Reboot IL: Cross: Pass HB3411 Now

March 18, 2013 Published on RebootIL.com: [caption id="attachment_3251" align="alignleft" width="300"]Reps. Nekritz and Cross present HB3411 in committee on Thursday, March 14, 2013. Reps. Nekritz and Cross present HB3411 in committee on Thursday, March 14, 2013.[/caption] Since pension negotiations began more than three years ago, the General Assembly has failed to enact badly needed reforms to help deal with the $96 billion unfunded liability in state’s pension systems. I have filed and supported countless bills and concepts along the way; though, none have been as promising as the comprehensive pension reform package that passed out of the House Personnel and Pensions Committee Thursday. Receiving significant support from members of all four caucuses, including 32 sponsors in the House, House Bill 3411 gives the General Assembly the best shot at achieving a bipartisan consensus that will ultimately save the Illinois pension system for hardworking government workers, while remaining affordable to taxpayers. Please click here to read the entire article.
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Week in Review for week of 3/11/13 – 3/15/13

Budget
  • Illinois accused of financial fraud by Securities and Exchange Commission.  The federal agency, which has been asked by Congress to look after the safety and stability of the instruments offered for sale by borrowers in global financial markets, publicly accused Illinois on Monday, March 11 of fraudulently concealing the depth and impact upon the State’s overall financial status of the unfunded pension liabilities carried by the five State-managed pension systems.    The SEC cited disclosures published by Illinois and its underwriters in 2005-09, during the administration of former Gov. Blagojevich.  Under federal law, borrowers who sell bonds on Wall Street are required to make a series of legal disclosures to potential lenders to acquaint potential investors of all four corners of the existing debts and obligations owed by the borrower.  Failure to make all of these required disclosures constitutes financial fraud.  Illinois did not deny the charge that they had failed to make these disclosures, and signed a settlement agreement with the SEC in which the State promised to follow a more honest protocol when it borrows money in the future.  The SEC did not levy a fine or bring charges against Illinois or any of its personnel as a result of this incident, but the charges were seen as likely to further lower the State’s financial standing on global credit markets. 
Children
  • House Republicans introduce “Protect Our Children” violence prevention package.   News reports throughout greater Chicago have concentrated on epidemic-level gun violence affecting children of all ages and neighborhoods within greater Chicago.   On Tuesday, March 12, Representatives Cabello, Durkin, Reboletti , Sacia and Tracy introduced a four-bill “Protect Our Children” package of measures to reduce the violence.  Measures within the package include bills to increase penalties for aggravated unlawful use of a firearm, crack down on gang recruitment, improve reporting of persons with mental health problems to a nationwide FBI database, and reduce school violence.  The General Assembly is attempting to grapple with atrocities such as recent school shootings and the Tuesday, March 12 homicide of 6-month-old Chicagoan Jonylah Watkins.  However, House Democrats have not yet released the “Protect our Children” proposals from the House Rules Committee for discussion and debate by the full House. 
Debt
  • Debt-riddled Illinois proposes to sell $800 million in new general-obligation (G.O.) debt.  Illinois, which currently has the worst credit rating of any of the 50 states, announced its intention on Wednesday, March 13 to sell an additional $800 million in bonds.  $450 million of the debt would be tax-exempt, and $350 million would be taxable.  The debt would mature in stages over a 25-year period.  Illinois’ credit rating is rated in different ways by different credit-rating agencies, with widely-cited Standard & Poor’s characterizing Illinois G.O. debt as “A-minus” (equivalent to Moody’s A3) with a negative outlook.   Illinois’ sub-par debt rating will force the State, if this debt is sold, to pay 140 additional annual basis points in interest on this debt on top of the standard interest rate paid by U.S. states that borrow money.   This cost would be passed on to the Illinois taxpayers.  The debt is scheduled to go to market on Tuesday, April 2. 
Energy
  • House committee hears testimony on tough “fracking” bill.  Testimony on HB 2615, described by business interests and key environmental groups alike as the strongest state regulatory program in the nation to allow and regulate hydraulic fracturing, was heard by the House Revenue Committee on Thursday, March 14.  Groups such as the Sierra Club and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association spoke highly of the initiative, which will enact pioneering disclosures on fracking chemicals and will fund State regulatory bodies that will oversee hydraulic drilling.  “Fracking” is done by drilling vertically down into a thick bed of shale, and then drilling horizontally out into the shale.  Water, sand, and some chemicals are then injected to fracture the dense, brittle shale and release the crude oil and natural gas locked within.  In Illinois, the New Albany shale formation is the subject of intense interest by drillers and energy producers.  A similar shale formation in North Dakota, the Bakken shale formation, is currently producing crude oil at a rate of almost 1 million barrels a day, equivalent to other oil fields that are among the world’s largest.  As part of the negotiations on HB 2615, an agreement has been reached on state severance tax levels:  3% for the first 2 years, then 4% for up to 25 barrels/day, 5% for 25-50 barrels/day, 6% for >50 barrels/day, at end of well life (
