News from State Representative Tom Morrison

Dear Constituents of the 54th District,

Just prior to last week’s scheduled veto session days in Springfield, there were ongoing discussions on a number of important legislative issues:  taxes,  gambling, pension reform, environmental and energy issues, ethics reform, and other issues. In the background, there remained known on-going investigations by federal authorities into municipal and state corruption.

While driving to Springfield, however, I heard on the radio news that a Democratic state representative from Chicago had just been arrested on charges of attempting to bribe a Democratic state senator.  This news sucked much of the oxygen out of the Capitol and undermined an otherwise sincere attempt for meaningful work on these important legislative issues.

As Illinois faces serious fiscal challenges, the alleged criminal and unethical behavior continues to erode public trust in the legislative process. This morning in Chicago, Republican colleagues and I renewed our call for Democratic leadership to take up several long overdue ethics reform bills when we return to the Capitol next week for the second portion of fall veto session.

In addition, most of the items discussed last week will be brought up again next week. 

In this newsletter is a recap of the biggest issues discussed in the Springfield, as well as updates from the 54th District.  As always, you can reach me at my district office should you wish to discuss any of these topics further.  In addition, the status of all bills, resolutions, and other written items under formal discussion can be tracked on the Illinois General Assembly website.

ETHICS/CORRUPTION

Bipartisan Group of Legislators Call for Ethics Reform.  Amidst ongoing public corruption investigations entangling multiple layers of Illinois government, lawmakers renewed the call for comprehensive ethics reform. At a Capitol press conference last Monday, the lawmakers said the General Assembly must take swift action to not only enhance Illinois’ current public ethics laws, but also called for the creation of a new task force.

As a first step in the process to restoring public trust, HB 361 was filed to dramatically increase the fines legislators face for engaging in numerus restricted activities and for violations of legislator rules of conduct.

House Joint Resolution 87, the resolution to create the State Ethics Task Force, was filed in the lead-up to the Fall Veto Session. The Task Force will be comprised of nine members: Member of the Governor’s Staff or the Lt. Governor and two legislative members appointed by each caucus leader. The Task Force has a limited time frame to accomplish its work, with findings and a final report recommending legislative changes to the Governor and General Assembly due within ninety days following passage of this joint resolution.

Legislation Filed to Ban Lawmakers from Performing Paid Lobbying Work with Local Government Units.  In light of news reports that a member of the Illinois House of Representatives was arrested by Federal agents for attempted bribery of a public official, legislation was introduced Tuesday to ban lawmakers from performing paid lobbying work with local government units while in office.

The legislation, House Bill 3947, would ban members of the General Assembly, their spouses, and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work with local government units. Currently, members of the Illinois General Assembly – state representatives and state senators – are prohibited from lobbying the State of Illinois, but are not prohibited from lobbying local government units, such as a counties or municipalities.

CHICAGO

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s new tax demands receive lukewarm response from General Assembly.  The tax demands included a proposed new transfer tax on higher-value real estate.  Transfer taxes are paid on each transaction, which means that the buyer pays more and the seller gets less than would otherwise have been received.  The Lightfoot transfer tax proposal would impose a “progressive” tax upon higher-value parcels of real property. 

My colleagues and critics of the proposal Rep. Mark Batinick and Deanne Mazzochi pointed out the vital nature of Chicago property values and real estate redevelopment to the overall economic climate of the city.  They discussed it and other issues on last night’s WTTW Chicago Tonight.  The proposal was slated to generate $125 million in tax revenue from buyers and sellers in 2020, making this an essential slice in the closing of Chicago’s current $830 million annual budget deficit.  However, the city of Chicago must have the consent of the State to impose this new tax structure upon real estate transactions. 

HEALTH

Vaping products discussed; Illinois House to take up issue.  Health challenges from the explosion in Illinois vaping activity includes reports of two separate deaths of patients.  These patients vaped and had breathing challenges, and their deaths are associated with the act of trying to breathe chemicals from small vaping tubes.  These tubes, which are loaded with “cartridges,” are now-familiar sights among many groups of Illinoisans, including young people.  The cartridges can be legal or illegal; they can contain nicotine, THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana), and many other chemicals, including chemicals that are harmful to human health.  THC vapes are implicated in the deaths.

