This Week in Springfield:
This past week, the Illinois House met Tuesday through Thursday in Springfield. We began considering bills before the entire House and there were 39 bills that passed the House and now move to the Senate. I also participated in several committee hearings to consider amendments or to hear subject matter testimony.
The Adoption & Child Welfare Committee held another subject matter hearing on DCFS training on Tuesday. I will give you a closer look at that hearing in today’s hot topic of the week.
As we begin voting on bills on the House floor, please let me know if there are bills that concern you or proposals that you would like for me to support as a co-sponsor.
You can find a list of the current bills I have introduced here.
Hot Topic of the Week:
Adoption & Child Welfare Committee Hearing: DCFS Training
Last week, in our effort to learn about the current practices at the Department of Child and Family Services and find ways to improve our child welfare system, the Adoption & Child Welfare committee held another subject matter hearing to learn specifically about training at DCFS .
The agency outlined the training requirements and the training that they provide for their employees and contractors with the agency. DCFS also spoke at length about their plans to enhance its virtual trainings. The agency sees this move towards virtual trainings as a way to better prepare employees and to be more agile in the trainings they can offer.
One topic that received attention during the hearing was the recent closure of a simulation training facility at the University of Illinois Springfield after the university chose to not renew the contract with DCFS to host the training facility. The backstory on UIS’ decision is that the University wanted to expand the program to include other matters such as medical exams and court procedure, but DCFS refused. However, after refusing the agreement with UIS, DCFS turned around and did that very thing with its new simulation lab in Chicago. The end result is that downstate DCFS employees are left without a training facility convenient to where they work until a new downstate facility opens sometime next year.
The agency took some time to answer questions, and as members we are waiting on follow-up from some of the questions they were unable to answer in person. Frankly, I’m losing patience with the Agency’s inability to come before our committee with straight answers to simple questions.
Future of Illinois Pension Funds
In light of the recent failures of two banks in the United States, questions should be raised about the future of our pension funds in Illinois. My warnings that Illinois’ pension funds are one deep recession away from insolvency were covered in a story this week from The Center Square. I’ve included a portion of that article below or you can read the entire story and watch the video here.
Scope of Illinois pension funds’ impact from recent bank turmoil unclear
“Illinois State Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, said while recent U.S. bank problems may ‘hit’ pensions, what happens in Europe could be the ‘real canary in the coal mine…When the Saudis pull their funding from Credit Suisse, how many other European banks have got similar arrangements with these oil nations, and if they pull their funding for whatever reason, we’re going to have a European bank crisis and that’s going to translate over to here,’ Reick told The Center Square. ‘That is the bigger problem’…
“Reick said Illinois is ‘walking on eggshells’ with unfunded liabilities around $140 billion for state funds. Something drastic needs to be done, he said, like Congress expanding bankruptcy for states. That would allow an override of the Illinois Constitution’s pension protection clause, Reick said.
“‘There are only three ways we’re going to fix our pension problems, it’s going to be revenue increase, benefit cuts or a complete collapse of the system,’ Reick said.
“If nothing is done except bringing in more tax dollars, Reick said the state won’t be able to continue providing essential services as nearly a quarter of every tax dollar collected goes to pension costs.
“Reick said there has to be a ‘grand bargain’ to address Illinois’ unfunded pension liabilities, which are among the worst in the nation. He suggests before the bottom drops out, there needs to be a combination of benefit reductions and revenue increases.”
Personnel & Pensions Committee
Along with serving as the Minority Spokesperson on the Adoption & Child Welfare Committee, I also serve as the Minority Spokesperson on the Personnel & Pensions Committee. This past Thursday, the Personnel & Pensions committee held a subject matter hearing on several bills that propose new benefit increases for Tier 2 employees. Some of these proposals lower the age of retirement, increase benefits for fewer years served, or move employees to an alternative and more expensive formula for taxpayers. While these are topics that do merit attention, I believe that this must be a part of a broader conversation and changes to our pension system should not be done on a piecemeal basis. We cannot afford to fix the problems created when Tier 2 was created in 2011 by providing pension sweeteners on a case-by-case basis.
Additionally, I serve on the Revenue Committee which held a subject matter hearing last Thursday primarily focusing on the property tax assessment system in Cook County and proposed changes to that system. Illinois consistently has some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and as we heard in committee, Chicago has the second highest commercial property tax rate in the nation. There must be changes, As we look at changes to the property tax code in Illinois, we know there must be thorough vetting of any proposal. We also heard testimony on other proposed bills that would impact our state revenue including tax credits and exemptions.
The Week Ahead:
- This week, the Illinois House is scheduled for legislative session Tuesday, March 21st through Friday, March 24th.
- Friday is scheduled to be the deadline to pass House bills to the Senate. This means there will likely be hundreds of votes next week, so please reach out if there are any bills you are particularly supportive of or opposed to.
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