End of Session Legislative News from Senator Don DeWitte

Late-night budget passed in General Assembly
In what has become an unwelcome and unnecessary General Assembly tradition, the state’s budget was rushed through the legislature under the cover of darkness during the final hours of the last day of session. Statutorily-required committee votes were skipped, and the mammoth spending plan came to the floor for final consideration before anyone had an opportunity to read all 3,479 pages. In the coming weeks, as we fully digest the budget and budget implementation bill contents, we will identify hidden “gems” the majority party hid in the documents. One thing we know for sure is that this year’s budget was chock-full of election-year gimmicks and new permanent spending.

The FY23 budget spends $46.5 billion, which sets the record for the most spending in state history. This is a billion dollars more than what the Governor asked for in his February Budget Address. Don’t get me wrong. There are some good things in this budget; things I would have approved as stand-along measures. But when it comes to spending $46.5 billion of taxpayers’ money, I believe statutory bill vetting processes should not be circumvented. This is your money being spent, so process DOES matter!

In addition to the spending, Democrat lawmakers presented temporary tax relief totaling $1.8 billion that expires shortly after this year’s November election. The short-term relief includes freezing the motor fuel tax inflationary increase for six months, suspending the one percent sales tax on just groceries for a year, and a one-time property tax income tax credit rebate check. As an additional political element of the gas and sales tax measures, the majority party approved the placement of signs on all gas pumps and acknowledgment on all grocery receipts that the tax relief is due to legislative action.

While the relief approved by the majority party is temporary, Senate Republicans proposed a legislative package of permanent tax relief this year that included capping the state’s sales tax on gas at 18 cents per gallon, cutting the one percent sales tax on food and prescriptions, doubling the senior income tax exemption from $1,000 to $2,000, increasing the property tax income tax credit from 5 percent to 10 percent, and creating a childcare credit in an amount equal to 25 percent of the federal tax credit for each qualifying child. Every Republican proposal seeking permanent relief for Illinoisans was blocked by the Democrats who control the flow of bills at the Capitol.

State lawmakers had a golden opportunity to provide real relief to Illinois families struggling to keep up with high inflation and out-of-control taxes, and I am extremely disappointed that the majority party chose to only provide gimmicky relief that expires after our state’s election is over.

 

State allocates funds to ensure Longmeadow Parkway Bridge is toll-free
For years, state legislators from Kane County have worked in a bipartisan manner to obtain state funding to eliminate the need for a toll on the Longmeadow Parkway Bridge in Kane County. I’m pleased to report that funding to eliminate the need for a toll is included in the upcoming fiscal year budget.

The Longmeadow Parkway Bridge corridor is 5.6 miles in length and begins at Huntley Road in Dundee Twp. on the west. It travels east connecting to Randall Road and IL Route 31, crossing the Fox River to IL Route 25, and ending at IL Route 62. In all, the corridor crosses through Algonquin, Carpentersville, and Barrington Hills.

Most of Longmeadow Parkway is already open to traffic, with bridge construction and a short segment of roadway just to the east of the bridge still under construction. According to the Kane County Department of Transportation (KDOT), the expected competition date for construction is 2023.

Today, residents of northern Kane and southern McHenry Counties have just four options for crossing the Fox River (bridges exist at IL 62, IL 72, I-90, and in Carpentersville). The need for another accessway across the Fox River stems from a tenfold increase in population in this area since the 1980s.

Click here to read my official statement on the inclusion of funds for the Longmeadow Bridge in the FY23 budget.

 

Law enforcement to receive some help
On Friday, the General Assembly passed legislation that provides Illinois law enforcement with additional funding for mental health, retention incentives, pay increases, daycare support, retirement assistance, and body cameras. Additionally, water-downed legislation to help combat organized retail theft and carjackings made their way to the Governor’s desk.

These measures were all filed and passed within a matter of a few days, as Democrats appeared to scramble to take some action regarding the rise in violent crime. However, Senate Republicans have had proposals on the table for nearly a year and a half that not only provide aid to help law enforcement officers, but also hold violent criminals accountable—something clearly lacking from what was passed out of the legislature.

While I supported the Democrats’ proposals, I would have liked to see the General Assembly take up ideas within the Senate Republicans’ public safety package in order to truly address the underlying issues causing the problems. I fear that without the passage of legislation that truly holds violent criminals accountable for their actions, the measures that passed may only serve as a temporary band-aid.

 

State’s Attorneys Head to Capitol to Warn Lawmakers of the Need to Fix Criminal Justice Issues
If no action is taken to undo recent criminal justice reforms, prosecutors will soon have a much harder time keeping dangerous criminals behind bars. That was the message from several State’s Attorneys who visited the Capitol on Wednesday, April 6.

