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State Representative Tom Morrison recently filed legislation that would add clarity to the Illinois School Code with regard to locker room and bathroom usage. HB 4474 would require schools to separate these spaces according to anatomy, or gender listed on a birth certificate. "Its reasonable, its rational, its common sense to separate these restrooms and locker rooms, these most intimate of spaces, by an individuals anatomy rather than by one's gender identity, " said Morrison during a recent video interview.

You may watch that interview by clicking on the image to the left.
Following Governor Rauner's State of the State Address yesterday in Springfield, State Representative Tom Morrison filmed a video response. You can watch the response by clicking here.
In response to Governor Bruce Rauner’s State of the State address today in Springfield, State Representative Tom Morrison (R-Palatine) has issued the following statement:

“I appreciated Governor Rauner’s renewed commitment to turning around Illinois’ economy, and was pleased to see that his agenda aims to transform every area of government to maximize efficiency and to improve the value for taxpayers.”

“Restoring the public’s trust in government is imperative, and today the Governor outlined a comprehensive agenda that puts Illinois onto a path toward improved results and more disciplined spending. The positive outcomes could be far-reaching, and I look forward to the day when Illinois citizens can once again trust their government officials.”
Morrison Files Bill to Protect Privacy for All Students
On January 20, I filed important legislation that seeks to clarify the Illinois School Code with regard to bathroom and locker room usage for students. When Palatine-based Township High School District 211 announced late last year that a male student who identified as female would be provided limited access to girls’ locker room facilities, my office was inundated with calls and emails from parents who were concerned about potential violations of their children’s rights to privacy at school.

The Board of Education for District 211 made the decision after the U.S. Department of Education, in an extreme overreach of their authority, threatened to withhold the District’s federal funding last year if they did not adhere to the student’s request. HB4474 would provide clarity through fair and objective legislation, so that school districts can set policy that aligns with federal Title IX laws. The bill states that students will use the bathrooms and locker rooms at school that match the sex identified at birth, or schools may provide a single occupancy unisex restroom or changing area for those individuals who need an accommodation to that policy.

Through Title IX we already have existing case law that allows for the separation of bathrooms and locker rooms based on biological sex. As schools have become more and more utilized for school and non-school sports, recreation and arts programs, families deserve to know there is a statewide and objective standard in place for bathroom and locker room usage. HB4474 would provide privacy for transgender and all other students.

Republican Leaders Seek Independent Authority and Bankruptcy Provision for Chicago Public Schools
On Wednesday, January 20, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, and State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) held a press conference in Chicago to unveil a legislative package that offers a “lifeline” for the City of Chicago and the financially-strapped Chicago Public School System (CPS).

HB 4498 (Durkin) would allow for a state-created Independent Authority to assume control over CPS. The proposal is consistent with current state law governing all other school districts in Illinois (HB5537/PA 98-1155). In the face of continued financial mismanagement and near-collapse, HB 4499 and HB 4500 were also filed. HB 4499 (Sandack) would allow CPS to undergo a neutral evaluation to determine whether a bankruptcy filing is an essential last resort, and HB 4500 (Sandack) would allow local public entities and school systems throughout the State to undergo a neutral evaluation to determine whether a bankruptcy filing is an essential last resort.

Two dozen other states have enabled struggling municipalities to file for bankruptcy, and the concept is not new in the Illinois General Assembly. As recently as 2012, Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester) and Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) introduced bills (Senate Bill 3679, House Bill 5609) to allow for municipal bankruptcy in Illinois.

