access.

Lawmakers also voted to repeal the “tampon tax,” or the taxing of sanitary napkins and adult diapers as luxury items at a rate of 6.25 percent, with supporters arguing the products are medical necessities. The Chicago City Council already voted to remove the city’s 1.25 percent sales tax on such products, as did the Cook County Board with the county’s 1.75 percent sales tax.

Voter registration and immigration: One measure would automatically register drivers to vote when they get their licenses. While Rauner has said he’s open to efforts to expand voter access, the bill faced opposition from Republicans who said they feared increased voter fraud or illegal immigrants being able to vote under the proposed change.

Also headed to Rauner is a measure to remove the term “alien” from state law as it pertains to immigration, instead using “documented” or “undocumented” workers.

Lead: Motivated by the water crisis in Flint, Mich., lawmakers also signed off on a study of lead in the state’s drinking water and legislation that would require any lead paint hazards to be addressed in homes before the unit can be rented to new tenants.

The study would be conducted by the Department of Public Health, which would have to post weekly reports on its website and submit a more comprehensive report to lawmakers by January 2017.

Exposure to lead in even small amounts can be particularly harmful to children, triggering learning disabilities later in life.

Conservation: Lawmakers unanimously approved a resolution to speed up the reintroduction of alligator gar, a prehistoric fish native to Illinois that supporters say could help fight the invasive Asian carp.

(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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