The House passed a bill to exempt certain startup activities from SEC requirements, aiming to facilitate greater access to capital. The Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act would allow startups to hold “demo days” to showcase their products and meet potential investors without needing to verify the investors’ net worth or accreditation. Proponents of the bill say that it will remove unnecessary restrictions and enable startups greater access to investors. Critics say it will remove a crucial protection for investors and encourage startups to promote high-risk investments. Despite wide bipartisan support in the House, the bill’s future in the Senate is uncertain. Read more on The Hill.
In the absence of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and with no replacement coming anytime soon, the Supreme Court has slowed down its acceptance of new controversial cases. Only six cases have been accepted since Scalia died in February, and none of them are highly contentious. The evenly-split Court is likely trying to avoid cases that the justices are not confident they can decide without another member. Read more in the Washington Post.
Even as conservatives have begun asking to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is standing strong in his refusal to consider President Obama’s nominee. The dramatic change of heart in many Republican legislators comes directly from Donald Trump’s new position as the Republican presidential nominee, barring any changes at the national convention. There is widespread concern that with Trump as the nominee, Hillary Clinton will win the White House and have the opportunity to appoint a much more liberal justice. Some conservatives want to cut their losses now and appoint Garland, who is respected by both parties. Read more.
The FDA finalized a rule on e-cigarettes and some tobacco products that had been in limbo for several years. The new rule includes e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine in tobacco regulations, barring their sale to people under 18 and regulating the industry at the federal level for the first time. The rule also requires cigar and e-cigarette producers to register with the FDA, which will have a huge effect on small vape shops that mix their own liquids. The industry group American Vaping Association called the regulations effectively “a prohibition” because of the costs accompanying the application process. Read more in the New York Times.
Illinois has passed over 300 days without a budget, and the consequences are becoming harder to undo, no matter when funding shows up. Aside from the fact that if no budget is passed before the end of May, the General Assembly will need a supermajority to pass one, many organizations are already beyond the point of full recovery even if they were paid today. As of January 2016, 84% of the state’s human service agencies reported cutting programs, and countless organizations have cut staff and seen their waitlists for services grow. “The whole social services safety net is starting to wear away,” said one social services executive. “Once it goes, it’s virtually impossible to rebuild.” Read more in Bloomberg.
A coalition of 64 social service organizations sued the Rauner administration for over $100 million the state has failed to pay them since last July. Although Gov. Rauner’s office dismissed the suit, chalking it up to frustration, coalition chair Andrea Durbin says it is “strictly a business case” centered on unfulfilled contracts. “We’ve been held accountable to the contracts. We’ve been asked to deliver services, to report our data, to participate in program oversight,” she said. “You can’t with one hand ask people to do work and with the other hand deny them the ability to be paid.” Read more in the Chicago Tribune.
Despite the stopgap funding bill for higher education passed last week, Chicago State University still needed to lay off over 300 employees last Friday. The university received $20 million from the legislation, but administrators were counting on $37 million from the state this year. Read more from ABC7.
Yesterday the Senate passed a bill to send an additional $454 million to struggling colleges, and the House is expected to take it up next week. Read more in the State Journal-Register.
Rep. Christian Mitchell’s bill for a constitutional amendment to change Illinois’s income tax system to a graduated tax died in the House. Rep. Lou Lang sponsored a companion bill that would have set the rates for the graduated tax, and he blames Gov. Rauner for pulling several Republican supporters away from the initiative. According to Rep. Lang, the plan would cut taxes for 99% of Illinois taxpayers and still raise an additional $1.9 billion for the state. The governor’s spokesperson, on the other hand, said that a graduated tax would “result in driving thousands of jobs out of Illinois.”Read more in the State Journal-Register.
There are two legislative working groups trying to put together a budget: the Ad-Hoc committee that has been meeting for the past year, and the new Budgeteers committee. Both bipartisan groups are working on passable budget compromises, but the clock is ticking. Read more in Politico Illinois.
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are concerned about the likely financial consequences of a strike, and the union seems to be backing away from a strike this month. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said, “If CPS provokes us, and unilaterally effects change, all bets are off. In the absence of that, I get a sense that our members would not be looking at a strike in May.” A strike could start as early as May 16th if the union gives 10 days’ prior notice, but hopefully attempts a compromise will be successful. Read more in the Sun-Times.
