In 2014, the General Assembly approved several bills to assist our veterans, the military, and their families. Those bills were signed into law and include:

PA 98-0879 (SB 3255) Eases requirements for disabled veteran parking placards
This law removes a requirement that a disabled parking placard or decal which has been issued to a veteran must be renewed every four years. The new law states that once a disabled parking placard or decal has been issued to a veteran who has been permanently disabled, that veteran does not have to keep coming back to the Secretary of State’s office for a renewal every four years.

PA 98-0960 (SB 3225) Veterans awareness training for law enforcement officers 
The law provides that the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board may conduct or approve a training program in veterans' awareness for law enforcement officers of local government agencies. It further provides that the purpose of the program shall be to identify issues relating to veterans and to provide guidelines for appropriate responses to such issues. Each local government agency is encouraged to designate an individual to respond to veterans' issues.

PA 98-0869 (HB 5475) Gold Star specialty license plates
Surviving sons and daughters of military Gold Star recipients are now included among those who may be issued Gold Star specialty license plates by the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office. Those already eligible for the plates are surviving widows/widowers, siblings and parents.

PA 98-0902 (HB 4491) Purple Heart license plate fee waiver 
To honor those who have served in the military and earned the Purple Heart, Illinois will now waive the payment of any registration or registration renewal fee for an individual issued a Purple Heart license plate. The law will also allow individuals who have been issued the Purple Heart license plate and qualify under the Senior Citizens and Disabled Persons Property Tax Relief Act to obtain a plate for an additional vehicle for a $24 registration fee.
More than 200 new laws will take effect in Illinois on January. Several of the new laws affect drivers. Others affect children, their rights and their safety. Several new laws pertain to the welfare of Illinois citizens. Click here to learn about a few of the more noteworthy new laws that take effect on January 1st, 2015.

Today is a sad day for Illinois. Please keep Judy Baar Topinka's family and loved ones in your prayers.

Legislators completed their Veto Session tasks last week, and we are now back in our home districts until we return to Springfield for the Inauguration of the 99th General Assembly in mid-January.  My office staff and I are available to assist you with issues you may be having regarding state agencies. Please feel free to contact my Palatine office any time at, or at (847)202-6584. The office is typically open from 8:30 to 4:30, but please call ahead of time if you wish to stop by. In observance of the holidays, however, the office will be closed Dec. 24, 25, and 26 and Dec. 31, Jan. 1, and Jan. 2, except by appointment.

I’m pleased to report that there are some key positives that came out of our final week of Veto Session.

No Lame Duck Session: With the banging of the final gavel on Wednesday, the House adjourned sine die, which means “without day.”  This makes it highly unlikely that a Lame Duck Session (when unpopular legislation is typically passed by lawmakers who are leaving office) will take place.  Only a call by Gov. Quinn for special session could bring the General Assembly (GA) back before the 99th GA is sworn in the second week of January.

Citizens will see tax relief in 2015: On January 1, the temporary income tax hike of 2011 will sunset as originally promised. If you recall, the 67% income tax hike was approved during a Lame Duck Session in 2011. Lawmakers who either lost their re-election bids or were retiring by choice were pressured into voting in favor of the tax increase, in many cases in exchange for lucrative post-statehouse jobs. I have been a fierce advocate for the on-time expiration of this irresponsible tax increase.

Senate Bill 16 is Dead: All pending legislation from the 98th General Assembly expires when the 99th GA is seated on January 14, 2015. Among the expiring bills is SB16, the controversial school funding formula rewrite, which sought to strip suburban Cook County school districts of millions in General State Aid. Collar County legislators fought hard to stop the bill, but a real impact was felt because of the massive opposition shown by residents whose school districts would have been unfairly punished through the provisions of the bill. More than 7,000 citizens filed opposition slips on line with the committees that met to gather testimony on SB16, and another 4,700 people signed an on-line petition against it. Additionally, legislators’ offices were flooded with phone calls and emails from citizens expressing their dislike of SB16. I expect the school funding conversation will extend into 2015 and that new legislation will be filed to change the formula. My hope is that the next bill will not pit the collar counties against the Chicago Public and downstate schools. The ultimate reforms need to be fair to all.

While we can celebrate these significant positives, the majority party in Springfield did take advantage of the waning days of the Quinn administration to push through some legislation that I feel is damaging to Illinois taxpayers, hurts businesses, and hinders job creation.

Sweeping Changes to Illinois Voting Made Permanent: Calling the measure “Chicago politics at its worst,” House Republicans opposed SB 172, which allows political workers to bundle absentee ballots, and authorizes election clerks to start processing mail-in votes before Election Day.  It imposes expensive new unfunded mandates upon election authorities, including burdens that will weigh especially heavily upon smaller, rural, and downstate election authorities.  It authorizes election judges to register new voters in person on Election Day. The bill also puts a permanent provision in place that prohibits election judges from requiring voters to show a photo I.D. before voting. While the bill did include a few good components, our caucus was opposed to the permanent approval of these voting changes before we could properly analyze the temporary changes that were put in place as a trial measure for the November 4 election. My colleague Representative Jeanne Ives’ comments during the debate outlined many of our concerns about the bill. You can watch her comments here.

General Assembly Approves Bill to Impose Automatic Savings Deductions upon Illinois Paychecks: The Secure Choice Savings Program Act (SB 2758) passes along yet another unfunded mandate to Illinois small businesses. The Act is based on an assumption that persons age 18 and up who are employed in Illinois should save money with money managers.  The new program will automatically deduct 3% from employees’ paychecks unless they explicitly drop out of the savings program.  The program will apply, as a mandate, to all places of employment that are at least two years old and are without existing savings plans that have employed 25 employees or more throughout the previous calendar year.  Approximately 2.5 million Illinois workers could be affected. I certainly encourage workers to save more for today and for retirement, but many of us who voted NO considered this bill to be a government overreach.  Furthermore, there are still many unanswered questions about how the program will be run and what the tax implications will be for participants.

Sweeping Changes to Jury Structure and Pay Approved: Current law provides that in most cases tried under the Code of Civil Procedure, a 12-member jury shall be empaneled.  SB 3075 reduces this headcount, in almost all cases, from twelve jury members to six jury members. The only remaining twelve-member juries would be those agreed to by both parties prior to the start of the trial.  SB 3075 also contains language that increases the daily rates paid by counties to their jury members.  The new jury pay schedule mandates that jury members be paid at least $25 and up for each day of service.  The actual pay rate will be determined by a sliding scale based on the population of the county where the jury member is empaneled. House Republicans were deeply concerned about the political way this proposal was abruptly unveiled in the House and passed, in violation of norms that call for changes in court procedure to be extensively discussed by diverse legal practitioners before adoption.  As a bloc we voted against the measure.

I wish each of you a very happy and blessed holiday season this year and hope you are able to enjoy time with friends, family and other loved ones.