Here's what happened at the Statehouse

A roundup report on veto session winners and losers

click to enlarge People supporting the use of electronic smoking devices rally Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the Capitol Rotunda in Springfield, chanting, “We Vape, We Vote." They were lobbying lawmakers to reject  two tobacco-related measures – one that would ban electronic cigarettes in public places and another that would ban flavored pods used in such devices. - CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS PHOTO BY REBECCA ANZEL
Capitol News Illinois photo by Rebecca Anzel
People supporting the use of electronic smoking devices rally Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the Capitol Rotunda in Springfield, chanting, “We Vape, We Vote." They were lobbying lawmakers to reject two tobacco-related measures – one that would ban electronic cigarettes in public places and another that would ban flavored pods used in such devices.

Following are brief reports on numerous bills voted up or down during the final week of the fall veto session.

TOBACCO BILLS: Bills aimed at curbing where Illinoisans can use electronic smoking devices and with what flavorings were halted until the spring session of the General Assembly.

One bill would loop electronic cigarettes into the Smoke Free Illinois Act. The other would ban flavored cartridges and pods used in such devices.

Thursday, Nov. 14, was the last scheduled day of the fall veto session, which lawmakers used this year to clean up new laws and pass new bills before they return to Springfield in January.

Indian Creek Democratic Sen. Terry Link is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1864, which would include vapes, e-cigars, e-hookahs and other such devices in the existing prohibition on smoking in public places, areas of employment, and within 15 feet of the entrance to a public building. There is an exception for tobacco stores and vape shops.

The Illinois Sheriffs' Association opposes the measure if jails are included in the ban. Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk said although not every county jail official allows vapes, "many do."

He said jails allow vaping because many people who are jailed have substance abuse issues, or smoke cigarettes. Vaping is allowed to prevent forcing inmates to quit "cold-turkey."

While the attempt to ban flavored electronic smoking products in Illinois is being done legislatively, other states – including Michigan, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – have enacted bans of some form through executive order.

PENSION CONSOLIDATION: Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker thanked lawmakers Thursday, Nov. 14, for passing legislation to address an issue that has eluded the General Assembly for nearly seven decades – consolidating hundreds of suburban and downstate police and firefighter pensions into two unified systems.

"The first was in 1947, fully 18 years before I was born," Pritzker said during a news conference moments after the Senate passed the bill. "That year, the Commission on Public Employees Pensions issued a report that said, 'In no phase of the pension problem is there such emphatic agreement on the necessity for corrective legislation as in the field of downstate policemen and firemen funds.'"

That year, a bill was introduced to consolidate what were then 133 suburban and downstate pension funds, but it never came out of committee, Pritzker said.

In the years since that passed, the number of pension funds swelled to 649, and their financial problems have ballooned as well.

But supporters of Senate Bill 1300, the legislation now headed to Pritzker's desk, say the consolidation of those funds into just two – one for police officers and one for firefighters – will go a long way toward putting the funds on a path to stability and relieve pressure on local governments throughout the state to raise property taxes to fund those pension systems.

CHICAGO CASINO: Illinois lawmakers adjourned the fall veto session, without voting on a bill to clear the way for development of a Chicago casino, despite last-minute efforts to get one through the House.

Instead, they passed a measure that makes only technical changes to the massive gambling expansion bill they passed this spring. That bill adds measures dealing with fingerprinting and other issues that the Illinois Gaming Board said were needed in order to process applications for all the new casinos authorized by that bill, as well as sports wagering.

Without that technical bill, its supporters said, those new gambling venues could not go forward, and the state would never see the revenue that has already been earmarked for large parts of the $45 billion public works package, or "capital bill," that was also approved in the spring session.

But the failure to act on the larger casino bill angered many Chicago-area lawmakers who accused their downstate colleagues of engaging in "regionalism."

"You know what else is going to jeopardize the capital bill?" Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, asked on the House floor. "Not having a Chicago casino." Proponents of the casino said they will resume their efforts when the General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 28 for the start of the 2020 session.

ETHICS REFORM: A pair of ethics reform bills passed both chambers Thursday, Nov. 14, despite claims from Republicans that the measures were watered down, partisan and diversionary.

While most House Republicans voted in favor of a resolution creating an ethics reform commission, which passed 111-4, and a bill to require greater lobbyist disclosure, which passed 110-5, they bombarded Democrats with criticism during floor debate.

Many Republicans listed ethics bills they filed as early as January and as late as this week, many of which had not received a committee hearing or even been assigned to committee. 

"Clearly, this is a last-ditch effort to appear to be doing something on ethics, which I applaud that we're finally going to do something on ethics," Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said while questioning whether the new commission would actually deliver results.

The commission's role would be to study ethics reforms and report their recommendations on specific pieces of legislation to lawmakers, who would have the ultimate authority to enact the measures.

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: A cleanup bill written to ensure a smooth rollout of the legalization of adult-use marijuana in January passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly on Nov. 14.

Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored both the original legalization bill and the follow-up Senate Bill 1557, made clear that public consumption of cannabis will be allowed only at locations that have no food and drink.

"No restaurants, no bars, it can only be in a dispensary or retail tobacco store," she said.

Those facilities will have to seek waivers from the Smoke Free Illinois Act from their local governments.

The bill also clarifies a "revolving door" provision of the law by prohibiting future members of the General Assembly and their families from having a direct financial ownership interest in a cannabis business until two years after that lawmaker leaves public office.

"This amendment adds ethics language to conform with a two-year revolving door prohibition on members and family having ownership interest that currently exist under gaming law," said Rep. Celina Villanueva, a Chicago Democrat who carried Senate Bill 1557 in the House.

Villanueva said lawmakers who were in the chamber during the passage of the original cannabis bill and their spouses "currently have a lifetime ban on being able to have a stakeholder ownership" in the cannabis industry. The new language change applies the two-year ban to future lawmakers and their immediate family members.

The bill passed the House 90-20 and the Senate 41-6.

INSULIN PRICE CAP: A cap on prescription insulin costs for some health insurance plans is headed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said Nov. 14 he looks forward to signing the measure.

Supporters of the bill gathered at the Statehouse Nov. 14 to celebrate the passage of Senate Bill 667 and make clear the legislation was only part of a larger effort to hold prescription drug manufacturers and insurance companies accountable.

"It's time to fix this broken system. It's time to stop the tweaks. It's time to stop the half measures. It's time to stop passing the buck. That will not lower drug prices," said William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action Illinois. "We need policies that will hold drug companies accountable and make medicines affordable and take away the corporation's power to put profits over people's health."

McNary said drug companies have artificially run up the price of insulin. 

The bill will not affect the price drug manufacturers set for insulin, however. Rather, it caps, at $100, the out-of-pocket price insurers can charge for the drug for those who have insurance regulated by the state. This includes those purchasing their insurance on the marketplace, and state employee insurance plans, among others. The bill takes effect in January 2021.

The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said it would not apply to plans offered by large employers governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act because the state cannot preempt federal law.

It is estimated to affect approximately 20 percent, or 260,000, of the state's 1.3 million insulin users.

While McNary called the Illinois bill a "significant step," he said federal action is still needed to address rising prescription drug prices across the board, and Guzzardi agreed.

COLLEGE ATHLETES PAY: House Bill 3904, allowing college athletes to be paid for the use of their name and likeness, was one of the most publicized efforts that stalled during the veto session.

Hillside Democratic Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, who successfully moved the bill out of the House with strong bipartisan support in the first week of veto session, said he was "very disappointed" the measure failed to gain traction in the Senate.

Welch, a former baseball player at Northwestern University, said he looks forward "to continuing our fight in January of next year to do the right thing, get this bill signed into law, and give college athletes the opportunity to receive the compensation that they deserve." 

"It's unacceptable that the NCAA, collegiate athletic conferences and universities are earning billions of dollars every year, while student athletes are prohibited from earning a few extra bucks from working at a meet-and-greet at a local business," he said in a statement. "I would like to thank Governor Pritzker and all the stakeholders who worked so hard to pass this bill out of the House."

TAX BREAKS: Legislation reinstating and retroactively applying a tax break for aircraft parts cleared the Senate on Thursday, Nov. 14, overwhelmingly and without controversy despite the governor's promise to veto the measure.

Supporters from both parties said the bill would protect Illinois' competitiveness and maintain jobs. But Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, in public comments Nov. 11, promised a veto if it reached his desk because it "would forgive $50 million of taxes that are owed by people who are in this private jet industry."

During Senate debate Thursday, Rachelle Crowe, a Democrat from Glen Carbon, said the sales tax exemption was on the books for years before expiring and lapsed without any regulatory or official bodies noticing. Repair companies, therefore, neglected to collect the tax from jet owners who had work done on their aircrafts during that period.

The bill is retroactive because it would be "absurd," Crowe said, to think companies would go back to their customers to collect that sales tax years later.

Several senators, including Cahokia Democrat Christopher Belt, spoke of the "devastating" effects of not reinstating the tax break, including loss of jobs.

Republican Sen. Chapin Rose, from Mahomet, said it is "ludicrous" for Pritzker to consider vetoing a piece of legislation that, for his district, is about "jobs and the future economic vitality of the region."

House Bill 3902 was approved by the Senate on a 48-1 vote, with the only no vote coming from newly appointed Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex. Two members voted present. The House passed the measure Oct. 30.

DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME: A measure that would change Illinois law – but not federal law – when it comes to daylight saving time passed the Senate but stalled in a House committee last week.

As written, Senate Bill 533 calls for setting clocks ahead one hour to daylight saving time on Sunday, March 8, 2020, then leaving the state on Central Daylight Time permanently.

But state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said it would not have any actual effect on the state's time zones unless the federal government took further action. Thus, even if it does find momentum in the House come January, existing laws will still apply unless a timekeeping change is made nationally.

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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