Sen. Andy Manar’s bill to change the school funding formula to direct more money to poorer districts stalled this week when the Rauner administration released calculations claiming that the bill would cut funding from downstate districts to send millions of dollars more to Chicago. In reality, the bill has a ‘hold harmless’ provision that would prevent any districts from seeing funding cuts for the first year, but “Rauner’s numbers drop provided all the politicalcover Republicans needed to renew claims that the Democratic legislation was designed to prop up cash-strapped CPS at the expense of other districts,” writes Monique Garcia in the Chicago Tribune. Gov. Rauner wants to see school funding approved before reforming the system, which Sen. Manar says would simply make the disparities between school districts even larger. Legislators have received several different sets of numbers, and Sen. Manar is postponing a vote until they have had adequate time to consider them.Read more here and here.
Rep. Lou Lang’s bill to prohibit courts from denying defendants access to medication-assisted substance abuse treatment programs passed the Criminal Law Committee.
Mayor Emanuel hired Andrea Zopp, who lost the Democratic US Senate primary to US Rep. Tammy Duckworth, as Deputy Mayor. Zopp will be charge of major city projects.
Sen. George Amedore introduced S 7446, which would allow the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to provide funding to for-profit agencies for substance use disorder and gambling programs.
Sen. Diane Savino introduced S 7467, a companion to Rep. Richard Gottfried’s Assembly bill to authorize five additional medical marijuana organizations. Each organization would be authorized to manufacture medical marijuana products and operate up to eight dispensaries.
Retiring US Rep. Chris Gibson announced he will take a job as a visiting lecturer at Williams College and will not run for governor in 2018. He will close the exploratory committee he opened to look into the possibility, and he will return all contributions. Read more in Morning Consult.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto’s bill to work on Atlantic City’s finances without an immediate state takeover fizzled out yesterday. Speaker Prieto had planned to call the measure for a vote, but he canceled it when four members did not show up, effectively dooming the bill. It is not clear whether the bill would have passed, or whether Senate President Steve Sweeney’s takeover bill could pass the Assembly. Speaker Prieto now plans to work on a compromise bill, though Senate President Sweeney so far is refusing to work with him, despite announcements to the contrary. Read more in Politico New Jersey.
After much uncertainty, Atlantic City managed to make a $1.8 million bond payment this week, averting default. The payment only covers interest, but the city prevented what would have been the first municipal default in the state since 1938.
Two NJ Transit rail unions, representing close to 40% of the workforce, rejected the tentative agreement that prevented a strike earlier this year. Unions representing railway conductors and engineers did not ratify the new contract accepted by 14 other NJ Transit unions and will likely return to negotiations. So far, there is no threat of a strike. Read more.
Lakewood’s housing boom shows no signs of stopping, and the township is quickly running out of room- at least horizontally. The Township Committee appointed members to study ways to incorporate the dramatic growth, including raising the five-story limit on buildings. Read more.
Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz introduced S 2139 to add dysmenorrhea, severely painful menstrual cramps, to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. Rep. Tim Eustace introduced the Assembly version last month.
Rep. Kirk Schuring’s bill to legalize medical marijuana passed committee this week. Although many legislators are not in favor of legalizing marijuana, they are more concerned with what voters might pass as a constitutional amendment in November and want to get ahead of them with legislation. Rep. Schuring’s bill does not allow people to grow their own marijuana, and it excludes some medical conditions that are part of proposed ballot initiatives. Read more.
US Rep. Todd Young beat US Rep. Marlin Stutzman in the Republican primary to replace retiring US Sen. Dan Coats. Rep. Stutzman is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and is a Tea Party favorite, while Rep. Young is favored by more moderate Republicans. Rep. Young will face Democrat Baron Hill, a former state representative, in November.
Both representative’s districts were up for grabs because of their decision to run for Senate, and both are considered safely Republican. Jim Banks, who is supported by the House Freedom Caucus, won the primary in Rep. Stutzman’s district, and Trey Hollingsworth, a wealthy transplant to the state, won in Rep. Young’s district. Read more in Morning Consult.
State Supreme Court Justice David T. Prosser is retiring at the end of July, though his term does not end until 2021. This means Gov. Walker can appoint a successor to serve until 2020, at which point an election will be held for the seat.
All three remaining Republican presidential candidates backtracked from their previous promise to support the eventual nominee, whoever it is. When asked if he planned to support the nominee no matter what, Gov. John Kasich said, “If the nominee is somebody that I think is really hurting the country, and dividing the country, I can’t stand behind them.” Trump was the most direct, as usual: “No. I don’t anymore. I have been treated unfairly.” Sen. Ted Cruz tried to skirt the issue, but he eventually conceded that “nominating Donald Trump [would be] a disaster.” Read more in the Washington Post.
