Friday, May 20, 2011

Legislative roundup

By Lauren N. Johnson

While Illinois lawmakers did not vote on some of the large and controversial issues that are looming in the closing days of the spring legislative session, such as workers’ compensation reform and changes to retirement benefits for current public employees, they sent several other bills to Gov. Pat Quinn.

FOID cards
The names and information for at least 4 million firearm owners in Illinois would be exempt from inspection, copying, or being released by the Illinois State Police for purposes of criminal investigations, under House Bill 3500, sponsored by Rep. Richard Morthland of Cordova and Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, both of whom are Republicans.

“Every state police director, regardless of political party, over the last couple of decades has opined that from a law enforcement perspective, it is a bad idea to release the names of firearm owners ID holders,”  Dillard said.

The measure came after an opinion by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in favor of releasing the names. “I do not understand for the life of me why would we give a map to allow criminals to systematically pick and choose and burglarize our homes and farms,” Dillard said.

Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters today that he agreed with the position of the Illinois State Police on firearm owner identification cards, stating the names should not be released, but Quinn would not comment on whether he supports this specific bill.

DNA testing
House Bill 3238, sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, and former Rep. Susana Mendoza, a Chicago Democrat, would require DNA testing of those arrested for crimes including first degree murder, home invasion and predatory and aggravated sexual assault of a child or an adult, and would mandate that the specimens must be provided within 14 days after an indictment or sentencing.

Lawmakers and state officers, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan, say requiring all registered sex offenders to provide a DNA specimen in cases of violent crimes would strengthen the state’s DNA database and further help clear those who were wrongfully convicted.

The bill would also require automatic disposal of the DNA – taken during the case – if the arresting charges were dismissed or if the individual was acquitted.

The bill passed the Senate with little opposition. It passed the House in April.

Financial advisory panel
Senate Bill 2149, sponsored by Sen. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat, and Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican, would allow financially struggling school districts – except Chicago Public Schools – to petition the State Board of Education to request a financial oversight panel step in to help with their budgets. “It takes several parts of the school code dealing with financial oversight and existing panels and kind of puts them all in one place and gives them some additional authority,” said Eddy, who also is a school superintendent in Hutsonville.

Racial and ethnic impact
Chicago Democrats Sen. Mattie Hunter and Rep. La Shawn Ford sponsored Senate Bill 2271, which would create a racial and ethnic impact research task force to determine ways to measure the potential impact of proposed legislation on minority groups. The group would also would propose a system to collect data on the racial and ethnic identity of individuals arrested by state and local law enforcement.

Disparities commission
House Bill 1547, sponsored by Chicago Democrats Rep. Monique Davis and Sen. Mattie Hunter, would creates a panel called the Commission to End the Disparities Facing the African-American Community to study and recommend ways to address racial inequality in the state.

The bipartisan commission would consist of 24 lawmakers and advocates for African-American rights involving education, health care services and employment. It would submit a report to the legislature and governor by December 31, 2013. Commission members would not be paid.

The bill passed both chambers, but some Republicans such as Sen. Kyle McCarter of Lebanon had a problem with the number of commission members, . “This is my project, not your project,” said Hunter, who took offense to Senate Republicans’ demands that she cut the number of unpaid commission members. The bill returns to the House to wait for a concurrence vote.

Good Samaritan
House Bill 1549, sponsored by Rep. Jil Tracy, a Mount Sterling Republican, and Sen. A.J. Wilhelmi, a Joliet Democrat, states that anyone with CPR training in accordance with the standards of the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association who in good faith provides emergency care to someone in need of resuscitation would not liable for civil damages. The Senate must concur with the legislation before it can head to the governor’s desk.

Unpaid tax refunds
Senate Bill 1741, sponsored by Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, and Sen. David Luechtefeld, an Okawville Republican, would require the Illinois Department of Revenue to allow individual taxpayers or corporations that are owed unpaid taxes refunds from the state to credit the money the state owes them against future tax bills.

Lawmakers in favor of the bill say it is  overdue  and clarifies confusion among businesses and schools in the state of whether they will be paid on time.

Rep. Jil Tracy, a Mount Sterling Republican, said she had a similar bill, HB 2914, which addressed the same problem. “We had so many people call my district office and complain that the state was not allowing them to use an offset for taxes overpayment; instead they would have to pay their taxes on time, even though the state of Illinois owed them quite a refund,” said Tracy.

The Senate must vote to agree to changes made in the House before the bill can be sent to Quinn.

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