Guns
  • Plurality of House members reject bill to ban possession of multi-round ammunition feeding devices.   Ammunition feeding devices, originally invented for use with combat arms, have become standard components of many types of firearms.  Firearms that use or even require the use of large-capacity ammunition feeding devices, such as the 17-round Glock-17 handgun and the 30-round AR-15 rifle, are found in many Illinois homes.  Floor Amendment #10 to HB 1156, debated by the House on Wednesday, March 13, would have banned possession of most magazines and devices with a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and would have required their possessors to turn in these banned magazines within 180 days after the effective date of the Act.  Continued possession of these magazines and devices after this deadline would have been a criminal offense.  Opponents of the measure asserted that because many guns use or even require the use of large-capacity ammunition feeding devices, banning these magazines would have been effectively the same as banning the use or possession of the underlying guns.  The vote on Floor Amendment #10 to HB 1156 was 57-59-1.     
Jobs
  • Illinois unemployment rate worsens.  The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported on Thursday, March 7 that the Illinois jobless rate is moving back towards double digits.  From 8.7 percent in December 2012, the rate rose to 9.0 percent in January 2013.  The highest unemployment rate “achieved” during the current downturn was 9.1 percent in January 2012.  High unemployment reduces the economic prospects of Illinoisans and reduces tax revenues to carry out essential public enterprises.  Illinois House Republicans have proposed various bills that respond directly to increasing unemployment rates, such as Representative Dwight Kay’s HB 2890.  This measure, filed in February 2013, would lower employers’ tax rates during periods of rising monthly unemployment as an incentive for them to return hiring to Illinois.  The IDES report counted 594,800 jobless Illinoisans in January 2013, with construction, retail trade, transportation, and utilities sectors showing job losses.  The Illinois unemployment rate was 1.1 percent higher than the nationwide 7.9 percent rate for the same month.  Neighboring states tend to have lower jobless rates than Illinois.  For example, the January 2013 Iowa unemployment rate was 5.0 percent, 4.0 percent below Illinois.  
Pensions
  • Pension debate continues as House and Senate members continue to signal support for needed cuts.  On Thursday, March 14, the House voted 76-41-0 for a major pension reform contained in HB 1166, which, as amended, includes an increase of up to 5 years in the number of years that many State workers will be required to work before claiming pension eligibility.  The vote followed a 101-15-0 vote to enact HB 1154 and cap top pensionable salaries at $113,700.  Together, the two House votes signaled possible support for comprehensive pension language.  These bills only deal, however, with fragments of the overall pension crisis.  Senators have made similar signals in recent days in favor of complex and often contradictory forms of pension reform.  House Republican Leader Tom Cross responded to votes on HB 1166, HB 1154 and other moves by stating his continued support for bipartisan efforts to develop a comprehensive retirement-reform program, as well as piecemeal reforms, that will reduce or eliminate Illinois’ unfunded pension liabilities and bring solvency to the pension systems. 
Taxpayers’ rights
  • House committee approves bill to expand taxpayer openness in government.  HB 1555, a bill co-sponsored by House Republican leader Tom Cross and Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers’ Grove), would expand the existing Illinois Transparency Accountability Portal (ITAP) to include key taxpayer-friendly information generated by the more than 6,000 local governments of Illinois.  Information that would be required for public posting includes pay rates and pension benefits of local governmental employees.  The bill, part of the House Republican Transparency Project, was approved by the House Cities and Villages Committee on Thursday, March 14.            
 Transportation
  • Work on Jane Addams Tollway scheduled to start this spring.  User-funded expansions to the busy lanes of one of the Chicago area’s most-utilized superhighways will include new lanes and interchanges.   The project, scheduled to cost $2.2 billion, is being funded with the January 1, 2012 toll rate increase.  The Jane Addams Tollway, which serves northern Cook County, northern Kane County, and the Rockford area, was named the Northwest Tollway until 2007.  The Toll Highway Authority held public meetings in Belvidere and Huntley to discuss the startup on Tuesday, March 12, and Thursday, March 14.
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Press Release: Cross to host Oswego Traveling Office Hours March 26

