Chesney’s Weekly Roundup- week ending November 9, 2019

ETHICS REFORM

House Republicans Introduce Sweeping Ethics Reform Package in Response to Federal Investigations.  Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin along with members of the House Republican caucus have announced a sweeping ethics reform package to address unacceptable practices brought forth through the ongoing federal investigations.

“These ethics reform bills are common sense, and a direct response to the wrongdoings we have learned from the current federal investigations,” Durkin said. “I am calling on the legislative leaders and the Governor to support these initiatives and begin moving them forward next week so they can become law.”

“Quite frankly, these cases are disgusting,” said Rep. Andrew Chesney.  “All too often, we see these corrupt people hiding behind family member co-conspirators; shielding their crimes in furtherance of self-dealing and grift.  I can think of nothing worse.  Maybe they watched mob movies too often, but there is nothing honorable about their actions.  Indeed, their alleged crimes jeopardize the very foundation of our most sacred government institutions.”

The ethics package includes:

  • House Bill 3954 that will revise statement of economic interests to include more details similar to the information required for judicial statement of economic interest forms. This forces full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and provides greater transparency for members of the General Assembly.
  • HJRCA 36 will require a special election to fill General Assembly vacancies through the same laws governing our party primaries. This will prevent political powerbrokers from picking their preferred candidates for the vacancies.
  • House Resolution 588 will allow a Chief Co-Sponsor of any bill with five co-sponsors from each party to call it for an up or down vote in a substantive committee.
  • House Bill 3947 would ban members of the General Assembly, their spouses, and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work with local government units. Currently, members of the Illinois General Assembly – state representatives and state senators – are prohibited from lobbying the State of Illinois, but are not prohibited from lobbying local government units, such as a counties or municipalities.
  • House Bill 3955 will create mandatory and publicly available documentation of General Assembly communications with any state agency regarding contracts. 

“It shouldn’t take a federal investigation to force the General Assembly to clean up corruption,” Rep. Tom Demmer said. “The reform proposals we have introduced are common sense and can be adopted as soon as next week. I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate – Republican and Democrat – to take corruption seriously and pass these reforms when we get back in session.”

The General Assembly is scheduled to begin the second week of veto session on November 12, 2019.

BUDGET

COGFA releases revenue numbers for October 2019.  The numbers came in a monthly report published by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the General Assembly’s nonpartisan economic staff office.  COGFA constantly monitors the cash flows of Illinois state government, and reports these numbers monthly to the General Assembly and the Illinois public to determine the status of the State’s compliance with its balanced-budget law and its debt covenants. 

The cash flow numbers for October 2019 continued to show the State’s revenues in reasonably healthy condition, with all State revenues (including transfers-in) up $180 million from one year earlier in October 2018.  However, all of this net gain was attributed to moneys other than recurring tax revenues under the control of State law.  Illinois took in $247 million in a one-time settlement with major U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers, who paid money to an alliance of states in a case of alleged Medicaid drug price fixing (no guilt was admitted and the money was paid in lieu of a verdict).  At the same time, federal reimbursements and aid payments to the State, primarily Medicaid aid money, rose $162 million. 

The flat-lined trend numbers in Illinois’ key tax income sources, particularly income taxes and sales taxes, is causing concerns for the future of the FY20 State budget.  In addition, new pressures on the future FY21 budget include demands by Illinois pension actuaries for additional funds.  COGFA points out that FY20 revenue numbers are being kept high and healthy by what has become the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.

AGRICULTURE

Illinois 2019 harvest continues.  Corn and soybean yields are disappointing in many regions of the State. Soaking rains in April, May and the first half of June stretched planting schedules close to the breaking point and left patches of many fields un-harvestable.   In the most recent Illinois Crop Report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the corn harvest has passed the 50% mark, with 95% of the corn mature and 58% of the corn harvested as of Sunday, November 3.  Based upon this year’s humid soil conditions, the beans were cut first in many parts of Illinois this year, with 77% of the beans harvested on the same date.  

Many Illinois farmers are growing crops other than corn and soybeans; the state’s first significant harvest of legal non-THC hemp, used to press CBD oil and produce organic fiber, is taking place.  Approximately 520 licensed Illinois farmers are cutting and processing fibrous non-THC hemp, which can be grown outdoors, for the 2019 hemp marketplace.  In sharp contrast to hemp, psychoactive THC cannabis and medical cannabis for legal sale in Illinois is not really an agricultural crop; THC cannabis/medical cannabis must be grown inside locked indoor locations under conditions of strict security.

DISASTERS

FEMA denies federal aid following massive 2019 spring flood; bipartisan Congressional appeal.  The spring 2019 floods affected riverfront towns, local governments, businesses, and homeowners up and down major Illinois rivers, especially the Mississippi River and the Illinois River.  While water levels did not reach the record-breaking levels notched during the so-called “Great Flood of 1993,” the duration of the high water created records of their own.  Particularly vulnerable to damage were local water intake facilities, sewage treatment facilities, parks, roads, and local businesses.

Illinois’ congressional delegation, speaking on a bipartisan basis, has unanimously appealed the decision by the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) to deny disaster assistance to entities, businesses, and individuals affected by the floods of spring 2019.  Twenty-two Illinois counties are affected by the application and federal decision, including counties that suffered more than two months of road closures, property damage, and high water.

OUTDOOR SPORTS

DNR urges hunters to be careful with their own safety.  November is shotgun deer season in Illinois, and numbers show that the item most often associated with a reported hunting incident is not the weapon, but the tree stand.  In 2018, there were 19 hunting incidents reported throughout Illinois, and 14 involved elevated stands.  Stands are often used in cold weather that includes heavy dew or even ice, and the stands and steps are often slippery.  The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the State agency that oversees Illinois hunting and compiles incident reports, once again reminded hunters this week to think about wearing a harness when climbing well up off the ground.   

TRANSPORTATION

Scott’s Law ignored by many motorists; deadliest year in State Police history.  “Scott’s Law” directs motorists to move over when they see a first-responder vehicle parked or adjacent to a multilane highway with its lights flashing.  In the most recent violation incident, a driver slammed into a police sport-utility vehicle, and an Illinois State Police squad car, on Interstate 57 near 115th Street on Sunday, November 3.  As a result of the incident four people, including two State troopers, were transported to health care facilities with non-life-threatening injuries.  A driver was arrested for alleged violation of the pro-police traffic law.  Upon his arrest he was allegedly found to be driving under the influence (DUI).   

The Interstate 57 incident sparked a viral Facebook plea, written by Trooper Tracy Lillard, urging Illinois motorists to obey the law and remember about “moving over and slowing down.”  The State Police, which counts and maps incidents perpetrated by the public against its troopers, says that calendar year 2019 is the worst year in their history in terms of squad car crashes and deaths.  Scott’s Law, named in honor of Chicago first responder Lt. Scott Gillen (CFD), requires all motorists in multilane roads to move over if possible when they see a parked vehicle displaying oscillating lights. 

VETERANS DAY

Illinois prepares to honor its veterans.  The Veterans Day holiday, Monday, November 11, will coincide this year with the historic day that remembers the armistice that ended World War I, the bloodiest conflict the world had seen up to that time.  More than 126,000 Americans, including thousands of Illinoisans, died in World War I.

At the end of World War I, Americans decided to honor living veterans with a day of their own.  American men and women in service who have passed away are remembered on Memorial Day, which dates back to the Civil War.  One of the many centers of Illinois Veterans Day observance is at Cantigny Park, the place of service remembrance in Wheaton.  The park will host a series of Veterans Day events on Monday, November 11.  Many other communities will also host events throughout the state.