We’re now in the final week of the 2015 General Assembly session, which will conclude when the clock strikes midnight on May 31, this Sunday night. While there have been many bills debated up to now, the “elephants in the room” remain unaddressed. For the first 4 months of our session, Speaker Mike Madigan has prevented consideration of serious compromise measures, to clean up government, rein in property taxes, and get our spending under control.
And, at the end of last week, the majority leaders of the House and Senate told the governor that they would not consider any of his proposed reforms. You see, the governor ran for office on a set of proposals, what he calls his “Turnaround Agenda.” Several months ago, he put together bipartisan working groups to go through the proposals and to negotiate where the Democrat and Republican parties could find common ground. Those good faith compromise bills would then be introduced and debated by the General Assembly.
Strong majorities of Illinoisans support the governor’s ideas for reform, and of course, strong majorities of Illinoisans—essentially the entire state outside of Cook County—supported the governor in the last election. But the bipartisan process has now been brought to a screeching halt by the other side.
In years’ past, this is the point where the special interests would shift into overdrive, the reformers would lose their nerve, and business in Springfield would return to normal. With a wink and a nod, budgets would be busted, bills would be ignored while pet projects were funded, and real reforms would be put off until some uncertain future date.
Not this time, not this year.
The people of Illinois have demanded a clean break from the past, and the governor has publicly committed to stay the course, until we deliver the reforms that our state desperately needs. No more spending money we don’t have. No more special deals for insiders. No more putting off necessary changes to next year.
This may mean a budget doesn’t get done by the end of session this Sunday night. If the other side tries to pass an unbalanced budget, then the governor may keep the General Assembly in session all summer, until we balance our budget. If that’s what it takes, so be it.
You’ll probably see a lot of ink spilled about the fight in Springfield over the next couple months. That’s a good thing, because the people who’ve bankrupted and corrupted our state government won’t go away easily or quietly. The health and well-being of our state hangs in the balance: winning this fight is the only way to truly achieve the “Illinois Turnaround” that we all so desperately want and need.
On May 25, 2015, Representative Peter Breen passed Senate Bill 90, a bill to protect disabled seniors under the care of the court system from having their estate plans changed without oversight from a judge. The bill amends the Probate Act to allow a court to appoint an attorney to assist disabled seniors under a guardianship, to help those seniors alter their wills free of undue influence.
“Unfortunately, disabled seniors have been victimized by scammers who coerced them into deathbed changes to their wills to disown their families and instead direct their assets to these scammers,” said Breen. “We’ve seen this time and time again, including in the recent situation over the last wishes of baseball great Ernie Banks. This bill will ensure that our disabled elderly residents are protected from wrongdoing in their estate plans, and to guarantee that the fruits of their lifetime of working and saving are not stolen away at the ends of their lives.”
Breen worked with probate judges from DuPage and Cook Counties on the measure, along with staff from the Illinois State Bar Association and the Cook County Public Guardian’s office. There was no opposition to the bill, and it unanimously passed in the House. The Senate will now take up the measure.
On Tuesday, May 12, 2015, Governor Rauner, the Acting State Fire Marshall Matt Perez, the Illinois General Assembly and other officials honored firefighters who died in the line of duty and 39 other firefighters for bravery and service to their communities during the 22nd annual Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial and Firefighter Medal of Honor Awards Ceremony. Rep. Breen presented an Illinois House Certificate of Recognition to Firefighter Christopher Guare from the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company who achieved the Medal of Honor award, the highest award given to firefighters by the State of Illinois. Guare was one of seven firefighters who were selected for their acts of outstanding heroism, by which they demonstrated selflessness and personal courage above and beyond the call of duty, under adverse conditions, with the possibility of extreme personal risk.
It was like a scene out of a science fiction movie: folks are talking on screen, everything’s normal, when all of the sudden, half the people go blank, as if someone flipped a switch and took control of their minds. Their eyes glaze over, they move in unison, as if they were a group of robots.
That was the beginning of the budget games in the Illinois House.