The legislation introduced last Wednesday specifically accomplishes the following:
  • Recognizes CPS’ financial difficulties and amends current state law, established by HB5537/PA 98-1155, to include CPS in the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) District Intervention law
  • Specifies the process for the ISBE to establish an Independent Authority (IA) to run the school district and the removal of the current CPS Board of Education
  • Specifies the State Superintendent of Schools must appoint 5-7 members to the Authority, who shall be selected based on expertise and knowledge in education policy and governance including local community members, in cooperation with local officials
  • Specifies that Authority members must not be CPS employees or have a financial interest
  • Specifies that Authority members will serve without compensation
  • Grants the Authority the power to serve as the School Board, with the same powers and duties
  • Specifies the Authority cannot unilaterally cancel or modify existing collective bargaining agreements
  • Specifies that the Authority would serve until the State Board of Education determines CPS is no longer in financial difficulty 
  • Provides the phase-in process for an elected CPS Board of Education and prohibits union contributions to those candidates
  • Establishes that the state is not liable for the school districts’ debt
It is very important that Illinoisans understand that this is not a bail-out. This is a thoughtful response to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s request for $500 million in Illinois taxpayer funds to help support ongoing financial mismanagement at CPS. Through the legislative package introduced last week, taxpayers statewide would not be held responsible for historically wrong decisions made by the politicians who govern CPS and the City of Chicago.

Governor and Republican Leaders Call for Meaningful Illinois Pension Reform
The proposal, issued by Governor Bruce Rauner, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno on Thursday, calls for the State to offer a choice to pension-eligible State and education-related employees.

Under this proposal, the State would narrowly define wages in the Illinois Labor Relations Act to exclude any future salary increases as pensionable. Eligible individuals would be then able to examine their personal financial circumstances and the circumstances of their families, to irrevocably decide whether they would like to keep a 3% compounded cost-of-living adjustment and forfeit future wage increases as part of their pension calculation, or move to a lower cost-of-living adjustment (lesser of 3% simple or ½ CPI) and use all future wage increases for purposes of a pension calculation.

The most recent actuarial valuation of a similar proposal, SB 2404 (Cullerton/Hoffman) in the 98th General Assembly, indicated that if this choice was offered, the State could save as much as $1 billion per year in ongoing, actuarially-required pension payments.

Illinois’ pension crisis continues to worsen. Its unfunded pension liability has ballooned to $113 billion, giving Illinois a lowest in the nation 41% funded ratio. In the next fiscal year, the State’s required pension contribution will rise to $7.8 billion, taking money away from schools and social services. This pension crisis is unsustainable and is perhaps the biggest challenge facing efforts to pass a balanced budget.

Governor to Present State of the State Address on Wednesday
Lawmakers from the House and Senate will meet on Wednesday, January 27 in joint session to hear Governor Bruce Rauner’s annual State of the State address. The day also marks the first time in 2016 when the House of Representatives will convene. An original General Assembly schedule called for the House to be in session last week for two days, but Speaker Mike Madigan cancelled those days, saying he felt lawmakers did not have an adequate workload to warrant them being in Springfield. I was shocked and disappointed by the Speaker’s lack of commitment to bringing us together, especially since we are now approaching our eighth month without a budget. You can watch the address by going to www.ilga.gov and navigating to House Audio and Video and clicking on the link for live session.

Invitation to Join a Constituent Road Trip to Springfield on Feb. 17
On February 17th, Governor Rauner will deliver his annual budget address. This will be a very interesting day at the Capitol because Illinois (up to this point) still does not have a budget for the current fiscal year, and the state is spending several more billion dollars than it is currently taking in. There will be calls for a tax increase and/or major budget cuts.

Many of my constituents have always wondered about taking a trip to Springfield during one of these exciting spring session days, and with non-state funds we are going to organize such a trip. The plan is to leave Palatine around 6:30 am and return around 7:30 pm. In addition to these events, if the schedule permits, I will also give a tour of the Capitol and we will have Q&A time over a late lunch. An agenda of the day will be provided closer to the date.

