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Rich Miller: Guns,abortion overshadow other meaningful action in Springfield

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Rich Miller

When the Democrats get their act together during a legislative lame duck session, they can really pass a lot of stuff in short order.

We’ve seen it before. Two years ago, the Democrats passed a huge amount of important legislation, including the SAFE-T Act, in just a few days.

Except maybe for the assault weapons ban, which is proving unpopular with county sheriffs who believe they have the right to personally interpret the Constitution, nothing quite that intensely controversial passed during this year’s lame duck session.

Both chambers also passed a bill to protect out-of-state abortion providers who travel to Illinois, which has since been signed into law. The bill also protects non-Illinois physicians and parents of children who travel here for gender affirming care.

And both chambers gave the governor a big win with the passage of his $500 million Large Business Attraction Fund. There are hopes that the governor can use at least some of that money to persuade Stellantis to transform its about to be closed Belvidere plant to one that makes electric vehicles.

The coverage of those three bills will likely overshadow some other bills of note: 

• SB208: I think this bill could have more impact on the day-to-day lives of struggling working people than maybe anything else I’ve ever seen passed in Illinois. All workers at private companies will now qualify for five paid leave days per year, no questions asked.

Just try missing a couple of days’ pay on a budget with absolutely no wiggle room. It can be a disaster. And now, some, or even much of that pain will be avoided.

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The state’s top business groups, led by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, have been negotiating this bill for years, mainly in an attempt to preempt Chicago from passing a more generous plan. But the final bill allows the city and other home rule units to pass more expansive benefit laws and the groups were neutral.

All props to sponsors Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth and Sen. Kimberly Lightford for getting this thing across the finish line with the help of the two Democratic legislative leaders and the governor and organized labor. Some Republicans even voted for it in the House. I really can’t believe this all came together.

• HB1563: The legislature approved a bill a few years ago which required all state jobs with no specific location requirements to be relocated to Sangamon County. Newly created jobs had to be located in the state capital’s county as well. But both lame duck chambers significantly loosened those requirements.

• HB969: The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability revised this fiscal year’s revenue outlook upward by a whopping $4.9 billion last November. The belief is that this money is one-time only, so the governor and the Democratic legislative leaders have proposed using most of that cash to pay down bills, build up the Rainy Day Fund, create a business attraction fund, etc.

But legislators are spending creatures and they all have priorities, so the pressure to add bigtime dollars into the state’s base spending is undoubtedly intense, which could cause a fiscal disaster if/and/or when revenues fall.

One solution is to divert some of that extra cash into one-time spending for members, including capital projects. The idea would be to placate legislators without putting future pressure on the state budget.

So, the new supplemental appropriations bill has a ton of one-time local and Democratic priority spending, like $5 million to the Hate Crimes and Bias Incident and Response Fund, $162 million for “costs associated with care and services provided to asylum seekers” that the city has sought, $1 million to the Chicago Recovering Communities Coalition for the South Side Heroin/Opioid Task Force, $10 million to the Office of the State Appellate Defender for “all costs associated with pretrial release,” $500K to the Peoria Civic Center for “audience building seed,” $75 million for housing programs, $4 million for East St. Louis home renovation grants, $11 million for construction of an East St. Louis trauma recovery center, $9 million to community colleges and universities to administer the Mental Health Early Action on Campus Act, etc., etc., etc. Several churches will receive state funds as well.

Not everyone was happy. Just $12.5 million was appropriated to community-based services for persons with developmental disabilities, when advocates wanted at least $30 million.

And there’s a danger that a few of these one-time grants could create future spending pressure. Casa Central, a Latino social service agency, is getting $500K for ongoing operating expenses as is the Peoria Riverfront Museum and others. But it’s not really a huge amount.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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