March 15, 2013 oswego public library logoOSWEGO – State Representative Tom Cross (R-Oswego) invites residents of the 97th District to attend his traveling office hours at the Oswego Public Library’s Montgomery campus on Tuesday, March 26 from 5:30 – 7:00pm. The purpose of traveling office hours is to provide access and services to constituents at a convenient time and location near them. Rep. Cross’ hosts traveling office hours in Oswego twice each year, in March and September. “This is a good opportunity for residents to have a chance to meet with our staff and discuss issues of concern regarding state government,” Rep. Cross said. “Traveling office hours are a great way for us to interact with constituents face-to-face and share how our office can help answer questions and offer valuable resources.” The traveling office hours will be held on Tuesday, March 26 from 5:30 to 7:00pm at the Oswego Public Library’s Montgomery campus located at 1111 Reading Drive; just west of the intersection of U.S. Routes 30 and 34. A member of Rep. Cross’ district office staff will be available to meet with residents and address questions or concerns related to legislation and state government. Constituents are also welcome to visit Rep. Cross’ district office at 24047 W. Lockport Street, Suite 213 in Plainfield or call (815) 254-0000 year-round for those unable to attend these traveling office hours.
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PRESS RELEASE: Cross, Nekritz Pension Bill Passes Committee

[caption id="attachment_3251" align="alignleft" width="300"]Reps. Nekritz and Cross present HB3411 in committee on Thursday, March 14, 2013. Reps. Nekritz and Cross present HB3411 in committee on Thursday, March 14, 2013.[/caption] March 14, 2013 (Springfield) Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) passed their comprehensive pension reform legislation out of the House Personnel and Pensions Committee today. House Bill 3411, now headed to the House floor, promises to save taxpayers $160 billion and Illinois’ public pension system from complete collapse. “Today we are one step closer to solving a pension crisis that continues to squeeze our state budget,” said Cross. “We believe this legislation offers both state workers and taxpayers alike the most comprehensive and reasonable pension solution available. I look forward to bringing this legislation the House floor for further debate.” "We are encouraged by the support that we continue to build for a real solution to this critical problem," Nekritz said. "Leader Cross and I will continue to work to show why this bill is the sensible combination of benefit reform and payment protections to get our pension system and state back on track." House Bill 3411 includes many components of bills filed previously, but also includes some new ideas including: • Allows cost of living adjustments (COLA) to the first $25,000 of the employees’ pension o These new COLAs will take effect when the employee turns 67 or five years after they retire, whichever comes first. • Increases retirement age from one to five years, depending on current age • Increases employee contributions by 2 percent over two years • Caps pensionable salary • Changes Tier 2 COLA benefits in GARS to match COLA provisions in other systems • Creates Tier 3 defined benefit/defined contribution plan for SURS and TRS members who start work after January 1, 2014. Local Employers and employees will be responsible for funding these plans. • Includes a funding guarantee, systems can take state to court over nonpayment • Includes $1 billion in additional funding for systems starting in 2020 until systems are 100% funded “Addressing our pension crisis is paramount to stabilizing our budget and ensuring we can provide the vital state services that are suffering. This legislation will allow us to do that, while also addressing the concerns of interest groups and bond houses alike,” Cross added.
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Rep. Cross, Kendall Co. State’s Attorney Weis support proposals to strengthen enforcement and save taxpayer dollars