The Supreme Court deadlocked on a case concerning whether or not unions may require non-members to pay dues, leaving the previous court’s decision in favor of unions intact, at least for now. “It was the starkest illustration yet of how the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month has blocked the power of the court’s four remaining conservatives to move the law to the right,” writes Adam Liptak in the New York Times. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner called the result “tragic.” Read more.
Two more Republican senators have agreed to meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland: Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Arkansas Sen. John Boozman. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk already met with the nominee. Several other senators have said they are open to a meeting if the White House reaches out to them. The senators insist the meetings are simply gestures of courtesy, not signals that they are defecting from party leadership. Read more in Politico.
Even as a few Republicans break ranks and agree to meet with Garland, some Democrats are noncommittal on whether they will vote for him. Sen. Al Franken is waiting until the nominee participates in public hearings (which Republican leadership is currently blocking) before announcing a decision. Even Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is highly vocal supporter of Garland’s nomination, wants to see more of the process before pledging support. And Sen. Chuck Schumer said, “I’m very positively inclined to vote for Judge Garland, but it’s always a good idea to wait for the hearings before making a final commitment.” Read more in Politico.
This article in Morning Consult contends that after a productive 2015, “Congress looks to be preparing the Capitol for legislative hibernation ahead of the November elections.” The only crucial deadlines legislators have to contend with this year are funding the federal government and reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. Theseare important, but remember that last year Congress met deadlines for transportation funding, raising the debt ceiling, and passing a huge spending bill, on top of overhauling federal education laws and making significant changes to Medicare. Congress still needs to pass appropriations bills, but this could easily end up being pushed off until the end of the year, as usual. Read more here.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is holding its walkout day today, picketing at schools, rallying, and protesting at government buildings. See the live updates on the Tribune website and more background on ABC 7 Chicago.
Last week’s state Supreme Court rulings on pension payments and back pay may have even farther-reaching impacts than originally anticipated. As we mentioned last week, one ruling determined that the state can not reduce pension payments, and the other found that state employees may not be entitled to back pay if there are no legislative appropriations. The state attorney general is now considering asking the court whether state workers can be paid at all, since just about all state employee contracts are technically dependent on appropriations that have not existed since June 30th, 2015. If the court were to find that state agencies have no authority to pay their workers, the government would shut down – for real this time. Rich Miller of Capitol Fax points out that this could be the crisis needed to force the governor to let his Turnaround Agenda demands go and sign a budget into law.
Meanwhile, Rep. Brandon Phelps filed a bill to authorize payments to the thousands of state workers who have been denied raises for five years because of the lack of adequate appropriations. “This should have already been paid. A contract is a contract. Quinn should have done this, and I was hoping Rauner would have finished it up,” Rep. Phelps said.Read more in the State Journal-Register.
Mayor Emanuel appointed the Chicago Police Department’s Chief of Patrol, Eddie Johnson, as the interim police superintendent. The mayor eschewed the recommendations of the Chicago Police Board, which had advanced three candidates for the position. The former superintendent, Garry McCarthy, was fired in the aftermath of the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video. Public reactions have been mixed, with some applauding the mayor’s choice and others reading it as a move to undermine the police board.Read more in the Washington Post.
Students attending the Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech) will need to pay back their monetary award program (MAP) grants if they want to register for classes this summer and fall. The private university had issued credits to students who qualified for MAP grants from the state, under the assumption that the state would pass a budget and pay out the grant funds. Since this still has not happened, hundreds of students will need to pay the money back or stop going to school. Read more.
Fitch Ratings downgraded Chicago’s credit rating to just one notch above junk status this week, in response to the state Supreme Court’s ruling on pension payments. This is still better than the city’s rating from Moody’s, which labeled its credit as junk last year. Read more from Reuter’s.
President Obama will speak with law students at the University of Chicago next Thursday. He plans to speak about the Supreme Court and his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat. Read more in the Tribune.
The city of Urbana reduced fines for marijuana possession this week, and it may signal a larger shift throughout Illinois. Not all municipalities are in favor of lowering punishment for marijuana possession before the state does, but many officials believe decriminalization is on its way. Read more in the News-Gazette.
Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a budget deal that includes a minimum wage increase, income tax cuts, and paid family leave. New York City and the surrounding suburbs will raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021, though other parts of the state will only raise it to $12.50 by 2020. The personal income tax rate will decrease from 6.45% to 5.5% for families earning under $300,000 by 2025. The bill still needs to pass the legislature, but no signifcant roadblocks are anticipated. Read more in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Atlantic City will shut down on April 8th unless something changes. The city and public worker unions may reach an agreement that would have workers paid once a month instead of twice in order to extend the timeline for a more comprehensive solution. This would give the city and state legislators an extra month to sort out the dire financial situation. Read more.
