Week in Review for week of 11/24/14

General Assembly – Veto Session
•    General Assembly prepares for second week of veto session.  The second week of veto session is scheduled to take place immediately after Thanksgiving.  The three days of active session will take place on Tuesday, December 2 through Thursday, December 4.  Issues to be discussed could include regulation of the ridesharing industry, the State school aid formula, and extension for one year of the Illinois Medical Practice Act.

These are all existing issues with established legislation before the 98th Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session.  Governor-elect Bruce Rauner has signaled that he would like to work separately with the newly-elected 99th General Assembly on new problems facing the State that have appeared during and after the November election.  House Republicans in the 99th General Assembly will be led once again by Leader Jim Durkin (R-Burr Ridge).

Energy – Fracking
•    Court denies request to halt fracking, job creation in Southern Illinois.  In a follow-up to General Assembly actions in May 2013 and on November 6, 2014, a Madison County circuit court judge refused a request by anti-fracking advocates for a preliminary injunction to block the publication by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of new “fracking” rules.  The decision was handed down on Friday, November 21.

The court’s decision upheld a November 6 vote by the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) to approve revised rules which will govern the process DNR will use to grant permits to shale drilling teams.  In the format approved by JCAR, the permits will be granted under carefully controlled circumstances to teams that display strong professional qualifications and agree to operate under close supervision.  JCAR’s vote, which helped DNR finalize what are expected to be the toughest fracking rules in operation among the 50 states, created legal permission for DNR to publish the approved rules in the “Illinois Register”, the official online “book” of Illinois’ administrative rules.      

Advocates who oppose horizontal drilling in Illinois have commenced additional steps to attempt to block use of this fruitful technology.  Their first legal move took place in Madison County circuit court, as noted above.  Additional litigation is expected; if it is filed, it could be aimed at blocking the implementation of specific elements of the new rules.  The Madison County action, however, clears the way for drilling teams and their owners to begin the filing process and to start the request process for drilling permits in southern Illinois.  

Governor-Elect Bruce Rauner – Transition Agenda

•    Governor-elect announces plans to tackle transition agenda.  Elected earlier this month, businessman Bruce Rauner told reporters on Thursday, November 20 that he is facing the challenges that come with moving into the governor’s mansion in Springfield.  Lead advisor Jim Edgar, who served as governor for eight year in the 1990s, has counseled Rauner to make a high-productivity staff his top priority.  The governor-elect’s transition team has set up a website for job applications. 

In line with established law, the Auditor General is conducting a turnover audit of the governor’s office.  Criticism of departing Gov. Pat Quinn’s fiscal policies and his money management were some of the issues in the recently concluded governor’s race.  Rauner and his team maintained their expectations this week that they will face heavy challenges when their chief takes the oath of office on January 12, 2015.

Governor-Elect Bruce Rauner – Governor’s Mansion
•    Rauner to seek private partners to fix Executive Mansion.  Illinois taxpayers own an underutilized Governor’s Mansion in Springfield.  Originally built in 1856 for a neighbor of Abraham Lincoln, the venerable house contains many antique fittings and furnishings.  However, for more than a decade now, the Governor’s Mansion has not been the true home of the governors of Illinois.

Following up on remarks made during the campaign, Governor-elect Bruce Rauner has toured the Governor’s Mansion and pledges to turn it once again into a working residence.  Warned by custodians that the roof leaks and the plumbing needs major work, Rauner responded with plans to call upon Illinois’ private sector to fund the urgently-needed renovations.  Creation of a 501(c) organization could raise significant resources to maintain the mansion in the nonpartisan interests of Illinois historic preservation.  Major political figures of both parties, such as Lincoln and Gov. Adlai Stevenson, have visited or lived in the home.  Other states, such as Michigan, have already utilized similar paths to maintain their governor’s residences. 

Rauner stated to reporters that his plan is to have 100 percent of the Governor’s Mansion repairs be privately funded, with none of the resources coming from taxpayers.

Jobs – Illinois Unemployment

•    Illinois once again has higher jobless rates than 5 neighboring states.  The report for October 2014 from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), was tabulated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics with similar reports from all 50 states for the same month.  Results showed that Illinois’ 6.6% unemployment rate was higher than the national average of 5.8 percent, and was higher than the rates reported from all five states that border Illinois (Indiana – 5.7%, Iowa – 4.5%, Kentucky – 6.2%, Missouri – 5.9%, and Wisconsin – 5.4%).

Members of the House Republican Caucus believe that significant changes must be made to Illinois’ business and labor policies to enable Illinois residents to find work.

Pensions – SB 1 Ruled Unconstitutional
•    Sangamon County decision will be appealed.  The decision by a circuit court in Sangamon County marked a victory for plaintiffs who had sought to strike a blow at the December 2013 pension reform bill.  It is likely that the Illinois Supreme Court will render the final decision in this case; the Attorney General has said she will appeal the decision.  The New York Times has the story.

Senate Bill 1 was passed in an effort to rein in the mushrooming costs of Illinois pension promises made to public-sector workers, including teachers and other educators, professors and other persons in higher education, and workers for the State of Illinois.  The consolidated cost of these promises, measured against the life expectancies of people of these categories, is more than $110 billion more than the future value, after prudent investment, of the sums raised in contributions and taxes and set aside to maintain these programs.           

The reforms contained in SB 1 were opposed by persons who either felt the changes were a diminishment of a benefit, contrary to the Illinois Constitution, or were not sufficiently substantial to remedy the financial condition of the systems.  Some SB 1 opponents point out language in Article XIII of the Illinois Constitution that describes pension promises as contracts between the State of Illinois and the pension beneficiaries.  They describe any effort to reform pensions, by reducing future commitments, as opening the door to a breach of contract.   Meanwhile, other opponents suggest the need for the State to pursue a more comprehensive defined contribution plan instead of the current defined benefit plan.

State Workers – “Kanerva” Case
•    Court moves toward resolution of case involving State obligation to retired workers.  Judge Steve Nardulli, of the Sangamon County-based 7th Judicial Circuit, has jurisdiction over ongoing efforts by approximately 75,000 retired State workers to win active implementation of the “Kanerva v. Weems” decision.  In this recent court case, a definitive judgment was reached that the State owes over $60 million in excess health insurance premium refunds to its retirees.  However, the State of Illinois has not yet actually paid all of the money owed.

The Nardulli decision on Friday, November 21 was meant to implement the “Kanerva” decision and enable the injured parties to receive the court-ordered recompense they are due.  After ruling that the State must actively implement the decision, the judge set December 18, 2014 as the date for a follow-up hearing to establish how to distribute the refunds.  The Bloomington Pantagraph has the story.