carMarch 14, 2013 Oswego, IL…State Representative Tom Cross (R-Oswego) is sponsoring two proposals brought to his attention by Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis. The first initiative (House Bill 3010) will create an intensive probation program for a defendant who is found guilty of a non-violent crime. The second measure (House Bill 2477) will clarify current law and raise the penalty for an offender who was picked up for a DUI or similar offense, while driving on a revoked or suspended license. “I appreciate State’s Attorney Weis bringing these ideas to our attention,” said Cross.  “It is important that we remain committed to strict enforcement of our laws, but we also have to be smart on crime.  Both of these concepts will do just that, while also helping to reduce overcrowding in our corrections system and save needed taxpayer dollars.” House Bill 3010 will create a program similar to the Offender Initiative Probation program that became law last year.  The initiative will give counties that don’t have pretrial diversion programs, such as Kendall County, the option of an alternative disposition for first-time, nonviolent offenders who are found guilty or plead guilty at trial. “This would be an intense probation period.  If a defendant successfully completes the probation, he or she would avoid having a felony conviction on their record,” said Weis.  “The legislation will allow first time, non-violent offenders from being labeled as convicted felons, while ensuring that violent, repeat offenders continue to be locked up.” House Bill 2477 was prompted by a recent court decision finding that an offender was not subject to the penalty for a repeat offense of driving on a revoked license, because the offense that resulted in the first revocation was a controlled substance violation, rather than a DUI.  Current law allows an offender to be charged with a Class 4 felony if the defendant is caught driving on a suspended or revoked license on multiple occasions, as long as the “original” license suspension or revocation was the result of a DUI. HB2477 will ensure that the heightened penalty is applicable when violators are convicted of DUI or a similar offense after their licenses are suspended or revoked, even if a DUI was not the basis for the original suspension or revocation.  
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Press Release: Gov signs Cross bill that Adjusts Early Voting to Accommodate Easter Holiday

March 12, 2013 Plainfield… Today, Governor Quinn signed legislation introduced by Rep. Renée Kosel (R-New Lenox) and House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) allowing the employees of Illinois’ election authorities to spend the Easter holiday with their families instead of staffing early voting locations. Due to the change in law, election authorities are now exempt from being required to stay open over the Easter holidays. To compensate, additional voting hours will be provided during the final week of early voting. Public notice will be given for any closure and for the subsequent extended hours. This measure was supported by Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots who had previously stated, “Generally on holiday weekends, we have not seen good voter turnout. We think this is an excellent idea that will boost voter turnout during the week with extended hours.” “I am very pleased that the Governor agreed with us on this piece of legislation,” Cross stated. “We were able to make sure that there will be plenty of time for residents to vote as well as a common sense approach to working during the holidays.” In 2005, a new law created an early voting requirement for Illinois election authorities. Under that law, there are allowable changes to the election calendar; however, that exemption only includes holidays that fall on the first or last day of a required election service, not in the middle. Aside from Good Friday, election authorities were not given latitude to accommodate for an ill-timed Easter holiday weekend within the law. Since then, Easter has only landed in March once; and that year conflict was averted due to the 2008 primary shift from March to February where legislative Democrats adjusted the election calendar to boost the presidential aspirations of then Senator Barack Obama. That law was reversed again in effective in 2012 thereby creating the conflict. “Early voting has been a tremendous success in Illinois,” said Kosel. “This new law will allow many good people to be with their families during Easter while still providing the time necessary for early voting.” ###
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Press Release: Cross, Durkin, Reboletti Introduce Legislation to Protect Our Children

March 12, 2013

(Springfield) State Representative Jim Durkin and a group of House Republican legislators today introduced new legislation to help keep our children and our communities safe from violence. Durkin (R-Western Springs) said the measures in the “Protect Our Children” initiative target the greatest threats to our children’s safety – gang and school-related violence. 312PressCross “We cannot sit idle with the catastrophic gun violence occurring in the streets of Chicago on a daily basis. We know the enemy – the street gangs and members of the drug trade. We can no longer tolerate the loss of innocent children and law-abiding citizens. We are taking a harsh but necessary position with these bills to rid our neighborhoods of this criminal element,” Durkin said. “We need to constantly be working on and setting policies in Springfield that protect the next generation,” said Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego). “We believe these proposals introduced today will better protect our children across the state.”  
  • House Bill 3217 increases penalties for gang-related gun offenses.  It increases the minimum sentence for possession of a firearm by a street gang member from 3 up to 4 years and makes it a non-probationable offense. The legislation also requires 85% truth in sentencing for many gun offenses by felons and known gang members.
 
  • House Bill 3009 cracks down on gang recruitment in our communities.  Illinois’ gang recruitment law currently requires prosecutors to prove that the defendant used force or coercion to recruit another person into a gang. This legislation adds two new felony offenses for recruiting adults (Class 4 Felony) or minors (Class 3 Felony) to join gangs that do not require proof of physical force.
  “This is a well-crafted, common sense approach to cracking down on violence in our schools and communities,” said Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Freeport). “I look forward to working with all of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this important legislation that will protect our children, and make Illinois a safer place to live.” Other measures in the plan improve mental health reporting and school violence prevention:  
  • House Bill 1925 (Floor Amendment #1) utilizes gun offense fines to enhance mental health reporting.  A recent audit conducted by Auditor General Bill Holland found that due to deficiencies in the reporting of individuals with potentially disqualifying mental health conditions, State Police don’t always receive information needed to revoke or deny FOID cards. This proposal imposes an additional $50 fine on defendants convicted of certain firearm offenses to fund continuing education for circuit judges and circuit court clerks to improve the reporting of mental health prohibitors to the State Police.
  