Marijuana Policy Project’s proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana cleared its first two hurdles in the process to appear on November’s ballot. Attorney General Mike DeWine approved the group’s summary language, and the Ohio Ballot Board certified that the proposal will be accepted as one amendment. Now, advocates will start collecting signatures to petition for the amendment to be included on the ballot. Read more.
Incumbent US Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic challenger Ted Strickland are focusing on trade policy in their latest campaign ads against each other. Sen. Portman is accusing former Gov. Strickland of enabling China to manipulate currency and cheat free trade rules, and Strickland’s campaign is accusing Sen. Portman of essentially the same thing, calling him “the best Senator China’s ever had.” Read more in Morning Consult.
Businessman Warren Davidson won the Republican primary to replace former US Rep. John Boehner. Watch this video for an introduction to him.
US Rep. Pat Tiberi is considering a run for an unspecified statewide office. He commissioned the Republican Public Opinion Strategies firm to conduct a poll. Read more.
The US Chamber of Commerce endorsed US Rep. Todd Young for US Senate. Rep. Young will face fellow Republican US Rep. Marlin Stutzman in the May primary. Read more in the IndyStar.
Gov. Pence signed a controversial bill to ban abortions that are sought because of the fetus’s sex, race, or a disability. Indiana and North Dakota are the only states in the country that ban abortion in the case of a diagnosis of a disability or birth defect. Read more in the Washington Post.
Gov. Dayton signed two bills that legislators had been struggling over for some time. One will extend unemployment benefits for laid-off mine workers, and the other will provide $250 million in rebates for businesses’ payments into the unemployment fund. The fund is doing very well and is only expected to improve, which is why Republican legislators were eager and able to pass the payment reductions. Read more.
Last night’s debate between the final two Democratic contenders for president was considerably more tense than past debates. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton raised their voices throughout the debate and attacked each other over their policies and progressive claims. As has come to be expected in debates, both candidates stretched the truth in some areas. Read this fact-checking article for a clearer picture.
House Republicans failed to override President Obama’s veto of their partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Fittingly, this 63rd attempt to dismantle or defund the ACA was held on Groundhog Day. Read more in Politico.
White House officials announced their intention to seek over $1 billion in new funding to address the opioid use epidemic over the next two years. Most of the funding would be directed to states to expand access to treatment programs.Read more in the Washington Post.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) turned down a four-year contract offered by the district this week. The contract was a significant compromise for both sides, but the CTU rejected it in large part because of a lack of trust in the district’s ability to stick to the deal. A state board could overrule the Chicago Board of Education’s decisions, and the uncertainty over the state budget also adds concerns. In response to the union’s rejection of the deal, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Forrest Claypool said he will need to go ahead with cost-cutting measures, including layoffs and stopping the district from paying teachers’ shares of their pension contributions, unless a deal is reached soon. Read more in the Tribune hereand here.
Gov. Rauner announced he is already preparing for a state takeover of CPS and has asked the state Board of Education to find a new superintendent. At a news conference, Gov. Rauner said, “I hope the rejection by the Chicago Teacher’s Union is a wake up call for the mayor and the taxpayers in Chicago and around the state.” He added that CPS has been mismanaged and overly influenced by the CTU, and the state will be better equipped to reach a deal. Despite the governor’s instructions to the state Board of Education, the state cannot take over CPS unless legislation is passed to allow it, and that seems unlikely. Democrats in the legislature, especially the House Speaker and Senate President, are strongly opposed. Read more in the Sun-Times.
Mayor Emanuel is pushing for another property tax hike to fund teacher pensions even without the compromise he previously requested from Springfield in exchange. He had demanded that the legislature either create a uniform pension system for teachers all across the state, or rewrite the school funding formula to prevent districts with large populations in poverty or in need of special assistance from bearing an undue burden. Now, he is proposing reinstating the school property tax increase without any compromise from the capitol. Read more in the Sun-Times.
CPS issued $725 million in high-interest bonds this week to cover debt payments and critical school projects. According to a market analysist in the Chicago Tribune, “Bonds issued by taxing bodies like CPS are normally considered sound investments, but that’s not the case with a school district weighed down by debt, labor uncertainty and politicaltumult.” The 28-year bonds are being sold with 8.5% yields, but there is no guarantee that investors will actually recoup this amount. Read more.