If you are interested, please call my office in Palatine, as there are limited spots available. Transportation, breakfast, and lunch will be provided.
Objective and Fair Standard Needed for School Bathroom and Locker Room Use
Palatine-based Township High School District 211 became the center of a national civil rights debate recently when a student with male anatomy who identifies as female demanded full, unrestricted access to the girls’ locker room at school. The school’s response was troublesome and shined a light on what appears to be a patchwork and non-transparent approach to Illinois schools responding to transgender issues.

Illinois needs to have a clear standard in place so that our schools can set policy that aligns with existing federal laws. Through Title IX at the federal level, we already have existing case law that allows the separation of bathrooms and locker rooms based on sex. In the case of District 211, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) attempted to reinterpret Title IX when representatives sent a threatening letter to District 211 officials claiming their federal funding could be in jeopardy if they did not address what they called a violation of the student’s civil rights. A letter penned by the Department of Education’s OCR does not change the rule of law and does not in any way supersede the provision that already allows separate bathrooms based on an individual’s anatomy.

Over the last few weeks I have met with hundreds of people who are concerned about privacy issues for all public school students. I am in the process of finalizing legislation that creates a statewide standard that is both objective and fair so that every school district in Illinois can be confident in setting policy that respects the privacy of all students.

Morrison Presents Pension Information at IASB Conference
In late November it was my honor to host a session at the Illinois Association of School Boards conference in Chicago. Titled “Pensions: New Day, New Solutions,” I helped lead a discussion about Illinois’ pension crisis and what possible solutions exist. I was joined on the panel by Illinois Senator Daniel Biss (D-Skokie), teachers, TRS Director of Outreach Rich Frankenfeld and COGFA Director Dan Long. About 250 school board members and school administrators from across the state attended the session.

Morrison: “Pension Reform Should Begin with Legislators and Judges”
In case you missed it, I recently submitted an editorial to the Daily Herald where I suggest that pension reform in Illinois needs to start at the top, with lawmakers and judges. Here is the text of that editorial:

Jake Griffin’s column again highlights serious flaws in Illinois’ notoriously broken pension system. While the judicial and legislative pension funds represent less than 2% of the state’s overall pension obligations, reform should begin there.

It’s legislators and governors who ultimately approved pension benefit promises along with annual expenditures that included increases in education, transportation, social programs, and other budgetary needs and wants. Lawmakers’ past short-sightedness and/or self-interest created a system that kept most public employees happy in the short-term but accumulated a mountain of promises to be paid later by taxpayers. We all face major challenges as a result.

This is why pension reform must begin at the top if there’s any hope of fixing our problems long-term. I have spoken with many public employees, and they are much more open to objectively discussing fair solutions to the pension dilemma once they discover there are dozens of reform-minded General Assembly members who voluntarily opted-out of the pension plan in the past 5 years. Once that dialogue opens, it’s much easier to discuss the numerous harmful consequences of the staggeringly deep pension debt. Current education expenditures, transportation, public safety needs, the social safety net, as well as other budgetary priorities, are being continually squeezed out. Municipal governments are under similar pressures to maintain staffing levels of police, fire, and other staff with increasing annual pension payments.

Current local and state elected officials must lead by example and disallow the accumulation of any more pension credits for themselves or for future office holders.

There is understandably great public distrust for elected officials, but sacrificial and visionary action will open the door to the bold pension reforms so desperately needed to rescue our current pension systems from collapse and enable us to pay for government services we need today and in the future.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
As we end 2015 and prepare to usher in 2016, I hope you are all able to spend quality time these next few weeks with family, friends and other loved ones. While this has indeed been a difficult year for the State of Illinois, we all have a lot for which we can be truly grateful. From my family to yours, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a bright and prosperous new year!
Legislative Leaders Continue to Meet with Governor
Governor Bruce Rauner has met three times in as many weeks with the four legislative leaders to discuss the budget impasse, and while there is still significant disagreement on key issues, the five have expressed some mild optimism that some progress is being made.

