Dale Righter

Illinois State Senator | 55th District


Senate Week in Review: May 6 – 10, 2013

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Senate bypassed scrutiny of a public employee pension reform proposal that passed the House last week, instead State Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) said that on May 9 the Senate considered a reform measure pushed by the Senate President.

Senate lawmakers also acted on a number of other measures, including medical marijuana legislation, a bill to open the state’s system of education funding up to additional scrutiny and a measure creating the state-based health insurance exchange.

Pension Reform – Senate Bill 2404

Senate President John Cullerton has long held that Illinois retirees and employees must be given a choice of retirement benefits in order to circumvent the Constitutional prohibitions against reducing pension benefits. Senate Bill 2404 would require employees in every system but the Judges choose one of three options:

•    Keep their current Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) on their future pension benefits – which is 3% compounded annually. Give up access to State health insurance when they retire and have future salary increases not count for their pension; or
•    Keep the current COLA but agree to a three-year delay in that COLA. Retain retiree health insurance. Future raises would count toward pensions. Workers would be required to pay an additional one week's pay each year toward their pensions; or
•    Take a lower COLA (3% with no compounding) and agree to a two-year delay in that COLA. Employees could keep their retiree insurance and pensionable raises and not have to make extra contributions.  

Retirees would be able to retain their current 3 percent compounded COLA, but must choose between:

•    Keeping access to health insurance and having a 2-year freeze in their COLA; or
•    Giving up health insurance with no COLA freeze.   

Senate Bill 2404 passed with the support of a number of state labor organizations. However, opponents said there was no guarantee that the proposal would be held constitutional and pointed out that a retired teachers organization has already pledged to challenge the measure in court.

Additionally, those voting against Senate Bill 2404 also challenged the scope of the measure, saying it does not do enough to stabilize the pension systems or reduce the state’s pension liabilities, which some estimate top more than $100 billion. Rough estimates project the proposal will reduce the state’s pension payments in the upcoming fiscal year by $850 million, and would save a total of $46 billion over the next 30 years.

In comparison, Senate Bill 1, the pension proposal being pushed by Speaker Michael Madigan, promises savings of about $150 billion over 30 years, including approximately $2 billion in 2015.

Education Funding Transparency – House Bill 3133

Education transparency was also on the docket this week, when the Senate Executive Committee considered a bill that would allow for greater scrutiny of the General State Aid formula. Executive Committee members approved House Bill 3133, which would require the approximate amounts forecast to be paid for state Poverty Grants and Foundation Level Grants to be listed out in a state budget bill for easy review; the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law adjustment must also be listed separately.

The measure was introduced in response to a study conducted by Senate Republicans that revealed the General State Aid allocation has been listed as a lump sum in the state budget, which makes it difficult to decipher how state education funding is being allocated. House Bill 3133 seeks to increase transparency of the state’s system of education funding, which will allow policy-makers to detect trends that—until very recently—had been concealed, and ensure that schools are being funded in the way the General State Aid formula was intended.

Medical marijuana, health care exchange, and more

The Senate considered a number of additional measures both in Senate Committees and as a full body. You can catch up on legislation moving through the Senate, as well as measures that have been approved by the General Assembly, at the Senate Republican’s “Senate Action” page.
Some highlights include:

Medical Marijuana (HB 1):  Legislation that would allow for the dispensation of medical marijuana. A patient who has been issued a registry identification card by the Department of Public Health to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis during a 14 day period.  The measure specifies certain qualifying diseases and illnesses, but does not include general eligibility for chronic pain or nausea. Also establishes registration requirements and limitations for cultivation centers and dispensing organizations, and addresses some concerns outlined by law enforcement and employers.

Health Insurance Exchange (HB 3227):  The Senate also moved forward with implementation of a state-based health insurance exchange as part of the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare.” The Senate Insurance Committee approved House Bill 3227, establishing and outlining the structure of the Illinois Health Benefits Exchange. It is projected plan enrollment will begin Oct. 1, 2014.  The exchange will initially have two components, one serving individuals and one serving businesses with 50 or fewer employees. In 2016, the two parts could be merged and could also include employers with up to 100 employees.

Statements of Economic Interest (SB 1361): Revamp the state's Statement of Economic Interest for public officials and certain public employees. Allows for electronic filing of statements. The electronic filing system will be required to allow amendments to previously filed statements. Ethics officers will have to complete online training on the new statements and filing system.

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