House Speaker Michael Madigan is creating a legislative panel to consider changes to Illinois’s school funding formula. The new Education Funding Task Force, led by Democratic Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, will draft legislation aiming to fund schools throughout the state more equitably. Read more in the State Journal-Register.
Rep. Thaddeus Jones filed HB 4661, the Local Government Stabilization Authority Act. The bill would create a pilot program authorizing Calumet Township, Thornton Township, and Bremen Township to create an authority charged with facilitating “the return of vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties to productive use, combatting community deterioration and creating economic growth.”
Gov. Rauner’s administration again refused to add more conditions to the list of qualifying illnesses that can be treated with medical marijuana. An advisory board, which considered patient testimony and medical evidence, recommended adding eight conditions to the list, but the Department of Public Health turned all of them down. The conditions included PTSD, chronic pain, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, and osteoarthritis. So far, only 4,000 patients have been approved to buy medical marijuana in Illinois, and the new industry is floundering. Patients and advocates are fighting back, however: five residents have filed lawsuits aiming to expand the program to cover more conditions. Read more in the State Journal-Register.
Sen. William Haine introduced SB 2378, which would require medical marijuana dispensaries to provide written explanations of the risks and benefits of medical cannabis at the time of dispensing to a patient or caregiver. The bill would also require dispensaries to transmit information to the Prescription Monitoring Program, including patient name and address, amount and strain of marijuana dispensed, and dispensary identification number, within seven days.
Rep. Dwight Kay filed HB 4692 to require medical marijuana products to contain a warning label with potential side effects in their packaging. The bill would require such a label on all marijuana harvested for distribution to dispensaries and on all products that contain marijuana in dispensaries.
Gov. Rauner created the Illinois Business and Economic Development Corporation, a private, nonprofit group that will take over a public agency’s task of attracting businesses to Illinois. Since legislators would not pass his privatization plan last year, Gov. Rauner used his executive authority to create the corporation this week. Read more in the State Journal-Register.
Although Democratic Rep. Ken Dunkin is running for reelection, many powerful Democrats are supporting his primary challenger, Juliana Stratton. Stratton previously served as the executive director of Cook County Justice for Children, and she now directs the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Supporters include Secretary of State Jessie White, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union, and several Chicago aldermen. Read more in the Sun-Times.
A proposal from Democrats to increase tax rates on those making over $1 million was turned down by Republicans this week. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s plan would have increased the rate for residents making $1 million or more to 8.82% and the rate for those making over $10 million to 9.32%. It would also lower the tax rate for people earning between $40,000 and $50,000 from 6.45% to 6.25%. Senate Republicans instead want to lower taxes. Read more.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) approved an advisory opinion to expand the definition of ‘lobbying’ to include a political consultant’s contact with the media on behalf of a client. “Any attempt by a consultant to induce a third party—whether the public or the press—to deliver the client’s lobbying message to a public official would constitute lobbying under these rules,” according to the opinion. It is not clear how this would be enforced, and Gov. Cuomo’s office plans to take a closer look at the ruling. Read more in the Wall Street Journal.
Rep. Albert Stirpe introduced A 9211, the Assembly companion bill to S 6478. The bills would require health insurance plans to cover 90 days in a rehabilitation facility for substance abuse, provided that a physician has prescribed the treatment.
Reps. Richard Gottfried and Kenneth Zebrowski introduced A 9151, which would require the health commissioner to register an additional five organizations to manufacture medical marijuana by January 1, 2017. Each organization would be able to operate up to four dispensaries.
In his State of the City speech, Mayor de Blasio proposed building a streetcar line along the East River through Brooklyn and Queens. The streetcar system would cost an estimated $2.5 billion, which is considerably less than an expanded underground subway line would cost. If it is approved, construction would not begin until 2019, with full functionality expected in 2024. Read more in the New York Times.
New York Insider: Special election updates
A law that took effect last month makes offering retirement plans strictly voluntary for employers. The original bill would have required small businesses to offer retirement plans, but the legislature accepted Gov. Christie’s conditional veto and changed that key element. The bill provides for a retirement plan marketplace for employers, which is meant to encourage them to shop around and offer plans voluntarily. Read more.
