Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this legislative session was historic in many ways. We saw our state’s economy come to a grinding halt, residents are suffering, and the road to recovery will be bumpy.
I want to take the time to give a few of my thoughts on where we are as a State in this newsletter. Please know that I take my role as your representative seriously, and regard it as an honor to work for you.
As always, if you have any questions or comments about what’s discussed in this newsletter or need assistance navigating state government, don’t hesitate to e-mail me or contact my office.
State Representative Steve Reick (R-McHenry County)
Protecting Children at Our Schools
Teachers who sexually abuse their students should not be able to retire and then receive the benefits of a public pension. In response to testimony given by two brave young women who were abused by teachers while in high school, I filed HB 4287 to take away pension benefits from any teacher who, after an administrative hearing, is found to have sexually abused a student. This legislation received bipartisan support, but was not voted on due to the shortened legislative schedule brought upon by the pandemic. It will be re-introduced in next year’s session.
Reick Sponsors Property Tax Relief for Seniors
Currently, the income tax credit for property taxes paid on one’s primary residence is not “refundable”, which means that your state income tax liability can be reduced to zero, but any excess credit is not refunded. Some of the hardest hit property owners are senior citizens, many of whom pay little or no income taxes. To provide those at the lower income levels with a small amount of relief, I introduced House Bill 4289, which would make the property tax credit refundable to homeowners 65 years of age or older and who have a federal adjusted gross income of not more than $50,000. The legislation received bipartisan support from two dozen
co-sponsors from across the State. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the legislature did not take up this bill during our shortened session. I fully intend to re-introduce the legislation again during next years’ session.
Rep. Reick Votes Against Legislative Pay Raise
According to Illinois law, state legislators are scheduled to receive a pay raise each year unless we vote to reject the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA). I cosponsored HB 5777 to block the automatic pay raise this year, but Democrats refused to allow it to come to a vote on. In addition, they refused to include language to ban the cost of living increase (COLA) in the budget package, as has traditionally been the case.
The automatic pay raise is a continuing appropriation, and the Comptroller does not have the legal authority to stop continuing appropriations. While House and Senate Democrats cited an “agreement” they had made with the Comptroller to reject the pay raise, two former Democrat representatives have sued to get these raises back.
Rep. Reick Introduces AJ’s Laws
On April 28, 2019, authorities recovered the remains of 5 year-old A.J. Freund from a shallow grave dug several hundred yards past this gate off Dean Street in Woodstock. The story of A.J.’s disappearance and death made national headlines, and resulted in an examination of Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the State agency created to protect children from abuse and neglect. The examination by the Department’s Inspector General resulted in the dismissal of three employees working out of the Woodstock office of DCFS who were directly involved in A.J.’s case.
Since last May I’ve been part of a working group which undertook a close examination of the processes and procedures of DCFS, and I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that our child welfare system as currently constituted is broken and cannot be fixed without systemic change. This is not an accusation against the many men and women who work for the agency and who go far beyond their mandate to keep children out of harm’s way. They are dealing with an impossible situation made worse by the piling of one mandate upon another, and creating a situation where the process is more important than the mission.
Last October I received a letter from Patrick Kenneally, the McHenry County State’s Attorney, in which he describes in great detail three cases that have come to his attention after the A.J. Freund case, any of which could have ended just as tragically. He concludes by saying:
[T]he primary responsibility for protecting children in a community should belong to the community, not the State. Moreover, and in my opinion, the agents designated to protect children in a community should be primarily accountable to the community, not the State. As such, I would strongly urge you to consider legislation that would provide a significant measure of control over DCFS operations within a county to county government.
Patrick is right. The child welfare system will not work unless there is accountability at the local level, accountability to the community that is being served. Guided by my experience with the DCFS working group and inspired by Patrick’s letter, I introduced H.B. 4886, which would create a countywide pilot program in McHenry County to replace the local office of DCFS with the McHenry County Children and Family Services Agency. It would be responsible for investigating instances of abuse and neglect here in McHenry County, and would be responsible to the people of McHenry County.
I realize that changing an entire agency from a one-size-fits-all model to one where the buck stops at the County line will be a heavy lift, but it has to be done. A little boy consigned to an anonymous grave alongside a back road deserves nothing less from us.
