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.”
A couple weeks ago, I met with a concerned group of parents about the new standardized tests being administered in Illinois schools. These “PARRC” tests are based on the federal Common Core standards, which Illinois adopted several years ago. The tests are given mostly on computers instead of paper, and they involve roughly twice the amount of testing time as the Iowa Basics or the ISAT tests, which the PARRC tests replaced. The PARRC tests are intended to be more challenging than the ISAT tests.
The Chicago Public Schools were so against the PARRC tests that they attempted to refuse to administer them, backing down only when faced with the loss of $1.4 billion in state and federal funding. In New Jersey, teacher’s unions even ran TV ads attacking the PARRC tests and the Common Core.
In our area, the moms and dads were worried about a host of issues with the test. Some parents had concerns about the wisdom of the federal Common Core standards, an issue of great debate in the country today. Some were worried that kids who are not proficient in the use of a computer would be frustrated or get a lower score than they should, since the rules apparently prevent a teacher from helping a child who has a question about the test. Some had special needs children and were worried about how they would react to the test, particularly due to its extra length and more difficult questions.
Kids today can refuse to take a particular test, but in some school districts, they must do so verbally, by themselves, each time the test is given. A parent note won’t work. Short of taking your kids out of school that day, there’s no way for parents to speak for their children against the test in many parts of Illinois. The way this opt out process was described to me, it sounded a lot like the process of invoking your “right to remain silent,” not what should be expected when a parent wants to opt their third-grader out of a test.
Because of these parental concerns, there is now a bill pending in the General Assembly that would allow parents to opt their kids out of the test, for any reason. I absolutely support fixing our opt-out practice in Illinois.
However, this new proposal runs squarely against current federal and state law requiring schools to test all their students. There are some good reasons for such a law: first, to ensure that each school is meeting the expectations of parents of the schoolchildren and, second, to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth as they pay for the increasingly expensive education of our children. Some advocacy groups are concerned that an opt-out privilege may be abused, possibly skewing test results if those kids expected not to perform as well on the test are urged to opt out.
As well, there are some in the federal government who say that a state that falls below 95% testing could lose all federal funding—this would be a massive financial hit for a state’s school districts. The proposed measure also requires that a school provide alternative instruction for any kids opted out, not just a study hall or the like, potentially forcing schools to call in substitute teachers to teach class to the opted-out kids.
All this said, the testing is going on this month, so parents can and should talk with their kids right now, to see what the kids think about the test and the way it is administered. No matter where you live, your representative and senator should hear about the practical experiences of your kids and grandkids in taking the test. I’d invite you to call my office at 630-403-8135 or contact me through my website, reppeterbreen.org, to let me know your story. I’m focused on providing a world-class, individually-tailored education for every child in Illinois. Because any opt-out bill will likely be effective only for the next school year, your feedback will help me and your other elected officials craft a bill that will best serve all our children.
Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) has been assigned to the House Education Task Force, which had its first meeting last week, to analyze the proposed Illinois School Funding Reform Act of 2015, SB 1. SB 1 would completely overhaul the formula for how much money the state provides K-12 school districts.
“While some reform of the school funding formula is necessary, many of the proposed ‘fixes’ will raise property taxes for suburban homeowners,” said Breen. “That’s not right. Illinois taxpayers spend large amounts of money to educate kids, with very mixed results for their investment. We should not penalize successful districts using proven effective educational methods only to prop up districts that won’t embrace reform.”
SB 1 is based on last year’s controversial Senate Bill 16, and has been expanded with the input of local superintendents, educators, and parents statewide. This new legislation would replace Illinois’ General State Aid formula, with the stated intent of providing Illinois school districts with significant low-income populations more combined funding from state, local, and federal sources. Moving forward, the House Education Task Force will oversee this legislation.
Representative Breen is honored that Leader Jim Durkin has assigned him to this task force. Breen is committed to fiscally responsible educational reform, to ensure that the state’s funding formula meets the needs of every Illinois child.
The bi-partisan task force is chaired by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), and consists of 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans from across the state.
Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) participated in the Potawatomi Trails’ 18th annual Boy Scouts Merit Badge University that was held at both Elmhurst College and York High School on March 7. His dynamic presentation to the young men focused on government, the work Breen does for the 48th District as State Representative and how much of what they learn as Boy Scouts can be used to influence public policy as a citizen.
Rep. Breen said, “the door-to-door fundraising that they do as scouts is good training for a future in politics. My experiences as a Boy Scout were fundamental to my entrance into politics and public service. I was impressed by the character and knowledge of these young men.”
The two classes of Scouts that Rep. Breen addressed are currently working to earn their “Citizenship in the Community” merit badge, and were eager to meet Representative Breen: a local leader who could give them insight into what it takes to be a good citizen in the community. Earning this badge is an integral part in the Boy Scouts’ education; and with the help of Rep. Breen, they learned how important it is for them to be involved in their communities.
Governor Bruce Rauner kicked off the day with some brief remarks. This local scouting event has grown from about 100 scouts to over 2000 attendees at one of the largest gatherings of scouts in the country, with young men coming as far as California.
The Boy Scouts are important to Rep. Breen, and being able to speak to these young men was an honor for Breen, who is an Eagle Scout himself.
Click here to read My Suburban Life's Q&A with Rep. Breen.