There could be another public employee battle on the horizon, as a state law that required public employees to pay part of their health benefit premiums has expired. “At issue is whether school boards will be able to maintain those payments during contract negotiations or whether the unions will have the clout to roll them back.” Read more.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Rep. John Wisniewski plan to introduce legislation to boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour. “This will be an integral component in our efforts to stop the decline in the middle class and lift working families out of poverty,” Speaker Prieto said. Gov. Christie is strictly opposed to a dramatic minimum wage hike, saying through a spokesperson: “Between nearly doubling the minimum wage and their effort to enshrine a $3 billion tax increase in the constitution, there is absolutely no end to what Democrats in the legislature will do to kill jobs, drive major businesses out of New Jersey and destroy an economy that is on the rebound.” Read more.
Rep. Nancy Munoz introduced A 2556 to impose additional surcharges on motor vehicle offenses in order to pay for police vehicle technology upgrades, including automated license recognition devices. The bill was referred to the Law and Public Safety Committee.
Senate Health Committee chairman Joseph Vitale introduced a bill to ban flavored electronic cigarette liquids. The bill would bring e-cigarette regulations closer to those of traditional cigarettes by banning all flavors except tobacco, clove, and menthol. Sen. Vitale says flavors like bubble gum and strawberry are marketed to children. Members of the relatively new industry, however, say the majority of e-liquids they sell are flavored, and banning the flavors would “decimate” the industry in New Jersey, prompting customers simply to buy from other companies online. Read more in Politico New York.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson proposed increasing the municipal income tax to 2.5% to fill a hole in next year’s city budget, as well as to improve services. Mayor Jackson said without a tax hike, the city will need to layoff workers and cut services, from filling potholes to plowing snow and staffing police stations. The city’s income tax has not risen from 2% since 1981. Read more.
House and Senate Republicans have each passed a road funding bill and will now have to try to come up with a compromise. The Senate passed Gov. Pence’s plan, which would not raise any taxes and would instead use state budget reserves. The House plan would raise the gas and cigarette taxes to fund a longer-term plan. Read more.
Despite Gov. Dayton’s efforts over the past month, the legislature will not hold a special session to address unemployment benefits for mine workers, federal identification standards, and racial economic disparities. Republican legislators wanted the governor to agree to a large business tax cut in order to hold the special session, and he and fellow Democrats would not have it. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who insisted holding a special session was unnecessary anyway, plans to hold a vote on the unemployment bill when the regular session starts on March 8th and to act on the Real ID problem soon after. Read more.
The Democratic presidential candidates held their final debate before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary next month. It felt similar to the previous debates, with Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders knee-deep in their establishment versus disruption narratives and former Gov. Martin O’Malley largely a non-factor.
This widely-quoted tweet from columnist Nick Kristof sums it up: “Hillary Clinton is eminently knowledgeable, but she’s in effect calling for continuity at a time when lots of people want discontinuity.” This race isn’t nearly the runaway for Clinton that many expected it to be.
On the Republican side, former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave Donald Trump her endorsement.
International inspectors announced that Iran has followed through on the necessary steps to dismantle significant pieces of its nuclear program, prompting the US and Europe to lift economic sanctions. There is still a trade embargo in place between America and Iran, but limited business activities will be permitted. The US and Iran also conducted a successful prisoner swap, returning five Americans who had been detained, some for years. Read more in the New York Times.
The Supreme Court will consider whether President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which have been on pause for a year, are legal. In 2014 the president tried to grant work permits and semi-legal status to close to five million people who entered the country illegally when they were children or whose children are citizens. 26 states claimed they would be harmed by this change and filed a lawsuit against the administration. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a verdict by the end of June. Read more in Politico.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is being criticized by immigration advocates for the recent surge in deportation raids targeting women and children from Central America.Read more in the Washington Post.
President Obama is considering issuing an executive order to require any companies doing business with the federal government to report their political contributions. It is not yet clear if such an order would be enforceable, but some suspect it would reduce the amount of money many prominent businesses funnel into politics. Read more in the New York Times.
President Obama’s new regulations on coal-fired power plants, which were challenged by dozens of states and industry groups last year, were upheld by a federal appeals court this week. The court’s decision to reject the challenge to the Clean Power Plan means that all states need to begin shutting down coal plants that do not meet the new requirements and investing in wind and solar energy resources. The court battle will continue, and most expect it to be resolved only by the Supreme Court, probably next year. Read more in the New York Times.
The ambitious 21st Century Cures bill that passed the House last year will not be taken up in the Senate. Instead, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will consider at least seven separate bills aiming to tackle the same issues of spurring medical innovation, funding the National Institutes of Health, streamlining the FDA approval process, and more. The Senate holdup is mainly due to disagreements over how to fund the package as a whole. Read more in Modern Healthcare.