Governor Rauner, House Speaker Mike Madigan, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno met three weeks ago in Springfield and then again on December 8 in the Governor’s Chicago office at the James R. Thompson Center. A third meeting took place today. While the meetings produced no significant breakthroughs, all agreed that they will continue to meet with hopes that a budget agreement can be reached early in the new year.

At the center of the impasse is a fundamental disagreement between Governor Rauner, who would like to implement structural reforms for local and state governments and for our business communities before discussing any increase in taxes, and the Speaker, who would like to close the budget funding gap with a tax increase right away, and defer talks of reforms until a later date. I stand with Governor Rauner and believe Illinois cannot continue with the status quo approach of overspending with no regard for what the state can actually afford. I am pleased that the five leaders have returned to the negotiation table and continue to hope for a budget resolution that is fair to everyone.

Motor Fuel Taxes, 9-1-1 and other Funding will Flow to Municipalities and Agencies Soon
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives approved legislation that will allow Motor Fuel Tax receipts and funding for 9-1-1 service to flow to municipalities and townships. The language, which was presented as an amendment to SB 2039, also included funding for lottery winners and for programs that serve veterans and battered women, for low income energy assistance programs, and for mental health services for vulnerable citizens. The final version of the bill was approved by the Senate on December 7, and signed by the Governor on December 8. The House almost unanimously approved many of the provisions included in the bill in November, but Speaker Madigan used his House rules to block it from moving to the Senate at that time. While I would have preferred to see the funding released to our local governments sooner, I am pleased to know that municipalities, townships and valuable agencies will be receiving their funds soon.

Unemployment Insurance Reforms Receive Bipartisan House Support
In a showing of bipartisanship, members of the House also gave final approval this month to sweeping reforms to the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act. The reforms, agreed to jointly by the Governor, the business community, and labor organizations, represent a significant step forward to strengthen the backbone of our economy, innovators and entrepreneurs. HB 1285 received unanimous support by the 110 legislators in attendance on December 2. Specifically, HB 1285 prevents a $470 million tax increase on employers by eliminating a scheduled increase in employer contributions that would have taken effect in 2016. The legislation also eliminates the Social Security Offset to provide greater security to elderly and disabled workers, and strengthens the misconduct provisions to ensure greater protections to employers.

Morrison Reminds Citizens to Sign Up For Email Renewal Notices
In October, Secretary of State Jesse White announced that his office was suspending the mailing out of vehicle registration renewal reminders to the public due to the lack of a state budget. By using this link you can register for email reminder notices that will provide an alert when your vehicle registration sticker is about to expire. Click here to view an FAQ about to this issue.
Governor Rauner to Chair Public Meeting with Legislative Leaders on November 18
As Illinois enters its fifth month without an approved budget in place, an announcement was made last week that the Governor and the four legislative leaders will return to the negotiation table for a meeting on November 18. At the meeting, the group is expected to examine the delayed FY16 budget process. Although the FY16 fiscal year began on July 1, 2015, a constitutional balanced budget has not been enacted by the Illinois House and Senate. The State has continued to operate under consent decrees, court orders, continuing appropriations, and school appropriations, but this has created many operational problems. Recipients of State services, and providers of goods and services to the State, have been affected by the lack of a legal budget document.

Spokespersons for all four legislative leaders, including House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, expressed positive interest in the meeting. The gathering was requested by a consortium of nonpartisan advocacy groups. Sponsors of the request included the Better Government Association, the League of Women Voters, and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Chicago City Council Approves Largest Property Tax Hike in City History as Part of FY16 Budget
The new budget includes $755 million in property tax, other tax, and fee increases. The City Council voted on Mayor Emanuel’s budget and revenue measures on Wednesday, October 28. Although many aldermen expressed dismay at the tax and fee hikes, the final outcome of the vote was not in doubt. The Council vote was 35-15 in favor of the tax-increase package.