The State’s Attorneys from Fayette, Kendall, Mercer and Vermilion Counties held a press conference with members of the Senate Republican Caucus to highlight the need for action. They warned about changes to criminal law statutes that will kick in on January 1, changes that will make it nearly impossible to hold many violent criminals in jail while they await trial. In addition, they expressed serious concerns regarding other provisions, including a new rule that will potentially allow victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse to be ordered to testify almost immediately at bond hearings.

The changes in law were due to the passage of the SAFE-T Act in 2021. That legislation, totaling nearly 800 pages, was passed in the middle of the night on a party-line vote, with little advance warning during a lame-duck session of the Legislature.

One of the state’s attorneys noted a recent case in which a suspect was caught on video shooting at a car. Because of provisions in the SAFE-T Act, a suspect can’t be held in pre-trial custody for that crime unless prosecutors can identify a person that the suspect poses an immediate threat to. While the shooter in that case could be identified, the individual or individuals in the car could not be, so the suspect would have to be released.

The state’s attorneys noted the chilling effect that other pending changes have had on the law enforcement community, pushing many officers and sheriffs into leaving their careers in police work behind. They also believe that the changes will encourage and embolden criminals.

Senate Republicans filed legislation earlier in the year that would repeal these new pre-trial provisions, but they were never given consideration.

 

A final push on legislation
During the final two weeks of session, Senate Republicans were able to pass several different initiatives through the General Assembly.  I supported all of these measures and am a sponsor of many of them.

The Senate Republican legislation that passed in the final days include:

  • Senate Bill 1405 – ensures the opportunity for at least one visitor of a patient in a hospital or long-term care facility.
  • Senate Bill 1486 – allows Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) frontline workers to carry pepper spray for defensive purposes while investigating child abuse and neglect. The employees would be required to complete a training program from the Illinois State Police (ISP) on the proper use of pepper spray.
  • Senate Bill 2942 – clarifies that a judge can use his or her discretion to clear disinterested parties, excluding media, from the courtroom during the victim’s testimony even if the victim is over 18 years of age as long as the crimes were committed while the victim was still a minor. To safeguard the constitutional rights of defendants, the judge must find that particular parties do not have a direct interest in the case and must put their basis for that finding into the record.
  • House Bill 5184 – clarifies the relationship between Veterans Assistance Commissions (VAC) and county boards regarding funding. There are currently six pending lawsuits in Illinois regarding the perceived misinterpretation of the current statutes as they relate to funds appropriated in county budgets for veterans’ assistance. It also gives county VACs sole control over administration and distribution of the funds, removing county board involvement.
  • House Bill 5496 – replaces the words “accident” or “accidents” with the words “crash” or “crashes” to clarify that not all vehicle collisions are accidents. The idea for the legislation was brought forward by the family of an individual who was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Since those who drive drunk are making a choice to get behind the wheel while impaired, the family felt the word accident did not describe the tragic circumstances of the crime in which their loved one was involved.
  • House Bill 4593 – prevents predators from claiming they did not know they solicited a minor for sex in order to escape punishment.
  • House Bill 5447 – permits members of the Downstate Police Pension Fund who marry after retirement to designate their spouse for a limited survivor benefit. The deceased pension fund member would have had to be married for a minimum of five years, and the benefit expires after a period of 15 years.
  • Senate Bill 3127 – classifies emergency dispatchers as first responders under Illinois code in order to give them the same recognition as police, firefighters and medics.

 

The General Assembly adjourned its spring legislative session around 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 9. Legislators will spend the rest of the spring and summer in their districts tending to the local needs of constituents before returning to the Capitol for veto session this fall.

 

Senator DeWitte to Host Mobile DMV Event in West Dundee
Don’t forget to mark your calendars now for a mobile DMV event that will be held at my West Dundee district office on Tuesday, April 26. The event will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and my office is located at 641 S. 8th Street, in West Dundee.

Available services at this event include:

  • Driver’s License/State I.D. Cards (renewal, replacement, corrections)
  • Free State IDs for seniors age 65+
  • License Plate Renewal Stickers
  • Organ/Tissue Donor Registration
  • Voter Registration
  • Vision Screenings

 

Seniors age 75+ must visit an established Secretary of State Driver Services facility to renew a driver’s license, and no Real IDs can be obtained at the event. Payments for services must be made by check, credit card, debit card, or money order. No cash will be accepted.

Residents are encouraged to pre-register for this event, and can secure their spot by visiting https://www.ilsenategop.org/sen_dewitte_west_dundee_sos_mobile_unit. Before coming to the event, residents can visit www.cyberdriveillinois.com to learn about identification requirements for specific services (this is important so you make sure you arrive with the proper documents). For additional information or help with pre-registration, please contact Hannah at hseaver@sgop.ilga.gov.

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