Although the move is destined to fail, Speaker Ryan plans to hold a vote to override President Obama’s veto of the bill to begin dismantling the Affordable Care Act on January 26th.
Yesterday Gov. Rauner announced that he and Senate President John Cullerton had come to an agreement over pension reform legislation, but Sen. Cullerton immediately dispelled that notion: “The governor called me this morning to say he was going to back my ideas for pension reform. The plan he outlined at his news conference isn’t what we talked about. It’s not my plan.” Read more in the Tribune.
It seems that Gov. Rauner and Sen. Cullerton had actually negotiated a plan that used most of the senator’s own pension reform bill, but the governor exaggerated and added anti-union rhetoric to his description of the deal when he announced it. Sen. Cullerton’s plan would offer union employees the choice between keeping their compounded cost of living increase but not applying salary increases to their pensions, or keeping their salary increases pensionable but subjecting them to the Tier 2 pension law, which uses a simple interest rate. So far it is unclear whether this proposal would meet constitutional requirements, let alone pass the legislature.
Earlier in the week, House and Senate Republican leaders proposed that the state take over Chicago Public Schools and allow the district to declare bankruptcy. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno called the Chicago school system “abysmal” and said the proposal would help the district recover from its budget woes. The Chicago Teachers Union, Mayor Emanuel, and most Democrats in the legislature are vehemently opposed to the plan, which could result in voided union contracts.
Senate President John Cullerton called the Republicans’ proposal “mean spirited and evidence of their total lack of knowledge of the real problems facing Chicago Public Schools.” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool accused the governor and Republican leaders of wanting “to preserve a school funding system that systematically discriminates against Chicago children. Read more in the Tribune and Sun-Times.
CPS is laying off central office workers today. So far no teachers or union members are on the chopping block, but hundreds of administrative staff are expected to be laid off.Read more in the Tribune.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie proposed a plan to funnel all of Chicago’s tax increment financing (TIF) money that is not already committed to another project to CPS. Currently, the mayor determines what counts as “extra” TIF funds and splits them among several agencies, including CPS; Rep. Currie’s bill would temporarily use all TIF funds that are not already directed elsewhere for CPS. Read more in the Sun-Times.
Legislators have rushed to introduce bills aiming to change how police interact with the public in the wake up several high-profile and reputation-damaging police shooting cases. Some bills would require Chicago police officers to wear body cameras at all times and make the footage more easily accessible to the public, while others focus on mandating more training in the use of non-lethal force. Read this article in the Tribune for more details on the proposals and why they may not progress this year.
Chicago’s racial tensions have even attracted a delegation from the United Nations, which will visit the city next week.Read more.
Democrats raised over $18 million in the last quarter of 2015, compared to $3.5 million for Republicans. Democrats are currently estimated to have over $49 million on hand, and Republicans have $39 million, which adds up to an unprecedented amount of money in play for state campaigns.Read more in CapitolFax.
As was expected, the House passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal bill that the Senate passed in December. Also as expected, President Obama vetoed the bill. In addition to repealing many key parts of the healthcare act, the bill would also have defunded Planned Parenthood for a year. Despite the legislation’s certain doom, Republicans viewed it as a step forward in their battle against the ACA and proof that a repeal would be possible under a Republican president. House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “We are confronting the president with the hard, honest truth: ObamaCare doesn’t work.” Speaker Ryan plans to introduce legislation to replace the ACA before the November elections, but Demcorats are skeptical. Read more on The Hill.
President Obama issued new executive actions to strengthen national gun control measures, including requiring some unlicensed gun dealers to acquire licenses and conduct background checks on buyers. He is also finalizing a measure that would reduce some patient privacy limits to allow the mental health records of those who have been involuntarily committed to be included in a background check. Republicans leading the House Appropriations Committee vowed to block President Obama’s actions by denying funding during the appropriations process. Read more specifics in Politico and the Washington Post.
The Council for American Private Education published an extensive analysis of how the new federal education act will impact private schools. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains several provisions that the private school and educational choice movements have championed for years, such as a higher share of funding for private school teacher professional development and a new block grant program.Read the guide here.
TransCanada Corporation, the company behind the Keystone XL oil pipeline proposal, filed two lawsuits against President Obama. One alleges that the president violated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by denying the Canadian company a permit, and the other claims that he violated his constitutional authority. Read more in Politico.
The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget published its annual three-year budget forecast, and it isn’t pretty. By the end of fiscal year 2016, the office expects a $4.6 billion deficit and a $9 billion backlog in bills. By 2019, that backlog is forecast at $25 million.