It had been a typical day of work on the floor. Then, out walked House Speaker Mike Madigan—a rare occurrence—and he announced we would be considering the first of a list of 16 separate budget amendments. We’d be immediately debating and voting on billions of dollars in spending, with no warning, no committee hearings, and none of the usual process.
And, all this spending was to be voted on before we learned how much money would be available for next year’s budget. Yes, you read that right, billions of dollars would go out the door, without an idea of how we would pay for any of it.
The members of the majority caucus did not raise a single objection. Instead, they voted with Speaker Madigan on every single one of the amendments. That’s every Democrat in the House voting with Speaker Madigan, on every spending measure he offered.
I don’t like to get partisan in this column, because I’ve gotten to know many members of the majority caucus in the House. Most are good, decent, intelligent people. That’s what made this “robot moment” so shocking: it was out of character from their conduct during first four months of this House Session.
If you want Exhibit A of why Illinois is in such a mess, it was on display last week. You saw one man running our state with an iron fist. A man with so much power that he can do the equivalent of flicking a switch, and every member of the majority acts in unison, without thought. Otherwise rational representatives will abandon their senses. They’ll spend billions of your tax dollars, without care for how much is available or where the money will come from. All at his command.
Now, some believe that Speaker Madigan planned on using the votes to create campaign mailers for the 2016 elections, to accuse members on our side of the aisle of voting “no” on funding for all sorts of worthy causes.
Instead, everyone on our side voted “present,” for three main reasons: 1) because it’s bad government to vote on items that you haven’t had time to read and consider, 2) because folks on our side aren’t against funding these budget lines, but without an idea of how much money is available, we’ve got no basis to set the level where a particular program should be funded, and 3) because we want to send a unified, clear message to Speaker Madigan and the established political order that the people of Illinois are tired of their shenanigans.
Our over-$32 billion budget is being examined by numerous committees and working groups to hash out all of its various details. That process is careful, thoughtful, and deliberative. It involves both Democrats and Republicans. These meetings and negotiations are our best hope to put together a balanced budget that protects our core priorities: caring for those least able to care for themselves, providing a world-class education for our kids, and bringing jobs and economic growth back to Illinois. That process is good government.
The more that we can pull back the curtain on the bad practices, the sooner we’ll be rid of them. We have too many critical issues to address—from funding our pension payments to putting a lid on our property taxes—to play these political games.
April 25 was the deadline for bills to be passed out of the House for the 2015 session. Imagine hour after hour of debate, where one minute you’re discussing wait times for expunging criminal convictions and the next, appropriate procedures to establish fatherhood for newborns. Mixed in, there were less weighty debates, such as over what the state pie should be. (Illinois is apparently the pumpkin capital of America, so for economic and tourism reasons, the representatives from pumpkin-growing regions of the state prevailed upon the rest of the members to agree that the state pie should be pumpkin pie.)
In addition to the three bills I passed out of the House as chief sponsor, there were several other bills of note that I worked to pass as a cosponsor. We were able to pass a restriction on community college employment contracts—the bill included my “Breuder Rule,” a limit on severance packages, named after the president of the College of DuPage who recently received an outrageous $763,000 severance agreement. We also passed a prohibition on the use of red light cameras in non-home-rule communities. We got rid of these devices in Lombard, and there’s no reason folks in Villa Park, Lisle, and other communities should have to suffer under them, either.
From here forward, the legislative process essentially starts over, with the House taking up the Senate’s bills, and the Senate taking up the House’s bills. Just as the House bills were, the Senate bills will now have to be read three times, pass through committee, and win a 60-vote majority on the House floor. If amendments are made in the House, the Senate bills will then be returned to the Senate for its concurrence with the changes, before being sent to the governor. For bills that are passed without changes, they go directly to the governor, without returning to the Senate. The governor has 60 days from the time a bill is presented to him to either sign or veto the bill. If he does neither, the bill becomes law after those 60 days pass.
I am chief sponsor of 4 more bills that were passed out of the Senate. One of these is a bill to increase penalties for truck drivers and their employers who willfully violate limits on driving time and cause serious traffic accidents. Another is a measure to protect disabled seniors from avaricious individuals who take advantage of those seniors’ disability to pressure the seniors to change their estate plans.
