Update from the Capitol 4/4/2016



Several bills in committee this week

The House is scheduled to be in session April 4-8, with Friday being the deadline for legislation to advance out of committee. If it has not cleared committee by then, the bill is most likely dead until next year.

I have several bills in committee this week. House Bill 4603 eliminates a requirement for public defenders in small counties to make a report to the county board every month. Instead, they would report quarterly. This issue was brought to my attention by the Livingston County Board as a way to reduce unnecessary paperwork by setting a more appropriate interval for public defenders to report upon. House Bill 4558 would clarify some parts of the Wildlife Code dealing with deer hunting to allow authorities to prosecute repeat and excessive violators of the law.


Another bill in committee this week is House Bill 5649, which creates a Firefighter Memorial License Plate for motorcycles. The proceeds from these plates would go into the Firefighters Memorial Fund. These plates already exist for automobiles: this legislation would allow motorcyclists to purchase them as well if they so choose.

Illinois budget impasse sets modern record

With the coming of April, the FY16 budget stalemate entered its tenth month.  According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), which maintains a database of the actions of legislative bodies nationwide, this is the longest time that any U.S. state has gone without a budget in the history of modern governmental activity.

There has been no state budget in place since June 30, the last day of FY15.  The General Assembly was not able to pass a constitutional balanced budget last spring for FY16, and the subsequent meetings have not resolved the issue.  While some facets of State spending have completely stopped, other areas – such as social spending controlled by court orders, consent decrees, and continuing appropriations – are generating increasing liabilities for taxpayers.   Comptroller Leslie Munger has warned lawmakers that at current rates the State and its taxpayers will face a backlog of $10 billon in unpaid bills by the time the current fiscal year ends on June 30, 2016.

Population of Illinois and Chicago declined last year

During the twelve-month period ending in June 2015, Illinois lost almost 22,200 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  During this period, the six counties that make up the metropolitan Chicago area dropped by more than 5,400 people.  The decline was led by Downstate Illinois, which lost almost 16,800 residents, and Cook County, which lost almost 10,500 people.  The five so-called “collar counties” grouped around Chicago gained almost 5,100 residents.

Cook County was the U.S. county that lost the most net residents during this year-long span.  Cook County’s demographic performance underperformed another Midwestern county that had for many years led in this category, Michigan’s Wayne County (which is centered on the troubled city of Detroit).   Illinois’ negative picture was accentuated by net outmigration, with more than 67,000 more people moving out of Illinois than moving in.  Births outweighed deaths by more than 45,000 Illinoisans, but this was not enough to overcome the negative outmigration numbers.

New department moves forward in push to consolidate in-house IT functions

The Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology, created by Governor Rauner’s executive order in January, has been asked to consolidate the information technology (IT) functions performed by a wide variety of state agencies and departments. In a joint appearance on Wednesday, the Governor asked several of his department heads and senior staff to explain to the public what they are doing to increase the IT productivity of their departments.

Historically, almost every agency had its own IT staff and in-house technology standards.  In many cases, this led to the selection of incompatible software platforms; in some cases, state agencies are still using repeatedly-updated platforms that have roots in the 1970s.  In some cases, these platforms continue to require the same data points to be added repeatedly to redundant databases, or require the use of obsolescent or obsolete technologies such as computer tapes.  Individual agency IT staff members are now moving into the new Department, where they will have the chance to work together.  Consultants have told the Rauner administration and the General Assembly that, over time, the rationalization of IT technology will lead to growing productivity benefits for the State of Illinois and its taxpayers.

Ag educators and extension agents once again point farmers to cover crops

Traditional secondary crops used by farmers for livestock feed and weed control, such as red clover and cereal rye, have been avoided by many Illinois farmers for years.  The invention of specialty herbicides and the concentration of Illinois arable land on the two major crops used in Midwestern food science and industry, corn and soybeans, have made cover crops seem excessive.  However, this traditional practice of old-time farmers is regaining ground in central Illinois, including on acreage rated on the highest-productivity scales for growing cash crops.  Additional reasons for planting cover crops, such as the preservation of soil nutrients and reduction of silt runoff, are being added to the decision to plant cover crops in addition to corn and beans.

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, an overall plan developed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and implemented by agriculture educators and soil-and-water conservation districts statewide, aims at continuous reductions in the quantity of nitrogen fertilizers, phosphorus fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals added to Illinois waterway runoff.   The development of comparatively new cover crops, such as canola with its bright yellow flowers, is also part of the changing mix of incentives facing farmers.

Keeping in touch

As always, you can contact me via webform from www.repbennett.com.