Concerns were expressed that even the significant taxes approved this week would not be enough to see the city and its troubled school system through the 2015-16 school year and calendar 2016 budget cycle. The debt rating of Chicago Public Schools has been reduced to junk-bond status, and entities related to the city’s government continue to rely on $800 million in additional financial aid and fiscal relief measures from the equally-troubled state government in Springfield.

Rep. Morrison Visits Fremd High School as “Principal for a Day”
On Friday I had an opportunity to step into the shoes of school principals and experience a day in the life of a top school administrator at Palatine’s Fremd High School. This was my fourth year participating in the program and I enjoy visiting local schools and talking with the students and staff. At Fremd, I met with the principal and his department heads and fellow administrators. I also spoke to a government class, social studies classes, and I did a ride along with driver's education students. I also spent a period in the teacher's lounge and discussed issues with staff.
The “Principal for a Day” program is a statewide initiative to provide state and federal elected officials with an opportunity to observe, interact, and serve as an administrator in schools within their legislative districts. Tomorrow I will be visiting Palatine’s Sanborn Elementary School.

September 2015 Unemployment Rate Declines to 5.4%; Few New Jobs Created Statewide
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) reported this month that the statewide jobless percentage for September was 5.4%, down 0.2% from the August 2015 total of 5.6%. However, this drop in the jobless rate was not caused by net new hiring. Illinois seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment actually dropped by 6,900 jobs on a month-to-month basis in September, with sector weaknesses continuing in manufacturing, trade, transportation, and utilities. Strong sectors included education services, health services, and government.

Illinois unemployment rates remain higher than rates in neighboring states. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, seasonally adjusted jobless rates for September 2015 were 4.5% in Indiana, 3.6% in Iowa, 5.0% in Kentucky, 5.3% in Missouri, and 4.3% in Wisconsin. In addition, these states (unlike Illinois) were producing net new jobs. September 2015 unemployment was lower than the statewide average in greater Chicago (4.9%) and remained at above-6.0% recession levels in the three historically manufacturing-oriented cities of Danville (6.4%), Decatur (6.4%), and Rockford (6.2%).

Lucas Museum of Narrative Art to be built south of Soldier Field
The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a $700-million museum and endowment spearheaded by filmmaker George Lucas, will specialize in narrative art and the art of visual storytelling. The Lucas Collection, which is expected to be housed in the new Chicago museum, contains pieces by N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell and other well-known painters and illustrators, as well as rights to intellectual property connected with Lucasfilm Ltd. Moving images, digital images, and movie memorabilia, including images from Hollywood, are expected to be featured. The new museum will be built on landfill property reclaimed from Lake Michigan to build the Century of Progress world’s fair in 1933-34. In more recent years, the space has been used as a surface parking lot for Soldier Field and McCormick Place.

Hurdles faced by the new museum included the need to win planning permission from the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago. Illinois granted permission to construct the new museum with the enactment of HB 373 (P.A. 99-3) in May, and the Chicago City Council approved a rezoning designation for the museum on Wednesday, October 28. The City Council action was seen as one of the final goals that developers of the 300,000-square-foot museum needed to meet before construction can begin.

Illinois’ State Employees Retirement System (SERS) Asks to Withdraw $225 Million
The withdrawals, which will be completed on December 10, will cover retiree benefits to be paid in November and December of this year. SERS believes this is the largest cash withdrawal it has ever made. Pension checks to existing beneficiaries are expected to go out on schedule.

The withdrawal was made necessary by the inability of the State of Illinois to meet its statutory obligation to SERS, and to parallel State-managed pension funds that cover the retirement needs of education professionals, for the payments of money in FY16 from general funds. Payments by the State to the pension funds are one of the areas where, in the absence of specific appropriations authority, the money cannot flow. In other areas of the State’s FY16 budget, money is flowing as a result of a cobbled-together combination of continuing appropriations, school appropriations, consent decrees, and court orders. The withdrawal of money from SERS’s deposited investments is expected to further deplete its funds and add to its long-term unfunded liability.