Looming large over the regular movement of bills is the brewing struggle between Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratic Leaders of the House and Senate. The governor has advocated for substantial reform of government, along with a balanced budget without a tax increase. So far, House Speaker Michael Madigan has publicly indicated a willingness to negotiate with the governor, while Senate President John Cullerton has taken a much harder line against him. There are strong interest groups on both sides of this battle.
We all knew that turning Illinois around would be difficult, and this robust debate is a necessary part of that process. That said, buckle up, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
On Friday, April 24, Representative Peter Breen passed HB 3289, legislation to regulate government use of automated license plate readers and retention of the tracking data generated by the devices. Rep. Breen worked extensively with the ACLU of Illinois to advance the measure. Together, they recruited a broad bi-partisan coalition of legislators to support the initiative. The final version of the bill was the third amended version, reached only after spirited negotiations with interested parties.
“Automated license plate readers can serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose, but because of the power of this technology to track innocent civilians, we need to put responsible limits on their use. Our right to privacy is a fundamental right, cherished by our Founders and enshrined in the Illinois Constitution. This bill is a measured way to balance fighting crime and preserving innocent folks' privacy."
This bill limits license plate recognition systems to a specific range of uses for law enforcement, toll collection, and parking enforcement purposes, along with placing a 30-month maximum on the amount of time that location tracking information may be retained. Currently, there is no limit in Illinois law on the use of license plate readers or on the retention of tracking data from the readers.
After vigorous debate, the House passed the measure by a vote of 75-24-11. The bill will now move onto the Senate.
On Friday, Representative Peter Breen passed HB 2690, a bill to allow the sale of unpasteurized milk at Illinois farms, by a unanimous vote of 109-0. Sales of unpasteurized or "raw" milk had been occurring in Illinois under a decades-old statute, but due to more recent changes in state law, raw milk sales had been inadvertently made illegal.
Because current law provides misdemeanor criminal charges for raw milk sale, Illinois residents have been forced into underground transactions to purchase the milk. This legislation would remedy the defect in current law and allow individuals to purchase and sell raw milk in the open.
“This is both a pro-business and pro-freedom initiative," said Breen. "Consumers and farmers shouldn't be considered criminals for buying and selling unpasteurized milk. Folks drink locally-produced raw milk for a variety of reasons, whether for health reasons, for the taste, or just to support small farmers. We should be promoting wholesome natural alternatives, not criminalizing and condemning them.”
This legislation was strongly supported by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, which promotes local food production throughout the state. The bill was initially vigorously opposed by some in the public health community. However, after extensive negotiations, Breen secured consent of all interested parties with his fourth amendment to the bill, which became the final version of the measure. The bill now moves to the Illinois Senate.
Illinois Turnaround Begins - Turning Illinois around is going to take a lot of work, and that work will be done slowly and deliberately, one step at a time. The first real step was this week, when Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton finally agreed to allow Governor Rauner to fill the $1.6 billion budget hole in the current fiscal year budget. All Republicans voted in favor of the compromise, along with fewer than half of the Democrats.
The shortfall was built into the fiscal year 2015 budget last year, both because the General Assembly deliberately underfunded various items in that budget and because Gov. Quinn instructed his department heads to ignore their budgeted amounts and “spend as much money as you think you need.” I wish I were making this up, but it’s true: those department heads have gone on the record to affirm they were told to ignore the amount of money they’d been budgeted.
This emergency situation had placed at grave risk Illinois’ child care programs, prisons, courts, and services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. It wasn’t painless—there were some funds that were swept and temporary cuts that were made—but the Governor will now be able to keep these vital services going through the end of June. After Easter, the General Assembly takes up the full year budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins this July 1. We’ll also start looking at Gov. Rauner’s job creation, government reform, and education reform packages.
