As leaders extend session with budget unfinished, several sweeping last-minute bills surface

As leaders extend session with budget unfinished, several sweeping last-minute bills surface

By HANNAH MEISEL,
JERRY NOWICKI,
NIKA SCHOONOVER
& PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
news@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers won’t finish their spring legislative session by Friday’s scheduled adjournment as negotiations over the state budget remain in flux.

The May 19 end to the General Assembly’s spring session had been on the calendar for months, but it’s not a deadline; lawmakers still have until the end of May before a constitutional trigger raises the threshold on the number of votes needed to pass legislation immediately to a three-fifths majority.

Democratic legislative leaders in the General Assembly issued a statement Friday evening announcing they’ll return next week instead of working through the weekend. Both chambers will be back on Wednesday and Thursday, while the House has scheduled Friday session as well.

“When we came to Springfield in January, we made it clear that our top priority was a fiscally responsible budget that prioritized hardworking Illinoisans,” Senate President Don Harmon and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said in a joint statement. “That continues to be true. Conversation is ongoing and negotiations are productive. We are committed to passing a good, balanced budget for the people of Illinois.”

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch are pictured at an event in Springfield. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

This week’s realization that budget talks were not wrapping up neatly frustrated members on both sides of the aisle, but Republicans – who only make up a superminority of both the Illinois House and Senate – were much more vocal about it.

During House floor debate, Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, renewed his request for an estimate as to when a draft copy of the budget might drop – or at least a revenue estimate for the state’s fiscal year that begins July 1.

Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, is pictured on the House floor earlier this session. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

“You’re asking me?” replied Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Democrat from Swansea who was presiding over the House chamber at the time. Hoffman’s quip elicited laughs from members, and Keicher broke into a smile.

“Funny story,” Keicher responded. “After I made my inquiry last night, I had eight members of the other side of the aisle suggest to me that they hadn’t seen one either.”

House Republicans’ lead budget negotiator Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, said members of her party have been essentially uninvolved or uninvited to budget negotiations throughout the spring session.

“We have attempted numerous meetings with the House Democratic budgeteer, with the speaker and the governor,” Hammond said at a Capitol news conference. “Only one group has met with us on more than one occasion; that is the governor and his team. No negotiations with others have occurred.”

Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, is pictured at a Capitol news conference earlier this session.

Most Democrats haven’t seen anything resembling a draft budget either, as the group of top lawmakers negotiating the state’s spending plan is intentionally small.

The most recent revenue estimate from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget anticipates about $50.4 billion in revenues for the upcoming budget year, even after April revenues plummeted more than $1.8 billion from one year ago.

One point of contention among Democrats in negotiations is an anticipated $1.1 billion in spending on health care for non-citizens aged 42 and older who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid if not for their citizenship status.

The governor’s office had budgeted $220 million for that program, creating an $880 million budget pressure. Members of the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus and Progressive Caucus have called for expanding the program to noncitizens between the ages of 19 and 42, at an estimated cost of $380 million next year.

While advocates for the noncitizen health care expansion have called those estimates overblown, the program has far exceeded estimates through its implementation and two expansions.

Budget requests from other groups include raising Medicaid reimbursement rates for hospitals, increased pay for providers serving individuals with disabilities, increases in funding for local governments and dozens of others.

State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, is pictured on the Senate floor earlier this session. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, who serves as the chamber’s lead budget negotiator, said Thursday he thought negotiations between Democrats were “in a very good place.”

“We haven’t made any final decisions yet. I would say everything is still on the table. We’re still negotiating,” he said.

Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, said he expected the budget to once again be filed “at the last minute” and quickly pushed through by the supermajority party, a customary process in recent years.

“There’s little to no – I would emphasize no – opportunity for debate on these issues,” he said. “I think we’re going to see it drop, and we’re gonna be expected to figure out what the gimmicks are at the last minute.”

Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, is pictured on the House floor Thursday. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

While rank-and-file lawmakers awaited the budget details Friday, several other major, wide-ranging initiatives were filed in a similar last-minute fashion. That included an exapansive cannabis regulatory bill, a change to Illinois’ strongest-in-the-nation biometric privacy law, a broad elections bill and an ethics proposal prohibiting political donations from red light camera companies among other reforms.  

CANNABIS: A bill that aims to implement a variety of reforms to Illinois’ burgeoning cannabis industry would change dispensary operations and restrictions on craft growers.

The measure overhauls portions of the 2019 cannabis legalization law, which also sought to address the disproportionate impact of cannabis criminalization on communities of color. According to the ACLU, Black people in Illinois were 7.5 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis-related offenses prior to the state’s decriminalization of the drug in 2016.

The 2019 law sought to address that impact, including laying the groundwork for the expungement of 492,129 cannabis-related convictions, a lottery process to award dispensary licenses to “social equity” applicants, and the opening of the state’s first Black-owned dispensaries.

The amended Senate Bill 1559, among other things, would increase canopy space for craft growers from 5,000 square feet to 1,400 square feet.  It would also allow dispensaries to operate drive-thru windows and offer curbside pick-up services, making sure they prioritize medical patients.

BIOMETRIC PRIVACY: Business groups balked Friday after Democrats dropped a bill that would change Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, a first-of-its-kind law that allows individuals to sue companies over improper collection or storage of information such as fingerprints or facial scans.

Although BIPA passed in 2008, it wasn’t until years later that companies began to face lawsuits under the law as technology like fingerprint and retinal scanners became more widely used. Business groups have been especially worried about companies’ legal exposure after recent BIPA-related decisions from the Illinois Supreme Court.  One decision ruled violations occur every time biometric data is collected without an individual’s express permission – like each time an employee clocks in and out using their fingerprints.

Friday’s amendment to House Bill 3811 stipulates that “the same biometric identifier from the same person using the same method of collection has created a single violation,” but business groups said the language was too vague. They also assailed the proposed fine increase for negligent violations from $1,000 to $1,500 and decried the addition of another type of biometric data to the law – electronic signatures – as a giveaway to trial lawyers.

ELECTIONS: A new elections bill would, among other things, establish a task force to study the feasibility of adopting a ranked-choice voting system in certain elections. That’s a method of voting in which voters can mark their ballot for multiple candidates in order of their preference.

An amendment to Senate Bill 2123 has several other elections-related provisions, including one that would allow 16-year-olds who are otherwise qualified to vote to preregister to vote, although their registration would be held in abeyance until they turn 18. It would also allow 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the next election to circulate nominating petitions or petitions proposing a ballot question.

ETHICS: An amendment to House Bill 3903 filed late Friday would prohibit companies that sell  automated traffic enforcement devices such as red light cameras from contributing to campaign funds if they contract with municipalities in Illinois. The measure also requires municipalities to conduct statistical analyses of the safety impact of existing systems. In recent years, executives of red light camera companies have been named in federal investigations involving lawmaker misconduct.

That measure also prohibits state lawmakers and municipal officers or employees from “knowingly” accepting employment or compensation from a vendor that provides automated traffic law enforcement system equipment or services to municipalities. It would create a two-year prohibition of any of those lawmakers or employees from receiving such compensation after they leave office or government work.

OTHER ACTION: All those bills were introduced at the end of a week that saw the passage of several measures that had been making their way through the legislative process for months. Those include bills allowing optional all-gender bathrooms, regulating the gun industry, environmental measures and dozens of others.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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