Rep. Reick Blocks Governor’s Attempt to Criminalize Non-Compliance with Executive Orders
In May, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) imposed an emergency rule that targeted restaurants, taverns, gyms, hair salons, barbers, and certain other small businesses. The rule, requested by the Governor provided that if such “non-essential” businesses were to open in defiance of any of the Governor’s stay-at-home orders, the store (and presumably its owner and personnel) would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor (fine of up to $2,500, term of up to 1 year in county jail).
Executive agencies are responsible for creating rules which interpret the statutes passed by the Legislature and which allow them to operate under those statutes. Before rules can be published in final form, they must be reviewed by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), which is the ultimate check on Executive authority. JCAR consists of 12 Representatives and Senators, 6 from each party. As a member of JCAR, I shared the authority to oversee this example of Executive overreach. After the emergency rule was issued, my office received over 10,000 e-mails and over 1,000 phone calls in opposition.
At the JCAR pre-meeting on Wednesday, May 20, I strongly objected to this rule and joined in a motion for its suspension. The six Democrats on JCAR spent 2 hours in a private meeting and finally convinced the Governor to repeal the rule.
This is a clear example that when Democrats and Republicans have equal voices in the Legislature, both on committees and in the Chamber, common sense can prevail and the voice of all Illinoisans can be heard.
Sponsoring a Call for Independent, Private Sector Examination of State Spending
Rooting out waste, fraud and abuse needs to be more than a catch-phrase in Springfield. The problems with the Department of Employment Security and the failures at DCFS are just two examples of what everyone acknowledges are the result of the inefficiencies that plague our state government. It’s long past time for us to actually do something about it. Governor Pritzker’s first executive action after taking office was to issue an order requiring agencies to examine their spending. I followed up on that action by proposing two pieces of legislation: HJR 6 and HB 275 as a bipartisan attempt to help provide essential state services as efficiently as possible.
HB 275 is modeled after President Ronald Reagan’s 1982 executive order calling for a private sector study on cost control, authorizing a private sector “deep dive” into state agency spending to identify cost savings to be gained by implementing better management and administrative practices. The “Grace Commission”, as it came to be known, recommended changes that, had they been implemented, would have saved over $450 billion in 1983 dollars over a ten-year period.
By identifying inefficiencies, redundancies and insufficient control over the operations of state agencies which result in inadequate services being provided at too high a cost, we can make adjustments and provide taxpayers with the value they deserve. Had such a review been done before the new budget year, maybe we wouldn’t be borrowing over $5 billion from the Federal government.
FOID Renewal Delays Continue
My colleague, Representative Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) asked the Legislative Research Unit to see if any of the money now collected for three specific purposes was being “swept” or transferred out for other State purposes.
Specifically, he asked for information on sweeps or other transfers in the past 5 years from funds supporting:
The costs of these programs comes out of the “State Police Firearm Services Fund”, and it appears that since 2015, over $13 million dollars (plus an additional $15+ million from the Firearm Transfer Inquiry (FTIP) program which pays for background checks) has been swept from this fund into General Revenue, where it was spent on who knows what.
From an analysis of the data:
“The State Police has consistently not used all the money available in the Firearm Services Fund over the five years covered in this report. On average the State Police has not used $2,698,753 per year for the identified purposes in this report: administration of the FOID Program, background checks for firearm-related services, and conceal-carry licensing.”
The ISP simply didn’t object to having the “excess” swept away:
“The FY2018 BIMP (Budget Implementation Bill), which authorized interfund borrowing and fund sweeps, required that money be transferred back to a fund from which it had been swept or borrowed if that fund has “insufficient cash” to support appropriated spending.
The State Police did not declare insufficient cash to maintain the mission of the Firearm Services Fund…otherwise the fund sweep of $13,210,268 would have been paid back.”
What we need to do is make sure there are no more sweeps of money out of this fund and into General Revenue. It looks like someone was asleep at the switch, but whatever the reason, this is now being used as an excuse to make it more expensive and burdensome to own a firearm in Illinois. But it also appears that shining a light on this has resulted in a removal of such sweeps in the 2021 budget. Again, with strict oversight, such things are taken off the table. If you’re having trouble renewing your FOID or Concealed Carry permit, please contact my office.