  • House Bill 1978 (Floor Amendment #1) improves conflict resolution education in schools. To help prevent school-related violence, this legislation ensures school districts will provide instruction and training in violence prevention and conflict resolution education as part of social-emotional learning standards for all students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. The State Board of Education and local school boards are not required to implement these provisions unless funding is available from private sources, the State, or the federal government.
  “What we are seeing is the presence of mental illness more and more in the individuals who are committing these heinous gun crimes,” said Rep. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy). “We need to improve reporting and communication between our court systems and the State Police to ensure we keep firearms out of the hands of persons who may be suffering mental health problems and have the potential to harm others or themselves.  We also need to improve access to mental health programs and get these folks the help they need before they act.  I think these bills will be a good step toward those goals.” “These bills are a common sense move considering the record number of murders and gang-related violence in Chicago and across the state,” added former prosecutor and state Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst). “These proposals outline a good start to further crack down on gangs, stop the killings and give children the protection that they deserve.”
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PRESS RELEASE: Rep. Cross to Host Wheatland Traveling Office Hours

March 8, 2013 

PLAINFIELD – State Representative Tom Cross (R-Oswego) invites residents of the 97th District to attend his traveling office hours in Wheatland Township on Wednesday, March 20 from 2:00 – 4:00pm.  The purpose of traveling office hours is to provide access and services to constituents at a convenient time and location near them. Rep. Cross’ hosts traveling office hours in Wheatland Township twice each year, in March and September.   welcome“This is a good opportunity for residents to have a chance to meet with our staff and discuss issues of concern regarding state government,” Rep. Cross said.  “Traveling office hours are a great way for us to interact with constituents face-to-face and share how our office can help answer questions and offer valuable resources.”  The traveling office hours will be held on Wednesday, March 20 from 2:00 to 4:00pm at the Wheatland Township Office located at 12337 S. Route 59, Suite #117 in Plainfield.  A member of Rep. Cross’ district office staff will be available to meet with residents and address questions or concerns related to legislation and state government.  Constituents are also welcome to visit Rep. Cross’ district office at 24047 W. Lockport Street, Suite 213 in Plainfield or call (815) 254-0000 year-round for those unable to attend these traveling office hours.
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Press Release: Cross, Hatcher look to renew Adam's Law

March 6, 2013 SPRINGFIELD – Victims of traffic fatalities involving impaired and distracted drivers may continue to be honored in roadside memorials if legislation sponsored by Rep. Kay Hatcher (R-Yorkville) and House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R- Oswego) continues to advance. House Bill 2372 would re-enact the fatal accident memorial marker program, which sunset on December 31, 2012. The Roadside Memorial Act raises awareness of the dangers of reckless driving while allowing families an opportunity to remember the victims of crashes involving reckless drivers. The Act is named Adam’s Law after 5 year-old Adam Miller of Naperville who was tragically killed in a traffic accident in 2008. “Families like Adam’s deserve the ability to honor the life of a loved one at the site of their tragic loss,” said Cross. “This simple yet important legislation would enable families to do so safely and legally.” “Distracted and impaired driving shatters families and takes innocent lives,” added Rep. Hatcher. “Roadside memorials are a grave reminder to all of us to drive safely and always use caution regardless of the road or weather conditions.” HB 2372 passed unanimously out of the Transportation Committee Wednesday. If approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor, the Act would apply to markers constructed on or after January 1, 2013.
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Leader Cross' statement on passing of Dawn Clark Netsch

[caption id="attachment_3199" align="alignright" width="219"]DawnClarkNetsch Former IL Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch. Photo courtesy of The Windy City Times.[/caption] MARCH 5, 2013 “Today we mourn the passing of former Illinois state senator and Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch; a trailblazer for women in state government and an honorable public servant who made substantial contributions to the people of Illinois throughout her long and distinguished career. Dawn will be remembered for her unparalleled passion, integrity and commitment to service both as a public official and a private citizen. She will be greatly missed.” - Rep. Tom Cross  
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