A state appeals court ruled that part of a law that allows hospitals not to pay local property taxes is unconstitutional. According to the state constitution, the tax exemption is meant to apply only to property “used exclusively” for “charitable purposes,” but both of these terms have been subject to interpretation. The 2012 law in question broadly categorized hospital activities as “charitable,” but many argue that hospitals run as businesses should not qualify for tax exemptions. The case is likely to end up before the Illinois Supreme Court. Read more in the Tribune.
Protests against Mayor Emanuel have continued throughout Chicago and gained national press (see this Wall Street Journal article). Gov. Rauner said he is “very disappointed” in the mayor and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez over how they have been handling the recent police shooting cases. The governor also announced his support of a bill that would allow voters to recall their mayor. Read more in the Sun-Times.
As if recent events were not problematic enough, a senior attorney in the mayor’s administration resigned this week under accusations that he intentionally concealed evidence in the civil trial over a 2011 police shooting case. Changing his tune from earlier in the week, yesterday Mayor Emanuel expressed his support for a US Department of Justice investigation of his administration’s Law Department and a retraining program for personnel. Read more in the Tribuneand Sun-Times.
Donna More, one of two challengers to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, kicked off her campaign this week. More took her criticism of Alvarez beyond the recent police shooting cases, saying, “Anita Alvarez has run an appallingly lackluster office for years with delayed prosecutions, wrongful convictions and polices that favor influencers and the well-connected while justice takes a back seat to politics.” Alvarez and Kim Foxx, the other challenger, both responded with attacks on More’s position as an attorney for the Illinois Gaming Board. Read more in the Tribune and Sun-Times.
Rep. Mark Batinick filed a bill for a constitutional amendmentthat would make all elected state officials subject to recall. Rep. Batinick said, “Having a comprehensive recall law in place would give voters an important tool to keep their elected officials at all levels accountable at all times, not just before an election.”
Mayor Emanuel appointed Jaime Guzman, who previously served on the state Charter School Commission, to a vacancy on the Chicago Board of Education. Some are concerned that Guzman’s appointment could send a pro-charter and anti-union message during a time when relations with the Chicago Teachers Union are already strained. Read more in the Sun-Times.
A measure of Illinois’s economy known as the Flash Index shows a decline in the last half of 2015, possibly due to the state budget impasse. See the data here. And as Greg Heinz points out in Crain’s, the state is now spending over $30 million more per day than it takes in. Read the column.
Daily fantasy sports players can enjoy their games in Illinois while waiting for a verdict on whether the games constitute illegal gambling. Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion declaring sites like DraftKings and FanDuel illegal gambling operations, and both companies subsequently filed lawsuits against her. A trial is set for June. Read more in the Sun-Times.
Sen. Willie Delgado from Chicago ended his reelection campaign this week. An advisor told the press the senator is simply “really burned out” after serving in both the House and Senate. His primary opponent, Angelica Alfaro, is backed by the charter school network, while Omar Aquino, who is running now that Sen. Delgado dropped out, has the support of the Chicago Teacher’s Union.
Chicago Rep. Pamela Reaves-Harris also dropped out of the reelection race this week, citing the “constant politicalbattle” to protect her community.
Subject: Political Update from S4
Governor Signs Historic Anti-BDS Law in Illinois
Illinois Becomes First State in America to Divest Public Pension Funds from Foreign Companies that Boycott Israel
CHICAGO – Flanked by bipartisan legislators, Jewish community leaders and the Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, Gov. Bruce Rauner today signed historic legislation making Illinois the first state in America to divest its public pension funds from companies that participate in the Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment (BDS) movement targeting Israel.
The Illinois law is the first state-based measure to take specific concrete action against boycotts of Israel. The legislation, which was modeled after past measures relating to Iran and Sudan, requires state pension systems to terminate direct investment in companies that boycott Israel and issue warnings to fund managers when such companies are held indirectly inside larger portfolios. The statute defines “boycotting Israel” as “engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.”
“We need to stand up to anti-Semitism whenever and wherever we see it,” Gov. Rauner said. “This historic legislation is an important first step in the fight against boycotts of Israel and I hope other states move quickly to follow our lead. I want to thank Sen. Silverstein, Rep. Feigenholtz and all the sponsors of this legislation for working with our Administration to take a stand against BDS.”
The anti-BDS measure, SB 1761, was initiated by Gov. Rauner and sponsored by Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) and Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago). It passed 49-0 in the Senate and 102-0 in the House.