Widespread reports indicate that many young people are drawn to so-called “flavored vapes.”  Vaping cartridges charged with fruit or candy flavors are favored by underage vapers.  Several states, including Massachusetts, have taken steps to delay or ban the sale of flavored vapes.  The vaping industry opposes bans of this type; its advocates assert that self-regulation is sufficient to ensure the sale of legal vapes, discourage the sale of illegal vapes, and prevent the sale of all vapes to underage customers. 

SB 1864 begins discussion of this issue by adding e-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine products to the Smoke Free Illinois Act.  If this bill becomes law, the existing ban on indoor public-space smoking throughout Illinois would expand to also cover the public indoor use of all e-cigarette vaping products.  As passed by the Senate, SB 1864 is not a ban on vaping in Illinois, and does not target flavored vapes.  By working within the Smoke Free Illinois Act, a law that has been enforced for many years and is buttressed by a large quantity of case law, this Senate measure allows discussion to continue.  SB 1864 now goes to the Illinois House for discussion and debate.   

INSURANCE

New 2020 mandatory health insurance rates released for Illinois.  Under current federal law, Illinoisans must possess or buy health insurance policies to cover their medical care needs.   Under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), these policies must meet a complex series of mandate guideline sets.  Different guideline sets are classified as “Gold,” “Silver,” and “Bronze.”  It is expected that the final months of each calendar year will be dedicated to “open enrollment,” as customers learn more about available ACA policies, pick a policy, and begin making payments. The forum for learning more about Illinois ACA policies is “Get Covered Illinois.”

New Gold, Silver, and Bronze ACA insurance rates for 2020 Illinois policies have been released.  Five firms have developed 142 separate plans that will offer policies to Illinoisans and their households.  Each plan may or may not be available in the individual location where an ACA customer lives; in some counties, only one firm is doing ACA business.  “Get Covered Illinois” Year 2020 open enrollment opens on November 1, 2019 and will continue through December 15, 2019.

Persons subject to ACA must buy their Year 2020 insurance by December 15, 2019.  Health insurance will not be available for calendar year 2020 after that date except for persons who have a “qualifying life event.”  Qualifying life events include situations where an individual has employment-based health insurance and then loses their job within calendar year 2020 inside a time frame that means that their remaining health insurance rights will expire prior to the end of 2020.  Missing the ACA enrollment deadline is not a qualifying life event.     

PENSIONS

Local police/fire pension consolidation.  The Illinois Pension Consolidation Feasibility Task Force has issued a report and recommendation intended to reduce the burdens of police and firefighter pensions upon Illinois property taxpayers.  A greater and greater share of Illinois’ property taxes paid to local units of government is going to maintain the independent operations of the 650 pension funds that pay benefits to disabled and retired Illinois local police officers and firefighters. 

The Task Force report, looking at the ways similar service benefit programs operate in other states, recommends that all of these police officer pension programs and all of these firefighter pension programs, other than the programs operated for these service responders in the city of Chicago, be consolidated into a single agency that can be managed statewide.  Consolidation will reduce the administrative burdens of operating more than six hundred separate pension-fund managements.  Each pension fund will maintain separate accounts within the consolidated agency, under conditions similar to those operated by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund IMRF).  The IMRF is an independent statewide agency that looks after the pensions of local government employees who are not police/fire service responders.  The IMRF’s performance is generally praised: it is the one large Illinois public-sector pension agency that has not run a massive deficit.    

The Task Force’s report and recommendation was discussed this week by Illinois House and Session members during their session in Springfield.  Continued discussion of this issue is possible in November. 

PAGE FOR THE DAY

I recently welcomed a Page for the Day to Springfield!  Maria Ferraro is a young student from Jacksonville, who joined me for a day during veto session.  I was happy to welcome her to the capitol, and introduce her to the House of Representatives!

As a page, Maria also got to meet other lawmakers and observe the legislative process in action. I was happy to have an eager student, learner, and perhaps future State Representative join me for the day in the House of Representatives.

SUCCESSFUL SENIOR FAIR

I recently held a successful senior fair in partnership with the Palatine Township Senior Citizen Council.   

The event featured vendors from area businesses, organizations and state agencies, all of which help seniors in every aspect of their lives.  In addition to local businesses, state, county and local government representatives were on hand to answer questions from attendees—not to mention the free health screenings and free flu shots provided by Walgreens Pharmacy.

I enjoyed meeting residents who came from across the district to make it to this event and take advantage of the over 20 organizations that were available to them.  There are great resources available to seniors in this area, and it was amazing to see so many come out to take advantage of this opportunity.

With the success of this event, I am looking to continue providing this service to the community in the future!