“Pulling a Breen” - With all the corruption and mismanagement of the state government, one of the top concerns of our new General Assembly members is whether they’ll be able to “make a difference.” We’re blessed to have a number of highly accomplished people in our freshman class of legislators—these are folks who are used to succeeding in a variety of public and private settings.
Well, the other day, I got a little sign that I’m making a difference, during a hearing of one of the almost 50 committees in the House.
A Democratic representative, from the City of Chicago, was questioning a witness about a bill, and midway through, he said, “I’m doing something I call, ‘pulling a Breen’ … I’m actually reading the bill!”
Reading bills seems like the most normal behavior to me, but apparently it was not the way business has been done in the General Assembly. However, since we’ve got one Republican and one Democrat doing it, the practice is now “bipartisan.” With any luck, we’ll get more folks to read the bills that come before us!
Final bills - This past week was the deadline to bring bills out of committee, with only 13% of all bills being forwarded from committees to the floor. In addition to my bill to restrict government tracking of citizens using license plate readers, two more bills that used the same language as several of my bills made it out of committee: the “Breuder Rule,” which limits excessive community college severance packages in the wake of the scandal of the College of DuPage Board of Trustees awarding the college president an over $750,000 severance, and the “Lombard Model,” which would require the posting of local government salaries and spending online across the state, just like we’ve done in Lombard. Now begins the hard work of gaining the 60 votes necessary to pass these bills out of the House.
Click here to read the My Suburban Life article on how Rep. Breen is leading a bi-partisan effort to protect privacy rights.
After a contentious hearing, Representative Peter Breen advanced his first two bills out of the House Judiciary-Civil Committee this week. Breen will seek to move at least one more bill next week, prior to the committee deadline for the Spring session.
“These bills are part of my overall agenda to empower taxpayers and promote personal freedom, while curbing clearly abusive business practices,” said Breen. “I’m proud to work for bipartisan support to advance that agenda. While it’s not easy to advance bills when you’re in the minority party, working across the aisle is the only way to bring about the reforms that are vitally necessary to turn around Illinois.”
The first bill, HB2690, would change the law to allow consumers to purchase unpasteurized or “raw” milk directly from a dairy farmer. According to the federal government, up to 400,000 Illinoisans drink raw milk daily. Because current law provides for misdemeanor criminal charges for many of these sales, Illinois residents often have to purchase the milk in underground transactions. The bill will allow these individuals to purchase raw milk in the open. Breen sees this as both pro-business and pro-freedom legislation: “While we don’t have any farms in the 48th District, we have plenty of folks who enjoy drinking raw milk, whether for the taste or for the health properties of this unpasteurized product. Our ancestors drank raw milk for thousands of years, and modern technology has greatly improved farmers' ability to safely produce this product. The hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who purchase and drink raw milk in Illinois should not be considered criminals.”
Rep. Breen presented three witnesses in support of the measure, including a farmer from Cook County who sells raw milk and other organic and natural products at his farm, a woman who drinks raw milk for her health, and Wes King, Executive Director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, a group supporting greater production and consumption of healthy, local food across the state. The bill was heavily opposed by a number of public health administrators who believe that raw milk should be banned altogether. After debate, the bill passed the committee with a vote of 9-2 and now goes to the floor of the House for second reading. Breen has secured numerous cosponsors, both Democrats and Republicans, to help the bill move forward.
The second piece of legislation, HB 2691, was passed by the Judiciary Civil Committee after a brief hearing. This bill would prohibit the practice of “copyright trolling.” Breen has received numerous reports of out-of-state corporations threatening individuals and small nonprofits with lawsuits, merely for posting widely-available images on their websites. These large out-of-state interests often demand thousand-dollar “settlements” to avoid legal action, while refusing to provide any objective proof that they hold copyrights to the images. In many cases, the images in question are worth five to fifteen dollars at most, not the thousands of dollars claimed by the “trolling” corporations. The bill passed out of committee unanimously and will go to the House Floor for second reading.
“This legislation is a common-sense protection for Illinois residents and small nonprofits against abusive business practices by foreign corporations,” said Breen “Folks shouldn’t have to fear financial ruin just for posting pictures on their websites or Facebook.”